I'm a big believer in personal responsibility. When shit goes wrong in my life, I don't blame fate, I don't blame bad luck, I (generally) don't blame other people (although in the early stages of realizing things have gone off the rails, I will lash out - I don't think that's uncommon). I know exactly where the blame lies.
As Shakespeare said (he was this playwright back in the Days of Yore, and evidently a fairly smart guy): "The fault ... lies not in our stars, but in ourselves."
My friend Schnozz is a brilliant (and drop-dead funny) writer who decided one day she wanted to do something out of the ordinary so she joined the Roller Derby. (I am not making a word of this up). The intense training (and constantly getting knocked on her ass) got her well outside her comfort zone, it challenged her physically and mentally, and it helped her realize some important truths.
In this entry, she writes articulately, honestly, and wisely about how becoming a roller girl helped her realize some important principles about personal responsibility. I have read and re-read it, and I think this may be one of the most brilliant essays on taking charge of your life that I have ever stumbled on. If, at age 80, we can look back and say we followed the ideals she so elegantly expresses, we may not have amassed great riches but we will have led happy, full, productive lives with no reason for regret.
Consider this call to action:
"If you ache, do it because you’re living, not because you’re dying,
rusting from the inside out like an old pickup in some forgotten field.
If you loathe something about yourself or your life, free yourself of
it without acting as if you’re the only person on earth who has ever
had to make drastic sacrifices to get what you want. We all choose. And
we all pay. One way or another. If you’re stuck in a situation that
could be changed, you’re not stuck at all, and I refuse to insult your
capabilities by pitying you any longer than I already have. Of course,
like any good rollergirl, I’d be happy to help you, but only after you
stop bitching, pick up your feet, and try."
Go and read. Please. Yes, it's good for you. But for once, it tastes great, too.
My good friend and sometimes underpants-peeking stalker Stumpy, daughter o' Platypus, forwarded me some interview questions and asked that I fill them out. As much as I hate being assigned homework - particularly by someone with a spotty record on doing her own - I'll answer as honestly as I can.
1. Name one (or more if you’re having a bad day) thing that really annoys you.
I am always annoyed by rudeness. Good day, bad day, any day - if someone is deliberately rude to me or to anyone around me, I will always respond.
I have upbraided total strangers in restaurants for being impolite to their servers. I have loudly chewed out people in line ahead of me in grocery stores for being nasty and dismissive to the person checking their groceries through.
Some of the people reading this have seen how I respond when I get to any blog and someone has left a rude comment directed at a friend. I am articulate, direct, forceful, and cheerfully and unapologetically vicious. If you choose to be rude or cruel to people I care for, I can and will cut you.
2. How would you like to be remembered?
I've thought about this recently, because I was at a funeral for the father of one of Erin's best friends. There were a lot of people there, and some folks got up and said some wonderful things about this man. I didn't know him - I'd gone to the funeral just to be there for Erin - and I found myself regretting not having met or known the man.
As I sat there, I thought "What would people say at my funeral? More to the point, what would I want them to say?" (I know it's morbid, but I suppose we all think about these things at at one time or another.)
In the end (or AT the end), I'd like to be remembered as a man of passion. Passion for life, passion for the people I love, passion for work and play and laughter and yes, enough passion to shed tears if that's what is called for.
I don't have time to spend with people who feel no passion. They are sponges who absorb positive energy and feed nothing but negative back into the world. Avoid them. William Arthur Ward once said "We can choose to throw stones; to stumble on them; to climb over them; or to build with them." Surround yourself with people who choose (and it is a choice) the last two.
I want to be remembered as one of those people.
3. 3. Of all the things you’ve ever done, of what one thing are you the most proud?
My proudest moment - and I know this was not the question - came on opening night of the musical I wrote called "Maritime Star". The theatre was jam-packed; I sat in row 4 with my wife and two daughters and my collaborator, the great Island songwriter Allan Rankin, as well as my Director, David Sherren. David occasionally had to reach over and soothingly touch my arm when I would tense up as an actor struggled with his lines.
But the audience clearly enjoyed the show, and at the end there was that moment every playwright dreams of, when the play is done and the actors have taken their bows (a standing ovation), and then the cry goes up: "Author! Author!" Allan and I went up on stage, took our bows as well ... and I looked down to see both my daughters literally weeping with joy and pride.
So that was a proud moment - but for the thing that I'm proudest of, I am going to take shelter in the trite and predictable, but no less true answer: my wife and I put a lot of thought, energy, sleepless nights, and love into raising two daughters who are kind, thoughtful, smart, funny, wonderful people - people I would be proud to call my friend, the kind of people the world needs more of. I wake up every morning blessed by what they bring to my life, and while their accomplishments are theirs alone, I do take pride in how they turned out as people.
4. 4. We know you are ‘The Wise & Powerful Nilbo’, but what’s the wisest thing anyone’s ever told you?
My Dad is about the wisest man I know. I hope one day to be half as wise, but in the meantime I have acquired some smarts along the way (by osmosis, mostly).
Oddly, though, the wisest words I've ever heard came from my mother, who had pithy little pieces of advice for every possible situation. One time when I was crying as she flushed my dead goldfish down the toilet, she rolled her eyes and said "Oh, stop blubbering, for God's sake; he wasn't going to grow up to be Prime Minister!" Good perspective, that.
