Time to begin considering New Years Resolutions…
It’s December first which means it’s time for me to begin planning my New Year’s Resolutions. I take these seriously and begin planning them a month out. Any fool can resolve to change things New Year’s Day when they’re hungover, their belly is flopping around, and they’re full of regret. Drink less and get in shape is a New Years Resolution standard, like turkey for Thanksgiving.
At my gym, I refer to the first fifteen days of the New Year as tourist season. People show up motivated and driven by the hopes of meaningful change. They’re seldom stick around. Old habits take over. Their muscles start to hurt. And they justify not returning – it’s too expensive, it takes too much time, it hurts too much, I wasn’t as bad off as I had thought. All the things. Tourist season in the gym. It never lasts long.
I have a standard secondary New Year’s resolution I’ve recommitted to for many years. It’s from the late New Orleans musician Alan Toussaint and it’s this: Everything I do gonna be funky from now on. It’s one of his songs. The first line is: Just be myself and do my thing. It’s my reminder that fitting in is overrated. I know folks who try to fit in and find each of them, to a person, unremarkable. I resolve to not be that guy. I gonna try to be funky again this year.
My primary New Year’s resolutions a behavior deeply held. And old habit. If I can change a habit, I know I can tackle most things. A few years ago, I resolved to change how I wave when I’m in the car. We wave in my neck of the woods here in Mobile, Alabama. To walkers. To runners. To friends in cars. To strangers. We’re quite friendly. And for years my wave was to raise my thumb, my index finger, my middle finger off the steering wheel and shake my hand back and forth three times. You’ve seen this wave. That along with a smile and I did it without thinking. But I resolved to change it. Not because something new would be better, but to prove I could change. And I did. I turned to the garage door wave. Four fingers around the steering unroll to a wave and roll back down – garage door style. It’s a hard change. It took a while. But I did it.
I’ve always been a sock sock, shoe shoe guy. Beginning January second – the first is a holiday, after all – beginning January second I resolve to become a sock shoe sock shoe guy. I’ve been a sock sock shoe shoe guy since I was a toddler, so this will be a big one. Sock shoe sock shoe is a bit inefficient, but I welcome some inefficiency to prove to myself I’m capable of change. Sock shoe sock shoe. It will be my focus in 2024.
I did a practice run when I got dressed this morning and it went OK. This one’s going to take some time. I felt like I was dressing another man.
I’m Cam Marston and I’m just trying to Keep It Real.
I took the Friday after Thanksgiving off but found an excellent stand-in. This commentary comes from one of my daughter’s college writing assignments.
Christmas Comes Early in Oxford
There are two types of people in this world, ones who celebrate Christmas months in advance and those who celebrate after Thanksgiving. I can honestly say that I put people in these categories. It is an essential question I ask when getting to know someone along with, “What is your name?” and “How old are you?” People are passionate about their category. Those who celebrate early say that their favorite holiday is Christmas and that it is superior to all other holidays, which is true. People that don’t celebrate early say that they hate keeping up with the tree and that It’s messy, which is also true.
I visited Ole Miss as a high school senior. I got to Oxford in late October and toured the campus. It was beautiful. Throughout the tour, the guides talked about this place called “the square.” I knew nothing about Ole Miss or Oxford but figured out that the square must be the heart of the town. My mom and I later found the square. We stepped up to it and I was shocked. THEY ALREADY HAVE CHRISTMAS DECORATIONS UP? Again, it was October.
My family has never been the type to start celebrating Christmas early but, Oxford, MS was starting to celebrate even before Halloween. I was floored! How can people be celebrating Christmas without celebrating Halloween or Thanksgiving? The decorations are adorable, but it was way too early for this. Walking through the square I saw that not only were the Christmas decorations up around the square, but all of the boutiques were selling exclusively Christmas decorations and clothing. They even had their fall decorations on the sale rack. How can people be so obsessed with Christmas that they start celebrating two months early? I felt like I was standing in the middle of Whoville.
