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Conduit not Cups

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We strive towards clarity. We cannot exist without energy. We are lost without a sense of purpose and value. And, hopefully, we are aligned with a higher sense of morality. This common human dynamic is the basis for most forms of spirituality. What separates us is how we chose to define and pursue these needs.

In every form of spirituality, there is one unmovable truth: we are conduits not cups. Clarity, purpose, value, energy and morality are not for the “self.” We are designed to give. We find purpose in passing our blessings and talents on. Our energy is found as circuits, not batteries. When we connect with another human we are given the opportunity to flow into their being.

And Indeed, Allah is with those who are of service to others. (Al Quran 29:70)

In Buddhism – Dana is the practice of giving generously. Gifts are to be of pure intent and focused on the receiver.

Luke 6:38 Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

It is not the idea of being “filled” that satisfies us. The Bible says in Ecclesiastes 1:8, “The eye never has enough seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing.” We cannot be filled. We are fickle creatures that lose contentment quickly. Rockefeller when asked, “How much money is enough?” responded, “Just a little bit more.”

We assess our lives by how much of our needs and wants are met. We look at areas where we are “lacking” or where we need “just a little bit more.” But we naturally do it from a selfish perspective. We forget that there are fellow humans who would feast on the emotional and physical crumbs from our tables.

When have 10 and we are giving to someone with only one, we realize the magnitude of our blessing. Granted, there might be someone with 20. But, our perspectives are shifted by being a positive conduit into another person’s life.

As conduits, our source is outside of ourselves. God, Allah, the Creator or the Universe provides us abundantly. Every religion calls its worshippers to “go and give.” It’s in this giving that we either get our own needs met or that we realize our needs are already met.

This is what I call FLOW. It’s not a random, occasional moment of charity. It’s living a life of daily, intentional giving and serving. It is giving a warm smile and hello to a hurried fellow commuter. It is opening a door for a frazzled mother of three toddlers. Listening with attentiveness to a co-workers worries. It is seeing needs and responding with your ability on-hand. And, even responding when you are exhausted, worried, confused or sad.

FLOW stands for: Following – Life’s – Opportunities – Willingly. To some, the thought of constant giving and serving makes them anxious. It’s not about having an uber extroverted personality. It doesn’t require seeking out needs everywhere you go. It is a state of attentiveness to your surroundings that is beyond your own feelings. It is an identity and a purpose. I am a conduit of good.

What makes being a conduit burdensome is conflict. When we aren’t living our truth we are clogged or broken. Our FLOW is interrupted by distraction and worry. The immediate reaction is to pause and focus on the conflict. Emotions “validate” this decision and start to blind us to Opportunities. Our perspectives turn inward and we become irrational and stuck.

A frustrated father rushes upstairs after hearing the baby cry for what seemed like 20 minutes. The mother was frozen at the nursery door. “What are you doing?!” He asked. “There’s a spider on the wall by the crib.” She said. “I’m waiting for it to move away so I can get the baby.”

The conflict here is with her role as a mother and her fear of spiders. It has blinded her of her responsibility to comfort her crying baby. Her fear has warped the reality/perspective of the situation. The spider can’t harm her. She has been blinded of her power in the situation. She could easily kill the spider. Her baby needs her but she can only see her fear. “Chelsea, kill the spider and get the baby.” Her husband whispers calmly.

Often, it takes someone outside her situation to help us gain perspective when we’re stuck. It is normal to live with fear. We’re most likely afraid of something every day. It’s not ok to live with worry. This is habitual fear and in opposition of your FLOW. Worry is pointless. It saps energy. It robs clarity. It distracts you from your purpose. Chelsea was worried about the spider. It would have been fine for her to see it and be frightened. But, her responsibility as a conduit for her daughter would have reminded her of the right perspective and given her the clarity to not get stuck and continue on in her purpose.

In conclusion:

Live in the power of your choices. Trying to gain energy, clarity or purpose just to feel better or alleviate fear will not lead you to your truth. Your contentment will be short-lived because your perspective will turn inward. Realize that even at your weakest, you have strength waiting.

One of the most beautiful stories in the Bible is of a woman who gave two small copper coins at the temple. It was all she had to live on. It’s not her sacrifice for the church that is beautiful. It is her example of FLOW. Trusting that as a conduit of God her needs would be met. She caught the attention of Jesus who held up her example to the men he was training to carry his message to the world.

Decide to FLOW in spite of everything and let the universe give you the life and peace you truly desire.

 

AH

 

 

Honor

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He was shot and killed immediately. Six months after leaving basic training, a bullet catches him in the head at la Drang. In two weeks he would turn 20. His young mother’s gloved hands grip the folded flag as the words,“honorable and faithful service.” are said for the third time this month in her small Tennessee town.

No one earns honor without suffering. And, the greater the sacrifice of one’s self, the higher the honor. In fiction, we admire the character who decides to “hold em off” while the others get away. He may have been the most sadistic villain, but his repentance is made complete by laying his life down for his new “friends.”

Whether you’re a villain or the hero, you both agree that justice must come to the one who betrays. The Judas’ who sell their friends, or worse, their loved ones into harm. Those who prey on innocence, kindness, trust. Whose motive is to relish the pleasure of another person’s suffering.

The world is unified, not by love, but by the common hatred of being betrayed. We live cautious, even fearful lives because the world is full of cheats and scammers. You can’t trust lawyers, or big corporations, car salesmen, church leaders, certain races or economic classes. The rich rob you behind your back and the poor stick a gun in your face.