Another time, when I sat there aghast as she calmly picked the baby's soother off the floor, examined it, wiped off some fluff, and jammed it into the kid's mouth, she looked up at me and snapped "What? Oh, for Chrissake, it's pretty hard to kill them, you know." (She had six kids, and I'm pretty sure there were times she tried.)
Mom would get impatient if we agonized too much over what we would wear to school or parties; "Nobody is going to care or remember what you wear tonight except you. Just get dressed and go. You are more than your clothes."
Other nuggets from Mom:
"In ten billion years the sun will have burned out and the earth will be a frozen block of ice hurtling through space, and this petty bullshit you are so worried about will not matter a damn."
"Don't take drugs or drink too much. Nobody needs to intentionally make themselves more stupid. Especially not you."
"Don't name your child anything that wouldn't sound right with "Prime Minister" [or, I suppose, "President"] in front of it."
But the best advice she gave me was about child-rearing. Mom was a big believer in keeping kids on a tight leash and letting them earn rights and freedoms and trust. As we got older and proved we could be trusted, the rules relaxed. Finally, they were down to two simple rules:
"Don't do anything life threatening; and don't do anything life-altering."
Driving drunk? Life threatening. Unprotected sex? Possibly life threatening, possibly life-altering. Committing a crime? Possibly both. Doing heavy drugs, developing an addiction - certainly life-altering. As long as our actions were neither life threatening nor life-altering ... well, she might not want to hear about them, but she encouraged us to expand our horizons.
My girls have heard that phrase more times in their lives than they can count. Since they earned our trust early on, we've only had to be reassured that whatever they planned to do that night would be safe and not lead to a major life change. More information isn't always the best thing.
"Do nothing life threatening and nothing life-altering." For young people, I can think of no wiser advice. And I think your mum would agree.
5. 5. What do you want to be when you grow up?
This presupposes that I want to grow up. I don't. I have no control over the fact that I will grow older. But I refuse to grow up.
That being the case, I'll go on doing what feels right at the time.
I once got into a debate with my Dad about the existence of God. I was young and rebellious and far, far smarter than he could ever possibly hope to be, and I was utterly contemptuous of his stubborn belief in religious mumbo-jumbo.
He said, "We'll revisit this conversation in a few years, after you have your first baby. When you look at that baby's hand - the perfectly formed fingers, the tiny fingernails - then you come and tell me that God doesn't exist."
For a couple of adults, Erin and Matthew are inordinately fond of cartoons. Erin has every Disney and Pixar animated movie ever made, Matthew's collection of Transformers began when he was a very young boy and continues to grow today - it's truly impressive, hundreds of figurines, some in their original packaging but most ready to be played with, taking up several shelves that run the length of their family room walls.
Of all the animated movies Erin has ever seen, though, her favourite is Finding Nemo She LOVES that movie. She named her kitten Dory, after the forgetful little fish played by Ellen Degeneris. When it came time to decorate the soon-to-arrive baby's room, the theme was a no-brainer: multi-coloured walls and all kinds of images from Finding Nemo all over the place.
Hell, we almost expected her to NAME the child Nemo.
So today, as she was taking a break from sitting in the hospital, staring into her newborn son's face, she picked up a pen and began idly jotting his name on a piece of paper (moms do that kind of thing):
OWEN Owen OWEN
After a while, she got bored, and tossed the paper onto her table. It flipped around so the writing was upside down.
She looked down at it.
"Oh. My. God."
If ever there had been a doubt about choosing his name, it evaporated in that instant.
Owen Rayne Gillespie was born at around 8:30 AM. He is handsome and healthy, has all ten toes, all ten fingers, and two of everything he should have two of. Erin is tired but radiant and beautiful.
Erin has placed a temporary embargo on pictures right now, and I'll honour that. In any event, he's in that newborn stage where they all look like Truman Capote or Winston Churchill or ... well, a piece of unwashed fruit. That will change.
They liked the name Owen, and Rayne is a blend of two family names on Matthew's side, Ralph and Wayne. Another thing he inherited from that side is flaming red hair.
No birth stats just yet - he was too fresh when we got in to see him. I'll include them in a longer story. But one lil anecdote:
As we were sitting in the waiting room, doing what you do, my wife all of a sudden pipes up with "I call first to hold the new baby!"
Allie barely looked up from her magazine. "I will take you down, bitch. Remember what happened when people tried to get between me and Erin's bouquet."
We all laughed ... then looked up, and Matthew was there and my world exploded. In the best possible way.
"Hi. So, we're at the hospital. Erin's water broke, and we're here for the night. Just thought you'd want to know. Everything seems good, so far. We'll call you when it's a little closer to "Go Time"."
"Yeah ... that sounds good. So, guess we'll see you later."
Dammit. I have a 9AM tee time. What to do, what to do ...?
Update, 7:07 AM
Call came at 6:50. It's "Go Time". I'm so excited. I may get to do BOTH. Wouldn't that be GREAT?
Watch this. If you don't tear up, check your oil levels. Because you are a robot. If it's choppy, try pausing it for a few seconds to let it buffer. And if it just won't work for you, here's a link: http://youtube.com/watch?v=8gm7XwtIJdM