All posts by John Maberry

A writer, a lapsed lawyer, a former government employee, a father of two and a 30+ year (in this lifetime) Bodhisattva of the Earth. Author of Waiting for Westmoreland. A happy man and a funny guy.

Puerto Vallarta–a Travel Post with a Twist

Fun in the Sun

We had a very nice–but very short, visit to Puerto Vallarta recently. It’s a resort on the Pacific coast of Mexico, south of Guadalajara–midway between the north and south. We had the time and wanted a brief getaway. Gave us the opportunity to meet face-to-face with my writer friend D.G. Kaye and her husband.  We also went for some very nice sunny/warm (not hot) weather.

Left to right, bottom row: my wife, my self, Faye, Ted. 2nd row, Deb’s hub, D.G. herself, Colette and her husband Freddy. above at a  very good steakhouse

We spent no time in the ocean–OK, we did walk on the beach and nearly got our feet wet.  How is it possible to go to a beach resort and not go in the water? Easy, you walk in the sand and swim in the pool.

In days gone by, my wife would comb the beach for shells on Ocracoke or Hatteras. I’d splash around close to shore, watch the kids or the dog. Later on, we’d be on the sound side of the Outer Banks—swimming and playing with the dogs. That was then, this is now—in Puerto Vallarta.

A guy asked where we were from and the weather there. After I told him, he  asked why we here. OK, it’s not super cold in southwestern New Mexico. It is cold enough, however, to welcome the 80 sunny degrees of a Pacific bay in Mexico. Watch out though—all inclusive resorts are fattening if your discipline falters. Mine did. Try a little of this, a little of that—and then a little more of the other. But the few pounds added are coming back off. (You don’t have to go all-inclusive)

What a view from our 18th floor balcony! An enormous balcony for a room with only a king-sized bed and no chairs. The chairs were on the balcony. Did I mention big? Yes, 20 feet across—the width of the bedroom plus another eight feet it shared with the dining area outside the sliding glass door. The ocean side had an outsized L-shaped sofa seating eight and two chaises. The dining area had a table with six chairs. They called it a “romantic suite.” Maybe romantic parties with friends? Yes, the view itself was romantic, as you can see from the sunset picture above and the balcony below.

We watched the people in the pool from our vantage point, people on the beach under thatched umbrellas, sailboats, kayaks, fishing boats and more. Plus, an abundance of parasailers plying the skies. Oh, and a couple cruise ships coming into the three-pier berthing area a mile away.

beach and vacation lounging area from above

If you’re under forty (or an adventurous middle-aged and up sort of person) the aerial adventures might be just your thing. Or you could go zip-lining, off-roading in the jungle or on somewhat less extreme tours of the nearby mountains. Not for us–maybe the mountains, another time.

We didn’t go in our pool, we visited my fellow writer friend D.G. Kaye and a few of her Canadian cohorts at her pool. Not without some hassles from the security folks at the palatial condo complex she and her hubby were staying in. There were the inevitable chaise reservation wars—people putting toys and towels on preferred lounges early in the day. I didn’t have to take her word for how much Canadians like Puerto Vallarta. We saw a quarter-mile long and three or four people wide line at the departure counter for a flight to Montreal. On that score, a word of warning—don’t depart on the weekend at the local airport. There’s not nearly enough seating for all. Also, watch out for the time share hawker gauntlet you must pass through to get to cabs when arriving.

Aside from the airport hassles, it’s a great place to get away from wintry weather up north. Daytime temps in the eighties and nighttime lows in the sixties in January and February. Wonderful places to stay at reasonable rates. If you like luxury you can try the upscale Nuevo Vallarta area farther up the shore. There are things to see and do for middle aged and up. Nightlife, museums, walking tours and shopping. We weren’t there long enough to do many of them. But we did eat out at some tasty and nearby restaurants. We also took a walk along the Malecon Boardwalk. I wonder, can a concrete surface of pavers, etc. be a “boardwalk?” Regardless, the evening stroll provided some very interesting sculpture. One might think Dali sculpted one or more, as surreal as they appeared—but I can’t say whether any were his or not.

