Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Rest In Peace, Maya Angelou























The world woke up to the sad news that Dr. Maya Angelou died this morning.  There is little that a blogger can say about this amazing woman, that her own magnificent writing and the example of her courageous life cannot say better.

Rest in peace, Maya Angelou. Humanity is a little poorer today for your passing, yet you have enriched us all with your wisdom, grace and incandescent humanism.

And Still I Rise

Still I Rise
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
'Cause I walk like I've got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don't you take it awful hard
'Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines
Diggin' in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I'll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I've got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history's shame
I rise
Up from a past that's rooted in pain
I rise
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

Maya Angelou


Friday, April 18, 2014

Crucifixion Friday - Easter "Joy"!

A torture/execution device is the universally revered symbol for the religion of "love"?
































Even when I was a practicing Catholic, I never quite wanted to "celebrate" the Christian remake of Easter. I was happy to celebrate spring, rebirth, flowers blooming, days getting longer, the Easter bunny and coloring eggs to symbolize fertility and new life - in short, all the aspects of the ancient festival of Eastre that most people enjoy celebrating at this time of the year. But the human sacrifice myth that Christianity grafted on to Easter has always repulsed me.

I think one of the most puzzling and disturbing things about theism is that belief seems to alter the human mind so that otherwise rational, good and decent people are able to accept a doctrine of "salvation through human sacrifice" without apparent discomfort.  In fact, Christians not only embrace this doctrine as the truth, but they consider it to be a beautiful proof of the love of the Biblical god.  Without any apparent irony, most Christians regard the story of the torture and execution of the son-god, Jesus, as the very zenith of joyful good news.

Oh happy day -?!
In any other context, human beings who think bloody human sacrifice is acceptable, let alone good, would be considered sociopathic. An entire culture of them would be considered monstrous. Yet, human sacrifice to gods - bloodshed for religion - is accepted as a normal part of human culture even to this day in some parts of the world. Only in a religious context is such depravity considered not only acceptable but laudatory.

The concept of redemptive blood sacrifice disturbs me on many levels.  It disturbs me that people are told that humanity is in need of redemption - that we are sinful, "filthy rags" condemned by our very nature to an eternity of torture in hell unless we seek "salvation" from a deity - when it is the deity which they also believe created our human nature in the first place. More important is the chilling reality that people accept this vile, self-loathing doctrine. I wonder at the twisted psychology of a faith that teaches little children that they are sinful, hell-bound creatures, and then goes on to tell them that their only path to salvation must be through a bloody human sacrifice that allegedly occurred 2000 years ago.

It disturbs me that the deity that millions of people worship is believed to require a blood sacrifice to expiate the sinfulness of its own creation in the first place. It seems incredible that an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving god - whose alleged desire is to welcome humanity into its presence - would deliberately create humankind with a curious, independent and impulsively immature nature and then subject the first humans to a life or death test which requires incuriousness, unquestioning obedience and experienced maturity.

It disturbs me that millions of people worship a god that would condemn all humanity for all eternity because of the inevitable failure of the two prototype humans to pass that impossible test because of the limitations of the very human nature with which that god endowed them.  It could make sense - albeit "sense" of the most malevolent kind - if people acknowledged that the god is a viciously manipulative tyrant which only fear compels them to keep praising and worshiping, but instead Christians insist that the mythical monster is a "loving" god.

It disturbs me that the cruel, capricious, psychopathic behavior which is the nature of the Biblical god - it is evident throughout holy scripture that God is all that and worse - must be called just, holy and glorious by its worshipers. Believers never seem to wonder why their omniscient and omnipotent god would require total, abject obedience in the first place nor why it could not - or would not - think of a more humane way for its followers to avoid eternal hellfire for the "sin" of being what they were created to be. It never seems to occur to believers that the deity they truly believe in is actually an awful, even evil character.

Christians refer to the Passion and Resurrection stories as the most "joyful" part of scripture.  I understand that they think it is the most important part - indeed it is the very foundation of the Christian faith - but I do not understand how people can remain so uncritical of this "salvation".  I find myself wondering how people can suspend normal human horror at such violent cruelty in this one celebrated instance, calling it necessary and good. Their insistence that a god that can do anything somehow needed someone to die a violent, painful death to satisfy its thirst for vengeance and that this capriciously cruel demand is the greatest love humankind will ever know strikes me as very sad.

Human beings fear death more than anything else. Al Stefanelli writes that through most of history, the horror of dying spawned many versions of the Savior story.  Probably human beings then, as now, felt an awful impotence in the face of their inevitable demise and that sense of impotence may explain the continued acceptance of a doctrine of human failure leading to misplaced faith in irrational belief.

But, while fear and a sense of impotence may explain the willingness of believers to accept a savior myth, I feel that it is early religious indoctrination and psychological manipulation which leads people to sublimate their normal, healthy human aversion to wanton cruelty and to accept the meanest of human impulses - in the guise of Godly judgement - with hardly a murmur of protest. Cruelty is called kindness, evil is called good and contempt is called love. Such is the bizarrely twisted Christian moral compass.

