Show cover of Keepin' It Real with Cam Marston

Keepin' It Real with Cam Marston

Weekly observations on travel, work, parenting, and life as it goes on around me. Airing Fridays on Alabama Public Radio.

Tracks

Bored
On this week's Keepin' It Real, Cam is board so he's thinking about paddling across the Pacific. Or planting a few ferns. ----- I’m bored. And that’s a problem. Somethings been nagging at me for a few weeks and I now know what it is – I’m bored. There’s little adventure in my world right now. Very little discovery. And when boredom sets in get panicky and a bit rash. Too often, I over compensate. This morning I spent way too much time on the Molokai to Oahu web page. It’s a 32 mile stand up paddleboard race from the Hawaiian island of Molokai to the island of Oahu and it takes most paddleboard participants about seven hours to complete. The participants in the videos were all much much younger than me and loaded with muscles. I saw no participants that were  middle aged plus men with beer bellies. Some participants spoke of the unbelievable color of the water in the center of the Ka’iwi channel which is crossed between Molokai and Oahu. I’m guessing that’s because the water in the channel is 2300 feet deep. I think I want to do it. It’s a sure way to cure my boredom. The problem is that I don’t own a standup paddleboard and the few times I tried one I spent more time climbing back on than I did stand up paddling. I also have thalassophobia which is a deep fear of deep bodies of water. Whenever I’m in the ocean where I can’t see the bottom, I envision a giant toothy creature surging from the depths with its mouth open, headed my way. Man loses his edge when swimming in the ocean – it becomes an equal playing field between man and beast. However, training to paddle from one Hawaiian island to another would certainly resolve my boredom however crazy it sounds. A more realistic and, frankly, a sad alternative to my boredom is yardwork. I hate it that I even mention that. What else says overweight, middle aged, thinning brown haired white guy than deciding working in the yard is a cure for boredom. My wife, my son, and I planted forty autumn ferns a few weekends ago in areas where no grass has grown for the past fifteen years. I didn’t much like planting them. My mood is generally sour when working in the yard, but I’ve slowly walked by and admired our planted ferns a dozen times or more sense then. I don’t like doing yard work. I like having done yard work. Another forty ferns would solve my boredom problem but that’s so dang sad. So, I’m bored. And the ideas I’ve come up with for solving my boredom problem are either fanciful or pitiful. When I told my wife that I had figured out the cause of my melancholy and that it was boredom, she gave me an uneasy look. I’ve been here before and I usually do something stupid in times like this. And she’s right. And I’m sure I will. Will it be to paddleboard across the ocean? Or gobs of ferns? Good lord. What’s wrong with me? I’m Cam Marston and I’m just trying to Keep it Real.
03:58 6/14/24
Flourish
On this week's Keepin It Real, Cam says we know we're all busy, very busy, but are we doing what it takes to flourish? ----- What does it take for a human to flourish? Such a simple question to understand but to answer, not so easy. Listening to a podcast last weekend, this question arose between the host and his guest. The guest pointed out that, in his opinion, everything being promoted as valuable in our Western society today is detrimental to human flourishing. What is being promoted, he said, actually leads to loneliness. And he might be right. So, what is being promoted out there? One immediately must turn to technology and, specifically, social media. Our consumption of social media is largely done alone. We may share things we like, but we consume 99% of our social media alone. The accumulation and broadcasting of wealth is certainly being promoted. On social media. In the types of cars next to us on the road right now. Through our posts about the clothes, the toys, the trips we take. It all serves to boost and promote our ego and egos, unchecked, always elevate and separate. Always. Egos say, “I’m better, I’m different.” I’m above you. I’m away from you. More loneliness. I could go on. So, if we want to flourish, what exactly should we want? If we want our children to flourish, what should we want for them? Unfortunately, most of us don’t know. We’re conditioned to say friends, health, meaningful and purposeful activities each day. It all sounds good. So look at you. Look at me. What are we doing to achieve this? What of our behaviors illustrate that we’re flourishing? For the vast majority of us, there’s not a lot to point to. And we have the ability to heavily influence our kids. We want our kids to flourish so, we give them cell phones. We solve their problems. We let them stay home from school. Kids today spend less time interacting with each other. Increases in anxiety and loneliness. We want them to flourish but we don’t equip them or teach them how. And adults aren’t much different. We’re busy, though. So very busy. Flourishing? No. Busy. Yes. Very busy. A small business colleague asked a simple but heretical question last night: “What’s wrong with not wanting more? What’s wrong with not wanting private equity to swoop in and buy me out because I like what I do, and I don’t want to stop? What’s wrong with not wanting a boat, a plane, a second house or whatever? What’s wrong with liking where I am? And why do I feel wrong for asking this?” There’s nothing wrong with it. But it’s counter to our culture of more and more and busier and busier. Everything needed for each of us to flourish is within our reach. Education. Art. Friends. Hobbies. Community. Do you and I have what it takes to leave the mess we’ve created so that we can flourish?   I’m Cam Marston and I’m just trying to Keep it Real.
04:08 6/7/24
Breach
On this week's Keepin It Real, Cam Marston had a client breach a contract and he's trying to use lessons from Marcus Aurelius to keep himself from absolutely losing it. ----- I’m reading Marcus Aurelius’ book called Meditations written in about the year 175. They’re notes to himself about the thoughts he’s having and how he’s working to keep his head on straight. He’s writing to work things out. No audience in mind, just for him. Throughout his writings several themes arise. First, he’s aware of the presence of death. The topic of dying is never far. Second, he has to keep reminding himself that he can’t control the behaviors of those around him, only himself. He controls his outlook on things and his attitude. He writes this over and over again. And third, his desire to do good. Always wanting to do good. For himself, for Rome, for the gods, for his troops. He’s consumed by doing good. Struggling to temper his reactions whenever bad things come his way. He’s focused on controlling his behavior. It's been a good read. Aurelius had a number of people conspire against him while he was away on campaign. His plan was to return to Rome and forgive them. He died in route. It’s a very kind action in an era I often associate with ruthless and barbaric behavior. I’ve recently had a client break a contract. Their behavior appeared willful and intentional but in hindsight, I’m hoping it wasn’t. It is a very large multi-national company. Every person I’ve met there seemed honest and genuine and sincere until this one thing has happened. A few weeks ago, I wanted to go to my small business colleagues and yell at the top of my lungs “Be careful. They’re not who they say they are. Don’t let the charm fool you. Be very, very careful.” Now, not so much. My anger has diminished. I need to remedy the contract. I need to correct what’s happened. But goodness knows mounting a legal dispute would drain my small business. I’d go broke trying. Them? Hardly a blip on their radar. So, how to proceed? What would my man, Marcus Aurelius, do? I think he’d remind himself that he can’t control the behavior of other people and his desire to do good and be kind should outweigh any anger, hostility and disappointment he feels. He needs to find the remedy without letting anger take hold. He may forgive them but he’d, rightly, never forget that it happened. And for me, right now, for what appeared like pre-meditated theft, forgiveness is a tall order. It's amazing how unchanged our thoughts and emotions are in 2000 years. How the disciplines and thoughts and writings that a Roman emperor used to keep himself from losing it applies to me right now. I’d like to think that we’re kinder and more civil and sophisticated today. However, it’s simply not true. The virtues that Aurelius championed are as hard to bring forth in me today as they were to him 2000 years ago. I’m Cam Marston and I’m just trying to Keep it Real. 
03:53 5/31/24
Staring At the Clock
On this week's Keepin' It Real, what was Cam doing today at 4:59am? Well, he wasn't getting out of bed. That we know for sure. ----- Most mornings I’m staring at the clock about 4:30 am waiting to get up. I won’t allow myself to get out of bed before 5am. Getting your day started at 5am means you’re aggressive. You’re eager to get going. Getting out of bed before 5am means you have a problem. They’re slight gradations. Minutes matter and 4:59am is a good bit different from 5am. I stare at the clock until it turns 5 when I feel like it’s ok to jump up and get the coffee started. Most of my friends are much the same. I sat at my kitchen table last Saturday night with two friends as we waited for the beef ribs to get to 203 degrees, which, according to one of my kitchen guests, is the magic temperature for beef ribs. Each of us talking about how early we get up and what we do in those early morning hours. It’s worth noting that none of us do anything much interesting at all at this time of day. We make busy. We putter around. Each thinking that our behavior at that hour must be fascinating to others and we can’t wait to tell them about it. It’s not. As different as we think we are, we’re all remarkably the same at that time of day. Years back I saw that when I accomplished something at that time of day it set a precedent for getting stuff done throughout the day. If I could check something off my list first thing in the morning – even something small - then I was likely to accomplish more during the day. This is to avoid staring into my phone as my first action of the day which leads to a poor beginning to the day. So at night, I cue up my early morning project. It’s simple stuff – I fold laundry, empty the dishwasher, take trash to the street, change a lightbulb. Something small done with one eye on the coffee maker. Because when the coffee maker beeps that the coffee is ready, the projects stop, the coffee goes into my cup, and it’s go-time for the day. But, in that short amount of time the coffee is brewing, I’ve made progress on having a good day. It’s unfair that the first fifteen minutes of each day has such great influence over the following sixteen hours. I’m more like a child protecting its pacifier than any sort of adult doing adult things. But I’ve learned, so goes my morning, so goes my day. A more mentally disciplined person would never allow that to happen – they can set a positive trajectory by shaping their thoughts anytime of the day. I, however, am vulnerable to those first fifteen minutes. It’s shocking and, frankly it disappoints me about myself. Amazing how beholden we are to our routines, isn’t it? Amazing how we count on them like we do. I can choose to get out of my routine and enjoy it. But knock me out of my routine unwillingly and I struggle to keep my day from deteriorating. So I protect it. And any parent knows what I know about myself – you don’t mess with the pacifier. I’m Cam Marston and I’m just trying to Keep It Real.
