Archive for October, 2011

On Island, On Hold

It is one week before November on Martha’s Vineyard and aside from Irene’s sea-sprayed induced damage; the leaves on the trees remain green. The temperatures remain warmer than average. The tourists still roam the streets (literally) in shorts and t-shirts munching ice cream. My morning run around East Chop can still be done in just running shorts. The entire island seems to be stuck in September mode, which is fine by me.

September on island is quite possibly the best time to experience all there is to offer. This “hold mode” might feel like September in many ways, but there are definite differences; many businesses have closed, for the season or for good. Then again, that might be apropos, as the businesses are frozen in time, for better or worse.

The sunshine is a cruel illusion for those headed to the beach; the sun’s angle is low in the sky, the ocean water has grown colder, and the wind cuts coldly. Still, the brilliance of the light on the water and in the sky has made for some fabulous views at sunrise and sunset, even outside of Menemsha. Increasing the value of such gorgeous days is the fact that they have become so much shorter in the past few weeks, and that will be the case with each passing day, no matter how much longer these gems last.

Personally, I have found that I have more things “on hold” than I would prefer; the business, my finances, career opportunities, and projects around the house. Most of those things will remain status quo for the time being, as my time is not yet my own; I have had only two days off since May at the writing of this blog. I just scheduled a few appointments for medical check-ups, which I have not had for several years. The appointments are for late December, ironically; the end of the year.

Still, I welcome the lingering late summer/ early fall that has captured the Vineyard for the past few weeks. The High School Cross Country Team that I help coach has had a better than expected season; the weather has helped them both mentally and physically. The attitudes of the people on island have seemed to be mellow, as well; more smiles, longer visits, fewer curmudgeons. A few extra days of better weather makes everyone more appreciative of the good fortune of being here.

However, there is that nagging feeling that we will have to pay for this time sooner or later. I’m not alone in feeling this way, I’m sure. Maybe it will mean a colder January or February, perhaps another frigid spring. Everything seems to go in cycles and this is just one of many; weather, economy, and health.

What I do know is that everyone I mention this to agrees that we will take whatever we can get, for as long as it lasts, knowing that it could end at any time, whether we are discussing the weather, our fortunes, or our health. We all should take stock in what we have, for as long as we have it.


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Second Winds, Second Chances

When I started blogging, I would often relate many of my life experiences to running, either for training or racing. For me, running is where I can lose myself and regain some insight on what is going on in my life; financially, physically, emotionally, mentally. I have a few loops that I run on a regular basis, as well as a few variations. The parallel for my daily life is that I have a set routine that might seem monotonous, but like the regular courses I run, I find comfort in the predictability. There is so much in life that I have no control over, I take solace in my regularly scheduled events and activities.

Occasionally I just don’t feel up to the daily grind, either mentally or physically. During those times I usually catch myself feeling better, if not energized, for no particular reason. When this happens while I am running, it feels like a second wind, where I can pick up the pace or run a bit further than I had initially planned. Similarly, if I get this boost at work, the day goes by quicker and seems less troubling. Either way, the feeling is always welcome.

It can be the same with second chances in life. Second chances can happen in nearly any facet of our lives; financial, personal, physical, or professional. How a second chance happens can be quite simple, complicated, or somewhere in between. In any case, they are usually both unexpected and welcome, as the present an opportunity to possibly make right a wrong or succeed where there was failure. Who doesn’t want that chance? If only we could pick and choose the where and the when of a second chance.

Well, there is a way to actually facilitate getting a second chance; ask for it. Now there are certain circumstances where this is just not possible; an ugly divorce, a missed catch during the big game in high school, or a bet lost in a casino. No, a second chance often happens when you communicate to others that the second chance is not only deserved, but makes sense.

I worked at a spa for a short period of time many years ago. I was an employee, but earned substantially more money when working with clients rather than just hanging out. When I decided that I needed to move on to greener pastures, many of my appointments with clients were transferred to other employees for the last two weeks of my tenure. Now, while many of the clients had requested to work with me, the manager decided to diminish my presence in the business due to my impending departure. I had a meeting with the manager after learning this and convinced her that ultimately, the client should get precisely the services they request, from the person they scheduled with; that would be in the best interest of the business. She eventually agreed and I regained the sessions that had been taken from me.

