Answering powerful questions, No. 6

The penultimate part of “6 Powerful Questions That Will Change Your Life Forever” found me taking a look at what i’d do if money were essentially no object. Looking back i am a little disappointed that i didn’t come up with anything more extraordinary but, it is what it is and we’re moving along now to the final question in this series.

So let’s get to it, shall we?

Question No. 6: Who do i admire most in the world?

List your greatest inspirations and the qualities that you admire about these people. Think about what really inspires you in this world. What you admire about others is also a quality that is in you. Know that you admire someone because they have similar qualities to you.

Right off the bat, i know for sure that there will be people who later on come to mind that i’ll think “darn it! I should have included them!” To answer this question right now at this moment in time, i’m stretching my memory back over my entire life and seeing who comes to the forefront in terms of standout personalities, both personally known or not.


Picked this up at a library book sale because the art was cool. About halfway through i realized it was the second book in a trilogy


As a child, from around age 8 to about 14, what i remember looking up to or feeling inspired most by were authors. i spent a lot of time reading in those years, mostly fantasy and science fiction novels, and writers like Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman, H.P. Lovecraft and Michael Moorcock not only enthralled me with the stories they wrote but beyond that, with their ability to create entire worlds of their own to play in.

"Lovecraft" by by Goulish Gary Pullin

“Lovecraft” by by Goulish Gary Pullin

Thinking more about it now, each of those writers approached universe-building a bit differently. Weis & Hickman had their Dragonlance setting with recurring characters and an epic saga that branched out extensively from it. Lovecraft had his fictional New England where the setting itself was provided the atmosphere for unconnected characters and stories to take place. And Moorcock’s “eternal champion” was a more conceptual backdrop for stories of different genres to exist together.


What all of them did similarly though, and what inspired me, was their use of imagination to create something larger than a single great story, instead presenting their own worlds.

Of my high school days, the person who stands out most to me as an inspirational figure is my honors English teacher of several years, Joe Tomba. Papa Smurf, as Mr. Tomba was affectionately called, was the first teacher i ever had who engaged his students as equals in discussions. Or, at least, i was developed enough at that age to recognize the process. We may have had a textbook for his classes but, if so, i don’t recall ever cracking it open. Instead, we read books and would have conversations about the themes, character motivations and human nature. This isn’t to say i enjoyed all of the books we read (and sometimes i didn’t even read them). Nevertheless, the more valuable lessons were opening our minds to new ideas and, in a broader sense, allowing for a new perspective on education itself. Rather than a series of rote lessons, it was the first time for me that the teacher and students learned not through repetition and procedure but more naturally, through sharing ideas and coming to new conclusions naturally. In fact, when i first went off to college, my initial plan was to work towards becoming an English teacher myself.


Seriously, dude looked just like him, minus the blue skin and Phrygian cap.

While i’m on the topic of educators then, i must include Professor Anup Kumar from my much more recent time at Cleveland State University. Everyone i know who learned from Prof. Kumar is very grateful for their experience and considers him to be at least one of the best educators they’d ever had, if not the very best. (i am in the latter category.) In fact, although not in any official capacity, i consider him to be my mentor. The concept of meeting students on equal footing that Papa Smurf introduced me to, Prof. Kumar raised to the Nth degree. At that level of education, those in the classroom are adults first and students second. What i mean by that is, we have all made a choice to be sitting at those desks to learn something. Not just what comes out of a book, but as a last stage before participating in the greater world through whatever profession we hope to embark on afterwards. As such, what Prof. Kumar brings to the table is not only a wealth of knowledge and experience but a very real sense of guidance on what to expect out there. And if that is not enough, he goes beyond that as well, making himself available for questions, advice and whatever help he might offer even after we’ve put away our caps and gowns and ventured out into the “real world.” For those reasons and more, there was no one else more deserving for me to present the Cleveland State University Stole of Gratitude upon my graduation.

In a similar vein to the writers i mentioned above, there are two other creative geniuses who have had a huge impact on my life, Stan Lee and Gary Gygax. What can be said about these two pillars of the geek community that hasn’t been said?

Certainly, there is more to the world of comic books and superheroes than Stan “The Man,” but the fact that he has essentially been the human face of comics for over half a century is saying something. There are countless other creators who have contributed enormously to the industry, no doubt about it. Two very significant things Stan Lee did, though, were giving those four-color heroes more humanity, and beyond the pages of the comic books, giving a human connection between the readers and the comics themselves.

In the case of Gary Gygax well, anyone who’s read even a little bit here at The Long Shot has no doubt noticed my great fondness for Dungeons & Dragons. i’m not even going to get into the vast influence Gygax has had in so many ways. Suffice to say, the thing he created (along with Dave Arneson and others) has been a big part of my life for about 30 years.

