Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Looking Back At Moving Forward

  It is amazing how something that began with zero expectation of being anything more than an unremarkable personal outlet, can grow into something bigger-- something that hopefully might be meaningful to someone else too.  I started this blog almost six years ago and it's incredible how much has happened in my life and the world in general since then.  I never imagined anything like this would come of it, but here it is:

So Anyway just passed 22,222 views!!

Why celebrate now? The number two is my favorite number so this is a fun milestone for me!

  Looking back, I honestly don't know quite what to think about the long roller-coaster ride of getting to this point, and it surprises me to see how much my writing has changed since the beginning, but I am certainly glad I decided to take the step of getting outside of my head this way.  In fact, it is hard to imagine my life without having a good way to write something more than random comments on Facebook.

  I admit that even though my university English professors urged me to consider a major in journalism, I doubted whether something like this was really possible for me.  But here we are, and I am very grateful for the opportunity to share this journey with you.  I think we tend to shortchange ourselves when it comes to believing in our true potential (at least I know I do) and it's clear that we need to have more faith in what we can do when we really set our mind to accomplishing something.  We need to let ourselves hope, and then push ourselves to take steps toward those hopes.

  In 2013, I published thirteen articles here on So Anyway.  That's not a lot by most blogging standards, but for something I do as a personal hobby I felt like averaging one article every month was not too shabby.  Then I increased that output by following up in 2014 with twenty-one posts.  I was growing not only as a person, but as a writer... a necessary evolution in order to have a shot at publishing even a fraction of the thoughts I want to share.  Then the story takes an unexpected turn.

  Last year I posted just six times, and not all of them were substantial enough to be what I would count as "writing"; that's a 71% decrease.  Furthermore, I have not published a single article this year, until now.  My mother has made the observation in the past that she can tell when a given period of life is particularly challenging for me, because I will pretty much disappear from social media for a while.

Moms can be wise like that.

  It would be impossible for me to dive into the full story as to why I have been so stingy with clicking the "publish" button for the last year and a half.  But for now I can tell you that my journey has been keeping me unrelentingly busy expanding my "mind palace" as Sherlock Holmes would call it.  And moving forward, whenever I feel that place is ready for more company, you will still find invitations here to join me in contemplating the human condition.  :)

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Leading The Charge

  It has been exactly six months since the last time I published an article here on my open book of thought.  I write more often than that, I think my head would explode if I didn't-- but for better or worse a great deal of what I write gets tucked away as a draft, saved for a day when I feel ready to share that particular piece of myself with the world.  My state of mind has been one of deep introspection lately (even more than usual) and I'm afraid my blog has reflected that.

  But once again, we are witnessing history in the making as the voice of justice has risen up in defense of the downtrodden-- and I do not want to miss the opportunity of lending my voice to spreading this message of courage, compassion, and hope for a brighter future.  U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch held a press conference earlier this week, announcing that "we are filing a federal civil rights lawsuit against the state of North Carolina, Governor Pat McCrory, the North Carolina Department of Public Safety and the University of North Carolina.  We are seeking a court order declaring House Bill 2’s restroom restriction impermissibly discriminatory, as well as a statewide bar on its enforcement."

I found this part of Attorney General Lynch's remarks particularly profound:
"Instead of turning away from our neighbors, our friends, our colleagues, let us instead learn from our history and avoid repeating the mistakes of our past.  Let us reflect on the obvious but often neglected lesson that state-sanctioned discrimination never looks good in hindsight.  It was not so very long ago that states, including North Carolina, had signs above restrooms, water fountains and on public accommodations keeping people out based upon a distinction without a difference.  We have moved beyond those dark days, but not without pain and suffering and an ongoing fight to keep moving forward.  Let us write a different story this time.  Let us not act out of fear and misunderstanding, but out of the values of inclusion, diversity and regard for all that make our country great."
  Lynch went on to offer the LGBT community a moment of encouragement, which brought many to tears.
"But no matter how isolated or scared you may feel today, the Department of Justice and the entire Obama Administration wants you to know that  we see you; we stand with you; and we will do everything we can to protect you going forward.  Please know that history is on your side.  This country was founded on a promise of equal rights for all, and we have always managed to move closer to that promise, little by little, one day at a time.  It may not be easy – but we’ll get there together."
Then Vanita Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice, added this:
"Calling H.B.2 a 'bathroom bill' trivializes what this is really about. H.B.2 translates into discrimination in the real world. The complaint we filed today speaks to public employees who feel afraid and stigmatized on the job. It speaks to students who feel like their campus treats them differently because of who they are. It speaks to sports fans who feel forced to choose between their gender identity and their identity as a Tar Heel. And it speaks to all of us who have ever been made to feel inferior — like somehow we just don’t belong in our community, like somehow we just don’t fit in. Let me reassure every transgender individual, right here in America, that you belong just as you are. You are supported. And you are protected."

