Wednesday, January 23, 2008

...Like a Bad Penny- an essay from the HFC blog

“See a penny, pick it up, and all the day you’ll have good luck.”

I left my clinic to get some lunch Monday afternoon. It was one of those unusually cool days here in Houston, and I had neglected to bring a jacket. I shoved my hands into the deep pockets on the front of my smock/scrubs and stepped into the spittle of rain. A flash of amber light caught my eye and I looked down to see a scared and battered penny on the ground. It only flashed the dim light back at me because the scratches across the face of it were deep enough to reveal thin coppery lines of clean metal. There was a sudden urge to pick it up and that old familiar rhyme echoed in my head. Instead, I shoved my hands deeper in my pockets and quickly ran to my car, but, as soon as I got inside and closed the door, I felt a pang of guilt and sadness.

The poor neglected penny lay on the smooth blacktop, and I could almost hear its shocked cry for attention:
“Hey! Here I am! You forgot to pick me up! Don’t you want to have good luck today? Well, okay then, but wouldn’t you like to be a penny richer? No? Why not? I mean, I have value, don’t I? Yeah, not as much as I used to, but hey, I still count! At least- I think I do. Uhm, then how about an engraving of our 16th president? Come on! Abe Lincoln! He still matters to you, right? Hey, aren’t you coming back?”

The truth is I didn’t pick up the penny because it was lying on a dirty parking lot, and certainly had seen its better days. With the gloomy weather, and my occupational exposure to people who are coughing and sneezing, I can’t take the chance of getting sick, especially from whatever germs were still clinging to that penny. And, as far as luck goes, I guess I stopped believing in luck a long time ago. After all, it was just a penny. If it had been a quarter, then sure, I would have picked it up. That at least had some practical use on the toll way.

I pulled out of the parking space, and as I passed the spot where it lay, I couldn’t help but glance in the general direction. I didn’t see it. Had someone else picked it up, or was the shine that made it stand out the first time, now gone in a puddle of dirty oil-streaked water?

So much has changed since I was a young boy, but I do remember stopping to pick up a penny as I came out of a grocery store with my mom. “See a penny, pick it up…” I began.
“And all the day you’ll have good luck!” she finished.

I kept the penny in a box where I squirled away other boyhood treasures: rocks, string, a broken guitar pick. I don’t know if that penny ever brought me luck, but I do know that, at the time, I was much more willing to believe in a simple rhyme, a simple truth, and a simpler way of living.

After lunch, I paid for my meal with a debit card, but then I saw a box of mints on the counter.
“How much for the mints?” I asked.
“Ten cents,” replied the cashier.
I searched my pockets. Nope, no change at all. So, I gave her a dollar and bought five mints. She gave me two quarters in change, and I left. On my way back to the car, in the parking lot, I dropped one of the quarters. I quickly turned to pick it up, saw its silver surface shining up at me, and then drew my hand back.

Maybe there is a new rhyme I don’t know about. Maybe a mother and her young son or daughter will leave the restaurant in a few minutes and he or she will look on the ground and say “Hey mom! See a quarter, pick it up…”

“Put that nasty thing down!” She’ll say. “Do you want to get sick?”


Saturday, January 19, 2008

Resolute Honesty

I don't make New Year's resolutions.

Not that I am opposed to the concept- not at all. I think more people should make resolutions, but more to the point, I think they should be "goals" that are expressed specifically, positively, and are geared toward answering the question, "What do I want?"

So, yeah, I make resolutions, but I don't do it on January 1st. I wait til the end of the month.

January 29th, to be exact.

I was born on that date, so aside from making my birthday anti-climatic after the Holidays, ("You want what for your birthday? Come on, kid! We just had Christmas! Here's five bucks-now get outa' here.") it also gives me a chance to look around, collect my thoughts, and make my goals more realistic and obtainable. That way, I'm not creating the "knee-jerk" gotta-lose-weight-and sober-up type resolutions that are frequently made on the fuzzy-edged, nausea filled morning of January 1st.

I just finished teaching a seminar today at the TEC Counseling office, in Atascocita. Our topic was "Setting Lifestyle Goals", and I am very pleased with how it turned out. We didn't have a big audience, but those who did show up were ready to work, and they left with a clearer vision of what they want, how they intend to get it, and how they will feel when they get there.

So, in the interest of practicing what you preach, here are my new Goals for 2008.

Gary’ Lifestyle Goals

I want to experience greater joy and more enthusiasm in my life, and with my family. I can achieve this by making choices that positively influence me mentally, physically, and spiritually. In order to get what I want, I will take the following actions:

I will lose 15 pounds by June, 2008. I will do this by losing 3 pounds a month for the next five months. I will lose the weight by following a lifestyle diet outlined by Dr. Phil McGraw in The Ultimate Weight Solution. I will also exercise 3 or 4 times a week by using my home gym equipment, walking, jogging, or playing sports with my children. When I have lost the 15 pounds I will re-evaluate my ideal weight and take action to maintain it.
I will write for at least 3 hours each week. I will enter one writing contest in February, and one additional contest before August. I will enter, and complete, the National Novel Editing Month challenge and edit for 50 hours in the month of March. At the end of March, I will re-evaluate my novel manuscript and begin the final re-write, and start my search for a publisher.
I will present another seminar at TEC counseling, either on Setting Goals, or a new topic, by May.
I will share these goals with my Humble Fiction Café members, my co-workers, seminar participants, my friend Greg, and my wife. I will allow them to hold me accountable, and I will also allow them to encourage, help, and guide me on the way to meeting my goals. I will also seek God's will for my life by praying each morning before work, and by praying with my family in the evenings.
When I have met these goals I will feel accepted by myself, valuable, illuminated by God, and free to create a positive reality for myself and my family.
I will post this goal at work, near my desk at home, and keep a copy in my wallet. I will read and evaluate this list each week, and change, add, or subtract as needed to ensure I achieve what I really want.

