Belated Thoughts on the 2016 Election

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Belated Thoughts on the 2016 Election

I’m so thankful I have friends and family all over the political spectrum, from one end to the other. 

The people I most enjoy spending time with are the ones who know they haven’t got it all figured out, who are insatiably curious and never stop asking questions, who are willing to shift perspectives even if it means having to admit they were wrong or embrace as true a thing that should not be true according to their ideology. 

And when you surround yourself with those kinds of people, there is no way to avoid having friends all over the political spectrum, not to mention the theological spectrum and every other kind of spectrum. 

Living near Boston, it was easy to think no one in their right minds would vote for Donald J. Trump to become the most influential man on the planet. But when I got to Florida two weeks before the election, I realized there were many people in their right minds planning to do just that. 

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The Big Move: Boston To Orlando

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The Big Move: Boston To Orlando

In two days, our family is making the epic voyage from our home near Boston, Massachusetts (specifically, the town of Natick) to a new home near Orlando, Florida (specifically, the city of Winter Park).

When we moved to Massachusetts in the summer of 2008, we drove a Toyota pickup truck, with most of our possessions in the bed, and towed our little Toyota Tercel behind us on a trailer. We had two cats with us, which we found in my parents' garage earlier that year. We had no jobs, no apartment, no friends waiting for us in Massachusetts. We were like voluntary exiles in search of a new homeland.

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Delivery

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Delivery

Toppenhof was a peaceful town in North Vermont at the turn of the twenty ninth.

Peaceful, but hard.

Everyone got along or else they got shot. Those were the rules, sometimes unspoken, sometimes not.

Veritable Brixton was a courier of sorts. People on the frontier needed things delivered and they'd pay good money to make sure a package went through to their dying aunt in Gibson Bay, or their corrupt jailer in New Calcutta.

It was an unsteady job, to be sure. But he enjoyed the work. Better than anything else he’d done for money.

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I would get on a plane for yaaaaaa

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I would get on a plane for yaaaaaa

Wendy, singing: I would take a grenade for yaaaaaa. I would get on a plane for yaaaaaa...

Nate: What did you say?

Wendy: I would get on a plane for ya?

Nate: Nope.

Wendy: Yeah. I would get on a plane for yaaaaaa..

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His & Hers Pocket Money

Here’s the smartest financial decision Wendy and I ever made as a couple:

A weekly allowance.

I know, a weekly allowance is so I Love Lucy.

Here’s how we do it. Every week we each get $40. Which is a lot. But it’s for all non-essentials. Eating out, clothes, music, books, going to the movies, chocolate. We started at $20, then went to $30 and finally landed at $40.

So this way groceries, gas, utilities, rent, insurance and household stuff comes out of our bank account, while everything else comes out of our weekly ‘trash cash’. So even though we’re not on a strict budget, and we don’t use cash envelopes for everything, we still keep our spending down.

And, as a bonus, when we take each other out on a date or pay for something when the other is low on funds, it really means something. Just like it used to when we were dating. I haven’t tried to save up for jewelry or anything yet. One step at a time.

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Vikings and Jellyfish: What I learned from The 13th Warrior

In the movie The 13th Warrior an Arab named Ahmed, played by Antonio Banderas, ends up with a bunch of Vikings on a mission to save a village from some scary bear-men. At one point in the movie they give him a sword and he nearly drops it. He says ‘I cannot lift this.’ To which his Viking friend Herger the Joyous says ‘Grow stronger.’ Another time Ahmed says ‘I am not a warrior.’ Herger replies ‘Very soon, you will be.’

That movie shows me a lot about my relationship with God. I say ‘I can’t do this’ and he says ‘You’ve got to start somewhere.’ I say ‘This is not who I am.’ He says ‘I know. It’s who you’re becoming.’ You can’t argue with someone calling you to be more than you are. You either get mad and give up, or you get mad and get through it.

Lately he’s been giving me opportunities to show I really do have a spine under this jellyfish exterior, calling on me to act when I’d rather lounge, and to talk when I’d rather keep quiet. Every time you choose to do what you don’t want to do when you know it’s the right thing to do, you grow stronger. And as those experiences pile up, you become something much more than you were.

