Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Quit Your Job - Do What You Love - Act II

Chicago to Taos Driving Route
After the excitement and hubbub of quitting my job passed, many folks claimed that there would be nothing to see between Iowa and Denver on I-70 or I-80 on the trip to NM. Our experience was just the opposite. Iowa and Nebraska are beautifully filled with gentle rolling plains, prairies, lakes, grasslands and endless crop farms. I was tempted many times to pullover, pull out my paints and frame the landscape, but we had a schedule to keep and there was little time to veer off course. 

On the schedule was: seeing farmer friends in NE, showing Terry my old Denver and Vail haunts and exploring southern Colorado. We did and it was a great road trip; I only lost my wedding ring once and fortunately I founds it on the picnic table where I left it. And only once did I think to myself that I might be crazy for giving up a steady paycheck. 

I could tell you all about the wonderful things we experienced like sitting in the driver's seat of a multi-million dollar farm machine, staying in the Brown Palace Hotel, walking through Vail with a haze of thirty year's of memory and the the awe of driving through the Great Sand Dunes, but I won't because the the best is yet to come: arriving Home to New Mexico.

Stayed tuned for Act III: Setting up the Artist Studio and praying for Hot water.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Quit Your Job - Do What You Love - Act I

Williams Lake near Taos, NM

The iconic saying "Go West, young man" has been attributed to Horace Greeley when in 1883 he advised a then young Josiah Bushnell Grinnnel to, "Go West, young man go west. There is health in the country, and room away from our crowds of idlers and imbeciles." This was written over two-hundred years ago and the statement still holds true; there his health in the country. As far as "imbeciles" go, I'm sure one or two have taken up residence in the "country" as well. 

My recent decision to quit my corporate job and head westward might seem ludicrous at a time when close to 10 million people are unemployed. But working in a cube was not my idea of living the "dream". It was a job not a Life. I did get to utilize and exercise innate talents and learned skills by doing the things that I really enjoyed and still do, such as teaching and coaching. Best of all, I got to work with and learn from a great manager; just one of two over a forty-three years of working. My former employer treated me for the most part very well. I was compensated fairly and on time. Their benefits' package was and is superior to that of many global companies. We had an agreement and we both held up our end of the deal but in the end, salary and benefits while being very important were not enough for me to continue on until that coveted time of life entitled, "retirement." 

A very wise old lady who worked six days a week up until the time of her death at 92 once told me, "If you're consuming you should be contributing." I agree. Most people believe that they can't or shouldn't pursue their dreams and live the lives that truly want and are passionate about, until they've retired. I understand. There are many factors to consider before quitting your job and uprooting yourself. When I told my colleagues I was leaving to pursue my passions they looked at me and said with desperation, "Please take me with you!" Of course, a lot of people are perfectly content in their jobs and careers but if you're like me and can no longer avoid those thumping thoughts in your head and pangs of passion in your heart to go after your dreams, then you too can quit your job and live and work where you know you belong.

It takes a certain amount of courage and desire to untangle and separate yourself from the expected way of making a living and living a life in order to follow your instincts and dreams. Some people commented on my decision with, "I envy you" and "Your so lucky." No one should envy me and if luck had anything not much would get accomplished. I am not advocating that what I've done and what I'm about to do would be right for everyone. But I need to be true to myself and listen to the voice inside my heart that has been calling me for many years and return to the canvas. I'm grateful for all the years I've spent working for large companies. In one way, everyday that I went through those revolving glass doors and cut my way through stagnant air brought me closer to realizing what I didn't want. I made those jobs work for me. My dreams of making a living and making a life as an artist in piƱon scented mountains are about to come true. You don't have to wait for retirement to feel satisfied with your work and where in the world you live. Of course, you can wait until you retire and be dead shortly thereafter. Sadly, this was the case recently when three former colleagues all died unexpectedly within a year of their retirements.

Young adults travel in order to find themselves. After completing a road trip across the USA or a RailEurope tour they're expected to have their souls cleansed of wanderlust and any remnants of childish thoughts then buckle down and put their noses to the proverbial grindstone. I've been on the journey of self-discovery for over fifty years and the move to new environs is just another step in a long and winding path. 

This is not the first time I will be living outside an urban center. I lived in Vail, Colorado for eight years in my twenties and would't trade that time and experience for the world but I lacked three essential ingredients for creating and sustaining a viable and peaceful life: discipline, acceptance and responsibility. 

