Sunday, May 31, 2009

Would I lie to you?:
Jim Styro's Meaning of Life, Part Eight

When last we went in search of the elusive Meaning of Life, we were confronting the distressing concept that those around us might not always have our best interests at heart. These situations frequently involve, if not outright lying, then at least the avoidance of full honesty. Avoiding the truth is, I believe, an ultimate happiness killer.

Let's take a look at some of the possible scenarios that could arise in failing to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. To keep it simple, I'm going build each of these examples around a decision concerning whether to have children - something many couples consider at some point or other - and oftentimes can be a "deal breaker" in maintaining a relationship.

#1 - The "I know better" scenario

This is the one where both partners tell each they are on the same page (in our example, let's say they have decided to welcome little creatures into their lives) but one of the parties has decided that the time is not right to proceed. Or perhaps the husband doesn't really believe that having children is a good idea - but he's not telling his new bride that. He's just stalling in the belief that she will come to her senses and change her mind - because he knows better.

In these situations, I'm assuming that the deceptive party believes they truly have their partner's best interests in mind. "We don't have enough money for kids, we don't have the right house, we don't have enough time to spend together now - what will it be like with a child?" However valid these points may be, if the party that feels this way is unwilling to share their misgivings, hard times lay ahead. No matter how pure they may feel their motives are.

#2 - The "Kid Yourself" scenario

There are lots of ways that people feign agreement - and lots of reasons they do it. At it's most innocent, this involves agreeing to something without considering the implications. Let's say both parties truly believe they want the same thing - but only one party has thought about it enough to stay the course. The person that agrees without thinking may believe that they are "going along to get along" - but they are likely only deferring either an argument...or a betrayal.

Once circumstances present themselves which one or the other party hadn't envisioned - the situation could quickly turn into a scenario #1 (if , when confronted with what must be done to follow through on the previous agreement, one of the parties decides they know better) - but it could also turn into a scenario 3...

#3 - The "Lyin' A$$ B*tch" scenario

In this situation, of course, one of the parties (in our example, let's say the husband - since we all know men are scum) knows from the outset that they don't agree with their partner about a decision. They don't care whether or not the desires of the other party might be in the best interest of all concerned - they just know what they want - and they intend to try to get their way regardless.

So a guy wants to maintain a relationship with his lady; she wants a kid, he doesn't. He knows she'll dump him if he lets on he has no intention of procreating, so he puts her off. He lies. He makes excuses. He tries to create an environment where having children would be difficult or impossible. Years later, she either dumps him - or her biological clock has stopped ticking and she's screwed - but not pregnant.

I used having children for these examples - but you can fill in the blank with almost any major (or minor) decision that couples must struggle with. Buying a home, changing jobs, what school would be best for the kids - you name it.

How does any of this affect our journey towards the meaning of life? Hopefully, it gives us at least two insights that may be of use. It reminds us that we should not make commitments lightly, nor should we assume silence is assent (just because our partner didn't say "no", doesn't mean they would say "yes"). Discussion of important life decisions should encompass the details of what will be required to make the thing happen. And we need to pay more attention to what people do than what they say. If our partner's behaviors contradict their words, trouble is a-brewin'.

Relationships are hard enough when everyone is pulling in the same direction. When they're not, someone is going to suffer. And then, your only choice is: do you like your suffering long and drawn out - or short and sweet.

And these are not good choices. So - let's keep things on the up and up, shall we?

Take care.

The Stanley Cup Finals - Detroit vs. Pittsburgh

The Wings defeated the Penguins Saturday night by a score of 3-1.
Detroit leads best of seven series, 1 game to 0

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Bowling for orphans

(or did I say "Bowling endorphins"?)

Before anybody gets the wrong idea, this post does not deal with black-market trafficking of Slavic children into slavery or child prostitution - not that I hadn't considered weighing in on that topic. No, this is more of a "The Dude meets Mother Theresa" sort of tale.

A few of the teachers at the Middle-Aged Woman's school have become very involved in outreach to Russian orphans during their summer vacations. (If you are interested in finding out more about the adversity these children face or making a donation to ease their burdens, please visit According Snoplum, these kids prize T-shirts and other articles of clothing with English writing or labels. So a couple weeks ago, I went through my rather extensive T-shirt collection and selected some things that -

a) I have never worn,
b) I'm never going to wear again, or
c) I didn't realize were in the drawer to begin with.

The main fundraising event for this outreach the past couple years has been a bowling event. Those of you who've been with me for the long haul (OK, since April!) know that for many years, I was a proud member of the Spinners bowling team. Although the Spinners continue to thrive as a highly exclusive organization of like-minded gentlemen - we don't bowl together on a regular basis. In fact, my only bowling for the past few years has been in support of the Kostroma Kids Program. I haven't bowled regularly for over ten years - but when I did my average was generally in the mid- to upper-160s. Not great - I'd say on the lower end of respectable as bowlers go - at least, bowlers that'll associate with someone like me.

So tonight - after a year lay-off - I bowled three games and scored 137, 218* and 151.
Ladies and gentlemen, that's a 506 series and [drumroll please] - a 168 average for the night.

In the words of Ralph Malph, "I've still got it." Let it never be said that I wouldn't roll my best for the orphans.

Take care.

* This game saved my @$$. I opened with a turkey (three strikes in a row) and marked in every frame.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Last night I had a dream*

Yesterday was my son's last day of high school. Last night, I backed into his best friend's car. I mean, I dreamed I backed into Joey's car. Actually, I don't think he has his own car.

I don't remember my dreams much. Another fragment from a recent dream:

I was singing with the Gospel Choir at church. We were doing a song with lyrics from a poem I wrote in high school called "Since God is kind". (If my recollection is accurate, the first line is "I wish I was a duck.")

Unfortunately, nobody seemed to know the song (even me, I only knew the words). One of the altos was asked to sing the solo - and she was struggling. We were all trying to fake our way through the song.

I haven't had one of those falling dreams in a while. I've fallen out of planes, from high buildings - normally in crowded, urban areas. I don't ever seem to hit the ground.

I'm not one to dwell on or assume some special significance of dreams. And I don't spend much time trying to remember them.

I don't have any snappy conclusion to this. If I had gotten more sleep last night, I think this would be a better post.

Take care.

* Thanks to Randy Newman for the title. "Everybody scared me - but you scared me the most..."

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Defensemen working overtime*

Revel in your revenge, Capt. Dumbass!

Weep bitterly, LiteralDan.

Tremble at our approach, ye Pitts-burgers!


The Wings defeated the Blackhawks in OVERTIME
Wednesday night by a score of 2-1.
Detroit wins the best of seven series, 4 games to 1
and advances to the Stanley Cup Finals
for a second straight year to face the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Sure, we had to play the hot-shot kids from Chicago with two of our best players in their street clothes the last two games. Sure, we had most of our defensemen on the ice for nearly two-thirds of the game tonight. Sure, we had the "old team" playing in their third overtime game out of five. But we won.

It was a good game - especially if you live in Detroit.

Take care.

* Apologies to Andy Patridge for the title

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Flash fiction: Runaway

My name is Jim - and I'm a flash-fiction-aholic.

Ever since the Middle-Aged Woman turned me on to the Fiction Friday challenges by Jeanne at The Raisin Chronicles, I'm seriously jonesing each week for a new opportunity to craft a mini-story.

This week's challenge was/is: to write a piece of "flash fiction" - a short story of 100 words or less that begins with the phrase -
"It was not what it seemed."
If you're interested in joining the fun, click on the link above to see all the rules and regulations.

My offering is shown below. Hope you find it worth your time.

It was not what it seemed. It felt to him like a bad dream.

His elation that she had been found evaporated during a 20-minute cab ride. Each block more desolate than the last; whatever flicker of hope remained as he sat waiting in the small, dirty bar was extinguished when she entered.

“Oh shit,” the girl said, glassy eyes rolling, pupils enlarged.