My father thinks the tree should be put up on December 20th. My mother thinks Christmas decorations should start November 1st. It is a battle. It happens every year. My parents recruit my siblings and me to their sides. My mom usually pulls my sister and me because it means we can start our Christmas lists early. My dad tells my brothers that if we get a tree now then they’ll have to put it up and keep it alive.
We’ve had the same Christmas eve and Christmas day traditions since I was around four years old. They’re full of memories. And I think this is why the city of Oxford, MS and people in general celebrate Christmas so early, they want to have the feelings that they have on Christmas morning for longer than just one day. People buy Christmas gifts over months because they get a rush when thinking how the present will look wrapped and under the tree. They want that rush all of the time. People want to be happier, and if putting Christmas decorations up sixty days before the actual event does that for them, I can let it slide.
I’m guest commentator Reiney Marston and, on behalf of my father and me, we’re just trying to Keep It Real.
Some swine content before your Thanksgiving ham.
This is about pigs. Hogs, too. Sounders. Litters. And it’s timely since many of you, like me, accompany the Thanksgiving turkey with a ham. So, let’s have a quick chat about the magic that is pigs, hams, hogs, and other swine-related stuff.
Next week I’ll spend part of the Thanksgiving break in the woods of Clarke County, Alabama. If the weather is nice, my Thanksgiving meal will be on the porch of my father’s camp breaking bread around 1pm with my wife and kids, my brothers, their wives and kids, and my father. It’s what we do. There will be a ham there.
In the woods nearby will be hogs. Wild ones. And if I understand the story correctly, some of them are descendants of the hogs the first explorers to the Americas tossed out on islands as they came through. The explorers were preparing for return trips to Europe and put hogs on the islands knowing they’d survive because they can and will eat nearly anything and they’d multiply. When the explorers came back through on their way back home, they provisioned with some fresh pork. Some of the hogs that were left behind found their way to the continental US and the ones rooting the woods of Clark County, Alabama could be long descendants of those founding father pigs. Columbian pigs. Mayflower pigs. And I think that’s pretty cool.
But admiring wild hogs in Alabama is taboo. They’re hell on property and no farmer or landowner has anything good to say about them. They are, however, a remarkable species. They survive and they propagate regardless of their environment or circumstances. They’re a mammalian kudzo. They drop multiple litters each year of as many as ten piglets. Controlling them is nearly impossible, as any hunter or landowner or farmer can attest. As an animal, they’re full of vulnerabilities, allowing all kinds of prey to feed on them yet, they thrive.
And they’re tasty. Pork loins are delicious. I once ordered a blue cheese stuffed pork chop at K-Pauls in New Orleans and nearly fainted in bliss. I returned, and ordered it again the next night and had it many times until K-Pauls shut their hallowed doors three years ago. I used to genuflect when I went in.
And then there’s the ham that we will pull from Thanksgiving Day. Magically cut in circles. The kids love it. They fill their plates. The ham has that iridescent sheen that glimmers in the light. Exactly why ham glimmers and forms rainbows like spilled petroleum is unclear. I don’t want to know. It must be God’s will.
Later on Thanksgiving Day, after we’ve cleaned up and after I’ve curled up around my packed belly for an afternoon nap, I’ll step into the woods with a rifle, hoping to take down a distant cousin of the ham I’ve just eaten. Whose ancestor may have hitched a ride on the Niña, the Pinta, or the Santa Maria a long time ago. It’s all a bit gross and weird and magical all at the same time.
And that’s all I got to say about that.
I’m Cam Marston and I’m just trying to Keep It Real. Happy Thanksgiving.
My wife and I went to Oxford, Mississippi last weeked. Here’s the scoop…
Oxford, Mississippi is as beautiful as they say. My wife and I visited this past weekend to see my daughter. We joined her for a morning tailgate in the famed Grove followed by a football game. It was exceptional. Here’s what I saw.
