Category Archives: problem solving

Facing Mr. Kustom-The Secret To Success

Facing Mr. Kustom

Seven AM and I’m back from my morning walk. One-third cup quick cook oatmeal, two-thirds cup water, microwave for two minutes. Some mixed nuts, a few dried cranberries stirred in; I’m eating breakfast, and I’m feeling anxious.

I’m not usually an anxious person, but I do have a distaste for the unknown. I also have a dislike for the over-stimulation that driving to Chicago during a Monday rush hour brings.

Seven thirty and it is time to get into my Promaster. Gigantic and white, my wife refers to him as the “White Whale.” I have named him Albus, as a nod to the imaginary headmaster of Hogwarts who transformed the lives of others through magic.

I’m not suggesting that my work van is magical, but with some effort, it will be transformed from a bare truck into a camper-van that is capable of taking me to magical places. However, for this magic to happen, I will first need to stretch my personal comfort level.

To be honest, I still not used to driving Albus. He is enormous, and a master of blind spots. His two large mirrors help, but I’m still getting used to them. The thought of facing road construction traffic as I steer him is the source of my anxiety.

I pull myself up into his cabin, and I strap on my seatbelt. I dial in Google maps, paste in Mr. Kustom’s address, hit “start.” Soon I’m on I-88, then I-294, then I-90. I cling to the right lane as I drive. My sweet Google Assistant’s voice guides me but doesn’t lower my anxiety. I glance at the clock on the dashboard, and it is now 8:25. My appointment is at 9 AM. Despite padding my travel time with an extra 30 minutes, it looks like I may be late. “You can’t change traffic Mike, you need to accept where you are and let go,” I tell myself. Traffic chugs along, and soon I’m on Irving Park Road. I find a spot on the street, and wait for the store to open. I have 5 minutes to spare.

Now inside the store, my anxiety lessened, I find a spot among the three waiting chairs which seem out-of-place as they are awkwardly planted in the main showroom; I sit, knowing that the job will take 9 or more hours.

———————-

I have already finished a graphic novel on Joel Kupperman, of Quiz Kid’s fame, lent to me by Julie, I found it both a fun and interesting read. I now write, more to fill time than anything else. Albus is getting windows put in, two on his rear doors, and one on his sliding door. The salesman suggested adding an additional window on the driver’s side panel, but I’m already at my financial limit. The windows will make Albus more drivable, and add light to his interior when he becomes a camper. The windows are necessary, which is why I drove to Chicago, and why I’m patiently sitting as I listen to reggae music blaring over the store’s music system. Today is the beginning of his transformation. Tomorrow, he will have a hitch installed. In about two weeks I’ll drive to Colorado by myself to have Wayfarer vans install a modular camper interior that will include a floor, walls, ceiling, bed, and a kitchen. I’m looking at the Colorado trip as an adventure, but I’m only allowing myself a few days to get there and back, which adds time-stress to the mix.

After the Colorado trip, he will become a useable camper, but there is still more to do. A roof fan, though the wall power port, swivel seats, the list goes on. I’ll tackle these jobs with the help of my friend, Tom. Having a knowledgeable person to brainstorm with definitely helps me feel more comfortable and less anxious.

The goal is to make Albus a good camper by the end of August, but he won’t be completed until fall. There are many steps ahead.

Anything and everything can be a learning lesson. Today’s lesson is that sometimes you have to go through unpleasant steps to achieve the desired goal. I know that the windows will be put in and by tomorrow I’ll be on to my next project. The discomfort that I am experiencing today will soon be forgotten.

In my life, I have had many “no pain, no gain” experience. One of the reasons that I believe that I have been successful is that I have an excellent ability to do a cost analysis when it comes to the task at hand. I’m willing to expend substantial effort and to experience significant discomfort if I feel that the outcome is worth it. Conversely, I am unwilling to put out small effort and slight discomfort if I think that the desired result is unlikely. I’m also persistent, and very consistent. I used to think that everyone felt and functioned as I do, but I know now that this is not the case.

Most people want a good life, but they don’t want to expend the effort or experience the discomfort necessary to achieve that outcome. Do you want financial security? Spend less, and put more money in the bank. Feel that you are working beneath your intelligence level? Go back to school, retrain, or look for a better opportunity. Miserable because you are dealing with something that is out of your control? Accept it, or leave the person/situation.

I understand that some of you may be muttering, “Easy for him to talk, he’s a doctor.” Yes, that is true, but the way that I became a physician was by following the above principles. I come from a blue-collar background and didn’t have the opportunities that others had. However, I can be as tenacious as a bulldog when I need to be. We can’t always have everything that we want. In fact, sometimes we have to give up things that we do want to obtain something that we want more. That is life.

As an aside, I believe that you can accomplish goals while still being kind and generous to others. I find no joy in hurting or putting down someone.

Dear reader, It is easy to blame life, others, or God for not having what you think you deserve. The “Secret to Success” is that there is no secret. The sourness of a distasteful task is quickly remedied by the sweetness of a goal achieved.

Before Before New side window New windows.

On Vandwelling, Part II

In my life, I have dreams, accomplishments, and disappointments.

I try to minimize disappointment by adopting three simple strategies. I can neutralize it. I can transform it from a disappointment into an accomplishment. I can merely accept it and move on. These are reasonable approaches that often, but not always, work.

There are problems that I need to act on immediately if I hope to have any chance of resolving them. However, sometimes a disappointment can convert itself on its own. In other words, it really wasn’t a disappointment; instead I was just misinterpreting the situation. Such a case is the case of my retirement fund.

Thirty years ago I established my retirement fund. No, I’m not talking about an IRA, I’m talking about an adventure fund. I put a chunk of money into an account as a seed, and I planned to add money to it on a regular basis until I had a sizeable nest egg. The fund was envisioned to establish some sort of retirement adventure plan. Perhaps I would purchase a second home in a beautiful location, maybe I would buy an ultra luxurious Class A RV. The designation for the fund was pretty open.

My savings plan never developed in the way that I wanted it to. Its value went up and down over the years, but the overall amount has remained mostly the same.

Over time the thought of a second home became more of a burden than a blessing, and after spending decades camping, I came to realize that I was happiest surrounded by nature.

My camping trips made me understand that I needed certain things to be comfortable. I wanted my bed to be off the ground. I wanted to have the ability to quickly access my gear so it would be at the ready for a spontaneous weekend trip. I wanted enough shelter to have a place to comfortably hang out in inclement weather.

I never used the onboard bathroom in my old camper, as it was a hassle to dump and clean the system. I never hooked up my camper’s kitchen, as I found it more enjoyable to cook on a picnic table. I never took advantage of some of my camper’s electronic features, like the cable TV connection, as I preferred the crackle of a campfire to the canned laughter of a sitcom.

