Step By Step

We were in Quebec and I ordered water in French. You should have seen the shock on my daughters’ faces! They had no idea their father spoke the language. I first learned French in grammar school and then again in high school. I retained enough basic vocabulary to get by in limited situations. But having a rough understanding of French has always gnawed at me because, while I could understand parts of conversations, it wasn’t enough to make me even close to fluent. I was stuck in a sort of “no man’s land” of comprehension. But with the advent of some great apps and programs I knew I could get over that hump.

A few years ago I decided to become a bit more serious about re-acquiring my skills in French. I began practicing five minutes a day on an app called Duolingo. Then, I added an app called  lingvist .  By doing both daily, I have became confident that I can and will master the language. I study 40 words a day and, slowly but surely, I have noticed that I am becoming much more adept at it.

 

Generally speaking, it takes about 500 hours to become fluent in a language.  Since I have a head start because I studied it earlier in life, I know I can cut down that time in order to master French.  Oddly enough, most people who take language in high school never become fluent. Most high schools treat it as a basic requirement but don’t really demand the students learn the language. I can  guarantee you that if high schools required that you had to actually learn a second language sufficient to speak and write it in order to graduate, it would be taken much more seriously.

The reality is that just knowing one other language in my life, Spanish, has helped me immensely. I can’t tell you how many times people have told me their stories of regret for not having learned another language when they hear me speaking Spanish, at which I am fluent. In fact, here in Texas, there are many second and third generation Mexicans who don’t speak Spanish because their parents never taught them! Many of them feel a sense of embarrassment for not having learned their native tongue…especially when it comes to the family gatherings.

What many of those more recent generations of Mexicans don’t realize is how much closer they are to learning the language compared to others. They have been around it for years. They have heard their parents and other family members speak it. Their ears, not to mention their brains, have been trained to what the language should sound like. All that is required now is a formal plan and the discipline to put in the study hours. Nothing more.

When I was in my twenties and hadn’t spoken Spanish in years, I bought some language CD’s and studied them for about a year. It was not a huge time commitment by any stretch; but, I faithfully studied the material for thirty minutes a day. At year’s end, I had become fluent once more! I was again confident in my ability to converse in the language. That skill was a major reason I was successful at being offered a very good job. All from daily practicing Spanish.

Once I saw my success at learning a language, I created daily rituals in other areas of my life for things I wanted to master. Today, I do these things every day without fail. Most of them only take a few minutes. What I love about them is that these daily disciplines tend to “compound” exponentially over time. For example, since I know Spanish, French is actually easier to learn. There are many words in the two languages that share commonality in origin; thus, it is easier to figure out certain words…one from the other.  Just by knowing Spanish, my learning curve for French is less.

Another one of my daily habits is reading. I have Kindle installed in my iPhone.  I literally have a book with me at all times. When waiting at the checkout counter or a Doctor’s office, I use those five or ten minutes (or longer!) to read.  As a result, I read much more quickly now and so acquire knowledge at an ever increasing rate. On average, I read about five books a month. There was no magic secret to my getting to this place…just establishing a daily ritual.  An added bonus: my ever-increasing and deepening  understanding has made me a better husband, father and businessman.

Perhaps you will let this post provide you with the bit of inspiration you need to accomplish some of the things in life you’d like to master.  In case you get hung up and start thinking any one of them is just too big to tackle remember the saying, ” How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”

Steve

sleeclark@gmail.com

 

One Simple Act of Love

Yesterday was a bad day. One of my worst.

I heard news that devastated me. It was, quite literally, as if I had been punched in the stomach and couldn’t recover. But, as a parent, I had to carry on. It was teacher conference day at the kid’s school.  As soon as I arrived I knew something was wrong. It turns out I was a day early.

Since I didn’t have my car, I had to wait for my wife to pick me up. I waited and waited but she didn’t come. My phone battery died so I couldn’t call Uber or a taxi.  After waiting as long as I could, I decided to walk home. What I didn’t know was that my younger children were at home and they were getting worried. I had been away for too long and they left their rooms to wait for me by the door.