First – These people are serious about their tailgating. Our host was a couple friend who rented a tent on the Grove for home games. The Grove is exactly that, a grove of trees under which these tents sit and by tent, don’t think something for camping. It was a covering over a space of about 10 feet by twenty feet. Our friend’s tent was spectacular with food and drink for lots of people and a small statuette of the Ole Miss Rebel mascot made out of moss positioned in the center of a big bouquet of flowers. People were stopping to photograph it. Everyone who entered our tent – we began calling it our tent but we were, in truth, guests there – was offered breakfast croissants, lunch sandwiches, cheeses, lots of sweets and yogurt and granola.
The same generosity was everywhere. Since kickoff was 11 and people were arriving at 8am there needed to be some breakfast food, hence the yogurt and granola and bacon egg and cheese croissants. The bloody mary’s and mimosas were flowing like water and, incidentally, we were told there was water there somewhere.
Second – Oxford needs more restaurants. We tried eating at several places Friday night and the shortest wait was two hours. On football weekends the city floods with fans and securing a place to eat was nearly impossible. The same was true Sunday morning. We wanted breakfast with our daughter but even Waffle House had over an hour’s wait. We ended up eating at my daughter’s apartment which she shares with her three roommates, which means we first cleaned the kitchen which appeared to have never ever been done before and then we started cooking.
Third – Wow has football attire changed for the female college students. Wow. And I mean Wow. Call me a fuddy duddy all you want, but back in the day, female coeds wore clothes to college football games. I think the word “cute” today means “ain’t much to it.” I was terrified my daughter would show up in something similar. Thankfully she arrived clothed. At an Alabama football game in Tuscaloosa earlier this year, we heard a young female say to her friend “I feel like everyone is looking at me.” They were. We were. Her outfit was the size of a postage stamp. The men were saying “would you look at that” and the women were saying “would you look at that.” If you’re headed to an Alabama or Ole Miss football game in the warm weather and you’ve not been in a while, try not to gawk. Maybe it’s the same everywhere. I don’t know.
Finally – Seeing my daughter in her element, with her friends, in a place she loves was the best part of it all. It made the weekend for us.
I’m Cam Marston. Just trying to Keep It Real.
A similar theme repeats itself across all faiths. It’s a discipline I have little of.
A friend of mine claims he’s a genius. He has little evidence of this. Just an over-confident assessment of his himself. He’s quite entertaining. He believes the lunar landings were a hoax, but of his own genius, he’s certain.
Last night I told him I was struggling for a topic for this week’s commentary. I hadn’t seen or thought or felt anything that moved me to write about it. So, I asked him for ideas. He blustered and bloviated and finally got around to saying this: The greatest enemy each of us face is staring at us every morning, every afternoon, and every evening before we go to bed. That enemy can be found in the mirror. It’s us. It’s me. It’s you. We’re our own enemy. We sabotage ourselves every day. Things that we know we should do, we avoid. Things we know we shouldn’t do, we do. It ranges from having too many cookies before bed at night to not making the sales calls, or having the tough conversations that we know need to happen. The list infinitely long. We blame others, we blame bad luck, even blame the devil from time to time. But the vast majority of the time, our greatest enemy is ourselves.
Now I would love to tell this self-proclaimed genius he’s wrong but, he’s right. And his description certainly describes me. I have remarkable discipline about some things in my world and remarkably little discipline about others – like gobbling a fistful of cookies on the way to bed at night. I know I shouldn’t do it but down the hatch they go. And I eat them quickly hoping the guilt will go away quickly.
Another enemy is when I try to make a joke when my inner-knower is whispering for me to hush, that I’ve gone too far. The joke may be more hurtful than funny. That happened on last week’s commentary, and I heard about it and I’m sorry. I ignored my inner-knower.