03:47 5/24/24
Don't Get Sick
On this week's Keepin' It Real, Cam has seen much more of the healthcare world these days than he would like. His advice: Stay well. ----- I’ve been given an up a close look at our health care system over the past several months. It’s been, well, disappointing. And this comes after hearing a remarkable speaker discuss the importance of customer service on company culture. I made a reference several months ago to the pain I’ve had. It’s finally been diagnosed as polymyalgia rhumatica, or PMR. It showed up around February first and has been a part of every day since. It’s a sickness that can’t be confirmed through tests. Once they rule out everything else, it’s one of the ones that’s left. I’ve dealt with some pain in my life. Cluster headaches. A blood clot in my lung. However, nothing day in and day out has been like this PMR pain. On a scale from one to ten it’s regularly an 8 in the morning dipping to a four or five in the afternoon and back to an 8 the next morning. I need help getting my shirt on and off. I can barely brush my teeth. Right now, I’m on a steroid that masks the pain and I pray that the pain ends before the prescription runs out. Now, the heath care system. I’ve seen five different doctors to try to diagnose this. I’m guessing I’ve spent less than an hour total with all of them. Averaging, maybe, ten minutes each. They burst through the door, they ask a handful of questions, they order tests. It’s quick. I’ve spent lots of time with nurses and assistants and in waiting rooms. But the doctors are hard to come by. One hospital wouldn’t let me speak to a doctor who I heard might can help. “Unless you’re a patient,” they said, “you can’t speak to him.” “Well, I might become a patient if he thinks he can help. I’ve seen others of his specialty, but I hear he knows more. “Sorry,” they said. So, I wrote him a letter to get him to call me. I got a voice mail from the office supervisor – “you can’t talk to him. Please call me back,” she said. And I tried, got an exhaustive phone tree, zero’d out and asked, “Can I leave a message for the supervisor?” “Sorry,” they said. “Her phone isn’t hooked up to the system.” Over and over. Round and round. There were some phone trees that never allowed me to speak with anyone. If I weren’t in pain already my experience with today’s health care system was getting me there. Another – “before I can treat you further, I have to do some tests,” the doctor said. “Make an appointment on the way out.” “We don’t make appointments,” the front desk said. Annoyed. Staring at her phone. “Someone will call you.” A day later, “Our next available appointment is in July.” “So, I have to live in level 8 pain from early April to July?” “Sorry. That’s all I got. You want the appointment or not?” The culture of healthcare today is painful. Don’t get sick, folks. Don’t get sick. If your sickness doesn’t kill you, finding the treatment just might. I’m Cam Marston and I’m just trying to keep it real.   
03:53 5/19/24
He's Not Roscoe
Each spring Cam sits in his morning reading chair and see's a friend just outside the window. But Cam won't give him a name. He absolutely won't. ----- My lizard friend is back again. He shows up on the air conditioner every spring just outside the window. He stays there quite a while each morning, arriving about half an hour after sunrise. I sit each morning in my reading chair and keep an eye out for him. And suddenly, he’s there. I grew up calling these things chameleons. Wikipedia, however, just told me he is a green anole and he is often mistakenly called a chameleon, likely started by pet shop owners who were selling them as something much more exotic than they are. Wikipedia also says his species is “secure”, meaning they are abundant. My lizard friend is a male. He keeps pushing out his dewlap, his little red throat thingy that they show during mating season, hoping, I suppose to attract some babe lizard due to his remarkably colorful and large dewlap. He sits alone on the air conditioner flexing his dewlap in the hopes that some chick lizard will spot him and be taken with his masculinity and crawl on over for a big moment of lizard passion. At least that’s what I assume he’s doing. In this regard, my lizard friend isn’t too much different than many of the guys I see at the gym. As a child we’d catch them and scare the girls. My braver friends would catch two and when the lizard tried to bite them, they’d let the lizard bite their earlobe and let it hang. The kids would walk inside with lizards hanging from each ear, find their mothers and say, “Mom. Look at me.” The mothers would see two lizards hanging from their son’s ears and freak out.  “Get those lizards off your ears and get them out of my house!” We loved it. Scaring mothers with bugs and lizards was a big fun part of my childhood. There’s a part of me that wants to name him, and the name Roscoe keeps coming to mind. However, once you give a name an animal it becomes much closer to being a pet. A friend owns a beef cattle farm and he’s talked to me about how he avoids naming any of his cattle. One may have a big mark on him that makes my friend want to call that cow Spot or Freckles or something, but he resists the urge. My friend knows that one day that cow will be in the cooler for sale, and having to say goodbye Spot or Freckles is, well… He knows not to name them. Same is true for the lizard outside who might be Roscoe. He has lots of predators looking for him. Birds. Snakes. Larger lizards. I won’t name him because I may be watching him display one morning at the same time a blue jay or mockingbird sees him and suddenly Roscoe’s gone. So I won’t name him, the anonymous lizard who might otherwise be Roscoe. He’s trying so hard out there. Every morning, he and I say hello through the window and he gets to work while I read. He’s a good lizard, Roscoe is, but I won’t name him. I won’t. I’m Cam Marston. Just trying to Keep It Real.
03:42 5/10/24
Talking in the Locker Room
On this week's Keepin' It Real, Cam Marston takes a moment to observe the fingerprint of time. And wishes he hadn't. ----- Talking to a naked man is awkward. It’s just…awkward. There are men that have come my gym at the same time every day for decades. And their work in the gym may have kept them alive but it has not kept them from aging. There is nothing firm on them. There’s nothing taut. Age plus gravity has left a sagging fingerprint. And talking to a naked man, especially one with some age on him, is, well, awkward. They’re standing there, towel over their shoulder, not around their waist. Is eye contact the right thing? Is no eye contact the right thing? I struggle with what to do.   My gym has a hot tub. It feels good to get in there and, as I say, boil my bones for about ten minutes. I wear shorts. It’s a moment of truth whenever a naked man approaches the hot tub and asks, “Mind if I join you?” I never say what I want to. There’s plenty of room in there for the both of us, but sharing a hot tub with a naked man is, well, awkward. How far do I stay away? My instinct is to push myself up against the furthest edge of the tub. However, too much aversion may be rude. So somewhere between the next county over and right next to him seems to be about right. Always looking up. Always looking out. Always looking away. No behavior or no eye contact to suggest that you’re happy he’s joined you. I watched out of the corner of my eye as an old man walked across the crowded locker room, towel over his shoulder, toward the water cooler. The room parted like the Red Sea. Everyone scooting out of the way. Him talking the whole way about golf or politics or traffic, whatever. No one was listening after he starting moving. Everyone clearing out. Making a path. Don’t get too close. And, good lord, don’t touch him. Fully dressed I’d happily shake his hand or even hug him. In the locker room with only a towel over his shoulder, no contact at all. Another tried talking to a younger man who was getting dressed. The older man, towel over his shoulder, couldn’t get the younger man’s full attention. It was clear that the younger man did not want a conversation with a naked old man, so older man began walking towards him. The younger man moved to avoid him and kept moving, like a slow moving chase. Once the older man got within a certain distance, the younger man moved again. Like the repulsion of two magnets. And it was funny as long as he didn’t want to talk to me. The male body, especially after a certain age, is nothing people should want to look at. It’s nothing people should have to see. It becomes oddly misshapen and strangely bulbous. There are exceptions, of course, and they’re on the covers of magazines. But most of us – yes, me too – avoid full length mirrors until we’re dressed. We already can feel the fingerprint of time. There’s absolutely no reason to have to look at it. I’m Cam Marston and I’m just trying to Keep It Real.
03:49 4/26/24
Persevere
On this week's KIR, Cam Marston wonders if he could do the same thing for fifteen years and know, just know in his bones, that it would pay off. ----- I’ve just watched the documentary on Steve Martin called "Steve! A Documentary in Two Pieces." I’ve always liked Steve Martin. What caught my attention the most is that he did his standup act for fifteen years. The vast majority of that time, his audiences were very small. In one video clip, he’s counting the number of people in the room during his act – there were fifteen people there. He got what he thought were big breaks that bombed, in one case opening for Anne Margaret in Las Vegas and after he finished his act all his belongings had been put in a box outside his dressing room. However, the last stand-up comedy act he did was at the Nassau Coliseum outside New York City where he sold it out three nights in a row – 45,000 people each night. After the third night, he walked off the stage, never to do that act ever again. He was at the top of his game. It took him fifteen years to get there. And then he was done. Question: Who of us have the will, the fortitude, to persevere for fifteen years – fifteen years - with the hope – actually, the confidence – that what we’re doing will ultimately pan out. When giving up or changing course is a very real option but we chose not to do it because our vision of what could be is so strong. I’m not sure I do. How many of us can see the need for a change, or see a change coming, and get out in front of it, remain confident amongst the failure and rejection, and never waver. A number of times during the documentary Martin says that he did his act because he had few other options. The little money it brought in was all he had. Those interviewed, though, said he was waiting for society to catch up to his humor. Steve Martin changed standup and comedy and humor. He could see the change coming, but the vast majority of society wasn’t aware that a change was happening. Martin saw it coming, ever so slowly, so he kept going. It's one thing to ID forthcoming changes in technology and how to get ahead of those changes to profit from new products – think Steve Jobs and the iPod – but what Steve Martin did was predict a change in the ethos of the United States following Vietnam. He had a hunch people would be different. And he kept at it. And, in time he was proven right. What’s the moral of this story? Someone like that is out there amongst us right here and right now. Doing something we think is foolish, or that doesn’t seem funny, or saying something that doesn’t sound smart or goes against the grain of society. We ridicule them or cast them aside or, more likely, just ignore them. But they keep coming back. Perhaps, we should take a look. I’m Cam Marston and I’m just trying to Keep It Real.