I suspect that the early Christian conquerers co-opted the pagan Eastre celebrations of springtime fertility not simply to 'win over' pagans to Christianity (they generally achieved this through intimidation and persecution anyway), but to make Christianity more palatable to the masses by entwining a terrifying and immoral doctrine with the more hopeful, joyful celebrations that most psychologically healthy human beings naturally prefer. By fusing the repugnant with the refreshing, Christianity keeps its adherents off-balance and confused about what ought to be the clear difference between goodness and evil.

I do not believe that the Biblical gods - or any gods - exist, but I do think that the idea of such a god - and the repulsive religious doctrines built around it - ought to be resisted by all morally healthy people with every ounce of vigor that they can muster.

Could it be that Christians are more uncomfortable than they admit with the blood sacrifice "salvation" doctrine?
Maybe that explains the popularity of pagan Easter symbolism!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Thorsday Tonic - Changes




A little Thorsday Tonic for you!

Changes 

Still don't know what I was waitin' for
And my time was runnin' wild
A million dead end streets and
Every time I thought I'd got it made
It seemed the taste was not so sweet
So I turned myself to face me
But I've never caught a glimpse of
How the others must see the faker
I'm much too fast to take that test

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes
Turn and face the strange
Ch-ch-changes
Don't want to be a richer man
Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes
Turn and face the strange
Ch-ch-changes
Just gonna have to be a different man
Time may change me
But I can't trace time
Mmm, yeah

I watch the ripples change their size
But never leave the stream
Of warm impermanence
So the days float through my eyes
But still the days seem the same
And these children that you spit on
As they try to change their worlds
Are immune to your consultations
They're quite aware of what they're goin' through

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes
Turn and face the strange
Ch-ch-changes
Don't tell them to grow up and out of it
Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes
Turn and face the strange
Ch-ch-changes
Where's your shame?
You've left us up to our necks in it
Time may change me
But you can't trace time

Strange fascination, fascinatin'
Ah, changes are takin'
The pace I'm goin' through

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes
Turn and face the strange
Ch-ch-changes
Oh, look out you rock 'n' rollers
Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes
Turn and face the strange
Ch-ch-changes
Pretty soon now you're gonna get older
Time may change me
But I can't trace time
I said that time may change me
But I can't trace time

- David Bowie

Monday, April 7, 2014

Tuesday Tonic - The War on Easter!
























Reposting this po(e)st since last year's version has been showing up in the niftiest posts list!

Mark your calendars, NiftyReaders. Today, I agree wholeheartedly with a fundamentalist Christian argument. According to online sources for Christian correctness, Christians have a big problem with Easter. The problem is that Easter is not Christian enough. In fact, Easter is not Christian or Biblically endorsed at all.


Hot cross buns?
Abominations!
Now let’s go to the other scriptures authorizing Easter. This presents a problem. There are NONE! There are absolutely no verses, anywhere in the Bible, that authorize or endorse the keeping of Easter celebration! The Bible says nothing about Lent, eggs and egg hunts, baskets of candy, etc., although it does mention hot cross buns and sunrise services as abominations, which God condemns. (The True Origin of Easter, the Reformed Church of God.org)

The name “Easter” has its roots in ancient polytheistic religions (paganism). On this, all scholars agree. This name is never used in the original Scriptures, nor is it ever associated biblically with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. For these reasons, we prefer to use the term “Resurrection Sunday” rather than “Easter” when referring to the annual Christian remembrance of Christ's resurrection. (What is the origin of Easter? ChristianAnswers.org)

Oh, those pagans with their "Happy Easter/Happy Holidays"! Unbelievers have been distracting Christians from the true meaning of Christianity's most important holidays for too long! Easter is all about springtime, flowers budding, bunnies, chicks and sex. So unChristian!  Resurrection Sunday is about the story of a dead man who disappeared from his tomb and is believed to have risen from the dead after a horrific execution. That's more like it! Ask any Christian, he will tell you: holidays don't get much more joyful than that!

Coloring eggs? 
That's a no-no, Christians!
I would prefer that Christians use the term "Resurrection Sunday" rather than Easter, too. It makes perfect sense for Christians - who happily profess to be washed in the blood of Jesus, after all - to name their own holiday something more appropriate to what it really is about. I enthusiastically support their right to begin calling their holy day by this name forthwith. Keep the Resurrection in Resurrection Sunday!

And while we are on the subject, why do devout Christians allow the secularists to win on Good Friday, too? Why accept the politically correct - and frankly much too bland - "Good Friday"?  Christians, call it what it is!  It is Crucifixion Friday! It is high time that Christians admit to the rest of the world - loud and proud - that their holiday is about blood, torture and a terrible death, not the Easter Bunny, jellybeans and a chocolate coma!

