Monday, December 28, 2020

The Surfing Machine: 10 Reasons To Surf

2020 has been a banner year for me.  I kicked 2020 square in the nuts.  I'm realizing my dream of living in Mexico and learning Spanish.  I live right, smack on the Pacific Ocean.  I hear the waves crashing when I fall asleep at night, then I wake up and ride them.  I finally learned how to surf here, and I have been surfing twice per day.  Surfing is at the center of my long term plans.  I have big goals for 2021 and beyond.  Bigger goals than ever.  But I'm not telling anybody what they are.  Not even my Mom or my best friends.  Nobody. 

I do the same things every day.  I surf in the morning, work at the coffee shop in the afternoon, then surf again in the evenings.  It's been cold in the mornings and I have been the only person on the water.  I've been doing dawn patrol by myself each morning since I stopped working with my instructor.  We went out together every morning until I learned the basics, but now I am on my own.  I keep going out alone every day, even though I miss my coach.  Surfing with friends is always more fun, but if I want to be a surfer then I will be surfing mostly alone for the time being.  

There have been no other surfers out in the mornings and nobody on the beach except for a few local fisherman.  The fishermen are the only ones out there to see my good rides and my good wipeouts.  I've been surfing at such a feverish pace that I have given a myself a new nickname: The Surfing Machine.  Surfing took hold of me so quickly and so mightily that I have already asked myself many times why I'm doing it.  There is no single answer.  There are many.  This list is not exhaustive, but here are 10 reasons I surf:

1) Surfing makes me a happier and therefore better person.  
  • I am kinder and more generous to people on land because I am energized by surfing.  Surfing  improves my attitude and energy level for the whole day.  Surfing relieves stress and elevates my whole sense of being.
2) Surfing is great exercise.  
  • I know of nothing - and I mean nothing - that burns more calories than surfing.  Surfing will help you lose weight.  It will also improve your cardio, even if you are a already high-level professional athlete.
3) Surfing is a great way to make new friends.  
  • The surfing world is full of interesting people.  I've already gotten to take surf trips with my local friends here in Mexico.  Of course, being able to speak and understand the local language is key.
4) Surfing connects me with nature.  
  • It makes me completely present.  I'm focused purely on what I am doing.  I'm not thinking about anything else.  All distractions cease to exist while I am out there on the waves.  It's an escape from "land problems" - the bullshit government and the bullshit people in my life mean nothing on the water.  Civilization could crash and burn and I wouldn't even notice, let alone care.
5) Surfing is fun for it's own sake.
  • The sensation of dropping down the face of a wave and riding along the surface of the water is priceless.  The feeling could never be described adequately.  It can't be captured by words.  It's something that must be experienced.  It must be felt.  There's a saying: ''only a surfer knows the feeling."  This is the feeling I speak of.
6) Surfing provides schedule structure.
  • My day follows the surf schedule.  I surf in the mornings because that is when the surfing conditions are best, and before the sun is too high.  I surf again in the evenings for the same reasons: good surf and low sun.  I do my research and writing during the day because that is when I'm not surfing.  I eat and sleep in order to fuel up for surf sessions - there's almost no other reason.  I live to surf.
7) Surfing demands endless learning.
  • Surfing is an art.  Like any art, it takes a lifetime to master.  A real artist never stops learning about his art.  There are endless dimensions to surfing.  Every surfer is also an amateur naturalist, oceanographer, weatherman, medic, handyman, geographer, cook, nutritionist, linguist and travel agent.  You keep learning for life.  
8) Surfing demands self-sufficiency.
  • Surfing engraves a self-sufficient ethic deep into your core, through fear.  Being out there in big surf, all alone, on a small piece of fiberglass is humbling.  You realize that you and you alone are responsible for your well being.  Whether you have a great experience, or a near death experience, depends purely on your skills and the decisions you make.  Show me a great surfer and I'll show you someone who is remarkably self-sufficient.  They had to be self-sufficient in order to become a great surfer.  Surfing, by nature, targets and weeds out excuses for not surfing.
9) Surfing is a reason to travel.
  • I can't think of a better way to see the world than through an endless string of surf trips.  This idea is so appealing that they made two movies out of it: Endless Summer I and II.  These movies are classic hits, and they continue to be the beginning of the surfing journey for thousands of people.  People absolutely lust over the idea of travelling the world surfing.  I'm living that fantasy as we speak, and I plan to keep it up as long as possible.  
10) Surfing is a reason to care about the environment.
  • The first time you get diarrhea or a skin infection from polluted water, you will know what I'm talking about.  The first time you arrive at an isolated beach to find it covered in trash, you will know what I am talking about. 
After my morning surf, I walk about a half mile to the coffee shop to do my deskwork.  I arrive at roughly the same time and sit at roughly the same spot every day.   I know everyone who works here by their first name, and they know me.  I greet them every time I come in.  They must laugh at me because I am so predictable.  They joke with me that the coffee shop is my office - and it is.  I show up every day, like clockwork.  Except on Wednesdays because they are closed.  If they were open on Wednesdays, I'd show up on Wednesdays, too.  I do research and writing at the coffee shop every day until it's time to surf again.

