A quiet roar of leaves rattling through thousands of wilderness acres fills the distant air as the lapping water nudges the rocks on the shore by the barely moving lake. A nearby spring-born loon proudly calls out, knowing she is near ready to fly toward the Southern border within weeks as the brisk air turns to ice. A close gathering of loon relatives loudly encourages her as she flops and flutters a Sunday-morning experimental flight.
Glistening deep yellow sun reflects like dancing elves, sparkling and shimmering atop the surface of the water. Black lace; pine tree needles in silhouette frame the scene I love so dearly as I leave my warm little cabin to venture into the chilled air to visit the 140-year-old octagon-shaped porch on the lake. Filled with the sounds of beeping birds, fluttering squirrels, and the tapping little feet of field mice.
Yellow lupines and goldenrod spring up to signal fall as the dappled light makes the apples in the tree behind the kitchen glow orange. Deeply I breathe in the crisp fall air, knowing we’ll soon have to leave this unheated paradise once colder weather hits. I’m rolling the dice that I’ll see enough fall color saturate the mountain in leaves of red before we turn the key on our drive back to Texas.
Fall, my favorite season, is something we’ve never experienced on this little Adirondack island, and barely experienced here in the past. Maybe once, before the kids started school. The call of the school year has always required our return to Austin, but now we’re staying on to experience the fall, along with our newfound roles as empty nesters who are not quite sure how to handle this newly discovered thing called silence.
Memories of my first visit to this million-acre protected park remind me that I was uneasy about coming to this place as our family sold our Lake Wawasee place in Indiana after three generations. I thought that was my favorite place, our summer escape. But rather than resting on tradition alone, my father, troubled by loud Jet Skis and racing boats and fumes of fuel, responded to the movie On Golden Pond, realizing there were still places that remained quiet, without the noise and pollution — much like Wawasee was when our family first settled there. I resisted the breaking of tradition. I didn’t want to leave there to come here, and I was determined not to like it. But by the end of a week here, I discovered something about this place, and about my own heart, that resulted in my never wanting to leave. Summers on this lake have blessed me since 1989.
Cozy, and Stuck
The lesson for me was that I was comfortable and resting on something that was good, but not as good as it once was, and for me never as good as when my great-grandfather fished that motorless lake. I was obstinate, unwilling to leave, determined not to accept the change made by my father — who was selling it hard because he knew we would fall in love as he had. In short, I was cozy and stuck in my ways.
Human nature prevails when comfort sets in. I’m reminded of a cartoon my late friend Courtney Thompson sent me decades ago: a picture of a general whose men are in battle with antiquated weapons. A man is there selling Gatling guns (early machine guns), and the general says, “I don’t have time to see a salesman. Can’t you see I’m in a battle?” The idea is that he was too preoccupied to look at something that would have given him an advantage and allowed him to end the battle much more quickly.
We are a resistant bunch, we human beings. We get stuck. We do things because that’s the way they have always been done. That’s what we think, or believe, because it’s what our fathers and mothers believed, it’s what our grandparents, great-grandparents, and their forefathers believed. All too often we fail to think for ourselves. And if someone were to bring documented proof that what we believe is wrong, we’d still resist it. I’ve often wondered whether, if someone brought indisputable, documented proof that my biblical beliefs were untrue, I’d be able to shift the thinking I’ve spent my life believing.
This COVID-crazed time, this time of unrest and turmoil, this time of information and misinformation, censorship of social media, confusing and conflicting data that can bring distrust of any new information, has helped me realize how easily we comply with suggestions if they’re in the name of safety. This has helped me realize just how fragile our freedom can be. I’m finding my brain scrambling to understand what and who to believe anymore.
What about you?
The good news is that I’m forced to challenge my beliefs, I’m forced to explore other outlooks and opinions, and I no longer trust any of the voices I once relied upon. I can’t believe a single tweet or video that is stated as fact, and I can’t even trust the fact-checkers. It seems everyone has an agenda to sway me one way or another.
I have to think for myself. I have to challenge everything I’ve believed in the past. I have to accept that I might have been wrong, or that others I used to believe can no longer hold my trust.
There is a tectonic shift taking place in this world, right before our eyes.
Follow the Incentives
We can no longer sit in comfort and accept what is happening to us. We have to use the brains we’ve been given, and we have to ask “Why?” with every word we read. We have to follow the incentives, follow the money, follow the purpose of every word and statement thrown our way.
It’s uncomfortable, and I’d rather be comfortable, yet we cannot allow our comfort to blind us or we’ll never be comfortable again.
I’m just guessing, but I feel as though things will be seen that we won’t want to believe. We’ll need to decipher, decode, and think for ourselves rather than rely on the comfortable past of our former selves, our family ways of doing things, and maybe even history itself.