In his seminal work WaldenThoreau wrote, "I learned this at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will being to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings. In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness. If you have built castles in the air, work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundation under them."

Do what you love, serenity and money will follow. For the fortunate, advocation and vocation are one in the same. However, not everyone has the same choices. Socioeconomics unfortunately, to often dictate success, health and happiness. I'm going west to the confluence of heart and art and room away from the crowds. Decide what's really important to you. Go after it now. Take one step. Don't wait until the "right time". It won't ever be perfect, even if you retire with a lot of dough in the bank your health may fail, a loved one may die and then all you'll be left with are "should have's, would have's" and "wish I had"s. Build your castle brick by brick and live amongst the stars.

Stay tuned for Act - 2: on the road and beyond.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Should You Think Twice Before Helping Someone?

My mind raced with many thoughts but the two that stayed in focus were staying calm and the safety of the little boy who stood at my side.

Riding my bike to a friend's house at approximately eight o'clock yesterday morning, I saw a little boy about ten years of age walking aimlessly down Cottage Grove Avenue at 41st Street in the city of Chicago. The weather was warm, he was wearing a winter coat. He looked like he hadn't slept. His eyes were vacant. I stopped, asked him if he was okay, where he was going, where his mother or father was. He nodded his head slightly to his left to nowhere in particular. I asked again where he was going. He said he wanted some breakfast, did I have a dime? I gave him a dollar and we agreed that I would walk him the half block to the store. I was about to dismount my bike when a car pulled up with a man driving with two toddlers and an infant in the back seat. He asked me if everything was okay as he looked over the little boy. He asked the kid if he knew where he was, where he lived. The kid shook his head reluctantly. The driver sped off, the kid and I walked south on Cottage Groove Avenue. I searched the dusty stacks of my memory for the thimble-full of training I attended on child welfare over fifteen years ago and then formulated more questions, ever mindful of where I was, what time it was and who I was with. I've run through the neighborhood in the past and had an idea of it's reputation. I asked him his age and if there was someone I could call as they might be worried. He told me they were sleeping. Before coming to the corner of 42nd Street, he paused at the entrance of a chicken joint. I looked through the window and asked him if there was another place, a bodega, a corner store. He tipped his head forward, southbound. We reached the corner where two men snaked and peregrinated the same four squares of sidewalk. One had a wireless Bluetooth in his ear and sported dark sunglasses. The other was toothless and donned a fading and frayed tank top. I smiled, said good morning. The kid and I crossed 42nd Street. I looked south, east and west with no signs of a place to get food. I felt the anxiety of the invisible line we just crossed. I was in too deep; the situation called for someone else, a professional, a neighbor, a local. Someone shouted from the corner we just crossed. Hey you! I turned my head. My eyes swept north taking in a young man ten feet behind us who I hadn't noticed earlier. He was talking on his cell phone. He too looked to see who was calling out. The three of us saw and heard the toothless man shout, Hey you! Ya, you and the kid. Wait up! Toothless and Bluetooth jugged wobbly towards us. The young man with the cell phone interest was piqued and stood nearby sizing the situation. Toothless came to stand on my left; Bluetooth on my right. After Toothless asked his first of several interrogating questions, Young Man With Cell Phone positioned himself behind and slightly to my right. The Triangle. Myself and the kid in its center. Do you know this kid? Toothless asked. I told him no and asked if he did. He didn't either and wanted to know where we were going. I told him I was taking the kid to breakfast. Where? I told him the kid was leading the way, that I gave him a dollar. I thought you were taking him? Young Man With Cell Phone crossed his arms over his chest just below his gold chains. Bluetooth cocked his head. The kid bore a slightly worried frown; he just wanted something to eat. I played out all the possible scenarios in my head. I know how to influence and negotiate but I was wearing Spandex and leaning on an expensive looking bicycle. Toothless peppered me with more questions and ordered the kid to go home. He obeyed. The boundaries of the Triangle tightened and closed in. What are you doin' in this neighborhood? I told him I was going to see a friend. I don't give a fuck where you're going. A car meandered north. In the distance I saw the kid duck between two buildings. I stayed calm and tried to extricate myself using a risky move. I reached out to shake Toothless' hand and said, This neighborhood is really fortunate to have someone like you looking after their children's well-being. He paused as the comment wafted through his ears and then percolated in his brain. You know man, he said. We got no problem with you. We just lookin' after the kids in the hood. I reaffirmed his nobility and was tempted to suggest that he run for City Council but a more sensible and responsible head prevailed. The edges of the Triangle sagged. Young Man With Cell Phone dropped his arms and walked off. My anxiety abated. Our meeting was about to end. I grabbed my bike and carried it into the street. Toothless smiled wide and stuck out his belly, scratched it and said, You know man, I could use a little help myself. I smiled with the hypocrisy along with an appreciation for his self-preservation. I answered his request with, We could all use a little help.