What kind of sculpture you ask? Well, here’s a sample.

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As for the twist

Here’s the background. Once, many decades ago, I resisted an urge to take a 100-foot leap from a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River. It (didn’t) happen, near Red Wing, Minnesota. I was a kid, with no death wish.  Why the strange draw to jump?

The corridor to the elevator from our 18th floor room was open to the skies. It had just a four-foot wall keeping us from the pavement 18 stories below. I felt that pull again, looking over the wall. However, I didn’t feel that pull from our balcony. Why not?

The room next to ours had a red cloth banner strung diagonally across the door. We wondered what happened there. We didn’t ask. Use your own imagination—we did. Just maybe, an answer to why I felt that urge in Red Wing so long ago. But this is a travel post, not a horror/thriller item. Could work it into a story though—look for it on my writing blog, John Maberry’s Writings, someday soon perhaps.

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Two New Reviews of Books by K.E. Lanning

It would be an exaggeration to say I am pounding the keyboard on  my own work-in-progress, a 40-50,000 word short story collection scheduled for late fall. See a travel feature soon, right here, on our recent trip to Puerto Vallarta. Also, must keep reading works by others. One of them is K.E. Lanning, a scientist and writer formerly of Austin and now in the mountains of Virginia.

I finished the third book in her sci-fi/cli-fi trilogy earlier this month. [Note: it’s not out yet, I had an ARC; bookmark it and watch for promos] I recommend the set, although I like the third the best. You could read just that one, but better you at least read number two. Here’s the reviews:

Listen to the Birds (The Melt Trilogy - Book 3)Listen to the Birds by K.E. Lanning
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The third book is the charm, to paraphrase an old saying. I received an Advance Review Copy for free from the author. Having read the first two books in this cli-fi series, I knew all about the protagonists John Barrous and Lowry Walker. The third picks up a bit into Barrous’s term as President of Antarctica. Because of climate change, Antarctica has become a refuge/resettlement target for those whose coastal cities have been flooded by rising oceans. Initially like America’s Wild West, the continent is settling down–somewhat. If you haven’t read the second book, you won’t be fully up to speed on the tension between Walker and Barrous–former lovers. The latter was incensed by Walker’s pushing him, successfully, into becoming the president. There are villains in this book as well as the first two–the conflict this time is with a religious zealot overstepping bounds and with a cabinet official with an alternate agenda. So, what we have is a mix of 1) politics, 2) crime/intrigue, 3) romance and 4) interesting descriptions of how people can adapt to a somewhat warmer (but still cold) Antarctica with technology that enables roadless transportation, growing crops and raising animals, etc. All-in-all, a feature-laden and well-written book.

The Sting of the Bee (The Melt Trilogy - Book 2)The Sting of the Bee by K.E. Lanning
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book two of the Melt trilogy surpasses the first. While you could start here, I’d suggest you begin with the first–A Spider Sat Beside Her. Lowry Walker returns to Antarctica as part of a land rush, like the old west in America. This time it’s run by the UN but not without the corruption and violence that accompanied that earlier one. Along the way, she gets into a relationship with a widower with a teenage daughter that’s fraught with challenges. This story continues the cli-fi theme, although it’s more of a subtext than the central element. All in all, it kept me turning the virtual page, knowing full well that things wouldn’t work out wonderfully for all parties concerned–good guys and bad. You can regard this as post apocalyptic and dystopian, but there are some redeeming values in the protagonists. I recommend it and will get to the third one, Listen to the Birds, when it’s out next year some time.

View all my Goodreads reviews

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Writing Tips Revisited–Excerpts from Eagle Peak Quarterly

Writing Tips

Eagle Peak Press published 17 Quarterlies, through May, 2018. An annual is coming late spring 2019, replacing the Quarterly. We’re going to feature some reposts here this year, leading up to the annual. 

For now, try this condensed version of an item from May, 2018. Get the full Writing Tips Revisited article here

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” – Stephen King

Find what you like and what you don’t. Make use of techniques you have learned–in your own writing[I wound up reading 29 books in 2018, from which I got a lot of insights.]