Along with the preceding individuals, there are a group of people that have continued to fascinate and inspire me and one of my goals here on The Long Shot is speaking with them and sharing their stories with you. These are the folks who have worked tirelessly to remain autonomous and are strong in the creative spirit. People like Chris Stuckmann, Jim Mahfood, Stefan Pokorny, Paul O’Connor, Don Hileman, Valentino Zullo, Anthony Snitzer, Shawn Coss and more have shared their time with me and it was a great honor to share their stories. These are all people who i look up to, who continue to follow their passions and dreams and bring their unique creativity to the world on their own terms. What they all share, which every one of them said to me, is that they just keep doing their thing and that they’re “just a person who likes <whatever the thing is they’re doing.>”

In a similar way, a childhood friend of mine is also something of an inspiration. Aaron Bonk was my best friend growing up, and these days he is a performer who does all sorts of things like a comedy juggling whip show, fire performance and stilt-walking. We had lost touch for many years and reconnected a few years back through Facebook, and i was really astonished to see what he was up to these days. i recall when were were in maybe sixth- or seventh-grade, he got a book on how to juggle for his birthday. So imagine my surprise to see that here we were decades later and he’s parlayed that into a successful career! How cool is that? For the simple fact that an innocuous birthday gift as a child would transform into a fun, fulfilling life for him as an adult is definitely inspirational.

My best friend Melissa is another person i admire. For the better part of a decade my girlfriend and since separating my closest friend, she was sort of a dual inspiration for me. When we were together, she kept me inspired to keep trying to do better. She would say i need to do better for myself, but i strove to do the best i could for the both of us. Although i returned to college to finish getting a degree through a desire for personal fulfillment, the inciting reason was really to try and make a better life for us. When i first met her, i was working on filming an independent movie and the same support and enthusiasm she had for that continued through whatever project of endeavor i pursued, including this here blog. On the flip side, i always admired her fortitude, honesty and drive. She is a very strong person and i continue to look up to her still. She has a way of putting things that can be complicated or confusing to me, in a way that smooths them out and makes simple sense.

Lastly, a small group of people who might not have a huge impact on the wide world, but who certainly do on mine, is my mom, my brother and my dad. Although we are far from the closest family, and in many ways far from it, i do hold some admiration for each of them in their own ways.

Despite the many times i’ve thought my mom was batshit crazy over the course of my lifetime, i definitely recognize that raising two boys on her own was quite a feat. i have a hard time taking care of just myself! She has always done her best to make sure we’re okay though, and at the end of the day she’s always been there for my brother and i when we needed her.

As for my dad, we have been basically estranged for a long time, since he and my mom got divorced when i was in, i think, kindergarten. We’d see each other here and there over the years but it wasn’t anything groundbreaking. A few months ago when i was preparing to move here to Austin though, we went out to dinner and had a really great time. Since then, we keep in touch more and it’s been pretty cool. What inspires me about this is that it just goes to show that, no matter how much time passes or how distant you can grow from people, family is family, and i’m happy that we are staying in touch even if it took me moving away from my hometown to do it.

Lastly, my older brother, who has really forged his own way through life. He has always been his own person and stayed true to himself. Like me, he has a penchant for the philosophical and getting way out there in conversations, and i think he always has other people’s best interests at heart. As far as big brothers go, i can’t complain. We’re different in a lot of ways, but similar in just as many or more. To see that he is happy with himself and his life in certainly something i look up to.

What about you? Who are some of the people you admire, or who have inspired you?


Answering powerful questions, No. 5

Looking and thinking ahead, at first i thought the next of “6 Powerful Questions That Will Change Your Life Forever” would be one of the easiest and most fun of them to answer. But if i’m honest, it’s proven more difficult. Not because nothing at all comes to mind, but rather aside from essentially a laundry list of mostly generic thoughts, it began to shed some light on more overarching foibles i’ve struggled with for my whole life. i suppose that is ultimately a good thing though – if these questions are supposed to change my life forever, then it would behoove them to stimulate thoughtful responses.

What could this consternation-causing question be?

Question No. 5: What would i do if i had one billion dollars?


List everything that you would really love to do if you had all the money in the world. Okay, so you would probably travel the world, buy a house or two, and give some money to your family. Then what would you do with your time?

This question helps you to think without limitations. When we are able to remove limitations and boundaries, we can discover what we really want to do.

Dr. Evil

A couple of things right off the bat that spring to mind, the first of which is that my benchmark for a “change the rest of my life” amount of money has long been one million dollars. Shades of Dr. Evil aside, and discussions of that sum’s relative value in the world today, i still think that’s an enormous amount of money. My usual response to dismissive attitudes towards a cool million is to divide that amount by how much a person makes in one year and tell me it’s still chump change.

