Most people call me James. My wife calls me whatever she pleases and my kids, to my joy, call me daddy, even the grown ones. In some circles I am known as Pastor, in others, I am known as the fixer of problems and to those who enjoy a bit of dialog about imagination and possibilities, I am the stormer of brains. When we see people online and in the community, we associate them to be only with what we see. It’s easy to forget that every person is complex and mysterious and has multi-directional connections and interests. Recently, I have been having conversations with some of my students about their own experiences, interests, and ideas about the future. These talks have allowed me to enter into a deeper discovery of my own and I wanted to share some of these trivial, but important things.
Through the years, many people have sought counsel due to the fear of not having a purpose once they retire. They wonder how they will be able to invest in the lives of others or make a true mark on the world. Often, they feel like because they’ve been doing the same task or job for so long that they have no other viable skills or gifts. They must seek out their passions and interest while inviting like-minded people to enjoy them together. While I am not retiring anytime soon, the world is different and the way in which I have looked at and engaged the world has changed in the last few years. I find it interesting that teens and retirees have the same mind; fearful of the future and doubt about its productivity or success. In reality, each person, no matter how simple or complex, has much more to their lives than meets their own eyes.
Thinking through this I asked the question, “What interests and skills do I have that I have enjoyed but forgotten through the years?” As we learn about being in a community together, we should be investing the time to share these things with others as we never know what gift we could bring to a relationship.
Here are a few, not-so-known things about me:
I am a jazz sax player and have six horns in full view at all times in my study library. I used to play daily but haven’t been doing much in the last two years. I also compose original music in many genres: symphonic, some jazz, some hip-hop and dubstep, and even some dance/neo-electric. I have rewritten many classic hymns and psalms for vocals and instrumental saxophone. I also compose and play piano and enjoy performing when I don’t have to. I went to music school for two years where I majored in Saxophone and Voice. Before the pandemic, I had several saxophone students that I taught weekly. I have played in five bands from Motown to Funk/Fusion in two states. I have performed contemporary and ancient compositions in choirs and traveled with several performing groups around the country. I enjoy French music, mostly classics and Old Style singing. Yes, I have played Kenny G at weddings for money. I’m sorry.
When I was five years old my parents got me a Fischer Price magic suitcase. I think I carried this case with me until I was 10. But around that time I was gifted a different type of magical arsenal and I was hooked. For the next few years, I checked out as many magic books as my local library could keep on the shelves. One summer I stayed with my grandparents in New Orleans where I encountered a street magician and I was amazed. It so happened that this magician worked at a Magic Masters store, and the rest is history. I still, just today, work on illusions, mostly coins, and practical objects. My case? Well, it’s eight cases now. In college, magic was my thing. I loved the attention it gave me. And for nearly 15 years a youth mentor, flipping a coin through the air in a high school lunch room and Kung Fu punching my finger through it purchased an instant audience. I could talk about anything, and did! From those experiences, I was able to start a magicians club in VA where many aspiring teens got into the “Magic Arts.” When we lived in the Bay, I joined a Magicians Club and have met and befriended some of the greatest talents on stage, street, and screen. I still have those friendships today.
In high school, I was hounded to do “voiceovers” for our nationally ranked radio show. I declined out of fear. But a few years later I got my first invitation to work with a radio station in Savannah to assist with producing a Saturday morning show on the AM dial. Learning those systems and taking a quick interest in program directing, I eventually had many opportunities in the field and started doing freelance voice work and commercial production. I still do some of that today for friends, but Fivr has taken most of that work to the really talented. Car commercials were my favorite to produce… they were always fast, loud, deep, and annoying! While in California I was a regular voice on several National shows on Family Radio. My wife, from her youth, also had a radio show. So the two of us have dabbled with the idea of podcasting together on several topics. We love so much, it’s hard to narrow down the scope.
Everybody is Kung Fu Fighting! Yep, that’s right. From a young age, I have always loved martial arts movies and watched almost all the classics. In 2001 I was introduced to a rising competitive Karate Champion who gave me some lessons on kicking and sweeping. That same year I had the great experience of training with Federal Agents in tactics, takedowns, and CQC. The following year I met who would be known as my Sifu. I joined his class and the madness began. In 2007 when we moved to the Bay, Sifu came with us, so it was train, train, train… and so I did and loved it. This experience led me to teach personal defense classes for women, a youth Kung Fu class in the Park in Hayward, CA, and eventually my own classes on personal and corporate defense training and a variant of Wing Chun that I still teach today along with Sui Long Pai, my original system. These experiences have opened doors to many other skills and you guessed it, opportunities to teach, including tactical firearm use and safety. I certainly think that any skill we have we should be passing on to others if possible.
From 2001 to 2017 I averaged reading 2 to 5 books per week. Yes, I can speed read but I know love Audible at on 2x speed.
I’ve been writing my entire life. I’ve written 100’s papers, three Theses, thousands of blog articles, and five unfinished books. I found a book of my old poetry from my teen years… I needed a third job back then. I had too much time to think. I grew weary of writing many times over but recently have discovered I can write about what I love instead of what I think everyone else loves. My family loves to read and write. My eight-year-old has written so many books already that we can’t keep them all. She swears if we just produce and edit them and upload them to Amazon that she’ll have all the money we need. She can knock a story out in ten minutes. My wife is published… and probably will publish again in due time.
