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life, the universe, and everything

Hey it’s my birthday.  Number 42.  A year that I have been looking forward to since I turned 40.  As years go 40 is a milestone, life beginning at 40 and all of that.  But 41, to me, seemed to be a write off, nothing special.  42 however, has the element of magic about it, considering Douglas Adams named it the answer to the Universe.  So here’s to 42.  Let the good times roll.

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a tribute to my mom

GLORIA ANN LOWE… 12/19/1952 – 07/23/2010

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” – Revelation 21:4

My mom passed away last week.

You are never really prepared to hear someone tell you your mother has died, especially when she is relatively young at 58 and no prior warning that her time for walking among us has come to an end.  So many emotions are thrown at you at once that you hardly know how or what to feel.  Sadness because your mother is gone?  Anger because she was taken away suddenly and without warning?  Regret because you have not seen her in ages?

And of course, the shock of death always brings one face to face with one’s own mortality.  The age difference between me and my mom is only 16 years.  Time is tender.  Time is fleeting.  The hour of our death is unknown.  Did my mom do all she came here to do?  Did she fulfill all of her hopes and dreams? I think she would say yes.  She raised three children mostly on her own.  Taught them the difference between right and wrong.  She got to see her grandchildren, and she had a strong personal relationship with God being an ordained minister.  I think she would say she stood strong in the Lord and is now happy to be called home.

Where does that leave us back here on earth?  Deprived of a mother, deprived of a caring human being who did what she could for others without any expectation of return.  She would rather suffer in silence than burden others with her troubles, such was her disposition to put others before herself.  Her passing leaves us to cary on the good fight, to do the things we were sent here to do, to live up to our fullest potential, to honor her name.

I cannot say that I was extremely close to my mother, when I was young yes, but I left home at 17 to be the man she raised me to be and haven’t been home much since then, but always she was in my thoughts, my heart, my soul and many times I have stopped to reflect on the lessons she taught me as a boy.  The greatest gift she gave to me besides life was belief.  She taught me always to believe in myself, to never be content to be just another member of the herd, to have the guts to dream and the confidence to pursue those dreams. I am who I am today because of her.  I will miss her.

Rest in peace Mom,

Love,

Clay

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how much do you want what you want?

What are you must desirous of?  Put another way, what is it that you want most?  Now ask yourself how much do you really want it?  Here’s a story about Socrates that may help you clarify how much you want it.

A young man asked Socrates how he could get wisdom.

Socrates replied: “Come with me.”  He took the young man to a nearby river and shoved his head under the water.  He held it there until the boy struggled for air, then he let him go.

The boy took a moment to compose himself.  Socrates then asked the boy:  “What did you desire most when your head was underwater?”

“I wanted air,” replied the boy.

Socrates nodded:  “When you want wisdom as much as you wanted air when you were immersed in the water, you will receive wisdom.”

In the same way, when you want what you say you want most as much as you want air to breathe, then you will get the thing you desire.

Rock on Socrates.

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I’ve been in hermit mode for a week

I’ve been in hermit mode for a week, venturing out of my cave only for the essentials – food, water, and the gym. This time around in the cave, I’ve been studying the nature of power. I’ve spent time with Machiavelli and his famous analysis of statesmanship and power, The Prince. I’ve spent time with Robert Greene and his books The 48 Laws Of Power
and The 50th Law. I’ve also spent time analyzing power at play in current events such as the Afghanistan question, U.S. Presidential politics, the Tory maneuverings as they get set to assume the power position in Britain, and something closer to home – how a few clever people are maneuvering to raise income tax and take away child benefits among other things from the middle class (middle class in their estimation being someone who earns £15, 000 or more). I say clever, but maybe I should say devious instead because the bill is being introduced in such a way as to create a dilemma. The argument goes: the UK Government is broke. If we don’t raise this money, then you will start to see schools without electricity, medical services reduced etc. In my mind I’m thinking, the banks still owe us billions of pounds, yet they are paying out billions in bonuses. Why not have the banks put this bonus money into the public coffers? The banks seemed happy enough for the public to bail them out of financial difficulty. Why not repay the favor? In fact, they still OWE us money. So WTF?