When I finally arrived home some four hours later tired, depressed and frustrated, I walked in the house to see my four- year-old sound asleep on top of a chair with his head pressed against the window. He had been looking out and waiting for me when, exhausted, he just fell asleep.

That scene of him asleep on top of the chair broke my heart but in so doing it made it bigger.  I have a friend who likes to say “there’s more room in a broken heart” and now I know what she means.

All day I had been wallowing in my problems feeling super depressed about my current predicament and the bad news I had received. Then, I was confronted with that expression of my son’s love for me. My absence had troubled him so much that he feel asleep looking out a window.

When I asked my nine year old daughter why they were waiting downstairs for me she said, “We could tell you were really upset and were very worried about you.” I was blown away. I had tried to mask my situation from my kids but they had sensed something was wrong and showed their concern in the only way they could… by waiting at the front door for me. So with iPhones, iPads and computers at their disposal to pass the time or distract them from their anxiety, they had abandoned all of it to sit and wait for their Dad.

Children are amazing. I have been blessed with six. We even wanted more but my wife had a few miscarriages along the way.  So even though raising them is time consuming and makes no economic sense, I wanted more. Children have the ability to reach us and connect us in ways adults simply cannot. There is something magical about a child’s love and innocence. About their awe for things we adults tend to miss or dismiss. They have the ability to inspire.

So, even after a day when I felt like a total failure, my children reminded me of my value and importance. They let me know that no matter what, I am worthy of love and consideration and they showed it by waiting for me at the front door…and falling asleep with a head pressed up against a window.

Thank you, Lee and Amelia, for thinking of me. Right back at you.

Dad

sleeclark@gmail.com

The Power Of Change

David had blood on his hands and he knew it.

He had gotten his friend, Betty Van Patter, a job as a bookkeeper with the Black Panthers. Betty needed work. Although David had heard rumors that the Panthers were rough and violent, that did not dissuade him. He thought the rumors were just meant to discredit the organization; but he was wrong. The Black Panthers murdered Betty Van Patter over discoveries she made regarding the pilfering of funds by certain members of the Black Panther organization.

That murder took place in 1974. It turned David’s world upside down, causing him to rethink everything he had learned and in which he thought he believed. In the end, he discovered that had been driven by a flawed ideology and that ideology that got his friend killed. As a result, David went through a massive personal crisis and completely changed his life.

David Horowitz tells the complete story of his journey in the book “Radical Son.”

Horowitz re-examined all areas of his life. Raised and ideologically infused by his parents, two card carrying Communists, he had to undo his belief system and his sense of self that was tied to that ideology.  He forged a new identity in the Conservative Movement and became known as someone who had “been there” and truly saw the dark side of the Left’s ideology.  The changes he made cost him everything…his job, friends, reputation and all of his contacts. Even after he forged his new identity, his old enemies from the Conservative side looked at him with disdain. They did not believe that such a person could ever change their stripes.

Change is hard.

Not everyone goes through such cataclysmic change in their lives as did David Horowitz. However, each of us in our lives is confronted by change and, if up to the task, embraces it. In my own life, I have had to reinvent myself time and time again. When I was in college I ran a t-shirt company and produced a calendar for my university to help finance my studies.  After college, I spent  four years on active duty as a Marine Officer. I changed tracks again leaving the service and started trading commodities. That led me to brokering bonds followed by trading bonds. Now, full circle, I am again an entrepreneur

Each change required massive effort to learn new skills. Many times I was on my own in a new city or country with no contacts or resources. I had to figure it out all on my own.  In each of those endeavors I was, at first, a failure.

Along the way I learned Aikdio. It taught me the most valuable lesson of all. To get good at anything you first have to be really bad at it.  The only way to get good at Aikido, or anything new for that matter,  is to be able to endure how bad you are going to be in the beginning. I take that lesson everywhere in my life because I know it is part of a process. Most people are not open to being so vulnerable because there is no denying it can be embarrassing.