As I rode off to meet with my friend, I caught my breath. The cortisol melted in my body. My mind raced again. Of course, it was a shake-down and nothing else but now I was fascinated with the multiple ingredients and layers that made up the event that had transpired: from making judgements based on perception to social justice, race relations, racism, inequality and child welfare. I was left feeling hurt, saddened and frustrated that a desire to help a vulnerable and hungry little boy was obstructed by two needy adults and that my own safety was compromised. Still later, I was angry with myself for not calling the police to see if they could help and or take the kid home. There are countless volumes of studies, research reports and commentary on all of the above social challenges and I'm no expert just someone who tries to be understanding and kind. It was a good lesson nevertheless, as I was reminded that the streets can be a tough and unforgiving place. In the future, I may think twice before offering help to others but help I will if at all possible. 

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Do 10 Million Characters Make a Book?

©2013-14 Bruce Katlin

Do 10 million characters make a book? I don't know but that's approximately how many key strokes it took me to complete my first novel, Birds Like Us, The Pi Phillecroix Story

What's his name, declared a few years ago that in order to become a professional, one would need to practice at least 10,000 hours to be deemed someone who is really good at what they do. Since "success" in writing and the Arts in general are subjective to the readers'/viewers'/listeners' tastes, the definition of success varies for both artists and their patrons. For this blog's purpose success as determined by its writer is, a task completed that was not alway easy nor pleasant but I did it anyway putting all of my all or, most always my all and taking pride in my efforts knowing that I grew through the effort of the task and confident that at least on reader's life maybe enhanced.

A published author told me years ago that a writer's first novel is usually autobiographical and in some way that's true for this, my first novel. Isn't there a bit of every author in their characters? It's also true that a lot of the characters in this book are based on people or animals that I've know or met over the years while others just came from somewhere and found their way through to my fingers to the keyboard. 

My parents would be surprised that their son, who was affectionately nicknamed Fidget as a child, was able to keep his butt in the writing chair for hours upon hours over the years to write a book. Discipline has beget more of the same and I'm at work on a second novel, a book on my experiences in corporate cube life, a cookbook co-authored with my wife and a blog series on cutting the corporate handcuffs and moving to the mountains of New Mexico.

It's been a great Walk to date and characters like Pi and others in her story have inspired me to press on for at least another 10 million key strokes.

Get the e-book at: SmashwordsAmazon - iTunes - Barnes & Noble  (Paperback version coming soon.)

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Power of Pain - A Series

"Pained" ©2014 by Bruce Katlin

First In a Series On Discovering The Power and Importance of Pain

"No pain, no gain" the saying goes. I'm sure that some of us have experienced "gain" without the pain but I'm equally certain that the rewards were not as beneficial, developmental or as nourishing.

In the post that will follow, I will share with you mine and others' experiences living with pain, moving through and beyond it, the lessons learned and how it brings people together. 

Until next time, I leave with this quote by James Baldwin: 

“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive.” 

Monday, January 6, 2014

Suicide or Mass Murder?

Creative Brain Action

"I'd rather commit suicide or be a mass murderer." This statement came from a store clerk after I told him that I haven't owner a television for years. I urged him that if he had to make a choice to please choose suicide. 

Although, he would not seriously choose either option, I think it truly sad that he and others like him are so attached to their televisions. When I tell most people that I don't watch television they follow the same predictable line of questioning: "How can you survive without T.V.? What do you do? Don't you get bored? Where do you get your news from?" When I inform them that I occasionally stream films the look of horror on their faces doesn't change and after they've learned that I actually read books on paper the conversation ends. 

Where are all these T.V. zombies directing their creativity? What's happening to their brains? Why are they so afraid to be still? The store clerk told me that he'd actually "Go crazy" if he gave up his television. I once read that while sitting in his living room with the family surrounding him in complete science, Homer Simpson said referring to the T.V., "Quick! Turn something on I'm starting to think!" 

