The Power of Dreams

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Dreams have tremendous impact on our lives. Have you ever had a dream that frightened or inspired you? Recently, a kidnapper took my youngest daughter at gun point into a Lifetime Fitness. I desperately wished to rescue her, but I was afraid that she’d be shot if I tried. I reached for my cell phone to call 9-1-1, but it wasn’t in my pocket. I located another phone, but had no idea where I was. Once I found the address, I tried dialing 9-1-1, but there was no dial tone. In a panic, I woke up. I was thankful that it was just a dream, but it tormented me for hours. Why do we dream such things? That thought led me to investigate dreams further and here is what I found…

She lived on a remote farm, owned a pet pig and hoarded books from her favorite author. She was his biggest fan and when she finally met him, she told him so: “I’m your number one fan!” She said bizarre things like “He didn’t get out of the cock-a-doody car!” Her name was Annie Wilkes from a book entitled “Misery,” by Steven King. I’ll never forget when the movie came out. There’s a scene in it where Annie hobbles Paul with a heavy sledge-hammer. It shocked me! I saw the movie a second time just to watch the audience’s reaction to that scene. I sat on the right side of the theater and as Annie raised the sledgehammer, I glanced over my left shoulder just in time to see the entire audience jump in unison as it struck home. After falling asleep in an airplane, Steven King dreamed of a fan kidnapping her favorite author and holding him hostage. When he reached his destination, he remained at the airport and wrote the first 50 pages of Misery.

While suffering from a high fever, James Cameron dreamed fitfully. In his dream, a gleaming figure of doom dragged its broken body from a fire using kitchen knives. It was a skeletal, metallic monster with a rictus smile and glowing, ember eyes. That dream led to the unforgettable character—the Terminator.

The year was 1892. Albert Einstein lay sleeping in his bed dreaming of sledding down a snow-covered mountain. As he accelerated, he soon approached the speed of light. At that moment he looked toward the sky. The appearance of the stars astonished him. He spent much of his career trying to understand that dream. Thirteen years later, it resulted in the theory of relativity.

Nikola Tesla was once an employee of Thomas Edison but left to follow his own ambitions. Years later, he found himself competing with Edison for the first major power project in the United States: the massive hydroelectric power plant at Niagra Falls. He won the contract and because of that, his invention, AC power, impacts our lives every day. Why did Tesla win that contract? What advantage did he have over Edison? Tesla was passionate about dreams. He taught himself how to dream lucidly, and used that ability to create a dream laboratory in which he experimented with his ideas while fully awake.

As I read about Misery, the Terminator, Einstein and Tesla, I wondered how dreams impacted my life. It amazed me to discover that almost every story, poem, or invention I’d ever conceived originated in a dream. Dreams play a big role in my novels Detour from Normal and The Road to Amistad. Each novel has several dream sequences based upon real dreams. In some cases, they foreshadowed events that I hadn’t even written about yet, and I didn’t realize that until I read the entire manuscripts for the first time.

My troubling dream about my daughter being kidnapped drove me to learn more about dreams. What I found is that whether they frighten or inspire us, it is difficult to deny the power of dreams.

(Image courtesy of Paul v2.0, Flikr Commons)

The Little Man and the Crowd of Miseries

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Once upon a time, a little man lived in a ramshackle cottage on a weed-choked lot not far from a castle. Every day, the little man opened his door to find a huge crowd waiting. As the door swung open, they all shouted “Huzzah!” Then, one by one, they shared their miseries with him.

The little man was very popular because he was a good listener. He also possessed a great talent for transforming suffering into anger and riling the crowd. Fueling their rage filled him with a sense of power and purpose, which he greatly enjoyed.

The crowd spent the day together roaming the countryside, complaining, swearing, and shouting, always with the little man at the lead. At the end of the day, however, the little man returned home exhausted.

When he looked back upon each day, he realized that they were all the same: nothing accomplished, nothing changed. Many days he felt too tired to fix himself dinner, or he drank himself to sleep and forgot about dinner entirely. His life depressed him, and surprisingly, he felt lonely. After many years of the same routine, his health began to fail leading to frequent headaches, illness, and fatigue.

One morning, the little man awoke with a realization: No one is holding a crossbow to my head or a broadsword to my throat forcing me to do this.

Rather than continue his downward spiral, he instead decided not to open the door. Every so often, he peered through wooden shutters at the crowd gathered outside. They gazed at the door expectantly, talked among themselves, and shrugged their shoulders in confusion.

“Where is he? Why won’t he come out?” After a time, they began to leave, and by noon, everyone was gone. The little man breathed a sigh of relief. Finally, I’m alone.

