Independence Day Ramblings (a day late) – 7/5/2019

The real problem isn’t Colin Kapernick. Or Donald Trump. They may be the symbols for anger, but they are not the problem. The problem is that we as a society fear and loathe the “other” in whatever form it takes.

The problem is that we don’t listen. We shout insults and obscenities at each other over personal beliefs instead of finding common ground and working towards reasonable solutions to real problems.

The problem is that we take examples of the extremes and generalize that to a whole group. We allow mass media machines, which only thrive when we tune in and consume their ads, to constantly poke at our anger for that other group and inflame our hatred for them, mostly so we will tune in tomorrow to see what new outrage “they” have committed.

Then, we act surprised when someone shoots up a school or a government building or whatever.

The problem is that we no longer respect each other’s right to life, right to culture. We are quickly slipping into a fascist wasteland where any dissent is met not by thoughtful deliberation but violent resistance.

The problem is that we so desperately want to be seen as part of the clever, intelligent side that we completely and utterly dismiss the opposition with straw man caricatures and derisive memes that dehumanize and degrade them as something unworthy of human compassion and rights.

The problem is that we have forgotten that living in a free society means that everyone is free to believe as they wish, and as long as they are not actively calling for harm to another person, they have a right to hold and express those beliefs. If we aren’t willing to defend the freedoms of those we disagree with, we don’t deserve freedoms ourselves.

Freedom isn’t about getting your way. It’s about all of us finding a way to live together. It’s about listening and sharing ideas. It’s about accepting that there is room for all of us in this world if we will just focus on finding solutions instead of inciting hate. We have the most beautiful framework ever created, a framework that has allowed itself to grow and morph and adapt to include more people and more views as time has progressed. Everyone who lives under the umbrella of that framework should take a moment and be grateful.

That’s all for now.

Wednesday Night Ramblings – 7/3/2019

When I started building that flower bed two and a half years ago, I survived off food stamps and the generosity of my parents. I’m incredibly grateful for both. We need a social safety net for people who stumble or get knocked down or just need a hand up. We don’t need a generational welfare system that reduces entire families to wards of the state, but that’s a different discussion for a different post. Without food stamps and my parents, I would not have survived the first 8-9 months, at least not without resorting to drastic measures.

I remember very clearly the first grocery trip paid for completely by my meager wages. I felt such a surge of pride that my sweat and muscle once again provided for my subsistence. I don’t know how people can be content living off of someone else’s money, whether that be the government, family, friends, or lovers. Obviously, there are people who are disabled and incapable of fending for themselves. I’m not talking about them. I’m talking about the able-bodied.

The feeling of doing for yourself is just too fulfilling. The sense of ownership that comes from earning the money to pay for your own stuff is so internally rewarding that I don’t understand how people can allow themselves to wallow in dependency.

When I finished checking out from that grocery trip, I felt like anything was possible. I know it was just a $40 bag of groceries, but it was so much more than that, too. I had tasted decent measures of success before, so I knew what it felt like. I had just survived some of the darkest moments I can imagine, and those scars were still quite fresh, but that little shopping trip on a winter’s night in January is one of my favorite victories.

That’s all for now.

Friday Night Ramblings – 6/28/2019

My least favorite human trait is envy. That’s not to say that I never feel it myself. Of course, I sometimes look at more successful people and wish things had gone better for me. Typically, however, I don’t dwell on coveting other people’s lives, and I try not to resent anyone else’s achievements. This is because I don’t believe that life is a zero sum game.

Back when my writing career was on an upward trajectory, many other writers within my circle of interaction would envy the small measures of success I had. Some would openly grumble when I did something good. Others would mutter behind my back (sometimes those remarks would get back to me). However, the ones who said those things wouldn’t attend as many conventions as I would, and when they did, they rarely would remain at the sales table as long as I did. They rarely hustled for as many radio/podcast/blog interviews. They rarely made as many sacrifices.

That’s my issue with envy. Most of the time, when someone is jealous of someone else’s good fortune, they desire the fruitful harvest, but they aren’t willing to plow the field and hoe the rows to get there. And in my experience, virtually every single successful person has worked damned hard to achieve what they have.

In terms of books, I never believed that I was in direct competition with other writers. Readers read as many good books as they can find, so I was in competition with myself to craft the best story I could compose. The same is true for my landscaping and tree business. No one business could possibly handle every job out there, so I’m not really competing with anyone except the expectations of my customers. If they are happy, I will get more work. It’s that simple.

Too many people seem to be jealous that they weren’t born a trust fund baby, able to lounge on the French Riviera and sip mimosas for brunch every day. And those people never seem content with their own journey, their own personal competitions. Would it be nice to have a bottomless well of cash? Yes and no. Sure, money can provide a lot of material comforts, but it doesn’t create internal contentedness. The wealthiest people I know are never really happy. Something is always missing from their lives. Happiness comes from recognizing the blessings you already possess and appreciating them.

Once you make that mental switch, from envying others to appreciating your own bounty, you can begin to savor each day as a new opportunity to accomplish something. And some truly cool things can begin to happen for you.

That’s all for now.

Wednesday Evening Ramblings – 6/26/2019

I’ve always felt like something of an anomaly. I have a strong dislike for large government and authoritarianism, but I tend to be pretty progressive about social matters. In my youth, because I came from a blue collar background, I studied Marxism and dreamed of a proletarian utopia, but after deeper analysis, I came to see the beauty of free markets. As a result, I’ve never felt at home with either political party.

I’ve always considered myself an independent moderate with a strong libertarian leaning. I’ll admit that I used to have a severe dislike for most conservative philosophies, but honestly, since I got out of jail, the people who have shown me the most love, compassion, and mercy have been conservatives. The majority of people who ghosted me are liberals. Something like that makes you rethink your own prejudices.