Nobody makes me do any of this. Nobody checks my time card to see if I showed up.  Nobody cares.  That's what I like about it.  I don't have a boss.  I show up because I want to.  I show up because surfing means living the dream I've had since I was a kid.   Living my childhood dreams gives me a great sense of pleasure, satisfaction and accomplishment.   Learning to surf wasn't easy.  It took dedication, drive and commitment - but living out my childhood dreams is incredibly gratifying.  It's so gratifying that I've decided to keep doing it forever.  I plan to perpetually follow the desires of my inner child: the one who wants to do nothing but have fun all the time.

The success of my life and my career will be measured in only one currency: how much fun I have.  Not by how much money I make.  Not by how many girls like me.  Not by how many people read my blog.  Not by any position or rank I hold.  Only by how much fun I have.  I am going to live this lifestyle as long as I can, and I am going to share updates.  So stay tuned.  The coming years are going to be humdingers.  2020 was just a warm up.  I have only begun to surf.

Living this lifestyle is serious business, though.  It's not for everybody.  Freedom must be balanced by responsibility, or it will turn into chaos.  It takes a strong backbone and a strong moral compass to live this free.  You have to remain focused on your goals, or you will fall off track.  There are plenty of ex-pats who leave their country claiming to be on some righteous mission, but don't have anywhere near the discipline or dedication to actually follow through on their commitments.

There are plenty of guys down here in Mexico who claim that they are "learning Spanish.''  Some of them have lived here for more than a year and still can't even ask for a menu in Spanish, let alone order from it.  I stay away from these guys.  

There are also plenty of guys who are "learning to surf.''  They have a board and speak surfing lingo well enough to fool non-surfers into thinking they know what they are doing.  This ruse ends the moment they hit the water.  Whether you have been surfing or not, your skills will show it.  When it comes time to paddle out, you will not fool anybody - least of all, yourself.

The only reason I even mention these guys is because I am tired of being mistaken for them.  I've been putting in the work every day.  It takes time to develop real skills like Spanish and surfing, and only time will tell who has been putting in the work and who hasn't.  

But make no mistake about it: time will tell the truth.  The bums will remain bums, and those who've been putting the work will graduate to new levels.  I've never been more excited about things to come.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Thank You

Thank you
For doing the right thing
Even though no one saw
And probably never will

Thank you
For being kind to others
Even on the hard days
Especially on the hard days

Thank you
For picking up trash
At the beach
And protecting the environment

Thank you
For tipping your food servers
Each time you get a coffee or snack
That money goes farther than you know

Thank you
For paying good deeds forward
The only responsibility of a lucky person
Is to make sure others get lucky too

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

You Don't Have Mail: A Gut Punch From God

My voting ballot is stuck in the mail in Mexican customs.  I have until Nov. 3rd to mail it in.  The chances of me receiving it before then are slim to none.  It might take weeks to get here.  It might never get here.  To say that I am hurt, angry and disappointed is an understatement.  It's more accurate to say that I am devastated, livid and completely disgusted.  

