Archive for May, 2014

Does your life feel wasted so far? Maybe your best is yet to come

by David McElroy

Harry Bernstein at typewriter

Harry Bernstein’s first book was published when he was 96 years old. After a life in which he supported himself as an MGM script reader and as editor of a construction magazine, it wasn’t until five years before his death that anyone would take his books seriously.

Over the years, he had written 40 other books, but they had all been rejected by publishers. He ended up destroying those manuscripts. But after he finally had a first book accepted — a memoir of the anti-Semitism he experienced as a child in England — he wrote and published three more books in his late 90s.

Bernstein said his 90s “have been the most productive years of my life.”

I’d never heard of Bernstein until I came across this quote a few days ago. I’ve still never read any of his work, so I have no opinion about it and I have no idea whether any of those 40 destroyed manuscripts were lost masterpieces. But as someone whose life hasn’t turned out — so far — the way he planned, I was struck by the lesson of his life. Maybe it’s never too late to become what you always knew you were intended to be.

I’ve written before about my frustration with losing touch with the person I had once been — with somehow losing the confidence and drive to achieve that I had felt in my youth. I’ve been thinking about variations on this theme for the last few years, but it’s really accelerated in the last six or eight months. Just a few weeks ago, I wrote about my fears of never doing anything meaningful with my life.

I always assumed that people who achieve something meaningful have a linear and obvious path to their success, but what I’m learning is that success looks much more obvious and predictable when you’re looking back at someone’s life, not speculating about what it might be in the future. And I’m also finally accepting that the path to something meaningful is rarely straight and obvious.

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If you ask wrong questions about politics, you’ll get wrong answers

by David McElroy

Alabama House floor

Every time an election rolls around, some newspaper writer will publish some sanctimonious piece about how more people should vote and what sorts of people should be elected. These well-meaning people want change, and they prod people to “do something” to make things better.

The mainstream parties hold their primaries here in Alabama next Tuesday, and the expected article about electing better people showed up in the state’s largest newspaper today. It’s called, “We bellyache about the Legislature yet 59 percent of lawmakers have been practically re-elected and nobody’s even voted.” These articles are great for newspaper writers, because they practically write themselves and they get people riled up enough to leave comments. (There are 71 comments on this article so far.)

The writer seems to be asking why voters keep electing the incumbents and why more people don’t “do something” if they’re not happy with the Legislature. But what if he’s asking the wrong questions?

The only political questions we’re really allowed to ask in this country are which people we want to fill certain positions in governments. We get to elect “our representatives” to go to the State House and State Senate. We get to elect a governor and an attorney general and state auditor and members of a Public Service Commission. And on and on. As other people see it, we have plenty of choices, because there are many different positions and almost anybody can run for the offices. He or she just has to convince enough people to vote for him and he can hold power.

But we don’t get to ask the right questions, do we? The key question we don’t get to ask is, “Do I want other people making decisions about my life?”

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There’s a lot to complain about, but the miracle is so much goes right

by David McElroy

Passenger plane landing

I live about 12 miles from the Birmingham airport, so I don’t normally pay much attention to planes coming in to land. But I was in my car Monday evening when a descending plane caught my attention. And it suddenly struck me how strange it is that hundreds of people at a time can go hurtling through the air in giant machines — thousands of times each day around the world — and it’s so routine that we don’t even notice.

We pay attention to the things that go wrong. Those are the things we consider to be “news.” But the really amazing thing is how many things go right every single day and we don’t even notice.

It’s not just airplanes. We live in a complicated world. We don’t grow our own food or have it shipped to us, but when we’re hungry, there’s almost anything we want just down the street at grocery stores and restaurants. There’s gasoline for our cars when we need it. There are new cars to buy when we want new ones. There’s new clothing before we realize we need it. And all of this happens without any bureaucrat planning it and without us even knowing ahead of time what we want.

See the huge trucks going down the road around you every day? And the trains and cargo planes you see? Those are carrying the goods we need to live a modern life. We don’t know how the logistics of all that works. We just know that what we want is there when we want it.

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With changed priorities, it’s time for me to re-evaluate my goals here

by David McElroy

What's next?

When I launched this site three years ago today, the intended audience was only one person. Everything was written for her — in the hopes that she would find it and come back into my life. My hopes were rewarded. Sort of.

She came back into my life — in and out, back and forth — for most of the past three years. She was an avid reader of the site almost from the beginning. Then she became a regular commenter, first using a pseudonym and then using her real name (and a goofy picture with a wig).

She’s no longer a reader here and no longer part of my life. The details don’t really matter that much at this point. The psychology of what happened is actually very interesting, but it’s not in her best interest that the full story be told, so I won’t.

The only reason I tell you this story is to say that I started writing here with a surface-level purpose — which was quite real and honest — but always with a deeper and more important underlying purpose. Now that underlying purpose is completely gone, and I’m not sure anymore what my goals here are.

I haven’t been writing very much for months now. For nearly two years of the site’s existence, I wrote at least one article almost every day. For a long stretch of time, I also had a second article each day — written by the “staff monkeys” — with links of the day. I went through a lot of changes as a result of this experience, and it’s affected what I’m willing to write.

