Thursday, December 31, 2009

New beginnings, new resolve, new year

So many of my peers are nay-saying New Year's resolutions this year. The main reason seems to be that no one (meaning themselves) ever keeps them.

I rather see New Year's Resolutions as opportunities to improve yourself over the previous year. New Year's represents a time of reflection and also the building of new dreams and new ideals. The New Year also gives rise to a new resolve to push yourself harder and achieve bigger things. Now what is wrong with that?

I traditionally post my New Year's resolutions here on my blog. Even though I abhor the idea of traditions from years of ministry abuse, I rather like this one, and I am going to keep it.

It is now my privilege to present my New Year's Resolutions for 2010. Whether you are inspired by these or choose to mock them, here they are:
  1. Lose weight and feel better. I realize this one is a repeat from the last several years, but I still want to go for it.
  2. Run in the Cooper River Bridge Run in Charleston this year. Why not?
  3. Finish my novel. I have 7,200 plus words, and have about 50,000 more to go. Then comes editing and hopefully publishing. Free copies for my pals to read on their toilets!
  4. Meet my career goals. The bottom line is that we spend 80 - 85% of our lives at work. Is it a crime to want to enjoy it? I think not.
  5. Obtain more paid freelance writing jobs. They are out there waiting for me to find them.
  6. Spend more quality time with family and friends.
  7. In the spirit of #6, watch less television. That laughing sound you hear is from my wife and children.
  8. Exercise 4 - 5 times per week.
  9. Establish a household budget and maintain it, including a savings account and a real vacation.
  10. Take control of my life, health, happiness, and destiny. Big words, I know, but hey, I am a big guy.
So there it is, my friends, my goals for 2010. At this time next year, I will let you know how I did. Have a happy, safe, and prosperous 2010, jungle friends!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Perspectives from 2009

In many ways, oh-nine was a disaster. I began the year with a massive layoff from the greatest job I have had in a long time. Lived off of unemployment for about 2 weeks, then landed what I thought was going to be a great job at wholesale computer distributor. I miscalculated that one. It was like working for the devil himself.

The month of June was a job-hopping nightmare, and we have been playing financial catch up since. Christmas for the kids was minimal, but they all seemed to enjoy it.

On the positive side, we moved into a new home with a lot more space (and a leaky roof we have recently discovered...wait, this was supposed to be positive). Tracy and I have both come out much better on the job situation. I am actually working for myself for the first time since 1995. I have one client who gives me at least 40 hours a week worth of work to do. Anything on top of that is a bonus. I am close to adding one more client, and my business has expanded from IT Consulting into both Corporate and Freelance writing. I write regular columns for RUSE the magazine and I have been added to the freelance rotation of Lexington Life Magazine. I am also writing two novels, one of which is a collaboration with James, who moved back to SC this year! This will be our first collaboration in many years. I am excited!

Another plus to oh-nine was reconnecting with family and friends I haven't seen in years and making a lot of new friends as well. Facebook, though addictive and at times frustrating, has been a blessing in so many ways.

My family has struggled this year. The children are all growing up so fast, and some are dealing with teenage angst. Tracy and I have had our struggles this year as well, though mostly financial ones. We continue to try to love each other through and look hopeful toward the fact that things WILL get better. Though our cashflow has been far from steady, we still have MUCH to be thankful for.

I made reference to it earlier, but in oh-nine I did some real soul searching, some of which was quite painful. Through the process I have been able to let go of the ministry once and for all, and have rediscovered my two passions outside of family and friends, teaching and writing. I am in the process of pursuing a Master's Degree in Education. I want to teach high school English and Language Arts. I started on this journey when I was 18, and got sidetracked. Now, for the first time in a long time, I feel that I am on the correct path for my life and at the correct time in my life. Since I rediscovered this path, opportunities are availing themselves and I am excited.

For many years, I lived with shame and regret for decisions I have made. Most of my friends are very established in their careers, and I have had trouble just finding and keeping steady jobs. I have a college degree that has absolutely no value in the real world. On top of that, I am not getting any younger. I don't feel old, though I do look it at times. Oh-nine was the year where I purged all of that shame and regret. I am in a good place right now spiritually and mentally. My next immediate goal is to get my body back into shape (translation: last year's resolution bombed).

In oh-nine we lost three major pieces of our youth with the deaths of Michael Jackson, Ed McMahon, and Farrah Fawcett. It was very sad to lose these people, and at the same time it was a very stern reminder that I am not a teenager anymore, and that even pop-icons don't live forever. I catch myself saying, "When I was a kid..." to my children a lot lately. It is truly a different world than the one I grew up in. Not better or worse, just different.

I am looking forward to putting 2009 behind me. It was definitely not the best year of my life, but it was not the worst either.

On to 2010!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

A Personal Tribute

My generation has lived through at least three major wars. However, this is the first time one has hit so close to home. One of my dearest childhood friends, Chris "Peeley" Neeley (far right in the photo) has been summoned to one year of duty in Afghanistan. Peeley has a wonderful wife and is a father of two as well as a Public Relations expert. He is serving in our National Guard and will be putting his PR skills to work in Afghanistan for 12 months.

I have known Peeley for nearly a quarter of a century. If I were asked to describe him in one word, it would have to be "solid." He has built a wonderful career in Government Relations and has built a solid, happy family. He is also a solid friend, always willing to help a friend or even a total stranger.