Slowly, he opened the door to the most beautiful day he could remember. He left his home and strolled through the nearby wood. Bumblebees droned and Peacock butterflies circled lazily in courtship over his head. Celandine, Primrose and Bluebells painted the earth in shades of gold, yellow, and blue at his feet and the repetitive ballad of a Song Thrush whispered in his ears.

He followed a meandering path until it ended near a breathtaking waterfall. A beautiful little woman sat at water’s edge admiring the splendor. The snap of a twig underfoot caused her to turn in his direction. Upon seeing him, she smiled invitingly. Immediately smitten by her charm and good looks, he joined her in reverie.

The little man married the little woman, and they moved into the cottage together. Lush grass and pristine gardens replaced weeds and perfectly groomed thatch sealed the leaking roof. The cottage became one of the loveliest in the kingdom. People came from all around to see it, but most days, the little man and woman were not there—they were busy exploring all the wonders that the world had to offer.

*** We are victims of life not by design, but by choice ***

Image by Ron Adams, Flikr Commons

Together or Alone?

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This morning, I pondered the differences between my two novels: Detour from Normal and The Road to Amistad. Joined at the hip in many regards, these novels are nonetheless as different as night and day in a certain respect: one is about being alone and the other is about being together.

In Detour from Normal, I was thrust from normalcy into a life of cold, heartless professionals and the tragically mentally ill. A normal person in my place would feel frightened and alone, and many of the experiences I described are from a solitary perspective. Instead of feeling terrified, I felt at peace, and at times, blissful. A mysterious process had freed me from judgment, expectations, worry and fear.

That mindset allowed me to befriend people who were toothless, foul-smelling, crippled, rude or unable to communicate—people I would never associate with before. My best friend was a drug addict recovering from his eighth relapse who had lost his job, savings, car, home, wife and family because of addiction. Through different eyes, I found these people funny and interesting, and for those among them who felt frightened and alone, I became their guardian angel. It was an immensely freeing experience and I could not help but imagine what the world would be like if everyone could live life as I did then.

The Road to Amistad explores just such a scenario. People from all walks of life were spontaneously freed from their mental prisons and introduced to my world overnight. Unfortunately, their changed mindset more often than not led to heartache as family and friends demanded the return of their absconded loved ones.

A few managed to avoid that struggle and find a unity of spirit with others like themselves. Friendship and trust thrived regardless of former walls that separated them. They were magnets to each other, formed strong friendships and accomplished great feats together. None among them ever felt separate or alone.

Nowadays, it is difficult for me to tread the line between alone and together. I have a wife, children, friends and a full-time job. There are many rules and walls that impede me and I have limited time and resources.  It would be easier to abandon my vision and rejoin my former world, but I don’t want to close doors—I want to open them. I don’t want to be alone—I want to be together. I want to be part of something big.

I hope that you will read both Detour from Normal and The Road to Amistad and open your mind to possibilities that are ours for the taking. If my message rings true, press the button; twist the throttle; swing; jump; do whatever it takes to begin your own journey, and as you go forth, spread the word so that you may do it together instead of alone.

Resilience

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What is Resilience? According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, it is an ability to recover from, or adjust easily to misfortune or change. Resilience can result from severe trauma, like a switch flipping in a person’s mind—a kind of wakeup call that closes a door to their immediate suffering, often opening a new one to latent passions.

That is what happened to me following surgery, adverse reactions to medications and resulting temporary mental illness. Within months, I embarked on a writing career and published my first book, Detour from Normal, just over a year later.

I asked doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists and counselors about my experience and was met with blank stares. The best they could offer was a pill to numb my mind and make me forget. Family and friends were no better—they either longed for the day I would fully recover, made fun of me behind my back, or shunned me.

I could have let that hurt my feelings or taken an easier route and pretended to be the old me. Instead, I chose a new path, convincing others even more of my continued lunacy. I desperately needed to understand why I changed so much.

At first, there seemed no answers. Eventually, however, I painstakingly assembled the pieces to the puzzle, one that perhaps only I could solve. Along the way, I discovered that few people in the world understood resilience, a fact that left me feeling isolated and alone.

As time passed and my desire to share my knowledge grew, I decided to write another book. I knew from my experiences that readers would likely be skeptical, so I hatched a brilliant plan: I’d divulge everything I’d learned in the form of an entertaining story, a kind of parable. If readers thought it crazy, I would tell them “It’s just a story.” Who knows, a crazy story might prove more popular than a sane one. On the other hand, suppose that my words changed lives and others became resilient without having to suffer trauma? It seemed a win-win proposition. I began writing.