My mail disappeared in Mexico City on October 14th, and since then my life has been full of anxiety and rage.  My Mom mailed my ballot to me from my permanent residence in San Diego.  She mailed the ballot to me as soon as she received it on October 6th.  The post office told her that it would arrive to me in Mexico within two weeks.  Here we are three weeks later, and I still don't have my ballot.  We launched an inquiry with the post office and it turns that my mail was held up at customs - which is where it still sits at the moment.

Had I known this would happen, I would have told my Mom to overnight my mail to me.  It would have cost her $50, but I would have told her to pay it.  I've been waiting four years to vote in this election.  I hated Trump in 2016 and I've hated him more every day since.  I couldn't wait to vote in this year's election.  I considered it not only my duty as an American, but my duty as a citizen of the world.  I saw photos of people standing in line for hours to vote early and felt an immense sense of pride that these people cared enough to show up and go through that in order to vote.

I sent my Mom my Mexican address in plenty of time to get my ballot.  My Mom wasted no time sending the ballot to me.  She sent it as soon as she received it, and she trusted the post office at their word that I would get it within two weeks.  But I didn't get it within two weeks, and now I am not going to be able to vote at all unless my ballot miraculously arrives within the next few days - which is highly unlikely.

I am in Mexico spending my days surfing, swimming and doing yoga.  I should arguably be the happiest person in the world.  But I'm not.  Far from it.  I am deeply distraught.  I am furious that my mail isn't here.  Furious at the post office for giving my Mom a false timetable.  Furious at Mexican customs for holding my mail for no good reason.  Furious at my Mom for choosing snail mail out of all the available options.  But most of all, I am furious at myself for allowing this to happen.  I thought I had done everything I needed to do to get my ballot on time, but I didn't.

I feel like I have literally failed the entire world.  I had one job, and I failed to do it.  I feel like a complete piece of shit.  On top of that, my paycheck was also in the same envelope as my ballot.  So now I have no paycheck and no voting ballot until Mexican customs feels like forwarding my mail to me - which could be never.

The anxiety and uncertainty has really taken a toll on me.  I have not enjoyed the last several days and have spent most of the time distraught.  Even when I'm out on the water, I'm thinking about this colossal fuck-up and how it could have and should have been avoided.  This has taken all the wind out of my sails and I don't feel motivated to do much of anything.  I feel like the entire universe has conspired against me and the things I work for can be taken from me at any second by forces outside of my control.  In short, I've never felt so weak and powerless in my entire life.  My paycheck and my voting ballot are both being held hostage right now - against my will and for no apparent reason.  

Living the dream in Mexico?  My asshole.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

If That's Not Love, Then What Is It? - My Journey Learning How To Surf

I've spent 2020 almost entirely in rural Ghana and in Mexico.  I've been bit by some mosquitos during that time, but no bug bit me as hard as the surfing bug.  I live a 10 minute walk from the Pacific Ocean and I've been learning to surf over the past couple of weeks.  I'm still learning, but I have experienced every emotion on the spectrum in the past few days.  Everything from the sheer terror of being held under by a wave, to the sheer joy of riding one - along with every fear, second-guess and apprehension in between.  I have felt in one moment like a man living his dream - the highest of highs.  And in the next moment I have wondered why I ever came here and whether the whole thing was a bad idea and I should just go home.  But what is there for me to do if I quit?  I don't really want to do anything else.  And where is home, anyway?  

How did I get here?

My fascination with surfing began as a kid reading Surfer Magazine, which I heard closed it's doors this year after being in publication since 1962.  This is a great tragedy to me, because Surfer Magazine singlehandedly got me hooked on surfing, even though I had never been and didn't know how to do it.  I thought the pro surfers were the coolest guys in the world.  I read all of the articles and the stories.  I learned about geography and places I didn't even know existed.  I loved Surfer Magazine.