  I feel overwhelmed with joy and gratitude whenever I see people choose to stand apart from the fearful mob, and defend the ideals the founding fathers of this nation devoted their lives to enshrining in the charters of freedom.  When we see an entire group of innocent people being singled out for undeserved scrutiny and harassment, it is our duty and privilege to echo what the Declaration of Independence proclaimed to the world more than two centuries ago:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
  It takes strength of character to stand up in support of those who need it most, but make no mistake-- the bravest among us are those who, doing no harm to anyone else, are forced to live every day in constant fear of judgment and hostility... simply for being "different".

  So anyway, I genuinely hope that peace may be found by all who seek the blessings of enjoying "certain unalienable rights".  Like so many generations before us, we bear the responsibility to lead by example, to champion the cause of moving FORWARD in the course of human history.  There is a culture of contempt and contention shrouding our society, of that there is no doubt.  But there is also a light which I can see clearly through the fog of war: the light of kindness and integrity.  I humbly invite you to join me in pursuit of that vision!

Let's find each other out in front,
leading the charge
to secure liberty and justice
for all.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Saturday, December 12, 2015

As Thyself

  Having a hard time just being you today? It's okay, me too.


  There is a winter storm warning this weekend here in the Rocky Mountains where I live. But every joint in my body already figured that out during the night, long before I picked up my phone this morning to check the weather forecast. So I just finished smiling and waving as I watched my family walk out the door to go to our church Christmas party. And now I think I am one plate of red and green cookies away from throwing a totally legit (pity) party right here in my house.

Like I have said before, authenticity is the spice of life, so here comes a dash.

  I crave authenticity, I want that spice sprinkled all over everything I do... like grated cheese on an awesome plate of nachos. Okay now I am just making myself hungry. I can hear that carton of ice cream calling to me from the freezer: "Give in to the blues Chuck! All you need is a spoon and your journey to the dark side will be complete!"

  So anyway... have you ever been reading my stuff and had the thought: "This guy sure writes a lot about staying positive. I wonder if he is one of those annoyingly optimistic people you can't help but want to kick in the shins just so you can see how positively they respond to THAT..."

If so-- come in and sit down, we need to talk for a sec.

  I don't write about things like kindness and staying positive because I think I am incredibly good at being a perfect example of those things (though I do put sincere effort into them) or because my life is free from the significant struggles that make it genuinely hard for a person to have peace in their heart. I write about the things I write about because that is what my life requires from me, and consequently from my amazing wife and kids.

  I write about taking one day at a time and loving people because that is what makes the biggest difference in my world, and I want to share that ideology in the hope that it might help even one other person in some small way. Despite how inherently short-sighted my concept of another person's suffering may be, I believe that every single act of kindness matters because that is ONE MORE moment of compassion in a world that NEEDS all the love it can get.

  Go back in time ten years, and you would not see the same dauntless perspective I carry around with me now. The things I share with you are meaningful to me for many reasons... reasons which even my closest friends do not always get to see. My sweet wife makes it a point to mention that even with everything she knows about my daily life, she "can only imagine what it takes to be you every day." Gosh, I love her.

  Similarly, the things that mean a lot in your life are important to you because there is a story there! And If we ever meet in person, I am being 100% serious when I say that I would love to hear that story and talk with you about the craziness and beauty of mortal life.

  I have a tendency to talk a LOT once I decide to open up, but (believe it or not) I don't even come close to explaining every element of my thought process, or all the details of how I got there, let alone everything it takes to hang on to that perspective each day. (Mostly because nobody wants to read a 27 page long blog post.) But there is something I DO want to make sure to share about what goes on behind the scenes: Just because I win most of my battles these days, doesn't mean they aren't still battles. I still have to fight them. 

