Living for Today: Necessary Choices in My Emerging Journey – a Reflection by Dennis

Three Roads: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow.  Which one will you choose?

Three Roads: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow. Which One Should I Choose?

The reason most people find themselves stuck in a rut is because they insist on seeing tomorrow as an extension of today, and today as an extension of yesterday.  This has been the most difficult, and necessary, lesson of the past year and a half of my life. My ignorance in adhering to this faulty belief invited me to voluntarily step into mental leg irons that have no key.  It has hobbled me in everything I have striven to achieve, for it is a false assumption and a dangerous one at that. 

Yesterday is a story that has already been told. The book is closed. The lessons, oh dear God, hopefully, learned. No amount of regret can change the ending of a story that is now complete.  How can I ever hope to begin a new chapter if I continue to dwell upon an ending that cannot be altered?  My past has served its only purpose, which was to instruct and to deliver me to today.  My only regret, my biggest regret, is that the lesson came at such a cost to another.

Today is all that truly matters.  Today, I  write the story, big or small, dull or incredible…the words are all there – and it is up to me to arrange them as I see fit.  I am the protagonist.  Only I can determine whether I turn left or right, whether I move forward, stand still or retreat backward.  I have come to the realization that to stand still or move backward is to settle for a weak plot.  Only in moving forward can the inspiring stories be written… and written well.

And what of my tomorrow?  It is nothing more than a blank piece of paper not yet ready for my pen.  If I live with one foot planted in today and the other in tomorrow,  all I will have managed to do is straddle the fence of possibility.  To be stuck on that fence is to surrender half of the possibilities of today.  I have chosen to get off of the fence and plant both feet firmly on the path of “ Now.”   The fallacy of tomorrow is the falsehood that I need to “plan for.”  Plan for what?  All the things I missed today?

This worldview is not clever or unique.  I did not come up with it. Smarter minds than mine have been advocating this for eons. I am just serving as the echo of their wisdom.  If I choose to live fully at this moment which is today, I have no choice but to surrender yesterday to the sweetness of memory, and tomorrow to the providence of faith.

Beginning now, I choose to immerse myself in the wonder and infinite possibility that is today. I do so with the humility to comes from the sacrifices of others who helped me find my way.

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Kayaking the Everglades…Never!

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Kayaking the everglades is both exhilarating and foolhardy.  Each thrust of the oar into the moss-covered water propels you a few feet further into an unknown destiny, whether that be a divine photo-op of cormorants fishing beneath the shade of a bald cypress, or to put yourself down as the special-of-the-day on a gator’s lunch menu.

Imagepulled my kayak to the water’s edge and settled into a launch site not twenty feet from an alligator nestled in the sparse cattails lining the shore.  I had not even noticed his presence until I was ankle deep mud-sucked into the water’s edge, prepping my kayak for the day’s journey.  I only looked up because of an eerie “hiss” I heard as I placed my camera in the watertight hold of the boat.  I glanced up and there he was.  All twelve feet of him!

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It was a hot, moist morning absent the cooling breezes of the previous day.  Salted sweat trickled down my chest and forearms, requiring little effort on my part as I warily eased my kayak into the still waters near the sun-bathing gator, whose lizard eyes were locked on my every move.  To reinforce his primacy in this back-water environment, his massive jaws opened ever so slowly to reveal two rows of sharp daggered teeth.  While my limited knowledge of Florida gators reassured me that he was merely cooling down, I chose to interpret the gesture as an invitation to dinner.  I backed away another twenty feet.

Slowly, I eased my blood-red kayak into the water, never once breaking the stare-down I was engaged in with this pre-historic reptile.  I strategically placed the boat between me and the lounging lizard of death, but I knew in my gut, which was slowly churning in warning, that this was a vain effort. So to reassure myself (or further delude myself!) my left hand fell upon the sheathed Bowie knife I had attached to my belt.  Instead of bolstering my confidence, I suddenly felt like a child who had brought a pop-gun to a high noon shoot out at the O.K. corral.

I gently stepped into the kayak and pushed off with the gator-side oar.  As the bow of my craft quietly knifed through brackish water, the silence was cut short as the gator, too, entered the bayou.  I paddled four times for every single effortless swish of his giant tail.  This was not good.  Not good at all.  His eyes, which had been locked on me since my foolish arrival, suddenly slipped beneath the greenish waterline. 

No, this was not good at all!  Where had he gone???

With several deep, full-armed strokes to my left, I reversed course and headed back to shore only slightly less quickly than my heart was then beating.  I crashed up the embankment and bolted from my kayak.  I sprinted through the low grass toward the parking lot and the relative safety of my nearby waiting truck.  I left my $3,000 Pentax in the captain-less kayak; a peace offering should the alligator choose to accept it.

But he never resurfaced.  I waited for a full half-hour, scanning the water for any sign whatsoever of my dinner-host before I braved the slow, methodical return for my boat and my camera. And then I saw his eyes break the water once more.

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Fuck the Everglades. Fuck my kayak and my camera, too!  I returned to my my truck, shakily turned the ignition, and headed north, to Orlando.  I heard they just refurbished the “It’s a Small World” ride…just my pace.

