Cancer Sucks

I am sure that if you have suffered with cancer or had a loved one or friend deal with this disease, you will agree with me that cancer sucks.  I have lost several close friends to cancer and have had many others left to deal with the treatments.  Yesterday I lost my brother-in-law, Horst Klemm, to this awful disease.  It is personal and it is painful.

Horst was a cornerstone in our family.  He was a mountain man who would hunt elk in the mountains above his home in Bishop, Ca.  He was a rancher as each year he would take their horses up to the mountain meadows.  Horst was a fisherman with many a catch to brag about each year as he and my sister would travel to Alaska.  He was a craftsman who built and remodeled hundreds of homes in and around the Owen’s Valley.  He was a husband and a father and the best grandfather anyone could hope to know.  And through it all he faced his cancer with courage and determination.

It could be said that he led a great life and accomplished much.  But that would be an excuse for leaving us too soon.  Cancer respects no time frame, no family dynamic, no age or importance.  It takes its victims indiscriminately.  It took Horst and he will be missed dearly by his friends and family.

Cancer sucks.  It always has and it always will.  I for one will support with my resources those working for its cure.  I challenge all who would read this to do the same.  For those of you who have been directly affected, I know you already do.  For those who have never been affected, do so in honor of the good health you enjoy.

I will miss you Horst.  I will miss your caring nature, your rugged approach to life and the wisdom you always so graciously shared with us all.

Godspeed Horst.

12th Day Before Christmas

In the 12 days before Christmas, I had been rewriting the 12 Days of Christmas song with a different gift involving my family each day.  What follows is the explanation for the last gift and my Christmas sentiment to my family.

On the twelfth day before Christmas I am giving to you, the twelve hours before Christmas.  These are the last few hours before Christmas finally arrives.  These are the magical hours.  It is during these hours that Christmas truly comes alive.  The deep meaningful traditions occur in these last important hours.

Children come home to be with their families.  The final gifts go under the tree and the wonder and anticipation begins.  The deep lasting traditions happen in these hours.  I recall my family’s Christmas Eve, heading off to church to sing in the children’s Christmas Eve service, visiting my aunts, and anticipating all those gifts waiting back home.  Watching the Christmas Carol with my dad and falling asleep with my head cradled under his arm.  I remember our own Christmas Eve’s together, listening in church to the Christmas story, singing the carols and filling in “as Wundrows watched their sheep by night” much to your mother’s chagrin.  And in those twelve hours, believing in Santa as a child and never questioning how he could visit all those houses in just one night.  Then, believing that you could be and actually are the Santa beginning the day you stopped believing in the real one.  I’m still pretty sure there is one, just ask Jackson if you want to believe as well.  I watched him put his nose to the window and wave to him last night.

Those are the things that happen in the twelve hours before Christmas.  Everything else was just the build up to these final mystical hours.  My gift to you is to remind you never to let them diminish in importance, to even slip away.  Hold them sacred and develop your own traditions.  Make them almost rituals.  Be together with family, the one you grew up in or just your own.  But make it family time.  Tuck your children into bed with a Christmas story of your own and then go put their Santa presents under the tree.

These are your final hours before Christmas.  What will you do with them?  If the true spirit of Christmas is in you, I know it will be magical.

Merry Christmas.  Celebrate well.


A visit with Faulkner

It is the end of the first week of December and I am where I have been on this date for the last ten years, Mississippi.  This the week I present seminars at sites across this southern state.  We started this year in Hattiesburg, home of Southern Mississippi State and we are finishing the tour in Oxford Mississippi, home of Ole Miss.  In past years we included Starkville Mississippi, home of Mississippi State.  It has been enjoyable being able to view all of these universities while also getting to experience the culture in so many different parts of this state.

Ole Miss  Southern Miss   Mississippi state

Last night, knowing I had today free from my teaching schedule, I and my wife decided to indulge in some adult beverages and local cuisine at a nearby establishment.  The bar was pretty much empty save for two locals, the bartender owner and our waitress.  Called out immediately as foreigners, apparently by the insufficient number of extra vowels we put in our words, we confessed to being Damn Yankees.  We were then educated on the fact that we were just Yankees as Damn Yankee is a term reserved for those northerners who come down and then never leave.  I had been schooled.  The conversation turned to what we intended to do with our day off and we were then given a lengthy itinerary of sites in Oxford no visitor should miss.  I will note here that the citizens of the Great State of Mississippi are among the most gracious I have dealt with.  I never tire of the “thank you ma’am” and “yes sir” and definitely not the “can I get you anything else honey”.  That last one never grows old with me.  Included in their list of must sees was a surprise, at least to me.  Unbeknownst to me was the fact that Oxford Mississippi was the birthplace of William Faulkner and that his home is still here and maintained for the tourists.  If you are shaking your head wondering how a wanna be writer would not know this, I write but I don’t always read, at least not good William’s obituary.