Next to my bed lie a stack of books. One compares Jesus’ and the Buddha’s greatest messages and how similar they are. Another is by Father Anthony DeMello who was a Catholic Jesuit priest from India and knows many of the stories of the Indian deities and shares their lessons alongside the lessons of Christianity. I frequently return to a wonderful book on the lessons of the Bhagavat Gita, a story out of India written 500 years before Christ. All these religions, these faiths, these pursuits of spirituality, while vastly different in important ways, emphasize so many of the same points. And it’s these similarities that fascinate me. That catch my attention.
One that shines through repeatedly is the mastery of self. Heaven, bliss, enlightenment, you name it. These spiritualities claim they can only be achieved through mastery of self. Self-control. I have so little. I know it. And I think about it each time I gobble the cookies and make the bad jokes.
And I can already hear friend demanding a commission for this commentary.
I’m Cam Marston and I’m just trying to Keep It Real.
The six weeks of travel is nearly over. Now I need to prepare for re-entry.
Good morning from Phoenix. This is my final stop on my intense six weeks of business trips. By tomorrow afternoon I should be home and I will not only unpack, I will put my luggage away.
After years of mistakes, I’ve learned a bit about how to come off the road. For years I walked into my house with a chip on my shoulder and I’ve talked to other road warriors who experience the same. Our attitude is this – Whatever has happened at home while I’ve been gone is not nearly as difficult as what I’ve experienced on the road. I’ve suffered airports, hotels, and cabs. Late nights. Early mornings. The list is long. Travel is exhausting. It’s not glamorous. And my struggles should be acknowledged in some meaningful way when I return.
For example: Yesterday at the TSA checkpoint in Mobile, on my sixty-fifth flight of the year, the agent told me I set off an alarm. He opened all my luggage, he rifled through all my stuff, and I got a thorough and complete full body pat-down by a large, grumpy, and – based on the intimacy of the pat down – lonely TSA agent who might have once been a Catholic priest. It was a bad start to the week.
However, years ago upon returning home, my wife’s position was that whatever I was doing and wherever I was, it was not nearly as difficult as managing a house full of children alone. Sleeping in the airport was nothing compared to a house full of young kids. As soon as I stepped into the house I should apologize for being gone. She never actually said any of this. But it’s the way it felt to me.
I wanted recognition for my struggles which I felt were greater than hers. She wanted recognition for her struggles which she felt were greater than mine. And it sounded something like this: “I’ve been taking care of the kids nonstop for three days. Can you please bathe them tonight. I’m exhausted.” I wanted to say. “I’ve been standing in long lines at airports and crammed into airplane seats made for a person half my size for three days. I’ve been felt up and run down by TSA. I’m exhausted, too.”
Neither of us got what we wanted and my demand for recognition made re-entry into the home routines more difficult.
It’s much easier today. In fact, I stepped into the house a few weeks back with my suitcase and my son said, “You’ve been gone?” Yep. For three days. It stung a bit but it also confirmed he’s largely self-sufficient. It was a parenting win though it didn’t feel like it at the time.
There is a pace to my home when I’m gone and my job upon reentry is to fit into it. People, even family, quickly adjust when you’re not around. Stepping through the back door and expecting sympathy and recognition makes for a difficult reentry. Always and everywhere and all the time. And I remind myself of this each time I drive home from the airport.
I’m Cam Marston and I’m just trying to Keep It Real.
My fall travel season has started…
The travel season has begun. Fall is always the busy season but this year it’s all compressed into a short six weeks. Eleven cities. Thirty-two flights.
There was a time when I bragged about this much travel. I felt it made me some sort of super-hero. Now I keep it quiet. I throw away the luggage tags that display my airline status. They don’t scream “road warrior” to me anymore. They whisper “bad dad.”
Getting back into the swing of travel hasn’t been that difficult this fall. I know what to expect and what I’m likely to confront in the airport, hotels and on the 32 flights. I begin each travel day by saying to myself “be nice.” “Be polite.” Most people don’t travel as much as me, so be patient. This is stressful and unfamiliar to many of them. Be kind to the people who take long minutes to settle into their seat, rearranging their carry-on gear over and over again. I wonder, do they make such a fuss sitting down to watch TV? Ignore the ones wearing pajamas. Ignore the ones who are clearly told by airport security to remove all items from their clothing yet walk through security with a cell phone in their pocket and say, “Oh. I didn’t know.” Ignore them. Pray for them. Breathe deeply. Let it go.