“Please.” She knew what he wanted. “Please…”

A man that age shouldn’t beg.

“Why did you come here? It’s over!”

He heard the snickering. Sugar daddy lost his sweets.

“Dad – I’m not coming home with you.”
(100 words including title)

In addition to being fun, writing these bite-sized stories is good practice for improving precision and brevity. And I have at least one post each week I can feel good about.

What's not to like?

Take care.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Random Tuesday Thoughts:

War and more

Without any further introduction...
  • "It is a good thing that war is so terrible,
    lest we should grow too fond of it."
    - Robert E. Lee

    Lee understood, I think, the simultaneous attraction and revulsion of war. Although we generally profess an aversion to war these days, I think it's a mistake to lose sight of what humans have found appealing for time out of mind: the opportunity to demonstrate courage, to sacrifice for the things which we most strongly believe, to show the best of ourselves in the worst of circumstances. I bring these up not to suggest that war is good - but as a reminder that, to undercut the romanticism associated with battle, we must show how all these things can be exhibited in the clash of ideas, rather than weapons.

  • My top five "Star Trek" movies:
    1. II, Wrath of Khan-1982 (Spock's death was the single greatest thing that allowed the franchise to live on)
    2. Star Trek-2009 (J.J. Abrams straddles the tightrope of reverence and irreverence perfectly - while creating a thoroughly entertaining action blockbuster)
    3. VI, Undiscovered Country-1991 (Nicholas Meyer returns to give a fitting send-off to the original cast)
    4. First Contact-1996 (Jonathan Frakes [Commander Riker] directs the best of the Next Generation films)
    5. III&IV, Search for Spock/Voyage Home-1984 & 1986 (Sure, it's a cheat - but this really is just one big movie broken into two parts and directed by Nimoy)

  • There's been a woodpecker living in my neighborhood, which you don't get too often in these here parts. Sometimes I'll hear him knock-knock-knocking on a tree across the stree from my house when I'm leaving for work. It's an unusual sound - and one we don't often hear. I almost got a picture the other day - but once I figured out where Woody was (just because you can hear the noise doesn't mean you can figure out which tree he's in), found out the camera battery had been removed, located and inserted the battery - he was long gone. I don't think I would like beating my head against something hard all the time.

  • Which reminds me of my wife, the Middle-Aged Woman. As those of you who read her blog already know, she's been going through a rough stretch. It's lasted about three years now and counting. Anyway, there's a real good news / bad news aspect to recent developments, for example:
    - Bad news = She hates her job
    - Good news = Summer vacation is coming (hopefully soon enough)
    - Bad news = She hasn't had a "good day" with respect to back pain in about 3 weeks
    - Good news = She got a refill on her "orangutan" so I won't have to put her out of her misery

  • Yesterday, we (yeah, I'm still talking about the little woman here) cut a deal. She wants me to read Lamb - and I've recommended for fifteen years that she read Schindler's List, so we're doing this quid pro quo reading thing. Perhaps, we'll work these books into the whole He Read / She Read thing (which Sprite's Keeper and I are diligently working on behind the scenes - so don't think I've forgotten).

  • I'm wondering how long I can keep posting every day (only one missed day since April 1 - oh sure, some of them have been pretty sh*tty - but how many things do you do every day that are a masterpiece?). I don't think I can make it past the end of June (it would be kind of cool to go through my birthday) - but I don't want to underestimate just how stubborn I can be.

Thanks for stopping by. Hope you all have a good week.
My experience is that a shortened work week is not always an easier work week. Some people just try to pack in five days of work in four days.

I will avoid that if at all possible.

Take care.

The Wings defeated the Blackhawks Sunday afternoon, 6-1,
to take a 3-1 lead in the best of seven series

Monday, May 25, 2009

Decoration Day*

It's Decoration Day - so I'm decorating.

Since I am still a relative neophyte in the Blogiverse, it has taken me some time to prepare for the awesome responsibility that was laid upon me almost a month ago - that is, to pass on some blog awards. Both the Middle-Aged Woman and Pamela from The Dayton Time were kind enough to present me with awards within a few days of each other - but, until now, I have failed to live up to my part of the bargain and pass along the awards to other deserving bloggers. But, on this Memorial Day, I plan to right that wrong - and bestow both the

Zombie Chicken

[The blogger who receives this award believes in the Tao of the zombie chicken - excellence, grace and persistence in all situations, even in the midst of a zombie apocalypse. These amazing bloggers regularly produce content so remarkable that their readers would brave a raving pack of zombie chickens just to be able to read their inspiring words. As a recipient of this world-renowned award, you now have the task of passing it on to at least 5 other worthy bloggers. Do not risk the wrath of the zombie chickens by choosing unwisely or not choosing at all...]

Kreative Blogger Awards

[Rules for the award: List 7 things you love (or six things that make you happy, or pick your own set of rules...) and pass the award along to 7 friends whose blogs you love.]


I have enjoyed immensely the work of all the ladies and gentlemen listed above - and aspire to make my efforts worthy of their interest. Getting the formatting of this post to look right has been a real pain in the @$$ so I'm going to put in my required comments (per the award requirements) and post this bad boy before I screw it up.

Thing I love / that make me happy:

1. God

2. My family & friends

3. Music / singing

4. Art (a good film, story, picture, song)

5. Writing

6. Eating

7. Sex

Men are relatively simple creatures after all. Hope everyone has a great holiday.

Take care.


Sunday, May 24, 2009

Our Bible verse for today

1 John 4:10, 19-21:

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

Let us love [one another], then, because he first loved us.

If anyone says, "I love God," yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.

And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.

Apologies if you're not into the whole God thing. But John's stuff works as wonderful prose poetry too - if that helps.

It's all I got. But it's quite a lot actually.

Take care.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

"Learning the game": Jim Styro's Meaning Of Life, Part Seven

Ah, the unadorned eloquence of pop music lyrics; they can convey as much as the Bard, the Bible or the Beatles (hey! - wait a minute...)*

When Buddy Holly sang:

"When you love her
and she doesn't love you
You're only learning the game..."

He was talking about one situation I haven't considered much in previous MOL musings ...when we find ourselves in relationships where the feelings, desires & intentions of partners aren't mutual. Or, in extreme situations, where the other parties are concerned solely with their own interests; or worse yet - where the one we love doesn't love us, doesn't like us - is "playing" us.

The concept of life or love as a game has been around for...well, for a long time, how about that? But there's something about it, that rubs me the wrong way - how about you? Although from a positive angle, viewing love as a game might emphasize the fun and playfulness of a relationship - an equally valid perspective could focus on the competitive aspects of all games, the fact that games have winners and losers, the underlying idea that life is a zero sum game** - for me to win I need to acquire more while everyone else gets less.

Although I can't prove that life is, in fact, not a zero sum game - I choose to believe that is not the case (based on my own experiences) and behave accordingly.

But I suspect that all of us (or nearly so) have experienced an unrequited love - where our devotion was either not reciprocated at all ("I'm busy this Saturday - and every other Saturday night for the rest of my life") or not reciprocated in kind ("I hope we can just be friends"). Who during adolescence, with their hormones raging, hasn't "fallen in love" (or, at least, lust) with someone who really didn't want to have anything to do with them.

Of course, what can make things really interesting (depending on how you look at it), is to become involved with someone who is deliberately leveraging your devotion, good-will or good-naturedness for their own gain - without regard for what would be best for you.

It's getting late - so I'll defer some of the finer points to a subsequent post. See you next time.

Take care.

* Redundancy is my friend
** Where the gain of one player is offset by the loss of another player,

Friday, May 22, 2009

Replacement post

I had a post here* - but it freaked out the Middle-Aged Woman - so I took it down and put this up instead:

Take care.

* It was an alternate version of this week's flash fiction story - where things don't go so well.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Back home again

Back in Detroit tonight after my whirlwind overnighter in NYC. The first day of the trip is always long - 'cause we take the 6 am flight into LaGuardia (which means getting up by 4 AM) and we don't normally leave the office until 7 pm (or later). Yesterday was no exception.

