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Backwards

My wife and I moved into our first house, almost 26 years ago. We had a lot of stuff, combining our two apartments, but I decided to get a new, great big 27-inch television.

New house, new television.

We'd gotten friends and coworkers to help move things in, so that part was fine. The boxes and furniture were in the house in about two hours. Then my wife went out to buy some food for our helpers.

While she was out doing that, the guys and I decided to set up that new television.

This was America in the 90s, pre-internet, when television still mattered. We had to get that television up and running.

A couple of guys arranged furniture in the front room while my friend Doug and I moved the entertainment center into position. That entertainment center was huge, covering half the wall. That was a thing, back then: make a statement about your house with the entertainment center.

It was big enough for a television, cable box, VHS player, and shelves for a four-piece stereo. At the bottom was a drawer for all kinds of stuff.

Then we un-boxed the new television. 27 inches was among the biggest at that time. This was a huge, heavy tube and it was awkward for one of us to lift. But two of us could move it just fine. But we hit one little snag: the television wouldn't slide into the entertainment center. It wasn't built for these new, ginormous 27" televisions.

The place for the television had this nice fascia over it.  If that fascia weren't there, it would just slide right in.

So with my wife still out shopping, we stared at the problem a while, trying to figure out the best way to remove the fascia.

Finally, Doug asked, "Do you have a saw?"

I did have a saw.

I had a power saw. I knew exactly which box it was in.

Three minutes later, the saw was plugged in, a quick measurement was made, and I was ripping into the wood. I stripped away the fascia on the sides and the top and, lo and behold, the television slid right into that entertainment center.

I cleaned up the mess, put away my saw, and was feeling rather proud of myself.

Then my wife came home.

She came into the living room to admire the work we accomplished, and found us all watching television for a hard-earned break.

"What happened?" she asked.

"Oh, well," I said, "the new television didn't fit in the entertainment center, so I had to make some modifications."

She inspected my craft work, saw how it fit, and how much of the fascia I had removed.

Now, under the glare of her look, I could see how the cuts weren't quite straight, and the exposed wood looked pretty bad really. So I could have done better but, surely, there would be respect earned for having solved the problem so quickly.

She turned off the television and faced us. "You realize," she said, "that the television goes in through the back, right? The opening is larger, in back, by design."

"Nope," I said. "I did not know that."

I've been designing this next story I want to write for going on three months now. I think I'm close to wrapping up. Once I wrap up, I start writing. I'll be writing for at least four months.

I wish writing novels was easier. Well, I think writing novels is easy. Writing novels that tell compelling stories, deliver emotional impact, and resonate with society today is not easy. That's what I want to do, and that's why you won't see a new novel out of me once a month. (Some people actually do that.)

I am trying to write short stories, such as the one above, more regularly. Either humor pieces or these memory pieces, for fun. I hope you enjoy them.

And that's what I have to say about that. (I'm working on catch phrases, so let me know if that one resonates with you.)

Death on a Cold November Night

In November of 1962, my mother’s pregnancy miscarried. She hemorrhaged and soaked the front seat of the car in blood as my father raced through the streets to the hospital. She passed out and he assumed she was dead but there was nothing else to do except keep driving.

It was dark and cold out. The hospital was five miles away, but it seemed much farther as he could only see what was revealed by the street lights, the rest of the city shrouded in darkness.

There were two of us left behind at the house, watched by a neighbor, and he didn’t want to think about raising boys alone.

They had wanted a third child and then that was going to be it for kids because they were 34 at that point. The smell of blood mixed with earth filled his nostrils as he pulled up to the hospital. Obviously, they should have stopped at two.

He got out of the car and yelled for help. As he struggled to lift her lifeless body from the car, orderlies came to his assistance. They situated her on a gurney and rolled her inside.

Back then, hospitals were more like prisons with strict hours and clearly defined boundaries. But you could smoke in the waiting room and that’s all my father had to console himself as he waited.