And about those Easter Eggs. No, no, no, Christians. Do you have any idea of the depraved history of these pagan symbols? Easter eggs are pagan symbols of a fertility goddess! ChristianAnswers can fill you in:

Most children and families who color or hide Easter eggs as part of their Resurrection Sunday tradition have no knowledge of the origin of these traditions. Easter egg activities have become a part of Western culture. Many would be surprised and even dismayed to learn where the traditions originated.
“The egg was a sacred symbol among the Babylonians. They believed an old fable about an egg of wondrous size which was supposed to have fallen from heaven into the Euphrates River. From this marvelous egg - according to the ancient story - the Goddess Astarte (Easter) [Semiramis], was hatched. And so the egg came to symbolize the Goddess Easter.”
Sneaky... but they're still eggs.
Wrong, wrong, wrong.
The idea of a mystic egg spread from Babylon to many parts of the world. In Rome, the mystic egg preceded processions in honor of the Mother Goddess Roman. The egg was part of the sacred ceremonies of the Mysteries of Bacchus. The Druids used the egg as their sacred emblem. In Northern Europe, China and Japan the eggs were colored for their sacred festivals.
The egg was also a symbol of fertility; Semiramis (Easter) was the goddess of Fertility. The Easter egg is a symbol of the pagan Mother Goddess, and it even bears one of her names.

Do you hear that? Fables! Fertility! A Mother Goddess! The horror! Now, do you see why no true Christian should ever be caught dead dyeing eggs or participating in Easter egg hunts? Instead of an almighty (yet curiously silent and invisible) creator god, the humble egg has been universally celebrated as a symbol of fertility and new life for thousands of years only because those people chose not to know any better. Dozens of cultures who observed the natural world around them, recognized the natural cycle of birth, life and death and celebrated the life-giving sunlight, moon cycle (reproductive cycle) and motherhood in the form of goddess worship were clearly unChristian, evil and wrong, wrong, wrong.

Easter eggs, chocolate bunnies, jellybeans and marshmallow chicks are all very seductive. They seem like delicious innocent fun, but they are not. They are dangerous temptations down the road to unbelief. They suggest natural sources of life and, with those eggs and chicks and hens and such, they are also suggestive of all of the necessary and naturally-occurring components of reproduction. They suggest that the plants and animals on the earth - including human beings - are actually born, live and die without the aid or interference of any deity. Of course, throbbing, pulsing, thriving, living reality cannot compete with the power of fervent, mystical religious belief (right? amirite?), but why should righteous Christians risk it?

And just in case you didn't catch the recurring motif of feminine power in those evil, pagan myths, just look what else this flim-flam Easter/Eastre "holiday" is all about (according to ChristianAnswers):

Nice try, Christians, but no.
... this adulterous and idolatrous woman gave birth to an illegitimate son, she claimed that this son, Tammuz by name, was Nimrod reborn.” Semiramis “claimed that her son was supernaturally conceived [no human father] and that he was the promised seed, the 'savior'” - promised by God in Genesis 3:15. “However, not only was the child worshipped, but the woman, the MOTHER, was also worshipped as much (or more) than the son!” Nimrod deified as the god of the sun and father of creation. Semiramis became the goddess of the moon, fertility, etc.

The woman, the MOTHER (!!1eleventy1!) was worshipped! If ever there was proof that Easter is an unChristian festival, this creation of a female god is it. Any mythology that pays respect to women - let alone that elevates one to goddess status - autonomous, powerful and life-giving - is a mythology that is antithetical to everything that patriarchal Christianity stands for.

And come on, look at that silly fable! It cannot hold a candle to the 100% true, God-breathed, divine message in the Bible describing the singular Truth of Christianity: An innocent and immaculate young virgin miraculously gave birth to a son. The Bible claims that this son, Jesus by name, was the son of God, conceived of the Holy Spirit (no human father) and that he was the promised Messiah - the "savior" promised by God in Genesis 3:15. Not only is the child, Jesus, worshipped as he should be, but his mother, Mary is also paid deference as only the Mother of God deserves to be.

Now, that is a story that has the ring of ultimate Truth™!

In the old fables of the Mystery cults, their 'savior' Tammuz, was worshipped with various rites at the Spring season. According to the legends, after he was slain [killed by a wild boar], he went into the underworld. But through the weeping of his mother… he mystically revived in the springing forth of the vegetation - in Spring! Each year a spring festival dramatically represented this supposed 'resurrection'...

Nope.
In the old holy scriptures of the One True Faith, the Christian savior, Jesus Christ, is worshipped with various rites at the spring season. According to the inerrant word of the Bible, after he was slain (killed by Roman occupiers), he died and descended into hell. But according to the will of his father, he mystically revived - bringing "new life" to the world - in Spring! Each spring, during holy days, worshippers dramatically re-enact the utterly unverifiable story totally true Biblical account of this real resurrection.

Thus, a terrible false religion developed with its sun and moon worship, priests, astrology, demonic worship, worship of stars associated with their gods, idolatry, mysterious rites, human sacrifice, and more. Frankly, the practices which went on were so horrible that it is not fitting for me to speak of them here.

Exactly.  We will speak no more about it. The Christian religion with its Son worship, priests, mysticism, belief in angels and demons, worship of holy shrines associated with visions of their gods, angels and saints, mysterious rites and liturgical human sacrifice ritual is so much more than this terrible false religion from which Easter has sprung. For one thing, Christians add ritual cannibalism after the ritual human sacrifice! Frankly, these practices are so obviously correct, righteous and good, that it is not fitting for any Christian to participate in anything else. The source of that whole springtime/ new life/ bunnies and eggs/ ickily feminine, fertility cultish, Eastery thing is a terrible, false religion. What kind of a legitimate spring/rebirth festival elevates a MOTHER over a son? Definitely not a Christian festival!

