How’s that for a fun first sentence? Read on.. It gets better… no, really.
Note: I can’t adequately convey what I’d like to. This is a pretty poor attempt at tribute.. But, this morning, it’s what I have.
I miss my mom. More at some times.. Like now. NOT because it is the anniversary date of her death. I hate to say it but I might not have remembered the actual date had her sister not emailed us to let us know she was thinking of us and they were having a mass back in Canada. read: Enjoy Every Sandwich
I mean, I had a nagging underlying knowledge that today was the day. But.. the bigger reminder was The US Open tennis tournament. Because, if you were to describe my mom, tennis would be near the top of the list.
Every major since her death has been like this for me. They are less fun to watch.
Yesterday, I watched the end of Pouile v. Nadal – an amazing match. The Frenchman, a rising star in men’s tennis, won a 5 setter that came down to the final points in a tie-breaker. He was incredibly gracious in victory and subsequent interview. I really liked the guy – I’m rooting for him.
My mom would have liked him too.
And this is why the major’s are harder than the date of her death….
Yesterday, I was reminded once again, that I couldn’t call her to discuss the match or Pouile’s great after match interviews. We couldn’t talk about how McEnroe – the best sports commentator in any sport in my opinion – loved Pouile’s no-nonsense humility. And how my mom would agree with him.
“The match isn’t over until the final point,” Pouile said. We can apply the hell out of that wisdom, can’t we?
And we couldn’t talk about me joining her and her friends for doubles – me the “young gun” on the court – playing with 75-90 year old women who would tell me how fast I moved. I’d say, “You’ve spotted me 30 years, I’d better be fast because I have no confidence I’ll be out here at 80 years old – moving at all.”
My friend Mike texted me this past April Fool’s Day – his text.. “If you look out your front window you will see there is a horse on your lawn.”
It choked me up… the horse on the lawn was a running gag of my mom’s from my childhood. Every year, April 1st, she was going to call me or I was going to call her to say there was a horse on the lawn. Why that was funny to us.. I have no idea.
Of course, one year, we brought our two horses to my mom’s, snuck them in the backyard, and then I called her with the gag. Winner!
There are other things I miss.. Pet phrases and her dry sarcasm. Those of you who know me and my sarcasm have met my mother. In fact, the self-deprecation and sarcasm is from her… The love for people – and a willingness to generally accept and work with their foibles is also her.
“I’m not just a pretty face”
One of my mom’s favorite phrases. She said it if I commented on her knowledge – evident when watching Jeopardy with her. She’d say it during tennis, if she made a great shot. The exchange would look like this.
Me:Great shot mom. Her:I’m not just a pretty face you know. Me:That’s true.. You are not! Her:Oh fuck off!
Yeah.. she’d tell me to fuck off every once in awhile – deservedly. It always made us laugh. The last time she really cussed at me was during the final 6 weeks – when cancer was killing her.
Please understand, she was not really prone to cuss.. We, her kids, brought her to that point… it was still always shocking and always made me laugh.. if the fact that she did bothers you.. well.. fuck off! 😉
We were feeding her through a feeding tube. I’d pretend I was a waiter and explain the menu choices and how great it was going to be. I’d ask her how she wanted her fluid prepared and did she want the vegetables or rice pilaf with that. I told her I was going to open a feeding tube restaurant to give people dying a unique dining experience. We both thought it was a pretty fun idea… morbid, yes.. but still funny.
Later, however, we were struggling to give her medicine orally..I told her I could crush it and put it through the tube. She did NOT want the tube to get plugged up. She was a nurse and through all the decline, understood enough that she was not getting calories she needed – even with the feeding tube. So.. she wanted the tube open.
I explained that I would crush the pills carefully and dilute them in water.
“Don’t fuck with my feeding tube!”
I looked at her with shock and then we both started laughing. I texted my siblings – classic mom moment.
Her other pet phrase was usually said when you did something intelligent and someone else noticed. Someone might say to her (or you might say it yourself), “Matt is really smart.”
Mom:“Yes.. but he hides it so well.”
I miss hearing that..
