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Wow, it has been three months since I wrote anything on my blog!  Life got in the way and I got lazy.  Sounds like I need to make a New Year’s resolution.

I’ve always been a believer in setting short-term and long-term goals, creating a plan on achieving them, keeping track of my progress in a journal.  Jim Rohn taught me how to do that.  It works, but only if you stick to your plan.  If you get lazy and start skipping your weekly review sessions you lose your focus.  If you review each goal every week and make adjustments where necessary your chances of achieving your goals is good.

Although it is still a little early, here is my New Year’s resolution:  limit myself to one hour of  television per day.  Yes, that’s right.  The evil television.  I have a love/hate relationship with my television.  I love watching House, NCIS, college & professional basketball and football, MSNBC, Food Network, UFC on Spike TV, and a zillion other programs.  I love to flop on the couch with the remote in one hand and a drink in the other hand and a big bag o’ snacks in my lap.  Unfortunately, when you spend hours and hours in front of the television you miss out on doing something else with your time.  And those weekday evenings and weekend afternoons sprawled in front of the TV add up.  I’ve got a load of half-finished manuscripts that I haven’t touched in ages.  I’ve got stacks and stacks and stacks of books that I bought and plan on reading….someday.  I’ll read for an hour just as soon as this episode of NCIS is over, I tell myself.  But of course after NCIS is over I switch to MSNBC to catch the latest news, and then Leno is on, and then it’s time for bed.  And the book that I selected to read that evening goes right back on the bookshelf.  Again.

It is time for me to get a grip and stop wasting so much of my time and my life lying in front of the TV.  One hour of TV per day is acceptable.  I can watch an episode of House on Mondays, NCIS on Tuesdays, an hour of the news on another day.  College basketball I can fit in on the weekends, as a game takes two hours to watch.  Weekends I’ll allow myself the luxuary of two hours of TV to watch a game.

It’ll be tough, especially in March when March Madness begins, but I’ve set my goal and I intend on achieving it.  Tonight I’m staying at home.  I’ve got several books that I received for Christmas, and I’m going to make a pot of coffee, turn on the radio for a little background music, and I’m going to read one of my books.  Jay McInerney’s collection of stories, How It Ended, is my choice.  I’ll let you know how things turn out.

Goodbye to Summer

Goodbye, summer.  Autumn officially arrived the other day, though for the past few weeks the signs were clear: darkness by 7:15 p.m., chillier mornings, leaves changing on my maple trees on the front lawn.  This weekend I cut the grass and had to actually rake the driveway.  Amazing.  The leaves are rapidly changing on one of my maple trees and are dropping every time the wind blows.

My friend Joan loves the summer.  She loves having people over for barbecues.  She loves the beach, the ocean, swimming, drinking sundowners on her back deck with the grand kids running around in the back yard trying to catch lightning bugs.  All of that is behind us.  Sure, we can still barbecue on the patio and kick back with drinks, but we have to put on sweatshirts to ward off the evening chill.  Joan is a little depressed because all of her summer activities have to be put away for another year, and now our thoughts turn to fall, to Halloween, Thanksgiving, and then Christmas.

I’m not depressed!  Autumn is my favorite season.  Always has been, always will be.  A bunch of us went out to dinner the other day, and to cheer Joan up, I reminded her of what November will bring:  college basketball.  She and I are avid Rutgers fans, so this November when the season begins, she and I and a couple of other friends will put on our red Rutgers sweatshirts & hats, drive to the RAC in Piscataway, and scream our lungs out watching the Scarlet Lady Knights coached by C. Vivian Stringer pummel their opponents.  After the games, we go to a local restaurant and have a bite to eat or a drink and enjoy each other’s company.

The memories of last year’s games and the fun that we had all basketball season long made Joanie smile.  I knew it would.

Every season has something good to offer.  Life is too short to mope around and shake your fist at the calendar.  You just have to find what it is that you enjoy and go out and do it.