Here’s another take on the importance and value of reading:

Reading is dialogue with oneself; it is self-reflection, which cultivates profound humanity. Reading is therefore essential to our development.  .  .   .

People who can say of a book “this changed my life” truly understand the meaning of happiness. . . .Reading is more than intellectual ornamentation; it is a battle for the establishment of the self, a ceaseless challenge that keeps up young and vigorous. –Daisaku Ikeda

While not directed at writer’s per se, the seriousness of this message is one that you can take to heart in “writing a book that makes a difference.” That’s the title of a book by Philip Gerard. See my review of it here.  Maybe you just want to write escapist fare. Fine, but if you have higher aspirations, consider Gerard’s book.

Some suggest you “write for the market.” But you will never be as successful in a genre that’s not among your favorites. My personal opinion is write what you like and do it better than anyone elsefeel free to differ.

Let’s move on to some helpful tips found on the web from fellow writers and others in the business.

Consider this article, “Why writing rules (usually) don’t work but guidelines do,” by Ruth Harris (a partner in the very helpful blog of writer Anne R. Allen).  My take on rules is this: they’re not only useful but essential when it comes to driving. Not so much for writing. Still, before breaking any, you should know them. By ignoring them, your work may be more readable and appealing.

Here’s what Harris has to say:

Much as we are wary of rules, especially stupid rules, we have learned (the hard way) that certain general writing guidelines apply. Rules (with a few important exceptions) are rigid and come with a my-way-or-the-highway attitude. Guidelines, however, have the advantage of being flexible and customizable.

In the linked article on “stupid rules,” you can find such gems as “novels can not contain contractions” and “said is boring—use more energetic tags like exclaimed, growled, etc.” If you haven’t learned yet why these are nonsense, read that article.

As for guidelines, Harris offers MANY links to posts by her partner and other talented authors on topics like the following (and much more): 
  • Pants vs Plot or somewhere in between
  • Begin at the beginning. Or not.
  • That &$%# first draft.

As for me, I take the “in between” option–or as I prefer to call it, the Goldilocks approach when it comes to plot. In this case, not too stringent an outline nor too freewheeling.

Or, as  Harris noted:

One size does not fit all.

Harris notes:

 “An opening line should invite the reader to begin the story,” said Stephen King. “It should say: Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this.” Plus a list of 50 best first sentences to inspire you.

 Harris notes:

That &$%# first draft.

Hemingway said, “All first drafts are s**t.” However, you can’t fix, revise, rewrite, edit something that doesn’t exist.

Ever heard of micro-plotting?

David Farland (an award-winning  and bestselling writer of 50 fantasy and sci-fi novels) explains why you may want to use it. Here’s a link.

As I plot out a story nowadays, I might add to my plot chart a note that says, Show Mona in pain or Give her a lofty goal or “Show her gift for talking her way out of a problem. These little plot points I call micro-plots, and I find that in creating sympathy for a character, it isnt enough to have just one.

So what”s the point? Not character development as such, but  supplying motivations affecting decisions and responses at critical momentslike the climax of a story. He cites them as another example of “micro-plotting.” Here’s one more passage from the article:

In any conflict, we have a lot of ways that we can respond, but why does your character act the way that he does? What are his motivations? Does it help if the reader knows that your protagonist is a priest? That hes drunk? That he just robbed a gas station and that he shot the teller?

Do you have a good tagline?

To market your books and connect with readers, you need to be on the web in one way or another. One of the things that helps catch visitor’s attention is a good tagline on your landing page.

What’s a tagline and why use it? Here are three examples from What’s in Your Tagline” by Judith Briles

Joel’s The Book Designer tagline: Practical advice to help build better books. Everything he does in the publishing field circulates around the word “practical” and “build better books.”

Nick Zelinger of NZ Graphics designs book covers and interiors. His website tagline, Where OUTSTANDING DESIGN meets AFFORDABLE PRICING shouts out that he’s reasonable in his costs and his books look great.