When I started my search for the perfect camper, I was thinking in terms of 5 people traveling together. But that number quickly changed to 4 when I realized that it would be unlikely that my 21-year-old daughter would want to continue to take family camping trips with us.

Two years ago I bought a Ford Flex, which could tow 5000 pounds. I started to look at small campers/trailers that could sleep 4 and fell in love with a little Winnebago trailer called a Minnie Winnie. It was a marvel of compact design, and also light enough to be pulled by the Flex. However, something held me back, and I never bought it. My wife Julie is still working, which meant that I might be taking some solo trips, and the thought of backing up a trailer by myself created some anxiety in me. More recently, I have gained additional awareness. We have not gone on a family camping vacation for over 3 years, as we have traveled on other types of trips instead. It made little sense to build my plans of camping adventures based on accommodating a family. It made more sense to think in terms of one or two campers. I continued to look, but no option seemed right.

Time ticked on, and I tried to use the tool of acceptance. “I will accept the fact that I may never have another camper.”

My friend Tom also has a Ford Flex, in fact, his car was the inspiration for purchasing mine. Tom often travels with his son Charlie in his Flex, and he has developed a system to use it as a car camper.

His example got me experimenting with turning my Flex into a similar rolling home. With the back two rows of seats turned down I could fit nicely. An REI self-inflating mattress made a comfy bed, and the nooks and crannies of the vehicle served as places for gear storage. This system worked pretty well on several mini-trips, but it had its limitations. First was the hassle of converting and loading the car every time I wanted to use it. Second was the space factor. Yes, I had a comfy bed, but that was about it. If the weather was inclement, I was stuck outside. Third was the fact that this was strictly a solution for one person, no more. I’m well over 6 feet tall, and I take up a lot of space.

I had toyed with the idea of buying an old conversion van and modifying it. Tom had said that he would help me with the job, and as a general contractor, he has all of the skills and tools necessary for the task. However, I felt that such an extensive project would place an unreasonable burden on him.

The next part of the puzzle was solved by a random YouTube video that appeared in my “To Watch” feed. The video was from a lady who used a company called Wayfarer in Colorado Springs to install a simple modular conversion system in her Promaster City. Further searches led me to a video of the company’s conversion offering for a full-sized Promaster van. This modular kit could be installed in 2 hours and included all of the things that I would need in a home away from home. Just as importantly, it didn’t include things that I would never use, like an onboard bathroom. Of course, I was fearful, but I also felt excited.

Tom had found me a good deal on my Flex, and now he found me a good deal on a high-top Promaster. Two weeks ago I broke into my retirement nest egg and bought it. Today I’ll get a hitch installed for a bike carrier, in a few weeks I’ll have a couple of windows installed, and by the end of the month, I’ll have Wayfarer install their conversion systems. Tom and I will do the finishing touches (vent fan, shore electric, etc.). My dream is about to be realized!

If I had acted rashly, I would have made a mistake. By waiting, the disappointment that I felt transformed into the realization that an earlier decision would have been a wrong decision. I can park the new van in my driveway packed and ready to go. I can travel in it by myself with all of the necessary creature comforts. I can go on trips with Julie. I can caravan with Tom. The van is big enough for me to stand up in it. It has a comfy bed, lots of storage, and a simple, practical design. It is everything that I wanted, except I won’t have to spend several months building it out.

Time turned my disappointment into an accomplishment. I’ll post the conversion process as it proceeds. Life doesn’t have to be a struggle. Sometimes you just need to let life happen without trying to control every second of it. Dear reader, kick back and relax today and see what life gives you.

My new cargo van.
My future home?

On Living In A Cargo Van

I moved to the far western suburbs of Chicago 30 years ago. Many things in my life have changed since that move. I married 25 years ago. I had three more children. I purchased a house. However, there is one thing that I did before all of the above that has remained to today. That one thing is my retirement camper fund.

I have a pool of money that I established over 30 years ago. The fund amount is sensible, but not tremendous. It has served as my “dream fund,” a fund to build a dream on.

When I approached my retirement, I started to think in earnest about that money and how I would use it. I have the heart of a country boy, and I am the most content when I am in nature. My spirit has always gravitated out west, and I am drawn to places there. Would I want to move there permanently? The truth is that I want to live close to where my kids are. For me, relationships trump scenery. However, that doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t want to spend extended periods of time exploring the National Parks and other scenic wonders.

My ease with the outdoors offers me the advantage of doing these explorations relatively cheaply. I have a senior pass for the National Parks, and I have camped my entire life. I have owned campers in the past, so I have a good idea of what I need when it comes to creature comforts.

If I camp for more than a few days, I need to be in something that keeps me off the ground. I am also a “compartment” kind of guy, and I like the idea of having most of the things that I need at the ready and organized. I don’t mind cooking, so I need some sort of ability to do that. Naturally, I need a way to charge my camera, phone, and other gadgets.

With proper ventilation and a 12-volt fan, I can likely survive without AC. My last camper had a bathroom, but I never used it. It was more straightforward to use the campground’s provided facilities. Refrigeration would be helpful, but I’m teaching myself how to make real meals using my own dehydrated foods and off the shelf products. I can’t go for an extended period eating only granola bars and beef jerky.

What I have discovered from my years of camping is that I don’t need a lot to thrive. At home, I am a gadget lover because I like exploring innovation. However, on the road, I practice KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid!).

The primary goal of my retirement fund was to purchase some sort of camper. Pop-up, trailer, RV? I have toyed with all of the above, and each has its advantages and disadvantages.

My fund is not generous enough to buy a new RV, but I could afford an older C class. They are the best RV value, but they are big and bulky. I would likely have to tow a car, a hassle that I don’t want to do.

A pop-up could be a solution, but do I really want to constantly setup and teardown at 65?

I looked at trailers, and they seem to be an (almost) perfect option. However, there is my backing up problem. Dear reader, I understand the mechanics of backing up a trailer, and I am able to back one up. However, I need a backing up guide. If my wife is with me, I can get my camper where I want it.

You may remember that I am dyslexic. This problem impacts my senses of position and space. It is challenging for me to conceptualize where a trailer is relative to its tow vehicle. When I back up a trailer by myself, I have to continually get out of the car, visualize where the trailer is, back up a bit more, and repeat. It is very frustrating. I marvel at my friend Tom’s backing up ability. I have been with him many times when he had to back up a considerable construction trailer; he is a real pro. He has offered to teach me his tricks, but I will always have my spatial problem.

My needs have also changed over the years. I started to seriously look at options two years ago . At that time I felt that I needed something that would sleep my entire family, as our favorite vacations had been grand camping adventures. However, we have not had a big family campout for over three years. Even overnight campouts are limited, as my kids now have lives of their own.

It is sad for me to think about the end of our big family camping trips. However, when a door closes a window opens. If I accept this reality, I also can refocus my efforts on ways to camp that allow travel for one or two.