Even with my children, I notice at an early age that they are scared to try new things because they don’t want to be embarrassed. My youngest daughter plays on a club team and is considered to be quite talented for her age. The coach always likes to play her in only one position as it gives the team the best chance to win. I always battle with him and ask him to play her in a variety of positions because she still needs to learn much more about the game. The coach is always reluctant to play her in other spots because as he puts it “She just is not as good in other positions.” I agree with him. She isn’t as good in other positions. There’s the conundrum: in order to be good at another position you have to first let her be bad for a while. Many coaches nowadays specialize too much and focus too much on winning such that they lose sight of the bigger picture that all things in life take time to flourish.

If we only gravitate to what we are good at then we will never really know what we are capable of. In my own life, in my own small way, I challenge myself with the material I read. I usually have one book that I am reading that is easy and one that is hard so that the material requires real effort on my part. One of the books I finished in the last few years was called The Prize, which is a masterpiece that chronicles the history of oil. It was grueling to read! I was lucky to read ten pages a day. Yet, the book left me with a much deeper appreciation for the history of economics that I never would have had if I had not challenged myself. The result was that this incremental improvement in my understanding of the oil markets has opened up a new business opportunity for me.

So even within the confines of what we do know, there are deeper levels of understanding that one gets only by change and challenge. Frank Shamrock, the legendary fighter, say that his recipe for success is to train with someone better than you so that they can teach you, someone who is at your same skill level so that they can challenge you, and someone beneath you so that you can teach them. This recipe will always be challenging your abilities and changing the way that you fight.

William Pollard, Quaker writer and minister, said “Without change there is no innovation, creativity, or incentive for improvement. Those who initiate change will have a better opportunity to manage the change that is inevitable.” Most of the change that I’ve encountered in my life was thrust upon me. However, as I get older, I actively seek out and explore new experiences that will challenge and cause me to grow.  The only real certainty in life is change so its best to embrace it rather than resist it.

Steve

sleeclark@gmail.com

 

Houston: Tragedy and Opportunity

I believe in God. If that offends you, or makes you question my sanity, read no further. But if you’re open to the possibility, or you already get it, then it’s worth hearing me out.

People who know me will tell you that for at least six months I have been saying “We are about to experience a natural disaster.” Why? Because I find the Bible instructive, if not literally then figuratively, as a means for understanding how the world works. This includes people as well as nature.  So, as I observed the disintegration of our values and confusion amid our priorities it seemed to me that God, in the form of nature, was about to intervene.

When we humans so lose our way that a return to our highest selves appears to be almost an impossibility, nature has a way of grabbing us by the throat and screaming, “Yo!”

Enter Hurricane Harvey.

Believe me, this is not to make light of the tragedy that continues to occur in Houston. I live in Austin, just outside the range of devastation and havoc wreaked by this storm. My heart is pained by the suffering and loss of both human and animal life. I cannot imagine the horror of trying to, literally, stay afloat as water rises waist high and beyond or the terror felt by those who are incapacitated or elderly and reliant upon rescue.

Now think about Confederate flags and statues.

How much time, energy and resources have been spent on issues that divide us? How long have the Democrats and Republicans been battling it out? How long has the news media been manipulating you and reporting lies as truth? How angry and violent have a sufficient amount of extremists become, on both ends of the spectrum, to have actually engendered talk of a civil war? How many hours do you spend on your iPhone, iPad or computer? How much of your life is lived on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram? How hard are you working to make ends meet at the expense of time spent with your family or cultivating human relationships?

Disintegrating values and confused priorities.

Pharaoh had a similar problem as did the Israelites. So did Noah’s neighbors, residents of Lot and the builders of Babel. The lesson we are to learn from those “stories” is that when we humans get so far off track that we are no longer willing to find our way home, God steps in and uses one of the many tools at His disposal. Plagues, locusts, darkness, pestilence, blood, hail, fire. These and others are the means by which we become focused and redirected back to the path we are intended to travel. It’s the path of compassion, sacrifice, service, and love.

Such is the opportunity presented us in Houston. It is the moment when we are turned back to our highest selves. It isn’t pretty. It isn’t painless. It’s just necessary.