Sure, if you’re a well-off or modestly successful professional, the impact will be lessened. But even at the height of my yearly income several years ago, it would have taken me roughly 21 years to gross $1 million. Which means, i could have lived at least that long without making any income at the same lifestyle level. And that’s not counting any interest made, investments or simply by wiping the debt slate clean immediately and keeping it that way while living a modest lifestyle.

The second thing that stands out to me about this question is a discrepancy in the wording. The premise is what one would do with $1 billion, but the description says “all the money in the world.” Those are two distinct things, of course. On the other hand, a figure with all those zeroes might as well be all the money in the world to me; it’s hard to wrap my head around getting an ATM receipt and seeing a balance like that. Pretty much everything i could possibly want as a luxury or on a shopping spree would not even make a dent in an amount like that.

To get right down to it though, the very first thing i would do is pay off every bill and debt that i have – even those distant ones i ignored for many years that have since fallen off my credit report due to statutes and abandonment by creditors. i would like there to be no question that i’m in the black.

The people i’m close to in my life, i would do the same for them. Fortunately (?) my circle of closeness is pretty tight so it wouldn’t be too expansive of an expenditure to accomplish this. i’ve read and heard about others in these sorts of situations, like winning the lottery for example or discussions with friends about the possibility of such, who’ve said they wouldn’t feel comfortable straight-up fronting people money like that. They’d arrange it as compensation for some sort of service or goal-meeting task, or would provide things like homes or scholarships instead of forking over a check or whatever. Those ideas have merit, but at least at this moment in time i’d feel okay doling out funds to a small number of people and allowing them to decide what to do with it.

With that stuff out of the way, the world is my oyster so naturally i’d do what everyone else says and travel. i mean, who wouldn’t? As i’ve mentioned in previous posts, being enamored of the wide world would compel me to visit a whole lot of places, as well as return to a few places i’ve been. As the human to my best bud, a ten-year-old tuxedo cat Cosby (named before the media scandal surrounding the comedian, sorry kitty) i wouldn’t want to leave him behind or travel around with him in an airplane cargo hold so i suppose i’d splurge on more accommodating methods of travel with him.

It would be awesome to have a travel companion along as well, like, another human being. But a friend recently pointed out that i’ve always had a need for other people to often be around me, which she saw as a bit of an issue, so maybe i’d go solo (with Cosby). My recent relocation away from my home turf, on my own, has illuminated some of the benefits of being on my own, like opening more opportunities to meet and engage with people while out and about than if i were with someone. On my own, i could go wherever and do whatever i wanted. On the other hand, i do miss the few friends i have and how awesome would it be to embark on a grand adventure together? Although, they have children and families of their own now, so they probably wouldn’t be able to gallivant around the globe with no agenda.

The deeper part of this question, with the preceding few things out of the way, is what would i do with my time, without limitations? Money is a strange thing, in that removing the barriers it creates is really only achieved through extremes. Either you have so much money that the cost of things is not really a concern, or you have absolutely none and the matter becomes irrelevant. i suppose there’s a modicum of majesty in having nothing, like some sort of Buddhist or Hare Krishna or walking the world like Kane on Kung-fu…but the darker side of that is living the homeless life – something i’ve become all-too familiar with seeing here in Austin, Texas.

My instinct in answering this question is to say i’d write more. Do more reporting, profiles on people capture my imagination (my favorite), introspective pieces like this one, travelogues, or even delve back into some fiction projects – both those on the back burner for years and more recent ideas i’ve had.

The fear i have though, is that i wouldn’t. There’s nothing really stopping me from doing any of that now, except a grab bag of excuses. i could say that time is an issue; i have to keep working at my job. But outside of that, instead of binge-watching Arrow, The FlashSilicon Valley or some other distracting entertainment, i could be tapping away at something. Instead of playing a game as escapist entertainment, i could be using my imagination to finish work on one of my own projects. So, in some ways, i am afraid of what i’d do if i were suddenly so flush with money that i had no excuses for being lazy or putting things off.

Another strange shift that’s very recently come over me (like, in the last couple of days) concerns where i’d want to live, given this fantastical financial situation. As recent as the last powerful question i answered, my ideal living situation was NYC. And for certain, that would be one of the places i would spend some time at with my billion-dollar bank account.

But would i live there?

i honestly can’t say for sure right now. Although the appeal of establishing myself in a place different than where i was born and raised has been part of the bedrock of who i am for all of my life, there’s a growing part of me that feels a stronger connection to that place now that i am away doing exactly that. For all of my love-hate relationship with Cleveland that has crested and broken over time, right now at the moment of writing this, i think i would make the city my home in a way that it really has never been before.