Briles’ tagline on TheBookShepherd.com website is Creating Successful Authors with Practical Publishing Guidance. As an author, who doesn’t want to be successful … and would you as a visitor want practical guidance in the process?

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First Book Review of 2019–The Hat, C.S. Boyack

My reading goal for 2019 is thirty books–The Hat is a novella, a quick read.  Get it here.

The HatThe Hat by C.S. Boyack
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A very funny and quick reading story. A creative writing showcase–with a magical and thinking hat that carries on conversations with the inheritor of it. As an author myself, I’ll take it as a good reminder of how to use my imagination to make even a very outlandish concept come alive. Also nice that it’s an afternoon read!

View all my Goodreads reviews here.

With such a short review, here’s an update on my 2019 determinations (resolutions for those of you still calling your annual goals by that term).

  • Already connected with some new bloggers–following more people
  • Added some new followers and a friend on Goodreads
  • Did first drafts of three flash fiction stories and one short story for my next collection coming this fall–plus made a good start on another story

Despite obstacles that may arise–like an encounter with an unfriendly agave, I will not be deterred :). Best wishes to all of you in this New Year on achieving your goals!

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#Happy New Year

2019 Here We Come—Big Plans for a Bigger and Better Year

Quote from Daisaku Ikeda and "make resolutions that succeed"

I’ve lived enough of them to know that some years are more challenging than others, even when they are successful. 2018 had only a few goals achieved. Various obstacles (mostly health) obstructed other objectives. More on that below. 2018’s off year won’t stop me from making and achieving some very ambitious determinations for 2019. I will try again to make resolutions to succeed—more on that below as well.

Before I let you in on some highlights for 2019, I want to thank those fellow writers and bloggers who steadfastly followed and commented on posts here, despite some lack of reciprocity on my part. That, by the way, is one of the major goals for 2019–connecting more with all of you in that group and supporting your own efforts.

Some  of my 2019 Determinations:

  • Writing, blogging and social media
    • Follow and interact with more writers/bloggers
    • Make the most of Goodreads (see below about Google+ and Facebook)
    • Publish the 2nd collection of short stories in late 2019
    • Work diligently on a novel to come out late fall, 2020
    • See more on future writing goals here
  • Travel
    • Puerto Vallarta for a few days
    • Canada for a few weeks, with our dog—with some distraction free writing time
    • Florida for a few days in December to the FNCC
  • Maintain my weight loss and keep muscles in tone

2018 Challenges:

Mental fatigue impacted my writing—a CPAP machine helped but didn’t clear it up completely while doctors have no clue. A one-off cardiac event interrupted my writing agenda as well as other goals. After much testing—no invasive procedures were done. No new drugs and no changes in exercise were needed either. As the Simple Minds song goes, I amalive and kicking.” I plan on staying that way for years to come. I’ve done as Ikeda urged and didn’t give up.

Goals met include:

  • 29 books read (surpassing a goal of 24)
  • A decoratively curved patio/walkway for enjoying the view from our hilltop home in sunny New Mexico
  • Completing a two-year weight loss goal, 80 pounds off—I am not even overweight.

Goals unmet:

  • Didn’t expand my networking with fellow writers/bloggers and others
  • Didn’t join Facebook (not sure now if I still want to), expand use of Goodreads or the dying Google+
  • Took no vacation and didn’t publish that book by the same name (The Vacation)

If I couldn’t conquer those obstacles in 2018, how can I win in 2019—with much more ambitious goals? Nichiren Daishonin, founder of the Buddhism I have practiced for 41 years, says

“Employ the strategy of the Lotus Sutra before any other.”

By this he means use the practice first, not last. When medical treatment doesn’t cure a problem, then practicing one’s faith is a rational choice. Once I made a stronger, more focused prayer to be clear headed, the brain responded with focused energy much more of the time.

My wife and I have achieved too many goals (that some might say were impossible) to list them here. You can find many of them in Waiting for Westmoreland. My recent reminder about the tired mind confirms that I can achieve victory in 2019.

Whether you find Buddhism or any other faith a means for achieving success, having a clear process for accomplishing goals is essential. We’ve put these steps out in prior New Year’s posts, but here they are again.