True story: Years ago I had been hired to speak in Calabasas. I invited my mom and the organizers sat her with us at the head table of the luncheon. After I finished, the woman in charge of the event said to my mom, “You must be proud of your son.”
True to form, my mom replied, “I spent 18 years trying to shut that kid up and now you pay him to speak.”
Some people didn’t understand that.. They thought it mean. I don’t.. It is so no-nonsense, achievement is sort of expected, go do things – that I love it.
Mom didn’t want you too big for your own good – and that’s good because I’ve never struggled with lack of confidence – at least not in those areas.
Other things about my mom.. She never spanked me or really disciplined me. She just talked to me.. You were expected to be a good person. I wish I’d done better at this with my kids when they were young.. My mom said I should focus on redirection rather than forced obedience. I believe this – though failed at it a lot!
She walked every morning – a few miles – never complained about being tired or sore.. In life, you will be tired and sore sometimes.. So what.. You still have to do things.
Even with cancer she tried to get out and walk. I remember going to the store just after the diagnosis.. I was trying to find a spot close to the store. She pointed to the end of the parking lot – “park there.”
“Mom.. I want to get you closer.”
“I’m not dead yet.. Park over there.”
I’ve said it before, she was a bit of a badass. I’m so thankful for that example.
Was I a good mom?
This questions haunts me… During the final weeks of her life, my siblings and I traded off spending time to care for her. I stayed at her house 3 to 4 days a week. The cancer had spread to her brain and elsewhere. It affected her physical function. I was watching as she was putting some clean dishes away (no, she was NOT going to stop working, there’s stuff to do).
She got confused opening the cupboard door.. Trying to put a glass away. She kept pushing it against the cupboard rather than through the open door to the shelf. I got up and went to her to help. As I got there, she realized what she was doing.
She put the glass down and I said, “Shit!”
She was frustrated and all too aware of what was happening to her.
Then she turned to me and said, “I’m sorry.”
“Mom.. why are you sorry? You have nothing to be sorry about.”
“I’m sorry I’m creating trouble.”
I started crying – she did too.
“Mom.. you are not trouble.. It is my pleasure to be here.. I owe you everything.. My life!”
I held her – not something our family is so good at..
Then she asked, “Was I a good mom?”
The question made me cry more.. There are some demons there for her.. Reasons she might not understand how great she was or question her mothering.. And damn those demons and the people who bring them!
“You are an amazing mom! You were the best mom! The best parts of me are from you! The best parts of my kids are from you!”
And this is true!
I could explain the end – how I got to talk to her prior to giving her a morphine/ativan cocktail that let her sleep – and never wake up. I could explain how I told her to stop fighting.. That we were okay.. That she did awesome!
But I’d rather talk about her taking a bunch of kids across country – several times – or arranging ski trips with us and with friends. Or how, the day prior to hip replacement surgery we went to her weekly tennis game.. She popped a bunch of ibuprofen and limped onto the court to play two hours of tennis. (Do you see where I get it from?)
I’d rather remember how all her friends talked about her humor and intellect – her care and love for people.. How she never had drama in her life – or, at least, you never heard about it.
How, devoid of rhythm, she would get out and line dance a few times a week. How she would get her friends together for lunch every week. How, regardless of health, tragedy, and any personal challenges, she was living life.
She wanted to go to Zion the last few years of her life.. But caring for my father and other situations made that impossible. So.. I want to go for her.. I’m going to hike the fuck out of that place.. I want to do it alone – well, I’ll take my dog and her! I’m taking her with me.
A week or so ago, my friend, my friend Debbie and I went downtown for the evening. R&R for me. Mental health getaway for her.. ’nuff said.
My youngest – “The Punk” – and I moved there so she could attend a performing arts high school. She is a singer.. a good one (look for future recordings).
I never knew I would enjoy downtown but I do. I love some of the cool things we get to see and do. And it is like a full-time, always-on, reality show. Between the homeless, the vendors, the tourist, and the varied locals, you get a little bit of everything.
