Tag Archives: essays

In Search of Happiness

​I have always wondered why, during  a concertated effort on become happier, I become less happy and more irratible.  That was until I heard this theory on a buddhist podcast*.  

When we are working towards happiness we are placing our thoughts and efforts towards a singular goal.  We are creating a sense of attachment to this goal.  Then, as a result of this attachment, we experience suffering because we have created a scarcity mindset behind our current existence.  

This cycle of thinking would therefore play out like this:

I am not happy. I am going to focus on being happy. I can’t find happiness and this makes me think there is never going to be enough happiness (scarcity).  I become fixated on finding happiness (attachment).  I try even harder to gather happiness because I am attached to the end goal.  The result is that I only find frustration. 

Turns out happiness is found in the acceptance of the present and a sense of gratitude in having enough.

*Sorry, I didn’t write down the name of the podcast.

This is a true weblog in the fact that it contains brief journal entries about the things that fascinate me.


The Artist Retreat Day

Today will be an artist retreat day.


Photo from Max Pixels

I don’t have to work so I can spend the day nourishing my creative soul.  My plan is to respond to writing prompts, go outside and take pictures, go for a walk in woods, and sit in silent mediation.  Today will be a retreat day, a day where I can relax and rejuvenate.

But before I can get started I should really clean the house.  Then it will be time for my artist retreat.

Actually, since I have the time I should make lunches for the week.  I think I will roast a bunch of potatoes.  Then what should I have for dinner?  After I figure that out, I will start my retreat.

I do need to check work email.  I am waiting for a couple of important messages. Then I should confirm some meetings for Wednesday and Thursday.  Then I will start my retreat.

I need to run to the grocery store, I am out of cereal and milk.  I also need to go to the bank.  After those errands, I will start my retreat.

I really want to get at least 3 miles of running in today.  It is going to be about 40 degrees today and I want to start getting in some outdoor mileage.  Race season is just around the corner.  Maybe after that I will start my retreat day.

Speaking of running, I really need to order some new shorts and running shirts.  After I do that I will start my retreat.

I would feel bad if I am going to home all day and I neglected the dogs.  I should really spend time with them. And since I am going to be outside with the dogs, I should get a little spring cleaning done.  I need to remove that those branches that came down in the last storm.

I forgot about picking up the mail and dropping off the taxes.  I definitely need to do that.  But after that I will start my artist retreat day.

Hmm, I wonder how much time that leaves me for my artist retreat activities? Doesn’t look like much.

Does this scenario sound familiar to anyone else?

I have noticed that I have this uncanny ability of putting obstacles in my way towards creative growth.  I construct all these reasons why I can’t focus on myself.   Julia Cameron in her book The Artists Way talks about how this type of behavior is an example of limiting and blocking an individual’s creative spirit probably due to some sort of past event where the creative spark was hampered by those of authority.  Cameron would probably also tell me that I am the perfect example of someone who is caught in their own Virtue Trap.  Cameron explains by saying, “We are on the treadmill of virtuous production and we are caught.” (p. 96)

Many of us have made a virtue our of deprivation.  We have embraced a long-suffering artistic anorexia as a martyr’s cross.  We have used it to feed a false sense of spirituality grounded in being good, meaning superior.

I call this seductive, faux spirituality the Virtue Trap.  Spirituality has often been misused as a route to an unloving solitude, a stance where we proclaim ourselves above our human nature.  This spiritual superiority is really only one more form of denial.  For an artist, virtue can be deadly.  The urge toward respectability and maturity can be stultifying, even fatal. (Cameron, p. 98)

The problem with this approach to life is that we lose our true self through the constant desire to serve others.  Our true self withers as it is replaced by the to-do lists and the obligations.  I order to keep in touch with our inner passions and potentials, we need to take time to retreat. We need to take time for the “Self”.  It is important to take time to nurture those creative impulses so we can embrace opportunities for growth when they happen.

The challenge, at least for me, is to increase the level of importance these types of activities.  If I want to say “I am a writer”, I need to find the time to be a writer. I need to be able to retreat and write.


Photo from pixabay


Works cited:

Cameron, J. (2016). The Artist Way. New York. Penguin Random House, LLC.


(I’m not your) Stepping Stone

I mentioned in my last post, I recently got a satellite radio.  Let me tell you, this radio is my new favorite thing.

