Halfway to 10,000 hours

For those of you who have read Outliers, you are probably well-versed in Malcolm Gladwell’s theory about exceptional performance. Anyone, from the Beatles to Tiger Woods to white collar criminals and ditch diggers who is dedicated enough to devote 10,000 hours to a single activity, is likely to become a master of his/her craft. I’ve been kind of obsessed with the concept every since I read the book. Then at the Miami Dade Book fair last week, I heard the Outlier philosophy revisited by an unlikely source.

There was a book talk given by a longtime member of the band Hole. Yes the band frontlined by Kurt Cobain’s widow Courtney Love. This dude, as I remember his name was Magnus, (the only guy in the band) was lucky enough not to succumb to the junkie strand of the Seattle Alternative Rock craze of the early to mid 90’s. He was a good friend of both Courtney and Kurt but somehow had the resolve to know his limits with drugs. However, like most friends of Kurt and others who passed long before their time such as the lead singers of Blind Melon and Sublime, he did struggle immensely in coping with the death of a peer and friend. Magnus turned to streams of consciousness journal writing as his primary form of therapy. Fifteen years later, he has published a book of his exploratory and cathartic journals.

I remember a lot of what he said in his talk. He spoke of how his love for playing guitar began in earnest at age 13 and he would spend hours every day just woodshedding different sounds. He eventually became an outlier in the music world. But now he wants to become an outlier in the writing world too. He admitted that he was a long way from 10,000 hours but that by putting in disciplined effort every day, eventually he would hit that target. The depth and raw vigor of his journals demonstrated that he was well on his way.

Perhaps it’s grandiose of me to say but I too would like to hit that 10,000 hour mark. Normally persistence pays off so why should it be different with writing? I am probably closer to the starting gate than the finish line but as long as I’m moving forward, the gap will lessen. My favorite form of writing is poetry and thus I am including below a link to poem I wrote this week which I feel represents a step forward in my desire to break with traditional verse, and thus entirely let go of the writing.  I hope you enjoy it:



95 and counting….

Today is my grandmother’s 95th birthday.  During her 30 years in Iraq, she survived both world wars and a small civil war during the year she finally fled for the United States. During her 60 plus years in NYC, she has survived the bombings of the World Trade Center and the Twin Towers, two deplorable terms of George W. Bush, as well as a long marriage to my grandfather, a somewhat predictable man who preferred smoking cigarettes to enjoying the fruits of cultural life in Manhattan. She has survived even more hardships than that, including a nearly fatal bout with pneumonia almost three years ago and a painful chronic combination of sciatica and scoliosis.

But that’s what survivors do. They survive.

In my estimation, my grandmother has made it to her 95th birthday for a multiple of reasons. She’s tough-minded and has a strong work ethic. She’s a loving being who cares greatly for family and friends. And she’s a reader who has hardly lost an intellectual and mental step in her near century of life. But all of the aforementioned characteristics would be null and void if she wasn’t also the beneficiary of good fortune along the way.

As a Jew, my grandmother was lucky to have been a Sephardic who was living in the Middle East and not an Ashkenazi  nestled in Eastern Europe at the time of the Holocaust. No matter how tough she is, eluding the genocidal intentions of the Nazis may have been too tall an order. By the same token, she was lucky to escape the anti-Jewish purges in her native country of Iraq when she and the rest of her family bought their way out in 1948.

As hard as this is to admit, my grandmother is also lucky that my grandfather died when he did. He had become a “deadweight” and was arguably holding my adventurous grandmother back from enjoying life to the fullest. Once he passed, she got to smell the roses again visiting Eastern Europe, Canada, various parts of the Western United States and a memorable family trip to Israel, Egypt and Jordan in 1995. Much to my heart’s content, she also became a sports fan.

Perhaps we make our own luck in life. The law of karma would likely affirm that hypothesis. Regardless, my Grandma Juliette is blessed with the combination of great character and good fortune. Today on her birthday, she will be surrounded by children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, loving cousins, nephews and in-laws.