Easter is clearly an evil pagan festival which Christians ought to decry.

Absolutely not!
Christians ought to take a stand against this tawdry commercialization of Christianity's most glorious holiday and simply refuse to partake in it. Perhaps they could demand that retailers post Happy Resurrection Sunday signs in their stores. Insist that schools and businesses should be closed out of respect for Crucifixion Friday. Fight for the power to teach schoolchildren the Good News™- whether they are Christian or not - through faith-building activities. Why shouldn't they be able to put on an annual Passion Play in public schools? What little boy wouldn't love to portray the crucified Jesus? What little girl hasn't dreamed of being cast as the Blessed Virgin grieving over the broken body of her murdered son? Even the littlest Christians can partake in the spirit-filled fun by baking Resurrection Cookies with Mom. As Mom reads the appropriate scriptures, the little ones can beat nuts into pieces with a wooden spoon and imagine they are breaking the bones of their long-suffering savior†. Godly, wholesome, fearsome fun. Now, that is the way to celebrate Easter Joy Resurrection Sunday!

One might wonder if there is a better way for Christians to celebrate Jesus Christ's resurrection, the most important of all Christian holy days. In retrospect, it seems obvious that it would have been a better witness to the world if Christians had not attempted to “Christianize” pagan celebrations* - adopting the name “Easter” (Ishtar/Semiramis) in remembrance of Christ. Jesus has been obscured by painted eggs and bunnies. Attention has been shifted away from spiritual truth and toward materialism (clothing, products and candies with the wrong symbolism). Stores merchandise the name of Easter (not “Resurrection Sunday”) and sell goods that have nothing to do with Christ's death and resurrection.

I couldn't agree more. Leave that pagan Easter business to the heathens, Christians! Resurrection Sunday belongs to you and Easter belongs to the rest of us. You glorify divine capital punishment, substitutionary atonement and human sacrifice - we prefer bunnies, eggs and chocolate. You keep the Crucifixion in Crucifixion Friday and the Resurrection in Resurrection Sunday and we will keep the Easter in Easter. Sounds fair to me.


† Read the Resurrection Cookie link. Seriously, you can't make this stuff up.
* Can I get an "Amen" to this, brothers and sisters?

That's right, Easter Bunny, just keep on hopping right out of the Christian calendar. 
And you can take your abominable eggs with you!










Thursday, March 20, 2014

Thorsday Tonic - Here Comes Spring!

                                                                                                                                                     photo by another peri






























It is 16:57 GMT (12:57PM EDT), our planet has aligned with the sun just so and - in the northern hemisphere where the NiftyFamily resides - spring has officially begun!

The March Equinox occurs each year on either March 19, 20 or 21. It is the moment when the sun crosses the imaginary line we call the equator and on that day, living things on earth experience roughly even hours of daylight and darkness. Equinox comes from the latin for "equal night".

Now, we in the north can look forward to lengthening days and shorter nights until June, while our southern hemisphere neighbors will experience shortening days and longer nights. Best of all, in my garden the earth is beginning to awaken. Yes it is! Even if you have a late winter snow, the earth feels that sunlight!.

Spring has sprung!


Lines Written in Early Spring
BY WILLIAM WORDSWORTH

I heard a thousand blended notes,
While in a grove I sate reclined,
In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts
Bring sad thoughts to the mind.

To her fair works did Nature link
The human soul that through me ran;
And much it grieved my heart to think
What man has made of man.

Through primrose tufts, in that green bower,
The periwinkle trailed its wreaths;
And ’tis my faith that every flower
Enjoys the air it breathes.

The birds around me hopped and played,
Their thoughts I cannot measure:—
But the least motion which they made
It seemed a thrill of pleasure.

The budding twigs spread out their fan,
To catch the breezy air;
And I must think, do all I can,
That there was pleasure there.

If this belief from heaven be sent,
If such be Nature’s holy plan,
Have I not reason to lament
What man has made of man?


For your musical inspiration today in the first moments of spring: a lushly beautiful rendition of Vivaldi's Spring (from the Four Seasons) performed by violinist Julia Fischer accompanied by the Academy of St Martin in the Fields at the National Botanical Gardens of Wales. Enjoy the glorious music punctuated by birdsong, presented in a gorgeous garden conservatory. This is about as good as it gets!

For your Thorsday Tonic, listen to this and give yourself a little gift for spring.





Thursday, March 13, 2014

Thorsday Tonic - The Lottery Assumption


























"Your Plan B is someone else's Plan A."

Last week, I reposted Thoughts on the Fork in the Road. Here is the follow-up post to that post, originally posted in January 2013.

There's something interesting about the way we think about our dreams and aspirations. While we believe our "dream goals" are impossibly difficult to achieve, it seems as though other people doing other things are always an "overnight success". We have a tendency to think that there are other - easier - pathways to success than the daunting uphill trek we imagine our own dreams would require. I think of it as a kind of "lottery" assumption. We figure that people who have achieved success in a creative field were mostly lucky and we conclude that even if we work hard and have talent, our odds of making it in our "dream" field are about as good as our odds of winning the lottery. We also (wrongly) conclude that success will be much easier in some other - usually more conventional - field.

