Farmville

Our son is learning about farm animals and the sounds they make, and he quite enjoys them. Sheep seem to be his favorite, which is a big deal for my mom, because she loves sheep too.

Yesterday, as I watched our son playing with his toys, it occurred to me that he might really love Farmville. You remember Farmville, don’t you? It’s the place we wasted so much of our time in 2010. A simpler time, before we were overwhelmed with Snapchat and Instagram, and endless news feeds about Donald Trump.

Today I visited my old Farmville, and I immediately felt a rush of nostalgia as I returned to the familiar place, which had been unchanged by time. Zynga was even kind enough to preserve my grape crops, which surely should have been dead by now.

My son watched in wonder as the screen filled up with trees and vineyards, and all the magical places I’d laid out when I designed my home. That’s when I caught my breath upon realizing it… I was living in my Farmville.

Talk about the law of attraction at work. I had a yellow Tuscan villa, much like the yellow house we have now in California (obviously not identical, but close enough to recognize the similarity). There was a pool in the backyard and fruit trees, again, just like our current home. There was even a small playground in the side yard of my farm, because even back then, I knew someday we’d have a child. It was truly amazing to realize that years ago, I put an intention out in the universe, and it had finally manifested.

My farm was always about building my dreams. Most people treated it as a novelty, where they threw down some chicken coops and plants, and competitively tried to earn as much virtual coin in the shortest amount of time. But it wasn’t about that for me. In fact, I hated clutter and chaos, so I had scaled it back to reflect the world I wanted to live in. There are courtyards and arbors, and a little chapel where Daniel and I got married… Halloween haunted houses and cupid’s castle… Now if only I could turn those cotton candy trees into a reality.

It’s funny how the long and winding road of life can end up taking us exactly where we’re supposed to be, and how our dreams can gradually come true without us even seeing the design unfold.

Adios 2015

Dec 31, 2015 / Filed in Abundance, Daddyhood, Daniel, Life / 1 Comment

Well, I made it. 2016 is almost here and a few months ago, I wasn’t even confident I’d make it this far. By goddammit, I did, and I plan to be here for many years—decades—to come!

On this day a year ago, if you told me what the new year would bring me, I would never believe you. If you told me I would be moving from Tennessee to California, that I’d become a father, and that I’d survive cancer… No way. I’d say you had me confused with someone else. There’s no way that would be my life you were describing. But it was, and it is.

As we say goodbye to another year, I am thankful for the love and support of family, and friends, and even the kindness of strangers, who have touched my life in some way and helped me on this journey.

I’m excited to begin a new year with a fresh perspective, and I really hate to say it… But please, please let this just be a boring year. I just want to live in the Golden State in peace and good health with my husband and son, and other then the excitement of watching our little baby grow up, I hope there are no major events to report a year from now.

Happy New Year to all, and to all a good night.

apology

Learning how to apologize is one of the first social cues we’re taught as children. “Sorry for breaking your crayon,” “Sorry for not sharing my toys,” “Sorry for hurting your feelings.” Although it’s something we’ve had most of our lives to master, most adults suck at it. Are apologies a lost art?

The intention of an apology should be to express regret for our actions and then follow-through with a sincere effort to make it up to the person. But so often, I’ve observed that people really just want to get it out, get it over with, and skip past it without really taking the time to care how the recipient feels.

Have you ever heard a person sigh and say, “Jeez, I said I was sorry. What more do you want from me?” Or worse yet, have you ever been the one to say that? It’s important to note that apologies do not erase the actions and they are only the first step. After hearing an apology, the recipient may still be hurt or upset by the actions. That’s okay. Let them be upset, and be willing to listen to why they feel that way.

Another common mistake is when someone apologizes, then immediately starts explaining or justifying why they did it. The problem with this approach is that it’s focused on one’s self. Rather than pausing to let the recipient process what’s been said, the attention remains on the person who’s apologizing.

It’s good to explain the actions that caused offense, but it should be done later in the conversation, after the recipient has had time to work through things.

Perhaps the worst apology of all is the non-apology apology. I often hear people say, “I’m sorry you were upset by what I said.” Look closely at that sentence.

I’m sorry you were upset by what I said.

This is not an apology at all. In fact, it adds insult to injury. The first problem is that it deflects ownership. The person isn’t saying they’re sorry for what they did. Instead, they’re saying they’re sorry the recipient got upset, as if it’s their own fault. This is about as selfish as it gets when it comes to poor apologies, and yet I notice people say it all the time.

So what’s the ideal way to apologize?

A few days ago, I was watching a children’s TV show with our son, “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.” Since he’s a baby, he’s too young to understand the dialogue, but we do watch TV with him every once in awhile. We believe TV is okay in moderation, as long as it’s not a dependency or form of parenting.

The episode (#26: Daniel Says I’m Sorry) had a great lesson on apologies and a mantra to go with it:

Saying “I’m sorry” is the first step / Then, “how can I help?”

This simple but effective quote was repeated throughout the episode to help it stick, and I think it’s helpful even for adults. Maybe we could all learn something from children’s television!

