My first journal is in my mothers hand. She started it during my first year of life and I have it still. I've kept a journal off and on throughout my life. I've never been a daily writer and there are weeks and months that go by in which I record nothing. To the people that will read these journals after my passing this may imply that I just didn't have much happening in my life. More often the case is that I allow myself to get so busy and tired that taking the time to journal never makes it to the top of my list of things to do each day.

Recently I decided to change the way that I journal. Instead of making certain that I've captured every important moment in my day or my life I am now taking a few moments when something happens to record it or to simply record what I've self realized as an important thought or insight.

Since making this transition I've found that I am recording much more of my life and having better insights about it. I've also not allowed myself to be strict about what does and what does not get written down in my journal. I've recorded passages of books, quotes from television or movies. Anything that sticks with me. 

At this point turning through these pages is providing me a much clearer picture of who I am and helps me to clarify what often times feels like a chaotic life.

My current favorite entry in my journal is a single line.

"Neville Longbottom = BAMF"

Posted
AuthorClinton Robison

During the summer of 1991 I was introduced to Jazz. The small farming town I lived in had a music program much larger than could be expected for a school of 450 students. As an incoming freshmen I was asked if I wanted to be part of the newly formed Jazz Ensemble. As a country kid I knew nothing of Jazz and was eager to learn. I showed up for summer rehearsals and agreed to take Jazz band as a zero period before regular school began.

Towards the end of that first year I attended the Reno International Jazz Festival with my small country school ensemble and was encouraged by my director to attend as many clinics and other performances as possible. I went and sat through combos, ensembles, and clinics and walked away having no idea what I had just witnessed. I was raised on pop music. My friends and I listened to a steady stream of classic rock, metal, punk, and were learning about bands like Alice in Chains and Nirvana. Our classmates were feeding on Garth Brooks and Randy Travis. What I knew of music in general was that a song consisted of a few chords with maybe one face melting solo placed strategically towards the end that lasted a few short seconds.

When I sat and listened to a combo play and dance their way through every note known to man I could only hear the sound of someone just mashing keys. I couldn't recognize the music for what it was. I didn't have the language to speak and I have distinct memory of making fun of those people with my barely teenage knowledge of what I thought music was.

I continued to play Jazz throughout High School. My skill and understanding grew and while I never achieved a level of mastery I was at least competent at making music. By the time I entered college I had firmly placed music in the hobby category of my life as I pursued my major. I still enjoyed playing but had never put the time into music to make myself better.

The friends I made in college were musicians and I spent a lot of my down time in the music building. There were many times that I would walk down the halls past rows of closely spaced doorways that led to small rooms. From these rooms could be heard the muffled sounds of saxophones, trombones, trumpets, flutes, pianos, and guitars. I would walk by and hear scales played up and down, fast and slow. I would hear single notes attacked and held for as long as they could be held. I would hear a lick or two bars of music played over and over and over and over again until they were perfect. 

To be good at something it must be done over and over again. Practice, reveal, revisit, practice, reveal, revisit, practice. An endless cycle of what looking at what you want to do, what you have done and what could have been better. 

There is a term we use often where I work. Constructive dissatisfaction. At times this is a very positive thing. To be constructively dissatisfied is to not rest upon that which you have accomplished. It means looking at what you have done and looking for ways to improve upon it in an ever more challenging pursuit of perfection. The danger with constructive dissatisfaction is paralysis. It is easy to work at something and never want to bring the results of that work forward because it isn't perfect. If we wait for a perfect product or action we will never make it out of that small practice room. We will hold that note for eternity. We will repeat those same three notes over and over again until we don't know what it is we are trying to play anymore.

Posted
AuthorClinton Robison

Winter has arrived after an overly long absence. The temperature has dropped and the cold has settled in. At this time of year we dig into the backs of our closets and the bottoms of our drawers and pull to the top our warmer clothes for everyday wear.

I found myself doing this on Saturday. As I pulled the bottom drawer of my bedroom dresser open I was greeted by a pile of knit caps. There are about ten all together each of varying color and all of the same rough and slightly unfinished style. These knit hats are among my most prized possessions.

Sentimentality has a value that only lasts as long as the life of the sentimentalist. I know that when my life ends the likelihood that these miss shaped hats will find their way into the bottom drawer of another persons dresser is highly unlikely. Nor will they be stored away with care.

These knit hats that make me smile each time I touch them; these knit hats that warm me on cold mornings; these knit hats that accompany me through miles in the Sierras; these knit hats that adorned my head while fishing with my father were knit by my grandfather towards the end of his life. He would sit and knit to pass the time. When he passed, all the hats he had made were offered up. I don't know who of my family took them but I eagerly grabbed as many as I could.