Disruption Means Challenge
Like it or not, 2020 has disrupted us. Much like my father dragging us to a place we didn’t think we wanted to go, this disruption will make us challenge every thought and belief we’ve ever had. It’s frightening, but then again, change always is. Yet it’s change that improves life. It is discomfort that creates new levels of comfort, and hard times that make us stronger and better.
And … it’s a time when my faith is amplified as the only thing I can trust.
Every generation in the past has had something… the Great Depression, great wars and conflicts, plagues, civil unrest, and disease. We’re getting our chance to experience a special time in our lives, a time we will share with our grandkids, a time that will enter the history books. It may not be what we would choose, but we should embrace it for the ways we will be reborn.
This may seem like a time to fear. It may seem that the things happening will never end, that life will never be good again, that things might get worse. I can’t trust in man, I can only trust in God, and trust that we’ve been given the ability to think and make decisions for ourselves for a reason.
Like Your Life Depends on It
This will pass, and life will be good again. But it will be different, which is why your willingness to think and ask yourself who and what you believe, is more important than ever. Think like your life depended on it. Use your own brain, be willing to consider differing opinions, be willing to ask yourself why something is true, why you should believe it, what needs to be seen that’s not clearly visible. Ask yourself if you’re stuck or blindly following the way things have always been.
Change what you can change. Speak up about what you see to help others — like me — see a new perspective. You may end up being the one voice they can trust. And know that a freight train of change, of obtuse ideas, of hard-to-believe truths may be put before you that could change something you’ve believed for your entire life.
A Time for Questioning
This isn’t a time for comfort, it’s a time for critical thinking, for questioning everything we believe, for questioning everything others tell us and questioning who we trust to load our brains. It’s also not a time to seek reinforcement of what we already believe, but a time to deeply question ourselves and what we are clinging to from our past..
Answers always lie in our questions.
PS: For 179 days, no days off, I’ve been on social media at noon Eastern, with one single intention … to keep your head in the game. What that means is that I am trying to offer a distraction from the virus and the things causing us to fear. As they say on the airlines, put the oxygen mask on yourself before helping others. You and I cannot be there for our families and friends if our anxiety is at its peak, if our fear is consuming us, if our immune system is compromised by stress. My daily presence is designed to remind you to breathe, to do things for yourself, to do things that are fun, even though you may feel guilty about having fun. I want you to feed your soul, feed your mind, and feed your body with the good things that will keep you strong and balanced.
I have to avoid the news, I have to avoid doom scrolling, and I have to avoid negative people on social media or in person. I don’t put my head in the sand, but I refuse to fill my brain with hours and hours of negativity. Stress is the number one cause of cancer, of heart disease, and of all disease. You have to protect yourself by getting exercise, eating great food, and avoiding things that depress you, meaning negative information and negative substances. That’s why I’ve opened the vaults and am giving you what I normally charge for each day at noon and three — to help others have a positive distraction, something that some find fun. And if we’re learning, growing, and having fun, we’re strengthening our ability to get through anything placed before us. And we will think more clearly because we’re exercising our brains to discover new things. I’m only offering art. That may not be for you, but find something your heart needs to fill your soul with joy.
In an effort not only to try to save my business, but to help others have a few days of complete escape and a flood of training, I’ve created some live virtual events to teach art to anyone who wants to learn. I’ve leveraged my lifetime of contacts to get the best of the best to teach drawing, painting, and various forms of art, including landscape, plein air, portrait, figure, still life, flowers, and more. It’s the first conference of its kind online, and we have already had about 1,200 people sign up from over 30 countries. It’s going to be monumental. Learn more about it at RealismLive.com.
If you like art and are curious, it’s not a lot of money. The last one I did, a woman attending said she got a four-year art education in five days. She said it was better than art school. Now I can’t make that claim, but you can find out for yourself (or forward this to friends you think might like to learn art). I do have a 100% satisfaction guarantee. If you attend, but don’t like it by the end of day one, let us know. We will refund 100% of your money, and you will have received day one for free.
Fall is in the air. The light is dim, as if winter is around the corner, and there is a warm cast to the distant wood, the result of the trees gradually beginning to rust. Soon our mountain will glow with red and the ferns will become alizarin crimson. Goldenrod plants and little orange flowers are budding everywhere. Though it’s still warm, I feel the need to put on a sweater, because it’s just that time of year here in the wilderness. We hope to stay as long as possible, until our heat-free cabin freezes us out. Then we will return to life as normal. If there is such a thing these days.
Nineteen years ago yesterday, I was due to be in the Twin Towers with my management team from RadioCentral, a company I had founded. You can read the account of my near-miss here (scroll down).
What fascinates me is the extended life I was granted.