From running for Student Council President in middle school, to the Airport High School band, to the Carolina Band to The SC Silver Elephant Club to breakfast this morning at Lizard's Thicket, I have always been able to find new found respect and admiration for my friend Peeley. He is a personal hero of mine and makes me want to be a better man, husband, father, and friend.

In just a few days, he will be serving our nation's interests in Afghanistan, and helping to further democracy in a very troubled country. I can say with conviction, that we who remain here will be safer because of men and women like Peeley.

Peeley, my friend, good luck, Godspeed, and hurry home! I promise you that we will look after your wife and children, and I look forward to many more breakfasts with you and the gang.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Too Blessed to be Stressed

Today I overheard a comment that I seem to be hearing more and more. A fellow was talking about how much money he had made and about a new vehicle and then made this statement: "God has really blessed me."

At what point did having money and expensive toys become equated with God's blessings? If having money and stuff means God is blessing, than my household is cursed. I have been laid off twice this year, I am always late with the rent, I am driving the same Chevy S-10 that I have been driving since 2001, and if we're lucky, we might be able to buy a small gift for each of our children for Christmas this year. No, sirree, God has truly NOT blessed this house.

Do you see my point? I have friends who serve overseas as missionaries. One does not enter the mission field with hopes of financial prosperity and monetary "blessings." A blessing for them is to have food to eat for the day, and to make it home each day without being killed, raped, or tortured. Is it our understanding that these missionaries are not being blessed by God because they have to walk or ride a bike to get where they need to go and not a Mercedes or a limo? Surely not. And what about our soldiers scattered around the world missing Christmas with their families? I guess they aren't very blessed either. Sigh...

It's time for religious people to see the light. What the man I overheard today spent on his new truck (that God blessed him with) could feed 100 families in Darfur for a month. Think about that on Christmas morning while you collect your booty from beneath the tree.

Now, let me clarify something. I do not think that having money and being prosperous is evil. Thinking that wealth and prosperity make one "blessed" is evil as well as arrogantly presumptuous.

A popular Southern Baptist evangelist, Bailey Smith, once compared the Church to a luxury cruise liner, moving powerfully through the waters while many drowning people try to get on board. They end up drowning because the floating prosperous Church doesn't see them nor do they care.

Another thing that urks the living daylights out of me are these people who apparently don't live on the same planet as the rest of us. Ask them how they are, and they will say, "I'm too blessed to be stressed."

Well, lah dee freakin dah!

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Retro Review: The Wrestler

Regular readers of my blog will recall that I seldom get out to see movies when they are brand new and in theaters. It's not that I have little or no social life (well, perhaps that too), but I am appalled at movie prices, particularly the cost of Milk Duds. Typically, I wait for the flick to hit DVD or HBO. Such is the case of my latest Retro Review of Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler.

Right away I was drawn into the simplicity of the story. Mickey Rourke plays Randy "The Ram" Robinson, a superstar wrestler from the 80s. The story begins 20 years later, in the present day, where The Ram is no longer the headliner he once was, but continues to work local and independent wrestling shows. The Wrestler portrays these indy shows with great accuracy. From my own wrestling experience, I felt right at home in the story line. A bunch of no-name wrestlers, all changing in the same room (usually a conference or storage room, depending on the venue), going over who is wrestling who and when. Occasionally, we would have big names join us at our shows as well. All that is to say that The Wrestler gets an A for authenticity from beginning to end.

After a "hardcore" match, complete with barbed wire and staple guns, The Ram suffers a heart attack from years of living hard and shooting steroids and abusing pain meds. He collapses and and later wakes up in the hospital having had major bypass surgery. The doctor informs The Ram that he can never wrestle again. He soon realizes that the doctor is right and informs his promoter that he will be unable to compete in a match commemorating the 20th anniversary of the greatest match of his career vs. The Ayatollah.

The remainder of the movie follows The Ram trying to adjust to life outside the squared circle. He is forced to take a job in a grocery store deli while he attempts to reconcile with the daughter he abandoned for his wrestling career. The Ram is also vying for the affections of Pam, a stripper, portrayed by Marisa Tomei. Like The Ram, Pam is realizing that she is getting too old for her chosen profession as well. The two find themselves drawn to each other and try to start a romantic relationship. The highlight of the relationship between Rourke and Tomei is a scene in a bar where the two lament that the 80s was the greatest decade and was ruined by the 90s. This was a good moment for us forty-somethings. Outside of that scene, the interaction of the two characters was very dry.

After The Ram forgets a date he had made with his daughter, he realizes that the only thing he will ever be good at is wrestling, so he quits his deli job with extreme prejudice and announces his return to the ring. During his match with the Ayatollah, he grabs his chest and painfully tries to continue the match. The film ends with The Ram leaping from the top rope, leaving us to wonder if he survived the match or not.

All in all, I liked The Wrestler, but I didn't LOVE it. Mickey Rourke gave a superb performance. The film was very authentic and the scenes of Marisa Tomei as a stripper certainly didn't hurt the viewing. If you are a fan of professional wrestling, a budding wrestler, a has-been wrestler, or a never-was like me, you will enjoy The Wrestler. If you're looking for a good wholesome family movie, look elsewhere.