That's why the first thing I ever bought with my own money was a surfboard.  When I was about 10, I saved up $50 from my allowance and bought a used blue and white surfboard out of the Pennysaver.  I waxed it religiously, but only took it out a few times.  Rides to the beach were the issue then, and by the time I reached high school I was involved in other activities (working out, baseball, hockey) and just never got around to learning how to surf.  I even lived on South Mission Beach in college, and never learned then.  Similar to playing the guitar, I just didn't know how to get started.  I think that's the biggest problem for most people when it comes to learning most things.

After living in landlocked places for the first several months of this year, I began to miss the beach greatly.  Even though I never became a real surfer in San Diego, I did come to love the beach.  So I decided to move to Manzanillo, Colima.  It was the closest beach to me and it's much more low key than Puerto Vallarta, which is a couple hours drive north along the Pacific Coast.  I did some research and learned that Manzanillo had some good beginner surfing beaches, so I came to Manzanillo.

The first step was finding a board, which was frankly harder than I thought in a place that is practically made for learning to surf.  I couldn't find any boards near my location in the classifieds, but I did manage to locate a surf shop in town.  They only had one surfboard.  A shortboard with no fins.  And the screws for the fins were missing.  So I didn't have a board.  Until a local rider walked into the shop.  He said I needed some snap-in fins.  He also said he had a set he would sell me.  Perfect.  I was in business.

He said he had to run an errand and would pick me up on the way back.  It turned out to be a long errand, and I had to wait at the shop for a little while, but he came back as promised.  He spoke English well and I learned that he was a local architect who had spent some time in Orange County, California.  We became friends and I hung out at his place on the beach for a bit.  He sold me the fins.  Now I had a board and a new friend.  My surfing career was off to a great start.

Now the problem was that I didn't know how to surf.  I had seen plenty of other people surf, and I used to paddle out as a kid whenever I got the opportunity.  So how hard could it be?  The answer is really fucking hard.  Pretty much the hardest thing I've ever done.  But that's because I didn't do it properly.  I was so excited to have a board and have the beach right in front of me that I hopped out into the water and began paddling immediately.  For a few moments, it was complete joy.  I was living the dream and I hadn't even stood up yet.  I hadn't even paddled for a wave yet.  I had conquered my entire life just by showing up and being out there.  Nothing could stop me.

Until I started having fierce pains in my ribs and sternum.  I wasn't even tired from swimming yet, and the pain in my chest became too much to bear.  I was riding a shortboard (not a foam board), and my lack of conditioning for pressure on my chest combined with poor paddling technique had resulted in fierce pain.  I knew I needed to go back to the beach to avoid causing myself further injury.  It was complete heartbreak.  I literally cried on the beach and got really embarrassed and angry when I realized there was a security guard watching me.  I wasn't crying because my chest was hurt.  My feelings were.  How could I have come this far to have it end so soon?  This got me thinking that maybe I should get some lessons.

Instead of getting lessons, I decided to go back out on my own.  I waited a couple days for the pain in my chest to subside, then gave it another shot.  With the exact same result.  Another heartbreak.  This time, instead of crying I ordered a padded a rashguard.

The padded rash guard came earlier than expected and now I was back in business, once again.  Now I was feeling like it was meant to be.  If God didn't want me to make it this far, he would have shut it down a lot time ago.  It was time to paddle out again.

I took the rashguard out for a test paddle and it worked like a charm.  I had no pain in my ribs and was able to stay out until I got tired, which wasn't that long because I have not been swimming regularly and didn't have much swimming stamina.  The fact that I was able to paddle without pain built my confidence, even though I tired relatively quickly from lack of regular swimming.  

I did some online research and learned ways to improve my paddling and duck diving techniques.  My skills were improving, but far from mastered.  I knew that the way to improve them was to practice.  So I took the board out again.  This is when things got pretty scary.

I practiced paddling around on the inside for a while and duck diving a few waves.  I was controlling the board and staying balanced better than in my previous sessions.  And my duck dive technique was getting better.  My confidence grew.  

By sheer luck I managed to paddle for a big inside wave (maybe 3 feet) at the perfect time.  I paddled and paddled and was ALMOST in position to take off down the face, but just missed the wave because my paddling wasn't good enough yet.  A better surfer would have taken off down the face for a perfect ride.  My skills weren't at that level yet, but my confidence was.  I knew that I was razor close to catching that wave and I knew that if I could get that close once, then I could do it again.  So I paddled outside and decided to take on some bigger waves.  This was not a good choice.