Look at and read about the individual acts of heroism. The selfless acts of giving. The outpouring of love and compassion that we are hardwired to perform. They all reminds us, albeit by way of suffering, that we are in this together and without one another we do not survive.

This week, the petty political agendas and false idols (media) have been exposed to reveal themselves for their malice and the divisions that they foster. Houston can and may be a turning point if, and only if, we realize that hurricanes are but one example of what God is capable of when we devolve into our lower selves and abdicate living lives that exemplify our oneness.

God began with turning the Nile into blood but it was only the beginning. It took nine more acts of nature to get everyone’s focused attention. Let’s not go there.

Less Is More

The place has not changed since 1950. It was clean and had a spartan feel to it. It was old and dated and yet we were proud of it.  It was to be home for the next six months. It was the training  dorm of The Basic School, the Marine Corps campus for training officers.

We learned quickly that every service of the military had nice facilities. Except the Marine Corps. Money that is allocated in the Marines is meant to supply fighting Marines; everything else is secondary. The Marine Corps is the only government department that returns money every year to the U.S. Treasury and tries to make due with 90% of its allocated budget. The main reason for this approach is to instill the ethos that “less is more.”

From the very moment you become a Marine the attitude is always to look for ways to make due with less. For example, even as a second Lieutenant making less than $20k a year, I had to buy my own uniforms. This cost me close to three thousand dollars. The Marine Corps did not care about the uniforms. It cared about the point: make due with less.

This philosophy has served me well throughout my career. When I worked in sales for a bank I was given a territory that had been abandoned by everyone who worked it before me. The consensus feeling was there was no money to be made with that particular region. As salesman retired, my peers inherited the best accounts while I was given the dregs. So, every two weeks I traveled to far out places all over the world  in search of bank deals. On one particular flight I was stopped by the flight attendant and warned about flying into  my destination city given the dangers. But, as I traveled I made good connections and, within a few short years, I was one of the top performing sales people on the desk. I had succeeded from  an area that “had no money.”

The “less is more” philosophy has also been the creative spark for some of the best businesses in the world.

In the book Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, the author goes to great lengths to explain how Jobs first started building Apple computers. Jobs had no money to pay anyone. So, he would enlist family and friends to help build the computers by hand.  It wasn’t just the assembling of computers. This philosophy of less pervaded everything Jobs and Apple did. One of the reasons Apple computers have no fans is because there was no place into which to put them. Jobs also hated the noise fans made so he contacted an engineer who figured out a way to keep the circuit boards cooler. They discovered that by having the circuits work quicker they could could shut down quicker, thus reducing heat buildup. This philosophy of less enabled Apple to become one of the leading computer companies of all time.

But the “less is more” philosophy is also prevalent in the arts.

The acclaimed film director Robert Rodriguez made his directorial debut with the movie El Mariachi. He filmed it with family and friends on a shoestring budget. Upon completion, Rodriguez made a trailer and pitched it himself to movie studios. The executives were impressed that he was able to make such a good trailer with only $7,000 dollars! Since he was so new to the business, he was afraid to tell them that the whole movie had cost him that amount. Because he had made such a good movie for so little, offers poured in to make more movies and his career was launched.

Marie Kondo, author of The Japanese Art of Decluttering, writes of the benefits of having less. She is paid to go into houses and, literally, throw way stuff.  As she states, “People accumulate so much stuff during their lives that they have little time for anything else.” Her clients are not hoarders but rather have become dysfunctional in their lives due to clutter.

There is an old saying, “Be careful of what you own because in the end it might own you.” I witnessed this first hand when my parents got older and owned a large house in the country. They became like slaves to the place. They had to constantly work to maintain it leaving little time for anything else. Similarly, when I traveled to Europe, I witnessed the same thing. It is not at all uncommon to travel throughout European countries and see large castles and chateaus in states of ruin, all because they were too big. Too big to own and too big to maintain.

Yes, one of life’s paradoxes is that having less can lead to a richer life.

Although millennials have gotten a bad reputation, they appear to have forgone the “bigger is better mantra” preferring rather renting smaller homes as opposed to owning larger ones. In addition, the tiny house movement can also be traced to their wishes to own more affordable and potentially mobile housing. The millennials seems to understand that experiences, friendships, and memories are the basis for a truly blessed life…things our ancestors knew but we have forgotten.