I have learned a lot from my grandmother and hope to keep doing so. As her life has shown, one cannot anticipate the future but living each day as if it’s your last probably helps a person exceed expectations, lifespan and otherwise.

So to my Grandma Juliette, I say “mazel tov” and to survivors like her, I must add “Le chaim”.

The Florida/Miami Marlins come clean

Some people are better at carrying lies than others. Politicians, behemoth corporations and celebrities have rehearsed and polished their lies so well, it is often impossible to see through them. The Florida Marlins were able to live a lie for over a decade. Because of subpar attendance, they pretended they weren’t making money and therefore had to field a team on a beer budget. As soon as players were nearing their prime and close to a due date for a much justified pay raise such as Miguel Cabrera, Dan Uggala and Josh Beckett,  they were traded for “prospects”.

Rebuilding was the code word in the inner circle and even though they remained in a perpetual state of “rebuilding”, many of us Marlins fans bought the sales pitch. Fortunately, that lie was exposed by the Miami Herald and MLB early in 2011 when it was revealed that the organization was turning and hoarding one of the largest profits in the sport.

Yesterday, however, the Miami Marlins came clean. They were only able to keep up appearances for less than a year. If they had 12 step groups for conniving, greedy, “we don’t give a shit about our fan base” ownerships, Jeffrey Loria would be leading every meeting. His confession yesterday, unfortunately, was not done in the privacy of a closed meeting. It was announced, without any pretense of fairness or quality control, through every sports and local media outlet. To paraphrase, the ownership’s sharing went something like this –

“Hi, I’m Jeffrey and I am a money hoarding, team dismantling, I just scammed the city and its baseball fan base son of a bitch.”

“Hi Jeffrey”

“This is tough for me to admit but after a decade of pretending, I really need the people of South Florida to know who I really am. Although I am the owner of the Marlins, I really don’t give a bunt single about my team. I wish I could but it’s just not in my nature to care about the right way of running an organization. My concern is the bottom line. I am here to make money and lots of it. I duped the city into building a monstrosity of a stadium that looks more like a combination of the Sunset Place Cinemaplex and the Death Star in order to win fewer games on the field, but profiteer significantly more off it. The scheme has worked to perfection. For the last year I had to don a disguise, the disguise of a CEO who believes in putting out the best product and treating his clients fairly but the outfit was way too suffocating. Halloween is over and with it, off comes the masquerade. It actually feels good to get this off my chest, literally and figuratively. Oh and for those of you who care about trivial things like ethics, winning and the essence of the game of baseball in its pure sense, you are best served cheering for another team.”

“Thanks for sharing Jeffrey. Keep coming back!”

Absence makes the heart grow (weaker/stronger?)

One of the frustrating aspects of life is letting go of things we really like. If one wants to practice Buddhism on any level, the “letting go” process is particularly important. But despite good Buddhist discipline, the experience of abandoning certain desires is no less agonizing or disorienting.

I’m sure the manifestations vary from person to person. Some people let go of bad habits such as smoking, excessive online time, compulsive spending, texting while driving, texting in general, or talking politics. These are a combination of impulses, crutches and ultimately unhealthy forms of gratification. Others may have to let go of more permanent fixtures such as jobs, wives, and other people and places in which we live and love. My guess is that all of the aforementioned actions usually lead to something better but as a race, humans are not usually inclined to do or appreciate what’s best for them.

As for me, I have had to surrender a bunch of passions I really wanted to hold onto. When I was younger, just to name a few, it was sugared cereals, living in New Hampshire and trying to stay at Tufts University, the school to which I applied and was accepted early decision. As life progressed, more and more had to be relinquished. Each one has tugged at my heart strings. These have included relationships, preconceptions, jobs, many assumptions, certain types of food and drink, even forms of spiritual devotion. I am sighing as I write this because I can feel in my heart how frustrating it has been to let go.