Provided we have reasonable opportunities,
Gary Player's words are simply true.
This lottery assumption is frequently applied to artistic aspirations in particular. The truth is that the people who are "overnight successes" in creative fields - like people who achieve success in any field - rarely arrive at their success overnight. Of course, this is not news to anyone who has ever read the biography of a famous writer, actor or painter. Successful creative people nearly always work hard at their craft for years before their work is widely recognized and/or they achieve great financial success in their artistic endeavors. Yet the conviction persists that there is more than an element of chance to artistic success - not to mention overwhelming odds against you or me winning that particular lottery - undermining the will to work hard and the faith in ourselves that successful realization of our dreams demands.

It's true that opportunity is not equitably distributed throughout the population - and that is a topic for another post - but the lottery assumption goes beyond opportunity. Many people who actually have numerous opportunities to pursue their dreams still fail to recognize opportunity when it knocks. We continue to believe that other people - people who do recognize and answer that knock - are somehow just "luckier" than we are. Most of us turn a blind eye to our chances to do the things we say we would love to do, while telling ourselves that the opportunities we actually ignored just never came along at all. More determined people (who really intend to build a life doing the things that they love) keep an eye out for opportunities and then grab them when they present themselves.

There are lots of reasons why we fail to acknowledge opportunities to pursue our dreams: perhaps we have conflicting dreams and the opportunity means an impossible tradeoff of one cherished dream for another. It's rare that a conflict is so utterly irreconcilable, but it happens. More often, though, our reluctance to commit to a dream may tell us something about ourselves. Although if we pretend the opportunity never existed, we may never figure out what that is while we mourn a dream that we may never have really pursued anyway.

But, I think the biggest reason why we miss opportunities to do work we actually love is because we are socialized to regard enjoyable activities as strictly for leisure, while work is serious business. There is a sense that if we decide to make something we love to do our life's work, that we are somehow...well...goofing off. There is plenty of subtle and not-so subtle societal disapproval to underscore the point, too, so we dream of being able to perform or cook or paint for a living, but we feel a little bit ashamed of ourselves for wanting what essentially sounds like a lifetime of play, when we really ought to be doing more "grown-up" things. We postpone those dreams for some day, never quite formulating a Plan A to make them happen. We give up on our passions at the dreaming stage - decide they are unrealistic and probably we don't have the talent to make it anyway - and move directly on to Plan B. Our culture is more than ready to reinforce that, too.

Meryl Streep's Plan A - Acting
For example, people often say things like "What - do you imagine you'll be the next Meryl Streep?" to young people who express the dream of pursuing a career in acting (or, picking up on the general attitude that performance arts are not serious career options, young people say it to themselves). The unspoken message is loud and clear: performance art is fine for childhood and adolescence, but when it comes to a life plan, get serious! A career in acting is nothing but a pipe dream - a fantasy!

Consequently, the dream never even makes it out of the realm of fantasy to become a Plan A. Feeling naive and foolish for believing that such a childish dream could be made a reality, artistic people all too often default straight to a more acceptable Plan B.

Yet, we rarely hear anyone say things like that to kids who pursue paths that lead to what are perceived as safer, more conventionally solid, high-status careers like law, engineering, medicine or business. Let's take business, for example. No one ever says "What - do you think you're going to be the next Warren Buffet?" to the teenager who announces he is going to pursue a business degree or who hopes to open a small business someday. Unlike the liberal or performing arts, business is regarded as a very sensible course to take. Nobody insists that the only alternative to Buffet-like success is failure or that it is foolish to even consider trying. Why is that?

Out of the millions of people who work in the thousands of business-related occupations, there are very few who achieve the kind of stratospheric success of a Warren Buffet or Bill Gates, and perhaps a few hundred who "live the dream" of merely "great" corporate career success. There are many successful actors, writers and musicians among the thousands of people who work in creative occupations: actually, a person's relative odds of extraordinary success are probably greater in the arts than in business!

Warren Buffet's Plan A - Business
But even more to the point: where does the assumption come from that making it in business (or law, medicine or what have you) is easy - even a given? Have business diploma, will succeed!  Consider the huge numbers of students who flock to business schools. They can't all be passionate about business! And guess what? They're not. Many of these students love other things much more than business, but they've bought into the idea that to be successful (or, rather, to make money which we sometimes mistakenly equate with "success"), they should go into business school. They've shelved Plan A with hardly a whimper and gone to Plan B in the mistaken belief that Plan B will be easier.

They forget that their Plan B is someone else's Plan A.

The biggest pitfall of going with a Plan B is assuming that everyone else who has traveled the same path defaulted to that plan, too. This mistaken assumption is the root of the equally mistaken belief that Plan B will be easier. We see people in solid business careers and we assume: that's the ticket to success! No need to agonize over talent or possible humiliation - it's business!