I got to the outside and waited for a swell, which was good.  I let the first couple waves of the set pass to the get the timing of the waves.  Which was also good.  Then I saw a big swell coming and paddled like a madman for it.  I wanted to get an early start because I had just missed the last wave.  But I started too early, or maybe too late.  And the wave crashed right on top of me.

It was 3-4 foot surf that day and I figured I would be safe out there, even though I was a beginner, since it wasn't a particularly big day.  I am a competent swimmer and I took wipeouts in the ocean as a kid, so I didn't think the conditions were particularly scary.  It turns out that the waves don't have to be big to be scary.

I got smashed by the wave, put through the washing machine and held under.  I couldn't breathe and I was very scared.  I knew to stay calm from my days at Oceanside Aquatics Camp when I was a kid, so I held my breathe and tried to relax.  But I was held under for longer than I was comfortable.  I was finally able to scramble to the surface once the turbulence dissipated and gasped for air.  I knew there would be another wave coming, and there was.

I was separated from my board, and I had the choice of either 1) going for the board, or 2) waiting for the wave to come and diving under it.  I decided that the board, as a floatation device, was the better choice.  I swam quickly and out of breath to the board and arrived just in time to attempt a duck dive.  But my duck diving technique is still not good and I got blown back by the whitewash and taken for another tumble.  Again I held my breath and tried to relax.  Again I was terrified that I wouldn't be let up in time.  Again I made it to the surface and gasped for air.  Again there was another wave coming.  Again I swam to my board.

This time I made a better decision.  Rather than attempting another poor duck dive and getting wiped out again, I turned around and faced the beach and tried to catch the whitewash in like a boogie board.  The technique worked.  I got taken for the wild, bucking bronco ride of my life, but I managed to stay on the board and ride it into the inside.  I used the same technique to ride the inside whitewash to the shore.  When I got back to the beach, my legs felt like lead.  I was happy to be alive, but also very angry.  Angry at myself for not being a better surfer.  Angry that I put myself in that situation.  Angry that I even decided to come Manzanillo in the first place.  What made me decide to pursue this, anyway?  Maybe this was a bad idea and I should move away from the beach altogether.  It might be safer.  Then I went home and cried for the second time.

Instead of moving from the beach, I contacted a surfing instructor.  I got a recommendation from my friend who sold me the fins, and I've taken two lessons in the past two days.  I've already built a network of three surfing instructors now - in addition to my friend who sold me the fins.  My surfing community is growing and therefore my support system is growing.  Learning to surf by myself on a shortboard has been one of the hardest experiences I've ever had.  The learning curve is steep, and the consequences are drastic.  That's why it's better to have someone out there with you.  It's also better to learn on a foam board (which the instructor's provide), and it's also better to learn in 1-2 foot surf rather than 3-4 feet.  I realize these things now, but I didn't know it at the time.

I guess the moral of the story here is to sign up for some lessons if you want to learn to surf.  If you don't have a friend or relative who is willing to go out with you and teach you for several sessions (most people don't), then hire someone.  Going out by yourself as a beginner can be mortally dangerous and downright terrifying, even if you're a competent swimmer in small surf.  I am not an experienced surfer, but I am experienced at learning things and I believe you should get a teacher for this one.  For safety reasons, if nothing else.

With that said, I am completely obsessed with surfing.  It's all I think about.  I'm already thinking about how I can structure my daily routine to make me a better surfer.  I'm obsessed.  It's a form of madness.  The closest thing I can compare it to is falling in love.  You experience every emotion that exists.  Sometimes all at once.  You crave it, but you're scared of it.  You think about it all the time.  It's the first thing you think of in the morning and the last thing you think of when you go to sleep.  It's an addiction.  It gets into your veins and stays there.  It's an itch and there's only one way to scratch it.