By the time we walked to dinner and back, it was 10:30 pm. The Middle-Aged Woman was a life-saver, keeping me posted on developments in the Wings - Blackhawks game - since apparently there is no location in Manhattan where you can watch a playoff hockey game that doesn't involve a New York team!! Leonard Cohen was right. First, we take Manhattan - then we broadcast the damn hockey game.

Anyway, I got the Wings pounding the Hawks pretty good for my ole buddy, Captain Dumbass (who I am hoping will confirm or deny whether my blog is set to allow emails back on comments - I think mine is 'cause he has emailed me before). My current prediction is that the Wings will take the series in five games (Chicago is bound to win one of the next two games at home). My next "prediction" won't really be a prediction anymore - it would have to be a postdiction, I guess. Hopefully, I won't need to make any revisionist postdictions in this series. GO WINGS!

Snoplum suggested I consult with the Cap'n regarding my current plans for He Read / She Read, to determine whether:

a) I'm violating his copyright
b) I'm pissing off a fellow blogger by blatantly ripping off the whole male/female blog idea, or
c) You're looking for any guest material for your He Blogs / She Blogs enterprise and interested in whatever Sprite's Keeper and I churn out.

This is all very embryonic in it's newness - but I'm kinda excited about rereading Garp and blathering on about it for all the world (or, at least, we happy few*).

Last but not least: Amazon has shipped the prize from last weekend's contest to Sprite's Keeper - so we will soon be hatching an evil plot (OK, maybe only slightly diabolical; would you believe devastatingly clever?) to take over the Blogging World with the whole He Read / She Read concept. Once we've both read the book. And stuff.

I think I just need a couple of days back at home - and I'll be able to think and write clearly again. Maybe.

Take care.

* Henry V - Act 4, Scene 3

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

From a BlackBerry

I'm still in New York - and the hotel charges for Internet access. And I'm cheap - even with the company's money. So this is the type of post you get from a BlackBerry. I'll try to do better tomorrow.

Coming Attractions;

Captain Dumbass & Jim Styro taunt the Blackhawks.

He Read / She Read: on The World According To Garp

Flash Fiction - final edition

Don't miss it.

Take care.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Flash draft: Sprint

Because I have to get up at 4 am for a 6 am flight to New York, I am unveiling my first draft of this week's Flash Fiction entry. Hopefully, I'll have time tomorrow to post something a little more substantial.


If he lived to be a hundred, he would never forget the fear as he caught sight of his son.

He knew even before beginning to run, he would never reach the boy in time.

How did he get so far from the house so fast?

Straining forward, anything to go faster.

Please – let me reach him.

His son had nearly reached the busy street.


The child stepped down from the curb. The first car -


Stopped. He snatched the boy up in his arms, gasping.

Thank you.

He was joyful, exhausted, angry. Grateful.

He never forgot.
(100 words including title)

Take care.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Full, True Story of
"How I Was Kidnapped"

(Plus: our Contest Winner Revealed!)

Last fall, I was sitting alone in a small diner on a main thoroughfare near our home finishing up a post-choir-practice dinner (and contemplating dessert), when my cell phone rang. A rather breathless and agitated Ms. Part Cloudy (my daughter, The Girl) was on the other end.

"Dad. are you OK?" I performed a quick inventory.

"Yeah, I'm fine. What's going on?"

"Have you talked to (Brother)*? I tried to call him on his cell phone and he's not answering."

She and I both knew that this was not exactly unusual behavior, so I wasn't quite sure why it seemed to be a source of irritation on this particular evening.

"No - but I'll try to call him."

"Mom says he's supposed to be over at Joey or Tony's house**. If he doesn't answer, you need to go over and find him. And don't travel on Telegraph Road!" This ultimatum ended the conversation as she hung up.

My first thought was: I guess I'm not gonna get any dessert.

My second thought was: It's gonna be hard to avoid traveling on Telegraph Road - since this here restaurant is located on Telegraph Road - and there's no legal way for a vehicle to exit the parking lot of this restaurant without going on to that road. What with me not having perfected transporter technology yet.

The third thought was: Why the hell can't I travel on Telegraph Road?

In deliberate disobedience to my daughter, I left the restaurant and headed off to find The Boy. Within a few minutes, I had confirmed that he was safe and sound at Joey's house. I phoned The Girl to pass along this update. It was a brief conversation.

"OK, I'll tell Mom - but you better get home right away. Mom got a call from someone saying that they had kidnapped you! And the police are coming to the house."

When I shared with The Boy the news that I had been kidnapped, it made his night. He thought it was so funny, he had to go and tell his buds before we headed home. If all my material went over as well with the general populace as the story of my kidnapping did with teenage boys that night, I'd take this show on the road and kick Ron White's ass!

The Boy and I arrived home to some highly-agitated females (whom we proceeded to piss off with our devil-may-care attitude). What for us had been a hoot (since we both clearly knew we had not been kidnapped), had involved at least a few fearful minutes for The Girls until it became clear that the kidnapping threat was b*llsh*t.

The story from the Middle-Aged Woman's perspective was not too much different than portrayed in the flash fiction piece, except that - I did not arrive home during her conversation with my would-be kidnappers. Rather she was able to ascertain my safety by having The Girl phone me - and I subsequently verified they had not kidnapped my son either.

The cops did arrive at the house a few minutes later - but they were not too interested that we had obtained the phone number where the prank call had originated. They asked questions like: Do either of your kids do drugs? Or hang out with people who do drugs? (Apparently, drug-usage and prank kidnapping calls have been strongly linked in recent studies.)

The story kind of peters out at this point. I was in the doghouse again for a while because I had made light of the situation. There was no rash of prank calls in the wake of this incident. Life went back to (more or less) normal.

AND NOW: THE MOMENT YOU'VE ALL BEEN WAITING FOR (or actually, just one of you)!

The winner of the World According to Styro Contest is...Sprite's Keeper! (Hurray!)

Although she did not correctly identify any of the stuff I made up in the story (admittedly difficult since it was mostly true - at least in the spirit of what actually occurred), she was the only one to enter the contest. And since we all know that the people who rule the world are the people who show up...SHE RULES!

What is equally cool: She has never read The World According to Garp and so I'm really looking forward to hear what she thinks of the book. If she's willing, I may even propose some "He Read / She Read" posting to give some male/female, first-time reader/rereader feedback on the novel.

Anyway, that's the news from Lake Wobegon for today. That and - the Wings won the first game of the Western Conference finals. And I washed every piece of soiled clothing in the house. And...oh, you get the idea.

Take care.

* My son, whom I refer to as "The Boy"
** Two of The Boy's best buds. They live almost next door to one another, less than a mile from our home as the crow flies. Or the pterodactyl for that matter.

The Wings defeated the Blackhawks Sunday afternoon, 5-2,
to take a 1-0 lead in the best of seven series

Saturday, May 16, 2009

How 'bout those Wings?

[I'm operating on 4 hours sleep after staying up too late and getting in to work early for my meeting today. I hope I don't whine too much.]

I used to watch TV. Now I watch sports, DVDs & movies streamed to my Roku player. Actually, my daughter has taken control of the Roku so she can watch Dr. Who episodes streamed from Netflix. And I haven't watched any DVDs at home in weeks - blogging has absorbed nearly all of my "spare time."

So about the only thing I watch on TV lately is hockey or baseball games while I'm writing a post. I ask you - is this any way to live?

Perhaps it's all for the best. Since I never have any time to watch TV, there's no need for me to be disappointed that I'm not going to be able to upgrade my set as I had hoped. I defy anybody to plow through eight grand quite as quickly as the Middle-Aged Woman and me! As I frequently say: Everybody's got to be good at something.

I really do need to pay some bills and balance the checking account tomorrow. It may make me feel better.