I’ve learned to say “Oh, look! A baby!” in such a way that people truly think I’m happy to see a baby sitting nearby on the plane. Passengers look at me in disbelief. Which reminds me, pay whatever necessary for top quality noise-cancelling headphones. They’re worth every penny.
Last week in Salt Lake City I had a hotel room neighbor fall asleep with their TV on. I heard his TV and his snores through the wall. I called his room throughout the night to jolt him awake so he’d turn over. It was that same room where a wall panel fell on me while working at the desk.
I had an Uber driver in Fort Myers immediately say “no hablo ingles.” About twenty minutes into the ride, he took a phone call in perfect English. I paid $23 for one Stella Artois beer in a busy Marco Island resort. That caught my attention. I’m now in Monterey, California. It’s a spectacular day and I’m writing this on the hotel patio with a coffee. Everyone is enjoying the perfect weather, especially the homeless man talking to himself while urinating in a potted plant not far away and the guy dressed as a ninja with only his eyes showing, holding a real machete.
I don’t much like traveling. I like being there. However, there is no way to get someplace different without traveling. It’s the price I pay for the work I do and the vacations I enjoy. I used to suffer loudly during each trip, bemoaning the travel. Now, I look for the stories happening all around me. Like now, watching the machete ninja who’s just spotted the urinating homeless man wondering if I’m going to have to put down my coffee.
I’m Cam Marston and I’m just Keepin It Real.
Universal Truths about Fear
I hadn’t expected the reaction to last week’s commentary on fear and sloth. The podcast version was forwarded more than most and the social media got a lots of attention and forwards, too. Most of those commenting were like me – sloth is not such a problem. Fear is the problem.
A friend pointed me to a book that, he says, changed his life. It’s called Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers and was first published in 1987. It’s sold millions and has been translated into 35 different languages. Fear is a big seller because it’s a common problem. I downloaded it to my Audible account and there it sat before I decided to finally listen. Frankly, I was skeptical. I find most of these types of books thin on content, and I should know because I’ve written a few. But if it changed my friend’s life then maybe some relic of this dated message will resonate with me.
So this morning, sitting with a coffee in my hotel room well before dawn with the curtain open to watch the sunrise, I hit play to listen to the book. I’m only on Chapter 3 and can honestly say I have taken a whole new and different approach to this persistent nemesis of mine called fear. So far, book is working.
There are many highlights already, but this stood out: Jeffers says there are five universal truths about fear, and we should repeat them ten times a day for a month or more. That’s a bit much, but I will print them and pin the to the wall near my desk.
Jeffers goes on to say she’s has never met someone who does not struggle with fear. Maybe they’re out there, she says, but probably not. Some call it nerves. Some call it anxiety. Some call it worry. But it’s all the same thing: it’s fear.
It’s helpful stuff to know, but results come from taking action. So, with these five universal truths about fear in mind, I’m going to tackle some things I’ve been avoiding, using thin excuses but, in truth, I’ve been afraid of. Join me, and let’s see what happens.
I’m Cam Marston and I’m just trying to Keep It Real.
Every day. Every single day.
A friend told me that every day waiting for us at the foot of our bed is sloth and fear. Our eyes open, our brain turns on, and sloth and fear are right there. On the bed. Waiting. Our first challenge every day is to get past them. And she’s not wrong.
Sloth and fear work together. They’re different mental states but they support each other. I’m afraid of what might happen today or sometime in the future so I won’t move, I’ll stay right here in bed. It’s predictable here, we say. And the longer I stay here, the more afraid I become of what may happen. Sloth and fear. We try to leave them behind but they’ve never far.