In other news, I’ve written a treatment for a screenplay to which I am seeking funding for through the film council. I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

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should we stay or should we go now?

The headlines in the British press over the past week have been fixated on President Obama’s upcoming decision on Afghanistan. What should he do – send more troops or look for an honorable way to get out? Perhaps President Obama should turn to the words of a former president – John Quincy Adams – for counsel. J.Q.A. had this to say about American entanglement in foreign affairs: ‘…she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy…She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom…She might become the dictatress of the world. She would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit….’

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if-this-then-that

I thought this would be a good story to share because I often here people making their big life goals – the goals they claim they really want – conditional.  They have the ‘someday’ mentality. ‘Someday when all the conditions are perfect, I’ll do the thing I really want to do with my life.’

I believe what they are really asking for is guaranteed success. Before they are willing to begin, they want someone (God, the Universe, Madam Golda) to look into the future and tell them that if they go for the thing they want, they will definitely get it and it will be just as they dreamed it would be and life will be wonderful. Without this guarantee, they refuse to act.

I’ve been down this road myself, sticking with the safe option, the perceived ‘sure thing’, the steady paycheck. All the while watching one day bleed into the next and wistfully dreaming about ‘someday.’

I don’t know if you know the story of Liz Murray, the lady who went from being homeless on the streets of New York City to attending Harvard and becoming a successful international speaker, author, and life coach. Their is a movie out about her life called Homeless to Harvard. All the odds were stacked against her. She had only a grade school education. She was living on the streets and being raised by two drug addicted parents.

But she wanted a better life. To get it, she knew she had to give up the if-this-then-that mentality. She said: “Before I had my transformation, I always had this illusion I call if-this-then-that. If I find a quiet place place, then I’ll study. If I get some more cash, then I’ll go to school. We do that when there is no real commitment to a goal. We’re saying ‘I’m committed unless…’”

She goes on to say there is a big difference between ‘I’m committed unless’ and absolute commitment. Absolute commitment means you’ll do whatever it takes. No excuses! No waiting for permission to act. No waiting for someday. No waiting for absolute guarantees.

To begin, you have to begin with absolute faith. Let go of the if-this-then-that mentality. This reminds me of a story Joseph Campbell, the late 20th century philosopher and mythology expert, told of a Native American father’s advice to his son: “As you go the way of life, you will see a great chasm. Jump! It is not as wide as you think.”

Are you standing on the edge of a chasm?

Take a good look at it.

Now jump!

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four of a kind

It amazes me the tiny towns literary festivals tend to pop up in.  I spent the afternoon at the Woodstock Literary Festival.  Woodstock, of course, conjures up in my mind thoughts of the Woodstock of 1960’s fame where the iconic images of the sex, drugs, and rock and roll revolution were born.  The Woodstock I found myself in today is a small town near Oxford.

I only came to the festival to sit in on one event.  Over the past several weeks, I have rekindled my interest in online poker.  I’ve begun playing in the Saturday 14.15 (U.S. Time) poker tournament on PokerStars.com. Some way or another, I came across the name of Victoria Coren.  A trip to Google sent me over to her website.  Her beauty, words, and poker prowess immediately caught my attention.  A few more searches and I found her on YouTube. I ended up liking her enough to buy both of her books – Once More with Feeling (which is about her attempts to make the world’s greatest porn movie) and her latest book, For Richer or For Poorer which is her poker memoir and the reason for her being at the Woodstock litfest). When I read on her blog that she was going to be here, I thought, ah, a chance to meet her in the flesh, so to speak.