Outside of living in the house i grew up in, once i moved out at 18 to go away to college, it ceased to be a place i envisioned settling down in. That’s not to say i didn’t live there, or go away and come back numerous times, but my eye was always looking ahead to getting away from there again. There were one or two dalliances with buying a home over the last couple of decades, but those were brief and half-hearted.

The words of several friends now echo in my mind, that in a lottery-winning scenario, they would own a home in Northeast Ohio and if the desire to see other places arose, simply take trips there. It is only now that i’ve really made a big move on my own that i can see the value in that perspective. With $1 billion budget, my idea of a dream abode would not be very challenging at all to establish there. And one of my biggest gripes about the area – the weather – would be much more tolerable. Specifically, the winter cold and snow would be a lot more manageable with, say, a garage to park in, a decent car to park in said garage, and similarly practical solutions.

As to where in the area i might live, despite my shyness and general dislike for people, i would likely get myself a place in the heart of downtown Cleveland. A nice place in a more rural setting does sound appealing, maybe even a decked-out Airstream due to my fondness for small living spaces. But i do so love high-rise living, and with $1 billion i’m pretty sure i could afford the penthouse or top floor suite with a commanding view of Lake Erie to the north and both the east- and west-sides of Cleveland all around. That would be pretty dope.

Now, what i’d do all day from this mythical place? Well, outside of whimsical traveling and keeping up with my shows, i would hope that i would work more. And yes, i mean the aforementioned avenues of writing. i actually think it would be cool to “work” for a few different places, and since i wouldn’t be dependent on a paycheck, i would honestly just offer myself as a sort of unpaid intern for the sorts of dream jobs i wish i had now anyway.

What sorts of jobs? That’s easy – all the stuff i already enjoy doing! It would be amazing to work with the folks at Wizards of the Coast on Dungeons & Dragons stuff, or something related to comics or the television shows they’ve inspired. Or maybe i could just sit-in to observe the people i admire while they do their thing and write about it to share right here.

So, if you read this far, you might be a little disappointed by the lack of any outrageous ideas on what i would do with $1 billion. At the end of the day, i guess i’m not really that exciting of a person. i don’t have aspirations to fund Martian terraforming, solve the world’s problems, build an art collection or do philanthropy work.

i’m just a boring Midwestern guy whose introspection and experiences in life continuously provide me with befuddlement about my own self, and who likes to write.

How about you? i’m guessing you can think of much more elaborate and exciting uses for $1 billion. Or maybe you’re as humdrum as me?

From four eyes to sore eyes: The story behind my LASIK procedure

By Long Shot contributor Tim Simko

From the age of 5, I always had trouble with my vision. When I had my glasses on, I could see everything clear as day. However, when I took them off it was a different story. I could see shapes and stumble around the house a little, but I couldn’t read much. Seeing objects from a distance was near impossible. I remember when I was 12, I heard about a procedure that could correct my vision. It sounded like something that was too good to be true. I wondered if one day I’d be lucky enough to get this procedure.

Fast forward 11 years later, I’m 23 and still hoping to one day get this procedure. Over the past year, I’ve scheduled multiple consultations and canceled them at the last minute.

“I don’t know if I can ever afford this,” I would tell myself.

There were always so many seeds of doubt. I can’t even get a contact lens in my eyes, I can barely do eyedrops. I’ve never had a lot of money, and the money I do have in my savings I’ve had to work for many years to acquire. Would it be right to throw this all away? Would I be able to justify spending the same amount on this procedure that I could spend on a used car? I had to take time to think about it.

In January, I took the first step in changing my life. I started a weight loss program and slowly started to shed pounds. As the weeks went on, I grew happier with what I saw in the mirror. But there was one thing that still bothered me…my glasses.

My glasses have always hindered my ability to do things. During the winter they would fog up nonstop, when I would wrestle against my brother (something that just about everybody with a brother does) they would fall off of my face and I’d have to frequently pause to throw them aside. It even became a pain to find a decent pair of clip on lenses to fit over my glasses, and even those never fit right.

I was very open with my family over the years about wanting to get this procedure, and being on my own with some money saved and a good credit score I was wondering if it was the right time to pull the trigger on something that could truly change my life. My brother’s best friend’s sister’s boyfriend (I know, that’s a mouthful) had just gotten the surgery and loved it. I had always been wary of LASIK simply because the results are a mixed bag. But at the same time, there always seemed to be a rhyme or a reason to why some LASIK operations were better than others. Some people got the procedure when it was still relatively new, others were almost twice my age, and some didn’t properly follow the aftercare procedures. Seeing someone who was my age and in a situation like mine getting this procedure was the nail in the coffin. I finally made the call and scheduled the consultation.

