“What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals” – Thoreau
I’ve always loved this quote and in many ways, it has grounded me in the whole goal achieving process no matter what I have attempted.
I’m a dreamer and always have been. I think dreaming can be healthy provided one keeps the dream in perspective. Like most people, I’ve dreamed about what life might be like after winning the lottery when the amounts reach those eight digit numbers. We’ve had fun with it as a family discussing how much we would give each extended family member, what dream house we would have built, how many acres of land it would sit on, and how we would stick a large portion of the money away and let it work for us. We don’t start buying lottery tickets, looking for land to build our dream house, or spend hours on the internet window shopping for all the other things we could buy with that money.
There are dreams however that I’ve acted on. These are dreams where I’ve set an action plan in place to achieve a goal, some lofty, some not so lofty. In doing so, I’ve found the journey to be just as celebratory as the destination provided I actually reach the destination. In most cases I have. There has been a lot written about goal setting from complete books to simple six step plans and in my opinion, an individual’s approach should be whatever works.
My 2nd 5K -2010 – with free beer at the finish line,and my son running with me despite the fact he could have run it 10 minutes faster by himself
I wanted to run a marathon. I dreamed of running a marathon. After cycling for many years and having numerous century rides (100 plus miles) under my belt, I decided I would run a marathon. My initial thoughts were that it would be no harder than training for a century. One just needs to get the miles and time in and the distance will come. After developing a plan, I embarked on this new adventure and discovered something. I don’t like running longer distances nor did I have the inspiration needed to push me farther. I’d completed numerous 5Ks and even ran a 5 miler and found I enjoyed it but also found I had no desire to go farther. I can live with that. I just didn’t have a passion for running long distances like I did for long distances in cycling. For cycling, I had many years and countless hours of watching the Tour de France inspiring me not to mention beautiful road miles and scenery I melted into. For running, I just couldn’t get into it. I love walking, I love hiking, and I love running short distances. Long distance running just doesn’t do it for me. My runner’s high was achieved at 5K and no farther. My cycling high occurred about every ten miles and continued up to one hundred and thirty miles, the most I ever did in one day. Each grouping of ridden miles an achieved goal and another high.
When it comes to writing, I can reflect on my experience and approach to both cycling and running. I’ve done the short distance in writing short stories or lyrics and loved it. My goal is the long distance, a novel, and it will come. The difference here is in what inspires me and in similar fashion to what inspired me while cycling: the countless hours of reading over the years, the hundreds of books we have in our house and on our ereaders, and the beautiful words I have read over a lifetime. I love writing and I love the written word. I’ve also found my highs are very similar to what I get running a short distance or every ten miles or so on the bike. It might happen at 1000 words or 5000 thousand words but it happens. And with each high, I celebrate the accomplishment along with what I am becoming.
I was warming up my truck very early yesterday, the morning still encased in darkness despite the hour time shift we gained earlier in the week. We live out of town and it tends to get very dark so the only light presence I had was that emanating from the dashboard along with a small light I had left on in the kitchen. Staring at the dashboard lights for a moment, I had a thought: a thought about firsts. My mind tends to wander like that at times, the whole six degrees of separation thing or in my case sometimes seven or eight. Dashboard lights, manual transmission, truck parked in first, … oh never mind, trust me it just happens.
According to Merriam-Webster, first is defined as “coming before all others in time, order, and importance.” I would agree with time and order. Importance might be subject for debate but for this post, I will go along with importance.
Everybody remembers their first. It should be something special. Something magical. An experience that leaves you salivating for the second, but always appreciative of the first. I was always nervous about my first. It wasn’t like I didn’t want it to happen because I did. I suppose I was just nervous about sharing something so private, exposing myself, maybe even afraid I would be no good at it or not measure up. I’m really not sure why I felt that way. It wasn’t like I hadn’t practiced or prepared for it. I did. Sometimes first thing in the morning and often other times late at night yet I was still afraid.
For some people, this all seems to come so natural, or so it seems to those still waiting on the sidelines. Sure, their first was special, important even, and so was the second and now here they are talking about their fourth or fifth as casually as they might discuss what they had for breakfast. One women I know, is now on her eighth, and I guy I really look up to, a King of sorts, is now at fifty plus. I just wanted a first. I knew if I could experience that, the second then third would come so much easier and I, hopefully, would be better each time. I’d had encouragement. A few friends, all females by the way, had been there for me, telling me it would happen. No worries.
So I put myself out there and it happened. Well almost happened, more of a promise to happen. I had been hoping for someone with more experience and had to settle for someone with slightly less experience. But does that really matter or make it less important? The fact is that someone with more experience was a first to someone else at some point. Yet here I was willing to allow my first to be with someone slightly less experienced but with experience nonetheless. I looked at the company I would be in and agreed. It would be MY first and coming before all others in time, order, and yes, importance… for now.
