Saturday, January 24, 2009

Optimism: Ignoring the Naysayers

One of my earliest memories of being inspired towards optimism was from the TV version of Damn Yankees (1967). This Broadway Musical was based on a book that was loosely based on the old Faust legend.

One of the songs in the movie was called Heart. One stanza in the song is repeated several times:

You've gotta have heart
All you really need is heart
When the odds are sayin' you'll never win
That's when the grin should start…

In my mind, the line I recollected was,

When the crowds are saying, “You’ll never win!”
That’s when the grin should start.

Optimism, for me, began with ignoring the naysayers: both the odds and the crowds. There are many voices that seek to persuade us, “You’ll never win.” Or “You’ll never be a winner.”

In many circles, negativity rules. I make it my aim to stay out of those circles. In fact, I’ve learned to fight the urge to self-destruct from negative self-talk. The Naysayer within is perhaps one of my greatest foes.

What’s a person to do?

The song gives us a strategy: grin!

In the face of negativity I mimic The Little Engine The Could. The mantra of success is perhaps, “I think I can… I think I can…”

If you don’t think you can: you won’t. If you think you can: you just might.

So ignore the naysayers. Contemplate the possibilities and grin.

There’s an old hymn that says, “Faith, Mighty Faith, the promise takes and looks to God alone; laughs at impossibility and shouts, It shall be done!”

Ray Bradbury echoes the same theme in Something Wicked This Way Comes: evil can be conquered by laughter.

I was “programmed” at an early age to be optimistic by a “silly” song. Against the odds, against popular opinion, I just might prevail! That’s optimism.

(What songs fuel your optimism? What songs promote your negativity? Which songs will you let program you?)

Friday, January 23, 2009

Optimism: Songs that programmed me

In the classic movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, a computer named HAL runs amok. In order to save the day, the computer's memory is disabled a little bit at a time until all that's left is it's first memory: a song.

Last summer I spent some time searching my own memory banks for the source of my optimistic outlook on life. (I also thought about the times in my life when I've been full of despair.) In both instances I could trace a part of my outlook on life to the lyrics of songs that I allowed to impact me.

One of the reasons I was doing this was because I had signed up for a monthly music service that gave me access to two million songs. What was I going to listen to and why?

As as result of my inquiry I was able to pull together a meager playlist of ten inspirational songs that have inspired me to hope, positivity, and perseverance. Over the next few days, I'll be sharing these lyrics, one song at a time.

What songs would be (or should be) on your personal inspirational playlist?

HAL went half-crazy. I wonder why?

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Making a Difference: My Waking Dream

Some posts bear rereading. I’ve found one such post over at Musings of a Wandering Spirit. Miss H~, the blog’s author, is a teacher. One particular line stood out to me yesterday evening as I reread a certain blog entry of hers. The line is, "I needed to be reminded of why I teach -- to help kids..."

Teaching is hard some days. Often it’s not the kids that tire you. Usually it's the other stuff: paper work, uncooperative printers, criticism, budget issues, etc.

Because of the stressors, we need reminders from fellow encouragers as to why we do what we do. I was reminded by Miss H~’s post why I went into teaching. I went into teaching to help kids. It's that simple.

Miss H~’s post helped me to refocus, recalibrate, and reassess my successes. Today, for a few of my students, I made a significant difference. That's why I teach. (Now I remember!)

I was reminded also of a story called The Starfish, author unknown. Here’s one version of the story…

Once a man was walking along a beach. The sun was shining and it was a beautiful day. Off in the distance he could see a person going back and forth between the surf's edge and the beach. Back and forth this person went. As the man approached he could see that there were hundreds of starfish stranded on the sand as the result of the natural action of the tide.

The man was stuck by the the apparent futility of the task. There were far too many starfish. Many of them were sure to perish. As he approached the person continued the task of picking up starfish one by one and throwing them into the surf.

As he came up to the person he said, "You must be crazy. There are thousands of miles of beach covered with starfish. You can't possibly make a difference." The person looked at the man. He then stooped down and pick up one more starfish and threw it back into the ocean. He turned back to the man and said, "It sure made a difference to that one!"

Teaching is a profession, like others, that can feel overwhelming. That’s why it’s important to revisit why we make the effort. Me? I want to make a difference. That’s my “waking dream.”

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Do you like change?

Someone asked me yesterday, “Do you like change?”

They were asking because I was watching the inauguration of President Obama.

My reply was, “Some change I like. I like orderly change. For example, I don’t like change that comes based on news from a doctor.”

A few other changes I don’t like are changes based on an emergency call in the night, or a traffic accident, or some unanticipated business announcements.

I like managed change and participatory change.

Although I didn’t vote for Obama, I was proud of him, America, and the smooth transition of governing that the inauguration showcased.

As I awoke this morning, I thought, Such “big” changes yesterday. Historic changes. And yet my day seems remarkably the same.

That’s the kind of change I like.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Cut back the roses...

Roses never quit blooming in Orange County, California, but they still require an annual pruning. This procedure involves cutting all the stems back to two or three foot lengths. Besides filling up three or four trash cans, there are two other downsides to this procedure: 1) Thorns and the cuts that go with them, 2) No roses for several months.

I threatened to cut my 14 rose bushes back some weeks ago, but alas other priorities gave them a reprieve: until this weekend.

I'm not without blossoms, the geraniums are bouncing back from a root trim I did three or four months ago, and one of my trees, a Pink Tabibuya is beginning to show blossoms. (At the other end of the yard, my Liquid Amber just lost the last of its leaves. Plants get confused in this part of the country.)