Apologizing is just the first step. It’s important to ask how we can help when we’ve hurt someone, inquiring on how we can make it better, and taking the time to really listen to how they feel.

Apologies can be uncomfortable, and it’s difficult to admit when we’ve done something wrong. I think perhaps that’s why so many adults are bad at apologizing. But discomfort can be good. It’s your mind’s way of stretching and dealing with conflict, and sometimes we have to ride it out and be present in the moment so we can grow and learn from it.

If we skip through apologies with insincere and half-hearted words, we’re robbing ourselves of having a healing experience and robbing the recipient of the opportunity to find closure on an event.

So let’s all say we’re sorry and mean it. Apologies are an important part of emotional well-being. We all make mistakes and we inevitably all hurt other people. We can’t prevent this, but we can always improve how we deal with it.

Another year is passing into the rear-view mirror. So much has changed in the last 365 days and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t at least a little sentimental. In fact, I almost feel moved to tears.

Read More »

battery

Last night I was playing a game on my phone, as I normally do before bed. I looked at my battery indicator and it was at 56%, which isn’t bad at all. But it still bothers me for reasons I can’t explain.

At that moment, I had a very profound thought. What if we, as humans, had an energy indicator floating above our heads? What if we all knew how much time we had left, and everyone else knew it too?

I could just look at someone and see they’re at 5%. Oh, no. They’re probably going to die soon. How sad.

Or I could look at someone else, a baby perhaps. Hers says 98%. She has her whole life ahead of her. How exciting!

When our electronic devices are losing power, we make adjustments to prolong and optimize their energy. Why don’t we do that for our bodies too? Why don’t we think about the limited energy and short time we have on this earth? Why don’t we make every second count?

This revelation was startling and has really made me think today. According to U.S. statistics, I have 60% of my life left. That’s not bad at all. I still have plenty of years left in me. But still, 60% feels short. I really care about how I spend that remaining energy.

I hope you’ll join me in this idea to ponder. Think about where we put our energy, where our time is valuable and where it’s wasted. I hope we’ll all make an effort to adjust accordingly.

When I was in my 20s, I believed I could be anything, do anything, and life would always work out in my favor. I was full of piss and vinegar and I never backed down from a fight.

And usually I won.

On the few rare occasions when I failed, it didn’t seem to matter too much. I picked myself off the ground, dusted myself off, and kept moving forward, knowing I’d tried my hardest.

That magical mix of optimism, ambition, and naivety faded away as I transcended into my 30s. The weight of the world and the problems I faced began to take their toll on me. Problems seemed bigger, more serious, and they couldn’t be solved in one night the way they used to be. I wasn’t just disputing a late fee for a movie I’d returned to Blockbuster. I was dealing with complex, heavy problems, just as many people do when they evolve into adults.

But see, that’s exactly where I went wrong. Sure, the problems might be bigger and more daunting. But I still have to face them with unshakeable confidence and faith that I will come out the winner. That’s what I have to do!

Today I’m declaring my empowerment once again. I can be anything, do anything, and life will always work out in my favor. That’s what I believe and that’s the mindset I’m reverting back to.

Let’s get this done!

Divided We Stand

Sep 29, 2012 / Filed in Abundance / 8 Comments

Sometimes I hate the world we live in. It feels like I’m stuck on the playground of life and the bullies surround me. For all the talk we speak of ending bullying against kids, the truth is that we are doing the exact same thing to each other as adults.

Last night I got chewed out by a guy at a party because I had an iPhone. An electronic device. Seriously. It’s come down to that. We taunt and tease people over a phone these days. What an embarrassing slice of American culture. He called me an iSheep. I told him to go put a dollar in his “Don’t Be a Douche” jar because he was acting like one. He glared as me, as if he’d expected me to be receptive to his ridicule. But hey, if you have a “Don’t Be a Douche” jar in your house, that’s a pretty clear sign that you have a problem playing nicely with others.

And politics are the worst of all. The level of hatred and animosity is overwhelming. We are completely unwilling to work together, united in the fact that we do still live in the same country, but because we have different beliefs, we apparently can’t even be in the same room together. I get called a liberal as if that’s a four-letter word. I am liberal. So what? I have as much a right to vote as you do.

Blah. I’m just in a crappy mood lately. I wish we could adopt an attitude of love and peace. I realize we can’t be perfect. But I don’t even hear people mention love and peace anymore. It’s completely absent from our dialogue. Can we at least try to get along?

I want to be something special, I thought to myself as I cruised down the winding highway in my beat up metal colored Acura Legend. The land around me was flat and dull. Everywhere I looked was just another bitter reminder of the Midwestern mediocrity in my home state of Illinois. My dreams were too big for this place. My heart beat wildly with ambition as a triumphant Mariah Carey song played in my CD player.