 

Posted
AuthorClinton Robison

Two years ago I loaded my children into the car and drove to San Francisco to buy a bicycle. My wife and I had been talking about bicycles and wanting to ride them again for quite some time. I had purchased a beach cruiser from a local shop for her birthday and knew I had to get one for myself.

My first bike as an adult was purchased from a garage sale a week after purchasing the bicycle for my wife. It was and old thing that had been pieced back together from the remnants of other bikes. It rolled along fine enough. I had no connection to it and soon my eyes were wandering. I'd slow for garage sales. My browser would find it's way to bicycle websites. One day I came across Public Bikes and my jaw dropped. After the briefest of consultations with my wife the purchase was made and plans were set to go pick up my new ride.

After the purchase was made my wife made the comment to me that when I buy something, I BUY something. A little confused at first I asked her to clarify. She told me that I don't cut corners. I find what I need, I make sure its of good quality, and if I can afford it I buy it. I buy it when it isn't the most cost effective choice. I buy it because it is a quality product that will last me a long time.

Buying things is something that we all do. When I first was on my own away from home I was interested in the latest this or that. The shiniest toy, the newest device, the most of everything was my goal. As a young adult I now longer had someone telling me what I could or could not buy. So I bought. I borrowed and bought. I made more money and I bought some more. I saw something I liked and bought it. Something shiny out of the corner of my eye? Buy it. Spend spend spend.

Now, close to two decades after buying stuff what do I have that I value? I've got a box of correspondence that has moved with me. I have some photos. I have a tool chest. I have a few other items that would fall into the household tool category. I have a quilt that was made by my mother, another by my grandmother. I have a few pocket knives.

Looking at all of my purchases I find that the things of most value are the things that didn't come in a blister pack. They aren't the things that were made as one of one million. Noting this I've made the decision to change my buying habits.

I want to buy products that people have cared about. Products that have been designed well to fill a purpose. Not something that was designed to catch the brief and fleeting attention of someone with an open pocket book. I want to buy products that add value to my life. I want my money, which is a representation of my time and ability, to go towards products that are a reflection of the time and ability of another person.

 

 

Posted
AuthorClinton Robison

At some point last week I took the time to type “I Make Bad Decisions” into my search bar in hopes of finding a T-shirt that carried that statement. My search was driven by a series of significantly bad decisions made on my part over the previous few days. I found plenty of T-shirts that carried that slogan but the whimsy of the design was not what I was looking for.. I didn’t want to mislead people that may read my shirt into believing the bad decisions I make would lead to excitement, adventure, and laughter. I wanted people to see my shirt and read it as a warning that they’d be wise to steer clear of me.

 

Making bad decisions is part of life. Sometimes those bad decisions are the Carne Asada Nachos ordered at 11:00 pm and sometimes those bad decisions are saying “I do” when “I don’t” is a better answer. There are good reasons for bad decisions. I am always impressed by my ability to justify my bad decisions. I can always make a bad decision seem like a good one before I make it. No matter how good my justification was I am always left with the consequences of the decision. I’ve not yet found a way to bypass the reaction to my action.

 

I used to be terrified about making the wrong decision to the point that I would often make no decision. I did this in relationships. I did this with work. I do this with dinner. Culturally we are trained that making a bad decision can destroy our life. We are told to be careful about the friends we choose, the food we eat, the hobbies we indulge in, the way we dress, how much we sleep, how much tv we watch, how much time we spend on the internet and we’re told if we make a bad decision about anything our entire life can be destroyed. Now that I’ve gained a few years I am beginning to think that kind of council is terrible.

 

Bad decisions are good things as long as we have the ability to recognize the decision as being bad before that decision leads to even more bad decisions. I’ve learned that I gain more from the experience of dealing with a bad decision than I ever did from making a good decision.


My goal now is celebrate the consequences of my bad decisions as learning experiences. I also intend to teach those who will listen how to do the same. My kids will get this training whether they want it or not.

Posted
AuthorClinton Robison

In the first half of the twentieth century a son and his father were repairing a roof in rural Idaho. Father would take a nail, tap it to set it and drive it home with two or three well placed strikes. His son would take a nail, tap it to set it, and drive it home with ten or fifteen well placed strikes. This process repeated itself a few times before Father stopped to observe his son at work. He noticed that his son was holding the hammer halfway up the handle. Father stopped his son and explained to him that he would have a much easier time setting nails if he held the handle lower. Doing this would give more power to his strike and let him swing the hammer far fewer times. Father stepped back and allowed his son to return to work. His son took a nail, tapped it to set it, and drove it home with four well placed strikes. Pleased Father returned to his section of roof and the two continued working. After some time Father noticed the number of strikes from his son again increasing to ten to fifteen strikes per nail. Father looked up and saw that his son was holding the hammer in the middle of the handle again. Father stopped his work, went to the ladder, and climbed off the roof. His son stopped working and wondered where his father had gone. After a brief absence father returned with a saw in hand. He went to his son, placed his sons hand on the hammer near the head, marked where the bottom of his hand was on the handle, took the hammer and shortened the handle with the saw. The son looked on a surprised that his father would ruin a tool. Father handed the hammer back and returned to work. The son placed a nail, tapped it twice to set it and then drove it home with twenty-five to thirty well placed strikes. As the sun went down the son marked the end of the work day and was disappointed by how little they had accomplished because of the time it had taken him to do his work.

