Cleaning Up Procrastination


Procrastination is a funny thing. It has many moods and often hidden reasons. Sometimes, when I delay working on something, the problem gets solved or someone else takes it on. And sometimes, my subconscious is chewing on it. I need more information and more thinking time. Then, the answer somehow miraculously appears. I tell Mr. Guilt that I haven’t really been lazy. I’ve been working on it the whole time.
This week, I took on a big project, one of those that was ever present, almost annoying every time I walked by it. But, almost too big to start. At least that was my feeble reasoning.
There are a number of those in my life; sometimes I take those on and sometimes I don’t.
I’d have that twinge of guilt: the ignored project. That twinge would pass and I’d find something else to do. Yet, I’d walk by this again and there it was–undone, still on my to do list.
But, yesterday was the day. At least I’ll start, I said to myself. One step at a time. I can do one or two things, and at least do something. I could even feel good about it. Starting, that is. Actually getting it done, oh that’s another matter, something for another day.
It really needed to get done on a nice sunny day. And the day was one of those wondrous perfect September days.
One or two actions became three and then four, and soon, I was halfway finished. Another half hour and then a break for lunch, and I’d be able to finish it in a day.
A few more hours of sweat, and I was done! It looked so nice. All cleaned up, things put away, even some long needed maintenance work done.
Fall is like that. There comes that day of rain, warning me that winter and the rainy season is coming, that summer is waning and it is time to get some projects done. Leaves are turning colors and dropping to the ground. Then, some more amazing late summer days, tempting me to believe again that summer is never ending, and I can just enjoy the day and put off doing what really needs to get done.
“Time,” Nature is saying, “is moving on. I won’t wait for you.”
“Maybe I was just figuring out how to get this done,” I told myself, trying to rationalize the long time I’ve spent in not doing the project.
Or maybe I really was procrastinating, hoping that this project would somehow miraculously get finished by itself and summer wasn’t going to end soon.

–Neal Lemery 9/25/2016

“we are pleased to offer you…”


Acceptance
Came in a moment—
Months, years of work,
Then waiting, life on hold.

Others now seeing
What fills his heart,
Hot coals from his passion fire,
Scorching their sense of
Who he is becoming,
All his possibilities.

Perseverance, determination
Pushing him onward
To who he will be,
Marbled sculpture in progress,
Tender heart beating strong.

Now, he dances with joy,
Knowing, at last, he is worthy,
Dreams now reality, validated,
Passion fire burning brightly,
Touching, reigniting
Other hearts.

Today, others
See him for who he really is, to
Know his heart—
Dreams
Turn to joy.

–Neal Lemery April, 2015

Speaking to young men in prison graduating from high school


Trask River High School Commencement Address
June 21, 2014
Neal C. Lemery

Distinguished guests, family, respected faculty of Trask River High School, and, honored graduates of the Class of 2014:

Today, we are here to celebrate a great achievement. After a great deal of hard work, you have earned your high school diploma.

This is a remarkable victory, an accomplishment that deserves a celebration. You now have a real asset, a treasure, no one can ever take away from you: your education.

With these skills, you are now life long learners. There is no stopping you now. You can achieve anything you want because you know how to learn. You have proven that you are determined enough to apply yourself and to advance in this world. You have done something really good for yourself.

And, that is success.

Today is Commencement. Commencement means the beginning. Today is not only a celebration of what you have done, but it is also the start of the rest of your lives.

Susan Sontag, a famous writer, feminist, and social critic, shared this thought with another graduating class:

“I have said that this rite of passage—commencement—is one that faces in two directions. Your old status and your new status. The past and the present. The present and the future. But I would urge that it is not just a description of today’s exercises but a model for how you should try to live. As if you were always graduating, ending, and, simultaneously, always beginning. And your sense of the world, and of the large amount of life before you, also should face in two directions.”

Let me turn to your future. At this Commencement, it is time to start on the next step in your education.

This place where we sit today is a place of changing directions in our lives.

It has been said that if you don’t change directions, you are going to end up where you are headed.

Your work here is all about moving ahead with your lives; it is all about changing directions.

Bob Marley, the Jamaican reggae musician, said, “If you don’t start somewhere, you’ll go nowhere.”

If you want to change your life, if you want to change the path you were on when you got here, take the next step in your life.

You’ve already proven to yourself that you are smart enough, and energetic enough, to earn a high school diploma. Achieving that puts you ahead of one third of all of the young men in Oregon. That means you are in the top two thirds of your peers.

But, that’s not good enough. That’s not good enough for our society, and it’s not good enough for you.

You deserve more. You’re smart and you’re motivated.