Making Your Resolutions Come True

  • Don’t call them resolutions–call them determinations
  • Make an action plan to attain or achieve them
  • Execute the plan
  • Monitor your progress
  • Forgive yourself for occasional shortfalls
  • Never give up
  • Reinforce your confidence with recollections of past victories
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Acknowledgements: Quotation from Daisaku Ikeda on https more...

Possibilities–A Book by Herbie Hancock, Reviewed

Possibilities–Grab Them Like Herbie Has

I read and reviewed Herbie Hancock’s book last year. I post this review now because it is ineluctably linked to my own writing goals for 2019 and beyond. (See the last line of this review)I’ll post those  goals on my other blog late on New Year’s Eve. Check back here early next year for more on how I’ll make those writing plans come true–along with other New Year’s Determinations (no, I don’t call them resolutions–that’s a tired cliché satirized ad nauseam).

Herbie Hancock: PossibilitiesHerbie Hancock: Possibilities by Herbie Hancock
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I must confess to being both bewildered and inspired reading this book. I’m bewildered because much of what Herbie talks about in this book is Greek to me—I am not a musician and the details he offers about the evolution of his own musical techniques makes less sense to me than a discussion of the finer points of calculating interstellar trajectories using advanced mathematics.

I’m inspired (and a little jealous) of his many successes. He started on his musical career as a child and continually refreshed his style and knowledge of music. The title, Possibilities aptly describes his refusal to adhere to a status quo but always to innovate–no matter what learning curve might be required. Like Herbie, I am a practicing Buddhist. Forty-one years for me this year–more for him. Much of his success–his many Grammys, an Oscar for the musical score of Round Midnight, his Kennedy Center Honor, his record sales, etc., has to do with his practice of Buddhism. From it, he early on recognized that we are in control of our own destiny and that only surrender to doubt or the obstacles that occur in life will keep one from achieving whatever one sets out to do.

I had the good fortune of meeting Herbie in 1982 when he, Tina Turner and Patrick Duffy–among others, were preparing to perform at the “Aloha We Love America” event on the mall in Washington, DC. I worked in the control center, in L’Enfant Plaza where we did our morning Buddhist prayers (Gongyo) around 7 am for several days. All those celebrities were among the twenty or more people doing Gongyo there every morning. Herbie was an incredibly sincere and devoted member. He told the organization’s General Director to let him know whatever he could do to help. One of my tasks was to drive Herbie and his wife Gigi around Washington, DC. They were without pretension and without condescension. He was a star and I was no one of great stature but that mattered not at all.

The book touches only briefly on his Buddhist practice, just enough to establish its importance to him without a heavy handed push to persuade them to practice. Still, there’s enough encouragement to anyone open to this belief system to learn more. As it happens, I was among a large group of fellow Buddhists attending a conference in Florida when the Grammy for Album of the Year was awarded to Herbie for River: the Joni Letters. The first time in the history of the Grammys that a Jazz album had won this award.We watched the award show that night and rejoiced with him.

I too wrote a memoir, Waiting for Westmoreland, which has quite a bit more to do with what the practice of Buddhism has meant to me in reforming my own life and working to make the world a better place. I am envious of Herbie only because my career as a writer has begun at such a late stage in my life. It will be very difficult to acquire fiction writing skills comparable to Herbie’s skills as a musician in the years that I have left. But, inspired by his success and confident in the power of my Buddhist practice, I will make my mark in the next decade or two.

View all my Goodreads reviews here.

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A Not So Recent Review

I’ll wind up the year with a review of a book I read a while ago, 11/22/63. Why post it now? Because we just recently watched the miniseries version on Blu-ray.  Despite the fact that author Stephen King had some involvement in the series, the book is better.  If you happened to watch that but never read the book, I  urge you to go back and do that–a warning, it’s 849 pages! Note: the miniseries changes the portal arrival date to 1960; the review reference to 1958 is correct.