070501-N-5319A-007 BETHESDA, Md. (May 1, 2007) - Capt. Joseph Pasternak, an ophthalmology surgeon at National Naval Medical Center Bethesda, lines up the laser on Marine Corps Lt. Col. Lawrence RyderÕs eye before beginning LASIK IntraLase surgery. The actual procedure can take only seconds, while most of the patientÕs time is spent preparing for the procedure. The new IntraLase procedure only takes days for service memberÕs to recover, versus months like the old PRK procedure. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Brien Aho (RELEASED)

BETHESDA, Md. (May 1, 2007) – Capt. Joseph Pasternak, an ophthalmology surgeon at National Naval Medical Center Bethesda, lines up the laser on Marine Corps Lt. Col. Lawrence Ryder’s eye before beginning LASIK IntraLase surgery. The actual procedure can take only seconds, while most of the patient’s time is spent preparing for the procedure. The new IntraLase procedure only takes days for service member’s to recover, versus months like the old PRK procedure. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Brien Aho

I was excited about scheduling the appointment and I promised myself that I wouldn’t cancel this time. I made sure not to tell anyone outside of my immediate family about this procedure. I was scared. If my corneas were not thick enough, I couldn’t get it done. If my vision was too bad, I couldn’t get it done. There were so many unknown variables and I didn’t want to get my own hopes up only to have them crushed.

In April, I finally made it to a LASIK appointment that I scheduled. From the moment I walked into the door, I felt like I was at home. The staff was understanding of my fears, they were considerate, and they treated me like an adult. They told me the realities, and the risks. They told me financially what type of burden I would have and because of my credit score it became something I could afford. All that remained was the tests…

I went into multiple rooms, and went through multiple exams. I took every type of vision test imaginable and all that remained was a scan of my corneas. If they were thick, I’d qualify for the procedure. If they were not thick, my fear would be realized.

I anxiously sat in a chair as both of my eyes were being scanned. It felt like something out of a bad spy movie, as a beam of light circled around my eyeballs. After a few minutes, the staff told me the news that would define my future…

I qualified for the surgery.

Words couldn’t describe how happy I was. Something that held me back for so long would become a thing of the past. Over the next few weeks, I prepared by buying medications, making arrangements to take a short three-day weekend off of work, and staying at my parents house until I was recovered. Each day seemed shorter than the one before as I felt my time coming closer and closer.

Finally the day came, and I was completely nervous. I don’t remember the last time I felt so much anxiety about something. After filling out a mountain of paperwork, I was called back and sat in a small room. They asked me if I wanted a Valium to help me relax and I immediately took the pill. I put a surgery cap over my head and similar material over my shoes. As I waited for the Valium to kick in, the doctor walked in and introduced himself to me.

“You ready Tim,” he asked me.

I slowly nodded my head.

“Let’s do it,” he said as he led me to the surgery room.

I want to preface this part by saying that while I am not going to try to get too disgusting with this post, I will be describing what surgery was like from my end. If this is something that makes you uncomfortable, this may be the time to click off of this post.

I was told to lay on my back and lift my knees up and over what looked like a small pillow.

“Just like pilates class Tim,” the doctor joked with me.

I appreciated the jokes but I was still a bit nervous. The doctor put numbing drops into my eyes and the procedure was ready to start. They asked me to raise my eyebrows and they put what looked like masking tape over them to hold them in place. They proceeded to do the same with my lower eyelid and my eyes were wide open.

“This is really happening,” I thought to myself.

A laser device came over my head and I started to feel scared. They asked me to look up toward a green light. I made sure to stare right at it at all times. That’s when one of the scariest experiences of my life came.

“You’re going to have some blurry vision for a few seconds but it is normal Tim,” the doctor said.

My vision started to blur as he said it and then a few seconds later everything went black…

My eye was wide open, but I couldn’t see a thing. I was momentarily blind. I don’t know if anything ever scared me as much as that. They repeated the same process with my left eye and then gave me a minute to breathe after it was over. Despite the fear, I was amazed at how fast it all happened. I didn’t time it, but if I did I’d bet it was no more than 10 minutes.

“Come with me Tim,” the doctor said.

He took me into an exam room and turned on an exam chart. He asked me to read the chart. In that moment, the blurriness in my eyes went away and I read the entire chart top to bottom. The doctor looked at me and my jaw dropped.

“Oh my God,” I mouthed to him as he smiled. The surgery was a complete success, in less than 10 minutes my entire life had changed.

I went from four eyes to sore eyes. The aftercare has been a bit of a chore but for the enhanced quality of life I’ve experienced since then, it is something I am willing to put up with. A procedure I’ve been so scared of getting has changed so much already. I don’t remember the last time I’ve felt so excited.