When I think about the Wings advancing to the Western Conference finals, I feel better.

When I think about sleeping in tomorrow, I feel better.

And I felt better when I read this quote in my planner on Thursday:

Happiness is always a by-product...But it is not something that can be demanded from life, and if you are not happy you had better stop worrying about it and see what treasures you can pluck from your own brand of unhappiness.
--Robertson Davies*

If I had started this post with that quote, perhaps I could have avoided some of the whining above.

I felt worse when I was told Wednesday that a letter had been mailed to my house (which I had not received) inviting me to an Appreciation Dinner tonight - where I was to be a guest of honor. The reason I felt worse was because I already have plans to meet friends for dinner tomorrow night and will not be able to attend the dinner intended (in part) to honor me.

But I felt a little better when I arrived home and found that the letter had been delivered - just that day. I felt better because it seems reasonable to expect that, if you're going to be invited to a dinner where you'll be honored, you would get more than 3 days notice. I tend to (at least attempt to) plan my life more than 3 days in advance.

Well, if nothing else, this little ramble gives you an idea where Jim Styro's head it at today. I get a good night's sleep tonight at that glass'll be 3/4 full again tomorrow, you watch.

I felt better when I decided to cut myself some slack - and not record an audio version of this post tonight. [I'm not sure it is of sufficient quality to deserve creation of an audio version - but that could be argued about plenty of stuff I already have recorded.]

I feel worse when I realize that: I'm so anal, I'll probably go back and record an audio version of this poist in the near future just to be a completist.

I feel better when I think that I can probably do a much better post tomorrow. Hope you'll drop in then.

Take care.

* I love that fact that all the wittiest, insightful guys all seem to be from Canada: Davies, Rick Mercer, Capt. Dumbass. Clearly, I will need to relocate if I am going to make the Big Time.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Flash fiction: Unclear on the concept

(or "How I Was Kidnapped")

Let's start with the fiction and then we'll get to the truth.

Please visit Jeanne at The Raisin Chronicles to read more flash fiction* prompted by the opening phrase: "The voice on the phone..." She's super-cool - and it's fun to see what different directions people can take a story from those words.

And now, without any further ado, Jim Styro's latest flash fiction**...

Unclear on the concept

The voice on the phone was low. Unfamiliar.

"Mrs. White?"

"Yes," I replied, half-listening.

"Mrs. White, we have kidnapped your husband." The world stopped.

"Who is this?!"

"You don't need to know. Do you want to see him again?"

Panic rose in my throat, then I heard our front door open. Clasping the phone to my chest, I leapt into the hallway. I saw his face coming through the door and nearly burst into tears.

“What?” he asked, perplexed.

I spit the words into the phone.

“My husband is here – and your number is on my caller ID. Idiot.”

(100 words plus title)

My original intention, at this point, was to tell...The Rest Of The Story. But it's after midnight - and I have an early meeting tomorrow.

So instead, I thought it'd be fun to pull a "World According to Garp" thing*** and ask people to tell me which parts of the story above they thought were true and which parts they think I made up. Post your true vs. made up theories in the comments to have a chance to win a copy of John Irving's wonderful novel, The World According to Garp (one of my all-time favorite books). All entries must be submitted by midnight on Sunday, May 17 to be eligible for our grand prize (need not be present to win). The winner will be notified by carrier pigeon. All decisions of our judges (me) are final. Anyone to whom my wife and I have already told the story is automatically disqualified from competition. Good luck!

I will post the full, true story of How I was Kidnapped on Monday morning.

But I hope you'll come back and visit again before then.

Take care.

* A short story of 100 words or less. Flash fiction often relies on the title to help tell the story.
** The Middle-Aged Woman gets at least half the credit for this story. She posted a version of this tale on her blog.
*** For extra credit in your true vs. made up theory, explain what "pulling a World According to Garp thing" means as it relates to this contest.

The Wings defeated the Ducks Thursday night, 4-3,
to win the best of seven series, 4 games to 3
Detroit advances to face the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference Finals.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

"I guess I'm talking about Love"*:
Jim Styro's Meaning of Life, Part Six

So - the last time we talked, I played a little trick on you. I put forth a Love Quiz that was really my attempt to define love by describing its component qualities and behaviors. Let's review!

Love requires: Patience, kindness, trust, and hopefulness
A loving person: isn't jealous or conceited or rude or easily offended, doesn't try to take advantage of others or hold grudges, feels bad when wrong is being done, feels good when the truth is told, is willing to overlook shortcomings, and can endure difficult circumstances.

I don't know about you - but that doesn't sound too easy to me.

It sounds much more difficult than what is shown of "love" on TV and in the movies usually. That tends to be more a parade of beautiful people in beautiful places exchanging witty banter and falling in and out of relationships so casually it's hard to tell the players without a program. If you're used to thinking of love in these romantic and (dare I say it) shallow terms, my whole Love Quiz thing must seem like a bunch of b*llsh*t.

But think of it this way: It's one thing to enjoy watching a Woody Allen movie (if you don't like Woody, insert your preferred director here) - but would you want to live a Woody Allen movie?

Have any of your past relationships caused you to think or say something like:
  • Oh, he drives me crazy half the time - but when he looks at me with those big, blue eyes, I just melt. Or,
  • She's only like that when she has too much to drink; the rest of the time, I have more fun with her than I've ever had in my life. Or,
  • Whenever he holds me, I'm completely filled with desire. The sex is incredible. I just wish my parents could forget about the time he hit me. Everybody loses their temper sometimes - and it was really my fault. Or,
  • I've never been with a girl so beautiful before - it's like a dream. I think we were meant to find each other. She really needed a loan to keep her car from getting repossessed - and I've been so lonely. I don't care what my friends say - we need each other.

So if you began reading this thinking that the 14 "elements of love" I outlined earlier are hopelessly complex, consider this:

  • How may hugs it would take to compensate for having your arm broken by an abusive partner?
  • How many kisses would it take before you can forget that your partner has a "swelled head" and never seems to forget the smallest mistake that you make?
  • How much "make-up" sex is required for you to overlook that your partner hides the truth from you and takes advantage of you, financially and emotionally?

Sure - these may be some pretty dramatic examples of how our romantic views of love can interfere with a serious evaluation of how loving our partner really is. But are these scenarios that uncommon?

I guess what I'm saying is:
I'd rather be kind than be a great kisser.**
I'd rather be hopeful than a hunk.
For as the Bard said,
"Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come."***

I'll set my sights on the things that will last longer. True love may not be easy - but it beats the alternative.

Take care.

* Or, for you multi-lingual types: Creo que estoy hablando de amor. Thanks to Mssrs. Page and Plant for the title (from Trampled Under Foot) and Jim Charlie for the Spanish.
** Of course, I'm fortunate enough to be both.
*** From Shakespeare's Sonnet 116 - my other favorite meditation on love (after 1 Corinthians 13)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Random Wednesday Thoughts

(doesn't it count if I thought of the stuff on Tuesday?)

  • I might have finished a normal post today - if I hadn't discovered two new blogs from a very good friend, Ellie Belen. But that was an excellent trade-off. I had no idea Ellie was blogging - and I think she is a wonderful writer. You can decide for yourself by checking out her blogs at Distracting Minutia and Martial Arts Class Diaries .

  • Because the Middle-Aged Woman leaves for work before I do, I will often find her nightshirt or other sleeping gear tossed in a heap on our bed. I like thinking of my wife's beautiful body while I fold her bed clothes.

  • There can be some competition for bathroom time in my house. Such was the case when The Girl (my 19-year-old daughter aka Ms. Partly Cloudy) barged in on me the other morning. The bathroom is located near (what passes for) the master bedroom in our home* - it has sliding "pocket" doors on either side. When I'm in that bathroom and I hear approaching footsteps, I will often clear my throat or make a noise to help avoid any awkward encounters. But The Girl was moving at top speed and oblivious to any warnings I might make. So as she briskly slid open one of the doors, I greeted her in a loud, cheery voice -
"Howz it going?!"