Sloth is not as much my problem as is fear. For twenty plus years I’ve been a small business owner and when I began my work many many years ago I assumed that at some point the business will become automatic and at some point it will run on momentum and at some point I won’t have to worry about where the next client, the next bit of revenue, will come from. Well, it’s been twenty plus years, and I worry about it every single day, even on weekends. I didn’t know it at the time, but it’s what I signed up for. And the temptation to call it quits and find a job is always there. Give it to someone else worry about where the customers will come from. Let someone else worry about revenue and pay estimated taxes and make payroll and all that. The idea has a strong appeal. However, I know deep down inside that I’d be miserable. I’d want to make my own decisions, chart my own course, take the calculated risks I deem appropriate to grow the company. I don’t do well working for others and I have a number of former employers who would nod enthusiastically in agreement. A vendor? A contractor? A consultant? Yes. I’m very good in those roles. An employee? Not good at all.
But I sure wish I could get the fear to go away. It’s the worry over uncertainty. My wife always reminds me that every year I have the same concerns and every year everything’s worked out. My response is always the same – Yeah, but that was last year. Just because good things have happened in the past doesn’t mean they’ll happen again now or in the future. So, I worry. It’s worse some days than others.
A quick Google search says there are 365 instances in the Bible where the message is to not be afraid. I guess God knew it would need repeating. But saying that I shouldn’t be afraid or worry and not being afraid or worried are very different. Even the Buddha says that the path to enlightenment will leave all fear behind. Sure sounds nice. Maybe it’s all something I should look into.
If I could just muster the courage to get out of bed.
I’m Cam Marston and I’m just trying to Keep it Real.
Warriors need to be praised.
Young men have always been warriors. They’d go fight the battles while the elders sat around the campfire. The elders decided if fighting was the right thing and when and how to do it. The warriors executed the plan. When they returned, they were glorified for their success, or they were coddled in their loss. Either way, they were praised for their efforts.
Most old men don’t seek glory like young men do. Something happens after about forty years old, where glory no longer drives behavior. Old men prefer instruction and guidance. Not glory. Learning from mistakes is more important than celebrating victories. And old men want to help others learn, too.
In today’s parlance, the young warriors seek celebration for kicking tail and taking names. It’s been this way forever. The old ones seek correction, guidance, and offer feedback. “What did I do wrong,” they ask, “and how can I get better?” It’s mankind. It’s human. It existed before any of us and will continue well beyond us.
Which brings me to football.
My favorite youngest son watched the entire game from the sidelines a few weeks ago. He followed his coach up and down the field, never more than a few feet distant, like a puppy hoping for a treat. He wanted in. But the game was against our school’s biggest rival and it was close. And my son, a sophomore, wasn’t yet ready for that stage in a tight game.
I found my son after the game. I hugged him and told him I loved watching him out there. I told him his time in practice had helped ready his team for a well-deserved, hard-earned close victory. I told him I was proud of him. He flashed a tiny smile. He shook his head. He said he had wanted to play. “I know. I was watching. Keep working hard,” I said. “Your time will come.”
I did this and said this because I did it the wrong way a couple years ago. I made a mistake. My favorite oldest son had walked off the football field after several great catches and a couple touchdowns. He was beaming. That young warrior had conquered and had conquered well. And I…I immediately pointed out a block that he had missed. I had offered him the feedback that I, an old man, might have wanted. Not what a young warrior aches to hear. My son’s face changed. I immediately realized what I had said, and what I had done, and how I had made him feel and my guts hurt to this day. Catches. Touchdowns. Yards after catch. A great team win. And I start with his mistakes. Ugh.
I tell this story often. It’s my penance.
Warriors need to be praised. Warriors need to be praised. Remember that. Warriors are not always right. Warriors are not above discipline. Warriors aren’t infallible. Warriors are not above correction. But, whenever possible, warriors need to be praised. It’s ancient. If you, too, are an old man like me, you’ll learn from my mistake.
I’m Cam Marston and I’m just trying to Keep it Real.