Religions teach the same message. The New Testament warns, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”  Why? Because the material world is very seductive and the more you possess the more you are enslaved to your possessions.  Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism teaches that when you see something you want to purchase, never do it until you have walked away, thought about it, and returned later to make the purchase…if you still feel you need or want it. Otherwise it owns you.

True wealth, and success that matters, can’t be purchased. The Marine Corps has it down. The best of religion has it down, too. Try and take an honest look at your life and its “things” in order to reevaluate whether you are free or enslaved. It the latter, all you have to do is let them go. Now that’s freedom.

Steve

sleeclark@gmail.com

 

 

Trump Isn’t The Problem He’s The Excuse

There is a lot of noise drowning out the truth about the protests that turned tragic in Charlottesville. The truth is that there was hate in Charlottesville from both the Right and the Left. Neo-Nazis and White Supremacists are the equal but opposite side of the spectrum from Antifa. The former are Fascists. The latter are Communists.

While so many are voicing condemnation of the President for not immediately condemning one set of protestors…they are willfully or negligently ignoring the other set.  In fact  Antifa and other Left protestors were, in many instances, hired help (oops..is that not PC?).  Yes, an LA based company called “Crowds on Demand” placed a Craig’s List ad seeking “actors and photographers” who would be paid $25 an hour for showing up to protest in Charlottesville.

I think we are going insane but its voluntary insanity born of the lack of critical thinking.

You know who Donald Trump is and why so many seem to be jumping on the collective bandwagon to hate him.  But do you know who Richard Spencer and Alexander Dugin are? Probably not.

So let’s take a moment.

Richard Spencer is a White Supremacist and president of the National Policy Institute, a white nationalist think tank. He was kicked out of the Republican CPAC annual convention. His wife, Nina Kouprianova, is Alexander Dugin’s official translator. Alexander Dugin is Vladimir Putin’s political advisor and known Fascist.

Paying attention yet?

Spencer has been skyping Dugin into U.S. universities to speak and further brainwash already co-opted U.S. college students who think that there is a something wonderful and nirvana-esque about the Bernie Sanders/ Hilary Clinton Left. You know Socialism… aptly described as “10 minutes ahead of Communism.”

If you think that the Neo-Nazis, White Supremacists and KKK elected Donald Trump, do the math. There are 200,000 registered KKK members in the U.S.  There is actually no way to know how many Nazis or White Supremacists there are because…well…they don’t register.  But let’s give them a huge benefit of the doubt and say that there are as many of them as KKK members. That makes all three groups combined total 600,000. That’s isn’t enough votes to elect anyone President.

No. Donald Trump’s “base” was and is millions of fed up, middle and lower class Americans who had tired of the lies and manipulation by both parties. Now, those who cannot control him have combined with those who opposed him and they are hell bent on removing him from office.

The Republican hierarchy, the Democrat Party, Neo-Nazis, White Supremacists; the KKK, Antifa, Putin…a group of really strange bedfellows…but with a common goal: destroy the United States and eradicate the U.S. Constitution. The Left thinks it will prevail and impose Communism. The Right thinks it will prevail and impose Facsism. Until then, they are happy to band together in organized chaos and perpetrate fear through violence.

I received an email hours ago from Hadassah, the Womens Zionist Organization of America. It was a call to action to stand against the Neo-Nazis and White Supremacists of Charlottesville. I replied to them as follows:

Hadassah,

I suggest you take a long, hard look at Antifa…they are the Communist Left which is the equivalent of the Nazi Right and they were in Charlottesville too… armed with bats and other weapons.

By the way, many of them were actually recruited and paid an hourly rate by an LA firm that HIRES PROTESTORS for events.  

Here is the proof http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2017-08-16/why-was-crowd-hire-company-recruiting-25-hour-political-activists-charlotte-last-wee

Let we Jews not be played by either side. Any extremism is deadly and there is plenty to go around among both the Right and the Left.