The duality is that we hate betrayal but we love drama. Dramas are the most popular category of TV show and movies. The core of any drama is a betrayal. To keep things going, new and bigger betrayals unfold. The plot spirals down the path of depravity pulling viewers in deeper and deeper. Is this a form of sadism? What part of us is feeding off of fictional misery and conflict?

In society, we’ve come to accept the need to “get our hands dirty” for the greater good. We have the scales of justice in our view when we make compromises that will hopefully result in a better overall outcome. We lament the fact that we can’t just do what’s right. Honor is the higher calling that “living in the real world” causes to go unanswered.

As the years of life drift by, a person’s values shift from, exciting to reliable, from pretty to practical. We are concerned about our legacy. Parents and friends pass. In the memories, we sift through funny sayings, tasty apple cobbler, Christmas disappointments, and “that one time when…” in search of true gold – honor. How did this person display honor in their life?

Did mom leave for work before the sun and come home dog tired but still make it to every softball game? Did your high school friend fight and crawl back from addiction to a stable and productive life? Did a husband volunteer to sacrifice his career for his wife’s? Did an older brother quit the wrestling team to spend time with his little sister battling leukemia? Did a neighbor leave his startup because his partner was taking unethical shortcuts?

One honorable decision can leave a permanent imprint on another person’s soul. Honor inspires honor. Love inspires love. Hate inspires hate. Love and hate are subjective. No ten people will agree about either. But, all people of any culture can see and feel when they are shown honor or when a person does an honorable thing. It’s human currency. It holds value forever. Honor builds bridges. It heals. It inspires.

But honor is difficult. It goes against the pervasive “me” culture we now live in. Does a father grasp his teen son squarely by the shoulders and say, “I want you to become a man of honor.” Do leaders display the type of leadership that calls us to follow honorably? Or, are we in a haze of compromise, betrayal and self-seeking that leaves us uninspired?

Honor still calls. Not just from funerals or work anniversary parties. It calls from the depths of our core as humans. “Honor me!” A wife’s soul screams to a neglectful husband. “Honor me!” The undercompensated worker shouts. “Honor me!” The refugee yells through the border fence. “Honor me!” The wrongfully imprisoned man cries from his cold cell. “Honor me!” A daughter pleads to a distrustful father as she strains for independence.   

Show honor. Live honorably. Celebrate honor. It is not a religious or political solution. There are no financial or status requirements. Honor is a path of self-sacrificing decisions that are often obvious but obscured by what is temporary and easily gratifying. Push through, not because of what you will gain but because of what you will give.

 

 

Connect with your teen daughter on Snapchat

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That same face that used to light up when she saw you now launches poison-dipped daggers at you for reasons you can’t understand. Where did your baby girl go? Where is Muffin Cakes? Pumpkin? What the hell happened to your Poo Bear? She grew up. She’s 15 and she’s breaking away from you.

The good news is, buried beneath her fake eyelashes, skimpy clothes and a hurricane of emotions is the little girl who’s favorite place was on your lap in your arms. She’s still there. Trust me. I have a 15-year-old daughter and we talk deep, hang out and have fun. She calls me her “best friend.” I’m going to tell you how Snapchat will bring your little girl back to you.

The Hurricane

My daughter and I are very similar so it’s historically been very easy for us to be close. But, when she hit 12, her desire to be “grown” and her disrespectful attitude started driving a wedge between us. She got a basic cell phone and most of her communication was to her crew of girlfriends in her room with the door closed.

The distance between us was scary for me. She was on the cusp of becoming a “woman” which carried a mountain of fear and apprehension. She’s the middle child between two brothers who are typical boys – feed me, give me Wifi and leave me alone. Boys, in my opinion, are easy. But she was a mystery that I couldn’t figure out. Neither could my guy frustrated friends who were in the same sinking boat.

Enter the Snap

A few years later, we got the kids smartphones and my daughter got Snapchat. I downloaded the app out of fear when heard it had a reputation as a “sexting” app. To my surprise, she added me and used Snapchat to ask me for things – money, rides, permission – typical stuff.

Her snaps were blurry shots of one eyeball or her face looking glum. A band of type read, “Can you take me to the mall Saturday?” I responded with a similar snap. I took a closeup shot of my nostrils and responded, “yep.” Eventually, we started snapping random things, our lunch, funny looking people, coffee, teachers she hated. Then, we got streaks.

If you don’t know what a streak is on Snapchat, it’s when you snap a person and they snap you back every day. Beside their name on the app is the number of days you consistently snapped each other – and sometimes some cute icons. Streaks mean a lot in the Snapgame.

I found myself snapping her three or four times a day. She would often snap me first, “I’m soooo tired today!!!” (emojis, etc.) I’d snap her back and offer to take her for coffee after school. She’d sign off, “OK, cool. Luv u.”

When I’d get busy and forget to snap her back she’d send a frantic text. “STREAK!!!” I’d promptly make a zombie face and snap her. I made the mistake of losing a streak and I almost lost our snap relationship. Don’t lose a streak!!

Over the course of a few months, I noticed our relationship smoothing out. She shared more with me. She was still moody but I didn’t feel like I was losing her anymore. I think the practice of reaching out three or four times a day made us feel connected. It gave us a new place to be friends.

The Plan

Get Snapchat and add your daughter. Wait a week. Send her a funny snap. Don’t play with the filters yet. No dog ears or for goodness sake a crown of flowers. Let her snap you back. Build a streak but don’t mention it. Take things slow. You’re taming a lion who has proven she can bite your head off! Take your cues from her. Snap at her pace and in her “style”.