11/22/6311/22/63 by Stephen King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a story about what happens when Jake Epping, high school teacher, is introduced to a time portal surprisingly hidden at the back end of the pantry of Al’s Diner. Al, in his wisdom, doesn’t spend much time explaining the phenomenon beforehand to Jake; instead he urges him to check it out. Only after the experience with the portal does Al explain his purpose–Jake needs to go back in time to prevent the assassination of JFK in Dallas in 1963. The portal, coincidentally, takes one back only to one certain date in 1958 and no matter how much time spent in the past, the time elapsed in the future is only two minutes. The why of these functional elements is never explained, nor is it necessary for the story’s evolution.

I have read countless books that include or predominantly revolved around time travel. This may not be the best time travel book ever written, but it is very good. Without adding spoilers, it does a decent job of showing, not telling, the complications of traveling through time–clothing, money, time-bound cultural norms, etc. What it does a very good and very interesting job of is illustrating the resistance to changing events that the warp of time imposes on one who tries to do it.

Along the way, King treats us to an evolving love story, a partially factual and partially invented (the details at least) history of Kennedy’s assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, his wife and “friends.” King does a good job developing the characters. What I found compelling about this book, is how it wound to the not entirely unexpected conclusion.

Not until the very end do we get a brief explanation of the portal from a gatekeeper of sorts, that Jake encounters each time he comes and goes. That this character is a gatekeeper is hinted at, but the foreshadowing is not heavy handed.

View all my Goodreads reviews

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The Bewitching Hour Approaches the White House

A Blue Wave Comes in January–Mueller Too?

The Democrats have won 40 House Seats in the next Congress–meaning they will have a 235 to 200 majority. It won’t be pretty for Trump. Investigations will ensue. Agency heads, cabinet officials and others will be called to testify. All those people who weren’t subpoenaed by Devin Numbnuts (Trump co-conspirator and chair of the House Intelligence Committee) or were allowed to not answer pertinent questions will have to answer in the Democratically controlled House.

But what of Mueller? Will more indictments come from Mueller in December? More in January? A report to Congress? Yes, it could all happen. On Friday comes the sentencing memo for double-flipper Manafort. The prevailing opinion is that this will be a public document detailing all of Manafort’s misdeeds.  Meanwhile, Trump is once again publicly adding fuel to obstruction fire–all but admitting that he has dangled a pardon for Manafort in exchange for info on what Mueller is up to.

But is all the chagrin and worries advanced about the duplicitous behavior of Manafort, his lawyers and Trump’s half-assed legal team (calling them JV would be overstating their legal acumen) warranted? How much would Mueller’s team have let Manafort in on during their hours together? Not much, in my opinion. As tight-lipped as the Mueller team has been with news media, Congress and everybody else, why the hell would Manafort be trusted with intimate details of what others had testified to–or what evidence Mueller had???

Continue reading The Bewitching Hour Approaches the White House

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Another Thanksgiving Day

A best of previous posts celebrating this great American holiday (and  one observed in other countries as well–but on different dates) .  

On this day we offer our thanks and appreciation for the bounty in our lives. For some, it’s a religious occasion. For others it’s all about eating turkey and watching parades or football. For me, it’s all of that.

I am so very thankful for the loving relationship with my wife–a marriage that has endured for 38 years now.  I am also thankful for still being alive and kicking after some medical challenges facing me this year. More on that in December but meanwhile, click on this short music video with the “Alive and Kicking” chorus.

“None of us can exist in isolation. Our lives and existence are supported by others in seen and unseen ways, be it by parents, mentors or society at large. To be aware of these connections, to feel appreciation for them, and to strive to give something back to society in a spirit of gratitude is the proper way for human beings to live.” Daisaku Ikeda

I owe gratitude to countless people. My parents, who brought me into the world, especially my mother who did her best to care for me after my father passed away. My brother and his wife who took me in at age 16 after my mother too passed away. Another brother who offered many life lessons. Teachers who inspired and gave me tools I use today. The person who introduced me to Buddhism and all those who have guided and inspired me in continuing to grow in that practice which has enriched my life.