03:55 4/19/24
April's Fool
On this week's Keepin It Real, Cam Marston hypothesizes on what a parenting podcast from him and his wife would sound like. ----- My wife and I sat together at the beach last week laughing as we retold stories and reminded ourselves of the humor of parenting. Especially as Gen X parents. We decided to compose a social media post together. The date was April first, and that date matters. The post read the following: We are frequently asked how we’ve raised four perfect children. Here’s our response: We are excited to announce our new Parenting Podcast called Gen X Parenting Tools. Go check it out. We listed some episode titles: Episode One: Building a Foundation: Hose water and neglect Episode Two: Who needs effective discipline? The effective use of ridicule and humiliation Episode Three: At the Heart of it All is Cynicism. Lots of people, too many in fact, thought we were serious. Across the top of the post, it read Launching April First. We thought that would be a dead giveaway. Several asked where they could find the podcast. One cheered enthusiastically, agreeing that we did have four perfect kids, and was excited to hear the show. Lots wrote in reply, “I can’t wait” or “I’ll listen.” My guess is that we were too subtle. I had hoped people would add new episode titles like Episode Four: Serves You Right – Whatever Just Happened You Had it Coming. Or Episode Five: Maybe it Will Scar, Maybe it Won’t – Either Way Stop Crying. One person understood quickly that it was a hoax and she wrote: As soon as I saw the line about your four perfect kids, I knew it was a joke. Well, we’re glad you got the joke but, ouch!   If my wife and I had a podcast on parenting the title would be “Here’s how to fail only about half the time, try not to get your kids to hate you, and hope you get lucky at parenting.” Today, I worry that our practice of making the kids run a lap around the house if they burped at the table at mealtime may have been too extreme. Are they somewhere now sharing their traumatized memories of running outside barefoot in the dark in their pajamas on cold nights? Screaming the whole way around the house “It was an accident. It was an accident.” Our podcast would be full of situations where my wife and I didn’t know what to do and still don’t. “Should we have allowed him to go to that concert?” “I don’t know. I’m not sure we did the right thing. I hope we didn’t mess him up. I guess time will tell.” “Should we have made her change her clothes into something different before that event?” “I don’t know. I’m not sure we did the right thing. I hope we didn’t mess her up. I guess time will tell.” My conclusion is that in parenting, just like in April Fools posts, there needs to be some self-deprecating humor, less subtlety, and a good bit of praying we didn’t mess it up and that it will all work out in the end. However, that hose water thing – that may come back to haunt us. I’m Cam Marston and I’m just trying to Keep It Real.
03:51 4/12/24
Workplace Veterans
On this week's Keepin It Real, Cam Marston has some observations about the NCAA tournament. The old guys are winning, and he likes that. ----- Someone in my family is not pleased right now. As I write this Wednesday, I don’t know who. Last night the North Carolina Tar Heels basketball team took on the Alabama Crimson Tide in the NCAA tournament. My wife is a Carolina grad. I was unaware people could like basketball that much until I met her. My son is a Freshman at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. He was an avid sports fan moments after his birth. One of them lost last night and is not pleased. They’ll be picking at each other today until the loser says “Ok. That’s enough.” My wife has commented all year about how this year’s basketball season is different. There were many more seniors playing than ever before. North Carolina’s standout forward, Armando Bacot, is twenty-four years old. It’s not only my wife that’s noticed it. Yesterday, while I was walking on the treadmill, my buddy Jimbo mentions how all the successful teams are all older. Then this morning, the daily newsletter I enjoy so much called Morning Brew mentions the same thing, going on to state that nearly 300 tournament players are in the fourth, fifth, or sixth years playing basketball. Covid rules allowed them to extend their eligibility and NIL money is keeping them playing in the college ranks whereas in the past they may have bolted for the big money of professional basketball. This is in great contrast to the years of when the top basketball teams were loaded with “one and done” players. The top players would play one year in college then go on to bigger money. The teams loaded with one and done players this year have not fared as well. The University of Kentucky’s basketball roster has eight freshmen on it. Kentucky has been a perennial basketball powerhouse and a perennial one and done program, and they likely watched last night’s games at home on their couch just like I did after they lost in the first round. Experience is proving to matter this year. Many of the teams that may have never have ever had a chance to make the NCAA tournament were present this year, fueled by upper-classmen. Many of them have already lost, but they were there. And many for the first time. And on some teams, fans are able to watch their players mature. Some players are staying on the same team throughout their college career. While it is true the transfer portals have spoiled much of this, there are places where the seniors have been at the same school the whole time. They’re rare, but they’re out there. And their fans adore them. They’ll cheer any player wearing their alma mater’s jersey, but they’ll adore the ones who have worn it four years or more. So why does this make me feel kinda good? That the old kids are proving to be the winners? That the veterans are the difference makers? I suppose because it shows that wisdom and time and experience matter. And, as I get older, that keeps getting more and more important to me. And even though these veteran players are more than thirty years younger than me, I feel a kinship with them. I’m Cam Marston and, old as I am, I’m just trying to keep it real.
03:51 3/29/24
Need A Message
On this week's Keepin' It Real, Cam is searching for a message and if he hears one, he WILL obey. ----- I think there is someone or something out there trying to send me a message. A few things have happened lately that seem, well, like there is a message coming or attached but I don’t know what it is. First, storms rolled through a few months ago knocking out the power. Fortunately our house has a generator attached and it kept a few rooms running for a little while. My friends began texting about their power being out. I proudly texted a photo of my comfortable and well-lit kitchen that showed our generator working fine and then, boom, a lightning strike destroyed the generator. Soon after I was telling someone I think the whole idea of “long covid” is bogus. There’s no such thing as “long covid” I said confidently. It’s a made-up sickness that people are using to stay out of work. Then I was hit with pains like I’ve never had before. They won’t go away. They’re in my shoulders and hips and are intense in the night and early morning. It’s been two months of constant pain. After determining it wasn’t arthritis and drawing 1000 gallons of blood, the Doctor told me I have post-viral myofascial syndrome. Otherwise known as long-covid. The pain might last for as long as six months, she said, Get used to it. Then there are the clients who have contacted me asking for proposals. I ask thoughtful questions so I can better customize for them. They confirm they’re eager to get started soon. The call ends wonderfully. And I, foolishly, start counting my chickens. Then things get quiet. I follow up and they assure me they’re looking at it and we’ll get started soon and over and over and round and round. Ultimately, no decisions. I’d much rather a client say No, Thank you than never reply or never make a decision. Uncertainty, in this case, is worse than bad news. So, like I said, I feel like someone or something is trying to get a message through to me. But what? Tell me. I need the sky to crack and open and a booming voice to come from it or a burning bush in the back yard telling me what to do. Or the phone to ring or the email to buzz or something. What’s the message? After dealing with the pain from post-viral myofascial syndrome – I’m struggling to call it long covid - for two months, I’ll do anything to help with the pain. The most recent advice is that I fast for at least a day and three days would be better. During lengthy fasting, the body begins cleaning itself and eliminating anything unneeded, like a pesky virus causing pain in my hips and shoulders. I’m writing this closing in on 48 hours of fasting. I’m a bit loopy. But if another 24 hours of fasting will help with the pain, I’ll do it. However, can’t be sure what my mental state will be 24 hours from now. I may be just loopy enough that…I finally hear a voice. And real or imaginary, I’ll do whatever it says. I’m Cam Marston and I’m just trying to Keep it Real.
