F plus A equals A+… October 9, 2012

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Live from October 1st filming

My granddaughter asked an intelligent question.

Now, I’m not trying to connote that it’s unusual for my granddaughter to be intelligent. It’s just that at thirteen years of age, she discovered a dilemma which plagues the adult world and causes us, as alleged grown-ups, to become very irritable and unproductive.

She was recently elected treasurer of her class and is also deeply involved in musical theater with her school. Matter of fact, she is attempting to write a script for a musical, and began to collaborate with several other individuals, who somewhere along the line, lost the “good will for the hunting.”

She asked me, “What do you do when people flake out on you and don’t want to finish a project?”

Isn’t that a great question? Little did she know that she just posed an inquiry that probably has Republicans, Democrats and the entire economic world embroiled in controversy and quandary. What do you do to make people do the people things that make life more tolerable for all people?

Well, the first thing I would tell my dear granddaughter is that when you believe a lie, and you notice that everyone else believes the same lie, it takes a lot of guts to be the first one to call it a lie.

And here’s the main lie in our society: life is tough. I don’t know if we feel more mature or responsible by grunting and groaning through our activities, displaying the same disconsolate countenance that our parents had, and their parents before them; I don’t know if we consider it to be more interesting to folks if we are struggling through our endeavors. I am not sure. But somewhere along the line, the belief that some pain is necessary to receive some gain has not only been ingrained in our thinking, but has become the motto of our pursuits. It just doesn’t work.

Teachers try to make students more responsible for their grades by telling them about their “permanent record,” college possibilities or potential future earnings if they get an A instead of a C, and even though we know this is unimpressive to the adolescent mind, we still continue to talk about “stepping up to the plate” instead of focusing on the things that are of true interest to human beings.

I am about to make a bold statement. There are only two things that edify people universally–and if you subtract them from your club, your church, your political party, your school or even your home, you will creep along at an ever-increasing level of misery.

All human beings require fun and appreciation.

If you do not afford this double blessing to people at all times, be prepared for them to become disinterested, start making excuses and eventually be absent.

I can certainly see it in the religious system, where I find myself working from time to time. Some ingenious theologian came up with the idea that the best way to motivate people to godliness was to encourage study, prayer, faithful church attendance and giving. On top of that, we are also asking these people to offer their services in a volunteer capacity to the kingdom of God without ever stroking their egos and telling them what a good job they are doing, but instead, demanding that they don the false humility of being undeserved of any attention. Then we wonder why people are leaving the church by the truckloads.

It certainly wasn’t the way God put things together. Whether you believe all of the Bible or not, you can relate to the story of Eden, where God creates man and woman and gives them two potentials–fellowship with each other and being in charge of caretaking their own property.

Yes, the original plan by God for human beings was for us to indulge in sex and gardening.

Once again–fun and to be appreciated, because there you have a partner for pleasure and rich soil for seed planting, which produces not only your food, but the sense of accomplishment that you have spawned a growing thing.

He suggested they culminate this daily sex and gardening therapy by joining Him in the cool of the evening for a nice walk and talk about the day. I suppose if you’re a religious fanatic, you could say that we forfeited that privilege through sin, never to attain it again until we reach heaven. But Jesus said that “God’s will should be done on earth as it is in heaven,” so it might be a good idea to get back to that sex and gardening approach by applying, in our lives, the activities of fun and appreciation.

I will not work with human beings if fun and a mutual appreciation is not thrust to the forefront. It is a waste of time. Trying to make people guilty, fearful, angry, nervous or pious in order to extract effort does not only produce weak results, but turns them fussy and old too soon.

So here’s what I tell my granddaughter, and I also tell you. If you’re trying to do something with other people:

  1. Don’t ever plan an activity without refreshments.
  2. Never discuss future work until you have thoroughly celebrated the accomplishment of the present labor.
  3. Show them that what has been done so far is really good.
  4. As much as possible, make all planned activities into a game.
  5. Plan laughter. Yes, purposefully include intervals where something funny is going to be shared or done.
  6. Appreciate effort, acknowledge improvement and therefore, stimulate the slackers to jealousy. (Everyone wants a moment of focus.)
  7. And finally, when the fake grown-ups come in and try to turn your activity into something painful, let them have their moment and then simply step up and return to the joy of the Lord.

There you go. That’s why F (Fun) plus A (Appreciation) equals A+. And what is A+? Accomplishment.

We are suffering in America because accomplishment is considered to be unusual instead of essential. We have tried to replace fun with entertainment. Appreciation has been bumped to the side in favor of pep talks and self-help books on our ultimate goodness and worth. It’s not the same.

So if God was smart enough to devise an original plan that was filled with sex and gardening, it might be a good idea for you and I to realize that fun and appreciation are the nourishment of all human progress.

So in answering my granddaughter, I thought I would pass along the same information to you. You can either act self-righteous and consider my advice to be trivial and childish, or you can give it a whirl, and see if fun plus appreciation don’t grant you accomplishment.

The producers of jonathots would humbly request a yearly subscription donation of $10 for this wonderful, inspirational opportunity

Lolly Dee … April 25, 2012

Question 1: Do I understand where I am?