Debbie and I walked around starting near Pershing Square, up to the financial district, down to Broadway, Spring, Los Angeles Street, Little Tokyo, and more. We ended up at Olvera street after it was closed. Debbie took some pictures (bel0w). She is a photographer and so the evening was a halting series of photo stops throughout the city. I served as the “patient” model. (No.. I’m not that patient but it was her mental health outing so I shut my mouth.) I was also the traffic stopper.. when she had to stand in the middle of the street to “get that right shot” – my job was to watch for, and stop, oncoming traffic!
We decided to take the subway from Union Station back to Pershing Square… for the experience.. it delivered nicely.
We boarded the red line and waited as other riders got on. I was standing near the back of the car. A sketchy looking young guy, holding a staff, got on the train. He looked like a cross between a homeless hippie and a wizard. That’s the best I can come up with.
He immediately started talking to a random passenger sitting in front of him, explaining that he used the staff for protection when necessary.
Then he turned to me and said, “Hey Mr. Muscles, can I sit in that chair behind you.”
I said, “You called me Mr. Muscles, so yeah, you can do whatever you want.”
I moved so he could go by. When he sat down he started telling me that his friend taught him to street fight. And then it got even stranger.
He said, “I love running into guys like you.. big muscles, big arms.. They’re surprised when they tangle with me.”
Was he challenging me to a fight? It came across as an attempt to stake his ground – an odd way to create a safety zone.Which isn’t necessary.. I have no interest in trouble.. but???
So I flexed one arm a little and said, “These arms are for hugging, not hitting!”
“Yeah right!,” he responded.
As we got off the subway, I told Debbie, “That is what I love about LA.” It’s an amazing reality show!
And yes, hugging beats hitting any day!
Here are some of Debbie’s photos (taken on her phone). Enjoy!
I read that 5 police officers were killed in Dallas today during a protest over the killings of two black men – different cities.
I’m going to refrain from analysis of any of the events and let the investigations take place. I have neither the expertise nor insight to, prior to those investigations, offer much more than condolences and sadness.
“Matthew… …ask yourself what you have done to offend them, make them uncomfortable, or cause them to act or react this way.”
What I do wish is that less time was spent by those from any perspective circling their philosophic wagons. That the first response to a black man killed was not – by one group – to vilify all law enforcement or – by another group – exonerate and defend all law enforcement.
This is a philosophic circling of the wagons.
All police are not saints and neither are all villains.
All black men are not victims and neither are all criminals.
An admission by those whose first response is to absolve law enforcement of criticism that the power afforded police can and does lead to misuse and this must be addressed.
An admission by those in the black community that urban black culture teaches an often violent response to any show of authority and contributes to conflict.
An admission and understanding by the largely white population that growing up black in America is fraught with peril and very real prejudice – that the anger of the black community has some deep-rooted and warranted causes… causes that still exist today.
There are no scores to settle, because in keeping score we are really just keeping a tally on death and sadness. No amount of bodies counted solve the problem.
I want to check my first response – which can be anger at X or Y. Here is why…
Faith and Introspection
I don’t often discuss my faith publicly. Mostly because public politics and religion rarely induces understanding. I am more inclined to discuss such issues over coffee, or wine or beer, or on a hike. One on one – person to person – human to human.
I am a Christian.. as such I believe in the fallibility of people. This idea is often misconstrued and misrepresented by people of faith – my faith – who seem quick to point out the sins of others… other groups and other individuals.
“What’s going on inside of me. I despise my own behavior. This only serves to confirm my suspicions, that I’m still man in need of a savior.”
from In The Light by DC Talk
But my faith, from my perspective, should cause me to look more clearly on my own failings – while extending and representing grace and love to others.
Many years ago I was discussing a professional conflict with a friend. I was frustrated with the situation and at what the other person was doing to make my work and my relationship with my client more challenging.
This woman, took my hands and looked me in the eye.. She asked, “Matthew, before you focus too much attention at what the other person is doing, I want you to ask yourself what you have done to offend them, make them uncomfortable, or cause them to act or react this way. This is a good starting point to help create understanding.”
I’ve tried to remember this conversation. Because she was sweet – and pretty – I suppose I was more susceptible to listening.
I fail in this regard most of the time. My first reaction is to circle my wagons – to protect my turf – to see how I was wronged – to harbor “righteous anger” – to shake my head at how others act. You do the same! Don’t worry – just admit it. It is liberating!