Someone recently asked me to do something for him that I did not want to do.  The favor would have taken many hours out of my day, and it was something that would have required several hours of travel, money out of my own pocket to pay bridge tolls, and I would have had to do something I really didn’ t have any interest in doing.  So I said no.

This fellow who I turned down was born with a silver spoon in his mouth.  From what I know, he has always gotten whatever he wanted out of life:  gorgeous childhood house, horseback riding lessons, sent to a top-notch university, a brand new BMW SUV as a graduation gift, trips to Italy, England, all over Europe.  He is not type of person who has heard the word “NO” very much.  If you looked up “spoiled” in the dictionary you would find a picture of his smug face sitting in luxury box seats at a Giants game hoisting a bottle of imported beer with two beautiful women at his side.

I must admit I did feel a little guilty for not helping out this person with his situation.  But it soon passed.  He had a bunch of other people helping him and things turned out just fine.  Unfortunately, now when we get together I will be looked upon as one of the people who wouldn’t help him out.  Too bad.  I can live with that.  I know if I had helped him I would hate myself for caving in, and to make matters worse I know he would not have appreciated the time & effort it would have taken me to pitch in.  And the next time he needed people to help him with another one of his crazy ideas, I would be one of the first people he would call. 

In life you can either follow your own plan or you can follow someone else’s plan.  The choice is up to you.

I bought a new car recently, an ’06 Malibu Maxx.  Lovely car!  My beloved 2000 Saturn SL-1 had over 95,000 miles on it and was constantly in need of repair.  I went car shopping, test drove a few automobiles, and chose the Malibu.  It’s gorgeous, only a few minor scratches here & there.  I love it!  It’s a great car, and it’s the first one I own that has a SUNROOF!  My neighbor is insanely jealous.  I’m looking forward to opening my sunroof on crisp autumn mornings and enjoying the fresh air & sunshine.  Ah, autumn!  My favorite season!  I can hardly wait.

How can I think about autumn in the middle of August?  Good question.  Here in Jersey we are experiencing typical mid-August weather:  oppressive humidity and 90 degree temperatures.  Ugh.  Kind of hard for most people to think about autumn right now but not me.  I have seen the light at the end of the tunnel.

The signs of the approaching autumn season are everywhere but they aren’t what most people think of, like changing leaves, cooler temperatures, pumpkins on the porch, etc.  My signs are from the retailers trying to make a buck: back-to-school clothing sale flyers making my Sunday newspapers bulge; Halloween candy and plastic pumpkins and other fall decorations filling the shelves at my favorite Rite Aide store and local Stop & Shop; Halloween cards and spiders and witches and stuffed black cats for sale at the Hallmark store.  Retailers always push the next season far too soon in advance, but this is one time of the year when I don’t mind at all.

In a couple of weeks Jerry Lewis will be on TV with his annual Muscular Dystrophy telethon (sans Ed McMahon, unfortunately) and then the college football season will begin, schools will open, and the oppressive heat & humidity of August will start to wan.  I will be the first guy in line at my local vegetable stand buying pumpkins to put on my porch.  The squirrels will tear them to shreds in no time but that’s okay.  It’s all a part of the transition from summer to autumn.  I’ll just clean the mess and buy some more.

My apolgies for being away.  I had planned on posting something sooner, but life got in the way.

This past week has been car-hell for me.  My car had been in the shop for several days for repairs, which can be stressful, especially when you own an older car like mine.  I’ve own a 2000 Saturn with over 90,000 miles on it, and she’s starting to show her age.  My muffler bracket gave out, causing the muffler to bang & rattle around.  It sounded like someone was locked in my trunk banging with a hammer trying to get out.  And then my “Check Engine Soon” light came on, which can induce a panic attack in the bravest of people.  Turned out all I needed was the muffler bracket and a new gas cap. 