Snap pictures of things in your day that she might find funny or interesting. Don’t “selfie” her to death. She doesn’t want to see your mug! Over time, throw out a “luv ya!” Learn to use filters. Keep it light and have fun with it. Snaps may seem trivial and even silly, but being in continual contact with your daughter lets you overlap from parent into friend. Just don’t forget the parent part. She won’t

I hope you are able to make a connection with your baby girl. She’s still there. She might be just a few Snaps away.

– Art Henson

 

Majestic Place – a novel

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Amber

My mother, aunt Cynthia, Amber and I did a lot together. We drove all over the city of Columbus exploring different stores and sampling small tastes of different foods. One of our favorite places was Bicentennial Park. It was in the heart of downtown Columbus. It had three large dark pools of water rimmed by two-foot wide granite walls. Each pool was intersected by the other. The park was paved and on a slope. The first pool sat higher than the second and the third was lowest. We would come to the park at night. My mom only had enough money to buy one pair of thrift store skates. Fortunately, Amber and I wore the same size. She would take the right skate and I’d take the left. We’d kick with our sneakers and glide on one skate round and round the pools while our mothers would sit near the edge of the water and talk.

We would stop from time to time and dip our hands in the cool water. We would look for silver coins on the bottom of the pool amidst the thousands of copper pennies. Past the lowest pool was a fence that lined the muddy Scioto River. At night, colored lights reflected off the water like an abstract painting. It was dark when we arrived and it would be close to two in the morning when we’d leave. We would all climb into Aunt Cynthia’s pale green Gremlin.  Amber and I would take turns flipping off drivers behind us at stoplights.

One night before Halloween, I was upstairs with Amber playing in my room. We were making spiders out of colored packing peanuts with bent paperclip legs when there was a knock at the door. When Mitchell opened the door, I instantly recognized the voice. It was my dad. “I’m here to get my son.” He said. My mother rose from the couch and rushed to the door. I heard the sounds of arguing. I peeked down the stairs and I could see Mitchell and my mother’s backs to me. My dad was standing on the front porch, his face and blue leather jacket were illuminated by the yellowish porch light. He reached in his jacket pocket and pulled out a nickel-plated pistol and pointed it at Mitchell. “I’m here to get my son!” He demanded. Mitchell stumbled backward. “Arthur, what are you doing?” My mother screamed. My dad saw me at the top of the stairs. “Come on Scooter, get your stuff. We’re going home!”

I looked at my cousin Amber for some sort of direction. My whole life if there was a situation that confused me I could always rely on her wisdom to help me know what to do. But this night, Amber sat on her knees with her hands in her lap and cried. So, that’s what I did, I cried too. I looked one last time at her then I slowly walked down the stairs. I grabbed my heavy brown coat off the hook by the door. Everything was moving in slow motion. My dad was still holding the gun steady at Mitchell’s chest. Mitchell and my mother cautiously moved to the side and let me pass. My dad grabbed me by the collar of my coat, still gazing straight ahead at Mitchell. We walked quickly in the cold night air towards the car. I looked back at my mother and Mitchell’s silhouettes in the doorway. My mother shouted something at my father. The weight of her threat dissipated like her breath in the cold night air. My father wasn’t turning back. He had what he came for.

I had a pit in my stomach when I thought about not being able to see Amber. It was then that I realized how I really felt about her. I cared about Amber in a way that was much deeper than us being cousins. It was because I completely adored her – even when she was obnoxious and angry. I looked up to her. She had been with me through every aspect of my life: moving, birthdays, Christmas, school, everything. She was my companion, my co-chef, my skating pair. She was my first love.

Coming back home with my dad was a rough transition. I didn’t realize the impact of my mother’s sudden departure on my dad. He was instantly alone. He was alone with his thoughts. He was alone with his anger. He had no purpose without his family – without his son. Having me back gave him purpose. I gave him the sense of value that was stripped away by his abusive, alcoholic father. He needed me to live, or to stay alive I would later learn.

The house was cold. Without my mother’s income, my dad couldn’t afford to keep up with the mortgage and keep the heat on. I didn’t take my jacket off. I pulled the collar tight around my face. I went up to my room, flicked on the light and looked around. It was just as I left it – minus a few toys that were still stranded at my mother’s. It was late and I had school the next morning. I didn’t have a toothbrush or pajamas so I went to bed in my worn tan corduroys and my Cleveland Browns sweatshirt. That night I slept in the bed with my dad to keep warm. The next morning at the bus stop realized I was back in the belly of the beast.

 

Phil

At five I stayed in the cul-de-sac. At six I could go a few houses up. By the time I was eight I was free to roam the whole neighborhood. I had my BMX bike, my thunderfoot and I was looking for some kickball. When I think back on all of the adventures Phil and I had, one would think the moment we met would be memorable. But it wasn’t. He just showed up in my life one day and we became inseparable. Phillip was small, scrawny, your typical Korean 8 year old. His father was a white, shaggy VW mechanic and his mom was a loud Korean woman with horrible English. They lived in a house just like mine in the next cul-de-sac down. 

Phillip was the only other non-white kid in the neighborhood. It only made sense that the nigger would be best friends with the chink. That’s how it usually went down. At some point in the fun, one of the kids would decide to call me a nigger or Phillip a chink. The only difference was that Phillip was crazy. If you picked on him long enough he would snap and come at you. But he didn’t come bare-handed. He would grab a stick or a rock or a hammer. And when he got really mad this vein would pop out of the middle of his forehead from his scalp down between his eyes. When the vein popped out you knew Phillip was going to hurt somebody. His antagonizers would usually back down cautiously, reassuring Phillip that they were, “Only playing. Calm down!”  Eventually, the kids in the neighborhood traded in chink for Dink – which they said stood for dinky.  Phillip embraced it, answered to it. It would be years before I would be able to escape being called nigger. I needed to build up enough anger to nearly kill a kid.