You see music has this way a triggering memories.  Although science tells us that smell is more closely linked with your memory due to its connection to the amygdala and hippocampus (Mercola, 2015).   Music has a similar ability. That is because “listening to music engages broad neural networks in the brain, including brain regions responsible for motor actions, emotions, and creativity” (Bergland, 2013). The connection between music and memories is even being studied in the treatment of Alzheimer’s and dementia.   A good source for more information about this link between music, memory and the treatment of Alzheimer’s is the Music & Memory website: musicandmemory.org .

For me, one example about the link between smell, music and memory starts off with the smell of freshly baked bread on a fall day.   This smell brings up some really positive emotions for me.  However, part of that memory is associated with music. Specifically, these memories are associated with John Denver’s Rocky Mountain High album.   The interesting thing for me is that the music brings back more of those positive memories than the smell of fresh bread. So, I think the power of music wins out over smell in my world.

Anyways, this post revolves around that radio and music.  However, this post is about a music genre on the other side of the spectrum for John Denver.

Here is the scene:

It is a little after 9:00 pm and I am driving home.  I am traveling that same two lane highway through the rural countryside that I always travel. It was warm for a late February evening and there was fog rolling across the roads.  I had just left my second job and after a 14 hour day I was tired.

20 minutes into my travels, I finally decompressed enough to begin to notice the radio.  It is a little scary that you actually drive that far and be stuck in your head enough that you don’t recognize what music is playing in the car.  I wasn’t into the evening’s NPR selection and I resorted to my normal routine of flipping channels.  After a few minutes I landed on the Punk Rock channel called “Faction”.  I often listen to this station in the morning but had rarely listened at this time of day.  It turned out to be good timing because the station had Marky Ramone (drummer from the Ramones) sitting in as the DJ for a weekly show called Punk Rock Blitzkrieg.  Amazing!

I was digging the stream of new and older punk rock tunes that Marky was playing, but my favorite song of the night was the Sex Pistols doing a cover of the classic song “(I’m not your) Stepping Stone”.

“(I’m not your) Stepping Stone”, which was originally recorded in 1966 by Paul Revere and the Raiders, has quite the history over covers.  Several bands including The Monkees, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and Minor Threat have all recorded their own versions of this song.

The Sex Pistols’ cover of “(I’m not your) Stepping Stone” is not the most melodious version of the song, but it is as good as any punk rock version.

YouTube has recording of the song with a still montage (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZXd8qnONDIk)

And here is a version from a 2016 a reunion show. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fMpbEp71nC8).

The Sex Pistol’s version was released in 1979 on The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle album.  The Great Rock ‘N’ Roll Swindle album also included some other covers including: “Johnny B Goode” originally by Chuck Berry, “Substitute” by Pete Townsend (The Who), and “My Way” by Paul Anka, Claude François, Jacques Revaux.  (Frank Sinatra’s 1969 version of “My Way” is probably best known rendition of this song.)

An interesting side note is that The Sex Pistols also released a movie in 1979-1980 also called The Great Rock ‘N’ Roll Swindle.  The movie is a:

a stylized fictional account of the formation, rise and subsequent breakup of the band, from the point of view of their then-manager Malcolm McLaren. In the film, McLaren claims to create the Sex Pistols and manipulate them to the top of the music business, using them as puppets to both further his own agenda (in his own words: “Cash for chaos”), and to claim the financial rewards from the various record labels the band were signed to during their brief history – EMI, A&M, Virgin, and Warner Bros. Records. (Wikipedia, 2017, The_Great_Rock ‘N’ Roll_Swindle)

I remember watching this movie at my parent’s house when I was about 15 or so.  Not sure how I got my hands on a copy of this video because it sure wasn’t at the local video store.

In 2006 The Sex Pistols were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  However, they did not attend the ceremony.  Johnny Rotten (John Lydon) instead wrote this note and posted it on thefilthandthefury.co.uk,

Next to the Sex Pistols, rock and roll and that hall of fame is a piss stain. Your museum. Urine in wine. We’re not coming. We’re not your monkeys. If you voted for us, hope you noted your reasons. Your anonymous as judges but your still music industry people. We’re not coming. Your not paying attention. Outside the shit-stream is a real Sex Pistol. (Quoted in Sprague, 2006)

Really, the point of this whole thing is nostalgia.  For some reason, the Sex Pistols and The Great Rock ‘N’ Roll Swindle bring up positive memories for me.  The Sex Pistols were probably one of the first bands that really got me into music and got me into researching the story behind the music.  The Sex Pistols were also one of those bands that helped me forge my own identity and made music relevant.  Kind of funny thinking about this in now.  A band that came from a completely different world than my suburban New England upbringing would have such an impact on my adolescents.   But they did and those were some good times indeed.