It has been in the 80's for the last four days or so, but we're headed back to the mid-60's by mid-week. It's even supposed to rain on Wednesday. (Oh, horrors!)

This is the kind of weather that made the soldiers who did basic training in California in preparation for WWI and WWII move to this part of the country after the war. (It just beats freezing your tail off elsewhere. Sorry.)

So, over at the One Minute Writer last week, we were given the task of writing a rhyming poem. I give you my rose inspired entry:

Cut Back the Roses

It's winter here,
not really drear.

The roses are still growing,
The lawns still need mowing.

But the roses need a rest.
Cut 'em back: that's best.

In two months they'll bloom again.
In two months they'll bloom again.

Two months.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Dreams, Nightmares, and Visions

Some people take special note of the dreams they have at night. They interpret them, they ponder them, they get “direction” from them. I’ve done that.

Some people have nightmares. These nightmares may be extreme, chronic, or just occasionally bothersome. I’ve only had the last on the list: bothersome.

T.E. Lawrence (a.k.a. Lawrence of Arabia, a famous news correspondent) said this:

"Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that all was vanity, but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men for they may act their dream with open eyes and make it possible."

What we dream of in the night is, in my opinion, of less importance than what we dream of by day. (I’m not talking daydreams, but life dreams.)

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, which was signed into law in 1983 by President Ronald Reagan. A civil rights activist in the late 50’s and early 60’s, King’s most famous speech was given in August of 1963 at a rally in Washington DC. Entitled, I Have A Dream, the speech is one full of powerful rhetoric and inspiration.

In the speech King shares with his listeners his dream of a United States of America that would be more free, more equal, more cooperative. King died before that dream could be realized, but he was working to realize the dream.

King was a social activist who worked on the local, state, national, and even international level. But what of us?

What is your waking dream? What vision guides you in your efforts to make the world a better place?

The scale of our influence may be smaller than King’s, but scale isn’t the most important measure. What matters is your dream.

It’s not a matter of knowing the whole vision. What matters is, What are you doing about what you have seen?

“…the dreamers of the day are dangerous men for they may act their dream with open eyes and make it possible.”

We may act our dreams with open eyes, but will we? Will I? Will you? Let’s be dangerous!


"The Impossible Dream"
from MAN OF LA MANCHA (1972)
music by Mitch Leigh and lyrics by Joe Darion

(Listen to Jim Nabors sing the song as Gomer Pyle)

To dream the impossible dream
To fight the unbeatable foe
To bear with unbearable sorrow
To run where the brave dare not go

To right the unrightable wrong
To love pure and chaste from afar
To try when your arms are too weary
To reach the unreachable star

This is my quest
To follow that star
No matter how hopeless
No matter how far

To fight for the right
Without question or pause
To be willing to march into Hell
For a heavenly cause

And I know if I'll only be true
To this glorious quest
That my heart will lie peaceful and calm
When I'm laid to my rest

And the world will be better for this
That one man, scorned and covered with scars
Still strove with his last ounce of courage
To reach the unreachable star

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Delivered from Death!

A Miracle on the Hudson, that’s what the dramatic emergency landing of a USAirways jet on the Hudson River is being called. MSNBC reports, “An investigation has begun in New York, after a US Airways jet crashed late Thursday afternoon into the Hudson River. Miraculously, authorities say all passengers survived.”

A modern day miracle? Watching one of the passengers retell her story on YouTube, I was convinced she saw it as a miracle.

Have you ever thought you were going to die and didn’t?

I remember the first time that happened to me. I was 17 years old and thought I was invincible. (Or at least I didn’t think I was going to die any time soon.) Until one afternoon…

I was on my way home from somewhere, driving my black 1967 Fiat Sport Coupe. I was going about 30 miles per hour through a residential area on an unfamiliar route. I slowed up as the road turned left, but just as I was coming out of the turn, I saw my street on the right. I made a quick right turn, hitting a slight dip where the two roads met.

The abrupt turn, the speed, the dip, and the centrifugal force all conspired to send my car up onto two wheels. As bad as that was, it got worse. My car stayed on two wheels as if I were a stunt driver who knew what he was doing, but I didn’t.

I looked down to my left where I could now see the curb two or three feet away. While I was deciding what to do… my friend hung on for dear life suspended above me to my right.

Which way would you turn the wheels?

I turned right, away from the curb, but that was a mistake. The car lurched and began to tip over, until I turned the wheel quickly to the left, back towards the curb. That was enough to send the car back onto four wheels.

At this point I pulled over to the right side of the road to gather my wits, as I gasped to my friend, “We could have been killed! We really could have died: right there.” And we could have.

Similar to those aboard the USAirways flight, I understood that God had spared my life. I could have died. Like many who have experienced near-death experiences, I came away with a sense of destiny. I thought, “God spared my life for a purpose. I wonder what it could be?”

Years later I read this in the Psalms: “God is to us a God of deliverances and salvation; and to God the Lord belongs escape from death.”

To this day I thank God that he allowed me to escape from death. I enjoy life. I’ve done some stupid things in life that could have gotten me killed, but didn’t. I wasn’t just lucky, I was spared. It wasn’t luck: it was a miracle, because “…to God the Lord belongs escape from death.”

If you are an escapee, remember to be grateful to God, and to live like you’ve been given another chance, because you have. Just like me.