There are days we always remember, like the day John F. Kennedy died, the day a man walked on the moon, the day the Space Shuttle exploded in mid-air, and of course, September 11, 2001.
On that day, my pregnant wife and I watched in fear and angst, and wondered what kind of world our soon-to-be-born triplets would be living in. Now, today, we’ve just put the triplets in college and are living in a nest with no birds at home.
When tragedy strikes and we are spared, we often think about what we want to do with this life that did not end when maybe it seemed it would. These moments bring clarity. And that clarity resulted in tens of thousands of people leaving New York City to live in a place where life could be more enjoyed and safety was more assured. And, today, 19 years later, a pandemic has made people think twice about their lives, their values, and where and how they spend their time. They say New York City has lost a half-million residents permanently — about the population of the entire city of Atlanta. It boggles the mind.
Often when we have these moments of clarity, we proclaim our intent to live our lives to the fullest. Then as life continues, days or weeks later, we get back to throwing away our time and not using what our second chance provided.
Have you ever had a second chance and swore you would make every day count?
The question I get most is, “How do you get so much done? How do you handle so many things?” Yet the thing I am continually asking myself is, “Why do I waste so much time?”
Though I’ve not done a personal time audit for years, I’d guess that three or more hours of my work time each day are not as productive as they could be. I’m always asking myself why I waste so much time.
How much time do you waste?
The value of these moments of clarity is that they help us refocus our attention on what really matters. After 9/11 I had to ask myself if I would have been satisfied with my accomplishments, had that been my last day on earth.
And, during COVID-19, I’ve had to ask myself, did I get done what needs to be done? What if I’m the next person to catch the virus? Have I done enough?
Though I’d like to think those moments kick me in the behind and help me focus, we tend to lose that clarity as quickly as it comes. And I think we need constant reminders of what is important. What if I had one week, month, or year left? What is essential?
Have you stopped to ask what is essential for you?
If our time is filled with things that will never really matter, why do we do them? Well, clearly we have essentials that are urgent but not important in the grand scheme of things — paying the bills, keeping the grass mowed.
But what are the three things you want to do most with the rest of your life? And how can you remember to focus on them more than anything else?
I don’t bring you answers … only questions. You’ll have to find the answers.
When my life was extended because my meetings in the World Trade Center were cancelled that day, I made a list of things I needed to get done that were important to me. I don’t even know where that list is, but it doesn’t matter. What matters is that we’re making that list on a regular basis, and finding a way to move those chess pieces on the board of life.
Big Purpose for Each of Us
We’re not made to be sedentary, to sit, to rot. We each have been blessed with something we can contribute to the earth. We’re not here only to buy big-screen TVs and pay cable bills. We each need to find that purpose and pursue it like it’s our final hour. Because one day, perhaps when we least expect it, it will be.
What are you here to contribute?
What is something that is special about you, something no one else can do? If you dig, it’s there. Some of us take years to find it, but you should never stop searching. You’ll know it when you find it, or it finds you. For me it was a life in art and applying my gifts for marketing and business to help thousands of artists live better lives. Before that, it was doing the same in radio. You see, it’s a moving target, ever-changing.
I believe we get what we expect. If we expect greatness, it will find us.
Ask yourself why: Why was I born? What was the purpose our Maker had in mind for just me? You’re not random, you’re here for a purpose, and each day needs to be focused on that purpose. Any day not focused is either rest, to give you energy to continue, or a misused day.
There is no limit placed on you by age, by birth, or by circumstances. You have a purpose. Pursue it and life will become enormously rich.
PS: How can I be so arrogant, so full of myself, to believe that I can create the world’s largest art conference online? It was a question posed in a negative post on social media after I declared I wanted to do it. But it’s not arrogance at all. It’s belief in my mission to make artists stronger because it needs to be done, and someone needs to do it. Why not me? God has plans for us all. If he has selected you, he has the confidence that you’re the one to carry it out. As I said last week, still yourself, and listen.
I’ve been given the gift of life. Nineteen years since 9/11/2001. I am grateful for the gift I was given, the experience of becoming a dad and raising three wonderful souls. And grateful for the chance to serve you and others. I could have done more, and I intend to use my time to do a better job, and waste less valuable time and energy. Today, I’m reminded of just what a gift each day is. I’m grateful to you for this opportunity to share your inbox each Sunday.
Clanking is the sound I hear as the ropes hit the masts on the sailboats tied to the dock nearby, the swift breeze rocking them to and fro. The raging sound of an outboard motor zipping from across the lake carries as if right in front of me as a neighbor goes out to pick up the local paper, as he does every Sunday morning. There is no delivery when you live in a boat-access-only camp.
Puffy clouds filled with dark droplets waiting to pour out float sluggishly across the cloudscape sky. In the distance a slight hint of rust on some leaves hails an early indicator of fall.