More than anything, I wanted to live and breathe my story–experience what my characters did first-hand. Over the ensuing years, I traveled from the desolate to the exotic through Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Idaho. I hiked down dusty desert roads; four wheeled through rugged wilderness, and gazed upon some of the most beautiful scenery in America. I even joined Toastmaster’s for a year to overcome a fear of public speaking, following the path of my protagonist. Frequently, I carried a notebook. On one road-trip, I pulled to the side of the road repeatedly to record notes–sixteen pages in all.

Although I aspired to be a great writer, I paled in comparison to any number of famous authors. Seeking tutelage, I found a local English teacher. Over the next year, we painstakingly dismantled two years of work and created a new story unlike any other—a story of a formerly mentally ill man’s quest to make sense of his new life; of finding others like himself; of his burning desire to share his gift with the world to end suffering and open doors to endless opportunity; a story that I believe is our destiny.

Thus was born my second book: The Road to Amistad. Soon, I will proudly present it to the world. I hope that you will join me then on an incredible journey into the unknown and test your own convictions about your mind.

UPDATE: The Road to Amistad was published on February 19th, 2016.

The View from Utopia

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In 2011 as I suffered from medically induced mental illness, I dreamed of a place I came to call Utopia. At the time, Utopia became very important to me, so important that I felt the place must really exist. For years after my recovery, I searched for it to no avail. Imagine my surprise when, by accident while on a family vacation in the summer of 2013, a real estate brochure gave me a crucial clue.

Recently, I flew from Phoenix, Arizona almost to Canada to see a view I’d only ever seen in a dream over four years ago. I wasn’t exactly sure of the exact spot so, based on studies of Google Earth, I planned on visiting several. To my surprise, it ended up being the first location that I chose. As I stood looking out over this view, it moved me to tears. I couldn’t believe that the place I dreamed of was in fact real.

Dreams play an important role in my life. My first book, Detour from Normal, has several real dream sequences and my next book has an equal number, all based on real dreams.

If you’ve read Detour from Normal, I hope that you will appreciate this view as much as I do. Had I arrived sooner, it would have included the snow on the mountaintops and ski runs that I describe in Detour from Normal. As a bonus, I also spent the night in the ski resort at the base of those ski runs.

I’d tell you where this place is, but I’d rather you learn more about it from my next book: The Road to Amistad, which is nearing completion and is targeted to be published in late 2015. It is a fictional memoir sequel to Detour from Normal written in the same style. I hope that you will once again join me and allow me to take you to places that you never imagined.

Kissed by a Hobo

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I stopped to pump gas at a Circle K in Tucson a while back and as I pulled up to the pump, I noticed a homeless man pushing a cart full of his meager possessions toward me. Hoping to discourage him, I left my door open blocking his way as I entered my credit card information at the pump. I didn’t want to say no to this man, but that’s what I normally do in such situations, not because I am uncaring, I just didn’t what to support a drunken lifestyle, believing that by withholding my generosity, I will somehow change his life for the better. Not to be deterred, the man made his way around the pump and caught me just as I reached for the nozzle.

“Excuse me, but could you spare eleven cents?” I scoffed at his request. Who would beg for eleven cents? “I’m eleven cents short to buy a boodie.”

“A  footy? “ I asked, clueless of what he was talking about.

“No, a boodie.”

“A booty?”

“No, you know, a boodie.” He repeated louder in frustration. “One of those big beers.”

“Oh.” I said, unable to make the logical connection. I reached into my pocket and pulled out what little change I had. “Looks like I only have two cents. Tell you what…” I paused, realizing I had no idea what was in my wallet. I pulled it out and opened it to reveal a five and a one dollar bill. I reached for the one and pulled it out. “I’ll give you a dollar.”

Before I knew it, the man wrapped me in a powerful bear hug. He was so happy that you’d think I’d offered him a million dollars. “You are so kind.” He said, hugging me even harder. Despite my reservations over hugging a hobo, I returned the hug equally strongly, laughing at the absurdity of the scene. Then, he did something really over the top: he kissed my head.

A dollar means nothing to me. I make that much in minutes at my job. I probably have a hundred dollars in change sitting in my piggy bank at home from emptying my pockets every day just so that I don’t have to lug it around the next day. It accumulates like dirty laundry until there is enough to warrant me bothering with it.

Eventually, the man stopped hugging me and with tears in his eyes, thanked me once again before continuing on his journey, clutching his dollar close to his heart. I proceeded to pump over fifty dollars of gas into my van in roughly the same time as our total interaction. I replaced the nozzle, screwed the gas cap on, and headed to spend another thirty dollars on pizza with my wife and children.