There’s a light in me / That shines brightly / They can try / But they can’t take that away from me

And oh did they try to take my light away. It seemed nobody wanted to see this wounded bird soar. My classmates hated me. They did everything they could to break me and they looked so disappointed when I came back again the next day with an optimistic smile on my face. Look at that dopey faggot walking around with a stupid grin on his face. He must not be right in the head.

But in the protection of my own car, with a diva anthem blaring through the open sunroof, I let my spirit out. Singing loudly even though I knew I sounded awful. Smiling madly as the sun was glowing on my face. I knew I was worth so much more than any one gave me credit for.

13 years later, I get it. I really get it. People didn’t like me because I didn’t conform to their standards. They didn’t understand what it meant to be unique, to be bold and brave, to refuse to blend in with the crowd. It challenged their self esteem. There was nothing wrong with me. It was them.

That was in the summer of 1999. To this day, I still love a car with an open sunroof and a bold, brave Mariah Carey song to go with it. And to this day, a light in me still shines brightly.

So whoever you are, be that person and own it. Someday you’ll be glad you lived your life instead of someone else’s.

The 20 Hour Work Week?

Jan 26, 2012 / Filed in Abundance / 2 Comments

A few days ago, a client scolded me for not working during the weekend.

“I called you all weekend. Why didn’t you answer your phone?” she asked.

Well the first problem is that I had no record of her calling repeatedly. There was a log of one missed call early Friday evening. So she was either exaggerating or flat out lying. In either case, I use Google Voice to manage my business calls and clients who call after hours receive a message that informs them I’m closed for the evening or weekend.

I gently reminded her that I’m not on call 24/7. I’m a website designer, not a doctor, after all. This seemed to perplex her because she works from 7 A.M. – 10 P.M., only taking breaks for meals and church. Wow. Is that someone’s idea of a life?

This isn’t the first time I’ve been given a lecture either. Some people find it downright shocking that I have outside interests, hobbies, and goals, which have nothing to do with work. Further, they find it inconceivable that I don’t plan to spend my last dying breath working at my computer. Wild, isn’t it?

For the most part, I’ve adopted a 20-30 hour work week. I never reveal this to a client because I fear their head would explode. But it’s true. I’ve worked very hard over the last 15 or so years trying to improve my strategy as a designer. So when I do work, it’s concentrated into very detailed execution. Then I have free time to focus on other goals, such as working on my novel.

I’m not a big fan of the expectation to work 40 hours. The weird thing is that most people aren’t really working that long anyway. They waste a few hours on Facebook, a few hours reading news, maybe a little time playing games online. If you added up the actual work they did, it would probably just be 30 hours worth. So why not cut past all the crap and let employees working shorter shifts, therefore encouraging them to be efficient with their time? Get in, get out, and get back home so you can do the fun things you really like.

Many countries already use this system and have found it really is better. But here we’ve been conditioned to believe that we’re supposed to sit at a desk all damn day, and that somehow equates to being productive. Instead, I just think it causes people to burn out and lose their enthusiasm.

It’s something to ponder. Thankfully, being self employed, I’ve found a system that is successful and still provides a paycheck. Clients may squabble about it from time to time, but that’s okay. I’ll enjoy a glass of wine while they’re stuck at their desk.

Today I read that “The Economy” added 200,000 jobs last month.

Who is “The Economy” anyway? Is he like The Wizard of Oz? People are always speaking as if it’s a real human being with super powers.

If he’s feeling generous, he’ll throw the unemployed a bone and offer them a paying job. But if he’s stingy, he’ll take those jobs away and leave people in poverty. I can’t help but wonder why we idolize The Economy as if it’s the great ruler of the world.

Oh, and here’s another one I love. Recently a man told me he had a great job until The Economy “got him.” How did it “get him” anyway? There’s this scene in the movie The Village where a mysterious monster in a red cloak goes door to door. If you’re chosen, he will mark your house with a red swipe of paint. Is that how The Economy “got” the guy I was talking to? Like he was chosen?

Both of the movies I’ve mentioned above have one thing in common – A group of people believes that something powerful controls their fate. This larger than life force can either make them or break them. And in both movies, this thing was revealed to be a mere human in disguise, posing to gain control over the masses.

I often think The Economy works that way. As humans, we have to believe something bigger than us is controlling our jobs, our homes, our market. And by giving power to this belief, we let it dictate the terms which we live by.

The shocking truth is that we, the people, control this economy. People ARE the economy. And yeah, it sucks when we lose our job. Yeah, it sucks when we can’t afford to pay for our homes or put food on the tables. But that’s always been how life is – A series of ups and downs that shape us.

If we stop learning from life experiences, and instead just blame it on something like the economy, we don’t really grow or aim higher. It’s easier to assign blame than to just keep striving for success.

So you’ll have to understand why I cringe when The Economy is treated like a real person. It should just be treated like a general atmosphere that gauges the number of jobs and cashflow with a particular society. It’s a means of measuring. Please don’t let it control your dreams of the things you want to achieve in life.

Happiness comes without limits. The economy has no control over your potential for success.

About Nathan

I'm a happily married gay man, writing about my life as a new father and sharing our adventures with a side of snark.
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