Works Cited:

Bergland, C. (2013). Why Do the Songs from Your Past Evoke Such Vivid Memories? Psychology Today. Retrieved March 5, 2017 from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201312/why-do-the-songs-your-past-evoke-such-vivid-memories.

Mercola. (2015). Why Smells Can Trigger Strong Memories. Retrieved March 5, 2017 from http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2015/08/06/smells-trigger-memories.aspx

Sprague, D. (2006) “Sex Pistols Flip Off Hall of Fame”. Rolling Stone. Retrieved March 4, 2017 from https://web.archive.org/web/20080217032318/http://www.rollingstone.com/news/story/9385165/sex_pistols_flip_off_hall_of_fame

Wikipedia (2017) “The Great Rock ‘N’ Roll Swindle”. Retrieved March 4, 2017 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Great_Rock_%27n%27_Roll_Swindle

Wikipedia (2016). “(I’m Not Your) Stepping Stone”. Retrieved March 4, 2017 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/(I’m_Not_Your)_Steppin’_Stone

Wikipedia (2017). “Sex Pistols”. Retrieved March 4, 2017 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sex_Pistols

Pictures of You – The Cure

I almost cried today and it is Robert Smith’s fault.

Let me set the scene for you.  I was driving about 60 mph down the two lane highway that connects my home to my work.  The monotony of the drive sometimes gets the better of me.  The droning of public radio and the sprawling farmland can almost lull me back to sleep.  This was the case this morning so I resorted to scrolling through the radio to keep me awake.

I recently picked up a satellite radio and I will say that I love the variety of music that is available. But on a day like today my tolerance and attention are at a low point. I need to find that perfect song to get through what is left of my commute.

Credence Clearwater Revival , Nope.

Grateful Dead, Nope.

Bruno Mars, Nope.

Zac Brown Band, Not today.

That is where I finally come across the 80s alternative rock station. Often times I can pick up a song on this station that stimulates something within me, and that was definitely the case this morning.  The band was The Cure and the song playing was “Pictures of You”. This 1989 release is perhaps one of the most depressing songs I have ever heard.

Back in the late 80s I didn’t really like The Cure. I guess I thought their music was too emotional and too soft for me.  I was a punk rock fan. My bands were Minor Threat, Sex Pistols, Gang Green, and most other garage bands that were popular in the northeast.

Move forward 30 years and I have softened a little.  Although, I will still rock out to The Misfits version of “Where Eagles Dare”on the way to work, I often land on classic or alternative rock stations.  This morning, however, was a little different than most. I didn’t just find I song that I was able to connect to for a few minutes.  This song, “Pictures of You”, captured my full attention and began to stir emotions I didn’t even know existed.

Now have you ever listened to this song? The lyrics are truly poetic and scream of loss and depression.  Here is a quick sample

If only I’d thought of the right words
I could have held on to your heart
If only I’d thought of the rights words
I wouldn’t be breaking apart
My pictures of you

I don’t know what triggered me.  Was it the lyrics, or was it the way in which Robert Smith sings as if he just had his heart ripped out of his chest.  Maybe it was my ongoing self-diagnosed Seasonal Affective Disorder, or the right combination of events that tapped into some unresolved PTSD, or just overly sensitive nerves due to lack of sleep.  But as I listened to this song, I felt truly sad.

Back in the 1989 I was just 15 years old.  I remember that back then everything was alive.  Every day was a true adventure. Every experience was new, and the world was just starting to unfold.  To say I lived in angst would be an understatement.  Angst was the undercurrent of my life.  At times it was painful.  At other times it couldn’t get any better.  Life was electric and I was just playing in the current.  The Cure wasn’t the soundtrack to my life back then. In fact, The Cure didn’t even get a place in the intermissions of my personal movie.   But now The Cure provided the background music to my personal flashback scene.