As I drive places now, I read things out loud just because I can. I feel like a child that just learned how to read and is showing it off. I don’t squint whatsoever, I can go from watching TV to looking at my phone in a millisecond with no adjustment. I can wear brand new Oakley sunglasses instead of a cheap pair of clip-ons that never fit my glasses. So many little things that the average person takes for granted, I am experiencing for the first time and enjoying every second of it.

There are some set backs. I have to use multiple medicated eye drops for the next month, I have to wear sunglasses outdoors every day for the foreseeable future, I have to wear goofy looking goggles when I go to bed so I don’t rub my eyes in my sleep, and I’ll be paying on this 10 minute surgery for the next two years. But all in all, this was worth every single penny.

In the words of Johnny Nash: “I can see clearly now the rain is gone. I can see all obstacles in my way.”

Answering powerful questions, No. 4

The next of “6 Powerful Questions That Will Change Your Life Forever” looks to be a fun one. Having passed the halfway point with my answers, if i’m honest i’m not feeling like my life is changing forever but perhaps it’s not meant to be a cumulative process. Nevertheless, discovering the directions in which these questions lead my thinking has been fun and interesting so far. So let’s continue, shall we?

Question No. 4: If my life had absolutely no limits and i could have it all and do whatever i wanted, what would i choose to have and what would i choose to do?


Describe your ideal lifestyle. List what you would do throughout the day if you knew that you were bound to be successful, what kind of person you would be, how much money you would earn, and where you would live.

This question allows you to realize who you would truly want to be if there were no limits. By aligning with this you can begin working towards the life that you truly want to create. Know that you wouldn’t have a desire if you didn’t also have the ability to fulfil (sic) it.

Now here is something that i’ve thought about quite a bit throughout my entire life! That is probably not an unusual scenario though; i imagine daydreaming about what you would do without any limitations is not an uncommon thing.

Bruce Lee limits

The first thing that comes to mind is the “where you would live” part. That’s been a source of countless discussions for me, both internal and external.

i recall that when i was very young, i read somewhere that the majority of people grow up, settle down and die within a 20 mile radius of where they were born. i want to say i was in third grade when i read that, but “third grade” has always felt like the default time for anything that happened as a youngster. It probably was around that time though.

Even at that age, having lived in the same house my whole life to that point with the idea of moving around or even the concept of an independent adult life foreign to me, that notion scared me. Obviously it had quite an impact on my young mind – here i am decades later and it remains a standout of my childhood. Most recently, the notion surfaced before i moved from Cleveland to Austin. A pragmatic uncle mentioned it in relation to it being more applicable to lower- and middle-class people, which i am.

Relocating away from my hometown is nothing new to me; moving to Austin wasn’t my first trip to the rodeo. Each time in the past, my moves had not lasted very long and in fact, being here in Austin two months now represents the longest i’ve ever been outside that 20 mile radius after a move, eking out by maybe a week or so the time i lived in Big Bear, California. For clarity i’m not counting travel, just changes of residence.

Speaking of Big Bear, it was while driving cross-country back from there and passing by a good cross section of Americana that i remarked to my traveling buddy how all the cities and towns are pretty similar. There’s a central hub where the taller buildings are, bleeding out into stripmall-infested suburbs and finally giving way to vast tracts of rural land before the next urban hub. The only major differences between them, the weather and climate of the region.

On one level, i still believe that to be true. Granted, there are demographic, socio-economic and myriad other comparisons to make but, at least here in the US, one place is more-or-less the same as any other.

So why do i continuously feel like i should be somewhere else? Even now, here in Austin where apples-to-apples i find superior to Cleveland, i have moments of thinking i would like to live somewhere different.

Maybe it’s because i have traveled around the country and a little bit of the larger world enough to comprehend how massive and full of variety it is. i have written several times about my first experience outside the US, and how i felt immediately upon leaving the train station that “this is different than what i’ve known.” That exhilarating sensation of arriving in a place i’ve never been is so exciting, and greatly intensified when that place is in another country.

At the same time, spending time in new places inevitably at some point gives me pause to reflect on my home region and the aspects i appreciate (and miss) coalesce and crystalize in my mind more coherently. i may leave Ohio considering the idea that i may never go back, but each time i did was with a more positive perspective on the area (and somewhat of a heavy heart, too – returning has always been a matter of failing to successfully establish myself in the new place).

To the point of the question however, where would i live ideally?

New York City.

All other considerations aside like weather (i hate the cold), cost of living (i’m one of those po’ folks) and sociability (go out on a Saturday night?!) we are talking ideally here, and NYC ensnared my sensibilities from the moment of my first visit and further enchants me each other time i’ve been.

Sure, there are lots of other places i’ve been that i liked a lot. And as i mentioned, the world is vast and varied. There’s cities in other countries that i fell in love with, and quite a few here in the US that hold a great deal of appeal as well.