COLLECTOR OF THINGS
I have always collected and I collect well. I have stamps, baseball cards, watches, clothes, WWII stuff, instruments, firearms, knives, tools, books (8000), antique furniture, family heirlooms, coins, paper money (world), Bibles,
Robyn and I have built websites for 100’s of companies for money. We’ve always had to have multiple streams of income due to the nature of our work and location. Until the pandemic, these things seemed to always work out well. I used to do graphic design for non-profits for free and I still host and maintain a large number of sites for civic groups, churches, and benevolent orgs. I really enjoy creating aesthetically appealing digital work, but my aesthetic sees most things as tacky, so when I tried to monetize this skill, I spent more time arguing with the clients than I did doing the work. So, pro-bono is the way. We have done a lot of digital marketing, Social Media management, and blog writing (oh my have we written blog posts for so many industries… do NOT ask me about SAP, I may snap.)
STAND UP COMIC
Yes. You read that right. I have done A LOT of stage comedy, thankfully none has ever made it online. But about four times a week I find myself opening my Evernote to the Comedic tab and posting some situational humor. I even thought about doing some performances when the new theater opens up here.
It’s not very well known that I love to design interior spaces. Thankfully my bride gives me that freedom, outside of picking paint colors (have some color blind issues with certain hews… I did wear a pair of grey pants before that were actually purple.) So, if you come to my house I have picked and placed nearly all of the furniture, pictures, table stuff, and rugs. So blame me. I didn’t say I was good, but that I loved doing it. No, I have not taught this and have not monetized it. I’d be broke.
I have always loved cameras. In the fifth grade, I cut several yards weekly making around $300 a week. That summer I saved up enough money to buy a Minolta x700 and a complete set of lenses. I still have this camera and yes, it still works. By the end of my 7th-grade year, I had the nickname “Flash”. It didn’t stick, but it did stick that year. One of my teachers was a professional photographer and also an Amature Radio operator. He took me under his wing and taught me everything he knew, about both. For the next few years, I would join him at youth conferences and events, not only providing teaching and instruction but cataloging the events and then developing and producing the slide shows at week’s end. Being behind a camera was a good place for me in my youth. And today, I still dabble in stills, portraits, macros, and even video production. This is one area though that I have not taken up as a teacher. Who knows.
STAFFING, RECRUITMENT, HEADHUNTING
When I first married I got a job as a typist in a business office. My GWAM was 140 (that’s gross words per minute folks). Within a month, I was taught how to manage the business, which was a staffing agency. I learned how to interview, screen, write resumes, and most of all, I developed a keen sense of placement of talent. I then began to work with larger clients and procure position openings. Then my network of professional associates, aka friends, would be my database of talent. There is much to say about this and it has helped me tremendously in coaching and advocating for people over the years. I have even worked as a consultant to assist in best practices for HR management and conflict mediation. Some of the placements I did in the 90’s are still at their same jobs today. From receptionists to Instructional Technologists and tenured professors, this was a wonderful experience. Further experience and expertise in Business Management, Business Development, Marketing, and Best Practices/Policy Creation were birthed from the mentoring and training I received just by typing letters and copy for $7 an hour.
BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT ET. AL.
Having been mentored in the Sports Memorabilia industry by a community leader, I gained insight into retail, service, food service, transportation, and procurement. All these experiences provided a simple constant flow of CONVERSATIONS with people who would disclose their needs and I would help them. I have served as VP of an internet startup radio station and assisted in valuations and investor relations. As a part of these experiences, I had the opportunity to work on dozens of product management projects including developing marketing strategies. I have learned how to do an FTC filing for an IPO, establish common stocks for investors, and provided numerous business development strategies for endless markets and industries. In college, I really majored first in 8-ball. It was my first true love. That led me to tournament play and eventually semi-professional series play where I met two world champions, who I still connect with today. That insight provided the opportunity to consult on the opening of several billiard clubs and assisted in the development and launch of an amateur 9 Ball league after McDermot canceled their long-running series.
TOO MUCH MORE
Well, for the sake of me pulling out every lens, stamp, magic trick, digital file, and radio commercial, or jumping on the phone and drumming up some old friends to send to a new job, I’ll just mention a few more things. I love to renovate old houses, restore wood floors, build furniture, and work with my hands. My stepfather and grandfather built for a living, so I picked it up pretty easily. I am an avid gamer. I enjoy disciplined time with my teens on the Xbox and on the board games. My wife is very competitive, so watch out! I play chess and teach chess. My largest chess class was 28 and consisted of 2nd to 12th graders. Yes, they can and do play together. I learned how to and did install my own pool, along with assisting a guy down on his luck with 8 more. It’s a fun job, but my body doesn’t take kindly to that kind of labor right now.
FINALLY: ADVOCACY and COACHING
As a teacher of all things to all people, I find myself constantly in the midst of some pretty difficult circumstances. I have been taught what real suffering looks like and what disaster means. I’ve served as a volunteer chaplain for 11 years with the local sheriff’s office and in the early years, that service was often consoling families during loss from trauma. I have spent countless hours teaching youth about life, teaching history, teaching grammar, teaching life skills, and coaching them through horrific trials that are unspeakable. I have sat across the table in prisons and youth detention centers and seen some of my students throw their lives away for principle. Robyn and I have kept children for years and hosted families in our home for over 15 years due to crises and pain. We have suffered along with families who know that things will never get better. We’ve developed programs for advisory counsels and felon reentry that have seen some success. I’ve seen addiction tear families apart and violence that crushed both souls and bodies. I have seen reconciliation, tears of hope, and sobbing turn to laughter.
So, our lives, even the fun stuff that gives us connections, are not really for us. Those connections are real souls, real lives, and real feelings that matter. No matter where we disagree. Whether we laugh at silly little stories about life and friends through comedy or we learn some real-life lessons through the fire, it’s all the same. We are ALIVE and this is our experience. We as human beings have an obligation to present our gifts to the communities in which we live and offer our journey to others who could benefit from it.
For what it’s worth. This is really not about me at all.
I’d love to hear from you…