The 13th Warrior ends with Ahmed narrating. ‘Across seas of monsters and forests of demons we traveled. Praise be to Allah, the merciful and compassionate. May his blessing be upon pagan men who loved other gods, who shared their food and shed their blood, that his servant, Ahmed Ibn Fahdlan, might become a man and a useful servant of God.’

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On living simply

When it comes to living simply (aka: cheap as hell), I’m still a novice. I’ve got a lot to learn, but the main thing is to not want stuff and to not get trapped by stuff.

People get used to a way of life that costs a lot to maintain. There’s cell phones, cable, new cars, big houses and lots and lots of toys. The less your life costs, the less money you need to live. The less you need to live, the more you can do the things you love. You can work less hours, see the world, visit friends in faraway places, give money to stuff that’s important to you, invest in your own dreams and other people’s too.

The thing is, buying stuff is no substitute for making stuff. Tv is no substitute for sharing stories with family and friends. A new car is no substitute for adventure and freedom. And a big house will just feel empty without a bunch of people in it.

Focus on what’s important. Get rid of the clutter.

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Fortune favors the brave

It’s very hard to succeed if you never even start.

It wasn’t until I was 28 that I ever really started anything creative with the complete conviction I wouldn’t give up until I had accomplished it. Everything before that was a hobby.

Looking down the long, winding road towards the end of a plan or project or dream can be daunting, overwhelming, even downright terrifying. But I’ve found that bravery is actually more choosing not to think than anything else. You know what’s right, or what you want. You push all the what-ifs, maybes, and scary things you’ll have to do as a consequence of doing this to the background, and you just take that next step.

Remember what they say: Bravery is not the absence of fear. It’s action in spite of fear.

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In the world I see

'In the world I see - you are stalking elk through the damp canyon forests around the ruins of Rockefeller Center. You'll wear leather clothes that will last you the rest of your life. You'll climb the wrist-thick kudzu vines that wrap the Sears Tower. And when you look down, you'll see tiny figures pounding corn, laying strips of venison on the empty car pool lane of some abandoned superhighway.'  -Tyler Durden, Fight Club

This is possibly the most important line in the film Fight Club. Tyler Durden tells you his vision for the future. It’s the world he’s working towards.

When you read books or watch movies about the future, nine out of ten, and probably more, show you a world worse than our own. Visions of the future tend toward anarchy on one side and complete control by the state, or something similar, on the other. Or else they are just higher-tech versions of the present.

What seems to be almost impossible for writers and film-makers is to imagine a vision of the future that is much better than the present. Or maybe they just don’t think it will sell.

It’s interesting to think about what you want the world to look like. What is the vision of the future you are working to shape today?

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3 Kinds of Art

I’ve got a theory there are three basic kinds of art: functional, impressionistic and storytelling.

Storytelling art is easy. It’s art that tells a story, like film, animation, novels, comic books and plays. But it’s also the paintings, sculptures, poetry, songs and dances that are pieces of stories, or symbolic of a story. You experience storytelling art and you experience characters and journeys and growth.

Functional art is design. It’s a bi-product of making something useful. The first rocking chairs were probably pretty plain looking, but as craftsmen kept making them they added all kinds of details and ornamentation, just for aesthetics, just to make the rocking chairs more beautiful. Architecture, fashion and graphic design are all arenas of functional art.

And that leaves impressionistic art, which is everything else. Picassos and Van Goghs and cereal boxes. This stuff is more about conveying a feeling, an emotional connection. It’s not telling a story and it’s not doing anything useful. It’s just beautiful in some way and hopefully touches a chord inside.

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Tree tells a story

Let me show you what I’ve seen and learned from a tree

The trunk displays imperfections
Highlighted now for all to see

They’ll continue to be there for the life of this tree

Tree tells a story both beautiful and good
though it looks tainted, see the truth in the wood
in branches
and leaves
and seeds
which in their turn will become the next
                                      beautiful trees

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The high cost of unity

When two or more parties with a common stake in something disagree, one of four things will happen.

  1. A leader will make a decision that everyone else chooses to live with.
  2. The minority party will walk away to do their own thing.
  3. The parties will fight until one side surrenders, leaves or dies.
  4. The parties will agree to a compromise.