So, take that next step. Be the change you want to see in the world. Find your passion and go after that. Discover what you love to do in life, and become an expert in your profession. Become the best in what you do.

You who create with your hands, the artisans, the tradesmen, the craftsmen among you, you need to take that next step. Your work will build our communities, and change the world. You are a key part of our future. So, find that trade school, or that community college, find the skills you need, and gain that expertise. Don’t settle for being the average Joe in the world, just taking any old job that might come along. Take a couple of big steps and become an expert in what you love to do.

Some of you will keep on your academic path, and will find a college to challenge you.

People who graduate from college have more opportunities. They make more money, and they raise healthier, smarter kids. They are able to solve harder problems, and they are the ones who change and grow our society.

And, you can start college right now. College is right out that door over there, right down that path. Your college is right here where you live. And, your teachers are ready for you.

And, the best thing about your college is that is it free.

Free. What a deal. One of the best gifts you’ll ever get.

All someone needs for a college education is their time, their brains, and that fire of motivation that burns in their soul.

You have the time, you have the brains, and you have that fire.

For each of us, finding what we love to do in life, and becoming really good at it take some real effort, and some real commitment. That commitment comes from you. That can only come from you.

Whatever you go after in life is an investment in yourself. Everything you work for becomes part of you, and makes you a better person. It changes your life.

When you leave here, you will take your education with you. You will take your determination, your stubbornness, and your work ethic. You will take with you the tools you will need to be successful, and to go out in the world and live a meaningful, productive life.

And, most of all, you will take that passion, that fire, to make a difference in you and in the world.

Just ask those who have gone on ahead of you, who have moved out into the world and done something with their lives. They will tell you, again and again, get an education. Find your passion.

So, what does that life ahead of you, that life filled with purpose and passion, look like? What does that fire in your soul look like?

I want to end today with another man’s perspective. He’s a man who overcame many of the obstacles you have faced in your lives, a man who worked hard and moved ahead, and took advantage of the opportunities he had.

This man grew up in the tough part of a big city, his dad left when he was two years old, he was raised by a single mother, he almost dropped out of high school, he got involved in gangs, and some drugs. He was Black, he was poor, and yet he found his fire, and moved ahead in life, doing his part to make the world a better place.

This is what that man,that man we know as President Barack Obama, says about what a purposeful, focused life, a life dedicated to improving yourself, means:

“I’m talking about an approach to life — a quality of mind and quality of heart; a willingness to follow your passions, regardless of whether they lead to fortune and fame; a willingness to question conventional wisdom, …; a lack of regard for all the traditional markers of status and prestige — and a commitment instead to doing what’s meaningful to you, what helps others, what makes a difference in this world.”

Class of 2014. We salute you, and we urge you to move ahead into your amazing and fabulous future.

Thank you.

Three Cups of Joy


“When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.”
― Rumi

Three amazing experiences and celebrations in the last few days have blessed my life and filled my heart with joy. Each has reaffirmed the power and the gifts that love brings to my life.

I was honored to attend the wedding of a dear, long time friend, and to celebrate not only her marriage to her beloved, but also a welcome change in the law in my state, a law that now holds that marriage is a relationship, and a commitment that any two adults can share. Love, I realized again, is such an amazing force. Love in marriage, and the ability to share that love in this world, is the essence of our humanity.

Love filled their house, and we feasted on the sweetness of commitment, dedication, and respect to who they are, their marriage. We celebrated that love is the amazing and healing light in a person’s life, the basic reason we are here on this planet.

“Love me tender, love me sweet, never let me go. You have made my life complete, and I love you so,” were the words Karen sang to our friends, my guitar adding more sweet notes to the occasion.

The second cup of joy was listening to a speech given by one of the young men I mentor in prison. He spoke before a large audience of fellow inmates and their families, gathered for the annual family day celebration. He spoke of courage and determination, and the super heroes in his life.

His speech was a month in the making, the words coming hard to him, as he focused on who he is becoming, and where he wants to go in his life. He’d practiced, and rewrote, until the words on the pages held by his trembling hands in front of the crowded room were just right, just what he wanted to celebrate.

We marveled at how he has grown, and the wisdom in his words. His road in life has not been easy, yet he is seeing the fruits of his hard work, his decision to make real changes in his life, and to move ahead. Now, he truly loves himself, and believes that the good things in life come about through the power of love and self respect.

His confidence, and his powerful message of self actualization rang across the crowd, inspiring all of us to love ourselves just a little bit more, and believe in our dreams.