Surprisingly, that hobo’s hug and kiss made my day. I wished I’d given him the five instead, or even both bills. After he left, I realized that this is his life. I wasn’t going to change it one way or another with money, but maybe I could make a difference by treating him like a human being for a moment, by sticking around and listening to his stories. I can only imagine the places he’s been and the things that he’s seen. Perhaps talking with him would make a bigger difference in my life than his.

I’m crying as I write this thinking of the unfairness of it all. That hobo is equally the miracle that I am, blessed with the same extraordinary machine and unlimited capacity to thrive and succeed at anything he wishes. The only thing that makes us different are the beliefs and thoughts that fill our minds and the choices we make because of those thoughts. We are all capable of so much if only we knew how to get out of our own way.

Image courtesy of Vit Hassan, Flikr Commons

Perspectives

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If you spend all of your life in a valley, you cannot imagine the view from a mountaintop. If you climb to the mountaintop, you will learn that yours is not the only valley.

~ Ken Dickson

Image courtesy of http://pillionpapers.blogspot.com

A Life Well Lived

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My Dad died on January 11, 2015, but this is not a lamenting of his death, it is a celebration of his life: a life well lived.

“What is a life well lived?” You may ask.

It is serving your country. Dad received full military honors at his funeral including a 21-gun salute in respect for his military sacrifice.

It is recovering from failures and turning them into successes. Dad flunked out of college, then went back years later to that same college, Johns Hopkins, and received a BSEE, an MSEE, and a PhD.

It is taking what life throws at you in stride and running with it. Dad raised four boys, only one of whom he planned. Each of us presented our own unique challenges but he accepted all of us with love.

It is creating a bucket list and checking off every box. Dad petted whales in the Sea of Cortez, photographed unusual wildlife in the Galápagos Islands, explored China, and Europe, swam with fish in the Caribbean, and watched glaciers calve in Alaska.

It is throwing caution to the wind and starting something new. Dad moved several times during his career, living in the East, Midwest, West, and a few places in between. In his fifties, he left a secure job with IBM and consumed all of his retirement nest egg to found one company, and then another. By doing so, he enjoyed success beyond his wildest dreams.

It is sharing your good fortune. Dad donated religiously. He adopted a platoon. He created a scholarship fund for young people struggling, as he did, to go to college. He purchased school computers and equipment. He donated to the medical facility that restored his hearing with a cochlear implant. He put several children and grandchildren through college and helped a son and a daughter-in-law run for public office. He shored up fledgling family businesses and helped to buy first homes. He took many family members on trips to locations that they would never be able to afford themselves.

It is using your mind to its fullest. Dad held 88 patents. His ideas changed the world in the form of super market and industrial bar code scanners. The largest observatories in the world use his inventions to analyze the light from stars. Dad read voraciously and contracted as an engineer almost until he died, not because he needed to, but because he loved it.

It is having passion. Dad produced countless photographs of impeccable quality using the best photographic equipment available and his own darkroom. He possessed infinite patience when it came to capturing the “perfect shot,” whether it be at the top of a mountain or at the bottom of the ocean. He could hold his breath for four minutes thirty feet underwater while tracking a Queen Triggerfish or a Barracuda with his underwater camera.

It is taking care of your machine. Dad lifted weights, swam, ran, hiked, and walked his entire life. He ate healthily, maintained a good weight and never drank, smoked or used drugs. He was the picture of health and vitality and had better endurance than almost any other family member had.

It is always being optimistic, having a sense of humor, and looking at the bright side of life. In Dad’s last days of life, he could no longer fend for himself. My brother Dana helped him stand and get around. He was impressed at how solid Dad’s body was, even in its failing state and knew that came from years of exercise. He mentioned that to Dad. He grinned and flexed his muscles one last time, mocking death. My brother did not know whether to laugh or cry at his indomitable spirit.

It is about family. Our family gets along better than most, but it has its share of drama. Despite this, Dad insisted that we get together every year—nearly thirty of us. I cannot remember when that started, but it continued for many years through the last year of his life. Knowing that his time was short, we honored him and my mother last summer at the family reunion. Every evening, we held a question and answer session and listened to my parents tell stories about all of our lives. It was the last reunion he would lead.

It is saying goodbye. Whenever I visited Dad, he always stood outside and waved as we left. And he did not just wave, he continued to wave until he could no longer see us. Although my Dad’s health failed quickly at the end, and he could barely see or talk, instead of complaining or feeling sorry for himself, he used that time to make audio recordings for his sons, wife and extended family to let us all know how much we meant to him. It took every ounce of willpower he had left to do that, but he made sure the job was finished.