There was a time when Phillip lost it on me. We were hanging out in his kitchen. I think we were in middle school. I found a love letter sticking out of his backpack. I unfolded the paper and slumped down in the kitchen chair to read it. It was a bunch of mushy nonsense from a slightly homely girl we both knew at school. Phillip was busy looking in the fridge. When he turned around and saw me with the letter he yelled, “Gimmie that!” Being a normal 12 year old I said, “No!” then jumped up from my chair as he came towards me. We squared off on either side of the kitchen table. He faked left then right. He chased me around the table growing more and more irritated. He upped the ante by picking up a large, blue porcelain salt shaker and threatening to throw it at me. I knew he was mad, but I couldn’t imagine him throwing it at me. It looked like it was some antique his mom probably brought with her from Korea. If it hit me it would crush my skull. “Give it to me!” He demanded. We raced one more lap around the table with Phillip pump-faking the saltshaker at me. The vein popped in the middle of his forehead and I knew I was in trouble. He cocked back and let it fly. Fortunately, as he drew back I hit the deck. The saltshaker sailed over my head and hit the sliding glass door shattering the first layer of the double pane. Phillip straightened up. His anger turned to fear. We stood in silence for a few seconds.”My dad is gonna kill me.”

Without any discussion, we began the coverup. The second pane of glass was completely intact. If we could take all of the broken glass out of the door who would know? “I’ll get a sheet.” Phillip said, then bounded up the stairs to the linen closet. He laid the sheet on the floor in front of the door. We took two screwdrivers from the kitchen drawer and started chipping away at the broken glass. The middle came out in one big chunk. We then started chipping bits of glass out of the frame. Forty minutes or so went by. In less than 30 minutes Phillip’s dad would be pulling into the driveway. With the frame cleared of any bits of glass, we bundled up the sheet and headed to the backyard. We couldn’t put the glass in the trashcan that would be too obvious. “The doghouse.” I said. “Yes!” Phillip agreed.

We took two shovels from the garage. We pushed the heavy doghouse to one side exposing the bare dirt underneath it. We started digging. Phillip’s dog Bex curiously sniffed at our progress. Soon we had a shallow hole deep enough to bury the glass. We had 10 minutes left before our plan would be discovered. We dumped the glass, spread the dirt across the yard then replaced the doghouse. We went back into the kitchen to examine the scene. There were bits of glass all over the carpet. Five minutes. We hoped he didn’t come home early. The glass pieces crackled and rattled as Phillip sucked them up in the vacuum. I heard the sound of a car door slam. “He’s here!!” Phillip threw the vacuum into the laundry room and we both plopped down at the kitchen table. Our hearts pounded in our throats. Phillip’s dad slid the sliding door open. He was in his grimy, green mechanic’s clothes carrying a paper bag with two 40oz bottles of Mickey’s malt liquor. He slid the door closed and set the bag down on the kitchen counter. We were safe. We looked at each other in relief. “So, what happened to the door?” Phillip’s dad said.

From the upcoming novel – Majestic Place

 

Playthings

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Ben is in an upscale pastry shop in a wealthy part of town where he makes eye contact with a beautiful, well dressed, dark-haired woman. He approaches her and the two have an instantly sensual conversation. Natalie is looking at desserts in a glass case when Ben approaches. She doesn’t turn around but speaks to his reflection in the dessert case. “Its tough to decide isn’t it? ” Ben says. “No, Natalie responds. Not when you know exactly what you want.” Natalie’s fingernail glides across the glass case. “You’re decisive. It all looks so good. How do you know which one to get?” Ben leans in closer. “I just get what pleases me most, and I keep coming back for it again and again,” Natalie says bending towards the case very slightly. Her pencil skirt accentuates her hips. “Have you ever tasted anything else?” Ben asks. “Of course, but nothing compares,” Natalie says wistfully. Ben inches closer. He is peering over Natalie’s shoulder. “Then, I want what you want. I want to see how special it is.” Ben says. “It’s very, very special. So rich, so sweet, the texture is so smooth. You have to eat it slowly – appreciate it.” Natalie says softly turning slightly towards Ben. “If you have it, it’s all you’ll ever want.” 

“Well, then. I’d really like to taste it – slowly, enjoying every bite.” Ben boldly puts his fingertips on Natalie’s lower back, touching her white silk blouse. It’s where Tony would touch her. It sends electricity through her. Her eyes widen and she turns towards Ben and the two are face to face staring into each other’s eyes intensely. The girl at the counter walks up and Ben orders two. Natalie says, “No, just one. We can share.”

(Excerpt from a short story – Playthings)

 

Queen of Passion

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Sweat drops stream together down the dark muscular channel of his bare lower back. He is a man intent on his task. His back contracts as he strains in the sun. His rhythmic motion is slow and in time as if guided by an African drum. Sawing? Digging? Rowing? His pace quickens progressively. Clouds obscure the sun momentarily but the sun reappears even stronger. Suddenly, delicate Victorian hands grasp desperately on the pronounced ridges of his back. Her fingers straighten completely ridged patting his back for mercy. But this only urges him faster and more forcefully until he pauses fully flexed, relaxes then flexes again. He settles into her. His back rises and falls with each heavy breath. Her hands glide slowly up and down his dark, wet skin. Her long fingernails gently stroke his smooth, brown flesh with gratitude.