I was shocked when I walked into her presentation room at the Oxfordshire Museum. I had imagined that she would have drawn a younger crowd.  I guess because of her affiliation with online poker, so when I walked into a room full of distinguished looking older men and women, I had to raise a MR Spoke eyebrow of interest.  But then again, I was just reading in the press about Russia’s decision to reclassify poker as gambling because as the Russian government put, poker seems to draw in the very old.

Victoria’s talk was captivating.  She told many personal stories, stories I’m sure must appear in her book.  Although she did not look as glamorous in person as she does on the screen and in print, she came across as very down to earth, someone who would be easy to make friends with.  I also picked up a few poker tips from her, which I hope will help my game.

I felt a bit grumpy afterward, so I stopped at a motorway service station to have a cup of coffee and people watch.  You see the strangest of characters in the service stations.  It was a good 30 min distraction before heading back home.

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unlocking creativity

As a writer, I have often come up against the brick wall of creativity.  And no matter how hard I bang my head against it, sometimes I just can’t seem to get the words to flow.  I watched a great clip on creativity on the website, Closer to the Truth.  At the end of the segment, the host Robert Lawrence Kuhn lays out some simple thoughts for getting the creative juices flowing, and here they are:

1.    Don’t get to smart to quickly:  expert opinions stall the creative engine.  Often times it’s our own voice that we need to listen to first.
2.    Cogitate.
3.    Meditate.
4.    Brood.
5.    Agonize.
6.    Oddly enough uncertainty, ambiguity, and doubt are all friends of the creative process.
7.    Lose yourself.
8.    Feel the flow.
9.    Suffer with humor to get closer to truth

I came up with a few more to help me with my own battle against stalled creativity:

1.    Eradicate fear.
2.    Let go of attachment to outcome.
3.    Don’t look for assurance before beginning.

Watch the full episode here.

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new horizons

I’ve come to far on my journey to slip back into old ways and travel familiar paths. Time to set my eyes on new horizons and follow new paths. I am more of a wanderer than a traveller…being a traveler implies reaching a destination, a wanderer has no destination. And “not all those who wander are lost.”

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another birthday on the road

Hey! Another birthday has sneaked up on me.  And once again, I am on the road, which has seemed to be the pattern over the past six or seven birthdays, bar one or two.  This time I am in Bolton, which is a long long way away from Newark, New Jersey, where I was born.  I am sitting here in my sparse room at the Premier Inn in Bolton trying to think of some great commentary to share.  I cast my mind over the preceding 40 years expecting to find some great revelation.  And you know what,  all that I can find at this moment is that I have no great revelation other than I am a happy man.

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mind movies?!???

I’ve been recently reading Judy Reese’s blog.  I met Julie a couple of years back, first online and then face to face during a presentation I was giving on using Mandalas as a coaching tool.  She was, up until a few months ago, co-director of the Clean Change Company, a post she held for 10 years.  A couple of things intrigued me:  What made her decide to leave what seemed like a thriving business?  And second, I was interested to find out how an expert in transformational change handled change.

I haven’t had the chance to ask Judy about her decision to leave yet.  But from her blog I have been able to follow her thoughts and emotions as she wrestles with personal change.  What I have learnt is that even us change professionals suffer.  I guess we can never really see past the limits of our own boundaries, however enlightened we may be, without the help or guidance of someone external to us.

Anyway, Judy had a link to a website called mind movies, which she mentioned as being a project she is interested in pursing.  I clicked on the link.  It took me to a site I vaguely remembered seeing before.  Basically, in my opinion, it’s just two more people bullshitting people into believing that they (the owners of the site) have unlocked the secret to some miracle change formula.  What a mind movie basically amounts to is a slideshow of inspirational images and words set to music – something anyone can do with iPhoto or Windows Movie Maker.  But these folks are charging $49 for what they are calling the Mind Movie Creation Kit.  Give me a break!  While I am a fan of visualization as a success tool, I am against folks who take a simple and beautiful concept like visualization, dress it up in a fancy package, and then slap a price tag on it.