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Lolly Dee Sanders.

That was her name. I do not know if it was her Christian name (mainly because I’m not really certain what “Christian name” actually means.) But it is how we high schoolers of the junior class knew her–our English teacher, speech teacher, junior class advisor and also director, producer and promoter of the class play. She had the energy level and the frenetic presence of a monkey who had been away from bananas for weeks. She was well-liked by the students, appreciated by her fellow-teachers and tolerated by the administration. They were not so sure they actually liked her because she allowed the students to refer to her as Lolly Dee (unless grown-ups were around, when we reverted to “Mrs. Sanders.”) It was amazing how mature it made us feel–just being able to call our teacher Lolly Dee–almost the same sensation you feel as a young child when you goes into your back yard, hide behind a pine tree and scream, Goddammit!” You know you shouldn’t be doing it–and you don’t feel any irreverence toward the Almighty. It just takes you out of the chicken-noodle-soup-and-tuna-salad-sandwich brigade and into the realm of black coffee and glazed doughnuts.

That’s what Lolly Dee did. She understood.

For instance, when I tried out for the junior class play, she came to me privately and said, “Listen, you’re really good. You can have whatever part you want.” Now, honestly, I probably wasn’t very good. I was possibly just the only male who auditioned who could make sentences without leaving the punctuation in doubt at the end. But it empowered me. Even as I write this to you, I still feel bolstered by that moment–when this really intelligent, cool and energetic woman gave me carte blanche over my choice.

Later, when my father died just before premiere, she called me into her office. She didn’t ask me anything, just sat there not saying a word, waiting for me to decide what I wanted to do. She was as silent as an Episcopalian watching the offering plate pass. I was moved by such freedom–I decided to go ahead and be in the production.

Likewise, she was magnificent in the meetings of the class officers (where I was president of the class, although candidly, I never did anything, viewing it more as an honorary title).

She taught me something very important, though. Because one day I saw her at the Presbyterian Church sitting around with a bunch of older women who were working on a quilt. Lolly Dee was not energetic; she was not bouncing around the room. She just sat there with those old chickens and clucked out conversation, sewing away. I didn’t even recognize her. She blended in, looking just like one of the older women. Yet that night, as we rehearsed the play at the school, she was supercharged with energy–hugging everyone and encouraging us to do our mediocre best.

She was remarkable. She taught me that the first and most important thing to do in life is to understand where I am.

Yes. Do I understand where I am?

Instead of walking into situations with an agenda, touting my resume or making it clear to everybody how young or old I am by my speech patterns, Lolly Dee taught me to eyeball a situation, find out where I fit in and bring everything I’ve got.

Let me give you an example. Yesterday a minister asked me if I could offer any thoughts in a service in his church–which was very, very traditional, the people steeped in preferences. I said, “Of course.” And the reason I could say “of course” is because I met Lolly Dee. Her life told me how to react to what was already going on instead of insisting on placing my imprint on every situation and my doctrine into every theology.

By the way, I returned to the school the year after I graduated, just to walk the halls, see the teachers and–I don’t know–maybe boast a little bit about how well I thought I was doing. I saw Lolly Dee. She was kind and courteous to me, but then she was off and away to tutor her present crop of chickadees. I smiled. Lolly Dee wasn’t mine anymore. She was intelligent enough to know when I needed her and brilliant in recognizing when to bow out and exit, stage right.

I will never forget her. I don’t know whether she is still alive or has passed on. But she taught me to always understand where I am instead of stomping my feet and demanding place. Because of that, I don’t need special circumstances to do special things.

I just need to be ready.

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Sitting One

 I died today. 

I didn’t expect it to happen.  Then again, I did—well, not really.

No, I certainly didn’t expect it.

I’ve had moments of clarity in my life.  Amazingly enough, many of them were in the midst of a dream. For a brief second I would know the meaning of life or the missing treatment to cure cancer.  And then as quickly as it popped into my mind it was gone. I really don’t recollect dying.  Just this unbelievable sense of clear headedness—like walking into a room newly painted and knowing by the odor and brightness that the color on the wall is so splattering new that you should be careful not to touch it for fear of smearing the design. The greatest revelation of all? 

Twenty-five miles in the sky time ceases to exist.

The planet Pluto takes two hundred and forty-eight years to circle the sun. It doesn’t give a damn. 

The day of my death was the day I became free of the only burden I really ever had.  TIME.

Useless.

Time is fussy.  Time is worry. 

Time is fear.  Time is the culprit causing human-types to recoil from pending generosity. 

There just was never enough time. 

Time would not allow it.  Remember—“if time permits …”

Why if time permits?  Why not if I permit?  Why not if I dream?  Why not if I want?  Why does time get to dictate to me my passage? 

It was time that robbed me of my soulful nature.    It was time that convinced me that my selfishness was needed. 

I didn’t die. The clock in me died, leaving spirit to tick on.  

So why don’t we see the farce of time?  Why do we allow ourselves to fall under the power of the cruel despot?  Yes, time is a relentless master—very little wage for much demand.

I died today. 

Actually … a piece of time named after me was cast away.

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