When it comes to personal relationships, second chances are more complicated and hard to define. Once intimate, relationships seldom can successfully take a step back to simple friendship or consequently successfully become intimate for any lasting period of time. That’s where second chances involve trust and forgiveness; aspects that go beyond the simple making of money, as in business. The emotions involved in intimate relations, as part of a relationship on the whole, can taint the possibility of a second chance ever happening. Issues of trust, or lack thereof, can preclude any chance of complete forgiveness, forgiveness that would allow a second chance at having a relationship that once was.

So perhaps we need to bargain when we seek a second chance; begin again, start slow, let trust grow, and allow things to progress. Whatever aspect of life we seek second chances in, there should be the understanding that, just like a second wind, we cannot always expect them to happen, but when the do they should not be taken for granted or squandered.

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There comes a point in time where you have to see things as they are or you will never truly be grounded to the world around you. Sometimes it is as simple as seeing yourself as others see you. For me, that happened when I was working as a private investigator. I am not a tall guy, but back then I lived in the gym and weighed in at 220 lbs. I never really noticed that people looked at me differently until the day I stopped to ask directions at a firehouse. There were several guys out in front chatting when I walked up and they all turned to face me as I approached. “What’s up, big guy?” one asked. Another gave me the once over and asked if I was looking for the [football] tryouts at the college down the road. “No, just directions to a house,” I replied. After they helped me out, I turned to go and a third guy called out, “you should go try out anyway, you’d be the biggest guy there!” I laughed and said “no thanks.”

Driving away, I starting thinking about how those firemen saw me, before I even said a single word. I had done the same thing many times before and since; judging a person based on only what I saw at first glance. It was not until many years later that I made a conscious decision to try not to do that sort of thing, if I could help it. Now, I am not so much talking about prejudice so much as I am simply classifying someone or something solely based on a preconceived idea or past experience.

All of the careers I have had involved my assessing a situation and acting on what conclusions I might draw from my observations. My ability to be objective was key to the decision making process. However there were, and still are, times when an informed perspective can make the difference from drawing the wrong conclusion and making the wrong choice.

In my younger days I was a little quick to draw conclusions and even worse, I sometimes lost my temper. Luckily my response was verbal and seldom amounting to anything more than a few rude gestures. Nowadays I pause and consider the situations that confront me and try to view them from different angles to get a better understanding before I react or respond. More often then not, more of the story will be told if you just give it a little time.

I often wonder if I will ever see things for what they are. I have grown cynical from the careers I have had. It was the reason I left two of them, though they paid well with great benefits; they skewed my sense of perception when dealing with people. I see and think the worst, first and foremost. Even though nine times out of ten things may go well, it is that tenth time, the one where things fall apart, that I tend to dwell on and remember most. When that bad event does happen, I feel justified to cling to my cynical attitude toward many aspects of life in general.

I suppose that will be something that I will need to work on if I ever hope to see things for what they are. Until that time I will be viewing life from a perspective that is tainted by my past experiences, not as they actually are. Something to consider each waking moment, isn’t it?

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Denial and Indifference

So the summer season that has just past had been different for me in many different ways. Yes, business was a bust; less profit, more expenses, no growth. I started to be a bit more social with a new circle of friends made through social media outlets online. I also took the opportunity to begin some serious work landscaping my island home with the limited resources at my disposal. Finally, I started a legitimate blog affiliated with an actual national organization.

All of these changes happened while I was going through a bit of a personal crisis. Unable to get a decent night’s sleep, I wore down sooner in the season and to a greater degree than ever before. The feeling was one of discernable mortality and bewilderment as to how it could happen to me so suddenly. In a state of denial over my physical state, I simply accepted an attitude of indifference to everything.

Perhaps not particularly the best way to handle a situation, denial and indifference can be considered fraternal twins of sorts; they both thrive on one’s ability to ignore or simply not care about something until it reaches a critical state. In my case, the critical state was somewhere mid-August, when I had been sleeping a total of 22-28 hours each week and working 10-12 hour days, seven days each week. My weight dropped to the point where all of my clothes, even my running spandex, hung off me like they were two sizes too large. My appearance was slightly gaunt as well.

