Might as well jump

“What I discovered is that when you make the time and the space for what you long to do, everything else shifts to accommodate it. It never works the other way around. If you wait until there’s time to do what you want to do, you’ll be waiting until your eighty-fifth birthday.”

The above quote is from an architect I don’t know and, frankly, have never heard of. I really don’t know much about architecture, anyway. No matter.

I encountered this quote on the excellent website Joyfully Jobless, which sells a few products but, more important, offers plenty of freebie columns and motivational tools to the self-employed, the wannabe self-employed or, in my case, the self-underemployed.

At some point, it’s simply important to take the leap, as rock-and-roll supergroup Van Halen found out. In a year that coincided with my high school graduation, the band embarked on a new musical direction as it decided to feature synthesizers more prominently.

Not every band member was on board, and plenty of fans were turned off by Van Halen’s less-heavy, more pop-oriented tunes, but “Jump” (from the album “1984”) proved to be one of the band’s best-selling singles of all time. It also helped usher in the “Van Hagar” years, which enabled the band to reach additional fans while still holding true to their commitment to musicianship. Some thought the band sold out, but group founder Eddie Van Halen couldn’t be bothered with the critics — he was too busy doing what he loved.

Imagine that.

O holy moley!

Now that we’re safely past the yuletide holidays, I no longer fear being lumped in with those poor souls annually pilloried by the likes of Bill O’Reilly for waging the War on Christmas.

In fact, I rather enjoy the holiday and maintain that, among all the winter festivals, Christmas is far superior to its competitors.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to get all Jesussy, here. Your beliefs and mine are our business and, frankly, of little interest to one another. Rather, the Christmas I happen to dig is the one embraced by most Americans: the convivial secular orgy of gift-exchanging, overindulging and wishing others Merry Christmas, happy holidays or season’s greetings — it’s all good.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t have a couple of gripes. Here goes:

1. Two verses of any Christmas carol will suffice, thank you. Sorry, “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” but after “two turtle doves,” I’ve tuned out.

2. Speaking of Christmas carols, I simply find no need for a 24/7 rotation of holiday “favorites” on the radio for days on end. If a station wants to have a Christmas carol blowout on Christmas Eve Day, Christmas Day and even Boxing Day, that’s fine. Otherwise, cut it out! (And for those who suggest I can just change the station, too late: I already beat you to it.)

Don’t mistake the aforementioned observations for a disdain for all things associated with Jolly Old St. Nick. In my mind, Christmas as observed by most Americans (regardless of creed) is without peer.

As a “Braveheart”-style rally for one’s august faith tradition and heroic ancestors, Hanukkah is okey-dokey, but as a holiday, well … come on, now. Hanukkah is dreidls. Christmas is Battling Tops. ‘Nuff said.

And Kwanzaa? Kwanzaa and I are the same age, and neither of us is yet eligible for a subscription to AARP Magazine. What the hell kind of holiday tradition is that? Come talk to me when you can grow a little peachfuzz, Kwanzaa.

When the weather outside begins to turn frightful, I typically torture everyone on my social media network with wishes for a joyous Saturnalia, but so far I’ve attracted only one adherent — counting myself — to that ancient Roman yuletide feast, so Christmas remains large and in charge.

Happy birthday!

Is Frosty the Snowman the way and the light? Nah, didn’t think so.

That said, let me take a moment to clear up a couple of things. Christmas parties in public schools don’t represent an attempt to force religion down anyone’s throat, unless that religion is Frostianity.

At the same time, getting your ski pants in a twist when someone wishes you “happy holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas” doesn’t make you a good Christian, it makes you a grim and obnoxious bore.

So now that we’ve emerged from the wassailing and other yuletide hullabaloo, all that’s left is to start getting ready for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, as one friend suggests.


Good God, West ‘By God’ Virginia!

Caught about 10 minutes of the MTV “reality” program “Buckwild” the other night while waiting for something better to start. Soon I realized that root canal without anesthesia would be better.