Yes, America, we are being played. But it’s hardly a game and the outcome isn’t measured in tokens or chips. It ends with concentration camps or gulags…bedfellows today, tyrants and mass murderers alike tomorrow.

So let’s not allow the continued and deliberate manipulation of our psyches by a few…even arguably 600,000…when we are a nation of 325,000,000 free willed individuals who have fallen asleep at the wheel.

Can you hear the thump, thump, thump of the tires? You’re headed off the road and straight into a wall. I got out of the car a ways back. You’re out of time. Wake up! …thump…thump…thump…

A Fidget Spinner Without a Plan

If you are a parent you certainly know what a fidget spinner is. They are everywhere. A year ago no one had even heard of them. Yet, walk into any gas station and you’ll find them displayed right out in front. What happened? People started buying and companies started supplying without any guidance or plan. Money was to be made! This is the beauty of the free market. It perceives what people want and then others move in to supply that demand.

So why, in any problem related to the public good, do politicians and the media clamor for “a plan?”  Why do they go endlessly in search of a plan that will fix infrastructure, public education, healthcare or whatever needs correction? Why does there always have to be a plan? Why don’t we deal with issues the same way the market dealt with fidget spinners?

Healthcare has been contentious for years. Admittedly, a certain segment of the population was uninsured or un-insurable (albeit it a small one proportionally speaking ). So, the politicians decided to come out with a plan to fix it. The Affordable Care Act (so misnamed!!!…also dubbed “Obamacare”) was forced upon us all so that every person in the U.S. could get insurance. So how come even with a law and a plan, there are still millions without insurance?

One of the key parts of the Obamacare plan was to insure people who had pre-existing conditions. Previously, one of the biggest criticisms about insurance is that if you had cancer no insurance company would cover you. The often unpalatable reality is that this is exactly how insurance works. Insurance is defined as “A practice or arrangement by which a company or government agency provides a guarantee of compensation for specified loss, damage, illness, or death in return for payment of a premium.” If you already have the loss (i.e. cancer) it is not an insurable item. This is no different than someone getting into a car accident then attempting to buy auto collision insurance after the fact then demanding damages and/or loss payment from the insurer!

The sales pitch was that with the Obamacare plan, even those with a pre-existing conditions would be covered. However, this is not insurance. Its a subsidy. Someone else must provide the funds to pay for a subsidy which is, essentially, a give-away. Those burdened with that obligation, it turns out, are people who get sick the least and have the least amount of money…the young.

(Lest anyone think I am hard-hearted, such an approach can include provisions for that relatively small number of persons truly destitute or who have pre-existing conditions.  Its simply a scare tactic and red herring to say that if you are opposed to government run healthcare you want to see the poor, sick and elderly die. In fact, if you’re opposed to greedy, lying politicians making personal life decisions for you and others, you’re probably more rational, informed and compassionate than not).

The young, to whom I refer,  are finally beginning to understand their economic predicament as it relates to Obamacare. The  have begun to revolt. Yet, last week,  Congress n its infinite wisdom, refused to repeal Obamacare. Naturally, Obama along with many other Democrats, was elated. Most of the media critiques went like this: “The Republicans hate Obamacare but they have no plan of their own.”

The success of Obamacare rests on the young but they don’t like paying for things they don’t use. Look at the cable business which relies on bundled services. Cable subscriptions are in serious decline because the younger generation hates paying for one hundred channels when they only watch six. They don’t understand why they are paying to watch M.T.V and the History Channel, for example, when they only watch H.B.O. They get it. They only wanto pay for things they use. Well,  Obamacare, like cable TV,  is premised on the notion of bundled services. If they are already unwilling to pay $30.00 a month for HGTV, what makes the proponents of Obamacare think they will pay for healthcare services for people they do not know and services from which they receive no benefit?

The members of the mainstream media are also big proponents of getting the government involved to fix the issue and selling the plan to the public.