Over the last year I have really tried to re-commit myself to Buddhist/Christian/Jewish/life growth. In so doing, I have given up on any regular pattern of sleep, keeping all of my writing to myself, and thinking I needed a girlfriend and/or a wife to be happy. The jury is still out on whether this will prove to be good for me. But there is one passion in particular that I really found it a mixed bag and certainly disorienting to surrender. It was a fixture in my life for many weekends and probably even more so for millions of fellow Americans. For those of you who know me well, you might even know what it is. For those who don’t, I’ll spill the beans – it’s watching football.

Ten weeks into the NFL season and I have yet to watch a minute of football other than when I reflexively glanced at the TV at a restaurant or it was on a friend’s house and therefore the game watched me for a brief moment in time.  In neither case, did I pay attention. This past weekend, my love for football was really put to the test as my favorite team the Titans was in town to play against the Dolphins. I bought tickets. Good tickets. But protecting my football sobriety was more important. I gave the tickets away to a friend.

It was weird not to go, but as I have realized each of the ten NFL Sundays so far, the games go on without me.

When I really get honest with myself, going cold turkey on the NFL has reminded me that are way more important things than sports scores. There are also more important things than keeping up with our habits. I’m at a point in life where going to a movie or reading a good book on weekends is far more rewarding than having to stress out about outcomes over which I am powerless.

I do look forward to a point in my life where I do watch some football again. I am not sure when that will be. In the meantime, I will keep writing a lot and experiencing other unanticipated forms of letting go. Little did I know that when Paul McCartney sang “Let it Be”, he wasn’t just singing about one thing. He was referring to everything.

Let the Chaos Begin

Today is a pretty big day. isn’t it? As much as we try to pretend politics is relatively inconsequential, it’s hard to avoid all the hoopla and Shakesperian elements surrounding  election day. For whatever reason, I have a feeling that the results won’t be determined for awhile. If there is anything that Americans like, though it is naive to assume otherwise in any major worldwide political election, it’s chaos. Frankly we are lucky to have only had one modern day election hang in the balance long after the designated election day. I’m still not sure who won that Bush-Gore election twelve years ago even if the Supreme Court decided Bush could move his cowboy hats and PS2 to the White House for the next four years.

I voted last week still under the delusion that my vote made a difference. Technically to me it did, but that’s really as impacting as it gets. It’s like pouring a cup of water into the Nile River and then trying to identify which drops of water is mine. Perhaps if I voted for Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate, my vote would have had more impact. I’ve always rooted for the underdog l and god knows, Johnson is quite the underdog here. As of two weeks ago, I hadn’t even heard of the guy.

I am going to do my best to avoid watching TV today. The major news stations are more fixated on numbers than Euclid and the Federal Reserve combined. Plus the networks have a way of really screwing up the facts. Let’s backtrack to that infamous Gore-Bush election as proof.

I was living in Nashville at the time (Gore’s home state) and emotions were riding high. At some point in the evening, lets say around 9:00 CST, the networks declared Gore the winner in Florida and therefore almost assuredly sealed his victory as president. Then about an hour later, they realized they had engaged in PP (Premature Prognostication) and suggested Bush was in fact ahead in Florida as votes in the north-western part of the state started to trickle in. I went to bed a few hours later with the networks declaring Bush not only the victor in Florida, but also of the general election. I was livid….mainly because I despised Bush but also because my emotions had been tampered with.

The election schizophrenia had really just begun. When I awoke and turned on the radio, the news was different again. The election still hung in the balance as apparently, Florida was determined “too close to call”. A margin of only 527 votes separated Bush and Gore here in the sunshine state and apparently some Haitians had sent their ballots via pigeon carrier as they were floating towards the US (sorry I couldn’t help but try to inject some humor). But yes, Florida, had paralyzed the electoral college and the political chaos that ensued was already a level 1  hurricane.