Like any wild crush, I have no idea how long the intoxication will last or how it's going to end.  It could be 10 minutes or 10 days or 10 years or the rest of my life.  I might have a bad wipeout tomorrow and decide I never want to do it again.  I might move to a landlocked place and surfing might go back to being nothing more than a dream.  But right now it's my reality.  Almost my entire reality.  And I'm not even good at it, yet.  

If this isn't love, then it's some kind of madness that's similar to love in almost every way.  You fear it more than anything in the world, but need it more than anything in the world.  It takes you out of your comfort zone and makes you feel completely powerless.  It connects you to something higher than you.  Dare I say, God.  It's a calling.  You do it because you have to, not because you want to.  You do it because it's the only way you can achieve any semblance of peace in your life.  Any semblance of freedom.  Any semblance of reality.  Any semblance of doing what you want and being the person you want to be.  You will do crazy things for it.  Make a fool of yourself for it.  Crash and burn for it.  Get sucked over the falls and pounded into oblivion for it.  Then come back for more.  It's the only thing that matters.  Everything else is just details.  If that's not love, then what is it?

Friday, September 4, 2020

Two Life Lessons I Learned From A Drawing Class

I recently took a beginner drawing class online on Udemy and I highly recommend it if you're interested in drawing.  It's called "The Art & Science of Drawing / BASIC SKILLS" by Brent Eviston.  It was affordable and well worth the time.  There were two drawing principles that I believe apply not only to drawing, but to all aspects in life.

Life Lesson #1 
The quality of your life is determined by the quality of the conversation in your mind.

This idea comes from the drawing principle that the quality of your drawing is determined by the quality of the conversation in your mind.  In drawing, this means continually evaluating basic shapes in terms of size, axis and location.  Asking the right questions allows the drawer to make informed decisions.  Which results in better shapes.  Which results in a better drawing.  

Distracted thought and excellent drawing cannot coexist.  Distracted thought includes negative self-talk, limiting beliefs, unconstructive self-criticism and unfocused questions.  There have been entire books written about the importance of self-talk in musical and athletic performance (The Inner Game of Music by Barry Green, The Inner Game of Tennis by W. Timothy Gallwey).  It turns out that drawing is no different.

Decision making is no different, either.  The quality of your decision making is determined by the quality of the conversation in your mind.  It's about asking the right questions at the right times.  A drawer translating a complex shape onto paper must ask the right questions.  What is the biggest shape?  What's it's axis?  How big is it?  Where does it go?  What changes can I make?  Keeping the thoughts focused on the answers to these questions will result in a good drawing.  

We run into problems in drawing, and in life, when we focus our thoughts and energy in the wrong places - when we ask the wrong questions.  This is what causes us to make bad decisions.  

In poker, there is a term called going ''on tilt.''  It comes from the idea that when a slot machine goes "on tilt," it hemorrhages money.  The poker player who goes "on tilt" starts making bad decisions, and thereby hemorrhages money - just like the slot machine.

A poker player who is "on tilt" gets angry, such as after being bluffed by an opponent or losing a big hand.  He loses focus.  He begins making bad decisions.  He gets overaggressive.  He takes unnecessary risks and falls into traps.  He loses site of the forest (making money in the long run) because he's only focused on one tree (the bluff or bad beat he just took).  

Being "on tilt" doesn't just apply to poker.  You can go "on tilt" anywhere.  People go "on tilt" so often when they are driving that there's even another name for it: "road rage."  Karen goes "on tilt" at the grocery store because they ask her to wear a Covid mask.  Little kids go ''on tilt'' all the time.  Pretty much anyone throwing a temper tantrum can be considered "on tilt."

Being "on tilt" and being focused on what's important cannot coexist.  If you're angry, you're not focused on what's important.  If you're focused on what's most important, then you won't be angry.  There's never a reason to be angry if you're asking yourself the right questions and focused on what's important.  Even if you're stuck in a traffic jam.  Even if you're stuck in jail.  You can still focus on something that gives you hope.  Viktor Frankl survived Nazi concentration camps by focusing on the dream of seeing his wife again and returning to his work.  He focused on what he loved most.  It's always an option, even in the most hopeless circumstances.  