We're so afraid of thinking that we use television to stop all of our unwanted thoughts. I offer an alternative solution: face your thoughts, all of them. Sad, happy, worrisome, joyful, all. Watch what happens when you sit with them, breathe into them. Magic takes place and they disappear; clarity arises leaving you to come up with practical solutions instead of choices born out of anger, frustration, revenge or excitement. 

So, turn off the T.V., notice where you are and what you're doing - all the time. It's not that bad a place to be. You'll find yourself more satisfied, clear, peaceful and creative.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Dead 2 Years and Lessons Learned.

Her death was pronounced at 20:46 two years ago today. It wasn't an easy death. She didn't go out in storybook fashion like someone who dies in their sleep or while doing something they love like running or parachuting or gardening or making love. My mother, who struggled all her life with mental illness along with a myriad of other physical conditions, spent the last twenty four hours of her life in pain in a shitty hospital where her Ischemic Colitis was misdiagnosed which then led to sepsis that ultimately would have caused her death.

The doctors told us that if she were younger and healthier they would have recommend surgery. We faced a decision that thousands of families are presented with each year. It's a terrible precipice to be standing on knowing that with three words or less a person's complete life; the entire road they travelled on to this point is now in your hands. 

We consulted family members who were physicians who intimately knew my mother's history and had treated her numerous times over the years. They assured us that due to her age, medical history and current condition she would not survive surgery. We trusted them if not the hospital's doctors and told the one caring nurse to, "Let her go." My brother, sister and I along with their kids said our goodbyes and the life support machines were turned off. I looked for signs of my mother's spirit leaving her body, ascending towards the ceiling but there was nothing. She didn't even look dead, just very quiet and still. 

My mother's mental illness caused her and her family a lot of pain - it's not just the patient that suffers. But if you were to strip away the mental illness you would see a generous, loving, woman who loved her friends and family dearly and was as tough and courageous as the eastern European landscape that her father escaped during the Pogroms. 
White Water Rafting on The Colorado River, 1982
I was prepared for my mother's death. She surprised me by living as long as she did with as sick as she was. She never thought of herself as brave or courageous but anyone who survived thirty sessions of shock treatment, endless courses of drug therapies, the loss of her husband at an early age while consistently battling depression has got to be a little tough if not resilient. I like to think that she passed on some of her resiliency along with a dash of tenacity. 

The greatest unspoken fear we human-beings have is the fear of death. I know that one day I too will die. I've always known this but not until both parents passed did I realize it to be true. I wasn't yet an adult when my father died. I was a very young twenty-four years old living a ski bums life in Colorado. Due to the sixteen hundred miles that separated us I hadn't seen him for close to a year. During what would turn out to be our last telephone conversation I was curt and probably rude. I just had a fight with my then girlfriend and I abruptly hung up the phone.

During one of my mother's many hospital stays she said to me, "Bruce, getting old really sucks." When she made that comment she had already mourned the loss of many good friends and relatives. Like most seniors, she hated the fact that her body and mind had slowed and that she wouldn't accomplish all the things she wanted to do. I empathized with her and told her that I can't imagine how frustrating it must feel. She paused before saying, "There were so many things that I wish I did differently. I'm sorry if I wasn't the mother you needed me to be." 

Years before she died I told my mother that my deceased father had appeared one day at our NYC apartment. Both my wife and I saw him sitting on the sofa. I thought that this bit of news would make her happy but it only scared her and left her anxious and in tears. "But you'll see him again," I promised. She responded, "Maybe but I'm not ready right now."

Newlyweds Leaving For Their Honeymoon - 1956
With all the hospitalizations, her alarms of suicide, and family arguments, she managed to travel, go to the theatre, laugh, play cards with friends and work until she was eighty. I do mourn her. It hurts. All of it. But it's all part of "it" and in some way my mother's life was a lesson in love, determination and understanding.

We were lucky in a way in that a month before she died my mother came to visit my wife and I in Chicago. It was a cold and moist weekend and she had a lot of trouble walking and breathing but she insisted that we go and see the city. It took us what seemed an eternity to walk one block and my wife and I tried to hide our impatience. Her frailty focused us once again on our own short fading lives and how we wanted to live it.