"Jesus Christ!!!!!" She lept backward and slammed shut the pocket door.

"No - he's not in here. It's just me."
  • The Wings couldn't finish off the Anaheim Ducks in Game 6 of their Stanley Cup playoff series tonight. The seventh and final game will be played in Detroit on Thursday night. The winner of that game will go on to play the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference finals. GO WINGS!

  • I excercised twice on Monday (treadmill in the morning, marital arts in the evening); just the treadmill Tuesday morning. Staying up late for the hockey game could ruin my streak Wednesday morning. But I've been on a pretty good roll so far this week.

  • Full-time employment is really starting to interfere with my blogging. I seem to get a flood of ideas in the morning that I would like to get down on...electrons** while they're fresh in my mind. Sometimes I sneak a few minutes during lunch to read or make a comment. But it's really cramping my style. I wonder if I can get someone to pay me to do THIS? (I didn't think so - perhaps male prostitution. Oh, wait - I already do a way.)

  • It's getting late. I've been random enough. Preparing posts with audio and text has been a lot more work than I imagined - but I think it's been worth it.

Take care.

* It is distinguishable as the "master" bedroom only because the MAW and I sleep there.
** Screen? You know what I mean...

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

"What is this thing called Love"*:
Jim Styro's Meaning Of Life, Part Five

Twenty-five years ago (I don't feel really old until I say or write stuff like that)...
Twenty-five years ago, Don Henley sang:

Love's a little word that's been kicked around
Used too much, beaten down
What in the world are you thinking of?

I couldn't have said it better myself - so I didn't bother to try.

I been using that word - Love - quite a bit in recent posts; but I haven't been very specific about what I think the word means - other than to say that I think one of the important qualities of a person who loves is that they are more concerned with the happiness and well-being of others than themselves. But there's more to it than that.

Want to find out if you're a loving person? Then take...(drum roll please)

Jim Styro's Love Quiz

1. Are you patient? [Score no points for "No", 1 point for "Sometimes", 2 points for "Usually"]

2. Are you kind? [No=0, Sometimes=1, Usually=2]

3. Are you jealous? [Yes=0, Sometimes=1, Never=2]

4. Are you conceited? [Yes=0, Sometimes=1, Never=2]

5. Are you rude? [Yes=0, Sometimes=1, Never=2]

6. Do you seek your own advantage? [Yes=0, Sometimes=1, Never=2]

7. Do you take offense easily/frequently? [Yes=0, Sometimes=1, No=2]

8. Do you store up grievances / have a long memory of wrongs done to you?
[Yes=0, Sometimes=1, No=2]

9. Do you do things you know are wrong easily/frequently? [Yes=0, Sometimes=1, No=2]

10. Do you hide the truth from people? [Yes=0, Sometimes=1, No=2]

11. Will you overlook the shortcomings of others (Do you "cut them some slack")?
[No=0, Sometimes=1, Usually=2]

12. Are you trusting? [No=0, Sometimes=1, Usually=2]

13. Are you hopeful? [No=0, Sometimes=1, Usually=2]

14. Are you a "fair weather friend" - unable to endure difficulties when they arise?
[Yes=0, Sometimes=1, No=2]

Total up your points for all fourteen questions - and locate yourself on the rating scale below.

22 - 28 points = You're a Lover - not a fighter

15 - 21 points = You are well on the way to the Love Shack

8 - 14 points = You need to get on the Love Train and turn things around

0 - 7 points = I'm going to steer clear until you start behaving

OK - Cosmopolitan magazine probably won't hire me on the strength of this effort (especially since I completely ripped off Paul's Letter to the Corinthians** to make the quiz). But you get the idea.

Let's review:
If happiness is important, and
Most of us like having other people around, but
Having other people around can make being happy really complicated, then
Love may be what holds the whole thing together.

The results of this quiz should be pretty interesting. I'll show you mine, if you'll show me yours.

Take care.

* Title courtesy of the late, great Cole Porter
** I wonder if I can be consigned to eternal damnation for that? C'mon, you knew there was something familiar about the quiz, didn't you. Heck, most of the married persons reading this probably had the thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians read at their wedding. Didn't think that would come back to haunt you, eh?

Monday, May 11, 2009

Why marriage is so hard:
Jim Styro's Meaning of Life, Part Four

Was there ever an endeavor so burdened by outrageous expectation as marriage?

And I'm not even talking about sex...* (OK, I'm going to keep my focus here.)

I think people have a hard time avoiding the fantasy that they can marry someone and change them into their "dream spouse" - and assume (whether they would admit it or not) that their beloved won't develop any new undesirable qualities under their watchful eye. Often, in this scenario, one party has a plan how they can "improve" their flawed partner and transform her/him more fully into the spouse of their dreams. If you aren't married yet - and this is your plan: Please sober up before you tie the knot. The harsh reality is: the cares of life are as likely to push a relationship apart as keep it together.

I'm sure all of this sounds pretty pessismistic - certainly not very romantic. And maybe that's the point. While I think romance is wonderful**, it's not very helpful in dealing with the day-to-day reality of marriage. Marriage is hard work - and if you enter into the arrangement thinking otherwise, you are at a definite disadvantage.

Let me put it this way: Marriage vows are a declaration of love without criteria. Love for better or worse, richer or poorer, sickness or health.*** (Or as I like to put it: I don't love you because you're not an @$$hole - I love you in spite of the fact that you are an @$$hole.****)

That's why marriage is so hard. Even if you can control your initial expectations for this person - that you've chosen to be closest to in the whole world - how do you deal with the changes that time and experience will inevitably bring about? Particularly when those changes are for worse rather than better, or poorer rather than richer, or sicker rather than healthier?

Here's where the fact that love is not rational, that it can't be measured or proven comes into play. These qualties - that could be a detriment in other areas of life - become a distinct advantage in marriage. Because, if one of the unique aspects of love is its willingness to put the interests of the beloved first, then it helps us to understand how to bear the times in a relationship when our expectations are not being met. We can know, at least, that our spouse is not set out to undermine our happiness - because they desire the best for us, as we do for them.

Outside all but our closest relationships, there aren't many situations where we can count on other parties being more concerned with our well-being than ourselves. Imagine having this conversation with your boss:

"Hey, Boss"

"Good morning, Valued Employee"

"Boss, I know my timing isn't very good - but the birth of another child and my wife losing her job is really putting a strain on my finances. My wife is worried sick and life at home is really making it difficult for me to do my best here in the office. You know that I've been busting my hump just to make sure I don't get laid off. Any chance that you might be able to see your way clear to get me a small raise or a bonus?"

"Well, Valued Employee, I feel your pain. Perhaps I should take a temporary pay cut and free up a little money in the budget to get you that raise. I'll have to put a little less in my 401(K) or skip eating out so often - but you need that cash more than I do."

Once you pick yourself up off the floor and your sides stop hurting, remember this: The whole scenario of seeking the best for others rather than ourselves can only be sustained if that love is reciprocated. If our love is unrequited - if one side is always giving and the other taking - the dysfunction of that situation can only be sustained until the giver has nothing left.

If you find yourself in a situation like that, whatever fantasies you may have entertained at the outset of your relationship will need to be abandoned. Even our closest relationships should be able to bear the scrutiny of dispassionate reflection.

Love can't be taken - it must be given. But love that is not returned - or love that is rejected - will turn rotten, like manna from heaven (edible for one day only). If you find yourself in that situation, my advice is: find someone who can love you back.

And if you've found someone who loves you truly: return their love in kind - and keep them close for as long as you can.

Take care.