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A question I’m scared to answer: Why haven’t I made another film?

by David McElroy

WTG-awardsI went to see the new movie “Moms’ Night Out” Friday. This family-friendly comedy isn’t something I’d normally see, but the film was shot in Birmingham by local directors and producers, so I wanted to see how many locations I recognized and how I liked their work.

I enjoyed seeing local streets and buildings that I know well, so I’m glad I went. I’m not really the target market for the movie, but it will probably do well for a low-budget family comedy (even though the reviews have been pretty brutal).

When I got home, I happened to put something down on the mantle above my fireplace. When I picked it up a couple of minutes later, I stood there for a minute and stared at some things I normally forget are even there — the awards that my one and only short film won almost 10 years ago.

I stood there and just stared, as though I was seeing them for the first time. And I berated myself once more for not making anything since then.

I shot “We’re the Government — and You’re Not” in December of 2004. Post-production was finally finished by the beginning of June 2005 and I started entering it into film festivals. Over the next 18 months or so, it was shown at 20 festivals and won five awards. In addition to U.S. festivals, it was screened in Canada, England, Australia and New Zealand.

Although it was my first film and I bumbled my way through the process at times, it was more successful than I ever dreamed it could be. It’s been seen on YouTube by close to 350,000 people since then.

As I stood there looking at a few of the awards Friday evening, I wasn’t sure whether to feel angry or ashamed for not having done another film. I saw myself as a filmmaker at the time. I have at least half a dozen scripts at various stages of development, ideas that I’m happy with and think would be good films. So why haven’t I done anything else?

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Walking into the light: Is it scarier to face death or to learn how to live?

by David McElroy

Walk into the light

I’m afraid of dying. I suspect most people are, but it’s not something we talk about much. I find that every time I’m forced to think about death, it makes me more eager to think more intentionally about life.

There’s nothing in this world more certain than death, but there are few things that most of us would more strongly prefer to avoid even thinking about, at least for ourselves. I presume it comes from the unspoken fantasy or delusion that we’re going to live forever. Nobody really believes that, but we sometimes act as though death doesn’t exist if we don’t acknowledge it for ourselves.

Two things made me think strongly about death over the weekend.

First, I saw a movie over the weekend that deals with death and the afterlife, and it left me thinking a lot about the subject. The movie was “Heaven is for Real.” If you believe in an afterlife, you might enjoy the film. If you only believe in a material world and that consciousness ends with death, you would have no interest.

Second, I finally listened to last week’s episode of the public radio show, This American Life, which was about death and taxes. The segment about death dealt with what it’s like to be around those in hospice care — what’s it like to be the dying person, what’s it like to be family of those people and what’s it like to work with them. The stories were sobering. (I encourage you to listen to the segment.)

As a Christian, it’s easy for me to say, “Yeah, I believe I’m going to heaven and there’s nothing scary about death,” but that’s far too simplistic. It is for me, anyway.

There’s nothing that could be more terrifying to me than the idea of ceasing to exist. If I believed that I would cease to exist — my consciousness would be no more — I would find life and morality to be pretty empty in whatever time I had left. Other people believe in a purely material world and accept the idea of the end of their own existence and find ways to say life and morality have meaning. I don’t understand their way of thinking — as they don’t understand mine — but I only point it out to say that we all find beliefs that give us whatever we need to continue to exist where we are.

Materialists would say that those who believe in life after death have fooled themselves in order to give our lives meaning so can live today. Those of us who believe in the spiritual world see the materialists as contradicting themselves, because if there’s no ultimate meaning and no life after the human body dies, everything here is meaningless, in our view.

I’ve always found it interesting that in Paul’s letters to churches in the New Testament, he referred to us as having “hope” of a life in heaven after death. Although I’ve heard it interpreted in various ways, it always struck me that maybe Paul wasn’t so certain about exactly what happened after we died. If that were the case in some way, I’m with Paul. I don’t know what happens.

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Start over here

When this site launched in 2011, it was intended as a way to find others who were sick of partisan politics and wanted to connect with like-minded people who were ready to go beyond politics and find ways of escaping. It has shifted focus in ways that reflect my own shifting thinking. I’m less interested in politics and more interested in looking at the things that make life worth living, such as love, creation, self-understanding and connecting with others. Every article I have posted since 2011 is still in my archives, but everything I write is a reflection of my current thinking. Sometimes I’m wrong — and that’s fine with me — and I don’t always end up agreeing with what I wrote five years ago. For now, you can still read what I wrote about the site’s purpose in 2011, but I should rewrite this. Read more.

Contact David

David likes email, but can’t reply to every message. I get a surprisingly large number of requests for relationship advice — seriously — but I rarely have the time to respond. (Sorry.) Besides, with my own romantic track record, maybe my advice isn’t worth taking. I’d like to find a wife one of these days, so maybe I should add an “application.”

Watch this short film

What kind of "educational film" would the U.S. government release today to teach Americans how to be good citizens?
We're the Government — and You're Not
Official selection of 20 film festivals
Winner of several random awards
Plus a boatload of views on YouTube
(Yeah, I was surprised, too)
Drop David a note if you want to write a check to make more of these amazing masterpieces.
Yes, seriously.

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Comments are not presently allowed. They've been allowed in the past, so many older articles have comments. I haven't found most public discussion to be generally useful or healthy, so I have disabled comments for now. I might revisit this policy in the future.

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