Under the light of the dashboard lights, I checked email on my phone and re-read two emails I had received earlier in the week. One stated that I was being considered for publication in a collection of short stories and with that, could also appear in one of their magazine issues. The other one, from the same magazine, was received a few days later. It simply said “Your short story will be published in our second book of short stories.”
As I woke up to snow this morning, our first for the year, I was reminded of where I live now and of something I never thought about while growing up: seasons. This isn’t a bad thing and although I’ve experienced a total of twelve years of my life in areas with snow, I still find myself enjoying the novelty of its beauty. There is a part of me however that finds it all surreal along with every other aspect of my day to day life. Through a few responses to recent posts of mine, I’ve stopped to think about what a vast country we live here in the United States and along with that, the cultural differences that are prevalent. It also reminded me of a time a few years back where I felt I had made a mistake in my decision to live where I live now.
I’ve done it twice. I grew up in the Southwest. I was born and raised in a small town along the Mexican border and moved to Tempe, a suburb of Phoenix, when I was sixteen. Although many might see this as a major change, I really didn’t We had been to Tucson and Phoenix enough times as kids that the change was more about adapting to a much larger school and a never-ending supply of things to do. Arizona has both its own culture and has absorbed so much of the culture of the many transplants that call Arizona home today. It’s a growth state with many of its inhabitants bringing a little bit of their own culture with them. So you moved from Ohio to Arizona? No problem, there are Midwest style restaurants, Cleveland Browns bars, and plenty of other venues to keep you in touch with your roots. Are you from the Northeast, Northwest, Southeast, Texas, Mexico, Canada, China, Japan, England, India, or (insert where you call home here)? Again, no problem. Everyone brings a bit of themselves and will equally be able to find a bit of themselves in the greater Phoenix or Tucson area.
I went the opposite route. My wife is from New York and our annual trips there were becoming increasingly expensive after we had our first child. She wanted to be closer to her family, a day’s drive, and I agreed provided it would be in an area that would offer reasonable airfare to visit my family back in Arizona. We made the decision to move and that move would be to Wisconsin. We could visit her family multiple times a year and had four nearby airports in Madison, Milwaukee, and Chicago that all offered reasonable flights back to Arizona.
The Green Bay Packers
Wisconsin: major culture shock to me but in a good way. We had visited there twice as a family and then I spent a few days there interviewing for jobs. During my solo trip, I stopped into a little dive restaurant to get a few tacos. The menu offerings assured me I would not have to give up Mexican Food. The owner assured me I would not have to give up my Hispanic background either. There was an entire Mexican community in this city, complete with dances, festivals, and numerous restaurants and stores. This surprised the hell out of me to be honest. I thought we had the patent on Mexican communities in the Southwest. There were also Greek, German, Irish, and Italian communities to name a few.
I could write a very long blog post about nothing but Wisconsin but I will sum it up with a number of words: the Packers, brats, cheese curds, beer, the Badgers, the Brewers, S.C. Johnson, Case tractors, Lake Michigan, the Dells, fishing, hunting, the Packers, polka, flatlanders, Happy Days, Lavern & Shirley, Summefest, snow, summer, Friday Fish Fry, cabins up North, any festival you can imagine (chocolate, Greek, Armenian, Italian, German, Irish, strawberry, every church imaginable & with beer, Mexican, Kraut, and so on), oh, and did I mention the Packers? I didn’t bring much of my culture to Wisconsin. It had so much of its own. Well, I did wear an Arizona Cardinals coat into a bar once during a Packers game and lived to tell about it.
We lived in Wisconsin for five years. My second son was born there. It was his birth that prompted my wife and I to recognize one thing we were missing: family. My oldest at the time had just finished first grade and our youngest was just over a year old. My wife and I discussed moving again and knew there were only two choices. We would either be moving to New York or back to Arizona. I had a chance to purchase a small company in Arizona so we opted to return to my home.
My business went well, providing a nice living for us and allowed my wife to stay home with our youngest, something she had been able to do with my oldest until he was three. I was home and life was great. The greater Phoenix area had changed some over the five years we were gone, mostly growth but also in areas we hadn’t given much thought to the first time we left: crime. We lived in a very nice Tempe neighborhood that was within a few blocks of Arizona State University. Our oldest son was now playing with kids in the area but allowed only to stay on our street. There was no venturing past one of his friend’s house who only lived about ten or so houses away from us.
My wife was from a small town and I’ve already mentioned that I grew up in a small town. We both grew up being able to run around town without the worries that so many children in a large city deal with on a daily basis, yet here our now ten year old son is only allowed to play on one street. It just didn’t seem fair.