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This morning we trekked on downtown and after some well received directions, made our way through the old neighborhood and found the house.  Built in 1848 and occupied by Faulkner from 1930 until his death in 1962, it was a little rough around the edges but sat on a stately manor covered with magnolia trees.  Under one particular grove of magnolias lay the still visible outline of a two hundred year old labyrinth.  The effect of all of this was to have a sense of actually being back there.  As we toured the house, I was peering out the rear window of one of the bedrooms when I spotted a gentleman walking the back grounds.  For a brief moment, in the tree filtered light, I was sure I was seeing Faulkner himself.  Arriving downstairs, I bumped into the gentleman who admitted dressing the part for his tour, hoping to regenerate the spirit of Faulkner who would then assist him in his writing endeavor.

When I had heard of the opportunity to view Faulkner’s home I had been unsure of why I felt compelled to actually follow through on the trek.  Now, walking through the labyrinth and the magnificent magnolia groves, approaching the house as Faulkner would have and then encountering the spirited writer, I felt something stir.  Once back inside the house, I began to read the various information attached to the museum displays.  One in particular resonated with me.  Faulkner had been commenting on the act of writing.  I will paraphrase here since they don’t allow pictures and they definitely frown on taking the museum pieces with you.  Faulkner basically said that writing a book was his fate, doom in that once you write you have to keep writing.  Eventually you can be writing just to write another book.  He described writing a piece only to read and reread and then to replace the words and then read and adjust again.  And when it was finally done, to wait on the story before letting someone read it for their opinion.


I know this feeling and at times it is what creates writer’s block.  I know I need to write something that is rattling around in my head even when I just don’t feel ready to write it.  Once I write it, I agonize over whether it is good enough.  The problem, it never is, and you simply hope that you can get it right the next time.  It was redeeming and at the same time inspiring for me to read of Faulkner, a Pulitzer Prize winner, agonizing over his work and wondering if he had gotten it right.  Worrying that it could have been better.

I too will agonize over this piece.  Did I manage to tie the story line together?  Will I have made my point?  Will it even be worth your reading?  All I know is that somewhere in that walk through his house, Faulkner nudged me to write.  And in his way he gave me confidence to keep writing.

I think I need to thank two random Mississippians who gave me the time and invited me to take a memorable walk with Mr Faulkner.

Cycle of Fear …. Nervousness

When last I wrote about the cycle of fear, I had discussed fear and it’s follow up, anxiousness.  While fear meant to protect us from dangerous behavior, once gotten past, you would settle into anxiousness.  Anxiousness differed from fear in that once we had moved beyond fear by rationalizing out the true dangers and having decided we could proceed without dying, we settled into the fact that we were prepared to go through with our decision.  Anxiousness kept us aware of the process.  At this level, we could now try to identify our safety nets and attempt to move toward our ultimate action.

For me, this cycle is experienced every time I decide to speak publically.  The fear originally came from believing I couldn’t step in front of a large crowd and successfully get through the material without freezing.  Early on I had come to grips with my fear and agreed to face the crowd.  When I accept a speaking engagement these days, I am able to skip through the fear step rather quickly just based on past experience.  After all, I haven’t ever died up there.  At least not yet.  But every time, I still deal with the anxiousness as I consider the material and my worthiness and ability to interpret it and deliver it to the audience.

The next step in this cycle is then nervousness.  Nervousness is the result of being so close to the event that there is no turning back.  You have worked through anxiousness by realizing that you do know how to do or present what you are about to do.  You have prepared yourself mentally and physically.  You have reasonably ruled out the biggest dangers and you are now entering a state of nervousness where your anxiety has been muted or at least turned down to a tolerable level.  You are ready to proceed and are actually wanting this to get going so that it can eventually be over.