* Although I will be following this case closely. I don't think this guy stands a chance. Maybe if the ban had latest for a quarter or something. But a week? What a p*ssy! I hardly even notice anymore until after the first week has passed.
** I don't like to make many judgements about myself that I feel are better left to others. But I am very affectionate - quite the touchy, feely guy. I don't think that necessarily comes through much in my writing - 'cause I'm also a hard@$$. But my inclination is more in the direction of Chubby Hugs.
*** You made up your own wedding vows that left open larger loopholes, it may be that none of this post applies to you.
**** A statement which I have often applied to friendship - not marriage. My wife is like Mary Poppins.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

I Love My Mom*

I know that half the bloggers on the planet may do the same thing - but I'm going to write about my Mom for Mother's Day. And if you think that's hackneyed, get a load of this: I'm going to do a post about my Dad on Father's Day and my wife on her birthday/our anniversary (which are -conveniently - the same day). I may even write about my kids on their birthdays! And there's nothing you can do to stop me!!

OK - I'm...feeling better since I got that off my chest.

My mom was the baby of her family and the only girl. To hear her surviving older brother, my Uncle Rodger, tell it - she got away with plenty as a kid. I can imagine that my grandparents might have spoiled their baby girl a bit. But I don't think she's been spoiled much since leaving her parent's home over 46 years ago. She doesn't act like a spoiled little girl - so whatever she got away with earlier in life hasn't seemed to trinkle down** to the present day.

[My mom was about 5 years old when this picture was taken with her father's mother, Grandma Knight.]

My mom was an ath-a-lete in high school. That stuff must skip a generation - since I grew up with the eye-t0-hand coordination of a drunken giraffe.*** [There's really no need to point out that my younger brother had plenty of athletic talent, thank-you-very-much!] Mom lettered in four different sports (basketball, floor hockey, swimming and tennis) as the photo at right attests. One of my Mom's uncles was a news photographer and got a number of great shots - some of which made it into the paper. And to think - my entry into the world was only a few short years away.

[The photo at left shows my Mom, Uncle Rodger, my Grandma, and my Aunt Diane (the wife of Mom's oldest brother, Bill, who died in a car accident before I was born).]

Other than my late-blooming athleticism (I'm still waiting for it), I share several different traits with my Mom.

- We're both quite loud (although I'm louder than she is)
- We both have a strong faith in God and are active members in our churches
- We like to golf
- Neither of us likes to talk on the phone that much
(I have a higher tolerance than Mom)

Because Mom is working tomorrow (I thought she had retired!), I took her out to dinner tonight for Mother's Day. We had a fine time chatting - and didn't get on each other's nerves even once! She wants all of her children to get together sometime this fall - and I said I would do whatever she wanted. We talked about her work for the Census Bureau and a Pickleball tournament**** she will compete in soon. She's still an aggressive competitor.

(Here's part of a conversation from tonight between me and my Mom.)

Styro: "So if you're playing in two-man teams, do you play one person up and one person back, like in tennis?"

Mom: "No. We mostly play up close to the net."

Styro: "And do you lob shots much to get behind the other team."

Mom: "No, I'm not very good at lobbing."
I know my Mom pretty well. I only had to think for a couple seconds.

Styro: "So, you mostly try to hit shots hard right at people so they can't return them."
It wasn't a question.

Mom: "Yep. In your face, baby!"

That's my Mom alright - and I love her.

Take care.

* Thanks to Suzzy Roche for the title.
** That's the way I both wrote and recorded it - so that's the way it stays. "Trickling" is for those without imagination.
*** The fact that this link exists is nearly conclusive proof that you can find anything on the Internet.
**** I'll bet you didn't even realize that there was a USA Pickleball Association!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

"Uva Uvam Videndo Varia Fit"
- Jim Styro's Meaning Of Life, Part Three

(Or - The Grapes of Change*)

If John Donne was right and "no man is an island, entire of itself"**, then we can't - or, at least, shouldn't - deal with the meaning of life in a vacuum. Although our previous discussion on happiness and the Meaning of Life was simplified by narrowing in on the expectations of the individual - on what makes me happy - we know that real life is a little more complicated.

Most of us choose to live in the company of others - understanding that to maintain a relationship will involve compromise. Only the most unreasonable people expect to maintain good relations with those around them and still be able to do whatever they want, whenever they want to. It is generally accepted, as part of the unspoken contract of a friendship, that each party cares about the happiness of the other - and is willing (if not always eager) to facilitate that happiness. In our closest relationships, we may even put the needs and desires of the other person(s) ahead of our own - as some do with their children, or their spouse, their immediate family or very close friends.

Where I come from, it's called love - when you put the good of someone else before your own desires.

But love or not - having other people around does complicate the equation. And it's amazing to me how it can impact even the simplest things. For example: Where to eat dinner? How difficult can that be, right? Oh, sure - if it was a larger group, ten people, maybe even two couples having dinner together, you might understand a little haggling, it might take some discussion. But if you have two people. And both of them are hungry. And one of them is willing to eat anywhere (except Arbys***). Then it should be pretty easy to settle on a location.

Unless My Son is involved. In which case, he will not be able to make a decision on where to eat until the top of my head pops off. The conversation begins with my son sprawled on his bed at 7:30 pm. I had to stay late at the office and I'm starving.

"Jim, do you want to get something to eat? If you do, get up right now."

"Uuuuuhh, yeah. I'm coming." I wait while he drags himself out of bed. I'd like him to pick up the pace - but I'm holding my tongue because I know that riding him will only slow down the process.

"Where do you want to eat, Jim?"

"Uuuuuhh, I'm not sure." He only likes to eat at about 3.5 different places (since he knows I won't go with him to Arbys - and he knows I don't want to bother bringing fast food back to the house) - so this really shouldn't take long.

"Well, you need to get sure pretty quickly - or I'll pick." He's pretty sure I will pick a place he'd rather not go (since I like more than 3.5 restaurants) - and he's right. This is called "motivation".

Soon we're in the car. He's had plenty of time to eliminate 2.5 places from consideration and give me the name of the one where he wants to eat but...

"Jim, where do you want to eat? Tell me or I will start driving to a place I'd like to eat."

"Well, I thought of a place...but...I'm not'd think it's OK"

"Jim - just tell me."

"How about Arbys?"

"No." I keep my voice flat - but I'm starting to get frustrated. I'm starting to sense where this headed.

"Well...couldn't we just get a pizza and take it home?"

"No - but I'll give you some money and you can take your car and go buy a pizza if you want."

"No..." That would require effort on his part. Now I'm getting pretty p*ssed off.

"Jim, I'm heading for KFC." I have picked a place I know he would rather not go. This is called "Forcing the issue".

"Can we go to Taco Bell?"

"That's fine." But why the hell do we have to do this dance EVERY SINGLE TIME!!!!!

Clearly, every decision doesn't have to be this agonizing (since The Boy will not be involved) - but, in the overall scheme of things, where to have dinner should be an easy question. When you get to more important stuff like:

  • Should I move in with you?
  • Do you want to get married?
  • When will we start a family?
  • I just got a great job offer in another city - should I take it?
  • Boxers or briefs?
things can get really dicey.

Most of us choose to live in the company of others. And while this doesn't necessarily make life easier - and can sometimes complicate the quest for happiness (for all parties concerned) - it also has the potential to make life immeasurably richer.

To paraphrase those Mastercard commercials:

A late dinner at KFC by yourself - $9

A late dinner at Taco Bell with your 17-year-old Son, who's still not embarassed to be seen with you in public, even if he can't make up his mind to save his life - Priceless

Take care.

* Sorry Mr. Steinbeck. The latin motto in the title is taken from Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove. There's an explanation here.
** In fact, there is probably no wisdom from previous centuries that the march of time has proven more true than this one. As technology shrinks the world, I believe we become ever more interconnected and dependent on one another. And though there is clearly a dichotomy in the impact of technology on relationships (as we develop new ways for our electronic personas to interact, do our physical selves become more isolated?) - it would seem that the general inclination of humankind is still to reach out to one another. Crap! I could probably milk a whole 'nother post out of this...
*** Their food is OK - but it is too d*mn expensive for a fast food joint

Friday, May 8, 2009

Spin Cycle: The Proliferation of Profanity - Mountain or molehill

(or - Styro goes postal)

[WARNING: This is going to be the longest disclaimer ever. Python-esque in length. That's not what I'm warning you about. But you need to know that this is indeed a serious warning and you should pay attention.