But NYC…

The Pinnacle List


The rest of the explanation for Question No. 4 is informed by, rather than informs, the part about where i would live, at least in my mind. NYC ain’t cheap!

As far as how much money i would earn, that’s certainly something i’ve put a lot of thought into as well. Again, speaking of ideals here, i mean, who wouldn’t say “a lot. A hell of a lot!” Earlier this year i applied for a job online. The company had a really, really cool application process. One of the questions was “who is your favorite superhero” for crying out loud i mean, how cool is that? Anyway, another question said “what would your ideal salary be?” so i answered a million dollars a year.

In my mind, i’ve always daydreamed about making one big score all at once. Perhaps that is a symptom of lower- and middle-class people, to imagine having that one huge payday just one time, to bump your lifestyle up and give you some breathing room. Of course there is always the reward of hard work’s mythical pay off, and i’m cool with that. But the appeal of one big lump sum has always called to me. That was a big motivation for various endeavors i’ve tried like writing screenplays or making a film – the fanciful idea that someone would slap down a large sum of money up front for something like that.

As to what kind of person i would be, that’s a tough question. i can’t imagine being any kind of person other than the kind i already am. i suppose that kind of lends itself to answering what are some things i’d like to change about myself? For one, i’d like to be more hardworking. i don’t mean in the sense of on-the-job productivity; any job i’ve had i put my all into it and go above and beyond what is expected. But my dreams have never involved working my way up at someone else’s company. i’ve always yearned for autonomy, so i guess ideally i would be much more productive and industrious during my own time. In my imagination, if i never had to punch a clock for instance, i’d like to think i could still enjoy my leisure activities and then the 50+ hours i work each week i could devote to things i feel like i might actually have a shot at succeeding at in a professional way. Any of those things all involve writing in one way or another. Which isn’t to say i think i’m supremely talented at it but, it’s like the only thing i feel confident i actually have any sort of skill at, as well as immensely enjoy, so it stands to reason i should focus on it.

Which leaves just the part about what i’d do throughout the day. So at this point, i’ve got myself ideally living in NYC after having landed a large lump sum of money, with nothing but free time on my hands to do with as i please, and a penchant for writing.

So…more of everything i’ve been doing the last four years here on The Long Shot? Along with branching out and trying to do real freelance work. And who knows? Maybe even put the work into one of many passion projects whose beginnings i’ve had floating around in notebooks and computer files for the past few decades.

no limits

What about you? What does your ideal life look like, with no limitations?

Answering powerful questions, No. 3

The third of “6 Powerful Questions That Will Change Your Life Forever” has been on my mind the last few days. The first two were relatively easy to answer, one being a list and the other…also a list, but with shorter and with some elaboration.

It stands to reason that these questions get progressively more challenging to answer. After all, they claim to have the power to change one’s life forever.

This next one presents a bit of a stumbling block for me because if i’m honest i don’t completely understand the parameters of the question.

Question No. 3: What would i stand for if i knew no one would judge me?

List everything that you would do if you weren’t afraid, even your wildest dreams. This will help you discover your greatest values.

See what i mean? The question by itself makes me think of something like an issue or a cause. But the explanation suggests something more akin to a bucket list.

Stand up 1

So i guess i’ll just take a stab at tackling it via whatever comes to mind after considering the question.

Since i do plenty of self-judging, the notion of worrying about how other people might form opinions or make conclusions about me has never really been in my wheelhouse. On top of that, since i’m answering these questions in a truthful way publicly, i can’t really afford to be reserved about my answers.

[After writing this post, i realize it has the potential to be more inflammatory than anything i’ve written previously. It is what it is; the nature of this question almost insists the answer not be milquetoast.]

At this point in my life, one of the bigger-ticket ideals i stand for is personal responsibility. In this particularly volatile political climate we have here in the US during this presidential election year, the idea of personal responsibility feels like an underlying issue across the campaign platforms, at least to some extent.

So i’ll start with that idea and see where this goes. Taking responsibility for myself is something i can stand for and support.

Stand up 2

This is tricky territory for me here, because i’ve always strived to keep The Long Shot a politics-free zone. So i don’t want to delve into that morass to make a point. What i will say though, is that in my experience, it is overwhelmingly satisfying to set and accomplish goals that require an investment of one’s own time and resources, regardless (or perhaps because of) any societal roadblocks that must be overcome to reach them.

For a good example that i think will illustrate a variety of points in this outlook, i’ll use the ongoing debate about minimum wage and the accompanying “Fight for 15” movement.

As i understand it, the segment of the population that supports this believes our government should regulate wages so that all working people earn at least this amount. It has a particularly strong advocacy among fast food workers, who say that businesses like  “McDonald’s and low-wage employers have made billions of dollars in profit and pushed off costs onto taxpayers, while leaving people like us – the people who do the real work – to struggle to survive.