The doctor joined him in a cigarette as he explained the situation. The baby, a girl, had been lost. But my mother would survive. The bleeding had stopped and they were giving her more blood and then there would be other procedures but she seemed stable. The danger, as doctors are wont to say, had passed.

When my father saw her, there was no talk of how close she’d come to her death. My mother grieved the loss of her baby girl, but they didn't wonder about why this had happened.

Released from the hospital, she resumed her role around the house, and my father resumed his. They still had two boys, and they kept my mother company during the day when my father returned to work.

Duty gave way to routine, which gave way to comfort. There were the holidays, then the seasons. The cycles of life.

A year later, they tried again. Nine months after that, I was born.

I was inspired to write that because I found a notebook in my mother's things. She's been gone for nine years but I still have boxes of her things stored in various nooks of my house.

In the notebook, she lists various transactions for their housekeeping ("Kitchen table, $79"). She also lists the specifics of our births, such as date, time, length and weight. She also made an entry for the miscarriage.

I had heard a few things about that miscarriage from my father in two rare instances when my mother seemed sad. I was too young to really understand it, but the few things he mentioned stuck with me.

I keep notebooks myself. Some are diaries from my childhood. (In one, I mention the premiere of a television show called "Dallas.") I have snippets of situations, people, or conversations I encountered over the years.

None of that stuff is interesting in itself. I always intended to do something more with those little tidbits later on.

And that's what I did with my mother's entry made, probably, 56 years ago.

G.I. Joe Christmas

A Christmas of corruption, deception and intrigue.

Ignore the civilians admiring the tank.

A Christmas of corruption, deception and intrigue.

In the early 1970s, I developed an urge to play with dolls. At the age of seven, I was smitten by these dolls thanks to an onslaught of advertising on television. I was very impressionable, and the Saturday morning cartoons were thick with ads for G.I. Joe dolls. They were presented in exciting situations with weapons to kill and gear that allowed them to climb mountains, jump out of planes, or swim under the sea. There were jeeps, helicopters, and recreational vehicles (the last of which was used as a command center).

I wanted a G.I. Joe more than I wanted anything. When you are seven and you don’t have to worry about food, clothing or shelter, a particular toy can become your entire fucking world.

G.I. Joe became my entire world and I didn’t even have one.

Sitting on Santa's Lap

I made it abundantly clear that what I wanted for Christmas was a G.I. Joe. I’m not sure when I learned the truth about Santa Claus. I understood it was my mother who controlled my world, and could make or break my Christmas.

After school one day, as Christmas drew near, my older brother brought me into our mother’s bedroom. He had been snooping, and he found something in her closet.

This was a forbidden zone. We weren’t supposed to go in her bedroom, and we sure as hell weren’t supposed to go in her closet. To be found out was to be punished by our father, brandishing his belt. But I didn’t care about that. I only wanted to know what my brother had found.

The Forbidden Zone

In the closet, buried beneath other things, was a shopping bag and inside the shopping bag was two G.I. Joe figures and two uniform sets.

We were ecstatic. I wanted so badly to play with him right that moment and change his outfit, put a gun in his hand, and pose him in an action-oriented stature.

“You can’t touch them,” Steve said. “She can’t suspect that we know.”

The remaining days leading up to Christmas were torture. All I wanted was to sneak back in Mom’s bedroom and take the toys from the closet.

“If she finds out we know,” Steve said, “she won’t give them to us.”

Then the torture grew worse with the worry that we’d be discovered and we wouldn’t even get our G.I. Joe poseable figures.

Say what? (He's a talking G.I. Joe.)

A Christmas Miracle

Christmas came. Before we went downstairs, Steve pulled me aside. “Act surprised. If she thinks we know, it’ll be the end.”

At the appointed time, I tore open the presents and there was my coffin-like cardboard box with one bearded G.I. Joe with a battle scar on his cheek. He came with a pistol, a holster, and an M-1 carbine. His other outfit was his dress blue, Class A uniform.