Many years later the son, my grandfather, related this story to me and told me that his father often taught him this way. Practical lessons that have allowed him to learn things he may not have realized on his own.

The way that I live my life ties to the examples that have been set before me. When I teach my children I often go to the practical lessons like the one in the story. I do that because that is how my father taught me and how I'm sure his father taught him. I've had many good examples of how to be a good child, friend, husband, father, leader, teacher and person. I try always to be conscious of the example I set so that at the end I can say I've lived an Atticus Finch type life where I am the same behind closed doors as I am in public.

 

 

Posted
AuthorClinton Robison

There is a tradition in my house. Each Sunday morning I get up and make breakfast for my family. Aside from vacations the weekends are the only time I'm home for breakfast. I don't make extravagant foods. For the most part my breakfast is the good farm type cooking you'd expect from a Rockwell scene; pancakes, waffles, french toast, Biscuits and gravy, sausage patties, bacon and eggs. Nothing out of the normal.

Today I made Biscuits and sausage gravy. Everything came together just perfectly. The biscuits were golden and flaky without being overly dry. The sausage patties had a thin savory crust, the eggs were light and fluffy and the gravy....the gravy was smooth and thick, light tan in color and perfectly seasoned. 

I looked at the meal I had prepared for my wife and children in it's respective cooking dishes and knew that they deserved better. I retrieved from the cupboard bowls and serving trays, I plated the meal as if we were in a restaurant. The surplus was laid out on trays in a near decorative fashion. Breakfast was served to smiles and glowing remarks as to the taste and presentation. 

Sated and happy my family went their way and I began cleaning up. As I washed each dish I marveled at my folly. What could have taken one plate was on three. My beloved cast iron skillet would have presented the gravy better than the bowl. I was now spending time and resources cleaning things that my family probably hadn't even noticed.

While I don't condone drinking the milk over the sink (unless I'm the only one drinking the milk). I also think that living simply but tastefully will teach my family much more than a perfectly plated meal. 

I think breakfast would have been far more fun had my family and I broken biscuits (perfectly made biscuits) and dipped them in gravy still in the pan it was cooked in while we enjoyed our Sunday morning. 

 

Posted
AuthorClinton Robison

One of the benefits of growing up in The West is the vast expanses of relatively untouched natural lands. My childhood was filled with many nights spent under the stars and in tents; I walked through woods, mountains and deserts. Each night and morning the family would gather around the fire and the white gas stoves and talk and laugh and cook the meals we would share together. Figuring prominently in the preparation of these meals were cast iron pots and skillets. We would cook over open flame and upon glowing coals.

There was a time that the cast iron skillet was a key piece of equipment in most kitchens and at some point in our recent past the flash and glamour of lightweight aluminum and teflon coated surface came to dominate the kitchen scene.

For the majority of my life cast iron did not have a place in the kitchen. I kept my cast iron cookware well oiled and hiding in the garage with my tent and sleeping bag. The heavy pieces iron were ones I associated only with outdoors. One day while shopping I saw a cast iron skillet for sale. Initially I purchased it to add to my outdoor gear. The skillet made it’s way to the kitchen. I wiped it down with oil and put it in the oven to cure. The skillet then found a place on my stove top and soon, the warped steel teflon coated skillets we had received for a wedding gift found themselves neglected and alone in the cupboard by the stove. More and more I would go to my cast iron skillet. There were some mishaps as I had not perfectly cured the pan yet. But I kept at it. The combination of gas cook top and cast iron helped me to more evenly and enjoyable cook for myself and my family.

Sunday mornings in my house have become a time for a family meal. The competing schedules of our home, work and school lives leave little opportunity for these type of family meals. Biscuits and sausage gravy had been the meal. The sausage and gravy had been cooked in my cast iron skillet. After breakfast and cleaned the skillet with a rag and water and looked at the deep black of the iron and I remembered. I remembered the lighter iron grey it had once been. My fingers ran over the cook surface and it’s blackness was smooth to the touch. It had not always been so; when first purchased it was rough and bumpy. It was unfinished and unready for daily use and incapable of producing a perfect meal. This is no longer the case. The skillet and iron are cured and smooth. It’s rare now to find something sticking the pan. Use and care were all it took. Paying attention to the details and showing the skillet gratitude for the results it produced.

I now hold that piece of iron with care and love. It has become a trusted and valued friend of mine.

 

Posted
AuthorClinton Robison