A “Class B” camper comes to mind. These are tricked out vans that offer all of life’s conveniences in miniature. Full kitchens, bathrooms, built-in entertainment systems. However, they are costly, and many of their luxuries (like the bathroom) are not needed by me.

For the last year, I have been talking to my friend, Tom, about building out a cargo van. He is willing to help, and he has the skills that I lack. At one point he found me an old mini-bus that could be converted, but I was too chicken to pull the trigger. Even with Tom’s expert help the conversion process could be lengthy and daunting.

Every camper option seems doable,, but I always find something to keep me from moving forward. That is until this last week.

I stumbled on a YouTube video from a company that makes a modular system for the Dodge Promaster van. This is a relatively inexpensive cargo van that boasts a “tall” version that has an interior height of over 6 feet. Their system locks modules into floor tracks, and the whole interior is easily removable. The kit includes the floor, wall and ceiling panels, a platform bed, a simple kitchen, and a seat/storage box. The best thing is that it can be installed in 2 hours.

Cargo vans have only two seats, but for those now rare family trips, we could use a second transport car, and a tent for other campers. If needed, I could sell my current car and use the van as my primary vehicle. I am moving into retirement, and my transportation needs are simple.

I mentioned the option to Julie, and she seemed reasonably receptive. We have been married for a long time, and we no longer find it necessary to “make our points” with each other. Well, at least most of the time.

Dear reader, I’m not sure where this will all lead me, but I’m pretty excited about it. Tom said he would go with me to check out some Promasters at the local Dodge dealership, and I have sent an email to Wayfarer Vans, the company in Colorado who makes and installs the conversion kit. This option seems like the right balance of convenience and price. Say a little prayer for me so that I make the right decision.

When I started writing this blog, I talked about traveling to National Parks to photograph and write about them. This could bring me one step closer to that dream. My plans have moved slower than I initially expected, but they are definitely moving in the right direction. Fingers crossed.

Our time on this planet is short. I have spent my life in service of others, and it is still hard for me to think about my personal needs. I can’t always do what I want. However, I don’t want to draw my dying breath considering, “Why didn’t I do that? Why didn’t I experience that? Why didn’t I try that?” Dear reader, I am working hard to live my life to its fullest. You never know what tomorrow brings.

I’m learning how to dehydrate my own food.
I’m 6’2″ and I fit!
I want to photograph and write about nature.

I Screwed Up

It is easy to screw up, but it is more difficult to admit it. How can I grow as an authentic person if I don’t acknowledge my mistakes? It is not my life’s goal to be perfect, but I believe that I should learn from my errors. Unfortunately, I have found that it is easy to learn a lesson, and still repeat the same mistake. I think this is the nature of being a human being.

I woke up foggy and forced myself to place my feet on the ground. After a few moments, I stumbled into the bathroom. Once inside I issued a command to my Google Assistant. “Hey Google, good morning!” After a few seconds, she said, “Good morning, Mike!” then she recited the weather, told me my calendar appointments, and finally read me the news. On this particular morning, she announced, “Scattered thunderstorms today.” I took note and proceeded to get dressed.

At 4 AM in the morning, I am routine driven, as my ability to problem solve is compromised. The last thing that I do before my morning walk is to check the computer. A story caught my eye, and I became distracted. I glanced up at the time and realized that I was running late. On shoes, on ball cap, on jacket, and out the door, I bounded.

I was a few doors down the block when I realized that it was drizzling. I could have returned home for an umbrella, but I decided to continue forward. In my gut, I knew that this was the wrong decision. Because I was feeling lazy, I convinced myself that the rain was light and my cotton jacket would protect me.

If you have been reading my blog, you know that I am a planner and preparer. I’m obsessive, and solving problems gives me a degree of pleasure. When I committed to walk/exercise on a daily basis, I worked out many scenarios so I could accomplish my objective in most any situation. For rainy weather, I have a raincoat, waterproof shoes, an umbrella, and even rain pants. It is simple for me to don my rain gear, I was only a few houses down the block. Logic said “Turn back,” laziness said, “Move forward.”

I made it to the Starbucks and was only a little damp. Triumph! I thought. My friend, Tom, stopped by for coffee and we started to chat. He was also running late and was in a hurry to get to his job site.

We parted ways, and I started the 35-minute walk back home. The rain began in earnest, and with each block, it picked up in ferocity. I was becoming more soaked and uncomfortable. The cool breeze now felt damp and icy; I was starting to tremble. The only option was to continue to walk, so I moved forward.

By the time that I reached my front door, I was so wet that even my underwear was soaked. I was shaking and my jaw was chattering. Once inside I headed straight for the bathroom and washed off the cold with a long and steamy hot shower. Somewhat rejuvenated, I put on dry clothes and went to work.

Behaviors repeat themselves in both significant and insignificant ways. If I can learn from my minor mistakes, I can avoid more significant ones. There were many lessons that my screw up taught me. With a little thought, I could have left the house properly attired. With a bit of effort, I could have returned to my home to re-outfit myself. I could have challenged my problem of asking people for help and pressed my friend, Tom, for a ride. I could have called Julie when I was at Starbucks to request a pickup. Any of the above and I would have avoided getting soaked. However, once I started to walk back home I was compelled to complete my hike, as waiting around for a ride would have just made things worse. I could no longer solve the problem, and now I had to correct the outcome.

Here are some things that I learned from my rainy day screw up.
-I need to pay attention and stay on task.
-I should correct small problems before they become bigger ones.
-I should ask for help when needed. People who care about me won’t mind a little inconvenience if they know that I’m genuinely in need.
-If I ignore the first three rules and wind up with a problem, it is my responsibility to come up with a reasonable solution to that problem.

These rules are not only applicable to stormy days but also other life problems, both big and small. I need to be more mindful and aware. Fixing unnecessary problems is a waste of time and energy. At the same time, I need to accept that fact that I am human and I will screw up. Finding the balanced between these two poles can be difficult, but finding this balance is necessary to have a happy life. I want to avoid problems, but I don’t want to plan every scenario so wholly that I lose the joy of spontaneity.

Dear reader, are you a planner, or a fixer? Have you found the right balance in your life? What lessons did life teach you today?

The rain increased with every block that I walked.
So much rain that the river flooded my walking path.

Terry’s Story: Building A Guitar Museum

This is the story of Terry, and his 40-year desire to create a school and museum so he can share with others his love of stringed musical instruments.

I enter Terry’s music store, and he is pouring over an ordering catalog. He writes down items in a spiral notebook and then places a call to his music house’s customer service representative. From what I can tell he is ordering guitar strings, guitar tuners, and perhaps a pick-up or two. Terry is 65 and does all of his ordering the old school way, as he doesn’t own a computer.