Compromise is the oil that lubricates the engines of healthy marriages, healthy political systems, healthy religious systems and healthy partnerships of every kind. True unity demands compromise. Nothing less will do.

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I did this because of a Facebook forward back in April last year. Here are the rules: 1 - Go to Wikipedia. Hit “random”. The first random Wikipedia article you get is the name of your band. 2 - Go to Quotations Page and select “random quotations”. The last four or five words of the very last quote on the page is the title of your first album. 3 - Go to Flickr and click on “explore the last seven days”. Third picture, no matter what it is, will be your album cover. 4 - Use Photoshop or Picnik to put it all together. It’s a cool exercise in restricted creativity.

I did this because of a Facebook forward back in April last year. Here are the rules:

1 - Go to Wikipedia. Hit “random”. The first random Wikipedia article you get is the name of your band.

2 - Go to Quotations Page and select “random quotations”. The last four or five words of the very last quote on the page is the title of your first album.

3 - Go to Flickr and click on “explore the last seven days”. Third picture, no matter what it is, will be your album cover.

4 - Use Photoshop or Picnik to put it all together.

It’s a cool exercise in restricted creativity.

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Artists cultivate community

— or at least a stronger sense of it. I’ve heard stuff like this before, but it wasn’t until our trip to Vermont a month ago I saw the real truth of it.

Vermont’s pretty cool. I’ve never been somewhere that’s both country and hippy at the same time, redneck and beatnik, and somewhere in between too. And pretty expensive. Evidently a lot of money has come into the area from New Yorkers and New Englanders who’ve discovered Vermont as a perfect getaway from big city life. They buy up land and houses and spend vacations there.

The same thing’s happened in places like Cape Cod, the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay, the Hawaiian islands, and New Zealand. And that’s just the places I’m familiar with. I’m guessing it’s happening everywhere. People make big money in the city, then spend it in the more rural, but more beautiful areas where it’s worth more. Another side-effect of the globalization process. Or is it called something else when it happens regionally?

What you notice right away is the strong sense of self that Vermont has. Everything is ‘made in Vermont’. Everything is milk and cheese and chocolate, maple syrup and covered bridges. Maybe it’s due to tourism, or the government’s good branding of the state, but whatever it is, it happens on a local level, among local businesses and artists. And you can’t help but get caught up in the Vermontness: everything clean, simple, natural, pure. Everything’s green and blue and sunshine. Big red barns, black and white cows, tall snowy mountains.

I’ve seen this kind of local-level branding in other places too. Maui and New Zealand’s South Island are good examples I think. It’s like the people in those places know what makes them and the place they live different, unique, special, and they celebrate it.

I believe these things exist in every area of the world, in every place and every group of people. There are memes that are buried in the social current, rich deposits waiting to be dug up and displayed. And when they do come to the surface, it shows the richness of culture and community already there, and then helps both to grow even deeper. Of course, as with all things, this beautiful process can be exploited for greed and completely corrupted until it’s something really awful and the locals scoff because they know they’ve been commercialized.

This is all kind of vague, so here’s a case in point: I’ve spent the better part of my life in Orlando, and Orlando is as good an example as any of a place that hasn’t gotten this. Disney World is not Orlando’s brand. The theme parks could easily be a part of the brand, but a place has to be more than its tourist attractions if you want to cultivate a sense of community.

I made a list of things I’ve learned to love about Orlando a while back, and those are things that will touch something below the surface. Really, it’s the stuff people miss about a place when they’re not there that is worth painting about, singing about, telling stories about, or making toys and clothes and restaurants and businesses about.

So, if you notice paintings on the walls of your favorite Orlando restaurant showing scenes of tourists at the airport, rainy afternoons at the theme park, Spanish moss hanging over lakes, kids leaving school to go to the beach, or the city lights over Lake Eola at night, it means someone has gotten it: artists cultivate community, or at least a stronger sense of it.

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A day in the life

Here’s a look at a normal day in my life right now. I don’t know why anyone would be interested, but hey, what else am I gonna write about?

Wake up at 4:30, leave home at 5:15 with 1st breakfast in hand, get to Bodacious Bagels at 5:30, load up bagels and out the door around 5:45, make drops at Coffee Haven and Central Cafe in Holliston, Red Barn in Southborough, Red Barn in Westborough and La Riviera Gourmet in Wellesley, back home around 7:15.

