A collection of distilled sarcastic wisdom, numerous photographs, discussions of books and stuff to learn and more stuff to think about from a retired economics professor turned blogger and photographer.
Most of the things we can do to have a long and happy marriage are really quite simple. But paying attention to the simple things we can do at the outset can often save more serious problems that can emerge if we neglect a few basic words and actions. One of the most important things we can do as a married couple is to listen to each other. Give each other a chance to say whatever is on his or her mind. Few things are more frustrating than the feeling that it doesn't do any good to say anything because the other person doesn't pay any attention to us or care what we are saying because he or she already has made up his or her mind and we are just whistling in the wind if we try to say something.
One of the most important things I have learned about marriage these past few years during Velna's serious illness was the importance of knowing whatever she wanted or needed to tell me. And I learned that spoken words are only one way we communicate. I learned to read my wife's facial expressions, her pain and worry lines, her smile and other facial expressions and body language. Often, I didn't need to ask her how she was. All I had to do was look at the stress lines in her face and her forehead. We can also communicate with written notes and cards. We can turn off our cell phones for awhile and actually sit and talk to each other. We can have a date night out or we can even have a special time together at home if illness or circumstances prevent us from leaving our home. We need to feel free to talk about our worries, our joys, our hopes and dreams, and whatever concerns are plaguing us at the moment.
Whatever the circumstances, each of us needs to feel that we can freely discuss whatever is on our minds without fear of criticism or retribution. When we bottle up our feelings because we are afraid that no one will listen to us, we are headed for bigger problems down the road. Two near-strangers newly living together can't expect to find 100 percent agreement on everything or even most things. But what we can and must do is listen to each other and respect our mutual right to speak our minds without criticism. I wish I could emulate my late wife's ability to communicate with few words and yet make her meaning clear through her unspoken actions. And often her best lessons came when she avoided saying anything, when she didn't succumb to the temptation to criticize, or to say things to hurt others' feelings, and then just continued on as if whatever problem seemed at first to be important just disappeared. One of her other great talents was just to let small grievances or differences evaporate and never bring them up again.
Some of us are natural listeners. Others monopolize conversations. If we haven't yet learned the knack of listening, we need to just be quiet after we have spoken our piece and give everyone else a chance to say something. I don't pretend to be an expert on the subject of listening. I have benefited from long years of learning how best to communicate with my wife and children and family. And I know I still have lessons to learn, since the learning process lasts as long as we live. The important thing is to learn and make changes in the way we interact with others. And then our lives will be smoother and our marriages happier.
All of us reach plateaus from time to time in our lives. Life seems ho-hum, dull, or plain boring. Yet, we often are reluctant to introduce change into what we are doing. Change, however, can be the catalyst for getting us out of the doldrums and launching new projects, putting the germs of new ideas into practice, and providing the impetus to do something good for others. Just walking down the other side of the street opens our eyes to things we never paid any attention to before. Changing our daily routine can lead to new and unexpected benefits.
I spend several hours each day on photography. I usually take several hundred photos a day, though I end up deleting more than half of them. I am always looking for a different way of photographing the same scene, the same mountain, or the same flower. And then I have a dozen decisions to make when I download the photos on my computer and study them. Should I tweak the photo or just leave it alone? I have had fun experimenting with the infinite number of photo editing possibilities available. I don't expect everyone to like what I end up with, but that's fine and that's not the point. The point is, we never know what we can do or what end result we can attain until we introduce changes into what we are doing. Expensive camera lenses often introduce shades of color into photos that I can't see with my naked eye, even before I think about editing them. I have found that by trying new ways of showing photos that a whole new world of creative interest opens up. Before I started exploring alternative ways of taking photos and editing them, I was getting bored with doing the same thing day after day after day. Once I opened my eyes to the infinite possibilities for taking and displaying a single photo, my interest ignited once more and the daily photo shoot has become challenging once again.
