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James R. Stout

Why I Write This Blog

            I’ve met a handful of people who have claimed that they have no regrets whatsoever about their life. Well, from my perspective that’s just nuts. Everyone has regrets. That said, you shouldn’t spend your life dwelling on your regrets and wishing that you could change things. You can’t. However, you can start doing things that will enrich your life and avoid having a few regrets that you don’t have to have. I heard someone say recently that while most people regret something that they did, it is the things that they didn’t do that they regret the most. He also said that cemeteries are filled with unwritten books, unwritten songs, college degrees never achieved, and basically dreams never attempted. I’ll add to that by saying that the longer we live, the more likely we are to do one of two things. We either spend our days fretting over something we did or didn’t do, or we push that heavy weight aside and start doing things that fulfill and enrich our lives as well as a great many others who we come into contact with.

            Please don’t take the next paragraph as me bragging or anything of that sort. Trust me when I say that I have missed the mark on a great many things and there are things that I always wanted to do, but simply won’t be able to. It might be due to money, time, or physical limitations that I haven’t always had. I realized at the age of 22 that I should have gone to college. I was working dead-end jobs and found it impossible to be able to do a great many things that I wanted to do without that degree. It was a different time too. College degrees today don’t carry the same weight that they did back then. I made a half-hearted attempt that summer and earned a whopping 6 hours of college credit. But by the fall I gave up that dream. It just seemed too hard. That was a defeatist frame of mind. By the time I was 30, I had two small children who deserved better than what I could provide in a dead-end job. And, time was ticking. At the age of 31 I decided to go to college and get that degree. I won’t go into all that it took, but let’s just say it was 4 years of sacrifice, no sleep, working at odd hours, and at times it seemed to be unattainable. But I persevered and I graduated from college with two degrees and a scholarship to pay for going for a master’s degree. But by that time, I was 35 and I spent enough time doing schoolwork and odd jobs instead of spending time with my kids. So, I decided not to go for the master’s degree. I do not regret that decision.

            I truly learned a great many things by getting my degrees. I learned how to stick with something. I greatly improved my writing skills and vocabulary. The world became my classroom. And perhaps the best thing that I got out of that time was confidence. I used to walk around thinking that I was a failure because I didn’t have a degree. There would be several couples at church our age and when we got together for social functions I felt like the poor relations. They all talked about when they went to college and then about the great jobs that they had. They were able to own a car that wasn’t a junker. They actually were able to buy a house. I could only rent one and it was usually not the kind that made me proud. I wasn’t jealous at all. In fact, I blamed myself for being a failure. But I was able to rise above that. I might add that there are plenty of people who have done quite well and never attended college. I tip my hat to those people. They have gifts that I don’t possess. The point is I needed and wanted that college degree and I set my mind to achieving it.

            I know this is going to sound trite, but I have always tried to do the right thing. That’s not me bragging or me judging other people. It was just the way I was raised. I made some mistakes along the way and at times I didn’t live up to the standards that I wanted to live up to. It wasn’t because I was so good or thought I was so good. It was because I saw how doing certain things hurt other people and were just plain wrong. I didn’t want to hurt other people and there is that “still small voice” inside of me that nudges me (sometimes kicks me) when I start to veer off the road.

            Here’s my “never gonna happen” paragraph. I’m never going to see the Pyramids. I’m never going to visit the Holy Lands. I’m never going to own a classic 1969 Ford Mustang Mach 1. I’m never going to live in a house that is a showplace. I’m not likely to ever run a footrace again. I will never again look as good as I did when I was young. The truth is none of those things really matter to me now. There was a time when I wanted to go see Egypt and the Holy Lands, but now it sounds like a good way to wear myself out. Besides, I just don’t feel comfortable about being in that part of the world today. As for the Mustang, it would likely be hard to get in and out of and taking a ride in one would probably cure me of that desire pretty quick. I don’t want an expensive, large, showplace of a house. It’s a lot to keep clean and looking top notch. I’m just fine with a nice comfortable 1400 square foot house as long as it has the normal amenities. You know, running water, bathrooms, a room for my studio/office, appliances, etc. There are plenty of people in this world who have never even seen some of those things. I’m truly blessed to live where I live.

            I always wanted to write a book. I started to write one several times but work and kids and a busy life always seemed to derail those attempts. But when I retired, I found myself with more time and a renewed interest in writing a book. So, I’ve written one now. I still need to finish the editing and then see about publishing the darn thing. I’ve already started a second book and I’ve written several short stories along the way. I’ve got one major book project that I’m doing a lot of research on before I get started on it. Writing has become my biggest passion these days. For a while it was my photography. I still love doing photography, but as I’m aging and my physical abilities have lessened, getting to some of the places that I wanted to photograph are leaning towards that “never gonna happen” paragraph. Back in 2006 I hiked through some pretty rough terrain (rated as expert on the map) just to get to a waterfall that is in an official wilderness area. Even then I was worn out by the time I got back to my car. It was a round-trip hike of 12 miles. Much of it was either going up a steep incline or down a steep decline and over big stones. A turn of the ankle would have spelled disaster. But I did it. I was literally sore for a week afterwards. I will never again be able to do that kind of a hike. Photos that I take these days tax my creativity. Now I must find interesting things to photograph that speak to the viewer but are not so inaccessible.

            I am compiling a retrospective of my life’s work in writing songs and as a recording artist as well. I have tapes going back 45 years that I am perusing, setting aside to edit and master, and generally getting ready to pass on to my family when I’m gone. I do have a few songs that still need to be recorded. That’s a project in my future as well. The reason I’m writing this blog entry is to tell you something very important. No matter what comes your way, how much your body deteriorates with age, or how weighted down with life you may be, DON’T GIVE UP! There’s a legacy with your name on it. Maybe you can’t do some of things that you wanted to do. So, do something else! Search for and find your passion. The life you are living is such a great gift no matter what has happened along the way. Just because I have some nerve damage in my legs and can’t run anymore doesn’t mean that I can’t walk. I can write, take photos, enjoy my grandchildren, read, dream, sing, play my guitar, spend time with Moe the Cat, and sit on the porch and be inspired by the animals as they stop by the hay meadow to graze. I know some people who spend most of their time sitting in front of a TV. What a waste. Leave your heirs something much more valuable than the things that you have or the money that you’ll leave. Leave them lifelong memories of who you were. Leave them a legacy of how you touched other lives. Maybe it’s not writing a book or photography or music. But it’s certainly just as important. If you enjoy wood working, then build something that becomes a treasured keepsake to your grandchildren. If you like to work on cars, then help other people make much needed repairs that they will remember helped them through a rough time. If you like to bake, then bake cakes that your loved ones will talk about long after you are gone. Leave your mark and make sure it’s a good and positive mark. Leave your legacy for all to know one thing if nothing else. You were here and you mattered.

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