In the summer of 2007, my wife and two sons went on vacation to New York to visit her family for four weeks. Having a business, and working ungodly hours, I of course stayed home. One week into their vacation, my oldest son calls me up to tell me he wants us to move to New York. He was excited about fishing with his grandfather, hanging out at the local Little League field, and mostly about being able to just play all over the neighborhood. My wife asked if I would fly up for a few days toward the end of their vacation and then we’d all fly back home together. I agreed and when I arrived, my son and wife now pushed the idea of a move.
As a family, we went through an exercise weighing the pros and cons of living in Arizona and in New York, an exercise led by my ten year old son. New York won and within two months I had closed my company down, left a city of close to five million people to move to a small town of just over five thousand people in New York. I was fortunate that one of the two larger companies in the area was hiring and I was able to land a great job.
New York: once again, major culture shock to me and this time on so many levels. We moved to my wife’s hometown, a place we had been to many times before on vacation but it was different now. It was home. I settled nicely into my new job and the kids loved their new school. My wife took a job only to realize her calling was nursing so she went back to school to become a nurse. She loves it.
For me, something was missing and I got into a real funk. Depressed might be a better word. When you live in the city, you love the times when you can get away to the small towns or explore nature. We did it on a regular basis in Arizona and a few times in Wisconsin. Often one wonders what it would be like to move to an area like that. Well, we were living it. Small town, beautiful hills, river, little to no traffic, and our home was six miles out of town in an even hillier wooded area. Despite our postcard living environment, I wanted to move back to Arizona.
I thought at first that it was due to the fact that I was living in a small town and despite my growing up in a small town, I had become a city person and there was no going back. We started taking occasional weekend trips to the city and although this satisfied my yearning for the things a city has to offer, I was still depressed. I kept searching for something to make me feel more at home here and one day it hit me. I guess I didn’t see it because we had adapted so well to Wisconsin. The only thing I really had to give up in Wisconsin was the geographical features of Arizona, and of course the 330 plus days of sunshine. Wisconsin had everything else plus things I hadn’t experienced in Arizona. The town we moved to in New York however is a predominately white town with a culture of its own and was missing something that I have had every day of my waking life: some aspect of Hispanic culture.
OK, with a name like Cunningham you are probably wondering why that is important to me. I’m predominately Hispanic and was raised in a Hispanic household and environment. I’m Irish and Basque to be exact with a little bit of Mexican in there somewhere.
One day at work, I called my wife and explained to her what I felt the problem was. She understood and what happened next was nothing short of amazing. I came home from work and while getting out of my car, I was welcomed to Mexican music escaping through the open windows. I smiled and walked up the steps opening the door to the kitchen, and was smacked in the face with what only can be described as a heavenly aroma: the smell of Mexican food. Now I know what most of you are thinking. Big deal, everyone can make Mexican food. Yeah, and so can Taco Bell. This wasn’t just any smell; it was the smell of my mother’s tacos, in my home in the woods, some 2.200 plus miles away from my mother in Arizona. No more pre-made taco shells, or store bought taco seasoning. My wife had made taco shells in a frying pan with fresh corn tortillas and had seasoned the meat just the way my mom does. After the phone call from me, my wife had called my mom, gone to the store and bought what she needed, even stopped at the liquor store for Tequila and Margarita mix, hurried home and made a meal my mother would be proud of. A meal I was proud of her for making.
My mother started sending me numerous recipes and we now make and eat all the food I ate growing up with the exception of Menudo and Tamales. Those two will come as soon as I find tripe and masa. I’ve even shared this food with friends at work, making me the local “Mexican Food” expert. I was already a novelty to most of them as they jokingly call me Paco or Mexican Bill at work. It’s in jest and I have never been offended by it. They’ve even encouraged me to open the first Mexican Food restaurant in our town and told me what I should call it: Taco Bill’s of course. I don’t see that happening but I will continue to bring in red chile con carne, green chili burritos, carne asada, barbacoa, and tacos.
You see, what was missing is what so many people before me have done and that is brought something of themselves to where they moved. I didn’t have to do that in Wisconsin since an entire community of Mexicans from Texas moved there in the sixties many years ago I was told to work for CASE and that culture was thriving in the cheese state. But for this tiny town along the New York/PA border, I am the first (at least at work). And I’m gladly sharing.
As I write this, my wife is slow cooking chile verde venison for burritos we will eat later while we watch the Arizona Cardinals on TV. Not such a strange land anymore.
I found Lucian on Twitter, which happens to be where I find a number of new authors. He ran a special, offering his book for free on Amazon one week and I decided to give it a try. I love thrillers and was not disappointed after reading this book. Quick pace, interesting characters, and a hostage scene with a comedic twist that rivals anything I’ve read or watched on the big screen.