Just as experimenting with numerous ways of taking and showing photos can stimulate our interest in what we are doing, making positive changes in virtually anything we do can be a real eye-opener and lead us into new interests, new possibilities, and a better understanding of what we need or want to do to achieve our goals. At the beginning of each day, we have an infinite number of ways that we can make the new day count for something. Often, we never even think about making a change. We get up, brush our teeth, eat our dry cereal, grouch a bit about how we don't want to go to work or clean out the garage or scrub the floors, and then begin the events of the day. But perhaps we might inaugurate the Rule of One today and pick one single thing that could lead to a life changing routine. Like deciding to lose one pound. If that doesn't sound exciting enough or tempting enough for you to try, find something else you have procrastinated endlessly in starting, or some new road you want to travel, or a new recipe, or a new hobby. Just try something that will open new horizons for you. And then start in a small way with one step.
I am actually amazed that I am now writing the sixth new Do List entry after becoming inspired last week following a nine-month lapse to start writing again and finish my Do List up to number 365. What was difficult or impossible before, becomes easier each day. I know each day that, no matter what else I do, I will write another Do List entry until I reach my goal. And the miracle is, I don't have to think twice about whether I am going to do what I set out to accomplish. I opened my eyes and followed the Rule of One.
Task Number 293: Do something different today. Maybe try some little seemingly inconsequential change that can open your eyes and lead to a new side of life you haven't thought about before. Make a change, then keep going. Good luck. The Curmudgeonly Professor.
I know that I wrote about the Rule of One last year during my first Do List posts. However, the idea is so important, and so life changing, that I felt compelled to write about it again as I have started writing the remainder of my 365 Do List tasks after a nine-month hiatus.
To illustrate, I have struggled for nine months to begin writing my remaining Do List tasks. I simply could not get started. Then, a few days ago, I sat down and told myself that I was going to start writing again. And that is how I started. I wrote one Do List Task, number 288. Then it was easy to follow with 289, 290, 291, and now, thankfully, 292. Now I know that I can finish and reach 365 with another 73 tasks.
Every job begins with a single step, a single solitary move, a beginning. You can buy a book about how to declutter your mess, or you can pick up one item of clutter and toss it, file it, or otherwise dispose of it. You can keep talking about how you need to lose weight, or you can eat less today and lose your first pound. Once you have lost your first pound, you will realize how stubborn and blind you have been to ignore the Rule of One. We don't have to conquer the world all at once. Most of us will never succeed if we stagger under the weight of just how hard a task will be to start and complete, how hard it will be to stop a habit we know we should stop, or make any change that we wish in all futility that we had the courage to make. But what we can do is to start today with the Rule of One. Do one thing. Come up with one idea. Make one change. Keep it simple, Keep it doable,
I tried so hard for nine months to get inspired to start writing again. I love to write. I am continually fascinated with the the flow of endless words that seem to come once I turn the computer on and type the first sentence. So when I started writing several days ago after this long drought, the ideas and words keep coming up in my mind and become translated into written words on my computer keyboard.
Yesterday we tried to illuminate the power and benefits of writing a few thoughts daily, the rewards from keeping a food diary, the imprinting on our minds of the wonders of how much easier it is to keep doing something if we write a few things down every day. Today we focus on the Rule of One. We will never know how easy something can be until we try it once.
Task Number 292: Follow the Rule of One. Good luck, and make sure you do one thing before you turn out the lights tonight. Good luck and keep going. The Curmudgeonly Professor.
One reason we fail to make progress in achieving our goals is that our thoughts and aspirations tend to melt away when we just think about them, no matter how important they are, and then let them disappear into forgotten obscurity. As I wrote in my last task, I discovered last year the tremendous importance of writing my goals and aspirations about my weight loss and keeping a written record of my thoughts, progress, stumbles, and successes. As I wrote yesterday, I had tried to lose weight for more than 30 years and failed. When I accidentally started writing my Curmudgeonly Professor's Do List and began thinking seriously about losing weight, I began losing weight for the first time in years. I kept writing and I kept losing. When I forced myself to write about my weight loss do list, I was forced to do something more than just think about losing weight and feeling sorry for my inability to control my excess pounds. Today's writing tends to be transient, if we write at all. Yesterday, we wrote cards and messages and memos. Today we send texts and Facebook and Twitter messages that vanish as soon as we send them and read them. When we commit pen to paper, we have to be more serious about what we write. If we write out a goal to lose a pound and then we check today's writing tomorrow, we want to make sure we are not going to just ignore what we said today.