After about 10 minutes he invites me to sit in a chair towards the back of his La Salle, Illinois store, which is called “The Guitar Junkyard.” It is a shop filled with every imaginable type of guitar and stringed instrument. Guitars are hanging from the walls, the ceiling, and on racks. Old looking one, new looking ones, fancy ones, handmade looking ones. Guitars are everywhere; they visually represent his life of collecting.

Terry always loved music, but as a child, he didn’t think that this would be his life. Terry was raised in the affluent Chicago suburb of Hinsdale. He went to Iowa State University in Ames because his parents expected him to go to college, but he always felt that he was more of a “hands-on” type of guy. Like many teenagers, he wasn’t sure what he wanted to major in. His choice was based on rules of elimination. English was crossed off because he didn’t like the rigid rules required. Meteorology was eliminated because of the excessive chemistry load. He was left with an anthropology major. He had been playing the guitar since he was a child, and so he decided on a music minor. Terry considers himself an ethnomusicologist, based on these areas of study.

In 1972 Terry taught himself the banjo. In 1974 he joined a bluegrass group in Ames as a banjo player, The group was locally successful. Terry was now working as a carpenter, and the band served as a nice counterpoint.

A good friend was managing a music store in Ames. He called Terry with a request to run the store for him for a couple of weeks as he had a family emergency and needed to travel out of state. Initially, Terry was reluctant; he had no business knowledge. His friend convinced him that it would be easy, and it would only be for a short time. This would be a turning point for Terry.

The friend never returned, and Terry was given the store manager job. The owner arranged to have someone train Terry on the business side of the store, and he was off on a new and unexpected career. Terry adjusted to his new job but found it too slow-paced. He started to buy junk guitars for the sole purpose of learning how to fix them. Eventually, he became an expert guitar repairman. Terry specifically refers to himself this way as opposed to calling himself a luthier. Terry had a steady job and was playing music on the weekends. His wife had advanced herself too, eventually earning a Ph.D. Life was good.

For every up, there is a down. After two years the store owner decided to close the Ames store, and Terry was out of a job. Around this time his bluegrass band was starting to fall apart. Once again, things were changing for Terry.

With a small bank loan, he started his music store, which became a successful enterprise. Around the same time, he was approached by another band, “The Warren County String Ticklers” to play the guitar and sing. Terry was a busy guy, running the store during the week and playing gigs at night and on the weekends. The Ticklers were popular locally leading to TV appearances on Iowa Public Television. Life was once again excellent, and it was about to get better.

Illinois Public Television was in the process of putting together a show for Jethro Burns, of Homer and Jethro fame, and they need a band for him. Through their Iowa TV connections, the Ticklers were chosen for the job. The show, called “Country Music Hall,” was a success and the band started to tour with Jethro. County fairs, state fairs, TV appearances, and more. Terry was traveling with an “A” level performer, and he was having the time of his life. His store was thriving, his wife’s career was advancing. Terry was on a successful fast track.

Life started to unravel by the mid-80s. Jethro Burns became ill and had to leave the tour for an extended period, and various members of the Ticklers were abandoning the band for various reasons. Although Terry loved working in the band, he was tired of the band life. Set-up, tear-down, fast food, long hours. It was exhausting, but more importantly, it kept him away from his friends, wife, and son. “About 3% of musicians become professional, but only about 0.1% reach a level of enough success where they can have a pampered life on the road.”

His wife got a job for the Department of Agriculture, and the family left for Washington DC for a three-year commitment. Terry left an employee in charge of his store, which quickly went from making a profit to being in debt. At one point he had to return to Iowa for two months, to save his business. “I found a drawer of bounced checks and people said that the shop was often closed during business hours. Apparently, my employee was making more money at the local pool hall than at the music store.”

Eventually, his wife’s Washington job ended, and she returned to Iowa State University. Terry’s shop was in the green, but this phase was also short-lived and a new twist that was about to happen. His wife’s university job ended, and she had to find a new one. One of her job offers was in Illinois, close to her family who lived in the LaSalle area. Terry packed up his shop and moved it to LaSalle, where it remains today.

All of this time Terry was collecting guitars and other string instruments. He says, “I only need one of each type.” Unfortunately, there are countless varieties to be had. Construction techniques can differ, body shape can vary, ornamentation can change. “When I make money I don’t pay myself; I buy another instrument.” This explains the expansive number of instruments in his shop.

Terry says that he has wanted to create a museum and teaching center for many years. The building that he rents for his store is for sale, and Terry is in the process of buying it. He envisions a museum on the first floor and his music store on the second.

Most of his instruments are not collector quality, but they all tell a story. He would like to allow people to play them and experience their differences. Also, he would like to share some of his talents. As a professional performer, he understands that there is more to playing on stage than plucking an instrument. He envisions a center that teaches the art of performance. As a self-taught guitar repairman, he plans a teaching program that could train future instrument fixers.

He would like to create a foundation to manage his museum and collection. His eventual goal would be to be the director of instrument repair. “I could leave the running of the place to someone else.”

Will Terry succeed in his quest? The outcome is unknown. He has the instruments, and he will soon own the space. He feels that he will have enough capital to make the fundamental changes needed to turn his shop into a museum. What is less clear is if he can draw enough people to LaSalle, Illinois to sustain the museum. He is very close to Starved Rock State Park. A park that gets over 3 million visitors a year. He is thinking of ways of attracting those visitors to his museum which he plans to call, The String Instrument Museum for Preservation, Luthiery Education” or SIMPLE. He wants to use the tagline, Music is SIMPLE.

Terry is 65, but he is still dreaming. Sitting in a rocking chair is not in his plans. He has wanted to establish his museum since his college days, and he is now a few steps closer to achieving his goal. His concept is novel, a place to showcase a diverse collection of string instruments, rather than one that displays museum-quality pieces. He wants to bring his type of music appreciation to the general public.

At the end of the interview, I asked Terry if he had any life regrets. “Are you sorry that you didn’t continue in anthropology, or as a professional musician?” After a long and thoughtful pause, he just said, “No.” Terry is right where he wants to be.

I wish Terry well in his plans and his future.

In life there are many ups and downs. It is how we view these twists and turns that determine our life satisfaction.

Terry’s music store:
The Guitar Junkyard
1049 8th St
LaSalle, IL

If you would like me to write your story, click here.

Terry
A massive collection.

Shari’s Story: Living With Autoimmune Disease

It is 7 PM on a Thursday, and I am seated across Shari, a 46 years old woman with shockingly red curly hair. This is her story.

Shari grew up in the middle-class Chicago suburb of Downers Grove. She showed exceptional creative talents at an early age and would entertain her parents with her complex stories about bunnies. There was something different about Shari, an old soul with an inquisitive mind.