The third cup of joy was watching a young man be recognized for all the hard work he has been doing in his first year at a university. A little over a year ago, he moved ahead in his life, taking big steps, working hard to attend a respected university. Now, he’s studying to earn his bachelor’s degree. He is Mr. Determination, and diligently works to balance a full life of school, a job, and family.

He dove into academic life, studying hard, asking questions, being active in study groups and class projects, going out of his comfort zone to succeed in college. In that new world, he achieved, and he grew, and he’s heading in some great directions in his life. He’s achieved a 4.0 GPA and was tapped to join the university’s honor society.

We sat next to him this weekend, joining all the other honorees and their families, listening to the presentations and all the congratulations. These students are the best and the brightest, and he fit right in. Looking into his eyes, I knew that he knew that, that he really was one of the best and the brightest, that he was living his dream, and he was achieving his goals.

He beamed with pride, and satisfaction, proudly showing off the plaque bearing his name and the title of University Honor Society Member. I could sense the light in his heart, that flame of passion and self confidence that, a couple of years ago, was only a flicker. Now, nourished by his hard work and his determination, and the recognition of his professors and fellow college students that he was smart, capable, and especially talented, that flame burns bright and clean. That flame is hot with passion, and lights up his world.

We, and a number of other folks, helped him keep alive that flicker of passion and desire for a better life, back when he was facing some tough challenges. Some of his past was telling him he couldn’t do it. We all slowly added some fuel and blew on the embers when there were times we thought the flame might go out. And, now, his determination and his ambitions in life keeps that flame ablaze on its own, with our quiet words of encouragement, our belief that he can do anything he puts his heart and mind to. He knows that his future is what he wants it to be, and there is no stopping him, in pursuing his dreams.

Three events, three times of sitting there, letting tears of joy flow down my face, three times of feeling the power of love in the room, knowing that love is what changes the world, overflowing my heart with hope and joy.

—Neal Lemery 6/2/2014

Defining Success


On Christmas, my wife and I visited one of our young men in prison. Of all my friends, he’s the one who enjoys Christmas the most, especially the anticipation, the expectation, and the promise of a happy time, a brighter tomorrow.

After five and a half years in prison, his spirit is brighter now that it’s ever been. He’s grown in so many ways, and achieved many of his goals. In prison, he’s actually had goals and found ways to achieve them. Before that, life was just survival, slogging through chaos and drugs, of being treated indifferently, without love, and not knowing who he was or where he was headed.

Now, he’s found purpose and meaning. He’s making peace with the demons in his life, and has found the strength and courage to look deep inside of himself, and to finally love himself, and all the possibilities he has in his life.

He wanted socks for Christmas, making sure everyone knew it, too. Now, he’s a wealthy man, Mr. Big in the world of socks. He’s the happy recipient of forty pairs of socks, socks of nearly every size and color. He has socks everywhere now, new socks to try on every day for over a month.

Yes, he had a successful Christmas, all the socks he could ever want. In the telling of his story, his laugh and his big smile light up his face; he knows now that he is loved and respected by so many people. He’s figured out the magic of Christmas, the reason for the season.

He’s successful in so many other ways this year. He’s taken charge of his life, looking deep inside of himself, and taking charge of who he is, and where he is going. He’s embraced his new maturity. He’s taken on his self confidence and is moving ahead. He’s found his courage and is nourishing and loving his soul.

He’s the person Robert Louis Stevenson was writing about when he said,
“That man is successful who has lived well, laughed often, and loved much, who has gained the respect of the intelligent men and the love of children; who has filled his niche and accomplished his task; who leaves the world better than he found it, whether by an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul; who never lacked appreciation of earth’s beauty or failed to express it; who looked for the best in others and gave the best he had.”  ~Robert Louis Stevenson

This year, many people I know have taken stock of their lives, summoned their courage, and moved ahead. Their accomplishments are many, and I’ve been applauding their journeys, and marveling at their determination and sacred intentions in their lives. It has been a year of transformation and a year of dramatic and momentous growth. Old demons have been called out of the basement, new directions has been set, and the tough, sweaty and hard work has been done. And, in that work, our communities are stronger, more vibrant, richer in so many ways.

Some people look to Washington politicians to make the big changes they want to see in the world and in their lives. Yet, the real change and the real work is done right here, inside my friends and neighbors, the farmer, the waitress, the young man in prison. The real change makers are right here, and the work is getting done. People are becoming transformed, people making a real difference.

Like my young friend in prison, people are taking inventory of who they are inside, and grasping the power they have to change. And, then, they are stepping out, and doing the hard, gut level work, and moving ahead.

They see the richness in their lives, not by the number of socks they got for Christmas, but in the way they love and are loved.