It was really not until mid-September when I was able to actually address the cause properly. I say this because I waited too long; suffered too long. It was stupid not to ask for help, but I was stubborn and not clear-headed enough to make smart choices. I just thought I could work through all of the issues and still do all that I was accustomed to doing, which was stupid.

I ended up trying pharmaceuticals to get me through, which did not work. I have never resorted to chemicals and should have known better. After a few weeks, I gave them all up and was better for it. That short episode made me consider what I had been avoiding; the cause of the problem.

For many people, it takes a long period of denial or an attitude of indifference to disrupt their life enough for them to realize that the cause, the root of the problem, needs to be properly addressed for there to be definitive progress to be made in a situation that has become dire. Such was the case for me. I kept filling a void with things that I thought could distract me from what I really needed to do, and that never works.

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Smart Choices

As we grow, both physically and emotionally, we change the way we make choices. Babies posses the ability to express themselves in such a raw and uninhibited manner that their decisions can, at best, be described as rash and without much consideration given to the consequences of their choice. One would assume, and hope, that as time passes and life experiences accumulate, people will make more balanced and considerate decisions; in other words, smart choices.

Personally I can recall making choices that were not very smart. Some choices were as simple as eating too much food at a Chinese buffet, others were more dire; misjudging the humor to hurt ratio of a comment to another person. Most of my not so smart choices were made early in my life and I learned from them. The learning curve has become quicker as I have grown older, I am happy to say. The majority of my choices are made after a period of consideration, if not reflection. I have learned that every answer to a question is actually an opportunity to make a smart choice; often the more time and consideration given to the answer, the better the answer, and the smarter the choice.

Whenever I have had to make major choices, I have found myself weighing the options; pros and cons. I have changed careers several times; luckily the changes made were smart choices. My life had improved on many levels with each change; financial, personally, and emotionally. I have been through several relationships that caused me to question my ability to make rational decisions. Ultimately, I remain uncertain if all of those decisions were smart choices.

So while it would appear that most decisions can be made by considering all of the various ways they will affect one’s life, it is matters of the heart, dealing with the most delicate of human emotions, that all reason must be set aside to make the smart choice. If only you are involved in a decision, the smart choice comes quicker, if not easier. When another person is involved, the smart choice might not be so easy, so cut and dry. It is when we are confronted with the possibility of wounding another person to their very soul that the smart choice can be most challenging. After all, what you might believe to be the smart choice for you might be devastating to the other person in the relationship.

Truth be told, I have been more on the giving of bad news than on the receiving end when it has come to relationships. Remember, I still question a number of those choices, but regardless, choices had to be made when situations seemed less than ideal.

On the other hand, I have never intentionally hurt another person that I have been involved with; physically or emotionally. I despise the thought of either act. Those people that treat others with such disrespect I find repugnant and without good moral character, and I usually have trouble not expressing that fact to those individuals. The thought that they would also be parents, role models to their children, is even more disgusting.

I was recently witness to such an act. The emotional pain inflicted by the intentional lack of consideration for someone they supposedly “loved” was devastating. The fact that the person on the receiving end was able to pull themselves together was remarkable, not to mention that they did so in not so many hours. It was at that point they were able to consider their options, ultimately making their own smart choice, the one that made sense of an otherwise senseless situation.

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Coming Around Again

Columbus Day weekend is like the last throes of life for the island, from the perspective of an islander looking at the busy season. Currently the island is experiencing an Indian summer; temperatures near 80, sunny skies, bustling streets and sidewalks. The pace of business has steadily declined; the pace of my running has steadily improved. After a season of working and running injured with little or no sleep, I have found the time to slowly rest and recover. Then again, for all of the years that I have called Martha’s Vineyardmy home, the pattern has held steady. So I also know what lies ahead.