03:51 3/21/24
Tell Them Both I Said Hello
There's a grocery store Cam goes to when he's in a hurry. It's NOT the one closest to his house. That one is full of memories. Full of roots. ----- I saw him see me. He turned and headed my way. “Cam,” he said. “How’s you mother?” “Well,” I said. “She passed away two years ago.” I saw you at her funeral, I wanted to say. I remember talking to you. “Oh. Yes. That’s right. I’m sorry. Well then, how’s your father?” “Dad’s wonderful. He plays pickleball five, sometimes six days a week. Sometimes twice a day. He’s eighty-seven but I don’t think he knows it. He’s great.” “Well, that’s wonderful. Please tell them both I said hello.” “I, I sure will. Thanks.” The grocery store closest to my house is the one I got to least often. The trip takes too long. At any moment of the day there is someone in there that wants to chat. Wants a short visit. In the middle of the day, when I go in to buy something quick for lunch, someone like this is likely there. Usually friends of my parents. They’re in no hurry. The grocery store I go to when I’m in a hurry is actually a bit further away. It’s quicker. Conversations like this, with this older gentleman, while a bit comical and maybe a bit sad, mean something. “I know you,” he was saying. “I know your people. You and me, we’re connected. We fished when you were a young boy. Your dad and I hunted turkeys together.” As a young man, I wanted no part of this. I didn’t want to be reminded of myself as a boy. I wanted anonymity. I wanted a blank slate and to make my own way as a man. So, I left my hometown for two decades. Today, the opposite is now true. It’s become important to me. It’s a 180 degree about face. I like it, though a bit comical and a bit sad at times, I like it. It’s roots. There’s something about old connections, about roots. About generations of pasts that intertwine. I once dismissed this as unimportant. I felt that these were silly things cherished by simple, small-minded people. I was a young man then. I was bullet proof and I knew it all. I’ve had a 180 degree about face. They’re important now more than ever as I look around at who I’ll grow old with, how we’re connected, and how my connections may show up in my kid’s worlds in some unknowable way in the future. And I see one of my friend’s adult children in the grocery story. I knew him when he was a boy. I tossed him balls, maybe, or cooked him pancakes in his pajamas at my house on a Saturday morning. And I go to him and I say, “Hey. Tell me. How’s your father. I miss him. Please tell him I said Hello.” I’m Cam Marston and I’m just trying to Keep It Real.
03:44 3/14/24
Parent's Weekend
On today's Keepin' It Real, Cam shares something he saw last weekend that made him feel a little bit better about things. ----- I'm in Starbucks. It's Saturday. It's Noon. I'm in Tuscaloosa at the corner of Bryant Drive and 8th Avenue. Sororities across the street disgorging young ladies for their morning cups of honey-dew latté with extra chai, extra vanilla essence and a dash of bumble bee eyelashes or something like that. Yoga pants as far as the eye can see. One girl wearing a T-shirt reading Don’t Date Frat Boys. Parents here for fraternity and sorority parent’s weekend. Dads wearing dad jeans and comfy shoes. Moms perfectly coifed wearing fancy sneakers. My son’s fraternity threw a party here in Tuscaloosa last night. The party planners likely said, “Get a band old people will like.” The music was, indeed, for old people. Older than any of the parents there. As soon as I heard the first song, the count began – how many songs before Mustang Sally. It was seven. There’s not a band that plays under a tent on a lawn at a quote-unquote “old person party” that doesn’t play Mustang Sally within the first ten songs. They don’t exist. It’s as if everyone, including the band, just wants to get it out of the way. The same with Brick House and “let me hear you scream!” The lead singer came on in the second set. Her energy moved a lot of old people to the dance floor. It became an old person’s careful shuffle, protecting aching knees, hips, and backs. Lots of moms and dads who never had dance moves or who had lost their dance moves decades ago packed the dance floor, shaking arrhythmically like dancing on a shaking fault line. Brightly colored wigs appeared. Confetti cannons. Parents shuffling together, ignoring their aches and pains. Advil will take care of tomorrow. I left for the bathroom and returned to find my wife in the front row. She waved me up. I pretended not to see, standing with my son who was rightly proud that his fraternity was entertaining so many people, so many old people, so well. It was a great time. Look at who I now am, my son seemed to be saying, standing next to me. Look at these new friends. This new environment. These new people who know me and like me and search me out in the crowd to say hello. I shook dozens of hands. Tried to remember names. Tried to remember parent’s names. I’m a guest in his world. A new world that he’s forged for himself. Full of new people from far off places who were unknown to him just a short seven months ago. They now laugh together like old friends do. They share funny looks and make references to inside jokes. As a parent you wonder how your children will turn out. What will influence who they are and who they’ll become. You try to raise them right, the way you think is best, but parenting is just a portion of it. There are so many factors. And you wonder. And you worry. And then you see your child thriving in a good environment full of good people. An environment that he’s created for himself. And you smile a bit. And you worry a little less. I’m Cam Marston, just trying to keep it real.
03:48 3/8/24
Forgiveness
On this week's Keepin' It Real, Cam shares a story he's kept quiet for fourteen years. It's time to get it off his chest. ----- I’ve just boarded my flight. I’m headed home. Sitting here, a memory has resurfaced. Many years ago, deplaning in Chicago, I took a call from a young man. He’d studied my work and asked me to mentor him. He wanted to travel and give speeches. He wanted me to refer him when I was too busy, and he’d pay me a commission. He loved my topic and said he could represent me well. I was deeply flattered. He charmed me. A few months later, we sat at my dining room table for most of a day. I taught him my content. I shared my tips, my tricks, my tools of the trade. I had clients ready for him. I was busy. I needed help. He was eager to start. I was proud to help this ambitious young man launch. My wife and I dropped him at the airport for his flight back home. He disappeared into the airport, and I asked my wife, “What did you think?” She paused. “I think he probably beats his wife,” she said. “No. You got him all wrong,” I said. “Besides, he’s not married.” “He’s the kind that would,” she said. “Be careful.” Something alarmed her. Two years later, at the window of my Greenbrier hotel room, his business manager called. Their partnership had just ended over a money dispute. I learned that as he was sitting at my dining room table, he’d take breaks and call in disbelief that I was giving him all my content. He was sending lists of my customers, and the next day he began calling them saying “I can give you Cam Marston’s presentation much cheaper. I have all his materials.” He took many clients, never told me, never shared the commissions. It had been a part of his plan since my phone rang that day in Chicago. The business manager now wanted a pound of flesh after being cheated by him, too. Today, he’s well known in the industry. He’s busy. I’m told he delivers a good presentation. And he should since it’s my content. If this story ended in justice, I’d tell you his absence of ethics caught up to him. But I don’t know that. I don’t know what’s happened to him. For years I’ve avoided hearing his name, and even today his name tastes like bile in my mouth. I need to forgive him. It would release me from this anger I’ve held for so long. So, with great difficulty, here, now, today, I forgive you. You will probably never hear this, but I forgive you. I still ache to pound your face. If we ever meet again, you should be afraid. You made me feel used and stupid and embarrassed and cheated and you cost me some of my livelihood. You conned me out of my trust. I won’t ever forget it but, as of right now, I forgive you. This commentary is not inspirational. This is not pretty. Forgiveness won’t help him but…I sure hope it helps me. I’m Cam Marston and I’m just trying to keep it real.
03:47 2/29/24
Squeezed
Cam's phone has been ringing. It's a lot of his small business friends and they're experiencing similar things. They're feeling pressure. They're feeling squeezed. ----- When an orange is squeezed, orange juice comes out. We know this. We know that sun and good soil and water and maybe some fertilizer help that orange develop that juice. We know the ingredients, we somewhat control the ingredients, and we know the goodness that comes from a squeezed orange. What happens, though, when you and I are squeezed? What happens when life puts pressure on you and me? What ingredients are we drawing on when we’re squeezed? And what results? I read this question in Rick Ruben’s new book about creativity. He pulled it from an old school motivational speaker named Wayne Dyer. The metaphor’s been around the block a few times. But, it still resonates. In the past two weeks, I’ve had four small business friends share that things aren’t going well for them right now. A fifth one chimed in this morning with the same report. Regardless of what the economists say – some say it’s great out there, others say it’s dire – for my five small business friends and me, we’re feeling squeezed. Pressure. One friend desperately needs orders. And when these times happen, he must remember to do the thing that’s gotten him out of these pressures several times before. He has a beautiful piece of property, and he has to remember to sit comfortably and look out over the expanse – over the pasture and at the trees and the pond. That view provides inspiration and creativity. He has to remember to do it. Otherwise fear and worry will have him buzzing around thinking that busyness is the solution. Another needs walk-in traffic to his store. And for him, busy hands set his mind to creatively solving his problems. He takes on big projects knowing that somewhere along the line something will trigger a solution to his problem. Busyness presents him a solution. But the question comes back to what are the ingredients we’re putting into ourselves so that when we’re squeezed something positive comes out? Life’s going to squeeze you. For the vast majority of us, it has already, I’m sure. How are you preparing for the inevitable squeeze? Have I prepared appropriately for this squeeze? What are the ingredients I’m putting in? And what’s the pressure doing to them? Time will tell. Assuming the squeeze ends at some point, I can then look back and evaluate. Right now, my effort includes a work ethic having me make lots of phone calls to interact with old colleagues and working to meet new ones. I’m forcing curiosity by asking them “what’s new?”, “what’s going on?”, “where’s your pain?” I’m working hard to keep a positive attitude about letting go of what’s always worked in favor of trying something new. I’m asking, “What do people want from me?” not stating “Here’s what people should want from me.” These success ingredients I’ve used before but I’m having to create new variations. I’m working to embrace the struggle. To embrace the squeeze. Because, so often, this is where the good stuff happens. And I’m counting on it again. I’m Cam Marston and I’m just trying to Keep it Real.