Early intelligence testing gave a partial answer. Shari was a genius. Coming from a family of achievers, she was right at home. Shari was in the top two percent of her high school class, a fact even more amazing as she was involved in over 20 clubs/activities while she worked a part-time job. Despite her accomplishments, Shari always found the most peace in simple things. She deliberately choose the smallest bedroom at her parent’s home and shunned excessive possessions.

College was expected, and she applied and was accepted to the University of Illinois, a premier university. Always a storyteller, she decided on a rhetoric major. As a concession to her father’s fears of unemployability she also took courses in accounting. As in high school, Shari excelled at the U of I. She overloaded herself with classes, worked different jobs, and even became a resident advisor for her dorm. “I took six years of classes in 4 years,” she told me. Her academic achievements at the U of I were significant enough for her to be named a Bronze Scholar, one of the university’s highest undergraduate honors.

Despite her success, something was not quite right. Late in her college career, she became ill to the point of requiring hospitalization. Despite her academic success she felt stressed, instead of accomplished. “I raced to the top of the mountain, and there was nothing there.”

More studies followed at the University College of Cork in Ireland where she obtained a certificate in Irish Studies. Then it was time to get a real job.

What jobs are available for rhetoric majors? Not many, and so she accepted a two-day temporary position at Ace Hardware corporate doing routine data entry. When you are smart, you can generalize what you know and see the bigger picture. In Shari’s case, she was able to use her accounting knowledge to see errors in the data that she was inputting into the computer. She told her supervisor what she observed and went from a two-day temp worker to a full-time position on her first day. Shari was entering the corporate world.

One task led to another, and soon she was designing complex databases and doing statistical analyses for Ace. At the same time, a romance was forming in her life. She met her first husband when she lived in Ireland. He traveled to the US so they could check out the viability of their connection. When his visa ran out, she quickly decided to marry him.

Unfortunately, the relationship was doomed. Her husband couldn’t hold down a job, and would impulsively spend money. She would react by working harder to pay down their debt. Shari learned more programming languages, and soon was working on mainframe computers. A lucrative but time demanding job in pre Y2K.

Wanting to do the right thing it wasn’t uncommon for her to work late in the night and then bring home additional work. The stress of unnecessary debt, extraordinarily long working hours and a difference in values eventually took its toll, and her marriage ended. Raised in a strict Roman Catholic household, the divorce was devastating to her.

More jobs, more responsibility, more challenges. Shari was being pulled by two forces that were equal, but opposite in direction. A desire to have a simple life, and a wish to do an outstanding job in the corporate world.

Along the way, she met her second husband. He was resentful that Shari had a circle of friends and convinced her to move so they could start anew and be on an equal playing field. Where did they move? They moved from Chicago to Australia. In Australia Shari did what she does best, learn. She finished a Master’s degree in creative writing at the prestigious University of Sydney and then went to work at the university. Shari told me that she loved living in Australia, as everything she needed was within an easy walk. A simple life was what made her happy.

She traveled to India on holiday and became ill. She returned to Australia sick and very weak. She found herself working from home, as she did not have the energy to get dressed and travel to work. This went on for many weeks. Slowly, and with the help of medical professionals, she recovered. However, something had changed, something was wrong. Also, her second marriage was now failing, and another divorce was on the horizon. The prospect of a second divorce was sobering.

Shari continued to work at the University of Sidney, and her brilliance promoted her. She was given important projects and a team to work under her. One of her hires was a man named Jason. A person who barely said two words to her while they worked together. But more on Jason later.

With a broken second marriage, she decided to leave her life in Australia and return to the United States. She left behind true friends and the basic life that she loved.

Now back in the US she once again got jobs in business and IT. Learning new systems quickly, always seeing the bigger picture, always overworking. After 18 months she returned to Australia to visit friends and co-workers. Her former employee Jason was at one of her welcoming dinners. “He seemed different, more talkative and engaged.” By the end of the evening, they were holding hands. Four years later they married.

Finally, it seemed like things were going her way. She was married to the love of her life, she had a small and manageable home in Downers Grove, and she had a good job.

Stress was working overtime in the background as she continued to overwork. In the first year of her marriage, she was hospitalized with a bout of Ulcerative Colitis. She developed chronic anemia. In 2012 she was hit by a severe, unknown malady that left her twitching, and uncoordinated. She couldn’t think straight and had no short-term memory. She was in constant pain, and she was continually sleeping. She went from being able to see the bigger picture to not knowing if she let her dog out. It was a horrible time for Shari.

She sought medical attention and diagnoses were made. Autoimmune thyroid disease, autoimmune neuropathy. She started to do her own research and determined that one of her problems was Hashimoto’s Encephalopathy (HE), a diagnosis later confirmed by her physicians. HE is an autoimmune disorder that causes an inflammation of the brain and produces neurological symptoms because of that inflammation. Other related problems emerged, Lyme Disease, Possibly PANDAS (another autoimmune disease caused by a Streptococcus infection). The combination of stress and infectious agents were creating a one, two punch that was making her life unmanageable. Her body was literally destroying itself.

Shari fought back. Using her own research, novel treatments, and an expert medical team, a multi-modal treatment emerged. Thyroid replacement hormone, steroids, neuro-cognitive training. These have all helped improve Shari’s functioning. However, her health is still fragile. She takes one step forward, only to slide backward with the slightest stress.

Shari is a giving person, but she can become over-involved helping others. She willingly helps friends and family, but her actions can result in an exacerbation of her autoimmune illnesses making her non-functional for days. She would like to be a financial contributor in her marriage, but even part-time work can be too stressful. She struggles with her current lack of functioning, her poor memory, her fatigue.

She says that many doctors missed her diagnoses; they only reviewed simple lab panels and didn’t delve further. She wants to advocate for others who are dealing with undiagnosed maladies. At this time she is a health coach for a young woman who suffers from another chronic disease, but Shari wonders what her next step should be. She knows that it can’t be fueled by the obsessive drive that gave her success but contributed to her sickness. Her illness has forced her to re-explore what has consistently made her happy in the past, a simple, basic life.

Despite her illness, she is grateful. Grateful for the beauty and majesty of nature, grateful for her caring friends, grateful for her loving family, and most of all grateful for her soulmate, Jason.

Life is what you make of it. Sometimes it is more important to celebrate what you have than to constantly grieve over what you have lost. Rejoice in today as will never be repeated.

Do you have a story that you would like me to tell?  If so, click here for more information on this project.

 

Shari

Meeting With Pastor Dave and WordPress

I accept the fact that I’m an introvert, but that acceptance wasn’t always the case.  Before I understood this aspect of my personality, I used to be self-critical of my behavior.  I would see people around me on the move. They would socialize with one group, and then another.  They had 5 or 6 “best friends.” They would form “close” connections based on their personal monetary or career needs.

I would think to myself, “Why is it so hard for me to socialize in these ways?  If I could be more like them I could…” I felt that there was something wrong with me.  