This is still the warning.
PLEASE DO NOT PLAY THE AUDIO FOR THIS POST IF THERE ARE CHILDREN IN THE ROOM. Because there is a lot of profanity in it. So if that bothers you, you should not read or listen to the rest of this post. Seriously - I am not kidding one bit. I would not particularly want my Grandmother reading or listening to this post because of all the bad language - that you will soon be hearing or reading. In fact, I would like to apologize to my grandmother, in case she is reading or listening.

Grandma: I'm sorry. I know I shouldn't use language like this - but I thought it might make the post really funny. And I know that they are cheap laughs. But my posts have been pretty serious lately. And I have been staying up too late writing them, so I thought this idea would make things a little easier on me and be pretty entertaining all at the same time. But I know I shouldn't have done it - and I'm sorry.

Anyway, this is the last part of the warning -so if you are still reading or listening, profanity must not bother you. And you must enjoy movies like "The Big Lebowski" (me, too!) and so hopefully you will like this post too and that is the end of the warning.

Except to say that the swearing will be starting really soon...]

I know I shouldn't let it bother me, but the casual use of profanity these days - not only in speech, but on t-shirts and bumper stickers - is very troubling to me. It bothers me in part because I think it represents a coarsening of our culture, an abandonment of politeness as a standard of public conduct. But it also shows a decided lack of verbal creativity - not because we don't have a sufficient vocabulary to express ourselves accurately without using profanity - just that we're too lazy to be bothered.

And that is f*cking pathetic. I mean, it really p*sses me off - when I hear my own g*dd*man children, the fruit of my loins spewing that sh*t. I mean, don't they realize how that f*cking sh*t reflects on my @$$!! That is not how they were f*cking raised, let me tell you. Those little f*cks could count on one f*cking hand the number of f*cking times I've cursed in front of them. Seriously.

And then there's the g*dd*mn blasphemy. I mean, whatever happened to not taking the f*cking Lord's name in vain, fer Chrissake? And my kids will do it so casually sometimes. Jesus H Christ - it really f*cking p*sses me off!!! I could understand some of it if there was an extreme situation, if they were really upset - or angry - but the little d*ckheads are f*cking swearing when they're calm as f*cking cucumbers.

The bottom line is: @$$holes who can't express themselves in any other way than f*cking swearing every other f*cking word are the sort of sh*theads that deserve equal measures of our derision and our f*cking pity. Stupid c*cksuckers!

If we are to have any hope of preserving the last vestiges of polite society, it seems to me we must begin with controlling our tongues. Only by demonstrating self-control in our language can we demonstrate our capability to control the other aspects of our behavior.

And all the f*cking profanity? That sh*t has got to stop.

Take care.

Jim Styro's Meaning Of Life will continue tomorrow.

Detroit vs. Anaheim - Wings and Ducks tied 2 - 2 in the best of seven series.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Jim Styro's Meaning Of Life: Part Two

(or - The Tools of the Trade-off)

Let me be my own devil's advocate for a minute:
Trade-off schmade-off! Who the hell says I can't or don't want to be happy all the time?!?!
This is America, dammit! I can be happy all the time if I want to!!!

I guess I would have to agree that perpetual happiness is at least a theorhetical possibility. However, I would still argue that, in the long run, it is neither practical nor desirable. Constant happiness is a practical impossibility for several reasons:

1. It presumes that you can control your circumstances and/or expectations to a degree that is improbable. In this mythical happiness-world, will no one close to you ever die? Or get sick? Will you never have an accident? Will you never be in pain? Will you always be in a position to do the things that you want to do - rather than compromise with what others want? Or will you just keep your expectations so low that disappointment is never risked?

2. It presumes that being happy all the time is good for you. But didn't you ever learn a valuable lesson as the result of a hardship? Could you have learned that lesson any other way than going through that difficulty? Aren't some of the qualities that we value most in others - dependability, strength, composure, maturity - aren't they developed in large part when we are forced to deal with adversity, to overcome an unanticipated challenge? Better yet - turn the question around and answer this: Is it your experience that people who always seem to get everything they want, who always seem get their way, who never seem to compromise or have to do without - are they people of good character? Do they possess qualities that you wish to emulate, that make them good role models? Are these people you would like to spend a lot of time with?

If your answers to these questions are similar to mine, then hopefully I've been able to substantiate my assertion from yesterday's post that happiness, while desirable, has its limitations. So, in our journey towards the MOL*, we've covered a couple of important trade-offs that we'll need to keep in mind.
  • Increased risk/reward of high expectations vs. lower risk/reward of minimized expectations
  • The potential benefit of building character through dealing with adversity vs. the destructive impact of constant, unrelenting hardships

Some have said that whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger - but I don't necessarily believe that. Some difficult experiences will scar us in a way that no "character building" justification makes sense. Is there some way to rationalize how a young woman being raped can serve to make her a stronger person in the long run? Should I get hooked on heroin so that I can (hopefully) prove that my will is stronger than the chemical's hold on me? Should I put myself and those around me into intentionally stressful situations to test whether I can retain my composure in those circumstances?

It seems to me that no one needs to seek out trouble to prove their worth - each day has trouble enough of its own. But, hopefully, we can each find ways to minimize the difficulties we encounter. And, perhaps, be wise enough to make the kind of decisions that will increase the opportunities for happiness - both for ourselves and those around us.

KEEP IN MIND: There is no substitute for happiness. If you are unhappy, the fact that dealing with hardships and adversity have improved your character may be of little comfort. You'll be strong and dependable and mature and...unhappy. On the other hand, if your desire to always be happy leads you to shy away from tough decisions, to avoid sacrifice - even when your conscience tells you otherwise, to sever relationships - rather than do what the other person wants or needs...well, I don't think that whatever happiness you find will be long-lived. Or satisfying in the long run.

Before I close this chapter of our journey together, let me do what I told my wife (the Middle-Aged Woman) I would do.

Some things that make Jim Styro happy:

  • Causing someone to smile or laugh
  • Singing
  • Finishing something difficult
  • Reading scripture
  • Enjoying a good piece of art - a book, a film, or an image that is uplifiting
  • Big TVs
Most of the other things I thought of aren't appropriate to bring up in public.

Thanks for listening to this latest rant. I'm not sure how far we have to go to the MOL - but I think we're headed in the right direction.

Take care.

* Meaning of life

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Jim Styro's Meaning of Life: Part One

(or - More on the whole "happiness thing")

As the Dude once said: "My thinking about this case had become very uptight."

Last night as I wrote the over-commitment post, I felt my focus was drifting. I had one other nearly finished post in the hopper - and a bunch of unfinished stuff that didn't seem to fit together - but no sense of where things were headed or what I would write next.

But then my wife, the lovely Snoplum (aka the Middle-Aged Woman), posted the following comment:

It's not that I see NO value, it's just that I see no value as great as your happiness/contentment. Sweet, but true. Oh, and not too weak, too kind.
And quickly, the whole thing seemed to come into focus. I knew where the plane was headed - even if its only good engine would take it no farther than the scene of the crash (a half hour before the paramedics would arrive).* Boys & girls: we are on a mission to uncover the Meaning Of Life (MOL - according to Styro). Discussions of happiness, expectations, honesty, relationships and faith loom on the horizon as we get this whole thing figured out.

Let's review the ground we've covered so far, shall we:

1. The road to unhappiness is paved with unmet expectations.
2. High achievement requires high expectations.
3. High achievement requires focusing of energy and attention.
4. Long-term relationships have a unique value for which there is no substitute.
5. There does not appear to be any direct relationship between how much a person does and how happy (or unhappy) they are.
6. I can be a real d*ck sometimes.