03:53 2/23/24
Lent
Mardi Gras ended Tuesday for Cam. Immediately following Mardi Gras is the beginning of Lent and Cam struggles with what sacrifices he should make. ----- Lent. I struggle with Lent every year. How much suffering is enough to prepare my soul for the Easter arrival of the Lord? Is there enough? Who knows. There’s always someone suffering more; someone taking it to the next level. As a child it was ice cream. I gave up ice cream every year and dutifully reported it to my religion teacher as the assignment instructed. I love ice cream, vanilla especially. In fact, I’ve created an association called the Vanilla Ice Cream Eaters of America Social Aide and Pleasure Club. It’s known by its acronym: VICEA. Our motto is “It comes from Udder Space” and our logo shows a scoop of vanilla with Saturn rings around it and a Holstein cow walking across it. We’ve had a Facebook page since 2008 edited by Holt Stein. It has fifteen members. However, I don’t eat vanilla like I used to. It’s gotten expensive. That plus my waist size. Giving up ice cream is, well, too easy. I love the stuff but giving it up wouldn’t equate to enough suffering. A friend from long ago gave up everything containing wheat for lent. Everything. That’s a lot of stuff. She had to pay close attention to everything she ate. Anything with flour. All beer. Bunches of stuff. She was the same person who kept a bowl of peanut M&Ms at her front door and allowed herself one M&M per day. No more. I eat peanut M&Ms by the double fist full. If they’re in front of me, I eat them. I can’t stop. She had a degree of self-control that is unrelatable. Another friend gave up alcohol a few years ago. However, he had devised a chart of “skip days” where he could drink. He explained all this over a beer during Lent, by the way. His skip days were quite frequent, and it appeared to the rest of us like they related to the days that he wanted a drink. I was not impressed with his Lenten suffering. Mainly because there wasn’t any. The good book says we’re created in the image of the Lord. So, imagine hearing prayers saying “I’m planning to remember a big event in your life in about forty days. To prepare properly, I’m implementing things to temporarily remove joy from my life.” I’d say, “Wait. Pardon me? Say that again. Is that what I’m supposed to want from you?” One year I tried to drink more water for lent. The health effects of more water and all that but it’s not the same. The gest of lent is giving up something you enjoy. And I’m not sure what to think about it. All the hard-fast black and white rules that I learned as a child have faded into grey. I wish they hadn’t. I knew the rules, I followed the rules, and I counted on the rules to take care of me. It was easier following and never questioning. Now, I question. A lot. And, believe it or not, it’s made me a better follower. However, I still don’t know what to do about lent. I’m Cam Marston and I’m just trying to Keep It Real.
03:59 2/16/24
Dry January
On this week's Keepin' it Real, Cam Marston has thoughts about this upcoming weekend. Mardi Gras is on us down here in Mobile, and that leads to some tough decisions. ----- Dry January ended last week. Dry January followed soaking wet, sodden to the bone December. I’ve never done Dry January before and after sodden December, I needed to give it a try. Aside from one small drink to celebrate my daughter’s twenty-first birthday, I drank no alcohol for thirty-one days. I’m not sure I’ve done that since I was a teen. The net result? I lost nine pounds. I slept very well every night for a solid month. I was eager to get out of bed each morning. All in all, Dry January was a hit. And I was surprised and thrilled with how easy it was to do. I’m now struggling to decide if I ever want to go back? I’m pretty sure the answer is No. And, my friends, that’s huge. Some of my favorite people are the guys I gather with every Thursday evening after work. We’ve done it weekly for ten years at the same table. We talk and we chat. We rib each other like guys are prone to do. And we have a beer or two. In early January, I avoided those Thursday gatherings, afraid that seeing a cold beer would tempt me too much and I’d cave. And I might have. However, by late January I had developed confidence in my Dry January and I was joining my group and ordering a NA beer. What I learned in Dry January is that I’m not nearly as funny as I thought I was back in December. And maybe even for a decade before that. For years I’ve laughed at my jokes until tears poured from my eyes. And my friends were hilarious, too. Well, in Dry January, nobody was funny. Especially me. A different friend hasn’t had a drink in over ten years. I now feel embarrassed about the times I’ve been with him with a few beers in me and I realized he wasn’t laughing at what everyone else thought was hysterical. In Dry January, it became clear why. And I’m not sure what’s gonna happen. This new me is fond of this new me. But I liked the old me, too. And as of today, we’re entering the teeth of the Mardi Gras celebration here in Mobile. Mardi Gras about silliness and revelry and I enjoy both of them and a drink always helps with both of them. It’s a quandary. I know that creating a grand drinking strategy for Mardi Gras is foolish. Temptation is everywhere and I know myself well enough to know that I manage temptation poorly. However, my uncle told me that he stopped smoking by telling himself that when he wanted a cigarette, if he still wanted one in ten minutes, he’d smoke one and not feel bad about it. Gradually he stopped wanting them at all. I’m going to adopt his strategy and call it “the ten-minute delay plan for an uncertain semi-reformed drinker.” If I want a drink, I’ll wait ten minutes. After ten minutes, If I still want one, I’ll get one. And won’t feel bad about it. And if you spot me laughing hard with my friends, you’ll know what happened. I’m Cam Marston and I’m just trying to Keep It Real.
03:49 2/8/24
God Stop
What do you call it when your certain plans are suddenly upended? They're changed with no warning? You call it a God-stop. On this week's Keepin' It Real, Cam shares his experiences with them.  ----- A friend told me a story about how he had applied for a job a long way from home. His potential new employer had said they were going to make a very attractive offer. My friend and his wife began discussing selling their home and moving their kids to a new school. It was certain to happen and then…it didn’t. The job offer never came. His calls to the new employer to get an answer or a simple explanation went unanswered. “I’ve been in business a long time,” he said, “and no one had ever disrespected me like that before.” He had already left his former employer and was now jobless. He was crushed and wondered what he was going to do. Over lunch my friend told me the business he was now a part of was about to sell and some of the sale would come his way. The new role had been a perfect fit for him. His talents soared there, his skills were cherished, and his team had come to not only rely on him, but to really like him. It was the best job he’d ever had, he told me. “What about the other job? The one they never called you back?” I asked. “It was a God stop,” he said. “That’s the only explanation I have.” A God stop. Where a part of the Master’s plan is to firmly close the door on what we thought was certain. A divine interruption. No explanation can be offered other than the supernatural. How many God stops have each of us had? Lots, I suspect. And in hindsight, they’re always for the best. Yet that’s the very problem with God stops. It’s only in hindsight that we recognize them. In the moment, they’re agonizing. They feel like abandonment. They feed our uncertainties and escalate our fears. In the moment, they’re awful. And we don’t recognize them as God stops. They look and sound and feel like failure.  My focus in such instances is too often on what didn’t happen. The narrative I had created in my mind of what I wanted, of what I thought was certain, was beautiful. It was leading me to the land of milk and honey. I struggle to focus on what might now happen because I was so embedded in narrative I had created. Perhaps this new destination will be even greater. If we lived in the now, as countless sages have told us we should for millennia, God stops would never cause a problem. If we could manage our imagination, God stops wouldn’t feel like disappointment. Instead we – or at least I - live in the future with a runaway imagination and I often struggle whenever my plans meet a God stop. I focus on the door that’s just closed instead of stepping back to find a new door that’s standing wide open. The goal, I guess, is to recognize the moment for what it is. It’s not failure. It’s not a loss. It’s a God stop. And somewhere nearby a wide open door is waiting for me. I’m Cam Marston and I’m just trying to Keep it Real.
03:48 1/31/24
Twenty-One
Cam spent Monday evening at a big party for a small group of twenty-one year olds. To say the least, times have changed. Here's what he saw. ----- A moment after midnight on March 4th, 1990, I stood on a barstool and declared loudly to the packed bar that I had just turned twenty one years old. I was in Boulder, Colorado. A moment later the bouncer had me by the shirt and said, “That means you used a fake ID to get in”, which was true. I was nearly carried, my feet barely touching the ground, to the door and tossed into the street. Oddly enough, the same story happened to my wife, long before we met. It was a stroke after midnight on July 13th, 1991, and she was on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Her declaration was not made atop a bar stool. She was greeted by cheers from her friends and was bought a round of drinks. In both instances, our parents were not there. And, in both instances no evidence exists that any of it ever happened. Monday night in Oxford, Mississippi, I was with my favorite oldest daughter in a bar called The Summit. All her crowd was there plus more. She and her friends who had turned twenty-one over the Christmas break banded together to celebrate. My wife and I were invited. We were, in fact, encouraged to come. Decorators created an Instagram-able background including a balloon-arch and streamers. There was a platter of cupcakes in the shape of 21. Picture books were created for each of the birthday girls. The girls wore bawdy signs around their necks for the night. After a couple hours, my wife and I sensed the tide turning, the energy increasing, and a bar full twenty-one-year-olds were about to begin doing what bars full of twenty-one-year old’s do. My wife and I paid our part of the tab, hugged our daughter, posed for countless photos with her, and got the hell out of there. This is a low estimate, but approximately 55 million billion photos were taken in the two hours of the party. This is not the way I would have wanted it, I kept thinking to myself. But the truth is, I didn’t have a pocket full of magic back in 1990. While it was her celebration, the cell phone and its camera, this magical device, drove the show. I read somewhere that today mankind takes more photos in one day than we did from the invention of the camara roughly two hundred years ago to today. The picture books she was given were made quickly compared to what it would have taken back in 1990 – imagine developing 35mm film, duplicates, photo booths. The sign she wore was full of images, printed as a whole, and laminated. It certainly took some effort, but simple compared to what it would have taken back in the day. As much as I wanted to flinch, she and her whole party were a reflection of what technology has created. A natural consequence. Said another way, while I’d like to think differently, had the technology been available, I would have probably wanted the same. But I am indeed happy my parents weren’t there. And I am indeed very happy no evidence remains. I’m Cam Marston and I’m just trying to Keep It Real.