Researchers have definitely shown that people who are trying to lose weight and keep a written food journal have a significantly higher chance of success than those who just keep telling themselves repetitively and mournfully and with an ever growing guilty conscience, "Gee, I'm 50 pounds overweight, and why don't I lose it?" Committing thoughts to pen and paper and then frequent reviewing of our writing has a magic way of reinforcing what we intended and needed to do.
As I said yesterday, it took me nine months to get back on track and begin once more to finish my 2015 Do List. During those nine months, I didn't lose a single pound, but I miraculously didn't gain one either, as I mentioned. I did not really feel motivated to start up trying to write a new Do List task each day until I reach the magic number of 365, but starting to write again after this long lapse has already had a significant effect on my commitment to begin losing weight again. Now that I have written four posts, I know I can keep writing until I get to 365. Now that I have lost another pound, I know I can lose another 30 pounds or more. As I said, the rule is simple: Eat Less!
The magic result of achieving one goal is that then all of the other difficult things we have been trying to do and failed to accomplish become easier. We don't think so much about or worry about the undone jobs and the long dwindling goals that we wish we could have achieved and never bothered to commit ourselves sufficiently so that we had a chance of success. When we worry about what we need to do, and let that thought and that worry vanish into thin air, chances are we aren't going to do anything to begin our quest to conquer our task. But when we write each day, even a few sentences about whatever it is we thought, did, worried about, needed, and wanted to do, the hurdles and mental blocks begin to evaporate. When we take our needs and tasks seriously, and think enough about them to write about them, a positive outcome can transform us and help us solve a whole host of related problems.
If you don't want to write in a spiral notebook, start a blog. You can keep your blog private or you can share it with others. In addition to the benefits of writing, a support group can be instrumental in helping us achieve our goals. By sharing problems, upturns, downturns, and through mutual encouragement, love, and support, we enhance the chances of ending up at the destination we have sought for so long and now have a chance of reaching.
Task Number 290: Write in a daily journal, whether on paper or on computer. Keep track of what you write and measure your progress. You will always be glad that you gave it a try. Good luck and keep going. The Curmudgeonly Professor. Once you get your mind stirring again, you may be amazed at what you come up with.
Up until the day you got married, you were free to eat whatever you wanted, watch the television programs and movies you preferred, go wherever and whenever you wanted, spend your leisure time in whatever way you wanted to be entertained and, in general, make choices without regard to what someone else may think or want or prefer. Guess what. Now you have a wife. And she. also, has been used to doing whatever and whenever she wanted. If you begin to sort out the list of her wants and likes and your wants and likes, you may be in for a few stunning surprises in case you didn't go over all of this stuff before you got married. Troubles and frayed feelings can easily come forth if one or the other of you insists that your way is the right way, your preferences are the only preferences that will be considered, and then one or both end up pouting and wondering where on earth the cloud-like romance of courtship and marriage disappeared.
So now we have some adjustments to make. She likes Brussels sprouts. You hate Brussels sprouts. She likes the Price is Right, you like football. She likes the temperature warm, you prefer a cooler temperature. Her mother fixed stuff this way, your mother fixed stuff that way. Your politics lean one way, usually the way her family leaned, you grew up with a different set of biases and beliefs. You married your new wife with the thought that she would be the queen in your castle and never have to work a day in her life. She has her heart set on a career and on getting more education. You want an 80 inch flat screen TV, she thinks you should keep your old 30 incher so she will have enough left over to buy groceries. She wants to spend her vacation with her family, you want to go climb a mountain. You get the idea. You may have a new surprise or two each day until you get to know each other a bit more.
No where in the annals of successful marriage does it say that either of you should have your way all of the time, or even 90% of the time. Try 50%. Find the middle ground. If she likes something to eat that you hate, let her fix it and eat it herself, or vice versa. If she wants to work, deflating your masculine control tendencies, talk about it and see what you can compromise on. Go softly with your differences. Most of them don't really matter. Some you can ignore, but some require serious discussion and perhaps a change in long held ideas about what should happen.