I screamed wildly, clearly over-playing my hand. It was probably the release of tension at not having to live the lie or worry that I might not receive the gift.

At first, my brother played action-figures with me, but he soon lost interest. Whereas I spent another five years playing with G.I. Joes, collecting new ones, expanding their wardrobe and equipment.

As far as I know, my mother never knew that we searched her room and discovered the gifts.

Those G.I. Joe dolls were my favorite Christmas gift ever. And I still want to play with them.

How To Harness the Transformative Power of a Daily Fitness Habit, and Take Your Self-Improvement To the Next Level

As the habit for fitness takes hold, you will notice changes in how you feel even when you’re not exercising.

I'm not exactly sure what that pose means, but she does look like fitness has changed her life.

When Haruki Murakami decided to become a novelist, he realized he would need great stamina to persist in the writing process. Novels are long-duration creative projects. He wasn't sure if he had that kind of stamina, or the ability to focus long enough in a writing session to gather and record thoughts. The prospect of doing that day after day, for a year or more, worried him.

Murakami decided to take up long distance running. The demands of training for and running marathons would change his brain — or so he hoped — and give him a chance to sit at a desk and concentrate long enough to compose a novel of 60,000 words or more.

His four novels have all been bestsellers and critically acclaimed. Now, it's not a given that running leads to bestsellers. But he found a way to transform his life and he used his physical fitness training to fuel his efforts.

But how do you turn your new habit for fitness into something that transforms your life?

I've used this photo before because it's such a bad ass move to balance like that.

Make the habit and the habit makes you

As the habit for fitness takes hold, you will notice changes in how you feel even when you're not exercising. First of all, you will begin to look forward to your activities because your body will anticipate the release of serotonin after the exertion. You will be more alert because your sleep has likely improved. And your energy level increases because you've trained your body to process oxygen more efficiently and to manage sugar in the blood stream. Put simply, everything about your life will improve because of daily exercise.

You may feel joy or appreciate the world around you. You have transformed your physical presence in the world.

Use the extra energy

Around the time that your fitness is improving, it will become easier to get your daily activity done. You won't have to force yourself, and remind yourself, and work so very hard to make it happen. The habit becomes easier to keep. This is a one-two punch of goodness for you.

As your energy levels increase, your energy demands decrease. You can contemplate tackling other projects without putting your daily habit at risk. And after the nine months or a year of daily fitness becomes second nature (i.e., truly habitual) your confidence should further encourage you to take on other projects.

This is a great time to begin other training, such as learning a musical instrument, taking night classes, or practicing macrame — whatever it is that will satisfy your passion.

It's not like this unseen person is composing that music, but that's what I hope to imply, that you can take on projects like music composition, novel writing, or Olympic gardening if you have the energy.

Pick a bigger goal

Now is the time to make a plan to achieve the bigger goal that will realize your dream. If you want to win a Grammy or an Emmy, then you should set some goals for music, acting, or writing that will lead you down that path.

If you want to change careers, then you'll want to focus on getting the training you need, finding a mentor, and networking with people in that field to prepare for the job search.

The point is that you will leverage changes you've made to your brain — as exemplified by your fitness habit — to transform other aspects of your life. You will have the confidence, energy and tenacity to persist through many challenges, because you are no longer who you used to be.

You are on your way to becoming the person you want to be.

A rare stock photo where people are not exuberantly happy.

You have to work hard to be happy in Cleveland

If your goal is to find happiness at the end of a year of fitness, you'll be disappointed. Happiness is not something you find.

Happiness is a by-product, not a goal. You experience happiness when you work on things that matter to yourself and to people you love. Setting a goal of being happy won't work. You might mistake going to a resort and experiencing pleasant things as happiness, but you are just enjoying the pleasantries. That's not lasting happiness. When you return home to your normal life, you will miss the resort. The joy stays there. It doesn't travel with you back to Cleveland.