But virtually every really successful person is working not on a Plan B but on their Plan A. People with no interest or passion for business do not simply walk out of college, diploma in hand and immediately start climbing the corporate ladder.  The people who seem to have effortlessly navigated a dream career have done so only after decades of working their way up through hard work, determination and a little luck. About the only thing that can sustain a person through years of striving at a demanding career is to love what you do. When you love what to do, the work energizes and invigorates you. When you don't, it can drain and depress you.

When you choose something because it seems expedient, rather than because you really want to do it, you actually choose to devote the majority of your one and only life to something you don't care about and don't particularly enjoyWhy would you choose to do that?

Advancing in a field that doesn't excite you is not easy. Aiming higher in a career you really don't love is not easy. Showing up each day at a job you neither care about nor enjoy is not easy at all. It is very hard. Without the passion and excitement we feel when we are working at something we love, it is very hard to find the energy and drive necessary to succeed. Even with a business, medical or law degree success is never easy and certainly not guaranteed.

What should this guy's Plan A have been?
For plenty of young people, these careers are a genuine dream come true, and they are fortunate to be able to convert the sincere desire to do that work into a solid Plan A. They work hard at careers they love, and whether or not they achieve the highest honors in their field, they command respect in society and live satisfying lives, too. Yet, there are doctors and lawyers and business majors who fail because their ambivalence about their work has translated into lackluster job performance. There are Plan B people languishing in dead-end jobs or who are always looking for another job - constantly searching for the right one and rarely succeeding.

It is worthwhile to give some thought to the things we really enjoy doing and try to figure out a way to incorporate those things into a career plan. A career Plan A.  Many of us avoid doing this because we fear the possibility of failure at something we really care about. Yet, by defaulting to a Plan B which ignores our dreams and passions is to guarantee that we will fail to do anything with them.  There are meaningful careers to match any interest known to humankind - if we make the effort to find them.

It is a fact of life that we won't all become CEOs, movie stars or celebrities in our respective fields. Whether or not we end up rivaling Meryl Streep or Warren Buffet, most of us will feel pretty successful if we can enjoy friendships, family, a little fun and the security of a decent job. If that job should also happen to be in a field we really enjoy - if we made a Plan A, stuck to it, worked hard and grabbed our opportunities when they presented themselves - then we will have the satisfaction of spending the best part of our lives doing stuff we love.

And that must feel a little like winning a lottery.


Steve Jobs  1955-2011

Friday, March 7, 2014

Thank Gods It's FreyaDay!

"My old grandmother used to say, summer friends will melt away like summer snows, but winter friends
are friends forever." - George R R Martin, A Feast for Crows



Good Day, Humans.

It has been a long cold winter.

And yet, I am content, as I always am.

I live in a warm house.

I have two very devoted human pets.
Let it go!

I have warmth, security and love.

And I am content.

Although, if I must be completely frank...

... and I really must be frank,

it is the 7th of March.

March.

And the snow is still piled up around the door.

I have had enough of snow for now

Thank you, Winter.

You can move along now.

Just let it go.



Thursday, March 6, 2014

Thorsday Tonic - Thinking Again About Forks























Follow your dreams! (but have a back-up plan) 
Shoot for the stars! (but in a practical way) 
You can do anything! (but be sensible) 
Blah blah blah...


Do these phrases sound familiar, NiftyReaders? No? Call up one of your friends or a trusted family member and tell them you are at a crossroads in life. You should start hearing some version of them in 3..2..1...

We have all heard these earnestly well-intended words of encouragement wrapped up in thin - yet unintentionally soul-crushing - wet blankets of "buts". Admit it. Most of us have thrown them over loved ones, too. I've been thinking about this a lot lately as I have struggled to offer encouragement and useful advice to the nifty offspring.

Crossroads? Forget crossroads. It can be a nightmare 
of equally unappealing "paths" out there!
If this is what your "choices" look like, 
maybe the path you want and need is not there. 
Blaze your own trail!
It seems there are two main schools of thought on giving advice about making life choices. The conservative way - the way parents, in particular, have guided their offspring for thousands of years - is to lay out the life map for other people and basically tell them there are no choices; this is your path. The liberal way - the way more parents have embraced as greater respect and understanding of the psychological component of individual rights grew in society - is to encourage people to follow their bliss and pursue their dreams with little or no outside direction at all: only you can figure out your path.

There is a middle ground, but unfortunately it may be worse than both extremes. It is the mixed message contained in the phrases posted above. At least with the conservative approach, kids have a plan. At least with the liberal approach, kids are utterly free to make (or fail to make) their own plans. The middle approach gives a not-quite-convincing thumbs up to "follow your bliss" with an undercurrent of "but this is what your path should be".

I don't know how young adults stand it. They hear these conflicting messages ad nauseum as they make their way through school and the confusion chorus only intensifies when they arrive at the intersection of high school graduation and the rest of my life™. It rises to a crescendo as they enter their twenties still not quite sure what they are doing - or what they want to do - with their lives. We urge kids to dream big. We tell them they can be anything, do anything with their lives. Then, when they approach adulthood, we begin to temper the soaring reach for the top rhetoric with an endless refrain of cautions which grows louder every year. 