Soon the day trips off island will consume the time of many an islander. I have already begun that ritual, albeit while travelling with the MVRHS Cross Country team. The pot-luck dinners and contra dancing dates will be set, as the locals reclaim their haunts from the summer renters. The local harvest festivals have already begun and will continue as long as the weather holds. Others will begin to pack into the local bars to watch sports and bide their time until last call sends them off to their winter digs. Yes, even the Vineyard has tightly knit social circles that seldom co-mingle.

Writing workshops, knitting groups, drawing classes and the like fill the days, and sometimes nights, of the islanders that stay through the months of January and February. Old friends, new friends, frenemies, and rivals gather to pass the time, the gossip, and their stories while they await the arrival of the next season, whenever that might be. There are the cooking classes on Wednesdays at Le Roux, poetry readings, concerts with local musicians, and the occasional film festival or chowder festival. Something is usually happening every day of every week throughout the off season. Often it is difficult to do all of the things you actually want to do without scheduling the activities like appointments.

During the bleakest days of the winter you can find me working on any one of the numerous projects that need completing around my house. Days can pass before I go into town, which is less than a 8-10 minute walk. Sheetrock, paint, stain, urethane, or whatever; all of those tasks require a day or more of preparation in order to be done correctly. I actually look forward to such tasks, as they are ever present reminders of progress in an otherwise stagnant time of year.

So there are more than a few ways to spend the off season on our little island. Look around and you might see a few clues if you look closely. If you are new to the off season on Martha’s Vineyard, then you just need to find a circle of friends that will help the time not only pass, but will give you something to look forward to, even during the everlasting days of summer.

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Unicorns and Rainbows

I was having a conversation with someone the other day about how the local businesses are faring during these tough economic times. I commented that the business owners tend to be a bit more positive when speaking to the local newspapers than between other shop keepers. It makes no sense to me to be upbeat for the public perception when things are not actually very good. The fact that several businesses are closing their doors for good after this rather bleak season has been compounded by their patrons commenting that they had no idea business was so bad. Of course they didn’t know, they were not the one’s looking at the business numbers. Additionally, the owners kept saying things were not so bad, until it was evidently too late to realize they were.

Those readers that have followed my blog(s) over the past several years might have noticed that I seldom mince words. There tends to be very little bullshit in my writing, as there is also very little when I speak. I don’t care to waste time instead I cut to the chase, for better or worse. Perhaps it comes from my Eastern European heritage; hard working, hard drinking, nasty tempers, grudge holders that never forget. My abilities to keep most of those negative characteristics in check have developed over the years; however they tend to leave me a bit more sarcastic and pragmatic than I should be in certain instances.

To say that I am not a very positive individual would not be entirely true; I am a realist that would rather study the facts at hand, limit the variables, and deal with the situation in the best possible manner to reach a calculated conclusion. Saying that “everything will be just fine” does not work for me. Instead, I will say that “it will all work out in the end, for better or worse” or that “it is what it is”. I could remember being six years old and wondering what “it” was all about. I had journals and lists organized and stashed all over my room by the time I hit middle school. I was designing retreats in the wilderness ofMontanain order to have the isolation I needed to go through the thoughts of teenage life. (This was long before Ted Kaczynski by the way. Not that I wish to be compared to him in any way.) My conclusion was that there was no simple formula to figure out daily life; it had to be taken as it happened.

In college, I was still trying to discover a way to organize my life in a way that I could understand the difference between what people said and the reality of their situation. Studying the criminal mind just made things worse; their methodology was deviant and perverse. After a few years in that field, I decided the entire criminal justice system was beyond repair. Coincidentally, O.J. Simpson was acquitted at about that same time.

Returning to college, I took a few courses outside of my major, including a class dealing with the philosophy of religion. Everyone should have one time in their life when they can say, “it was a game changer for me”. The philosophy of religion class was one of mine, showing me that plans for a life cannot match a philosophy. I studied the Tao Te Ching for that class, and I still do. After the September 11th attacks I found a steady course through studying several chapters; it helped me understand how man has abandoned nature, seeking solace in texts that have no parity in the modern world, using religion to find problems rather than solve them. The professor once summed up the Tao Te Ching in a simple phrase: “Life sucks, deal with it!” I thought, “Yeah that works for me.”

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