There was nothing in the world
That I ever wanted more
Than to feel you deep in my heart
There was nothing in the world
That I ever wanted more
Than to never feel the breaking apart
All my pictures of you

These lyrics triggered memories of all those friends I have lost.  Those that have died from accidents, drug overdoses, or natural causes, their images come rushing to mind.  Those friends that I have never said good-bye to because I didn’t have to strength to stand in front of their graves.

The lyrics made me think of old girlfriends. Memories of promises that I never kept crept back to me.  We were going to be so strong and stay together for ever.  That all changed when I was easily swayed by the opinions of others, or when my own neurosis convinced me that what we had was built on lies and that it could never work.   These thoughts hurt the most.

I am almost a weeping mess as I approach the edge of town.  Merging into traffic it takes everything I have to stay focused on traffic signals.  The red light at the McDonald’s allows the song to come to its end.  I now have 5 more minutes to pull myself together.  Switching the radio back to pop radio station, I listen to a little John Mayer and pull into the parking lot behind work.   I turn the car off, step out into the parking lot, and let the memories of years past get taken away with a brisk morning breeze.

Damn You Robert Smith!  Or maybe I should say Thank You.

I Just Had A Birthday . . .

I just had a birthday and I realized that my life is a mess.

Well maybe that is a little harsh, but I did just turn 43. That in itself is a soul shaking event.  Most people talk about how turning 50 is a big deal, but how about 40?  Then it keeps going, 41, 42, and now 43.  I feel as lost and unfulfilled as I did 3 years ago.  Except now I am staring down that slippery slope of “it’s too late”. 

The bright side of this horrible revelation brought on by the aging process is that my professional life is good.   I have two jobs and I like them both.  I make enough money to not have to worry about food and can pay the utilities.  The people I work with are decent and sometimes even fun to be around.  It is that other part of life that is a struggle for me. That side of life that is supposed to bring you joy and happiness: the personal side.

My marriage has become stale laced with undercurrents of animosity. My social life has dried up and is almost non-existent.  Any hobbies of mine have all but disappeared.  My goal of being able to write and travel has faded into the background.  And I am 43.

Maybe it’s just a midlife crisis.

I remember when I had my quarter-life crisis.  That was an upheaval.  I quit drinking (been sober ever since), broke up with my girlfriend, and got a new job.  I moved into this little one bedroom apartment with my dog.  The rent was cheap and I still think I paid too much.  The walls were drafty, I fell through the bathroom floor, and my neighbor was a seriously strange character.  I had two spoons, two forks, two plates, two bowls, and two glasses.  I stopped by the grocery store on the way home most nights to pick up dinner and sat on the porch during the summer eating TV dinners and watching the world pass me by.  Ahh, the good old days!

I am not sure if this is what I want now.  But I have decided that I am not going to go quietly into the second half of my life.  I have declared that this year I am going to take back my life.  I am going to recreate my world.  I am going to reestablish my sense of self.  I am going to renew my life and find the joy and happiness that I have been missing.  Now I am sure I will run into road blocks and fits of depression, but I have set some goals and created a personal manifesto of change.

  • I will exercise and run more. (Today I ran 4.5 miles in 29 degree weather. It was a little cold and well worth it.)
  • I will join a running club. (Done! I ordered my shirt today.)
  • I will write more. (Started writing again last week and gave the blog a face lift.  I can’t believe it has been 4 years since I last wrote anything here.)
  • I will stay connect with friends. (I finally joined Facebook. Thinking this might help me keep in touch with those old friends.)
  • I will stand up for myself and take back my time. (This will probably be the hardest thing to do because it will cause conflict.  I don’t really like conflict.)

I know it sounds like I have just made a list of New Year’s Resolutions, and maybe I have. The challenge with these, and all resolutions, is sticking with them.  Every year the nightly news does several pieces on how all our resolutions fail and that we are really looking at change in the wrong way.  We should be making little changes that we can incorporate into our lives and not disrupt our patterns of behavior.  I get that.  But I want to go big.  I want to be the person who says, “The best decision of my life was to follow my dreams and everything else just fell into place.”  Now that would make for an epic 43rd year.





Eyes in the Dark

eyeshine from flong.com

eyeshine from flong.com

It’s cold, dark, and quiet. I can hear the gravel crunching under my boots with every step.  I glance upwards to see the silhouettes of bare tree branches in the night sky.  It’s early still and I am out before most people wake up.  Stirred by bit of insomnia and a quest for solitude, Ava and I begin our 2 mile morning walk. 