Okay. There you have it: Focused on what I want, measurable, accountable, realistic, broken down into obtainable steps, connected with behavior and feelings and set into a specific time line.

If you want to hear more about setting goals, and you live in the Humble, Kingwood, Atascocita area, then send me an e-mail or add a comment. I can perform the seminar again at any time, as long as I have 5 to 10 people, and I will probably teach on this topic again by July.

Have a blessed New Year!

And if you happen to have been born in January like me, my daughter, and my niece Emilee, then let me tell you how much I feel your pain.
I really do.
How about five bucks off admission to the seminar? :)


Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Teenage boys become "Enchanted"

I saw Enchanted with my 8 year-old daughter, and two disgruntled, teenage boys who wanted to see the PG-13 rated Juno, but opted out at the last minute due to one very adamant mother who insisted that her child not see a comedy about teen pregnancy. The boys sat low in their chairs and stared straight forward at the blank screen in abject silence. I mean- could this be more of a chick-flick? However, my daughter was more receptive and by the end of the film- so where the boys :)

If you don't want all the details below, then let me sum it up for you in three words:

Cliche', Silly, Entertaining.

Enchanted starts off as a blatant, cookie-cutter Disney Princess story. Even the classic-look animation can't shake you out of the feeling that you've seen this film a hundred times, and it borrows quite liberally (and intentionally) from all of those other films. You can follow the formula right along in your handy Disney Princess Movie program:
The cute as a button Princess Giselle, who is prone to break into song more quickly than an American Idol hopeful?
Got it.
Fuzzy, wide-eyed forest animals who provide back-up vocals while lending a hand with the sewing and cleaning?
Yep. Seen it.
The dashing, wide-mouth Prince Edward, with excellent hair, and an ego the size of several giant, green ogres?
Did we get the wicked step-mother, Queen Narissa?
Roger that.

The hotter-than-she-should-be Queen is not about to turn over her throne to some rosy-cheeked upstart, so she conveniently changes her appearance into that of an old hag, (saw that coming, did you?) and tricks our innocent princess into standing too close to a magic whishing well. The wicked Queen then shoves Princess Giselle over the edge of the well; banishing her to a world where there are no "happily ever afters." This is where the movie is supposed to magically transport you and the princess into modern day New York City through a portal that connects the whishing well in enchanted, animated, Andalasia, to a manhole cover in real-life Times' Square. What it manages to accomplish instead it to take you quickly, and thankfully, away from the Cliche' opening sequence.
Finally- the movie starts! And here is what you get in New York: More of the same old story with a few fun twist and turns- just not animated.

In live action, the flesh and blood Princess Giselle's appearance and dress do not look enough like her cartoon version to make the transition convincing. Actress Amy Adams is fine in the role, and her voice is distinctive enough to connect the opening animated character to her real world counterpart, but you wonder why they didn't try harder to make it more convincingly visual. It is a movie, right?
You also get the standard, practical-minded, "we-don't-have-time-for-fairy-tales" Patrick Dempsey who is the divorced father of the little girl who befriends our heroine. His character comes to find the lost princess affectionately amusing- if not a little nuts. Mr. Dempsey is very good with his hang-dog expressions, and he gets to use them quite often here, but like Adams, he manages to be charming enough to keep you interested.
Most of the plot, however is actually an exercise in suspension of belief, so much so that you are expected to take at face value an impromptu musical that occurs in Central Park involving every gay man in New York City.

Let me tell you right now: The whole movie feels like it's just a mad rush to get each plot element together so it can bring all of the principals together for one big, expensive showdown in the end.
Oh, it's fun getting there:
Amy Adams has a beautiful scene where her character realizes she can experience anger, and the subtle shift from her goofy, make-believe princess to a real woman confused about her loyalties and feelings is understated- but exceptionally well done. A surprise appearance from Susan Sarandon is fun as she leaves chewed up bits of scenery in her wake, and Timothy Spall has some interesting scenes as the evil queen's henchman who begins to question their dysfunctional relationship. All of the performances are better than you would expect, and it is the skill and talent of these players that lifts Enchanted from similar Fairy-tale-mixed-with-reality movies that you've already slept through.

For all of it's faults, the movie is still entertaining. My son and his teen friend laughed in all the right places, and both temporarily forgot the troubles of their earlier attempt to see a more "adult" movie.

And that is the point, I think.

Enchanted doesn't fail to make you smile, and you may just forget about the troubles and realities of our bland, grungy, real-life world... if only for a little while.
Even cynics like me may walk out of the theater remembering their youthful belief in the magic power of "love's first kiss".

For the Kids: Four out of Five.

For me: Three and a Half out of Five. (Extra points for making two teenage boys enjoy a much derided "Chick-Flick." )