Sixty Minutes entire show format revolves around investigating  problems that society can’t solve and then asking why nothing has been done to fix them.  John Stossel, the libertarian pundit on Fox started off as a Left-leaning journalist reporting on the evils of big business just as Sixty Minutes still does. He would do reports on how these entities had failed the public at large and needed to be reined in. Plans and government regulations needed to be expanded to fix whatever the issue was. But as time went on, Stossel realized that he was the one causing the most damage. He came to the conclusion that over time free markets correct and provide the needed product or service at the best price. No amount of reporting he did ever solved the problem.

Perhaps the real fault in government plans is that those elected to Congress who devise them have rarely ever run a business or successfully worked in the private sector. They are novices, at best, and ill-equipped to deal with the realities and practicalities of what it takes to supply goods and services.  The premise that government needs to supply “plans” to fix the problem is a false premise that always results in loss of individual rights and freedoms.

In the real world, individuals faced with a problem in their lives needing a solution tends to figure it out for themselves. No group meetings, no theory, no pilfering of someone else’s financial resources to solve their problem.

Markets aren’t perfect. But history verifies that nothing distributes scarce resources more fairly and efficiently than free markets. We already have government run healthcare at the Department of Veterans Affairs Hospitals and it has failed miserably. Let’s put patients in tandem with their treating physicians in control of healthcare and let freedom work.

 

Steve

sleeclark@gmail.com

 

Tapping The Source

I have read the novel “Tapping the Source” numerous times. The novel is a fascinating read into the dark side of man’s misuse of Free Will. Its never received the acclaim it deserves. Perhaps it strikes too close to home for comfort.

The setting is Southern California in the 1980’s and revolves around the youths living within a certain beach community.  The place is beautiful with warm weather, sandy beaches and some of the best surfing in the world. Tucker , a young teen has come there to find his sister who has disappeared.

At the outset,  Tucker falls in love with the beaches, the women and the parties; but, after a few months, he becomes disillusioned with the whole scene.  This seems odd to him because he cannot seem to understand how someone could tire of such a place. Yet he does.  As he begins to peel off the veneer of the whole scene, he notices that the overall environment is run by a group of men who are living exactly as he has been living:  working menial jobs, getting drunk, chasing girls and spending the rest of the time surfing.

These men prey on youngsters who are new to the scene. They bully the young boys, seduce the young women and control the activities of the community. He observes that,  like him, they are disillusioned by it all yet cannot seem to leave.  They are, quite literally, forever stuck here, ensnared by its seductive beauty yet unable able to get the original “high” they once had from the place and the lifestyle.

Life moves on while they remain trying to “Tap The Source” of the pure pleasure the place once gave them. As the book unfolds, Tucker begins to notice the darkness that engulfs everyone and everything. In trying to tap this vein of pleasure, the older surfers have become corrupted, twisted and evil.

The notion of capturing beauty, forever locking it in place, has always fascinated me. Perhaps because it is impossible to do. Life always moves and changes. Nothing stays the same. Its akin to the drug addict who chases one more hit to recapture the high that never comes.

In economics there is a term for this. Its “The Marginal Declining Utility” which states that there is a decline in the marginal utility that a person derives from consuming each additional unit of that product. Think of it this way: for coffee drinkers, there is nothing like that first cup of coffee. Yet, each additional cup lacks a little more and tastes a little worse to the point you can’t drink it any more.

Personally, I have experienced this idea of trying to capture or recreate the past. When I first finished my training as an Infantry Officer, the Major who commanded the unit suggested that none of us go back home or see our old friends. He cautioned that what we had become was no longer compatible with our former settings. Only years later did I fully understand what he had meant, Today, the friendships from my youth are no longer the same. Most of them stayed where they were, figuratively and/or literally. They never assumed a new identity. In fact, the city I grew up in and loved now feels strangely foreign to me…just as he said it would.

But “Tapping the Source” takes this element of recapturing beauty and pleasure into a new realm.  Pleasure, in and of itself, is not a drug. However, the author proposes the notion that when pleasure is experienced exces­sively, for its own sake, it takes on some of the characteris­tics of an addictive drug. The characters in the story are pleasure-seekers and, as they sacrifice more and more for the sake of pleasure, they find themselves completely spent. In the end, they are drained of both health and happiness while left morally corrupted. The only thing that sustains them now is a weird, evil perversion of pleasure that has, quite literally, destroyed them.