It may take an extraordinary amount of self-awareness and emotional maturity to recognize when you're "on tilt" and quickly get off of it, but it is a skill that can be learned with practice.  The ability to get off of tilt quickly is probably the most valuable skill you can learn because it enables you to make good decisions.  The quality of your life is determined greatly, if not completely, by the quality of your decision making.  Successful people make good decisions.  Happy people make good decisions.  Good people make good decisions.  Successful, or not.  Happy, or sad.  Good, or bad.  All determined by the quality of your decisions. By the quality of the conversation in your mind. By asking the right questions at the right times.  By focusing on what's most important.  By releasing negative thoughts and energy.  The quality of your entire life is determined by the quality of the conversation in your mind.  

This is why strong leadership is so important to a business, organization or country.  The words and actions of the leadership have a major impact on the conversations people have in their minds.  If the conversations are paranoid, scared, confused and mean, then the people's actions will be paranoid, scared, confused and mean.  Right now we have a U.S. public that is paranoid, scared, confused and mean because: 1) we have a President that is paranoid, scared, confused and mean, and 2) the President is having a paranoid, scared, confused and mean conversation with the public.  The quality of a country is determined by the quality of the conversations in the minds of its people.

Life Lesson #2 
Masters never get tired of drilling the fundamentals.

This applies to learning any skill, period.  Sports, martial arts, language, music, drawing, painting, you name it.  Any skill you can think of.  Masters never get tired of drilling the basics. 

Master martial artists repeat the same basic offensive and defensive moves thousands of times.  The timing, rhythm and technique of the basic moves can be perfected endlessly.

Master drawers draw the same basic shapes thousands of times.  They can create hyper-realistic and lifelike drawings because they have practiced seeing and drawing basic shapes thousands of times.

Master gymnasts can perform spectacular movements because they have drilled the basic movements thousands of times and perfected them.

Master linguists read and write millions of lines of basic sentences and phrases.

Master guitarists can play complex pieces because they've mastered basic notes, chords and patterns.  They've practiced these thousands, if not millions, of times.

All art forms, and all skills, can be broken down into basic components (movements, shapes, notes, chords, patterns, letters, words, phrases).  It's not magic.  It's mastery of basics.  Masters never get tired of drilling the fundamentals.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

An Underwater Mansion

The titanic vessel lurches and lists
All aboard know
Something has gone horribly wrong

The captain is mad
And has been mad
Since long before they left port

There's a mutiny on the deck
And no one can agree
How to right the ship

The captain deploys loyalist thugs
To quiet the objections
But the objections only grow louder

The crew beats each other senseless
While the captain watches
And cheers them on
While his vessel seals its fate
As an underwater mansion

The control tower radios the captain
Should we send help
The mad captain lies
And tells them
It's smooth sailing

The crew battles amongst themselves
While the ship submerges
The captain alone steals the safety raft
And escapes

No one aboard the ship survived
Except the mad captain
Who lived to tell tales of his own heroics
Though nobody ever believed him

Monday, June 15, 2020



I saw a photo of Obama the other day with a caption that said, "Describe him in one word."  The first word that came to mind was "hero."  But then several other words came to mind as well, so I wrote them down.  This poem is called Obama.

There is one key word missing, and it's "democrat."  Why is it missing?  Because it doesn't mean enough to make the cut.  It doesn't mean much of anything, really.  The other words are far more powerful.

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Book Review: Man's Search For Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl

This book was originally published in 1946, but it's more relevant today than ever.  In my opinion, timelessness is the measure of quality when it comes to writing.  By that measure, this book is a gem.

The author, Viktor E. Frankl was a successful psychotherapist in Vienna during World War II.  Being a successful doctor, Frankl was awarded an American Visa which would have allowed him to escape Nazi occupation in Austria and live comfortably in America doing his life's work.  However, doing so would require him to leave his parents behind in Austria to face the Nazis by themselves. 

Frankl's parents were ecstatic that he received this opportunity for his life to be spared, but he was faced with an impossible decision: go to America for a life or freedom and leave his parents behind, or stay in Austria with his parents and face Nazi occupation.  The decision plagued him.