Twelve years later, America has fixed many of the voting process defects that screwed up the 2000 election. However, we also have a country that is more polarized than ever. I really hope Obama wins re-election but in a way that doesn’t drag on like it did three elections ago. The last thing this country needs is more chaos.

However I wouldn’t bet on it. There is too much money and too many fire breathing special interest groups pulling the puppet strings. Come to think of it, I may not even watch TV tomorrow. I have never been a big fan of “Reality TV” particularly when it involves my emotions.

Let me know who wins

Boston was right

If you are anything like me, you probably have spent a decent amount of your life browsing bookstores. Needless to say, bookstores are rather informative and comforting places even if a bunch of weirdos like to loiter there. Moreover, if you are anything like me, you might also have a similar reaction when you navigate your way from section to section – “Man there are a shitload of books here.” My next reaction is usually – “Do all these people really have a good story to tell?”

I am not quite prepared to answer my question. But I do want to offer a few observations, observations which tend to pervade my wandering mind almost every time I’m at Barnes and Nobles.

First, what is it with this “50 Shades of Gray” obsession? I have not read the book nor do I care to. But I know that it is about sex, probably lots of it. My opinion is this – If the author is sexually frustrated, why devote so much time to writing about and promoting a novel about sexual fantasies? Why not just find someone to have sex with, perhaps even various people at different times? That should cure the problem. If anything, writing about the topic would likely only increase her sexual frustration not to mention, the frustrations of E.J. James’ legions of adoring fans.

I don’t get it, but then again, who I am to understand the female psyche?

But 50 Shades of Grey is not really what consumes a lot of brainpower when I’m perusing a bookstore. Recently, I have become more fixated on all the memoirs there. Everyone and their transgendered third cousins seem to be writing memoirs. Young people have them, old, semi senile, once halfwits do, as do a horde of gloriously self-important celebrities. Perhaps I should applaud them. They got their stories out there. But I can’t help but be a little cynical. Are there lives really that exciting that everyone needs to know about them?

I would venture to say not as exciting as they think.

If you are wondering about the title of this blog, let me elaborate. One of my favorite bands growing up was “Boston”.  My favorite song of theirs was “More than a Feeling”. I happened to be born in Boston which certainly drew me to their music but what I remember most was an album named “Don’t Look Back”. Nothing really makes sense as a kid, but now that I am in my 40’s, I really feel what the album title means.

Like all of us, I do have to and choose to look back on my life from time to time. Whenever I go back to Nashville, as I just did this past weekend, I am taken through a multidecade, roller-coaster of an intellectual and emotional time warp. Needless to say, it messes with my mind. I am probably no worse for the wear but that’s not the point. Where does looking back really get me? The best way to answer this question is with another question – “If I am running a race or driving a car, am I better off looking ahead or looking behind?”

I hope I never write a full memoir nor have the chutzpah to publish it if I choose to write one. I don’t feel the answers to the challenging, sometimes troubling questions of our lives lie in the past, but in the present and beyond. That’s why there is that somewhat corny saying – “Today is a gift. That’s why they call it the present”. But if for some reason I was asked to write my memoir right now, this is what I would say. I would make sure to keep it as succint as possible.

“Factoring all the hours I slept as a toddler and adolescent, I have probably spent at least one-third of my life asleep. Those were good times. The other third was spent either in school and/or working an assortment of underpaying, but rather interesting jobs. For the most part, these were really good times too though writing and grading research papers is about as dreadful as it gets as was doing concrete construction in the heart of a Nashville winter. The remaining third of my life has been spent eating, going to the bathroom, driving hundreds of thousands of miles, traveling by other means than cars, watching and playing sports, enjoying the fine arts, chasing after women, paying bills, making noise, hearing lots of noise and trying to make sense of it all. These were the best times of all.”

I could write another 400 pages or so, but the story-line would be relatively the same. Besides, I have to go the bathroom, shower and eat some breakfast before I go to work and engage in other necessary activities.

I hoped you liked my memoir. Regardless, go listen to some Boston. Their self-titled album was a rather damned good one too.