  There is a frustratingly ironic phenomenon that occurs when we have invested countless hours into becoming better at something: when someone is really good at what they do, they make it look easy. Everyone has their own personal set of challenges; some are visible and some are not... and those battles don't win themselves. Victory comes to those who stay in the habit of learning and continually work on finding new ways to apply that knowledge.

  But what happens on the days where we stumble and get scraped up? What about the times when we feel flawed and inherently "less than"? Moments like the one I am experiencing tonight as I sit here feeling embarrassed that I'm not at the party singing Christmas carols with my family. It's okay to be disappointed when life doesn't go the way we want it to. But I haven't come this far to let something like being physically incapacitated paralyze me emotionally. My respect for having a mindset of perseverance grows deeper every day.

  That being said, I am still considering staging an epic duel between my mouth and Obi-Spoon Kenobi. But let's watch this video first...

"For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part;
but then shall I know even as also I am known."  (1 Corinthians 13:12)

  So let's stop waiting for other people to tell us that we are good enough. There is nothing wrong with going through the process of honestly coping with what we feel; bottling things up is unhealthy. It's what we do next that makes the difference! We must learn to self-validate if that is not already a strength we possess. We must make a habit of being kind to the person in the mirror at least as much as we would be toward someone else.

"Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself."  (Matthew 22:39)

  Let's invest in the process of making those thoughts into a habit and watch for the ways that habit is influencing our personal lives. By learning to see ourselves more clearly as the infinitely valuable soul that we are, the warm glow of that light will naturally affect the way we treat others.

  So the pity party is over, everybody out! Go home and think about being nicer to yourself. Hey, don't forget your coat... somebody always winds up leaving a coat on my couch when I host these things. Oh and someone please take this dish of seven layer bean dip with you, or I will eat the whole thing and no good can come of that.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Full Immersion

Henri J.M. Nouwen wrote:
Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into the places of pain, to share brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish.

Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with powerless.

Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Genetics Of Music

  Back in 1999 I was studying music composition as a freshman in college. In the early 2000's, I learned of an ambitious new endeavor called The Music Genome Project. What exactly is a "music genome", you ask?
The Music Genome Project is an effort to "capture the essence of music at the most fundamental level" using over 450 attributes to describe songs and a complex mathematical algorithm to organize them.
[ Wikipedia: Music Genome Project ]

  I immediately fell in love with the idea and couldn't wait to see if they were really going to be able to pull it off. Little did I know that what was coming would revolutionize the way people interact with the music listening experience.

  Six years later, thanks to the work of Music Genome founders Tim Westergren and Will Glaser (and scores of professional musicologists) they launched an amazingly customizable music streaming service called Pandora, and introduced the world to the joy of being able to create and curate your own personal selection of digital radio stations. Pandora learns your taste in music as you give each song it plays a "thumbs up", a "thumbs down", or just let it slide with no input. After just a couple listening sessions, the software begins finding artists and songs it thinks you will like... with an unreal level of accuracy.

  Pandora does not use machine-listening or other forms of automated data extraction. The typical music analyst working on the Music Genome Project has a four-year degree in music theory, composition or performance, has passed through a selective screening process and has completed intensive training in the Music Genome's rigorous and precise methodology.

  While listening, users are offered the ability to buy the songs or albums at various online retailers. Over 400 different musical attributes are considered when selecting the next song to play. These 400 attributes are combined into larger groups called focus traits. There are 2,000 focus traits. Examples of these are rhythm syncopation, key tonality, vocal harmonies, and displayed instrumental proficiency.

  What do I think of Pandora now that I have been using it myself for so many years? I absolutely love it and can't imagine ever being without it.

  Wednesday, September 9th is Pandora's 10th birthday. Over the last decade Pandora has grown into a $3.6 billion company, as it's users have listened to over 74 billion hours of music tailored to even the most eclectic of personal tastes. So anyway- this month I, and more than 250 million other Pandora listeners across the United States, Australia, and New Zealand have occasion to celebrate the awesomeness of being able to discover new music we already like, that we simply haven't heard yet.