Category Archives: Commentary

Political Vandalism At The Bookstore

Since visiting used bookstores is part of one of my job, I don’t like to be bothered, interrupted or detained when I’m at a bookstore. And I certainly don’t like a middle-aged woman stopping me from entering a store so she can gleefully confessing a crime to me.

This is the story of an ordinary-looking woman who is either so politically motivated that she has lost her common sense or more likely so generally lacking in sense that she didn’t know that committing a crime is usually something people don’t admit.

On Monday, March 26, 2012 — a day perfect for walking in a park with someone you love — a frizzy-haired woman who looked like she could have been an elementary school teacher vandalized a car in the parking lot of a Half Price Books store and then confessed to me.

It’s a shame for her that I was the one person there who was least interested in what she had to say.

The Story

“You wanna know something mean I just did,” the woman said.

I didn’t answer.

“One of the people from the store,” she started, gesturing to the far part of the parking lot where the employees park. Then she paused.

She was holding the door into the bookstore open for me, but she was blocking the entry with her body.

“One of the people from the store,” she continued very slowly, “has a Barack Obama sticker on their car.”

She paused again, still blocking the door. I still didn’t say anything.

“I covered it over with a ‘Vote Republican’ sticker.”

That’s vandalism, I thought, but she moved inside the store and I continued inside too. I didn’t say a word, and she didn’t approach me again.

Why would someone admit to committing an act of vandalism to a person who might not approve of vandalism and might not even approve of her political statement?

The Silliness Of It

I’m completely apolitical. I don’t care about politics in the least.

I have identified as a Democrat at some times in the past, but I don’t participate in the political process at all anymore. My turn away from anything related to politics is part of my effort to simplify my life and make it more intelligent. Politics are just silliness, so I don’t participate.

If I had to form an opinion about President Obama, I suppose I think that he doesn’t live up to anyone’s expectations. But I don’t think I could bring myself to vote for a Republican. I don’t think I could bring myself to vote at all.

And I certainly couldn’t bring myself to vandalize someone else’s property to make a statement of any kind.

But why did the woman think I would approve of her act of vandalism against a store employee? She must have thought I was either a criminal or a Republican. Which was it? Is there a difference?

I didn’t report her to the police or to the store employees. I didn’t see which car she meant, and the incident may have happened only in her mind.

In my mind, I wonder why she was out alone. I know that Republicans are allowed to travel unescorted and vandals often work alone, but the woman who blocked the door to admit a crime to me seemed to have other issues as well.

Still Here: One Key To Online Success Is Realizing Potential

When Ari Herzog mentioned on his blog that he was accepting guest posts, I typed this up right away. It was the first thing that came to mind. Ari’s commenters seem to like it, and I hope you do too. I intended it to promote my simple living blog So Much More Life.

I don’t know Ari very well, but I know we have something in common: We’re still here.

No matter whether your reason for participating online is to make money from website ads, promote your products and services, satisfy your own need for expression or simply keep your name in front of people who could be useful one day, one of the keys to success online is establishing a presence and nurturing it.

That means staying with the blog you start, showing up on social media when you have something to say and taking steps every day to expand the size, reach and value of your message and online properties.

A Few Steps From Massive Success

For most of my life, I’ve been only a few steps removed from massive success. My first true love was freelance journalism, and I quickly reached the top of my niche, but I didn’t really capitalize on what I achieved.

Then, I tried working in an office for a couple of years, and I was able to jump from a dead-end department to a position working with a well-respected departmental director. But I quit because I didn’t think office work was for me.

I first placed websites online to promote myself and my services

so many years ago that they were designed in Microsoft FrontPage. WordPress didn’t exist then, and neither did blogging. Those sites had Google Adsense ads on them, and the ads made a little money. Why didn’t I see then that by expanding my online presence and the reach of my message, I could increase my income too? I was only a few steps from realizing some potential then.

Are you only a few steps from realizing your built-in potential for massive success?

Taking A Few Steps

I’ve been blogging seriously at So Much More Life since December 2009, and people come there every day to read about simple, deliberate living. I’m not exactly a minimalist, but I explore the minimalist lifestyle from both an outsider and an insider point of view. People seem to like what I write.