But circling the wagons guarantees we spend our time looking outward, at our “opponent,” not inward, where I believe we should be looking more often and with greater scrutiny. It closes us off as individuals, as communities, and human beings.
What if, rather than circling our wagons –defending our position – we looked more critically at where we stood and with greater understanding at where the “others” stand.
It doesn’t solve yesterday. But maybe it can help give us an opportunity for a more peaceful tomorrow.
I was telling someone yesterday about how I put peanut butter in my oatmeal. They thought that was weird and said they wouldn’t like it. I replied, “How would you know you wouldn’t like it?”
“I don’t know.. It just seems odd to me.”
“Well.. you might want to try it. You may discover you find it amazing!”
This has happened a few times when people discover the various ways I enjoy peanut butter. For many, they only partake in peanut butter as part of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. They’ve even forgotten the joy of peanut butter on a spoon. I even lick peanut butter of the knife when I spread it on something. Knife.. spoon.. it’s all good.
A word about mastication
Everyone has their own limits and background on mastication. It can be colored by how you were raised or your religious beliefs. Some people are more open to how they masticate… some less so. Just understand that everyone masticates and how you choose to masticate with peanut butter is entirely your business.
Your peanut butter, your choice
Now.. the truth is, however you enjoy peanut butter is fine. And I love me a good peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Even the most basic peanut butter and strawberry jelly on white bread; that is delicious. I don’t judge how others enjoy their peanut butter. And if you find that you really just like peanut butter as part of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, that’s okay. No judgement here.
But.. chances are, if you are limiting your peanut butter to just that, you are missing a chance to experience some wonderful combinations. Peanut butter offers such a wide pallet and wonderful opportunities to suit every taste. Hey.. who can forget peanut butter and chocolate.. It’s become an industry unto itself.
And there are as many types of peanut butter. I like my peanut butter chunky much of the time.. but creamy is good too. And natural peanut butter is amazing.. you need to spend a little more time mixing in the oils but it is well worth the extra work.
You may want to start small.. Just a slight variation. If you are used to the basic peanut butter and strawberry jelly noted above, maybe try it on whole grain toast. Or perhaps try blackberry preserves. If you are feeling adventurous, drizzle some honey on your peanut butter.. Or orange marmalade… mmmm.. Of course, peanut butter on a banana is a classic. But I enjoy peanut butter and apple sandwiches too.
It’s important you keep an open mind as you try peanut butter in new ways. But be careful. You may find that once you start, you can’t stop!
Soon.. you’ll be eating peanut butter with your oatmeal.. With brown sugar.. Or mixing peanut butter into your yogurt – with some blueberries on top.
In fact, some Asian recipes cook peanut butter into their dishes. It’s amazing as well. I’ll admit, I was apprehensive at first but after tasting it, I never looked back.
I’m at a point where I’ll try peanut butter almost any way once. Sure.. you may try something you don’t like – and if that is the case, just strike it from your list.
All I am suggesting is that you keep an open mind when it comes to how you enjoy peanut butter. I’m not saying every time you eat peanut butter that it has to be a experimental experience. But once in awhile, spread your peanut butter pallet.
Enjoy the Joy of Peanut Butter!
Note: This blog post was absolutely about peanut butter.
On July 31, 2007 – a monsoon storm hit Cave Creek, Arizona with an intense fury! It caused the wash that ran behind our house to overflow more than 100 feet on either side. The flood pushed through our back gate and filled our backyard with 5 feet of mud and water, pouring into the house and filling it with 2+ feet of mud and water.
It destroyed almost everything I owned.
My son, Chris and I, were gone, delivering some things to my wife, who had moved out of the above-mentioned house 3 days prior. When we returned, we could not reach the house for several hours because the road was washed out and severe flooding made it impossible to reach. When we finally made our way around Scottsdale – a 3.5 hour ordeal to travel a couple miles, we discovered the damage pictured below.
In case you didn’t catch the above, let’s summarize quickly.
Flood destroys everything
Divorce a year later
While I didn’t understand it and was unaware of it for almost a year and a half, I became depressed. I speak about this in a presentation titled, “Overcoming Adversity and Re-building Your Life and Career”.