"Sure," we tell Jordan who dreams of becoming a cordon bleu chef, "you can do that. But make sure you have a fallback plan because restaurants fail all the time! Why don't you earn a diploma in business, first? That way you'll be able to run that restaurant successfully"

"That's an awesome dream!" we enthuse to Mary, the aspiring J K Rowling, "you can definitely make it as a writer - some day - but publishing is a tough business. How about getting a teaching degree as a back-up?"

"But you are smart enough to be a lawyer!" we exclaim to Peter, who loves history and wants to be a teacher, "why don't you go to law school and if that doesn't work out, then you can always teach!"

There is somehow a needling sliver of doubt in these encouragements. The suggestion of a back-up plan implies that the advisor lacks faith in the advisee's ability and talent for the dream plan. Sometimes the kid lacks faith in herself, thus never articulating a dream plan, so eager parents swoop in to suggest possible life paths that seem like a great idea to them.

And so, the young people study hard and earn qualifications in these sensible fields. And then, after having invested so much time and effort into those studies, naturally the kids find work in those fields (waste that expensive education? I think not! There may be loans to pay off, too) and before they know it, twenty years have flown by. Instead of becoming a chef, Jordan spends his working years bean-counting for someone else's restaurant business. Instead of writing her latest novel, Mary burns the midnight oil reading painfully bad 8th grade essays and wondering where all of her creative ideas went. Instead of settling happily into academic life, Peter miserably works filing briefs in the legal department for an insurance company. They all have great jobs. They have all succeeded. They are all miserable.

There are more than two possible
outcomes!
When did we develop the insane idea that we are encouraging our kids by advising them to shelve their most precious talents and do something else? I am not saying we don't encourage the dreams and aspirations of our loved ones - we do! - but too often that encouragement is the spoonful of honey with which we deliver the bitter little pill of our perceived reality: that life is unfair and it rarely turns out exactly as we had hoped so it is wiser to go for what conventional wisdom tells us is a safer bet. Already worrying (as everyone does) that they may be ridiculously overestimating their natural talents and fearing the humiliating possibility that they might fail if they pursue the thing that makes everyone around them suggest a back-up plan "just in case", most kids convince themselves that the back-up plan makes more sense anyway. Meanwhile, everyone ridiculously underestimates the talent and effort required to succeed at the back-up plan, too. Because our own self-worth is not hitched to the back-up plan, we think that plan will be easier and success guaranteed. 

I've got news for everybody: your plan b is someone else's plan a. 

And, here's the thing: We can go down what seems like the safer path (the so-called "back-up" plan, later known as "my one and only life") or we can go all-in on the riskier one (the one that requires us to take a chance on our talents and dreams). No matter which way we go, both good and bad stuff will still happen! Yes, life is unfair and yes, unexpected things always happen. Plans nearly always have to be modified to accommodate life events. Detours have to be taken. Sometimes we just come to a total dead end. This is true of life whether we take the "safe" route or the "risky" one. What we fail to see is that our lives will most definitely never turn out even close to what we had hoped they would when we were enthusiastic youngsters if we spend most of our productive years working on the back-up plan instead of working toward an actual dream!


"There's no reason to have a plan b
 because it distracts from plan a."


The separation of talent and skill is one of the greatest misunderstood concepts for people who are trying to excel, who have dreams, who are trying to do things. Talent you have naturally; skill is only developed by hours and hours and hours of beating on your craft. 

I've never really viewed myself as particularly talented. Where I excel is ridiculous, sickening work ethic. You know, while the other guy is sleeping - I'm working. While the other guy is eating - I'm working. There's no easy way around it; no matter how talented you are, your talent is going to fail you if you're not skilled.

What is the classic "mid-life crisis" if not the belated realisation that we have spent more than half of our lives honing our skill at something we thought was the practical, sensible, sure thing while we waited for the perfect time to present itself for us to pursue the activities that actually make us feel alive? The truth is that there is no perfect time, and if we keep waiting for that, we will die still waiting.

That perfect day never comes. We have to work with what we have to work with.

Ironically, the time is never perfect for the "safety" career either, but we don't let that stop us. We are ambivalent and unenthusiastic and yet somehow we believe it is the wiser choice so we work hard to make ourselves do it and do it well. Because we are not emotionally invested in the back-up plan as we are with the things that we actually care about, we simply forge ahead with grim determination to succeed, dammit, so we can earn a living and vacation time in which to squeeze our true passions.

Why can't we skip the safety career and just put all that persistent effort into the things we really want to do?

When we attempt to cover our bases with a "backup plan", what we wind up doing is choosing that back up plan by default, instead of choosing our real dreams. Except for the fear of finding out we stink at the thing we so dearly want to be great at, the risks of pursuing a dream are no greater than the risks of pursuing a "safer" course. The real risk is that if you choose something you don't care about, you will get exactly that - a lifetime of work at something you don't care about. 

American pastor Robert Schuller famously posed this question: What would you attempt if you knew you could not fail? I think the question should be even more urgently phrased: What would you attempt if you knew you only had one chance to try? Do that thing now. Give it all of your energy and all of your effort. Because in a very real sense, you may only get one chance to really try. One thing leads to another and life gets complicated.