All is not negative.  In searching through the hundreds of mind movies on YouTube, I came across an interview of Will Smith in which he talks about the virtues of visualization.  What he does that I haven’t seen the Mind Movie folks do, is tell the truth.  And that truth is that visualization is a great tool, but it is nothing without the focus and determination to work harder than the next person in order achieve the success you want.  Whereas the disciples of the mind movie product say things like:  “In terms of money. When I made this video I was earning pretty much nothing. Now I have multiple streams of income…” It is as if all you have to do is watch the video 300 times, as this person claims to have done, and things just magically fall into place.

Give me good old fashioned focus, determination, and hard work any day.

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design change

I decided it was time for a change.

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penis festival in japan

I wake violently from a dream.  In this dream, I had decided to go back to West Point.  I walk the hollow grounds of the Academy watching the new cadets pinging around the parade field.  I instinctually know that I have to get myself into better shape if I want to have any chance of keeping up with these young cadets.  I run and I swim.  But soon realize that my 40 year old body lacks the resilience it once had, so I abandon the idea.

I walk from the Academy gates with my head hung low.  I fumble with my gear as I walk down the street.  I pass by a young Jesus looking guy on the sidewalk.  He has a young man and a young woman with him.  As I pass, the bearded guy beckons for me to come toward him.  I reach for him, but he slaps my hands away and says, “Not so fast.”  He sits down against the wall of the building we are standing in front of.  I take his rejection to mean go away.  As I turn to leave the young man and young woman get to either  side of me and push me to the ground.  I try to fight off the guy first.  But while I am fighting him, the woman goes for my wallet.  I turn to fight her off.  Then the young man is back at me.  And the see-saw effect begins.  I fight one off and then the other.  Back and forth.  The situation seems hopeless.  In desperation, I force myself to wake up, so that I don’t see the outcome that I don’t want.

It is 5.30 am on a Saturday.  I count it as a lie-in to sleep until 5.30 am.  I get up, ready to begin the day in full.

I came across this interest blog post about the Penis Festival in Japan:

http://denniscooper-theweaklings.blogspot.com/2009/06/george-box-presents-honen-matsuri.html

And Mark Vernon had this quote from Steve Jobs on his blog.  I like this quote because it fits exactly my current mood:

‘Remembering I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.’

peace out.

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i really…

do plan on posting again.  I haven’t posted much in the last few weeks because I have been distracted or focused on other things (depending on your point of view).  Also I think I have become a little bored with my blog in its present form and content.  So I am in search of a new direction to take the blog.  I’m not sure what that is yet.  But I don’t think it will take me long to decide, especially since I am starting to feel the itch to blog again.

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molly and the seven kittens

I am back down in Essex today.  My first meeting is at 1200 so I have a bit of time this morning to do a little scribbling before heading out.

We are fostering a young mother cat and her seven kittens.  At only three weeks old, they are so tiny and adorable.  It’s fun to watch them wobble about exploring their den and surroundings.  Feeding time is noisy.  When Molly climbs into the den with them, they swamp her until she lays down on her side and then the feasting begins.  Each of the little ones jockey for position, stepping on each other, pushing and shoving until they find their place.  Molly cleans them while they are eating.

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macbook nano

I have resisted the netbook revolution for as long as could, but this weekend I finally caved.  I like the idea of the netbook, light, ultra-portable, does what I need it to do, which is mainly emailing, blogging, and surfing the net for random things.  My main resistance has been not wanting to fool about with Windows again or to get to involved with Linux, and since Apple has been adamant about not joining the netbook revolution, I have resigned myself lugging my macbook around everywhere I go.

Until now…

I discovered that it was possible to ‘hackintosh’ a netbook, which is to say, I could replace the existing operating system with OS X.  And so I bought the Acer One Aspire 110.  I wanted the Dell Mini 9, but couldn’t get the 16GB SSD version for a justifiable price.  I spent some time over the weekend gathering the various hacks I would need to pull this off.  Hopefully by the end of the week I will have my very own ‘macbook nano.’