I don't know that my wife and I ever needed to spend much time going over our differences. She pretty much did whatever she wanted to do as far as work and further education and everything else was concerned. She never felt any restrictions from me and I loved seeing what she would come up with next. At the same time, I don't remember that she ever made much of a fuss over anything I wanted to do and she rarely griped about any of my preferences. We just never thought that typical differences between two people mattered all that much.
We can study marriage manuals and perhaps become enlightened about some of the do's and dont's of successful marriage. Yet, each new marriage is a wonderful adventure in that the chemistry between two people newly living together is often unpredictable and full of surprises. Your life will be easier and happier if you find the middle ground and avoid the temptation of assuming that you are always right. The middle ground is the happy place of give and take, compromise and sacrifice, calmness and peace. The middle ground is that place you are seeking with all of your heart once you begin the journey of life long marriage.
It has been nine months since I stopped posting my 2015 Do List, so I find that I need to stop a few minutes and figure out where I am and where I want to go. I have been in limbo most of these last few months, unwilling to tackle new jobs and letting old jobs wither on the vine. Some days I had to work hard to force myself to keep going at all, let alone try something new or try to catch up.
Now that I am on the road to recovery from my loss, I am trying to figure out where I am and then chart a new or at least updated course. Before Velna got sick in her final illness, I followed a routine of writing each day no matter whether I felt good or not, and no matter whether I could think of anything worthwhile to write about. Typically, I never knew for certain what I would write about until I turned my computer on and typed the heading and the task number. When I started in January 2015, I wondered if I could finish out the month with Do List items, let alone finish out the year. But something almost magic happens when you turn your thinking mechanism on and get out of the doldrums: the ideas keep spilling over in your mind. You wake up in the night with new ideas, with corrections you want to make in what you have already written. I have lists of several hundred more Do List items I could write about but so far I haven't looked at these lists to see if I need a memory jogger.
I do know a few things when I take stock of where the journey of 288 Do List items began and then where the journey temporarily ended. When I started, I was dangerously overweight. I had been overweight for years and had tried every possible way to lose it--Weight Watchers, which I loved, Dash diet, calorie counting, hospital sponsored weight-loss therapy, and anything else you could imagine. I accumulated a library of food, diet, and weight loss books. And, typically, I gained some, lost some, and gained it back--the proverbial yo-yo effect. Then I realized I had made my dieting efforts too complicated. I began my Do List and then asked myself the question: "How would it help if I began writing about my weight loss problem? And then would it help even more if I wrote myself instructions on my Do List?" So that is what I did.
The key, I found, was simplicity. Simple rules. Common sense. Use information you already know but were too lazy to make a part of your daily life. Quit stalling. Get going. And the simple rule I followed that helped me conquer my weight loss problem was the Do List edict: Eat less. That was it. No 35 chapter book on how to lose weight. Of course, as I said before, you have to use common sense and make the right choices. But by writing each day, and adding new Do List items, I began, finally, at long last losing weight. And so I lost 70 pounds. I hadn't been able to lose weight and keep it off for decades. My cardiologist warned me I was taking months off my life. My blood pressure, though controlled by medication, is what it should be.
I landed on a plateau when my wife left me, and went for nine months without losing any more weight. But here's the miracle: I didn't gain a single pound back again. And now I have conquered my reluctance to write and finish my Do List blog, and I have lost my first pound on my way to losing another 30 pounds or so.
So now I am taking my personal inventory and charting my course and that is your Do List assignment. My health is recovering after months of dealing with grief and loss. My outlook is more promising. I am going back to the simple rules I wrote about in my first 288 Do List tasks. I will continue to write each day. Writing can have a miraculous effect in getting us in motion to actually do something instead of just think about the need to do something. If we write, we commit words to paper. We solidify our thoughts. We steel our determination. We can't lie to ourselves when we write our daily thoughts and ideas on paper.
So where are we today? We still have nearly half a year in 2016 to conquer our weight, to quit bad habits, to start being more considerate and loving, to show more kindness to more people, to take care of ourselves and our loved ones, and, in general, to stop spending 24 hours a day twiddling on our cell phones and get with the program, so to speak.