Feed cats, wash dishes, 2nd breakfast, work on creative projects, leave home at 9:45 back to La Riviera Gourmet in Wellesley.

Pull in around 10, start van, clock in, grab tea and 2 waters (one for me, one for the chef), hit the road between 10:05 and 10:15 depending on what’s for lunch that day, pull onto 16, then 95 South, then 2 East, then off at exit 59 Arlington, pull up to the first French school, drop off cambros, plates, silverware, cups, cold food, etc., back onto 2 East to Cambridge, pull up to the second French school, drop off chef and cambros, plates, silverware, cups, cold food, etc.

Help set up tables for lunch line (stack cups, fill water pitchers, set up dirty dish stations, etc.), leave at 11:15 for German school, listen to On Point with Tom Ashbrook, drop off 10 foam boxes and 10 paper bags full of food to 10 classrooms full of bi-lingual kids and teachers, get back to Cambridge school around 12:15, help serve food and clean trays, pack up the van around 1:30, back to Arlington school to pick up the dirty dishes and leftovers, and back on the road, back to the ‘hestaurant’ (as my Brazilian colleague calls it) around 2.

Make a quick sandwich, off to pick up another co-worker’s daughter from her middle school, drop her off at home, head home or to the chiropractor, eat, drink, change, exercise and off to the library (where I’m at now) to work on OCSPLORA and other fun stuff for a while, head home to eat dinner and hang out with the supportive wife, hop into bed around 10 (if I’m doing good).

Sounds busier than it feels, but it does get tiring. Except for the parts with Wendy and working on stuff I really care about. I do enjoy those parts quite a lot.

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The New Colossus

flickr.com/photos/ajagendorf25/4012265423/

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame, 

With conquering limbs astride from land to land; 

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand 

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame 

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name 

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand 

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command 

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame. 

“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she 

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor, 

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, 

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. 

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, 

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

by Emma Lazarus, photo by ajagendorf25 (via Flickr)

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Wondering why

Wondering why the time flies by
While looking forward to something better
Trudging through present nothing
Waiting, waiting, wasting everything
I am and want and have and hope for

Why am I still my own worst enemy
Telling myself it’s best this way
‘It builds character,’ I say
It must not be my time yet
I’ll just keep at it then, that’s what’s best

Time flies by and still I wait
For life to come to me and say,
‘You’re just the one we need,
Won’t you please step this way’
No, ain’t gonna happen that way

It’s time to make some choices,
Take some chances, choose a path
No backward glances
Time to take life by the horns
Figure out what I want, take it by force

I’m in God’s hands again
I’m totally yours

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Things brothers talk about

Jer: well if the world is really ending as we know it would be good to own some mountain land like Red Dawn.

Nate: if it's in the mountains, it might be the only part of the eastern half of america that does exist. then we'd be like warlords and we could fight people away from our island on jetskis with fishing spears
and we could sail to the vermont islands or the colorado islands

Jeremy: no that's the smokers from WaterWorld

Nate: and make war on their colonies
yes, how awesome would that be? except for the part about chaining their jetskis to the bottom of the ocean which is like forever far down and doesn't make any sense

Jeremy: I just want war paint made of berries and to wear a bear rug with elk horns on my head like a crown is that too much to ask

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Down here, it's our time.

Our parents, they want the best of stuff for us. But right now, they got to do what’s right for them. Because it’s their time. Their time! Up there! Down here, it’s our time. It’s our time down here.
— Mikey, The Goonies

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Irrelevant or extra-relevant?

There are parts of the bible that we Christians like to ignore and classify as irrelevant. Parts that talk about boiling a young goat in its mother’s milk. And a lot of stuff about being unclean.

A. J. Jacobs talks about this stuff quite a bit in The Year of Living Biblically.

The thing is, while I’m not living by probably 70% of old testament law, I do think there’s value in understanding why those laws were given. When we hear about not eating pork or lobster, I believe it’s important to know why and see if maybe we could be healthier by taking these laws seriously today.

If you believe that God gave instructions to the ancient Israelis, you’ve got to wonder how much of those instructions had unexplained benefits that would still apply.

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