Soon my walk becomes darker as the road bends and trees shift from mixed hardwoods to a collection of softwood trees.  The Fir and Spruce trees, with their branches filled with needles, diminish the amount of moonlight that reaches my path.  The increased darkness becomes paired with a gentle cold breeze that sends a chill through me. As I continue up the road, passing the old logging path on the right and then the entrance to the hunting camp on the left, an uncomfortable feeling sweeps over me.  The darkness and the cold has transformed my peaceful morning stroll into an eerie hike into the unknown.

The woods thin out on my left and my eyes are drawn toward to the clearing.  At first I don’t see anything, but then my light catches the reflection of a pair of squinty eyes out in the darkness.  The eyes seem to stand about six feet tall.  They are steady, persistent, and look back at me.  My mind races to identify the owner of the eyes.  Maybe it’s a cat . . . no  a raccoon . . .  a deer . . .  a bear . . .   a werewolf . . .  a monster . . .  a hatchet wielding maniac.


“Ok, slow down and breath”, I say to myself, “these horror movie marathons you are watching are not helping right now”. 


I soon recognize that I have engaged in a staring contest with the eyes in the darkness. We are locked in battle to see who moves first.  Ava, who has become bored with this part of the road, finally tugs on the end of her leash. I lose my balance, stumble, and look away from the eyes.  When I regained my footing and look back into the woods, the eyes are gone.  Our encounter is over.

Coming to terms with the fact that the eyes had slipped back into the woods, Ava and I continued on towards the end of the road.  As we walked, I contemplate the idea that even in the darkness of the early morning on a deserted road you are rarely ever completely alone in nature.




The weather was different that morning.  It was warmer and just the start of the fall season.  It was early morning and I was comfortable walking the dogs with just an old sweatshirt to keep the occasional cool breeze off my skin.  It was dark, very little moonlight and a patchy cloud covered sky.  You often really can’t tell cloud cover at night, but you know when it is thick because things seem darker than normal and the LED lights on the headlamp seem to struggle to light the ground.  But that morning, the light moved more freely and it reflected off the moisture of the rocks in the road. 

I have traveled this road many times before, over a thousand times perhaps.   That morning things were moving along as normal until my light glistened off a dark object near the edge of the road. 

 I approached the object slowly, mainly concerned that it might be something that I didn’t want the dogs to eat.  As I got closer, my eyes focused in on the object.  It was slightly rounded and presented the classic crescent shape of a resting salamander.  Yet it was larger than most salamanders I have seen, and much larger than the Red Efts I see on many spring mornings. I quickly realized that I was looking at a medium size Spotted Salamander. 

A Spotter Salamander photo borrowed from Maine Audobon

A Spotter Salamander photo borrowed from Maine Audobon

A Spotted Salamander (Ambystoma maculatum) can grow up to nine inches long, but this was seemed closer to six inches long.  Its bluish black body had several yellow spots irregularly spaced on its back which provided great contrast in the reflection of my headlamp.  The Spotted Salamander is the largest of Vermont’s salamanders and spends most of its time living underground in mole holes or mouse tunnels.  This was truly quite a treat to see this creature in the wild.   The Spotted Salamander is an elusive animal and I have spent several early spring evenings searching for migrating salamanders in the wetland and woods around my house with no success.  Unfortunately, my excitement was short lived as I began to suspect this Salamander was dead.

I kneeled down on the side of the road.  The Spotted Salamander became circled in a beam of light from my headlamp.  I slowly reached down and touched him.  He was cold, moist, and made no attempt to move.  I picked him up and he showed the distinct indications that it had been run over by a car. I held him for a moment before I moved him off to the side of the road.  I placed the Salamander in the tall grass on the side of the road as I felt like this was the best way to show respect to this beautiful and mysterious creature.   I took a moment to let the mixed emotions of this event pass over me before I got up and continued on my walk a little more aware of the fragility of life.

Picture of a Spotted Salamander borrowed from www.wildlife.state.nh.us

Picture of a Spotted Salamander borrowed from http://www.wildlife.state.nh.us

Red Eft picture borrowed from National Geographic

Red Eft picture borrowed from National Geographic