What’s even better, people click on the ads there, and I make a little money. A couple of people have even been impressed enough with my writing at So Much More Life that they now pay me to write their blog posts for them.

Even better than that, my modest success with my blog has encouraged me to place other websites online aimed specifically at making money, and they’re starting to bring in a little cash too.

To put things more simply, I’m starting to realize some of my potential rather than letting it build up and then escape as I have all my life. Still better than all of that, I like the way my life is going now. I’m not a massive success, but I’m not turning my back on good opportunities anymore either.

But This Is Really About You

This post tells a little about my story. It says something about how I’m not missing as many opportunities as I once did, and it tells how I’m benefiting from staying put, showing up and taking the next step.

You might benefit more from a post about you, however. What should you do? What steps should you take?

I think the answer is simple: Do the work that’s in front of you today, and take every opportunity to take steps that move you toward your goals. Soon, you’ll be making more money, increasing your presence and expanding your reach.

You may soon find that you’re a massive success.

Of course, all of this talk about massive success is a bit grandiose considering I’m nowhere near where I’d like to be regarding income or personal potential.

Still, I’m closer than I was yesterday. Are you?

Gip Plaster blogs at So Much More Life about simple, minimalist living. More importantly, he’s taking steps every day to realize his potential — something he hasn’t always done. Visit his blog to see what he’s talking about this week, then consider hiring him for your next writing project. If you reach out to him, he’ll take the next step.

Clenched Teeth Cause Problems, So Live With Your Jaws Dropped

At times, I have a problem with clenching my teeth when I sleep, causing sore gums, grinding away of the tooth surface, pain in my jaws, pain in my face and even a stiff neck.

It’s a bit unpleasant.

My bad pillow could be to blame — or it could just be an inherited condition. It might be something else entirely.

A doctor or dentist might not agree with me, but I believe my tight jaws are at least partially a symptom of spiritual rather than physical problems. Clenched teeth perhaps signify an unsettled life.

Here are a few things I’ve found that helps me live a life that doesn’t need to be chewed over during the night. Would they help you with whatever symptoms complicate your life?

1. Breathing more than I have to. Breathing is necessary for life, but deep breathing is a rarely practiced exercise that releases tensions of all sorts.

2. Going outside more than I have to. I don’t do it enough, but there’s always something amazing outside that takes my mind away from my problems.

3. Working less than I have to. I’m often motivated to keep moving, but in most cases, stopping early, quitting sooner and working better is the best course of action.

4. Walking whether I’m going somewhere or not. It’s the best exercise for body and mind, I think, and I’m not interested in being convinced otherwise.

5. Living better than I should be. I never seem to have enough money despite being abundant and resourceful, but many of life’s fine

r things — like parks, the best museums and downtown sidewalks — are available free for public use.

Maybe my list is a bit too complicated, however.

So let me say this another way: I try to live my life with my jaw dropped in awe rather than clinched in despair.

When I remember to do that, I don’t have a care in the world.

Reflections On Life From A Walmart Parking Lot

As I sat in a Walmart parking lot waiting for someone several months ago — perhaps even a year or more ago — I scribbled on the back of a window envelope in which some kind of bill had been delivered some notes on what I saw.

If I had gone completely paperless at the point, I might have had nothing on which to write these observations. Then again, they might not be very important anyway.

I’ve finally gotten around to typing up these comments as a part of my project in December 2011 to clear the little pieces of paper off my desk. Of course, the observations here are skewed because they only represent what I could see in my rearview mirror.