Writing for Ghosts

It is 4 a.m. and once again I am planted before the keyboard attempting to craft words into clever sentences…and there you go, failure in the first keystrokes. The good news, based upon my dearth of hits on WordPress, is that no one will read this anyway.

I once envisioned myself a budding writer, but now I am thoroughly convinced that feeling was nothing more than insomnia in the early morning hours combined with a pot of cheap coffee flushing out last night’s indigestion (don’t worry, that’s as graphic as I am capable of writing!)

I know I could be a good writer, if it wasn’t for all that grammar and words and things. But who am I kidding? It’s all about the words…the fucking words! (Hey, I used “dearth” in my second sentence…doesn’t that count for anything?) Well, I don’t have words or ideas or pesky plots, but what I do have is way too much time on my hands, so here you go.

When I write, I don’t have a particular audience in mind. Well, sort of, I guess…I have the ghosts of Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Hemingway, and Plath. Sweet Sylvia Plath. Lots of dead people who, while not necessarily helpful critics, at least show up in my head and watch the circus of confusion unfold. Sometimes I can hear the occasional clicking of the tongue, a sure sign to lay on the backspace and come at a line from a new direction. Or maybe the clicking is the melting cubes in Ernest’s posthumous cocktail. The revolver of his pistol being locked into place? Who knows? The point is, I’m often guided by the whispers of spirits.

It feels as though when I write it has less to do with me having something to say than something that has to be said having me to write it. (Wow, I just plagiarized myself..that last line was something I wrote a year ago!) But it’s true, nonetheless. I often find that it is sufficient for me to just press the keys, and somehow the story will tell itself. Don’t believe me? I just wrote everything above without a thought in my head.

The key to being a great writer, I’m convinced, is to be a great reader. There is nothing I can say now, or will ever write, that hasn’t been said or written before. But a studious reader understands that there are a million ways to say the same thing, and that’s the beauty, and salvation, of writing. You don’t have to be original. You just have to have a unique dialect. In my case, it also helps to have a really poor opinion of most of today’s writing. I continually lie to myself and say, “I can do better!” And sometimes…I do. Then I pull down a worn copy of Pushkin and think, “shit..fuck this!! I can’t write!” And again, I am right.

So I continue my early morning ritual and if it’s true what they say, that if you give 1,000 monkeys 1,000 typewriters, in a thousand years, one of them will bang out the complete works of William Shakespeare, then surely, if this continues for a thousand mornings, I can bang out something worth reading.

Ingenuity on Display

She walked into the pet shop with her precocious seven year old son in tow. They had obviously just come from the mall movie cineplex as they each carried the tell-tale striped red and white boxes of popcorn. Immediately upon entering, the child tore from his mother’s grip and rushed to the bank of windows displaying this week’s crop of new puppies.

In his manic exuberance, the box of popcorn he was precariously clutching went flying, raining white puffs of popcorn all over the store’s recently vacuumed carpets. The mother shrieked, mortified by the mess, and gathered the little hellion back into the relative safeguard of her motherly clutches. She shook him excessively and in response to her own embarrassment, launched into a tirade about how he had promised to behave and how utterly disappointed she was that he was acting like such, well, a child.

The teenage store manager, herself embarrassed by the mother’s harsh recriminations, swooped down upon the conflagration and assured the mother that “these things happen.” Then, demonstrating the ingenuity that made America great, she unlatched the window of the nearest puppy corral and placed three junior rottweilers upon the popcorn laced carpet. In a blur, the puppies went to town, and within thirty seconds the entire floor was returned to its previous pristine condition.

The offending waif shouted in glee and the mother’s scowl was quickly replaced with a smile. The universe once again spun on its steady axis.

Top Ten Ways to Handle Nerves

 

Yes – for some folks fear of presenting is omnipresent and actually does put fear of public speaking in the same league as fear of death.  While there is no magic bullet for this anxiety there are a number of little things you can do that will give you calm and confidence and make your presentations a success.

  1. Practice and rehearse your material – more than you think you need to. This includes talking through and visualizing the arc of your presentation.
  2. Arrive early to set up the room and test the equipment.
  3. Having arrived early, greet the audience as they arrive. Engage, chat, and make connections. When you begin speaking, use those people you’ve talked to as your “safe harbors” in the audience – friendly faces you can focus on for reassurance.
  4. Be clear about and focus on your objectives – what do you want from the audience? Remember, it’s about them, not you. The most important person in the room is the other person!
  5. Breathe. (A good physical warm up, workout, or long walk the morning before a high-stakes presentation will help prepare and relax you.) Take a deep breath right before you begin.
  6. Find your “money positions” (the one to three places you can stand on the stage and know you look and feel comfortable) and get into one before starting to speak.
  7. Start with a story. Stories are easy to tell and give you access to your best, most relaxed communication style.
  8. Within the first two minutes, shift the focus from you to the audience. If appropriate, ask them to discuss an idea or issue with a fellow audience member.
  9. Carry your notes and give yourself permission to refer to them as often as you want or need to.
  10. When yours is one of several presentations on the program, requiring you to sit and wait before you go on, actively listen to and engage in the presentations prior to yours by taking notes rather than ruminating on your own material or performance. This will help keep you in the present and prevent you from working yourself into a tizzy.