(Excerpt from the novel – Queen of Passion – to be finished 2019)

 

Dream or Nightmare

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You’ve always stayed with the safe guys because you grew up somewhat privileged. Jarell was fun, aggressive and scary. Kyle taught you what kinky was, but you couldn’t see yourself with a criminal justice and a conservation major. Come on finance, business, economics, possibly engineering if he wasn’t excessively nerdy. Your dad was a bullshit artist that found his way in sales. He said to himself, “Damn! Look at all this money! Let’s get Beemers and a boat!” Mom loved to shop! Brand names and a boob job. So, you spent more time getting dressed for the SAT’s than you did studying. Your score didn’t really kill it. Cheerleading and softball when you wanted to hang with the sketchy kids in drama or the hilarious and kinda nerdy school paper kids. You’re creative and you’re a great writer but you doubt yourself too much.

Then, you meet HIM. Handsome, athletic – kinda built like Jarell. But wait, you just said something witty like the school paper kids. I like your style too. Brand names for sure, classic but mixed with a little of that style forward. Shopping well on a budget, hmm. This weekend you have to what? Change the brakes on your SUV? By yourself? Fixes his own brakes? Your dad could barely fix a sandwich. And then the fatal blow… You have a blog? Oh? Well, lot’s of businesses have blogs. I mean, could he? Oh!! Oh!! You want to be a writer? Like full-time? A journalist or something? God, please!! Please!! Telling stories about relationships and personal journeys, but making it something grown-ups will respond to…That’s amazing! Catching your breath.

You work. You got your dad’s salesman gene and you sell real estate or travel or sometimes – insurance (wince). But you wish with all your heart you could just run away from it all and write. You’re so tired of being pretty and filling in little wrinkles and coloring the grays and keeping the tummy somewhat presentable cause you stopped fighting the cellulite on your ass. Your husband is a type A, insecure, mostly boring but kinda funny when he’s drunk cause he lets his guard down long enough to show you the guy you fell in love with in spite of him only being half of what you really wanted. And he just wanted a good woman to give him kids like you’re supposed to do.

Things are stable at home but boring. He’s mostly focused on work where he can almost see the top and then in retirement you two can start living. Won’t that be great? Fine for him because he’s tired. Work drains him. He works out to keep from having a heart arrack like his dad who died on Christmas Day when he was only 60. And sex to him looks a lot like whatever premium porn he’s been watching. He’s busting out weird little moves that seem to only fit if they were for an audience. It sometimes feels good but it’s right up there with family dinners and beer with the neighbors, you do it cause it’s what you do.

Then HE texts you one morning. I mean, cause you’re touch after the networking event. A Good morning with a flower emoji – friendly right? Or is it? Hey, wanna meet for coffee? I’m at so and so writing. Writing? It’s Saturday, early…Don’t have to be anywhere until early afternoon. Oh crap, he’s never seen you with no makeup. Bet he won’t be flirty then. Oh well, mascara and something on the lips. Ponytail, workout clothes – go!

You see him at a table alone. Ballcap and workout gear too. Mmmmm. That’s a big warm hug. Holy crap his back is all muscles. (Jarrell) I knew he was fit but my goodness!! What’s his deal? Really? Model? Yea, you can see it. Not Shemar but kinda like a Common. Hmm. On insta? Oh, yea, Let me find you…Here you are, that’s you right. Let’s see…Holy do me in my car right now! What the hell? And you’re not my son’s 29-year-old high school basketball coach Mr. Eye fuck you and I want you to see me doing it! 

Coffee is cozy. In the back, not across but slides the chairs close together. Talking freely, easily, openly. Laughing. Lingering glances. Fucking Instagram! You’re throbbing a little. You shouldn’t let yourself feel like this. But God you want someone to play with and explore with who’s interested in your projects and ideas. Who looks at you at 8 am on a Saturday like you just stepped on the red carpet. Your eyes are so aqua when the sun hits them, pretty. He says matter-of-factly. Throb, throb. Why not. Why the hell not?

He feels so familiar. His words are kind, sweet. He seems “proud of you” and that doesn’t make sense but it feels comforting. Your husband doubts you, criticizes you, pressures you to still be his 20-year-old trophy as he slides anxiously into late middle age. Daddy! It’s your dad. You’re “Pumpkin” again. You’re tender and sweet. You can be silly and nonsensical. No furrowed brows or sighs and shaking heads. His elbow is on the table and chin in hand like when you would recount your day of elementary school adventures. Daddy would listen intently like the universe didn’t exist except for you – his Pumpkin.

This “Daddy” just licked latte foam from the corner of his mouth and you watched his tongue emerge and retreat between those gorgeous lips. He has you. You’re not fighting it now. Your neglected needs are drawing you in helplessly. It’s not a matter of selling yourself or being impressive. Now you’re shedding layers. Opening, peeling, laying them down in long narratives that he eats right out of your hands and licks your fingertips. He’s fucking you. And you’re fucking him back. It’s the grownup version of school paper mental foreplay.

He’s Jarell with a higher intellect. Kyle with passion and drive. He’s your mess of an adoring father with strong, skilled hands that you want on your body. Is he trying to seduce me? You ask yourself. You don’t care. He fits where you’re hopelessly empty. He ties your past into the present. He is pulling back the covers on a potentially addictive bed of fulfilling deception. Peel, expose, confess, confide. The world melts away into a conversation where words only seem to narrate the transfer of emotional energy and desire. Now, you’re sucking foam off your fingertip and crawling eagerly between the sheets.