I am down south again this week finishing the last week of my current project before taking a couple of weeks off to explore a couple of places I have not been to yet.

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great british butterfly hunt

I’ve been searching for a hobby or activity that would encourage us to get back out into nature again.  Something in our nature likes to have a goal, something that awaits us at the end of the journey, the prize or elixir as it is known in the mono myth of the Hero’s JourneyThe Great British Butterfly Hunt has become one of those goals for me.  There are 58 species native to Britain, part of the aim of the Great British Butterfly Hunt is to encourage people to engage with the beauty and fragility of Britain’s rich natural heritage.

Our first butterfly hunt was in the Ufton Wood nature reserve, which is local to us.  According the information board, Ufton Wood is home to 26 species of butterfly, that means we can potentially see nearly half of Britain’s butterflies within 2 miles of our house.

It was a nice morning for a walk.  The sun was out and patches of blue sky and fluffy white clouds could be seen through the break in the trees.  I had the feeling that it was a bit chilly for butterfly hunting.  The temperature being around 7.5 C at the start of the walk.  I don’t yet know the habits of butterflies apart from my faulty memory of my experiences of seeing them flittering about in the back garden or in the meadows of my childhood.

We had a copy of Collins Complete British Wildlife Photo Guide to help us identify any butterflies we might encounter.

About three quarters of mile into our hunt, we spotted a butterfly high up in a spread of trees with white flowers.  Two things I became aware of, one I didn’t have my binoculars with me to be able to get a good look at the butterfly before, nor did I have my camera with telephoto lens to get a decent picture.  The butterfly, however was cooperative enough to give us a good view of its wings spread.  It turned out to be a Peacock Butterfly.  I took a couple of snaps with my little digital, but couldn’t zoom in enough to be able to spot the butterfly from the flowers.

Cool.  Our first site-ing.

We continued on.  And further into the walk we got quick glance at a Small White.  And again having some bino’s and a telephoto lens would have been handing.  I make a mental note to include in our next butterfly hunt my field binoculars and my big Olympus 500 Digital SLR.  This could be an opportunity to combine several hobbies together – walking/hiking, photography, geocaching, and butterfly hunting.

I mentioned geocaching because along the way, we were also able to find a nearby geocache – GCN141 do you come here Ufton? laid out by Bumbling Fools.

So on our first butterfly hunt, we walked for 2.5 miles and spotted two species of butterfly.  On our next outing, I’ll be better equipped for sure, but our first one it was cool and gave some extra flavor to walking.

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save our souls

i returned to
the salt mines
because i could not
turn a dime with
my words to feed
the open mouths
of our creation

sensations of doom
and economic gloom
echo across the
open channels of distress
masquerading as cartoons
for our entertainment
and distraction, mind
the attraction of
the blue pill

I tapped out
a message under
neath the stars
my pencil beat going
dot, dot, dot.
dash, dash, dash.
dot, dot, dot.

no reply i
curse the moon
and wonder why
she does not
like me, laughs
at my demise
curse the son
in ascension
dark conceals
light reveals
truth hidden in
the shadows
beneath my eyes

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walk for water II

Thanks everyone for taking part in the walk for water, and especially well done to Lucy & Brittany for carrying a bucket of water on your heads for 2 miles.

Between us we have raised approximately £40 (possibly a bit more), so that’s great news.  Here’s what that money can buy:

£9 could train a villager in Ethiopia to maintain the local well or borehole
£15 could provide a family of five in Mozambique with access to a borehole
£30 could provide a community in Niger with purpose-built latrine (a loo!)
£40 could provide a family in Liberia with a BioSand Water Filter

I’m sure the money will be greatly appreciated.  Thanks again for everyone who participated.

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walk for water

My family & I have decided to take part in the “Walk for Water” to raise money to provide access to clean, safe drinking water for thousands of families across Africa.

We will be doing a series of 4 mile walks – the average distance women and children in Africa walk for water.  Check out the Walk for Water website to find out more.