I'm not sure that last point really fits into the whole "meaning of life" discussion - but it may be extremely helpful to you later on when considering whether or not I'm completely full of sh*t.)

I think our next stop on the road towards the MOL involves additional scrutiny of the whole "happiness thing". Clearly, most people think happiness is important in life. The country where I live is founded on the idea that all people should have the right to life, freedom and the pursuit of happiness. I have emphasized the word "pursuit" as a reminder that the Declaration of Independence does not presume a right to happiness itself - just the pursuit of it.

I will go further to say: The goal of understanding what makes you happy - and how to do those things, to let yourself be happy - is not to be happy all the time. I think anyone with the insight to figure out the what and how of happiness also knows that happiness has its limitations. I certainly believe happiness should be valued - even sought after (although I suspect that happiness flees from those who seek for it too vigorously; in many cases, they didn't realize that the ingredients for happiness were close at hand - and probably within).

But if a person felt constantly happy, how would they know what happiness was? It wouldn't need a name; it would just be called "The Way I Feel All The Time".

Take care.

* apologies to Ron White

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Perpetually overcommitted

I can't remember the last time I was bored.

It's not that I think boredom is something to be sought after, you understand. It's just that - every once in a while - I start to imagine what it might be like to have enough time to do all the things I ought to do.

Don't worry - I'm not gonna spend this post whining about having too much to do. I must love having too much to do - because that always seems to be my state of being. I don't view that as necessarily a bad thing. It's only bad when you make a commitment you can't keep - or you don't do your best because you're rushed. I wish I could say that never happens to me. But oftentimes the question that lingers is not: could I have done better - or could someone have done better than me, but - if I hadn't attempted it, would anything have been done at all?

My challenge is in deciding which activities are most important and trying to arrange my life in a way that ensures those things receive most of my time and energy. Family, work and church are the elements of my life that deserve and receive the greatest amounts of my attention. No one of these seems to hold the top spot for an extended period; there is an ebb and flow in the demands each of these places on me - and I do my best to keep things in balance.

My inclination to be overly busy is troubling to my wife, the Middle-Aged Woman. She thinks I work too hard (sometimes I do) and she thinks I spend too much time at church (sometimes I do) - but I spend plenty of time at home. And most of that time is spent on my own. There is no one here who seems desirous for more of my company and attention. My wife, daughter and son seem to be getting as much of me as they can handle - and, in some cases, more than they desire. (Except for my son, who would like to go golfing more often. But he'd go golfing with Hannibal Lecter, if the doctor was covering his greens fees.)

For the MAW, at least, this is an area of (mostly) unspoken and unresolved disagreement. We've got plenty of those. (If you've been married for 20+ years and don't have any, let me know your secret. If I can help you market the thing properly, we can both be rich beyond our wildest dreams.) I actually spend less time at church now than I have in years. And I've reduced my on-call responsibilities at work. But this doesn't seem to affect her view that I "do too much." She would, I believe, like me to simply spend more time at home. But the things she does most of the time at home are solitary activities. And when I'm engaged in solitary activities (for example: reading, writing, napping), I like to be - alone.

It may sound like I'm an anti-social person - but nothing could be farther from the truth. I love entertaining (the MAW - not so much), I love going out, seeing friends, watching a movie, attending a concert. Admittedly, the MAW's enjoyment of these activities has been undercut for a few years by her back problems - but even prior to that time, I was (and am) definitely the social butterfly of our union.

My intention was not to begin whining about incompatibilities with my spouse in order to avoid whining about being busy. I enjoy being busy. But, it seems that, as life goes on, there are always more demands on my time. I have gotten better at saying "No" but - I still like to say "Yes". Most of all, I think that I appreciate the quiet times in my life more - because I've seen how crazy things can get. I think I've learned to be content in spite of circumstances. I try to carry my comfort zone around with me - wherever I go.

Take it from me - that's a handy thing to have with you.

Take care.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Further flash:
Lonesome Dove and the joys of McMurtry

A couple days ago, I mentioned my love for the book, Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry. It was turned into one of the best made-for-TV movies/mini-series ever (one of the best Westerns ever, IMO) starring Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones (amongst others). Except for Clint Eastwood, though, the Western as a genre in film and fiction seems to lack appeal for many folks. I think that is why I have often sought to champion the story to anyone who will sit still long enough.

Apart from being extremely well-written (it rightfully won the 1986 Pulitzer Prize for fiction), the book is a wonderful story of cowboys and the Old West - and, at the same time, those trappings of the story are irrelevant to enjoying the book as a tremendously rich and moving work of fiction. Or to put it more simply: you can love this book whether you like Westerns - or you hate them. All you need to enjoy Lonesome Dove is to love a good story (if you love a LONG story, that doesn't hurt either).

I'm telling you all that, so I can tell you this: While spending time thinking about and writing my "flash fiction" piece for The Raisin Chronicles*, I recalled that within the sprawling tale of Lonesome Dove**, there is a favorite passage of mine that almost qualifies as "flash fiction".

McMurtry has 600 pages to set the scene before this paragraph appears in the novel; I'll just tell you this: The following passage refers to a remembrance of July Johnson, a young sheriff from Fort Smith, Arkansas. One of the plot threads in Lonesome Dove involves July's search for his missing wife, which takes him from from Texas to Nebraska.

Listen to what Larry McMurtry can do with 216 words.***

All during the trip [July] had been haunted by the memory of something that had happened in Fort Smith several years before. One of the nicest men in town, a cotton merchant, had gone to Memphis on a business trip, only to have his wife take sick while he was gone. They tried to send a telegram to notify the man, but he was on his way back and the telegram never got delivered. The man's name was John Fisher. As he rode back into Fort Smith, John Fisher saw a burying party out behind the church. Being a neighborly man, he had ridden over to see who had died, and the people had all stopped, stricken, for they were burying his wife. July had been helping to cover the coffin. He never forgot the look on John Fisher's face when he realized he was a day late - his wife had died the afternoon before his return. Though a healthy man, John Fisher only lived another year himself. If he ran into someone on the street who had seen his wife on her sickbed he always asked, "Do you think Jane might have lived if I'd got back sooner?" Everyone told him no, you couldn't have done a thing, but John Fisher didn't believe them.
If you enjoyed that tidbit, I hope you'll pick up a copy of Lonesome Dove and give yourself a real treat.

Take care.

* If you haven't been to her site before, I highly recommend that you check out some of Jeanne's older posts. She is a wonderful writer - you'll find some gems. And new flash fiction pieces are still being submitted - some great stuff!
** 850 - 950 pages depending on whether you're reading hardcover or paperback. Of course, I have both.
*** Microsoft Word counted them for me.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Flash Fiction*: One Breath

The Middle-Aged Woman sent me an email today with the Subject line:

Are you in? I'm in.**
And a link to Jeanne's Fiction Friday Challenge at The Raisin Chronicles.

The challenge was/is: to write a piece of "flash fiction" - a short story of 100 words or less that begins with the phrase -

"The room was silent except for...."
Never one to back down from a challenge by two women (especially when one is my wife), I submitted my story Saturday evening.*** I'm also never one to miss a two-for-one posting opportunity; so my post today consists, in large part, of my flash fiction submission entitled:

One Breath

The room was silent except for the distant hum of a fan. He lay still, his breathing hushed. He felt alone – although she was close enough to touch him.

Then she reached out and grasped his arm, a gentle tug. Relief swept over him. He turned to her and covered her mouth with his own; his arms encircled her and drew her close. She took a sharp breath as she felt his lips on her throat, his hand at the small of her back. Now they breathed with one breath.

“I want you. Do you want me?” he asked.


Hope you enjoyed my story.

Take care.

* not "flasher" fiction (despite what you may think after reading my story)
** Of course, I'm always wanting to be in
*** a day late - but not a word short.