 

Do You Really Know Yourself? Zac Brown Band Does

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How can a man live almost half a century and not know who he is? I don’t mean subtle personality nuances. I’m talking about core beliefs and feelings that are as plain to others as the ever-expanding nose on his face. If you didn’t know, a man’s nose and ears continue to grow as he ages. Sad but true.

I don’t know myself deep enough. This is the realization I had while driving through a spring snowstorm from Charlotte to Cleveland. I was on my way to meet with a potential client in Cleveland then swing down to Columbus, my hometown, to put a new water heater in my mom’s house. And, of course, hit a bar with my old school friends.

Around the Virginia border, sunny Carolina turned to frosted barren trees and rolling mountains. It was morning and the gray, cloudy sky swirled with gusts of wind and light snow. It was the kind of driving weather that made me think, “Do I have enough life insurance?” Fear of icy roads has a way of creating great self-reflective moments.

The snowy scenery reminded me of Zac Brown Band’s video, Colder Weather. I found the video on YouTube and played it loudly through my beefy Honda Pilot stereo. I was familiar with the song, but by the time I sang along to it ten times I became connected with every word – and a life/marketing lesson.

The singer loves a woman but he always leaves her. He says he wants to see her again but he’s “stuck” in colder weather somewhere far away. But she knows the real reason. “He’s a rambling man, he ain’t never gonna change. He’s got a gypsy soul…and he was born for leaving.” The fact is, he can’t stay put. You can’t lock him down. He loves her but not enough to give up his life on the road.

So what does this have to do with what I learned about myself? And how does this relate at all to marketing? Well, we’ve got a potentially deadly snowstorm, a long journey alone and a guy who won’t commit. Ready? Here we go.

When I started to think about sliding over the rail on highway 77 in Beckley, West Virginia. It became very important to me that a lot of people missed me. I hoped my post-mortem Facebook page would have hundreds of posts confirming that I was a man of value – validation. The need for validation is normal. But how much am I driven by this need? That’s for another post.

The biggest compliment someone can pay another person is that the relationship made them a better person. It addressed a need or a pain point (uh oh, marketing speak) that the person was helpless to change on his own.  Change happened because of the power of motivation. Hearing the frustration of your friend prompted you to give them a vision of how great life would be if they would just throw themselves into overcoming the challenge. You had to reinforce the message a few times, but it worked!

So, are you giving your potential customers a vision or features? Are you selling a generic benefit or relating a story of a specific positive outcome? Are you offering inspiration or a discount? I told you it was a long way around the barn but keep following me. Why can’t you reach a deep connection with your potential and current customers? Two reasons: 1) You don’t know them. and 2) You don’t know YOU. You have to be willing to go deep to cultivate customers into brand advocates.

The man in the song tells the woman what HE thinks is a sincere declaration of his love or how much he values her, “I wanna see you again, BUT…” Right after his statement, she calls bull crap. “You’re a rambler and you’re never gonna change.” He is obviously a grown man who is blind to who he is. Perhaps he’s successful or popular. These things can mask potentially fatal flaws in life and in business.

What are your blind spots? You don’t know! That’s why they’re called blind spots! Your company’s popularity or success can often distract you from seeking the deeper truths about your brand’s perception. Your products are what they are. Some people will like them and others wont. But is there an aspect to your message that reads as bull crap? You might need to take a long marketing drive and think about it. Or, seek some honest feedback from a good woman.

So he’s a Rambler. Is that a bad thing? For her it is. But what if he were to offer her the chance to travel with him? “Come with me Baby. You and me on the road. What an adventure!” Sounds romantic right? Truth is, it’s what she wants. The first line of the song is, “She’d take Colorado if he’d take her with him.” But she must not have verbalized it. And he didn’t ask. Are you asking your customers what they want? It might be on the tip of their tongues.

If he offers to take her with him she might have some questions. What about my cats? Where will I find a good yoga studio? Etc. If he’s prepared and done a little research, he will have answers already in the bag – why? He made the effort to know her desires and concerns.

Do you know her? Do you communicate with your customers with social, surveys or focus groups? Can you find a positive spin on what the market may consider a negative about you? Does this mean you BS people? No. You point out how a negative perception may be a positive attribute for some people. The Canon Rebel DSLR camera isn’t too small and too lightweight, It’s perfect for smaller hands and it’s easy to carry.

Products/companies can live a long life WITH big flaws. 1980’s Toyota’s had crappy door handles. But they sold a lot of them. I’m sure there were car buyers on the fence who knew of the door handle problem and opted for the similar Honda with better handles. Will it take the fear of your product sliding off the road for you to take a long hard look at the product, the market, your customers and your brand?

How can we go without knowing ourselves? We don’t slow down and get deep. We need to ask tough questions of ourselves and not choke on the answers. We need relationships like the woman who knew him and told him the honest truth. There might be more people we can help with our lives and our businesses if we just take the time to connect with needs and wants and help others develop a vision.

 

They Called Me New Hampshire

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“What’s up New Hampshire!?” That was how they greeted me. It made me want to pour gasoline on them in their sleep, light a match and toast marshmallows. It was a joke, but couldn’t they see I was terrified. If I got one more “New Hampshire,” I would lose my track scholarship and go home in shame. I was the city high jump champ, all-state, and an Olympic hopeful – at least in my mind.

I was a freshman at USC in Columbia, SC. The kind “Aunties” at the athletic dorm cafeteria fed me like a king. I lifted weights in a state-of-the-art facility. Five months and plus thirty pounds later I was so heavy I couldn’t clear opening height in the high jump. The coach read the track meet results to the team. For the fourth meet in a row, there was “N.H.” or NO HEIGHT after my name. 