I shelled out a little over $200.00 for the repairs, which took two days because they had to order the bracket from the Saturn dealership.  That wasn’t a big deal–the real problem was getting a rental car.  Most car rental companies will not accept a debit card, which is the only card I carry.  “Sorry, can’t help you,” the rental agents told me as I stood stranded at the garage clutching my cell phone, my blood boiling.  Fortunately, I found a local AVIS that accepted debit cards and was able to get a car.

I picked up the rental, drove back and forth to work careful not to exceed the allotted mileage, and gassed it up before turning it in yesterday afternoon, then I picked up my car from the shop.  It felt so good driving around in my old, creaky car again…at least until I drove it home this evening.

One single day after taking my car out of the shop, I have a new rattle.  It’s in the left-front of the car.  It doesn’t do it when I’m in park, just when I’m idling at a STOP sign or a traffic light.  Lovely.  That means the car has to go back to the shop, I have to get a rental, and go through this all over again.  My boss is a sweet lady and sympathized with me, but if I tell her I have to come in late and leave early again because I have to put my car in the shop and get another rental, she’ll lose her patience.  But not before I lose my mind.

How much can a person take?  My car had to go into the shop in May because the cooling fan burned out.  More time out of work, more money out of my pocket.  It’s stressful.  And now I’m dealing with another car issue for the third time in two months.

This is called Life.  We can scream, moan and bitch about it or we can accept it as a part of life and do the best we can to get through it.  But I’m tired.  I really am.  I have other problems at home and at work that I’m dealing with, and I feel like I haven’t caught a break in a long time.  That isn’t true but that’s how it feels.  Sometimes when we’re getting beaten down by life’s problems we forget about all of the good things we have going for us, all of the blessings that have come our way.

I’m doing my best to keep my mind on my blessings.  It isn’t easy but I’m trying.  I just keep telling myself sometimes life gets in the way and doesn’t go exactly as we’d like.  But I know it’s just another chapter in my life, one of life’s little tests, something that I have to go through in order to grow.

A single bad decision can change your life forever.  Did you ever wonder where you would be in life if you had not made that one bad decision?  Who would you be?  Where would you work?  Who would you be married to?  What kind of life would you be living if you had not made that one regrettable decision? 

I have several, but the decision I would take back would be dropping out of college and joining the U.S. Army.  It was July 1982.  I was nineteen years old and had just completed a year of college.  My best friend at the time was a high school dropout who couldn’t hold onto a job to save his life.  He had tried to join the Navy and Air Force but they had turned him down.  The Army was his next choice.  He asked me to accompany him to the recruiter’s office to pick up information and I said yes.

The following morning we walked five miles in the sweltering heat to the recruiter’s office.  Sitting in an air conditioned room, we chatted with the recruiter, sipped cold water, and watched a basic training video tape.  Lots of soldiers in their Class-A uniforms marching back and forth; troops laying in the sand firing M-16s at the rifle range; short-haired young men in white T-shirts and olive drab pants running through the obstacle course screaming like banshees.  Wow, that’s pretty cool, I thought.  When the recruiter mentioned there was a college tuition program, I perked up.  I was having trouble coming up with next semester’s tuition, so I thought taking a couple of years off from school and serving my country while earning money for college would be a great idea.  I would return to school older, wiser, pockets bulging with money, and I’d pick up from where I had left off.

Dreamer.

I entered the army in October 1982 and earned my honorable discharge in October 1985.  I came out older.  That’s it.  A year into the service, I had dropped out of the college tuition program because I didn’t like contributing so much of my paycheck into the fund.  Monthly pay for a private in the army is horrifyingly low.  I wanted to go out for beers with my army buddies, hit the snack bar at the PX, go bowling, buy heavy metal cassettes, and do the things all normal, unguided teenagers want to do with their money:  spend it.  So I did.  And in October 1985 I found myself freshly discharged without a job and no money for college tuition.  But I did have enough sense to save some money to buy my first car, a 1977 Oldsmobile model 98 with over 100,000 miles on it.  I spent every dime I had fixing it up and quickly needed more money, so I got a job working at the mall, and then after Christmas I got a job working as a 2nd shift security guard.