If I had to give myself a true political label, I would say I’m a neoliberal, which isn’t to be confused with a Democratic liberal. Neoliberals believe that free markets and economics are the keys to personal and social liberty. The reason why Marxism fails is because it doesn’t take into account that people are going to act in their own best interests most of the time. It’s impossible for any monolithic, central government to operate efficiently enough to account for individual taste, individual ambition, individual ingenuity. However, free markets can.

In our system, you have the opportunity to choose your own profession. You have the opportunity to start your own business. Yes, there are inequalities and not everyone starts out on equal footing, but I’ve seen numerous examples of people who started with nothing and built thriving enterprises. The mother of one of my best friends in college was from Vietnam. She barely spoke English when she moved to Memphis with her GI husband. After their divorce, she had virtually nothing, yet because of her personal ambition, intelligence, and will, she built a very successful import business.

I’ve also seen the opposite. Spoiled kids who had every advantage and opportunity, yet somehow managed to fumble it all away, usually through debauchery and laziness.

I wanted more than anything to be a novelist. That ambition drove me to study hard in college, practice crafting stories throughout my late teens and early twenties, and produce a damn fine fantasy series. It never caught on commercially, so in some respects, I failed in that career. But I learned so much about myself and the world and business that I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.

Now, I have a small tree and landscaping business that I literally started with my own two hands. I work hard everyday, but I’m happy and content with the value I add to people’s lives. I’m not wealthy, but that’s okay because I’m growing something that feels real. Anyone can do the same. Anyone can find a skill they have and apply it to solving problems in other people’s lives. That’s what free markets are all about.

That’s all for now.

Monday Afternoon Ramblings – 6/24/2019

I mentioned before that my oldest son keeps seeing all of these pro-communist posts on Tumblr. My assumption is that the vast majority are by recent college graduates who have been nestled in the comfortable space of academic idealism, where the theory of communism seems like a utopian paradise. The problem with most of academia is that it rarely can survive in the harsh and messy realities of day to day life.

The first question I would like to ask any pro-communist supporter is this: are you personally willing to tell Oprah Winfrey that she didn’t earn her money fairly and that she must surrender her assets to the authorities? What about Michael Jordan? That is the first step of communism, the seizure of private wealth, nearly always by force.

If Oprah resists, are you personally willing to imprison her? Injure her? Kill her? The academics tend to gloss over this step, as if people will just shrug and willingly hand over what they have worked a lifetime to earn. When you look at the real world examples of communism seizing power, a significant portion of the populace is physically harmed in the process.

If you personally are not willing to strip Oprah Winfrey of her possessions, congratulations, you understand in principle the folly of authoritarian rule.

That’s all for now.

Saturday Afternoon Ramblings – 6/22/2019

There are elements in this world you simply have to avoid as much as possible. If you allow them to, they will drain away all of your time and energy, leaving you little for your own prosperity.

First are the professional victims. These people are never at fault for their own failures. They always find someone or something to explain away their shortcomings. These people never grow and develop properly because they never learn to evaluate what they did wrong that caused them not to achieve their goals.

Closely related are the victimization enablers. These people, who come from every band of the political spectrum, tend to develop elaborate theories for why a particular socioeconomic group is struggling. From conservatives blaming immigrants to liberals blaming white people, the enablers dismiss personal accountibility and engender negativity. If you want to find internal peace, you must remove the victimization enablers from your reality.

Another form of energy leech is the constant complainer. Nothing will ever satisfy these people. If you give them soup, they prefer steak. If you give them steak, they want pie. No matter what you try to do, you will never satisfy their needs because their misery is deeply rooted. Your best course of action is to limit your exposure as much as you can.

To me, the most important people to avoid are the naysayers. These are the people who said that flight was impossible, that computers would be a passing fad, that we would never reach space. Naysayers will pick apart and scoff at any idea. If you aspire to create anything new, to start a business, to ponder fresh ideas, you will have to teach yourself to tune out the naysayers and listen to the animal spirit inside you. At some point, you will run up against an obstacle, and the naysayers will be quick to say I told you so. That’s when you will have to tune them out even more and trust that virtually every success follows a handful (or more) of failures.

That’s all for now.

Friday Afternoon Ramblings – 6/21/2019

Two and a half years ago, I had a hand-me-down Pontiac on its last legs, a handful of tools that were mostly worn out, and not much else. The lady I had been working for online sent me a message one afternoon that said some friends of hers needed some dirt moved around for a flower bed. That was her pitch. Some dirt moved around.

I have a master’s degree in writing. Once upon a time, I was a bestselling author, ranked number #134 of all books on Amazon. Not all fantasy books. All books, fiction and nonfiction. I was #2 in fantasy. I’ve delivered presentations to crowds of hundreds. I was a college instructor for over 16 years.

A tiny sliver of me felt insulted, humiliated, and demeaned that I had been reduced to moving around some dirt. But only a tiny sliver.

The rest of me saw an opportunity. Building a flower bed is my kind of work. Physical labor, dirt, nature. I could already see the flowers growing. In the back of my mind, I thought: landscaping business.

See, here’s the beauty of America and the free market. Everything is capital. You don’t have to have money to possess capital. An idea is a form of it. Your skills are a form of it. Anything and everything you can imagine can be transformed into an asset. I didn’t have much material wealth, but I did have a strong body, a broad knowledge base, a plethora of skills, and a vision for becoming my own boss.

Anyone who is willing to take the risks and put in the effort can develop their own business. The universe is full of problems that need to be solved, and people and businesses are willing to pay to have their problems taken care of.

That’s all for now.

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