When I started improving my life, about ten years ago, with a daily fitness habit, I didn't find happiness either. I found I had to keep working at things to achieve them, but I was happy. If I gave up on working at things, that's when I was unhappy.

More than anything, it's the fact that I become happy by working hard at things I want to accomplish that keeps me doing it. I persist because of the happiness I experience. But I won't ever find happiness.

You won't either, but I hope you experience it while trying to achieve your dreams.

And I hope that you make whatever changes are necessary in your life to satisfy your passion.

Next Steps

Sign up for my newsletter to get the next articles when they are published. Or visit Boomers Rock for books and training that will help you improve your life.

How the Hell Do I Keep My Self-Improvement Habit Going for 250 Days?

Having persisted for 250 days or more, you will have taught yourself what it’s like to exercise in the different seasons, when it’s cold out, freezing out, dark out, hot, humid, and bright out.

After 200 days, it may get old. But you have to keep going.

I was nine months into my daily exercise when I’d faced my greatest challenge. I’d started in spring and gone through the easy days of summer, running consistently and starting to shed weight.

In the fall, I figured out how to exercise while taking my son to soccer practice or my daughter to dance lessons. In spite of the driving around and waiting, I did something every day (my pro-tip: use the time waiting for the kids at soccer or dance to go ahead and exercise).

Winter came and still I persisted, adding a layer of clothing to keep me warm as I jogged outside. Even the holidays didn’t disrupt my daily exercise, as I ran before Thanksgiving dinner and Christmas afternoon, once the presents were opened.

But on that fateful Christmas afternoon, as I jumped over a snow pile as I jogged, I landed too hard and tweaked my right knee. By evening it had swelled like a casaba melon and ached like something was very wrong.

It turned out I tore the meniscus in my right knee. I needed surgery, and although it was technically possible to run, it hurt and my knee swelled up. I could swim, though, so I switched my emphasis to doing laps in the pool and I kept going to a health club to use their muscle machines for my arms and shoulders.

Once my surgery was over and my knee healed, I worked jogging back into my routine.

If I could stretch like that, I wouldn't need a doctor.

What I learned after a year of daily exercise

The first nine months of daily exercise taught me that I could figure out how to get through the next three months in spite of knee surgery.

I took off the days needed for the actual surgery, but otherwise found a way to stay active.

This was especially useful because next I would have an emergency appendectomy, a (benign) tumor, and a hernia to deal with. I simply had to take a break from daily exercise during those recoveries. But once cleared for activity, I got back into it.

In the meantime, I took walks, as allowed, every day, as a placeholder for more strenuous activity later on.

What you should learn about daily exercise

Having persisted for 250 days or more, you will have taught yourself what it’s like to exercise in the different seasons, when it’s cold out, freezing out, dark out, hot, humid, and bright out. You have taught yourself what it’s like to exercise when your kids are in school, on a break from school, and home for the summer.

After a full year of these challenges, you’ve faced the worst of it.

Getting up there is the easy part.

The key to success in daily exercise

It is more important to have the daily habit than it is to achieve certain goals by certain days. With each challenge to your daily habit you deepen your capacity to persist.

And there are gimmicks you can use to help you along the way. I have used the Fitbit to help track these things. I don’t necessarily need the reminder by the app, but I do check and see if my activity level has decreased.

And I use my morning stretching routine to do something, and also use the high-intensity, interval training if all else fails. In seven to fifteen minutes, you get a full-body workout that can keep the daily streak going, and reinforce your resolve to exercise daily.

There was absolutely nothing special about me that made me more likely to keep a daily exercise habit. It’s kind of like staying married. You have to decide to stay married in spite of the distractions, frustrations and endless temptation to do something else.

You simply decide to exercise every, single day. Once you do it, you are that person who exercises every day.

Next Steps

Sign up for my newsletter to get the next articles when they are published.Or visit Boomers Rock for books and training that will help you improve your life.