I dreaded getting in the van with my teammates and potential arson victims. For six hours to Florida, I would have to suffer their relentless ribbing. Why didn’t I do something – besides torching them? I brought it on myself with my immature bragging. I would have to pass out, suffer nose bleeds and waste a very expensive meal plan, to make things right.

In high school, I stumbled on track after getting swiftly cut from the basketball team. I was a band nerd but somewhat athletic. I saw some guys practicing the high jump inside the carpeted commons area of the school. I asked our gruff, linebacker looking track coach if I could try it. I guess since my knees were larger than my thighs he thought I’d hurt myself. “No!”

I snuck and tried the high jump anyway. I was actually good at it – a natural. The coach caught me. “Henson!” He barked. “You’re doing the high jump!” Fast forward four years and I had multiple scholarship offers from Division 1 schools, and an ego the size of a bus.

Finally, the kid who got picked on. The band nerd, the kid with the huge glasses, funny clothes and no girlfriend prospects was good at something. Senior year the news did a 5-minute segment on me – complete with slow-motion footage of me soaring over the bar. “The Olympics, I know I’ll be ready for the Olympics, blah, blah.” I told the reporter.

I’m in the passenger seat of the van to Florida with my Walkman so loud I think my ears are bleeding. I can still hear my teammates taunting. I ran my mouth all fall about how awesome I was and here I sit, worried I’ll have to drive the university shuttle like past track team underperformers who lost their scholarships.

I’m exhausted. In the two weeks since the last track meet I’ve eaten meals fit for a 2-year-old girl. I make an appearance at the weight room but I just walk around from machine to machine without lifting anything. I’ve dropped 15 pounds and my body fat is around 4 percent – I’m getting close to the knobby knee stage.

Then, I learn the starting height from the coach and I want to throw myself out of the speeding van. “6’6” opening height.” He said in a why-did-I-waste-a-scholarship-on-you tone. High school started a foot lower and my best was 7 feet. I was in the top five in the country in high school but I’m sure the other four guys didn’t pig out AND run their mouths when they got to college like I did.

At the meet, I see Tom – LSU, and Eric – Tennessee, both from Ohio. Tom won state, Eric was second and I was third. I had beaten both Tom and Eric in high school, but after watching me no height repeatedly, they treated me like the childhood friend who picked up a drug problem and was wasting his life.

I warmed up and kept to myself. I got my steps and waited for my turn at a practice jump. Actually, I was content waving the other jumpers to go ahead of me. Tom was next up. “You take it!” He yelled. “You suck Tom,” I thought.

I started my approach. Was my nose bleeding? I think I might pee. I hate you, Tom! I jumped. I felt like God’s angels of mercy pulled me into the air. Every part of my body flowed over the bar. I hit the mat and wanted to celebrate. But what dork celebrates a practice jump at opening height?

That day I cleared opening height and the next height. I had good attempts at the height after but just couldn’t get a clean jump. N.H. – New Hampshire was dead. I was able to hang onto my scholarship – and my dignity. And no one ever called me New Hampshire again.

Tom went on to win the NCAA Division 1 Championships and qualify for the Olympic trials. Eric became a decathlete and was an alternate on the Olympic team. I never jumped any higher than I did in high school. I never won a meet or even placed in the top three.

Looking back, I would have gotten a much better education at one of the interested Division 2 schools I was too arrogant to even visit. I might have been a conference champ or gone to the Division 2 Nationals. I had the academics to possibly go Ivy League. What 18-year-old wants to keep being a nerd when you can be an athlete at a school with thirty thousand students?

In college, the athlete in me was in over his head and the nerd in me wasn’t challenged. I didn’t follow my truth because I wanted to “show the world” that I wasn’t as worthless as they said I was. I just ended up showing the world that I cared more about what they thought than what would make me happy.

Our truth is all we have. It’s ours to protect and follow. We can lose sight of it when “the world” starts offering opinions. But life’s lessons – especially the hard ones, always bring us back. I don’t often see New Hampshire license plates or meet many natives of the state, but when I do I always say the state motto to myself and remember the lesson, “Live Free or Die.”

 

Can We Please Be Inappropriate Again?

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By the time I was 12 I had been called a nigger 1000 times and had my ass kicked by almost every kid in my neighborhood. It’s what came with being the only black boy in a mid/lower class Ohio suburb in the 70s. Fast forward 30 years, the same kids who “bullied” me are my best friends. Looking back on it I don’t think they bullied me necessarily because I was black. I think they bullied me because I was a wimp and I didn’t stand up for myself.

Hopefully, you can see my point already. We all need to stop being wimps. Stop being so sensitive. Stop expecting everything to be fair. And for God sakes please stop expecting everyone to be appropriate!! Thinking that this world of broken, insecure people are going to be a place of equality, compassion and respect is delusional. Instead, let’s just decide to communicate our wishes and boundaries clearly, decisively, without double standards and without all of the freakin’ whining.

The Workplace

At the ABC Company, we’re like a family. Unless you’re actually related to your coworkers, you’re NOT a family. You have beer on tap, the dress is casual, you occasionally hug each other. All the camaraderie in the world will not stop the fact that if you hit on Chelsea one too many times the family will bounce your ass like the poor bastard you are.

So, what’s the problem? Seems clear cut. Well, Chelsea would never go out with you BUT, she likes the attention. You took this to mean, “So, you’re saying there’s a chance?” Like a dummy, you crossed the line from “hitting on” to “propositioning.” As the words left your mouth you felt a pit in your stomach. Chelsea’s face changed from mild amusement to disgust. At 4:50 pm you’re asked into the bosses office and HR is there. Now you’re an orphan without a “family.”