The realization hit me one day when some time after noon I realized I had not eaten that day. I went to the refrigerator, opened a bag of sliced turkey, at a few slices standing in the kitchen, washed my hands, and returned to my desk. I sat down realizing that I had derived no pleasure from the food. I wasn’t even hungry. I ate because I knew I was supposed to eat something.
“This is what depression is.”
I’ve spoken to a few others who have lost everything in flood or fire. Many share a similar perspective.. If not glad it happened, they appreciate the experience. It accentuates the passing and temporary nature of stuff – material belongings – and amplifies the importance of people, relationships, and experiences.
I am still more prone to anxiety than I ever was before the flood. But I recognize it quicker and can more easily muddle my way through it.
As far as what I find critical – materially – I suppose it is my laptop and my guitar. And even those things are easily replaced. (I do backup my data.) The guitar holds special sentimental value – my two oldest kids bought it for me on Father’s Day of 2006. So.. it trumps the laptop if I have to choose.
I have had some conversations with people who struggle in letting go of things. Here are some thoughts about that.
Of those people who lost everything, at the end of one year, none of them said (or thought), “I don’t have enough stuff.” This is particular true when/if you move. I moved back to California two years after the flood. I remember thinking.. “Where did all this stuff come from.”
Most of what we keep will need to be tossed by our children when we die. It’s sort of a screwed up burden to place on them. Make it easy on them, get rid of stuff – 1 or 2 family heirlooms might be worth keeping. Most of it isn’t.
The focus on stuff is like placing importance on the pan rather than the meal. The pan is just a vehicle to prepare the meal. If the pan is gone and you need a new pan – or have to prepare the meal differently, the meal is what remains.. that’s the experience.
“Its like a finger pointing away to the moon. Don’t concentrate on the finger or you will miss all that heavenly glory.”
– Bruce Lee
I’ve become fond of saying, “Everyone could use a good flood now and again.” And I’m serious. Your willingness to divest yourself of stuff you don’t use, don’t look at, and maintain under a misguided belief that you – or anyone – will care about it in 5 years, 10 years, etc. – is one of the most liberating experiences. I highly recommend it.
This is for those who are moms, have moms, or have ever had a mom… or know a mom… the rest of you do not need to read it. 😉 Oh.. if you like it, please share it with your friends. If you don’t like it, share it with your enemies.
If Mom Were President
She’d set things straight
She would battle for causes just
She’d teach the whole country how to share
She’d restore the public’s trust
She would give every enemy a time-out in the corner
Until they saw how they’d been at fault
She’d balance the budget with change left to spare
For an ice cream cone or a malt
And Congress she would make write 100 times
“I shall not take money and lie.”
Then send them to bed without any supper
Perhaps a cookie or two when they cry
And all hungry children she would feed
Peanut butter and milk cuz she knows what kids need
She would easily win two terms in a row
And then be elected as king
And she would kiss little babies not for camera
But because that’s what babies are for
Her cabinet would be a place to store snacks
And gifts she had picked up at the store
And nations at war she’d not tolerate
Because the pain and the damage they bring
She’d disarm the foes
Trade a knife for a rose
Saying “you’ll poke an eye out with that thing.”
Yes, If Mom were President I do believe
There would be lots of changes we’d see
Our national treasure would be our children
Hugs and kisses our GNP.
About this poem – a note from the author
Back in the early 1990’s I wrote this poem for Mother’s Day one year. I put it on a card for my mom and for my wife at the time. Years later, a rough out was done on a children’s book concept – and I actually was awarded a book deal. That floundered after the “Flood of ‘07”. It has been half-revived a few times. I’d still like to see it done.
I’ve been told to start a Kickstarter campaign or something similar to get this project funded and self-published. My schedule hasn’t allowed for this – or, more accurately, I have not properly allocated my time. But I do feel the project has merit and hope to undertake it. If you want to help this happen or know someone who can, message me.
The other day, I wrote a blog entry – Anything but Apathy. In it, I was speaking specifically about sadness.. that, for me, feeling some sadness due to recent events was a positive.. That it revealed something about me that I am happy about – namely that I allowed myself to feel deeply and in doing so was willing to risk the potential (and real) heartache that necessarily comes with that.