I can’t recall the actual moment when I realized that I was an introvert, but I do remember that it was a great relief to understand why I behaved the way that I did.  It was affirming to view this aspect of me as a positive trait; part of who I am.

With that said, there are times when introverts have to play the part of an extrovert, and I am able to put on a coat of sociability when necessary.  However, since this isn’t my natural demeanor, it can be exhausting. Usually, I manage these energy expenditures carefully. An extroverted activity followed by some private time.

As I have written many times, I do like people, and I do enjoy interacting with them.  However, I need my personal space to recharge. I am not energized by large groups; I am depleted.  It is a rare day that I would deliberately schedule multiple social interactions. One of those rare days was yesterday.

At 1 PM I had a scheduled meeting with my pastor.  I belong to a large non-denominational church, and I was meeting with its co-founder, Dave.  I had set up a meeting with him weeks earlier. The meeting was based on my “leave no stone unturned” philosophy of life.  Other than that, I wasn’t sure what I was expecting to happen at the meeting. I knew that in some abstract way I was trying to move forward on the “next aspect of my life” thing.  Pastor Dave is a smart guy who takes charge of his world, but beyond that, I knew little about him.

The morning of the meeting met me with dread.  “Why would he want to meet with me? He is too busy.  I am using up his valuable time.” And so the tapes played.  I understand the historical reasons for these thoughts, and I do not let them stop me.  However, they are still distressing.

I returned home from my morning walk and briefly discussed my concerns with my wife, Julie.  She was busy getting ready for the day, and I tried to respect her time limitations. I drove over to my friend Tom’s house and also voiced some of my fears to him.  It is a good thing for me to share my irrational fears with people that I’m close. This is a relatively new behavior and a healthy one.

Soon it was time for me to go to the church and my anxiety returned full force.  I reminded myself. “He is only going to spend 30 minutes with you. It is not that much of an imposition.”

One PM arrived, and I found myself seated in a medium sized room at a large round folding table.  In walked Pastor Dave. I started to talk, not knowing what would come out of my mouth in the next second.  I assumed that Dave did this sort of thing multiple times a day, but he told me that he was more involved with the vision of the church and that he enjoyed the chance to do something different.

Our conversation continued well past 30 minutes.  At the hour point, his assistant stuck her head into the room to remind him “about that call that he needed to make.”  I’m sure that this was the standard protocol when she sensed that a parishioner was taking up too much of the pastor’s time.  I immediately started to grab my coat, but Dave put his hand up indicating that he wanted to continue to talk. He recommended a couple of books that might be helpful to me, and also suggested a life assessment that he found personally useful.  Ninety minutes into the meeting we ended with a prayer. I didn’t feel like I wasted his time, it was a nice feeling.

Shortly after I arrived home, I drove my daughter, Grace, to a meeting.  In my mind, I imagined returning back home. I would take a long shower and put on some loungewear. I would immerse myself in a project and I would consider having a glass of wine.  Then, the reality hit me. I had signed up for a MeetUp group on WordPress, and it was running from 6 PM to 9 PM that evening.

Part of me wanted to bail out of the meeting, but I also wanted to go.  Fears crept back in as I imagined that I would sit in a room of WordPress experts. Would I be wasting their time?  Would I look foolish or stupid? I had only been learning the software for about a month and felt very much a newbie. Dear reader, I will not allow my fears to determine who I am.  I put on my coat, plugged in the coordinates into my phones GPS, and drove to the meeting.

I found myself in a classroom with about 40 other people.  Time to put on my extrovert cloak. With a smile on my face, I introduced myself to the three people seated around me.  Soon we were engaged in a nice conversation. The formal part of the meeting consisted of a speaker talking about a major revision that was about to take place on the WordPress platform.  To my surprise, I understood what he was talking about and could see the implications of the upcoming changes. There were groups members who knew more than I did, but it seemed that I knew more than some others.  The meeting ended, and I said my goodbyes to my new acquaintances. I was happy that I went.

In total exhaustion, I returned home.  Julie was reading a book in our bedroom, but wanted an update on my day, especially on my meeting with the pastor.  I briefed her as best as I could. It was then time for my long-awaited shower. Extra hot, extra sudsy. I let the water run on my back as it relaxed my tense neck and shoulders.  The day was over.

Dear reader, we are who we are.  I believe that we all have strengths and weaknesses.  I accept the fact that I am an introvert, and I have used this knowledge as an advantage, rather than considering it a disadvantage.  I am a great independent learner, I am never bored, I come up with wonderful ideas when I am by myself.

However, there are times when I need to reach beyond my introverted self if I wish to move forward.  Sometimes the uncomfortable option is the right option. Some actions can be hard, but worthwhile. I feel that for me it is important to respect my personality, but still challenge it with reasonable risk-taking.

If we are unhappy, it is easy to blame our unhappiness on circumstances or other people.  However, it is our responsibility to make any change. We can’t expect others to usurp that responsibility.   I encourage you to gently step outside your comfort zone today and gain a little more control over your life.  Who knows where it will lead you.

My Mega Church

 

How WordPress Taught Me About Myself

Dear reader, I believe that everything we do in some ways connects to other aspects of who we are. We show our true selves in our everyday actions.  Things that seem unrelated are often related if you look closely enough.

In this post, I explore how the process of building web pages has also taught me about how I relate to people. This is less of a stretch than you may think.  Let’s start…

My adventure in creating websites started around 15 years ago and was directed more by need than want.  In those days I was a partner/owner of a medium sized psychiatric practice. With my two partners, I had built the practice into a thriving enterprise.

Most of our business was generated from former clients and referring professionals.  However, we knew that we needed a website, as it was becoming a common instrument that new clients used to find their next care provider.

I come from a blue-collar background, which inherently makes me a do-it-yourselfer and cost-conscious. I was already heavily invested in creating marketing and advertising materials for the practice and had been doing everything from brochure design (remember paper?) to head shots of the staff.

It was only logical that I build the website.  To hire someone to design even a simple one would have cost thousands of dollars, as well as countless hours of committee work to write copy, and approve design concepts. I felt that I had the potential to do the necessary tasks: photography, copy creation, design, deployment.  However, there was a problem, I had never designed a webpage, I had never taken a computer course, and I had never written a single line of HTML. In hindsight building a complex website was an insane thought. People spend years learning this stuff. What was I thinking?

Naturally, it was a massive project that was complicated by the fact that I had to learn everything on the fly. Initially, I tried to go the easy route by using the hosting company’s template-based web designer.  I wrote two entire versions of the clinic website with that program, but it just couldn’t handle a site as complex as the one the I envisioned. I recall spending an entire Saturday trying to upload a few more pages to the site, only to have it repeatedly crash.  Finally, I realized that I would have to go beyond the limitations of this easy software and use something more sophisticated. That moment was sickening to me, as it meant that not only would I have to learn an entirely new software package, but I would have to recreate every single page of the website again.