Summer, as of this weekend, is officially over. It’s as though it just started, not only because time flies when you’re having fun, it flies when you’re tied down and staying home.
The Year That Never Was
I find it almost impossible to believe we’re this far into the year that never was. The year that disappeared behind a mask. The year that forced us into lockdown, only to discover things about ourselves we otherwise would never have known.
As we put a bow on summer and set it to drift off into the glorious sunset of fall, I continue to ponder our world, the effects of world events, and the pandemic.
Years ago my grandfather told me a story of when he was a child. His ailing, bed-bound grandfather was lying in bed, talking to my grandfather and his cousin Clifford. “Boys, you need to get on your bicycles and go down the road to Mrs. Tompkins’ house. I think you’ll find her hunched over in her rocking chair on the porch, holding her baby. You need to go fetch that baby and bring it back here, because Mrs. Tompkins is dead.”
Of course, the boys thought that was ridiculous because he had no way of knowing that, yet to humor him, they rode down the road, only to find Mrs. Tompkins holding the baby, sitting in the rocker, dead.
The Voice of God?
I’d ask my grandfather if his grandfather had special powers of some sort, and he always said, “No, he was just always listening to God.”
As I’ve thought about this over my life, I too have experienced it on occasion. One morning I had a dream, woke up, and called Lee, the morning DJ at the radio station I worked for. I said, “Lee, congratulations on the baby girl.” He said, “Eric, you must be dreaming. The baby isn’t due for three more months, and we know it’s a boy.” Then I told him my vivid dream that it had been born early, and said it seemed very real. We both laughed. Then five minutes later he called me and said, “Eric, how did you know? My wife, Sandy, was trying to reach me, but I was on the phone with you. She just had a baby girl.”
My wife always says things like, “I’ve got a feeling something bad is about to happen,” and her track record of intuition is often spot on.
Learning to Listen
One of the benefits of the Pandemic of 2020 is that our lives are quieter now. I’m not one to believe in fortune-tellers or soothsayers, and even the Bible warns against that. But I do believe that we all have very high levels of intuition, and that we tend not to listen to it because we stay too busy.
When we’re not on a whirlwind roller coaster, when we’re not commuting two hours a day or rushing off here and there, we can hear the voices in our heads. Maybe, as my grandfather said, it’s the voice of God.
Better Days Ahead
I tend to be a contrarian, and I’m not a worrier. During this moment of civil unrest, COVID, and political battlegrounds, I’m not feeling worried. In fact, I feel as though it will lead us to a new place, a better place where our lives are more balanced, where our world is more balanced, and where the things that have plagued our lives for generations will no longer be problems.
I think people are implementing change in their own lives, and as a result will expect, perhaps demand, change in all aspects of life.
Are you ready?
Time to Not Be Busy
Am I crazy? Maybe.
I want to encourage you to take this special day, this holiday weekend, and take some time to not be busy. Turn off the media, turn off social media, surround yourself with quiet. In Japan they call it “forest bathing.” I’ve been doing it for months, and avoiding social media and the news.
By doing this, taking two-hour walks in the deep forest, I’ve found I’m in touch with the voices in my head. Maybe it’s just wishful thinking. Maybe it’s more.
I have no idea if these thoughts mean something new is really on the horizon, but that matters less. What matters more is that I’m experiencing quiet, and it is allowing me to think, to hear, to listen.
What about you?
No “Woo Woo” Here
I’m not a “woo woo” kind of guy, and if I had heard someone say what I just said, I’d be worried for them (and maybe ready to call the men in the white coats).
But I can say one thing for sure … We’ve all been too busy. Our lives have been crazy. We went from missing all the stimuli in the beginning to now wishing they don’t return, at least not at the level we once had them. COVID-19 has brought that blessing to the world, and I think the world is about to come together in a new way never seen in our lifetimes. This will begin a new era of change, which I think will change everything about what we accept, what we do, and how we do it. It’s almost as if we will flop 180 degrees from where we were.
Call me nuts. But stop, look, listen, and you may see things changing too. Though life has been good, it’s been too busy, too insane, and too overstimulated. Take a deep breath and pay close attention. And we may be ready to accept change, and things you would have never believed.
P.S. The voices in my head told me that I needed to pivot and start online art conferences, and they have started to save my ailing business. The next one, Realism Live, is going to be huge. Already 1,200 are signed up, and there are two months to go. If you want to learn art or get better, take a peek.
Thoughts and prayers to those who suffered in the recent hurricanes and fires. What’s next? Locusts? But let’s stay positive. I’m there for you daily, 165 days in a row as of today. Catch me on Facebook Live and YouTube at noon Eastern daily. (Search Eric Rhoads or Streamline Art Video.)