As the story goes on, the older surfers delve into darker and darker material…pornography, sex trafficking and, finally, snuff films. Once Tucker realizes what happened to his sister, he exacts his revenge then leaves the beach community before it  happens to him.

I lived in a beach community for years. It seems that there is always a seedy underbelly that infests these towns. As in the novel, that infestation is populated by its older members who have stayed in the community too long. The contribute nothing but remain in search of the promise of the pleasures that beach life can offer.

Perhaps its human nature to seek pleasure and, as with everything else, it can do no harm in moderation. But when we forego the responsibilities of adulthood, resisting change in order to be no more than partakers in self-gratifying behavior, then we sow the seeds of our own destruction. As it was in art…so it is in life.

Steve

sleeclark@gmail.com

 

What is Friendship?

I have a friend who lost everything. I mean everything. His business, marriage and his apartment. I believe he lives out of his car now and he has been living this way for years.

Most of his wounds were self-inflected. He spent too much, was too arrogant and lost a lot of people’s money in a business deal that went south.  Now as a result, he is totally alone and on his own. His father passed away and the rest of his family lives overseas, so he no longer has a support system he can count on. He still lives in the N.Y.C. area, which is one of the most expensive places in the world to live, because he wants to stay close to his daughter.

He and I grew up together in N.Y.C.  Most of his closest friends still live there and most of them are financially well off.  Some even have multiple homes. Yet, nobody offers him a place to stay. Most of them know his situation, and from what I can gather, not one of them has offered to take him in.

His predicament got me thinking long and hard about what it means to be a friend. Is a friend just someone who we have a lot in common with and talk to frequently, or does it mean something more?

The city we grew up in is very liberal. There are numerous charities and programs to help the less fortunate. In fact, most of the people in our social circles give lots of money to charity and think of themselves as good people. And yet, when faced with actually doing something personal, like allowing him to stay in their homes, they all have punted. I think their actions say a lot about who they are.

Yet, I don’t believe their actions are any different than what most people’s would be under similar circumstances.

I believe that a true friend is someone that borders close to what we call family. Someone who would give the short off their back for you. The Japanese definition of friendship is likely the appropriate one. They have a term, kenzoku, which translated literally means “family.” The connotation suggests a bond between people who’ve made a similar commitment and who therefore share a similar destiny. It implies the presence of the deepest connection of friendship, of lives lived as comrades from the distant past. 

There is an interesting video in France wherein a reporter asks people on the street about the immigration crisis, the lack of housing and the effect it is having on the nation. Most of the citizens are quite welcoming of the immigrants. When asked if they would be willing to open their homes to them they all responded positively; yet, when presented with an actual immigrant who needs their help, they all decline. Check out the video to see what I mean.

The video is great at pointing out the fallacies and foibles of we humans. You see, we all tend to think of ourselves as humane, noble and kind; but, when truly given the opportunity to act in such a manner we decline. It is easier to give lip service than to actually be noble.

I know I’m no different and this pains me. Their are, however, exceptions. My wife used to pick up kids from the street in Ecuador and have them eat in her house. She has changed diapers and bed pans for the old and infirm.  I also have witnessed a friend of mine who, after divorce, took in her ex-spouses elderly relative to live with her. I am not sure I would have the spirit of heart to do something like that but she did. When measured against these people, I truly fall short.

This leads me back to my original question of what does it mean to be a friend? If we are only going to be there for the good times…the laughs… and only for the occasional inconvenience what is the point? Why have friends at all?

The fear of abandonment and failure scares us all. The Huffington Post ran an article that 70% of all Americans fear being homeless. The fear is real and felt by many. Yet, within my close circle of friends, we know someone who is homeless and nothing is being done. This is a tragedy. Its what’s underlying the despair and fear so many feel because we know if we ended up in his same predicament there would be no help. My friend now knows that he is on his own and must fend for himself. The tragedy is that all his friends know it too.

Steve

sleeclark@gmail.com