For my best example of this phase, I will describe my experience as I jumped out of a perfectly good plane.  Yes, I had the parachute.  When I first considered taking a parachute jump, I definitely started at fear.  I was about to climb to three thousand feet where once out on the wing of this small plane, I would, in the words of my instructor, simply step back and enjoy the fall.  As I went through my one half hour of training, I began to get past fear.  Others had done this and survived.  I would be tethered to the plane so my chute would open automatically and he would be with me as I jumped, just in case I had to open my emergency chute.  Other than everything, what could go wrong?  I did work through the fear phase of the cycle and eventually quiet it down enough that I was willing to suit up and climb aboard the plane.  Now came the next phase, anxiousness.  My level of anxiousness climbed right along with the plane and peaked at that moment when I was told to step out onto the wing.  “Move feet” was all I could think of and somehow they did.  And there I was, on the wing with the wind trying its hardest to rip me loose and throw me spiraling to the ground far below.  Suddenly, I was no longer anxious.  There was NO GOING BACK.  As the trainer waited to give me the drop sign, I realized I was simply nervous.  I actually screamed into the wind to let me jump.

I will admit that it is an extremely thin line that separates anxiousness and nervousness but it’s there.  At anxiousness, there is a sense that you can still back out and possible even save face in the process.  But once you cross that line, it’s just nerves now.  You stepped on stage, you buckled into the terrifying roller coaster, you stepped off the edge or in my case you wanted to step off the wing.  Between the wind and the engine roar, it just seemed like anything would be better than standing there hanging on for dear life.

I apologize for leaving you out on the wing, but this story will have to wait until I can finish the next part of the cycle; excitement.  Stay tuned but in the meantime try to enjoy this sense of nervousness as you wait.

“God Bless us Everyone”

Christmas is a time of year during which we think about traditions.  It could be a Christmas movie favorite.  It could be a particular meal.  It could be the procedure around getting the Christmas tree as I described our family version of tree cutting in “Can we at least drive it around the block?”  So what makes these traditions so important?

As we age, we remember certain traditions and we carry them with us.  But as in all things, they can’t always be accurately repeated.  Sometimes the reason is cultural.  Sometimes technology creates replacements.  Case in point.  Putting up outside lights was an arduous task especially in the northern climes, where if we weren’t on top of our game, we were putting them up in a foot of snow and flesh freezing cold.  I will admit to being guilty of this way too often.  With technology has come quite impressive displays and often without any lights at all.  But just for the sake of tradition, do you remember those big bulb lights with the multiple colors?  I do and I don’t remember them failing in multiple strings immediately after you finally got them up.  I currently have a beautiful half lit display myself.

The point is that traditions evolve as we age and attempt to pass them down to our children.  What matters is that the most important part of a tradition is not the memory that surrounds it, but the emotion it evokes.  The tradition can evolve over time.  The emotion it evokes is what endears.  That emotion is what we try to recreate.

In the family of my youth, my favorite tradition was watching “A Christmas Carol” on Christmas Eve with my dad and my siblings.  That tradition came into my own family but had evolved over time.  It began with setting up the video, something we couldn’t do when I was growing up, we had to wait for the live version to come on, and then making a big bowl of popcorn.  I and my daughters would settle into our big couch and watch the movie.  My two daughters would never make it through the whole movie with out falling asleep but they would always awake just in time to chime in with Tiny Tim shouting out, “God bless us everyone.”  As my children aged, the movie night was replaced with the family date night.  We would get dressed to the nines, go out to dinner somewhere fancy and then down to the Overture to see the play “A Christmas Carol”.  My daughters would literally recite the lines having seen the play year after year.  After the play came pictures, my wife’s tradition, and then a late night dessert.

The tradition was evolving but the emotion was intact through all of the changes.  It was family night together, bonding or maybe re-bonding, and feeling the spirit of the season through the closeness of family.  Two little girls falling asleep on daddy’s shoulders created the same emotion years later as two adult daughters still insisting on the same family togetherness in a grown up version of that movie night.  The movie was replaced by the play, the popcorn by dinner out and the innocence of two little girls by the grown up sophistication of two beautiful young women.

This Christmas, I hope that you will enjoy or maybe recreate a tradition from your past.  Don’t try to repeat the physical process, only work to tap into the emotion the original tradition evoked.  Let the emotion wrap itself around you and let it help you find the innocence and excitement of the Christmas season.

And so, in the innocence of Tiny Tim, “God Bless us Everyone.”

And from me and my family, Merry Christmas 2017.