03:44 1/24/24
Resident Cynic
My real name is Charles. But Chuck and Chas live inside me. Chuck was trying to get out this week. Chas had to try to keep in under control. ----- An icicle hangs from the roof of my house. I’m looking at it but still can’t quite believe it. Icicles are very rare here. Usually reserved for the freezer door that was left open overnight. A winter storm blew through and Mobile, Alabama is doing what it usually does when it gets below average cold – we’re freaking out. School is cancelled, quote, “out of an abundance of caution” for the kids. There’s no rebuttal to that phrase. It can’t be argued. Right now, my kids are picking up their friends to go to lunch. School was cancelled to keep the kids off the hazardous roads. The roads are fine, and my kids are loving it. There’s no abundance of caution in them. There’s about to be an abundance of Chick Fil A.   I learned yesterday my generator that died at 3am in last week’s storm is unrepairable. It’s dead. The technician, a very nice guy, felt guilty telling me the replacement part I bought won’t work due to the alternator being destroyed by what was probably a lightning strike. Replacing the alternator would cost as much as a new generator. So, it’s dead. Here, he said, is his bill for the replacement part and for his time replacing it even though the generator is unfixable. That stung. We are but nineteen days into 2024 and Nick Saban has retired, the election year chaos has started, we’ve had a horrible storm that knocked out the power then its lightning killed my generator, it’s now too cold to go outside, there’s an icicle on my roof, and my kids should be in school but instead are at Chik Fil A with their friends. If I could rhyme all this with beer and mud and tire it would be a country music smash.   A cynic lives inside of me. He’s powerful. I call him Chuck. When he gets out, he becomes uncontrollable. He runs amok. It’s been a life-long challenge to keep Chuck at bay. And it’s times like this that he’s banging at the door to tell the world what he thinks. What he sees. What the real truth is. And what’s wrong with everybody. Chuck is a know it all. And I don’t like him, but Chuck does live here. And it’s on days like today that he rages to get out. Chuck’s foil, lives here, too. His name is Chas. Chas finds what’s right and what’s good and what is working. Chas sees the bright side. His cup is half-full. It took years for Chas to show up. And Chas has to be groomed and fed and nurtured every single day or he’ll vanish. Chuck needs nothing to thrive. He feeds on everything. Nurturing Chas requires discipline. He’s delicate but vital and I need him now. Chuck says it’s one skinny icicle, why are my kids out of school? Chas says the surprise on my kid’s face from no school today was wonderful to watch. I’m Cam Marston and on behalf of Chuck, Chas, and myself, we’re just trying to Keep it Real.
03:45 1/17/24
Kids These Days
Storms blew through Monday night. It was tough weather. I survived. My daughter? It was the aftermath of the storm that nearly broke her... ----- My favorite oldest daughter is upset. “I just can’t deal with this. It’s just too much,” she keeps saying. She’s leaving for a bit. She needs to get out of the house. “I’m going to Starbucks,” she says. “I’ll be back later.” My wife and I say nothing. You see, the power is out. The big storms that cruised through Monday night left us in the dark. It’s now Tuesday afternoon and the power company estimates another thirty hours or so before power returns. And the home generator, which kept a few rooms working, died about 3am Monday morning. My daughter needs her wireless, her internet. Apparently, the LTE signal she’s getting is not quick enough for her. And she has no place to charge her phone. So, Starbucks. We have water here. We have food. It’s cool outside but not cold. We have plenty of clothes and blankets. We won’t freeze. We have places to go to bathe. But she needs her internet. She waited patiently for it to load but the LTE took too long. She needs to Snap and to Insta more quickly. This adversity, well, for the moment, is just too much. Somehow, she slept through the storms. The rain lashed the house. The wind howled. The power flickered on and off through the night, causing countless electronics to beep each time. My wife and I could hear horns and sirens as tornado warnings sounded. There were sounds of firetrucks and ambulances throughout the night. My daughter awoke the next morning and asked what was going on. My wife and I were zombies – we had been up all night ready to react to any roof leaks, trees on the house, windows broken, or windows blown open. How she slept through it I don’t know. My wife and I were boiling a pot of water for coffee on the gas stove still dressed from last night when my daughter walked in in her pajamas. I suppose there was something that, as a child, I felt I couldn’t live without. Something that I needed so badly that not having it was “just too much” like my daughter and her speedy internet. What was that thing? Was it my love for my stereo? I loved my stereo. My car? Some sort of clothing? I don’t know. What did my parents think when I couldn’t get that thing and it crippled me? I’m sure they worried about me. Worried about my future. Worried about their future if people like me may someday be in charge. The same worries that I have. That we have.  The first comment that I’m aware of about one generation looking at the next and worrying about the future comes from Socrates 3400 years ago. 3400 years ago. So, for centuries, centuries, generations have looked at the generations coming behind them and shaken their head. And yet we seemed to have made it. We always survive. Things generally get better. 3400 years of precedent suggests it will again. So, I’ll button my lip, and I’ll drink my coffee. It’s the best I can do. Otherwise, it’s just too much.  I’m Cam Marston and I’m just trying to Keep It Real.
03:49 1/12/24
God On Our Side
On New Years Eve, I watched a conversation in my kitchen that was exactly as I hoped it would be.  ----- A friend called this past fall. He said, “The Holy Spirit told me to call you and tell you the Holy Spirit wants you and me to make a podcast together. Will you help me?” My goodness. What do you say to that but “Sure. I’ll help you.” The podcast is about his spiritual journey. He brings his friends on from time to time to tell their stories. My job is to keep us focused on the topic, keep us at around twenty minutes per episode, and toss out a contrary opinion that will help the host clarify his position or story. The podcast is called Jeff’s Last Cast. If you’re the spiritual type and enjoy podcasts, let me know what you think. It’s triggered some soul-searching in me. One thing I’ve observed from these podcasts is that everyone believes that God supports their decisions and behaviors, whatever they are. And I think this is universal. We all believe that what we’re doing is inspired by God, blessed by God, encouraged by God, or approved by God. We all believe God approves of what we’re doing. For example, the vigilantes that stormed into Israel in early October were doing it because it was God’s will. We’ve labeled them terrorists, but they believe they were God’s mercenaries. They screamed prayers as they killed. And Israel’s punishing response is certainly God’s will. The loss of life, the remarkable destruction, the hundreds and hundreds of bombs are justifiable for the harm caused by Hamas. God approves. Both sides are acting with God’s blessing. There are similar beliefs since the rise of Donald Trump. Some say he’s God’s gift to humanity and our nation. God chose him for us. Trump has, in fact, said this himself. He’s deeply flawed, people say, but aren’t we all and who are we to judge? He’s the one God wants. Those that oppose Trump are convinced that God wants to prevent Trump from having any influence over our nation ever again. Trump is the nearest thing to the anti-Christ our world has ever seen, and God commands us to fight him. Their protests, their online videos, their lawsuits are all weapons in God’s arsenal to prevent Trump’s rise to power . Both sided equally convinced that God is pushing them forward. The same arguments exist about Biden. Many say God wants him out. Many say God wants him in. They both site Bible passages and signs from above to justify their stances and their actions. They fight each other. They scream at each other. They grow red in the face. Both exactly the same. Both convinced they’re backed by God. Honestly, I don’t know what to think. But on New Years’ Eve I watched and listed as two great friends quietly, calmly, and respectfully debated politics. They listened to each other. They didn’t interrupt. They considered the other’s point of view. They asked thoughtful questions. In the end they acknowledged that they could see the other’s point of view but respectfully said they couldn’t adopt it for themselves. They smiled. And the conversation moved on. Exactly, I think, the way he would have wanted. I’m Cam Marston and I’m just trying to Keep It Real.
03:54 1/5/24
Solstice
Yesterday was the winter solstice. Brings back memories... ----- Yesterday was the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. Said another way, there is more darkness on December 21st than any other day. It’s also the day I got engaged many years ago. The story I like to tell is that my wife, who was then a collegiate volleyball coach, was watching VHS videos of players she was hoping to recruit. I asked her to stop the video and pay attention to me for a moment or two. She reluctantly did with a “this better be good” expression. I asked her to marry me. She considered the proposition. She looked me up and down a few times. She remained quiet for a terribly uncomfortable amount of time and finally said “Ok” and then hit play on the VCR and returned to her work. She’ll deny much of this story, by the way. It's usually the darkest day of the year that I begin my annual Christmas panic purchases. I fear that I’ve underperformed with the gift giving; that my gifts won’t amount to enough. I blow through my preset budgets and start tossing stuff under the Christmas tree in a panic. My kids never mind this. My wife says you’ve done too much, you’ve gone too far. She’s never returned any of the gifts I get her, by the way. She says “You’ve gone overboard” as she takes her bounty with her to the back of the house. And I get the same complaints from kids every year. “Dad,” they say, “you’re too hard to buy for.” They’re right. Like most fathers I tend to get myself what I want. Every year I struggle to get my father something and this year he flat our said “I don’t want anything. Nothing. Really. Nothing. I’m trying to get rid of all the stuff I have.” However, I’ll get him something. It’ll may be a new phone charger. The one he has is quite dated. It’s powered by a gerbil on a wheel and takes all night to charge his phone. However, I struggle with the question “Is a phone charger the right gift to give your father?” Seems very impersonable. My grandmother used to give the gifts she received back. She’d say, “I’ve enjoyed it for many months. Thank you very much. Now I’m giving it back to you.” We started buying her gifts with that in mind – what will I want in the spring that I can give her for Christmas? Incidentally, my wife and I married on the summer solstice. We got engaged on the winter solstice and married on the summer solstice. We realized this years later. So my wedding day was absolutely the longest day of the year. That cannot be denied. It’s all in how you say it. As 2023 winds to a close, I wish you a happy holiday season and a Merry Christmas. Try to slow down. Find a warm fire and stare into it for a while. Fires make good company. There is stress all over during the holidays, but for a short time, try to sluff it off and sit quietly. I’ll do the same. I’m Cam Marston and I’m just trying to Keep it Real.