Task Number 290: Take inventory of where you are today and then chart the course that will take you to tomorrow. You can either end up exactly where you are today, or you can find a simple rule like the Eat Less rule and pound that into your head until you actually believe it and then make tomorrow a better day than today. Good luck, find a simple rule, and keep going. The Curmudgeonly Professor. I'm sorry Velna isn't here to tell me, as she did each day last year, to shorten my verbiage by half. But I can't bring myself to delete any golden word.
Yesterday or the day before yesterday was the marriage. Today is life as usual only, men, face up to it, your life will never be the same as it was before you entered the bonds of holy matrimony. You now have a wife. You can't come and go as you please or continue egregious habits and slovenly ways. During your courtship and marriage, your manners and actions and appearance were impeccable. You were set on wooing and winning the love of your life and you didn't want to do anything to spread doubts in her mind about any faults or shortcomings that may be part of your normal post-marriage life. Now your task is to make your marriage as happy and free from irritations and contentiousness as you can. A little effort will save a lot of wasted time. Most of the things you need to do are simple things that anyone with a first grade education knows by heart. And many of the things that lead to squabbles, big and small, are things we do that we know we should not have done.
So not let's get down to business. Our marriage manual today focuses on one big change you might as well make right now. Perhaps you were always a model of neatness, with your clothing hanging on hangers instead of draped on chairs or arranged on the floor. Perhaps your shoes were neatly paired in the closet and not scattered from your entry door to the bedroom. And hopefully your smelly sneakers were all sanitized and cleanly clean. Perhaps in your prehistoric man cave, surely one of the most egregious terms invented in recent times, you used Febreze regularly and kept the dishes clean and the bathroom presentable.
But now we must speak the truth. And the truth is, as I learned from my long years, is that many, many sweet young things were experts at keeping messy unsafe rooms. I have seen many of them and they (the rooms, not the young ladies) were not pretty. In fact, some rooms I have seen should be graded serious hazards. But, here's the thing: sweet young beautiful girls close the doors to these messes when they leave and emerge perfectly dressed, beautifully coiffed, and the soul of neatness and perfection. But now we move on. When young women become brides, something clicks in their heads and they emerge after the ceremony an entirely new and somewhat dangerous sweetheart. Now you will discover to your own peril if you were too lazy to figure it out to begin with that your new wife is a paragon of neatness and orderliness. She will now set a trap for you. Just try leaving your socks or underwear or any other items of clothing, or laundry in an abstract and creative pattern on the floor, on the bed, on the chairs, on the exercise bike. Just try leaving unfolded newspapers scattered hither thither and yon, or books by the score littering hallways and doorways. Don't even think about leaving the cap off of the toothpaste or remnants of shave cream draped all over the bathroom sink. And what about soda cans, beer cans (outside of Utah, mostly) dried pizza crusts, and any and all dirty dishes that you were accustomed to accumulating for weeks on end in your previous luxurious bachelor surroundings?
A lot of success in marriage is just getting off on the right foot, and not stumbling with thoughtless words and deeds. Once you have mastered this simple rule, you can save a lot of grief. I know whereof I speak because I was a messy husband. I confess. I left newspapers and books by the score laying (lieing?) around and was too lazy to pick them up. My office at whatever University I happened to be at was always a disaster. Why did I do this? My wife tried, bless her sweet heart, to get me to reform. I wish I had. I wish that I had been more thoughtful, considerate, and neat from the beginning. There are more important things in life and in a marriage than fighting continual battles over leaving stuff everywhere. Just get in the habit the first day of your wonderful new life of being thoughtful, considerate, and neat. You are no longer in charge. Face up to it, smile, and be happy. And to avoid endless friction, pick up your stuff. Now. I mean it. Just say, "Yes, dear," and move on in marital bliss.
I have finally overcome my reluctance to finish my 2015 Do List that I worked on so faithfully every single day during the year 2015 up until the day that my wife, Velna, got sick and went to the hospital. I truthfully didn't think I would ever have the courage or determination to pick up where I left off and finish the job. My main motivation last year was to write each day for my wife, who was my chief cheerleader and critic. Her criticisms were typically concerned with my wordiness, not my content. I looked forward each day to writing something just to show Velna and get her reaction and encouragement to keep going when I threatened to quit. "Dwight, you can do it!" she frequently reminded me and I can hear her now echoing that thought.