Here they are:

  • We’re always on the phone. And it seems from what I can see that walking while celling is a dangerous thing to do in a Walmart parking lot.
  • We’re disconnected from the present moment and situation. People who were almost walking beside each other or who passed within inches never acknowledged the other person as fellow participants in life. I wouldn’t have either.
  • We’re sometimes mindless automatons. Since buying from Walmart doesn’t require all of our minds’ skills, we turn off most of them.
  • We’re consumers even when we can’t afford to be. People who can’t afford to wash themselves or their cars or repair the things that have gone wrong with their current possessions would perhaps do best not to buy more.
  • We’re fat.
  • We don’t like our jobs, and we’re still stewing about them when we get to Walmart after work. If we work at Walmart retrieving carts, we stew while we’re outside.
  • We’re segregated when we want to be. I didn’t see anyone who was black and very few of the shoppers at this location were Hispanic. At other Walmarts, few of the shoppers are white, I suspect.
  • We think bigger is better and we express that through our cars. If we’re tiny men, we are especially likely to drive big cars. An SUV with a single occupant doesn’t make sense in any way, but I saw lots of them.
  • We’re all going to be just fine. It’s all just silliness that I see in the Walmart parking lot. My life is still hopeful, and I hope others have hope too.

In fact, I wrote on the back of that envelope that my life and the world in general is getting better in many ways despite what I saw.

My life is better today than it was then, and it’s still getting better.

Being Gay Is Not A Moral Issue, The Baptist Pastor Told Me

According to one of the pastors at a huge Baptist church on a hill above Austin, being gay is not a moral issue.

The pastor is right, of course, but I like the statement and the way I received it for several important reasons.

First, the backstory.

More than a decade ago, David and I were both enamored with the message and the style of a Baptist preacher we heard about who was different from the rest. He talked about second chances and compassion. He seemed to take a simple, no-nonsense approach to his faith. His age and the ups and downs of his life had taught him that thinking you have all the answers is a sure sign that you have none of them.

There was a problem, though. Since I’m gay, I’ve always had an understandably negative impression of Southern Baptist churches and their condemnation of the things they don’t understand. I couldn’t continue to listen to his messages if he and his church were anti-gay.

Not especially caring if I reached him directly, I sent an email to the church. The pastor who answered did a very good job. Here’s why:

1. I got an answer to my question.

Most people who deal with the public are trained to avoid answering questions directly. That lessens the chance that the organization they represent can be held liable for their mistakes.

This attitude was best represented by an old man who worked in the RadioShack store in Fort Worth Outlet Square when I worked in the advertising department upstairs. I noticed he answered every customer’s question the same way: “We’ve found that in some cases it works and in some cases it doesn’t, but you’re welcome to bring it back if it doesn’t.”

The pastor at the big Austin church answered my question though: What is the church’s position on homosexuality?

“We don’t have a position on homosexuality because it isn’t a moral issue.”

There was no hedging or hiding. There was just an answer.

2. It was a good answer.

It was a simple, well-stated answer that the pastor offered to me. It didn’t need explanation or expansion.

Rape, murder, incest and sexual abuse are moral issues about which the big church had a position, but being gay just is. It just happens. It’s a neutral state of being.

Being left-handed was once chastised and rebuked, but it’s really just a quirk. It’s less common than being right-handed, but it isn’t a moral issue. It isn’t an issue at all.

Hazel-colored eyes are more common than blue ones, and brown hair is more common than ginger. But the less common situation isn’t inferior to the more common one.

3. It was a consistent answer.

I already knew what the church’s position on being gay should be since I’d heard a number of the pastor’s sermons.

I knew that he believed God was accessible to everyone, so I knew he couldn’t disapprove of gay and lesbian people if he was really a person of integrity. It’s nice when someone turns out to be true to his or her own convictions on every topic.

It was also nice to see that someone else on his staff was willing to speak as truthfully as he always seemed to speak.

A Few More Thoughts

We visited that church a couple of times. We didn’t see many gay people, but we saw lots of young families and lots of singles — many of whom where probably damaged by divorce and family strife since the pastor had a particular affinity for people who had been deserted by the people they cared about.

Our interest in the church on the hill in Austin was only a passing fancy. If you want to know more of my always-developing thoughts on religion and spirituality, please visit So Much More Life and read Atheism And Spirituality Are The Same Thing and Religion Is Like The Letter People.

I’ve moved past the point of caring about any particular church’s position on any particular state of affairs, but I haven’t forgotten how the pastor answered my question.

I didn’t want the church’s approval; I wanted to know if I could approve of them. I did.