First Cup


First morning cup, brewing before dawn,
the son packing up his bag, ready to go
back to his Sunday job, to school—
more tests this week, only a month left
his first term in a real college.

His face lights up, his words all about campus
and classes, and the brainy discussions and lessons—
him fitting in, getting into his groove, finding his way,
living his dream we talked about so often.

Finding his path, in so many ways, now
footsteps steady on university sidewalks,
exploring the library, coffee with new found friends,
conversations rich with ideas and challenges.

We talk, me reaching to offer a tidbit of advice, of support
before he gets back at it, this new life of his,
me, wanting to be fatherly, yet not wanting to push,
me, proud of his sure steps, his confidence, all of his success.

Him, now fully a man, both feet firm on his chosen path,
him, moving forward, not knowing where he will travel
yet, happy with the idea of his journey, his idea
of who he is, and who he is becoming, at last.

Dad work now nearly done, this son has found himself,
his wings strong, finding the updrafts,
soaring, towards the sun
of his newfound happiness.

First cup now drained, he fills his car mug with his second,
heading towards the door, and turns back
hugging, one last time, and then
he is gone, down the road, moving on with his life.

The house, quiet now, without his voice, without
him playing the guitar, his singing in the shower,
his eyes twinkling as he speaks of his new life,
he goes down the road, leaving me with
a second cup and wet face.

Neal Lemery 11/10/2013

The Gift of Education


The Gift of Education: My Speech at My Mentee’s College Graduation, Camp Tillamook, February 7, 2013

It is an honor and privilege to be in this place of personal change, this place of education, and to honor D***.

I am one of D***’s mentors, his friend, and, sometimes, his rhythm guitar player. I stand here with pride and with admiration for a job well done.

We honor D*** for his determination, for his will power, and for his accomplishments. We honor his dedication to make something of himself, to make fundamental changes in his life, and to challenge himself to succeed.

He is the first among you to attain his Associates Degree. This is a remarkable and significant accomplishment.

D*** is the first to achieve this milestone here. But, he is only the first among many.

I look around this room, and I see all of you young men who will follow D***‘s lead, who will keep working hard, and learning. You will achieve your own college degrees.

We also come here today to honor all of you young men. You are all students, you are all learning, and applying yourselves. You are bettering yourselves, and preparing for your own bright and successful futures. You are becoming healthier, and stronger, men.

Today, we come here to honor the power and the gift of education.

Education is a gift each of us gives to ourselves. No one can ever take away that gift. Your ability to learn, to explore, to develop your minds, will always be yours. No one can steal your ability to learn new information, to think through problems, and to come up with brilliant and comprehensive solutions.

You are the problem solvers of our future. You are the future of this country, and we expect you to be successful in creating a bright future for you and your families, and for the generations who will come after you.

And, that is a sacred trust we place in you.

As we look around at the staff members in this room, we see that they are educated people. They have gone to college. They have made sacrifices and sweated over their hard work. And, they have bettered themselves.

They have developed their minds, and taken the time to grow and educate themselves. They bring their education and their strong minds to this place, to teach, and to help you succeed, to be complete and healthy men.

Every staff member has made a difference. Every one of them has changed you and they have changed the world.

Because of education, they are better husbands and wives, better fathers and mothers, better neighbors, and better human beings.

I ask you to look inside of yourselves and take inventory of who you are inside, and who you want to be. Think of the possibilities you have.

Each of us has the power to change our lives, to move ahead, and to be healthy, strong people.

The work that each one of you is doing here is the work of education. Education changes lives. Education frees each of us from the slavery of bad ideas, of helplessness, and despair. Education gives us hope.

You are changing lives here.

We need more than a belief in our heart that the world needs to change, and that we need to change. We need to be problem solvers, we need to be the engineers and architects of a new world. We need to be the song writers and poets who will bring more love and happiness to the world, and to each other.

All of that world depends on education.

D*** is the first of you to achieve a college degree. He has opened up the trail, and he is leading all of you by his example.

But, he is not the only one here who will go on and achieve great things in his life. He is not the only one who will master complex skills and challenging ideas, and become a solver of problems, a teacher, and a healer of his fellow man.

Every one of you has that capability.

The only limits that any of us have right now are the limits we impose on ourselves. Every one of you can achieve your dreams.

And, the key to those goals and those dreams is in your education.

This is the gift we celebrate tonight, the gift of education. It is as close to you as the books on your bookshelf, the discussions you have in class tomorrow, and the serious conversations you have around the dinner table tonight.

It all starts with you. Today. Right now.

Take that gift, and run with it.

The future is yours.

Thank you.

—Neal Lemery