This process was occuring in my almost non-existent “spare time.”  I created extra working time by removing needed sleeping time. I know my partners had no idea of the hours that I put in. They assumed that I was able to build a site during my lunch break. For months most of my evenings and weekends were spent staring at a computer screen. Sure, my lack of knowledge made easy things more difficult, but there was also the reality that I was wearing all of the creative hats. It was overwhelming.

The more sophisticated software that I settled on was from a British company called Serif. It was graphically based and similar to the page layout programs that I had used for paper publications.  The familiarity offered me a small degree of confidence. However, building an interactive multimedia website is very different from placing photos and print on a physical page.

Eventually, I got the hang of it and created seven redesigns of the clinic site over ten years.  It wasn’t too long before friends started to ask me if I could help their small businesses and build a website for them. This is how I became a web designer/content creator.

In 2015 my friend, Tom, asked me if I would write some copy for his small business website.  He had paid someone to do the total creation of the site, and he wasn’t pleased with it. “I don’t think that the website represents me very well.”  He told me. “Sure,” I said. I was eager to repay a favor that he had recently done for me.

Tom is a smart and creative guy who has a sense of style.  Initially, I thought that he was overly critical of his site.  I assumed that a professional would know all of the tricks to creating a visually appealing and engaging experience. It was then that I looked at the web pages. His site was an example of “you don’t always get when you pay for.”  Cluttered, poorly written, lousy clipart, encyclopedia length boring content that was likely copied from elsewhere. It was not good.

“Tom, why don’t you let me build a new site for you?”  The words came out of my mouth without thought. “I can’t let you do that, I don’t want to take advantage of you,” Tom replied.  Suddenly, I found myself convincing him that it was OK, and a good idea.

Like most projects, it was much more complicated and time-consuming than I initially thought. Despite being a lot of work, it was fun and I felt good helping my friend. I was proud of the way the new website turned out. Simple, clean, beautiful!

Fast forward to 2018.  Tom had been doing some marketing research and decided that his site would be more searchable if it was created using the WordPress PHP format instead of the simple HTML of the site that I wrote.  He even found someone willing to port my created content to a shiny new WordPress site. So, what did I do? I took a look at the prototype site and saw a different vision. Once again I was asking my friend if he would mind if I would make some “adjustments.” Some of this may be grandiosity, some reality. I know Tom very well, and I have some understanding of his business. Two pieces of knowledge that his WordPress colleague didn’t possess.

Dear reader, you are reading this post on my WordPress blog site that I created several years ago.  It was a straightforward creation that involved a few mouse clicks. I set it up with no knowledge of WordPress in about 30 minutes. On the other hand, Tom’s site is a very complicated bonafide website that is loaded with all sorts of content. I was telling him that I could improve his site and I didn’t even know how to modify a single page in WordPress.  Why do I do such crazy things?

As you know by now when I don’t understand my behavior I ponder and try to figure it out.  This is what I came up with:

I love learning new things, and I love intellectual challenges.  Despite being slow going, there is a genuine thrill when I figure out even a small aspect of a new puzzle. Knowledge is my cocaine.

I have pride issues.  I put a lot of energy and effort creating content for his original website.  I want my work in a setting that adds to it and doesn’t detract from it.

I show that I care about someone by doing things for them.  Talk is cheap. Actions speak louder than words.

I want to justify Tom’s friendship with me.  I want to give him a good “return” on his investment in our connection.  This realization was a surprise. In reality, I know that Tom connects with me as much for my imperfections as my strengths.  I don’t need to prove my value to him, and I honestly feel that he would like me just as much if all we did was to hang out with each other. In fact, Tom is also a helper who is more comfortable taking care of, rather than being taken care of.

This need to be valuable to my friend stems back to a time in my life when I felt that I had little value. The, “I am not worth anything,” part of my life. This likely is also a reason why I did all of the extra work for my former clinic. It was a way to prove that I was worthy of my fellow doctor’s time and attention.

I am a protector. I have a strong maternal side to my personality. When I feel close to someone, I am constantly trying to make sure that they are safe and that their needs are met. I can guarantee that my friend does not need my protection. He is physically stronger than I am and has survived most of his life without my sage interventions. Luckily, Tom seems to understand my motives and tolerates my actions. He is happiest when his business is thriving. I want to make sure that his website does as much as it can do to help his business thrive. For whatever reason, I think I hold the key to making his website the best that it can be.

Conversely, my protective trait drives an immediate family member crazy. They view it as me trying to control them.  In reality, I’m just trying to make sure that they have everything that they need. However, I do understand their annoyance, and I have tried to modify my behavior.

These are some of the reasons that I came up with, but that is enough writing for today. Hopefully, this post will get you thinking about how the unrelated parts of your life that are actually related to each other.  Connect the dots and learn just a little bit more about yourself! Have a great day.

WordPress as an insight oriented therapist?

 

Getting Rid Of The Landline

This week I made a change of monumental personal proportions. With that said, it was long overdue and probably would seem insignificant to anyone under 40. What did I do? I got rid of my landline phone.

When I was growing up a hardwired phone was considered essential, and it was an expensive essential at that. My home had a single, black rotary phone. Borning in its simple functionality. In those days phones were controlled by the powerful AT&T, which was essentially a monopoly.

Calling outside a limited “zone” meant an upcharge. Calling long distance was extremely expensive. Add-ons to your phone had to be purchased from AT&T at exorbitant prices. No mere mortal could afford an answering machine.

By the 1970s AT&T was forced to loosen its grip. Third party companies were allowed (by law) to connect with AT&T phone lines, and suddenly there was a tsunami of designer phones, answering machines, and other telephonic gadgets at reasonable costs. Ma Bell still had a stranglehold on infrastructure and charged accordingly. Long distance calls were still only made on very special occasions in my household; every second measured with no calls to exceed 10 minutes.

This all changed with the advent of the cellphone. My first one was a Panasonic box phone. I purchased it for almost $2000 in 1987; I was charged ten cents for every minute of airtime. The Panasonic was the size of a cigar box and had a separate handset that pulled out from the case. It had a giant gel type battery to power its circuitry, and the combination weighed so much that I had to use a shoulder strap to carry it. Even so, it was a miraculous invention, so amazing that people would stop me on the street and ask me what it was. “Can you make phone calls from that?” They would ask in awe and amazement.

Fast forward a decade, and what was novel became commonplace. Almost everyone had a cellphone. Fast forward another ten years and the world was introduced to the first iPhone. The iPhone not only changed an industry, but it also changed our culture. It was the first “smartphone” designed for people, not businesses. It was cool. It was a status symbol. Everyone wanted one.

Smartphones are now commonplace. Common with the affluent suburbanites where I live. Common with the poor folks that I treat in Rockford. Common in third world countries where it is more usual to have a cell phone than hot running water. Now that most people have their own “personal communication device,” the once-essential landline has become a dinosaur technology.