03:39 12/22/23
Leena's China
A family tree of photographs is at the top of the stairs at my father's house.  ----- A picture hangs at the top of the stairs at my parent’s house. It’s of my mother’s grandmother, my great grandmother. I think it’s Grandma Leena. My father and I were trying to figure out who it was. My mother had told me about the picture and about Grandma Leena for years. I never listened. There are a bunch of other pictures. At the top, near the ceiling, are pictures of my mother and father’s family and they form a family tree, coming together, picture by picture, generation by generation, to a picture of my father and mother with my brothers and me. It’s nice. It’s my roots. My mother’s family was from the upper peninsula of Michigan. The cities of Ontonagon and Rockland come to mind. Her grandfather’s corner drug store. Another’s cattle farm. Mom wanted me to know about all these people. “You’ll want to know, someday,” she said. Mom told us that the happiest times of her life were her summer visits to her grandparents when she was girl. She wanted us to know this. She wanted us to carry her summer memories on . Afraid that with her death they’d be gone. And they are. She died a while back. In a box in my father’s attic is Grandma Leena’s wedding China. It’s carefully wrapped in brown paper. Each piece brittle and delicate. Mom loved it. My father and I looked at the box. “It’s all hand painted,” he said. My mother’s handwriting across the top. Some of the China visible inside. “You want it?” my father asked? “No. I don’t think so,” I said. “But don’t throw it away. Maybe I will someday.” That China just sits in the box. I don’t know the last time the box was opened. A decade, maybe. If I were to take it, I’d put the China in my attic where it may sit for decades more. Prior to my mother’s death, she shared a lot of stories with us. And when she could no longer talk, she asked us to tell her stories of our memories of her. Our favorite days. Our funny adventures. She wanted to know she wouldn’t be forgotten. What is it in us that makes us want to be remembered so badly? And why do we hold on to things cherished by our loved ones that mean so little to us? I don’t know. We were around the Thanksgiving table at my parent’s cabin in the woods a few weeks back. Lots of food. Lots of smiles. It’s a special place. My mother came to   mind. But I wasn’t remembering her. I was feeling her. She was there with me. In me. I don’t know. It sounds so strange to say. It wasn’t a memory.  It was better than a memory. Again, I can’t explain it. But I suspect it was it was the same way my mother felt when, every now and then, she opened the box, removed the paper, and held a piece of Grandma Leena’s China. I’m Cam Marston and I’m just trying to keep it real.        
03:42 12/15/23
The Master is Dead
This may be a bit over the top but it's what it looks like to me: ----- The apprentice to master model in the workplace may be dead. It was declining prior to the pandemic but now, after the struggles from the pandemic are largely behind us, the apprentice to master model is gone. And it’s a shame. Our society today, our workplace, our government, all of it comes from this model. It served us well. We’ve left it behind. Out to pasture. It’s not a good thing. Begun in the trades ages ago, its basic tenants are that a person enters a trade or a workplace with little to no knowledge. They apprentice themselves to someone who can teach them – a master. The apprentice slowly learns, begins mastery of their craft, to become the master themselves. They then train the next generation and so on. Stone masons, mechanics, glass blowers, plumbers, electricians, lawyers, and accountants. All of them and many more. What brought apprentice to master to an end? A few things, the first of which is technology. Technology began its creep into the workplace two generations ago. The Baby Boomers were running the show. Boomers were first skeptical of stuff, and took it on reluctantly. In time, the power of technology became apparent and most Boomers didn’t know how to use it. Who did? The Gen X’ers. The Boomers said “Hey Gen X. We need your tech skills. Please come work here, use this stuff, and teach me how to use this stuff.” Thus, Gen X entered the workplace as the master. The young were teaching the old. As technology continued its creep, more and more Gen X’ers were needed to teach the Boomers. The technology changed and the Millennials then entered teaching the Gen X’ers. Again, the young teaching the old. The workplace desperately needed the young master. After the pandemic hit it changed again. No one could find workers. Workplaces were doing cartwheels to get employees with no proven experience, no discernable talents. Employers further sent apprentice to master into oblivion by giving the youngest workplace entrants perks and benefits and hybrid workplaces and flex schedules that previously only the masters could dare ask for. Tenure no longer mattered. And if the new employees didn’t like the way they were treated, if they felt unappreciated, registered too many microaggressions, off they went to quickly find a new job. A California MD told me in her workplace the newest workers are weaponizing wellness. “I don’t want to do that,” they’re saying, about whatever it is. “It will make me unwell.” I was with a client in Dallas Wednesday. They’re struggling. They make high pressure valves and pumps and such. They’re struggling to find people to work. Making the items, installing the items, building things, and fixing things. To learn this stuff, employees have to apprentice to a master. No Google search, YouTube video, or ChatGPT will do it. There was a lot of white hair in the room of 850 people wondering how to keep their businesses going. I’ve studied workplace trends for twenty years. I didn’t have much good news for them. I’m Cam Marston and I’m just trying to Keep it Real.
03:54 12/8/23
Sock Shoe Sock Shoe
Time to begin considering New Years Resolutions... ----- It’s December first which means it’s time for me to begin planning my New Year’s Resolutions. I take these seriously and begin planning them a month out. Any fool can resolve to change things New Year’s Day when they’re hungover, their belly is flopping around, and they’re full of regret. Drink less and get in shape is a New Years Resolution standard, like turkey for Thanksgiving. At my gym, I refer to the first fifteen days of the New Year as tourist season. People show up motivated and driven by the hopes of meaningful change. They’re seldom stick around. Old habits take over. Their muscles start to hurt. And they justify not returning – it’s too expensive, it takes too much time, it hurts too much, I wasn’t as bad off as I had thought. All the things. Tourist season in the gym. It never lasts long. I have a standard secondary New Year’s resolution I’ve recommitted to for many years. It’s from the late New Orleans musician Alan Toussaint and it’s this: Everything I do gonna be funky from now on. It’s one of his songs. The first line is: Just be myself and do my thing. It’s my reminder that fitting in is overrated. I know folks who try to fit in and find each of them, to a person, unremarkable. I resolve to not be that guy. I gonna try to be funky again this year. My primary New Year’s resolutions a behavior   deeply held. And old habit. If I can change a habit, I know I can tackle most things. A few years ago, I resolved to change how I wave when I’m in the car. We wave in my neck of the woods here in Mobile, Alabama. To walkers. To runners. To friends in cars. To strangers. We’re quite friendly. And for years my wave was to raise my thumb, my index finger, my middle finger off the steering wheel and shake my hand back and forth three times. You’ve seen this wave. That along with a smile and I did it without thinking. But I resolved to change it. Not because something new would be better, but to prove I could change. And I did. I turned to the garage door wave. Four fingers around the steering unroll to a wave and roll back down – garage door style. It’s a hard change. It took a while. But I did it. I’ve always been a sock sock, shoe shoe guy. Beginning January second - the first is a holiday, after all - beginning January second I resolve to become a sock shoe sock shoe guy. I’ve been a sock sock shoe shoe guy since I was a toddler, so this will be a big one. Sock shoe sock shoe is a bit inefficient, but I welcome some inefficiency to prove to myself I’m capable of change. Sock shoe sock shoe. It will be my focus in  2024. I did a practice run when I got dressed this morning and it went OK. This one’s going to take some time. I felt like I was dressing another man.   I’m Cam Marston and I’m just trying to Keep It Real.