If you don’t know, the show is pretty much “Jersey Shore” in Appalachia. At first I thought, “What the hell’s wrong with these kids?” as they burned stuff and knocked each other around amid a backdrop of ignorant blather.

Then I thought, “What’s wrong with the people who put this crap on TV?”

Help! These children are being held captive by terrorists — MTV and the American viewing public.

But I already know the answer: Teenagers — especially poor ones without an education — are ideal targets of exploitation. At least they’re better off than the young murder victims cable news programs ghoulishly feast on.

Finally, I thought, “What’s wrong with the people who watch this crap?” Morbid curiosity might buy you one episode’s worth of grace. Once you tune in for a second episode, though, you’re part of the problem.

Anyway, this article in Salon sums things up nicely.

UPDATE: I suppose something like this was inevitable. While one certainly can’t blame MTV for Shain Gandee’s death by mud-bogging misadventure, the show “Buckwild” does little to highlight the positive attributes of young people like Gandee and his friends. But I wonder whether his celebrity encouraged his freewheeling, high-risk behavior. Whatever, the case, condolences to his family and others who loved him and, of course, the other victims.

The family you choose

Just after Christmas, I stumbled across this nifty column published in the American Express Open Forum, a site I was oblivious to despite being a cardholder.

In the spirit of the holiday season, the author looks to the classic movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” for real-life lessons for entrepreneurs. Though I’m more of what billionaire basketball team owner Mark Cuban calls a “WANTrepreneur” on the entertaining ABC program “Shark Tank,” I was charmed by the column’s headline. I’m glad I kept reading.

Among the valuable lessons are “focus on local” and “don’t rely on the banks.” But the lesson with the most value — not just for business, but personally — is the last one. The author titles it, “remember the ultimate bailout,” but the real impact of the lesson is contained in its first sentence:

“No man is a failure if he has friends.”

That statement is more than just the Frank Capra masterwork’s cheery denouement, however. To me it’s a mantra, for I’ve somehow been blessed with some remarkable friends. I recently alluded to one of them in this blog, but my other friends have been helpful in their own way, from picking up a humbling proportion of our bar tabs, to sharing the abundant good times to standing by me when things have gotten rough.

The cliche holds that friends are the family you choose. No man has chosen more wisely.

Be helpful

In the only writing workshop I’ve been a part of since my college days, the facilitator insisted on a single rule, and it was a great one: Be helpful.

That is, we were encouraged to praise, criticize or otherwise respond to one another’s work, just as long as we were being helpful. Not nice, necessarily. Not authoritative or even correct — just helpful. In other words, don’t use the workshop as an opportunity to air your pet peeves.

You scorn the spongy “deal with” in place of a stronger, singular verb? Good for you. Keep it to yourself, unless you have a pert or otherwise preferable action word to suggest.

You didn’t like what you just heard or read? OK, that’s fine, but explain what you didn’t like about it. If you’re not prepared to present reasons for your feelings of dislike, well, to quote The Who’s rock opera “Tommy,” you know where to put the cork.

Conversely, simply saying you enjoy something is kind. But it’s also kind of unhelpful to the budding author who didn’t turn up just for strokes. Just down the street from the athenaeum that hosted said workshop is (or was) a Chinese massage parlor, helpfully (though unimaginatively) named Chinese Massage. Any manner of strokes to be had there, I suspect.

Be helpful. Great advice, inside or outside a writing workshop.

The reason I remembered this is because of a friend who epitomizes that philosophy. During a recent dinner with our respective better halves, he immediately suggested how I might perform a minor repair. What struck me, though, is the way he said it. “When it gets warmer, we’ll …”

The details are unimportant, but the way he said it, his unhesitant use of “we” in connection to helping me got me thinking about the myriad times he’s helped me and always helps others. From constructing a garden shed in my backyard to marshaling his family to cook for and serve the homeless on Thanksgiving Day, my friend is always Johnny-on-the-spot to lend a hand. It’s as if the first thought bumping through his brain as he wakes each day is, “How can I help somebody?”

That’s a way I’d like to be. Helpful.