Whatever your observance of this day may include, I hope it will bring much joy and happiness. Eat well if you can but not more than you should. Stay away from politics if possible; it likely won’t help the digestion or make for a happy occasion. Give thanks and appreciation in the way best suited to you and your family.

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Acknowledgements: Simple Minds, "Alive and Kicking" m more...

Don’t Be a Settler–Updated from Eagle Peak Quarterly

In May of 2018, we published the last Quarterly issue on Eagle Peak Press. As noted then, henceforth an annual edition will be published, with the first one coming in Spring, 2019. In the meantime, just to refresh some of those articles and remind people to tune in next year, we will share some of them here over the next few months.

With thoughts of Thanksgiving in America coming soon and New Year’s not far behind, it seems timely to consider getting a head start on planning celebrating successes and vowing for more. That could mean not settling for less than optimal outcomes in one’s life–whether they be in health, wealth, relationships or more.

So here’s an updated version of an article from the June 2016 Quarterly that offers some tips on winning over self.

“We’re settlers.”

Sound familiar? If you watch TV much, you may remember seeing the silly commercials for DirecTV trying to switch you from cable to their satellite television service. The commercial made a good analogy. The point? Accepting shortcomings rather than challenging them. We stay up too late. We mean to apply for that promotion. We want to exercise more or eat better but we don’t. Sure, it’s easier to simply accept the status quo. It could be procrastination. It could be avoidance. Or it could be just settling. The things we settle for aren’t necessarily bad. Other things may well be more important. But if we settle for less, we’re missing out on better.

As a Buddhist, I am supposed to be aware of such things and make use of my practice to improve my life. But I too sometimes settle. Year after year, I made goals to exercise and lose weight but failed. Weight WAS a perennial problem for me. Then I determined that 2017 would be the year that I succeeded. From January 1, 2017 through November 10, 2018 I went from 240 to 160 pounds. Read more about weight loss techniques that work in this article. [NOTE: I continued the program in 2018 and achieved that current weight].

You don’t have to be a Buddhist to challenge yourself. If you are, you know that you are the one in control of your own destiny. If you don’t take action, no one will. But again, whether you apply the Buddhist practice to your life or not, the point is that you don’t have to settle. You just must recognize when you have a bad habit you want to get rid of, make a plan to do so and execute it. You have a goal but it seems too much work or too difficult, so you settle for what you have. That’s OK, except after a time you become inured to living with less vigor. You become satisfied with being less than you could be. If will were a muscle, this kind of thing can leave you with an underdeveloped one.

Contrast this with Maria Popova’s observations about self-comparison in a commencement address she gave. [see Worth Noting, also in the June 2016 issue–at the top of the piece].

But here’s the thing about self-comparison: In addition to making you vacate your own experience, your own soul, your own life, in its extreme it breeds resignation. If we constantly feel that there is something more to be had — something that’s available to those with a certain advantage in life, but which remains out of reach for us — we come to feel helpless.

What she means is comparing oneself with others; not comparing a present self with a past or future one. Yet the essential truth is that once we accept some chronic condition or habitual shortcoming we settle on a lesser self. A self unable to accomplish all of our dreams. We are diminished. 

my office, designed by meI always wanted to be a writer, now I am; it only took a few decades. Because I am frugal (some might say cheap) I learned to do minor electrical and plumbing work in my own house. Ditto drywall and painting. Landscaping too. I had a decent paying job and my wife worked as well but being a do-it-yourselfer funded wonderful family vacations. When I retired from the day job, I began writing. But I had more do-it-yourself projects on tap, like establishing and maintaining websites like this one. I also needed to design the dream house we now live in; I used a computer application to do that. I didn’t build or paint that office at left, but I designed it. All it takes to do anything unfamiliar is a will to learn and the discipline to succeed. I won’t settle for not doing something because I don’t know how. Challenges are just that. Obstacles can be overcome. Persistence pays off; victory over procrastination does the same.

Don’t be a settler!

We should never decide that something is impossible and buy into the belief, “I’ll never be able to do that.” The power of the entire universe is inherent in our lives. When we firmly decide, “I can do it!” we can break through the walls of self-imposed limitations. Daisaku Ikeda.

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