We learn through many avenues and channels. We learn from reading, from television, from social media, from teachers and classes. We also learn from life, and life's lessons are often the most important, if not the most painful in some cases. I learned many lessons during the last several years as I took the best care I could of my wife during her last illness and her chronic pain. But those lessons paled in comparison with the lessons I learned when she left me, stranded to my own inadequate abilities to cope and left to find the willpower to keep going without the main motivating force in my life for nearly 63 years.
One of the best and most significant lessons I learned during this sad time was the admonition to make each day count. No matter what our troubles, no matter whether we are well or sick, whether we suffer from pain or depression, whether we are sad and lonely or discouraged, our task each day is to sort through the fog of challenges and troubles and find a way to make the day count for something. I frequently ask myself, "How can I make this day count?" Maybe I can make the day count by doing something that will improve my health or my mental outlook. Or perhaps I can phone someone who needs an encouraging hello or send someone a thank you card or say a kind word to someone who has not been so kind to me. Whatever we choose to do, we then take inventory before we go to sleep at night and we ask ourselves, "Have I done any good in the world today?" in the words of the LDS hymn. Even the slightest accomplishment, even a smile, even not doing something we thought about doing but, on second thought, decided that doing that particular soemething would not make us better off. Once we adopt the mental set and lock in to the idea that we are going to do some good each day, that we will find a way to make each day count, then we don't have to think about what we need to do any more because doing good things will become a permanent part of our lives. I have had to learn the hard way that I need to subdue my sadness and discouragement and think about others, and think about how I can go about finding meaning and a future path in my own life. Progress is slow, but I am seeing little rays of hope here and there and, prompted continually by the memories of Velna's continual support and encouragement, I am gradually finding my way again.
Task number 289: make each day count. Making each day count will mean that our life matters, and will mean that our concerns for others will matter, and will lead us out of our despair into the sunlight of hope.
Now the wedding is over. The fifteen color coordinated beautiful bridesmaids, the flower girls strewing petals, the work-of-art wedding cake, the perfect table settings, the tux, the beautiful keepsake wedding dress that will be a family treasure--all of the work, all of the effort, all of the money that went into the wedding, all of these things are now ancient history. Now the reality, men, is that you now have a wife, something you didn't have until yesterday. Your life is changed forever. You are no longer the major domo, the commander in chief of whatever slovenly den you inhabited before pronouncing the vows of holy matrimony. You are now a partner. You are not in charge. Nowhere in the marriage ceremony did someone tell you that you will be the King of the Castle. After spending so much time thinking that the perfect wedding would make a perfect marriage, you are now back in blue jeans and tee shirts the day after. You have laundry to do and you have to figure out whether to order a pizza. Married life begins. Adjustments begin. Learning about love and marriage begins. A new life begins.
Your job now is to decide what kind of a marriage you are going to have. This task may take you nearly 63 years, as it did me. You figure it out as you go along. But there are a few really important decisions to make at the outset that can influence forever the kind of marriage you are going to have. When I got married at the ripe old age of 20 and my wife was 19, we didn't talk about who was in charge. We both started working things out together at the beginning without fanfare and without pronouncements of who was captain of the ship. Somehow, we were fortunate enough to begin our marriage as a real partnership, one in which we both cared about the other and constantly took into account what the other one thought or needed.
During my 74 years, I have seen and watched all kinds of marriages. In some marriages, unfortunately, one or the other decides that they know best on every conceivable issue and that they are responsible for telling the other one what to do. These marriages are doomed to misery. The marriages I have enjoyed watching the most are the free and easy marriages, taking what comes, figuring out together what to do, and where both have the freedom to speak their minds and voice their opinions without fear of censure or hard feelings.
So the message in Chapter 1 is this: You are not in charge. As my five year old daughter once famously said, "you are not the boss of me." You are a partner. And if you can remember this simple concept, you can be off and running and live happily ever after.