I will miss you, Dad, but I am more inspired by how you lived your life than I am sad about your death. You showed me what a life well lived is. Now, it is up to me to follow your example.

LFISGR8

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LFISGR8. That is what the license plate says on my father’s gold Lexus. I used to think it was vain and egotistical, but I think differently now.

I visited my father a short time ago. Days earlier, his doctor informed him that he was in the “end-game” of his life. There were no more treatments for his cancer and his condition was terminal.

Now eighty, my father took exceptional care of himself his entire life. He did not drink, smoke, or do drugs, and he exercised religiously every day: weight lifting, swimming, running, hiking—he always did something. He maintained a healthy weight, ate the right foods, and loved my mother, his wife of over 60 years, dearly.

During his battle with cancer, he maintained an upbeat attitude despite the heavy odds against him. Cancer medications kept the cancer in check, but took a toll on his weight: it plummeted from 155 to 110 pounds over a few months. Ultimately, he would die by starvation, so the doctor stopped his treatment.

That would have been fine by me, but the doctor did a disservice to my father. I can’t be upset with him—someone had to break the news, but I wish my Dad hadn’t heard the words he spoke because he accepted the doctor’s prognosis and gave up: and that’s not who my father is.

Those of us who do not die by accident, while unconscious, or in our sleep will all be faced with this choice, but I wish there was a way to choose to live every day to its fullest, no matter how many days we have left to live. I wish there was a purpose to every day and a joy associated with each breath, each spoonful of food, each ray of sunshine, and each kiss goodnight. I cannot imagine resigning myself to death because I love this life so much, but my father is the strongest man I have ever known and I have seen him make that choice.

More than anything, I wish his doctor had told him to live every day he has left to the fullest, share love with everyone special to him, and go to bed exhausted because he filled it with so much. That is the kind of medicine I want for this world, that is the kind of doctor I hope to have when I am in my last days. We all will die, but we do not need reminding of that, we need reminding to live.

LFISGR8 means something different to me now because of how my father lived his life: it means never giving up on your dreams and following your passions. It means taking care of the vessel you live your life in so that you can better appreciate every day. It means being kind and generous to others so that they may see life as you do. Even though you see things differently because of a doctor’s words, Dad, life is still great. I wish you the best for the rest of your life, whether it be measured in hours, days, or weeks. Thank you for being a shining example. I love you.

Image courtesy of Ja Puron, Flikr Commons

Clunker for Sale: Needs Work

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I was fed up with my car: there was a rock chip in the windshield directly in front of my face, a squeak when I released the brake pedal and it wallowed and bounced on worn-out struts. A bad idler pulley made a whirring sound when using the AC, the tires shook above 70 mph, and an exhaust leak rumbled beneath the passenger floorboard. I wanted to get rid of it, but a better car would set me back $5,000 in addition to the pittance I’d receive from selling my clunker.

I had a choice—continue to suffer or take action. I chose the latter and began chipping away at the list of annoyances. I disassembled the rear brakes, lubricated some rusted areas, and reassembled them eliminating the squeak. I fixed the rock chip, ordered new struts, bought a new pulley, balanced and rotated the tires, and purchased a new exhaust gasket. In no time, the annoyances would be history.

I soon noticed that fixing those problems did not bankrupt me or take much time, yet I suffered and complained about them for ages. I noticed something else:  the annoying things did not keep me from having a good relationship with my car—my attitude did. I placed the blame on the car and nearly abandoned it. But the car was just being what it was. It had no power to change itself. I was the one who needed to change.

When I finally chose to get my hands dirty, something strange happened. I bonded with that car. The dirt was the car’s blood and I was a surgeon elbow deep in it saving its life. When I stopped being the problem and became the solution, my relationship with the car changed. I liked it again. It no longer seemed like a stranger. We were partners, just like in the beginning.

All along, it was me at fault. I refused to hear the car’s cries for help. I shirked my responsibility in that relationship and my expectations were out of line. With a little time and effort, that annoying car might just be one of the best cars I’ve ever owned.

We all do this every day: we shirk our responsibilities in our relationships with family, friends, cars, jobs. We complain day in and day out, and we long for something better when we are perfectly capable of turning every one of those relationships around with very little effort, saving ourselves years, or perhaps a lifetime of suffering. Instead of running away, we can bring ourselves peace and strengthen bonds that might otherwise be permanently lost.

Taking a moment to reflect, we may find that our complaints are a compass pointing the way to a happier and more fulfilling life.

Image courtesy of Kenga-LAS, Flikr

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