Serves you right? You’re at work stupid. Don’t try to lay your coworkers. As you ride home with your box of desk trinkets clanging together, you try to rationalize it. You got sucked into Chelsea’s Instagram barrage of great booty shots from the gym, the beach, the club, even the freaking grocery store. And then there’s the videos of her squatting that make your head feel like it’s going to pop. The problem is, you can’t even allude to noticing Chelsea’s butt AT WORK. That’s harassment and you’ll lose your job.

Let’s talk about damage here. Who’s to say how deeply affected Chelsea was when you expressed your desire for an encounter with her perfect posterior. It didn’t seem to bother her that ONLINE dozens of guys make blatantly sexual comments complete with eggplant emojis. Why couldn’t she just shut you down to your face? “Ok, look, Andy, I like you as a friend but, don’t talk to me like that again or we’re gonna have a problem. Got it?” Most HR rule books frown on direct confrontation. However, REAL families are built around it.

It’s a fact that people at work often date each other. Courtship happens in the office. Hookups happen. Marriage happens. Affairs happen. The workplace is not the set of the children’s show Barney. If you got out a CSI blue light and went around your office you would be afraid to set your coffee on most flat surfaces. HR policies should either include some gray areas or segregate boys on one side and girls on the other.

Casual and Too Casual

Back in the day you put on your dress or slacks and your skinny tie and you went to work at a very bland, no frills office. No ping pong or scooters, beer on tap or chill out spots. Your boss didn’t call you “Bro.” You called him Mr. Wilson and he didn’t give a crap about you and you knew it. You were obviously at work. Now, we wear our jeans with holes and get all cozy with each other over beer and games. We take retreats and bond. Trust falls anyone?

A casual work culture can make some of us let down our guard. We forget where we are and who we’re with. For most people, the fact that the day is consumed with work tasks is enough to help them focus. For folks like me who bounce from doing work to play to distraction back to work, I might be better off in slacks and a tie at an uncomfortable desk with Mr. Wilson glaring at me.

The Filter Problem – Unfiltereds

There are people who just can’t watch their mouths. They say whatever comes to mind. In my family, this would be both grandparents on my father’s side, both of my parents, me and my youngest son and daughter. We say what we think when we think it. For us, school, the workplace, social settings can turn awkward in an instant when we blurt something out followed by, “What? What did I say wrong?!”

“Jim, I printed the proposal for you. What did you think?” Jim responds, “It was really long. Probably too long.” If you’ve seen more than three episodes of the Office you should have the words, “That’s what she said!” Bouncing around your skull. Normal people just think it. Unfiltereds blurt it out triumphantly. Unfiltereds are better off being standup comedians, bartenders, or mouthy wide receivers. Corporate America is like being trapped in a minefield. It’s only a matter of time before they misstep and blow themselves up.

Am I saying that all of the sexual harassment fodder in the media is bullshit?  I suspect some of it might be. It seems like bullshit because women sit on these horrible encounters for years and years then shout it from the rooftops like it happened yesterday. I understand that in the moment women may keep quiet out of fear of retribution. I just hoped that as the “harassment” was happening, they leaned in close to their assailant and said, “Don’t EVER speak to me like that again. Whatever you hope will happen, is NEVER happening.”

My Harassment Adventures

I’ve been hit on by both males and females at work. I had a gay client descriptively offer to be my “first.” I had a male boss once address me as “gorgeous,” in front of the whole department. I worked for a woman who repeatedly dragged me out of town and kept trying to get me drunk. At a different job I completed a very successful project and my boss promised a large bonus. I was in his office discussing my bonus and balked at his offer of a raise instead. He angrily responded, “This is a $10,000 raise!! You should be sucking my dick!!” All inappropriate right? Not what you should have to deal with in the workplace.

In each case, I squashed each situation on the spot. To my gay client I said, “I will NEVER be gay so drop it.” To my boss, “Don’t call me gorgeous AGAIN – or anything even close. You got me?” And about the bonus, “What the fuck did you just say to me? I’ll punch you in your face if you talk to me like that!” And what happened? I received three sincere apologies, and NO problems after that. I admit, my responses won’t make it in the pages of any HR manual. But, standing my ground worked. Remember how I got my ass kicked as a kid. I let myself continue to be a victim.

People do and say dumb things. It doesn’t mean we are without responsibility for our actions. Sometimes we need the chance to be corrected and learn from our mistakes. I’ve said and done some stupid things at work. I appreciated when a coworker calls me on it and gives me a chance to grow. It’s better to work with people who you know will be straight up with you and even help you stay in line – especially if you lack tact, have a dirty mind or just have no filter.

Power Trippin

It does suck that men in power in the workplace choose to exert their power over women to get themselves off. It’s also equally sucky that women sleep their way to the top. Some guys at the office spew dirty jokes and innuendo like they’re at a bar with their buddies. And some folks are way too uptight or act like their flower petal-soft moral beliefs are being assaulted constantly. Yea, I’m talking about you religious folks! It’s all about power. The offended and the offenders all want the power to make themselves the most important.

So, what’s the solution?

  1. Stop being so sensitive.
  2. Give up on the FAMILY rhetoric and get back to being a workplace.
  3. Allow or EXPECT people to handle things themselves like adults.
  4. Set a time limit on “complaints.” 12 months.

Can we allow or even expect adults to be adults and handle inappropriate situations directly? Or, will we continue down a path that makes the workplace a haven for oversensitivity? Should we wear name tags or bracelets that remind others of our tolerance levels?

Whatever the solution, I’m sure Trump is with me on this.