Yes! Put all of your eggs in that basket. Your life probably will not turn out as you imagine it today - life just doesn't follow a script like that - but it may turn out better than you dreamed! No matter how things turn out, you will come nearer to realizing your dreams than you ever could by pouring your energy into a back-up life.




Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Design 'Er B'ys!

Beautiful Quidi Vidi Gut, the setting for Design 'Er B'ys


























Is HGTV one of your guilty pleasures?  Are you secretly convinced that if you only had the chance, you too could perform miracles of home improvement? More important, have you ever rolled your eyes a little skeptically and wondered about what may have been going on off-camera for who knows how long which never made the cut for a 26 minute show format? Then, read on! This blog post is for you!

From time to time every human being enjoys a moment of the purest pleasure; a sublime interlude when the stars align to bring a couple of the elements closest to one's heart together in a sensational synthesis that comes close to perfection. For me, the niftiest imaginable confluence of awesomeness would be anything that combines my love for decorating shows, my love for salt of the earth Newfoundland and my love for great comedy. I never thought it could happen.

Until yesterday...

... when a Facebook friend (actor and singer, Robert Power) posted the link below.  It is a "proof of concept" trailer for a potential new TV show in Canada (apologies to the rest of the NiftyUniverse; you might be out of luck.  However, activism pays off, y'know - start "liking" the youtube video and spreading the word and perhaps you, too, can make this happen on a tv channel near you!).

They did a good job - but
three months! That's too long
to be without a kitchen and a
bathroom. You know
what I'm saying'...
Here's the concept for "Design 'Er B'ys" straight from the keyboard of Unstoppable Urges Productions:

For Dan and Jimmy, 2 gay men living in the Quidi Vidi area of St. John's, "the Gut", NOTHING is more important than finishing their ambitious renovation projects. Nothing that is, except pretty much everything... friends, family, dogs, school, pickling - they might be living in reno hell forever. And now their well-meaning friend and huge fan Doris has entered them in a contest to host their own reno show. But that would mean finishing the reno...

An appealing couple surrounded by an assortment of genuine (and hilariously frank) friends and beloved dogs, mired in a never-ending renovation project - I ask you, what's not to love about this concept?

Featuring legendary Newfoundland actor and comedian, Greg Malone , the cast draws on a rich range of musical, acting and comedic talents with RenĂ©e Hackett, Blair Harvey,  and the b'ys* Craig Pike and Miles Sharp. The trailer is a pitch perfect fusion of Newfoundland humor, wonderful comedic acting, refreshingly authentic Newfoundland settings and a marvelous tongue in cheek send-up of the current mania for interior design by Everyone! We could all be designers and the B'ys can too!

Enjoy the trailer and then LIKE it and SHARE it! Nifty Readers -- ENGAGE!!

* b'ys -  Newfoundland for two or more friends (usually male).  e.g.. "Me and the b'ys are going down to the pub!"


Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Tuesday Tonic - The Rabbit of Seville


























For your Tuesday Tonic, a rare treat!  NiftyReaders may have noticed that I am an opera fan. Well, today you learn the secret behind my enduring affection for that musical genre: Bugs Bunny!

Yes, back in the olden days when Nifty was a sprog, the best show on television was the Bugs Bunny Roadrunner Hour on Saturday evenings right around suppertime. Dad would hold off flipping the hamburgers until the last notes of "This is it...!" had faded away to give me and my siblings a chance to watch it every week (no DVRs in those bad old days!)

Bugs was not just a clever bunny, he was cultured! We had no idea what a rich education we were soaking up while we laughed at his antics, but today I recognize the literary and musical references that were woven into nearly every cartoon.

Today's tonic, in honor of my dear brother-in-law who - to my everlasting admiration and delight - can sing the entire thing from memory: Bugs Bunny, The Rabbit of Seville

(inspired by Rossini's The Barber of Seville)

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Tuesday Tonic - No True Scotsman




























Every time there is a shocking event involving people from a readily-identifiable ethnic, ideological or religious group, a predictable verbal ping pong match often ensues among bystanders. Someone will point out that the perpetrator of some terrible act "x" appears to be a member of some stereotyped group N. Others generalize that of course group N is responsible for so much "x" in the world. Still others - usually members of group N themselves - jump in to defend with one or both of these common assertions:

1.  "Not all of group N are like the perpetrator and group N is not responsible for most of the "x" in the world!" (these assertions are usually presented along with anecdotes showing perpetrators from other groups committing act "x")

2. "The perpetrator is not a true N; a true N would never do a thing like "x"!

The second apologetic is known as the "no True Scotsman" fallacy.

For your Tuesday Tonic this week, here is a nice clear explanation of what the "No True Scotsman" fallacy is, how it is deployed and why it fails. Thanks to TheraminTrees for another excellent video!

 

Monday, January 13, 2014

Monday Music - Bach To Basics!




For your Monday Music, something from  J S Bach's second son, Carl Phillipp Emanuel Bach.

This is the Allegro from C P Emanuel Bach's Cello Concerto in A Major, performed by the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra. The soloist is British cellist is Steven Isserlis.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Thorsday Tonic - We Are Part of the Universe!























I've posted this before, and there is something about the long cold grip of winter that seems to call for it again.

Enjoy!