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.

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

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.

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.

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….’

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!

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.

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.

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.”

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.