When I was active in my private practice, I kept the landline as an emergency backup. Our hardwired phone had multiple extensions in my home. I didn’t have to have my cell phone velcroed to my hip at all times as my answering service was instructed to ring the house phone at night. The landline also served as a central hub. The place where we would get reminders of doctor’s visits. The place where banks would call if they suspected fraudulent activity on our credit cards. The place where we would get our robo calls from our kid’s school when there was a snow day.

Every month I paid for the phone and the extra, but necessary services. Extra cost for voicemail, and the increasingly important caller ID.

Over the years our phone calls changed. The majority of the real calls came to us by our cell phones, but that didn’t stop our landline from being used. There was an endless number of calls from sellers, politicians, charities, and random spoofed numbers that implied that they were coming from down the block, rather than across the world. These nuisance calls become ever more prevalent, and ever more aggressive. If I didn’t pick up a call, the caller would call again and again. Calls during dinner time, calls late at night, calls early in the morning. Some telemarketers became so aggressive that I elected to spend over a hundred dollars to buy a “call blocker,” a device designed to intercept unwanted calls and hang up on them.

The landline had gone from necessary, to a backup, to an annoyance. It was time to go.

I retired at the end of 2017, and I planned to do a technology purging by the end of January 2018. Not only was I going to get rid of the landline, but also my cable TV, and my unreliable internet service.

January came and went, as did February. I wondered what was holding me back from making a simple cancellation call. As with most personal roadblocks, I started to explore what was going on.

Part of the problem centered on the fact that I had had a regular phone for so long that on a subconscious level it did seem like a necessity, even though I knew that this was no longer the case. Part of the problem centered on the fact that eliminating the landline would be an indicator that my private practice was over. Part of the problem was my fear that I would make a mistake. Since our phone, internet, and cable were all from the same provider, a mistake would leave us disconnected and technologically dead in the water. This last point resonated true. It was the main reason that I was not pulling the plug. Now that I knew what was stopping me, it was time to come up with a solution.

The solution was simple. Instead of starting one provider and ending another in a precision one-two punch, I would allow for an overlap. I would only cancel my old services once my new internet connection was in place and working to my satisfaction.

I know that this sounds obvious, but I had been thinking rigidly, and I assumed that my lack of action was because of laziness. I had to understand the “why,” before I could come up with the “how.”
You may ask why I’m writing about a utility cancellation. Like most things that I write about, there is a broader reason. How often do we get stuck continuing to do things that are not in our best interest? How often do we get stuck not making a change, when doing so would make our lives better? Could there be reasons for our actions that go beyond laziness? Have we thought about alternative way to think about a solution? Have we considered asking someone trusted if they had any thoughts on a solution? My phone issue illustrates that a little time and flexibility can sometimes turn the impossible into the possible. The same process applies to a bad relationship, a terrible job, or damaging behavior.

So often it is the little things in life that make the biggest difference. Small annoyances are like dealing with a cloud of gnats. Singularly, they have little impact. Cumulatively, they can bring us down.

 

 

Evaporating Time

Evaporating Time.

Time is thought to be constant.  Something that in a Newtonian world does not vary. On my kitchen wall is an Atomic clock, so named because it has a radio receiver that listens to WWV in Fort Collins, Colorado.  That transmission consists of a signal which is synchronized precisely to the atomic clock that resides there. An instrument so precise that it measures time by the electromagnetic radiation emitted as electrons move from one energy level to another. Science and technology rely on this precision. If time were not constant, our lives would be in chaos. Global travel would be impossible; cell phones would brick, Scientific research would be meaningless, nuclear reactors would melt down. However, it seems that time is not constant for me.

I worked seven days a week as a medical student. When I rotated through senior medicine, I was fortunate that my teaching resident liked me.  During the twelve week rotation, she thoughtfully gave me a Saturday off. I was overcome with appreciation. This would mean that I would have Friday night off, and could sleep in Saturday morning if I wished.  I would also have all of Saturday to do whatever I wanted to do. It was like receiving a Christmas present in August.

Early in my professional career I worked multiple jobs, which included a busy private practice. I was on call seven days a week for my patients, and I never knew when my pager would go off.  It was hard to go into noisy places because it would be difficult to take a call on my cigar box sized cell phone. I couldn’t have a single beer. I slept very lightly. On occasion, I would get someone to cover for me.  This would give me an entire weekend to do with as I pleased. I could travel beyond my pagers range. I could leave my 7-pound phone behind. More Christmas presents for sure. However, it didn’t seem three times bigger then the single day I got as a medical student.

My career continued, and it became easier to have slices of open time.  I learned how to manage my patients, and they rarely called on weekends.  They knew that I was good about returning their calls during the week, and so they didn’t panic.  I was respectful of their needs, and so they were respectful of mine. My phones shrank in size and weight.  I no longer carried a pager. More freedom, more time. But the ratio of time to extracurricular activity did not grow proportionally.

I now work three days a week, giving me a four day weekend 52 weeks out of the year.  This four day weekend my family went to Minnesota, leaving me behind. Completely free of any obligation, my opportunities were endless.  How would I fill all of those days? I quickly came up with a todo list in my head. There would be some practical projects and household tasks.  I would do some socializing. I would take myself out to eat. I would go to a couple of movies. I might even travel to the country for a day trip.  There were many things to do, but I had four days all to myself. At the start of the weekend, my  time seemed endless.

The days came and went. I did do a few practical projects, but not all of them. I did socialize some, but not to the extent that I would have liked. I did take myself out to eat, but it was at McDonald’s. I did watch a single movie, but it was over two days and on Netflix. I did travel into the country, but only to keep my friend Tom company on a business call.  There were other things on my list, but I just never got around to do them.

It was as if time shrank.  I would wake up and do a few things; then it was time to go to bed. The cycle would repeat, and then the weekend was over. Dear reader, I had a perfectly lovely weekend, but it seemed like the activities that usually would fill one day had expanded into four. It was almost as if time had shortened, or perhaps my activities expanded.  I see this trend in other areas of my life. I am doing the things that I said that I would do. But the quantity and frequency of those activities have dramatically shrunk. It is so easy to fill my time with a conversation, or a walk, or some meditation. I am not complaining, as I think this is a natural progression as one goes from a more structured to a less structured life. However, I find it interesting.

I could come up with a rigid schedule.  I could have my phone beep commands to keep me on target. I could use an accountability partner. With that said, there is something to learn from a reduction of traditionally productive activity. A growth that comes in gentle breezes of learning that are interspersed with fewer planned experiences.

Does time shrink? Does it evaporate? It doesn’t appear to be constant in my real world.  I accept that fact, but I am unsure of its significance. Sometimes not knowing is OK.

Is time really constant?