The senior pastor there was long ago silenced by illness and a lot has happened to the big church over Austin, I’ve heard. Still, there was a time more than a decade ago when someone there did something right by answering directly, truthfully and in a way that was consistent with their overall message.

I won’t soon forget that.

Curbside Recycling Programs And Unintended Consequences: Be Careful What You Work For

Actions can have unintended consequences, and thinking through your actions before you take them is always a good idea.

This is the story of an old woman, a small town near me and the unintended consequences of her efforts to get curbside recycling at her home. I’ll avoid mentioning any names to keep from embarrassing the woman and her town, but this is a true story.

Lobbying to get curbside recycling in your town might at first seem like a good idea, but in her case, she may have unintentionally reduced the amount of recycling countywide because of her actions.

Because statistics have not been released, there’s no way to know for sure what negative consequences her actions have had, but she can’t be pleased with what’s happened.

Before she took action, the city had large recycling containers at several locations in town, including at the library and at a community center. While these were intended for and labeled for use by citizens of the town only, people from all over the county used them to reduce their environmental impact.

Since recycling elsewhere in the county was limited to precinct barns that were open very short hours, recycling was inaccessible for many county residents.

Because of her well-meaning actions, the town implemented a curbside recycling program, but there were two catches: The publicly located containers would be removed, and the optional curbside recycling program would cost citizens extra if they wanted to participate.

The woman’s lobbying unintentionally eliminated the city’s free recycling program, unintentionally eliminated an opportunity for other county residents to recycle and caused those in the town who were already recycling to incur an additional fee.

Still, she accomplished her intended mission of creating a curbside recycling program in the town.

Did things work out for the best?

Of course, there are some additional factors. A few others also lobbied for the curbside program, and the city might have eventually made a similar change anyway.

Also, because there are no statistics available, the total volume of materials recycled in the county could have increased because of her actions, but that seems unlikely.

Likely, very few people were willing to pay the fee, and there are fewer people recycling now than before the town made the change.

Did the woman make a mistake? Probably.

Because she wanted to make things better, things may be worse for those who want to recycle in this rural county. But she got what she wanted.

Before you take action to create a change in the world, consider the unintended consequences. While second guessing yourself can hold you back, holding back for a moment and thinking about what you’re doing is probably a good idea.

Sagging And Stroking At The Mall

People can do whatever they want. I don’t care who people love, how they work or what they wear. Still, I’m compelled to make a couple of wardrobe-related observations.

I wear very simple clothes. For me, it’s a polo-style shirt, jeans and some kind of sturdy athletic shoes all the time. My ensemble works equally well for concert halls, fast-food restaurants and grocery shopping.

I wear a belt so that my pants always fit, no matter whether I’m a few pounds heavier or a few pounds lighter than usual — and no matter whether the pants were a perfect fit when I bought them or just the best the thrift store had on a day when I needed some.

During my Monday reluctant mall walk (see this post on So Much More Life for more on why I reluctantly mall walk), I saw a teenager with his left hand drawn to his waist who also had an unusual gait. It’s sad to see a guy so young who has had a stroke, I thought, but at least he’s out and around.

Immediately, though, I noticed his friend had the same afflictions. They probably went to rehab together.

Do you see where this story is going? The two paragraphs about my attire should be a clue.

The guys were, to use what I think is the appropriate term, sagging. They were — stop me if you’ve heard of this — intentionally wearing pants that were much too large as a fashion statement.

Wearing clothes that don’t fit right is the kind of misjudgment that a young guy who has had a stroke could easily made, but these guys hadn’t actually had a stroke at all.

As it turns out, they needed to draw their hands to their sides to keep their pants up. One of them even briefly gestured with the clenched hand, then quickly returned it to its position at his waistband, proving that the hand worked just fine.

I can only guess exactly why the unusual gait was necessary, but it must require ointment a couple of times a week. Clothing that rubs the wrong spot will do that.

It takes courage for a person whose body has been badly damaged to go back out in public looking different from the norm. But what does it take for a person without physical disabilities to intentionally hinder themselves for the sake of fashion?