One day his father brought home a piece of rubble from a synagogue which had been destroyed by Nazis.  His father told him the piece of rubble contained one of the Ten Commandments.  Frankl asked his father which one.

"Honor thy father and thy mother that thy days may be long upon the land."

At that moment, Frankl decided to stay with his father and mother.  He let his Visa lapse and stayed in Austria to face Nazi occupation with his parents.  Frankl spent four years in Nazi prison camps, surviving unspeakable tragedy.  By the time he got out, his entire family - his parents, his brother and his pregnant wife - had all been killed by Nazis.  The purpose of this book is not to detail the horrors of the experience, but to share the insights he gained by surviving.  The result is one of the greatest pieces of writing of the 20th century.

"The salvation of man is through love and in love." 
- Viktor E. Frankl

Frankl believed that life was ultimately a quest for meaning, and that there were three primary sources of meaning in life: 1) work (doing something significant, 2) love (caring for another person) and 3) courage in difficult times.  The third one is perhaps most important because it allows the possibility that a man can have meaning in his life even when every earthly pleasure has been stripped away from him - including his work and his family.

Frankl believed that suffering was an inextricable part of life - just as much as death - but that suffering was not necessary to achieve meaning.  Frankl did not believe in seeking out suffering.  To suffer more than necessary is masochistic rather than heroic.  Frankl believed that when faced with suffering, the correct course of action was to remove the source of the suffering.  Only when the source of suffering cannot be removed does it become necessary to endure.

I believe that all humans, at some point in life, face suffering that is unavoidable.  Whether it be a major event such as the loss of a loved one, or a minor event like getting stuck in traffic.  To Frankl, the question isn't how we are to endure these hardships, but why?   Quoting Nietsche, Frankl asserts that, "He who has a why to live, can bear almost any how."  In other words, a man can endure almost anything if properly motivated.  Man may be ready, and even willing to suffer on the condition that the suffering has sufficient meaning.

Frankl found no meaning in money, fame or sex - in and of themselves - but viewed them as byproducts of the successful man's focus on something greater than himself.  Frankl believed that the more one aimed directly for any of those measures of success, the more one would miss them, and that the only way to achieve them was to stop caring about them by focusing on a cause greater than oneself.

Frankl also believed that happiness was not something that could be pursued, but rather must ensue.  A human cannot be happy without a reason to be happy.  Humans therefore are not seekers of happiness, but seekers of reasons to be happy.  Frankl believed the reasons to be happy were love, meaningful work, and courage in difficult times, and that these should be the focus of man's quest.

Frankl also stressed the importance of being able to laugh about things and believed that developing a sense of humor is perhaps the key component of mastering the art of living.

Frankl also addresses the relationship between freedom and responsibility.  He believed that freedom and responsibility must remain in balance for life to remain meaningful.  A life of freedom can descend into arbitrariness if not met with responsibility.  Assuming that life is empty and meaningless frees one from responsibility, but eliminates the possibility of achieving fulfillment.  For Frankl, freedom and responsibility were two sides of the same coin - with the coin being a meaningful life.

Regarding freedom, Frankl insists that man has the freedom to choose his reaction to his circumstances no matter what conditions he faces.  Even a man in Nazi prison camp had choices about how to react.  Frankl knew this because he witnessed some men in camp become savages, while others became saints under the same conditions.

In overcoming his own struggles, Frankl focused on the future and the possibilities it might contain.  He fantasized often about re-uniting with his wife, lecturing to his students, and completing his writings.  He had no idea whether his wife was still alive or whether any of these things would come to pass, but his belief that they could happen was enough to keep him going in the darkest hours.  Frankl witnessed the truth that a prisoner who lost faith in his future was doomed.  Frankl maintained his intrinsic optimism even though he estimated his own chances of survival to be no better than one in twenty.  When trying to give men mental courage, Frankl found it essential to give them something to look forward to.

Regarding race, Frankl believed there were only two races: decent men and indecent men.  He believed that both were found everywhere and penetrated all groups of society.