03:58 12/1/23
Christmas Comes Early in Oxford
I took the Friday after Thanksgiving off but found an excellent stand-in. This commentary comes from one of my daughter's college writing assignments. ----- Christmas Comes Early in Oxford There are two types of people in this world, ones who celebrate Christmas months in advance and those who celebrate after Thanksgiving. I can honestly say that I put people in these categories. It is an essential question I ask when getting to know someone along with, “What is your name?” and “How old are you?” People are passionate about their category. Those who celebrate early say that their favorite holiday is Christmas and that it is superior to all other holidays, which is true. People that don’t celebrate early say that they hate keeping up with the tree and that It’s messy, which is also true.  I visited Ole Miss as a high school senior. I got to Oxford in late October and toured the campus. It was beautiful. Throughout the tour, the guides talked about this place called “the square.” I knew nothing about Ole Miss or Oxford but figured out that the square must be the heart of the town. My mom and I later found the square. We stepped up to it and I was shocked. THEY ALREADY HAVE CHRISTMAS DECORATIONS UP? Again, it was October. My family has never been the type to start celebrating Christmas early but, Oxford, MS was starting to celebrate even before Halloween. I was floored! How can people be celebrating Christmas without celebrating Halloween or Thanksgiving? The decorations are adorable, but it was way too early for this. Walking through the square I saw that not only were the Christmas decorations up around the square, but all of the boutiques were selling exclusively Christmas decorations and clothing. They even had their fall decorations on the sale rack. How can people be so obsessed with Christmas that they start celebrating two months early? I felt like I was standing in the middle of Whoville.  My father thinks the tree should be put up on December 20th. My mother thinks Christmas decorations should start November 1st. It is a battle. It happens every year. My parents recruit my siblings and me to their sides. My mom usually pulls my sister and me because it means we can start our Christmas lists early. My dad tells my brothers that if we get a tree now then they’ll have to put it up and keep it alive. We’ve had the same Christmas eve and Christmas day traditions since I was around four years old. They’re full of memories. And I think this is why the city of Oxford, MS and people in general celebrate Christmas so early, they want to have the feelings that they have on Christmas morning for longer than just one day. People buy Christmas gifts over months because they get a rush when thinking how the present will look wrapped and under the tree. They want that rush all of the time. People want to be happier, and if putting Christmas decorations up sixty days before the actual event does that for  them, I can let it slide. I’m guest commentator Reiney Marston and, on behalf of my father and me, we’re just trying to Keep It Real.
03:42 11/24/23
Pigs. Hogs. Sounders. And Litters.
Some swine content before your Thanksgiving ham. ----- This is about pigs. Hogs, too. Sounders. Litters. And it’s timely since many of you, like me, accompany the Thanksgiving turkey with a ham. So, let’s have a quick chat about the magic that is pigs, hams, hogs, and other swine-related stuff. Next week I’ll spend part of the Thanksgiving break in the woods of Clarke County, Alabama. If the weather is nice, my Thanksgiving meal will be on the porch of my father’s camp breaking bread around 1pm with my wife and kids, my brothers, their wives and kids, and my father. It’s what we do. There will be a ham there. In the woods nearby will be hogs. Wild ones. And if I understand the story correctly, some of them are descendants of the hogs the first explorers to the Americas tossed out on islands as they came through. The explorers were preparing for return trips to Europe and put hogs on the islands knowing they’d survive because they can and will eat nearly anything and they’d multiply. When the explorers came back through on their way back home, they provisioned with some fresh pork. Some of the hogs that were left behind found their way to the continental US and the ones rooting the woods of Clark County, Alabama could be long descendants of those founding father pigs. Columbian pigs. Mayflower pigs. And I think that’s pretty cool. But admiring wild hogs in Alabama is taboo. They’re hell on property and no farmer or landowner has anything good to say about them. They are, however, a remarkable species. They survive and they propagate regardless of their environment or circumstances. They’re a mammalian kudzo. They drop multiple litters each year of as many as ten piglets. Controlling them is nearly impossible, as any hunter or landowner or farmer can attest. As an animal, they’re full of vulnerabilities, allowing all kinds of prey to feed on them yet, they thrive. And they’re tasty. Pork loins are delicious. I once ordered a blue cheese stuffed pork chop at K-Pauls in New Orleans and nearly fainted in bliss. I returned, and ordered it again the next night and had it many times until K-Pauls shut their hallowed doors three years ago. I used to genuflect when I went in. And then there’s the ham that we will pull from Thanksgiving Day. Magically cut in circles. The kids love it. They fill their plates. The ham has that iridescent sheen that glimmers in the light. Exactly why ham glimmers and forms rainbows like spilled petroleum is unclear. I don’t want to know. It must be God’s will. Later on Thanksgiving Day, after we’ve cleaned up and after I’ve curled up around my packed belly for an afternoon nap, I’ll step into the woods with a rifle, hoping to take down a distant cousin of the ham I’ve just eaten. Whose ancestor may have hitched a ride on the Niña, the Pinta, or the Santa Maria a long time ago. It’s all a bit gross and weird and magical all at the same time. And that’s all I got to say about that. I’m Cam Marston and I’m just trying to Keep It Real. Happy Thanksgiving.
03:55 11/17/23
The Grove
My wife and I went to Oxford, Mississippi last weeked. Here's the scoop... ----- Oxford, Mississippi is as beautiful as they say. My wife and I visited this past weekend to see my daughter. We joined her for a morning tailgate in the famed Grove followed by a football game. It was exceptional. Here’s what I saw. First – These people are serious about their tailgating. Our host was a couple friend who rented a tent on the Grove for home games. The Grove is exactly that, a grove of trees under which these tents sit and by tent, don’t think something for camping. It was a covering over a space of about 10 feet by twenty feet. Our friend’s tent was spectacular with food and drink for lots of people and a small statuette of the Ole Miss Rebel mascot made out of moss positioned in the center of a big bouquet of flowers. People were stopping to photograph it. Everyone who entered our tent – we began calling it our tent but we were, in truth, guests there – was offered breakfast croissants, lunch sandwiches, cheeses, lots of sweets and yogurt and granola. The same generosity was everywhere. Since kickoff was 11 and people were arriving at 8am there needed to be some breakfast food, hence the yogurt and granola and bacon egg and cheese croissants. The bloody mary’s and mimosas were flowing like water and, incidentally, we were told there was water there somewhere. Second – Oxford needs more restaurants. We tried eating at several places Friday night and the shortest wait was two hours. On football weekends the city floods with fans and securing a place to eat was nearly impossible. The same was true Sunday morning. We wanted breakfast with our daughter but even Waffle House had over an hour’s wait. We ended up eating at my daughter’s apartment which she shares with her three roommates, which means we first cleaned the kitchen which appeared to have never ever been done before and then we started cooking. Third – Wow has football attire changed for the female college students. Wow. And I mean Wow. Call me a fuddy duddy all you want, but back in the day, female coeds wore clothes to college football games. I think the word “cute” today means “ain’t much to it.” I was terrified my daughter would show up in something similar. Thankfully she arrived clothed. At an Alabama football game in Tuscaloosa earlier this year, we heard a young female say to her friend “I feel like everyone is looking at me.” They were. We were. Her outfit was the size of a postage stamp. The men were saying “would you look at that” and the women were saying “would you look at that.” If you’re headed to an Alabama or Ole Miss football game in the warm weather and you’ve not been in a while, try not to gawk. Maybe it’s the same everywhere. I don’t know. Finally – Seeing my daughter in her element, with her friends, in a place she loves was the best part of it all. It made the weekend for us. I’m Cam Marston. Just trying to Keep It Real.
03:40 11/10/23
Mastery of Self
A similar theme repeats itself across all faiths. It's a discipline I have little of. ------ A friend of mine claims he’s a genius. He has little evidence of this. Just an over-confident assessment of his himself. He’s quite entertaining. He believes the lunar landings were a hoax, but of his own genius, he’s certain. Last night I told him I was struggling for a topic for this week’s commentary. I hadn’t seen or thought or felt anything that moved me to write about it. So, I asked him for ideas. He blustered and bloviated and finally got around to saying this: The greatest enemy each of us face is staring at us every morning, every afternoon, and every evening before we go to bed. That enemy can be found in the mirror. It’s us. It’s me. It’s you. We’re our own enemy. We sabotage ourselves every day. Things that we know we should do, we avoid. Things we know we shouldn’t do, we do. It ranges from having too many cookies before bed at night to not making the sales calls, or having the tough conversations that we know need to happen. The list infinitely long. We blame others, we blame bad luck, even blame the devil from time to time. But the vast majority of the time, our greatest enemy is ourselves. Now I would love to tell this self-proclaimed genius he’s wrong but, he’s right. And his description certainly describes me. I have remarkable discipline about some things in my world and remarkably little discipline about others – like gobbling a fistful of cookies on the way to bed at night. I know I shouldn’t do it but down the hatch they go. And I eat them quickly hoping the guilt will go away quickly. Another enemy is when I try to make a joke when my inner-knower is whispering for me to hush, that I’ve gone too far. The joke may be more hurtful than funny. That happened on last week’s commentary, and I heard about it and I’m sorry. I ignored my inner-knower. Next to my bed lie a stack of books. One compares Jesus’ and the Buddha’s greatest messages and how similar they are. Another is by Father Anthony DeMello who was a Catholic Jesuit priest from India and knows many of the stories of the Indian deities and shares their lessons alongside the lessons of Christianity. I frequently return to a wonderful book on the lessons of the Bhagavat Gita, a story out of India written 500 years before Christ. All these religions, these faiths, these pursuits of spirituality, while vastly different in important ways, emphasize so many of the same points. And it’s these similarities that fascinate me. That catch my attention.   One that shines through repeatedly is the mastery of self. Heaven, bliss, enlightenment, you name it. These spiritualities claim they can only be achieved through mastery of self. Self-control. I have so little. I know it. And I think about it each time I gobble the cookies and make the bad jokes. And I can already hear friend demanding a commission for this commentary. I’m Cam Marston and I’m just trying to Keep It Real.
03:53 11/3/23

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