I’m not suggest that there’s anything wrong with wearing funny clothes. I just wonder what’s wrong with someone who wants to.

Leave Others To Their Bastions Of Ridiculousness

I had a bit of a social crusader phase when I was younger, but now I don’t see why the narrow-minded of the world aren’t entitled to their bastions of ridiculousness. I encounter enough complicated experiences without entering into unnecessary systems of complexity.

Discrimination is a terrible practice, and it’s one I don’t support in any form. But on an individual level, it’s silly to remain where you aren’t wanted. While it might seem noble to fight for what’s right, it doesn’t do your soul or your life any good when you waste it fighting hopeless battles that aren’t winnable.

For example, there are groups of good people who seek for greater inclusion of gays and lesbians in the Roman Catholic church. Mostly, these are Catholics who have been discriminated against or damaged by the church. But since the Catholic church has long held beliefs that are incompatible with reason and with being gay, why do these reasonable gay and lesbian people want to be part of this religious group?

For that matter, why do women or African Americans want to be part of country clubs long dominated by old white men? And why do people with disabilities want to work in workplaces that must be forced to be friendly toward them?

Discrimination is a bad thing, but so is putting yourself in a position to be discriminated against.

I know there are arguments that groups should be more inclusive, that there’s no way to conduct business or be fulfilled without being a part of society’s fixtures and about not being able to find work of any sort without forcing oneself through a non-compliant door, but I try to disassociate myself from as many systems as possible. And I recommend others do the same.

Whenever possible and whenever I get my way, I like to leave ridiculous people to their bastions of ridiculousness and make my own way.

Let others have whatever they want, and move on with your life. Don’t you agree?

Geezers Rock And Don’t Know It

I don’t think I’ve mentioned it here before, but I spend my weekend evenings at Central Market (http://www.centralmarket.com) in Fort Worth listening to live music. In the several years I’ve been a regular there, I’ve heard dozens of bands. Many of them are good. Quite a few of them are really bad. The Geezers, however, are in my top two or three. Actually, as the general quality of the bands offered has declined through the years, the Geezers are among only a few that have survived through the numerous management changes of the market’s Burgers and Bock events.

High-quality harmony (and lower quality humor!) from 3 Fools on 3 Stools (http://www.3fools.net) is gone from Central Market. Singer-songwriter-guitarist Brad Thompson (http://www.bradthompson.com), who once made monthly appearances, now rarely performs. Original music is offered only during Fort Worth Weekly’s Thursday Night Live events, in front of a smaller audience and with less support from the store. Other once-regular bands are now gone so long from the venue that I’ve forgotten their names. Central Market’s newer Southlake store, with its better organizational skills but less attentive audience, has stolen away Thompson and many others. Their smaller stage means smaller bands or individual performers work best, and that means bands have fewer people with whom to split the small performance fees.

That’s why I’m grateful for the Geezers. Other than Dave Millsap (http://www.davemillsap.com), they are all that is left of the music that made a grocery store hop and rock for years.

The past-their-prime implication of a name like the Geezers doesn’t serve the band well. Their website (http://www.geezersrock.com) says they are business and medical professionals who play music for fun, but they could easily be music professionals, too.

They’re a classic rock cover band playing familiar songs. They don’t play original music, they don’t play so-called “deep cuts” that no one remembers and they aren’t pretentious about anything they play. More importantly, they don’t show up with columns of lights, neon signs or wireless headsets. They bring a committed group of guys and just enough equipment to do the job. Imagine that.

One band that debuted last season started out as a promising rival to the Geezers as the best classic rock cover band in the 817. Then the bigger speakers, colored lights and less familiar song choices showed up. The arrogance of the singer increased, too — of course. The quality of their music is declining because they’re spending their money on gadgets rather than their time on rehearsals.

Here’s the really bad part, though: The Geezers don’t perform very often, either at Central Market or elsewhere. And from the brief conversations I’ve had with their members, they don’t know they’re good. I’m glad they’re unpretentious and unassuming, but I hope they realize they are appreciated.

This post was originally published on one of my previous blogs on May 25, 2009.