I was careful to point out that I was not seeking words of affirmation or consolation – although some offered those.. Thank you??? (Hey!! What did I say?) 😉
The post got a lot of views/reads.. I’m glad you found it valuable. When I posted it, I mentioned I would write a little about happiness.. And so here we are.
First, I’m a happy guy
Disclaimer: My mom and my sister say I’ve always been up and optimistic since I was a kid. I can’t tell you how to be that way because I’ve always been that way. All I am going to share are some concepts that I believe make me happy.
This isn’t advice on how to be happy – that’s an internal question for each person. Too many factors play into this and I’m not an expert by any means.
With that disclaimer, here are things that contribute to my happiness.
I’ve gone through life without concern about what any particular trends were – fashion, personality, or otherwise. I’ve been, more or less comfortable, with who I am internally for as long as I remember. I had a small group of friends through high school. I never felt a need to be part of a larger social group. But I generally, liked and got along with everyone. Okay.. not with mean people. Mean people are..well.. mean.
I’ve never felt pressure to be liked by people or to get in with a particular clique.
A few years ago I was speaking to someone I went to high school with. We knew each other in high school and got along but we were not part of the same social group. He told me, “I remember you seemed very comfortable doing your own thing. I thought that was pretty cool.”
That made me happy to hear.
I don’t work on being “non-conformist” – that seems like a type of conformity. Meaning, I don’t necessarily find tattoos, piercings, non-traditional clothing, etc. to be non-conformist. Non-conformity can look like a grey suit and red tie.. Because, in my opinion, non-conformity is internal.
Also, this does not mean I don’t want to be liked – EVERYONE wants to be liked. Those who say otherwise.. well.. they’re lying, what can I say. What I mean is that I never felt pressure to be something I wasn’t in order to be liked.
I believe having no pressure to conform to a particular look, group, clique, etc. helps contribute to my happiness.
Amazing is everywhere
I am unsure why I’m this way – but I find so many things “Amazing!” A lot of what I find amazing is nature – sunsets, sunrises, cool mornings, lizards, birds bathing in the front yard, rocks, spiderwebs, etc.
But there is a lot more I find amazing. Text messaging. Taking video on your phone. New guitar strings. That area on a woman just below her waistline – to the left or right a bit – her hip (if you know that spot, you know it is amazing!), the first cup of coffee in the morning, a neatly designed business card, the fact that we drive on roads at 65 miles per hour and visit destinations that would have taken days or weeks to get to in a single day, etc. My dog makes me happy (video)
I told a young lady recently, “Grocery shopping with you is romantic to me.” – she didn’t agree…. nor is she required to. But either way, it is how I see most of the world. FYI: It wasn’t the grocery shopping – it was any time I got to spend with her – even the “mundane” things of life. My belief is that much of life is working through the “stuff” of life and romance is found in the spaces between. Maybe that is simplistic of me but I’m okay with that.
Finding life and the things in it amazing helps me be happy. Those “spaces” in life, tucked between everything, are amazing (perhaps the most amazing) and make me happy.
Self-direction & no boredom
I’ve always loved writing. Writing words (essays, poetry, articles, stories) or songs (lyrics, music), etc. It’s made it easy for me to be on my own and be happy. I truly do not know what being bored means. If I have a notepad and a guitar – and a trail to walk along – I believe I could fill up days or weeks with a lot of contentment.
That self-direction, having things I simply LOVE doing, makes being happy easier.
This is NOT advice
Remember my above disclaimer. This isn’t advice. I’m not telling you what should or shouldn’t make you happy.
Also, I feel it is important that I divulge that in 2008 I experienced depression for the first time. It was accompanied with a LOT of anxiety. Since then, I’ve been more prone to feeling anxiety. It is like once I had a taste of that feeling, my mind could be brought back there much more easily. I still, at times, deal with that.
I’m still happy most of the time but it is colored with darker emotions.
What I can say is that, in contemplating those, I find those colors to be important in my canvas. I can’t say they make me happy – but they do add something that feels very real and vital.