Like so many others, i put in my time behind the counter, as a teenager and in my early 20’s. As i’ve done at pretty much every job i’ve ever had, i applied my strong work ethic at these places, and when the time came around for raises or promotions i moved forward. In relatively short order i became at least a shift supervisor at all of these places i’ve worked.

Similarly, in more professional environments, i did my best to excel and enjoy the benefits that came along because of that. i’ll never forget a heated discussion i once had with my boss, after being assigned to a brand new position that dealt directly with the company’s finances in a measurable way. After a few months in the role, and seeing actual dollar figures that doing the job efficiently had generated, i naturally asked for a raise (there was no pay increase upon transitioning to the position). In the course of the discussion, my boss asked if i knew why people go to work.

“Yeah – to make money!”

He countered with the idea of personal satisfaction, which he read in a book about management that he recommended to me. To his point, i get that, but at the end of the day people are at work to earn a paycheck, and personal satisfaction doesn’t stave off the bill collector.

More recently, i am enjoying the fruits of having gone back to college to earn a degree in journalism and promotional communication. My goal there was actually to accomplish both the goals of that long ago conversation between me and my old boss: better income and more satisfaction. It was a hell of a lot of work to finish school while working, then switch career tracks, then move 1,300 miles away and start over.

i am not currently making $15 an hour, like the legion of fast food workers insist they deserve. i have college debt, as well as decades worth of other debts alongside cell phone bills, internet bills, rent, utilities, health and car insurance and so on.

And you know what? Here i am, getting by just fine. i am able to enjoy some discretionary spending on fun things as well as pay all of my bills on time. Every so often, i’m required to contact some entity or another to which i am a debtor and negotiate lower payments, or make a sacrifice so i can pay off an outstanding balance or whatever. i’m fully confident that if i apply myself at my new job, which i also happen to get a lot of satisfaction from, that i’ll move ahead and earn pay increases. And since i have a degree now, i think it’s more likely that my chances in the job market are better, too – meaning i won’t have to start at the bottom and prove i’m not an idiot at any jobs i might take.

Certainly, i would love to make more money. And i do think there are a lot of problems with income inequality across all sorts of racial, gender and socio-economic lines. i guess what i am getting at is that, by taking responsibility for the circumstances in my life, i don’t think it’s right to put any difficulties onto other entities. There are ways to move ahead and achieve success, and yes it is much more challenging for some by a wide margin. A big part of the argument is that anyone who works full time shouldn’t be living in poverty. That’s something i can agree with.

Not incidentally though, with a federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, working 40 hours a week, a single person would not actually be below the poverty line. The argument takes into account those with families, to which i would say, why are they having families? And if they are, why not put more effort into whatever job you have – it’s not that hard to get ahead at McDonald’s.

All of this is meant to illuminate what i mean about personal responsibility. There is a lot of talk about our rights to things like education, health care and the like. And i agree with that, it is absolutely our right as humans to have access to those things. But i think it is infinitely more satisfying to achieve those things by applying yourself and taking responsibility for your own decisions in life to make them happen.

Stand up 3

After having taken a break to finish writing this, re-reading what i already had written and giving it some more thought, it struck me as a position in support of the status quo. There’s more than a few holes anyone could punch in the premises i’ve presented already, and that’s fine. In fact i wholeheartedly endorse discussion about anything i put on this site. Please, feel free to comment! i’m not one to dig my heels in on a topic; one of the greatest things about being human is the ability to learn and grow in our thinking. In fact i’m sure the “me” of just a few years ago would disagree with the “me” writing this post on many points.

Now, since we’re already quite a ways into this post, i ought to wrap it up before even the staunchest readers, like you who’ve gotten this far, drift away.

How about a short list of a few more things i stand for?

  1. Honesty/truth
  2. Civil rights (for all people regardless of gender, sexual orientation, age and so on. Except religion. That’s just dumb)
  3. Smaller government
  4. Trying to see and understand all sides of an issue
  5. Learning
  6. Freedom of speech (even if someone is offended by it)
  7. Acceptance
  8. Positivity in the face of negativity
  9. Art and creativity

And that’s gonna be that. The answer to this Powerful Question feels like it went off the rails a little bit and wound up being much longer than i anticipated (probably with a healthy dose of tangent thrown in).

Truth be told, i’m not feeling quite as satisfied as i usually am before i hit that “Publish” button.

On the other hand, it’s been a few days since the last post and i really don’t feel like working on this one any longer. So there it is.

What sorts of things do you stand for? This one gave me some difficulty and i’m looking forward to seeing some responses for what sorts of things come to your mind. As always, thank you so much for reading? (Especially when it’s an entirely too-long post.)