The following fall at age 23 I returned to my county college to finish what I had started.  I felt funny being surrounded by 18-19 year old kids but that wasn’t my main concern.  My problem was I had to work full-time to pay rent, pay for car insurance, pay my tuition, put more and more money into my car, which was really starting to show its age.  Like it or not, I had entered adulthood: rent, bills, responsibilities.  Most of my classmates were living at home and could focus their time & energy on their studies.  I had given up that luxuary when I dropped out and joined the service, a luxuary I could not get back.

I never finished my degree.  Going to school at 8:00 a.m. every morning and working the 4-12 shift day after day after day wore me out.  I lost interest, and after a year I decided to take a semester off, which turned into two, then three, and so on.  I did return a few times as a part-time student and gave it another try but I just didn’t have it in me to finish.

I am responsible for making my decision.  I don’t blame my parents for not giving me their advice.  I don’t blame my friend for asking me to accompany him to the recruiter’s office.  I made the decision to drop out of college.  My choice, no one else’s.  In the movie Dead Poets Society Robin Williams said to his students, “The choices we make dictate the lives we lead.”  I know exactly what that means.

Living is doing something with your life that fills your heart with passion.  It can be your job, a hobby, or your family.  Whatever makes you jump out of bed in the morning happy & raring to go is what you were meant to do.  Existing is the opposite.  It is having nothing in your life that fills your heart with joy.  You feel like a gerbil spinning on a wheel doing the same thing day after day.  You get up, go to work at a job that you probably despise, come home, eat, flop exhausted on the couch and veg out in front of the TV, maybe dive into the bottle to forget about the numbness that has wrapped around your heart.  Living like this sucks.

We all need something in our lives that we love doing.  You have to search your heart and find out what it is and start doing it today.  I’m not saying you should quit your job and try to become a rock star or the next Thomas Kincade, but you should have something to do that you love.  It’s that simple.

For years I loved writing.  I would come home from work and sit in front of my word processor for 2-3 hours and work on a manuscript.  On the weekends I’d spend 4-5 hours writing.  It took me months to finish one short story, and when it was finally done I would send it out to magazines and literary quarterlies for consideration and start over from scratch on another story.  I honestly didn’t care if the story got accepted and published.  A few did, and it was thrilling, but it wasn’t my ultimate goal.  My goal was to simply do what I loved doing:  writing.

I lost that love about five years ago.  Instead of writing, I started editing other writers’ work.  After two years it burned me out and I couldn’t stand the thought of reading short stories, let alone writing one.  I turned my back on everything.  I stopped reading books, stopped going to Borders and Barnes & Noble where the clerks and managers knew me by face if not by name.  I stopped working on short stories and just concentrated on writing in my diary.  Five years of no short story writing.  Five years.  That’s a long time to stop doing what you love.  Absence does not always make the heart grow fonder.  Sometimes it makes you forget about what’s truly important in your life.

I started writing again.  I went to Barnes & Noble and bought a couple of writing magazines, saw a contest that I wanted to enter, and decided to give writing another try.  As soon as I sat down in front of my computer and began working on the first paragraph it was like finding your long lost love.  When I had finished the writing session it felt like 30 minutes had passed but I looked at the clock and saw I had been writing for over two hours.

I’m working on a manuscript right now.  It’s far from finished but that’s okay.  I know I’ll be done in time to submit it to the magazine by the deadline.  The important thing is I rediscovered the joy of writing short stories.  Without writing I had nothing that excited me.  I worked, earned a paycheck, hung out with friends, which is fine, but I didn’t have that one thing that made me truly happy.  Now I’ve got it back.

It doesn’t matter if anything I write is published or read by another living being.  I love doing it.  I know I’m not going to be the next Joyce Carol Oates but through my writing I am the current Larry Imboden.  I’m enjoying myself living my life doing what I enjoy.  I stopped existing and started living again.  And it feels great.