If Ducklings and Wind, Then Not Necessarily Eagles

Have you ever wondered why that one time that you saw something fantastic happen, you tend to look for or expect the fantastic every time similar coincident indicators appear?

I remember a particular day I was enjoying a book on my screened-in back patio. A strong north wind was blowing across the retention pond behind my house as I read. Several ducks had taken up residence in this pond in previous years and they had recently hatched a few ducklings. They made a lot of noise most of the time and I had gotten used to tuning out their frequent quacking.

During this one day, however, I was interrupted by the mother ducks quacking more loudly than usual as an Eagle began an attack maneuver over the pond. I did not bother to look until perhaps the second attack took place. I thought it was odd that the eagle kept coming back. Then I noticed his advantage. The eagle had help from the wind. He was able to dive for an attack, then recover wind for itself and regain altitude for the next attack without having to circle around. The mother ducks would flap their wings, quack like mad, and then all the ducks would dive under the water during each attack from the eagle. It was a fantastic show!

Fifteen minutes of repeated attacks finally brought out several of my neighbors from their homes as the mother ducks were being quite noisy. A few women were frantic over the poor baby ducklings. I was cheering for the eagle and was quite vocal about it, but he grew tired from the attacks and finally flew away.

I lived in that house for another five years, and I looked for eagles every time I saw ducklings and the wind was up.

Suicide is Painless, for the Dead

Three people spoke at this man’s funeral. I was one of them. I represented our running community and wore a race t-shirt from the first marathon that we ran together. My writing about this man today does not come on the anniversary of his death, his birthday, or any other special occasion. Drew just pops into my mind once in a while. Today is one of those days.

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We learned that we had the same birthday while enjoying a beer together following a run shortly after we first met. We were chasing the same girl and Drew was trying to have a friendly chat about our intentions, as if he was going to convince me to back off or something. I thought my intentions were honorable and that his were merely physical, but you know how it goes with perception. We became good friends once we learned about the birthday connection. That is how it goes when you share a birthday, along with having other things in common like running long distances together. Our bond seemed to be automatic. What happened to the girl? She broke both our hearts by moving to New York City while the brothers from a different mother stayed in Fort Lauderdale. I watched Drew pour his heart and soul into every girlfriend, and eventually a wife, that he had while we were friends. He was a passionate person… and obsessive… and compulsive… and impulsive! Drew decided one day in the autumn of 2004 that he had had enough and gave back that which is not so easy to come by, his own life. He struggled with addiction, and his despair over not having control over himself consumed him. Drew would help anyone in trouble. He never asked for help though, even when he needed it most.

His Higher Power

In 1980 an 18 year old kid moved into his own apartment. After arriving to his new environment the kid became friends with a neighbor named Frank, who was a recovering alcoholic after thirty years of drunkenness. His motivation for quitting the booze? He survived a stroke at age 52 and was physically disabled. The entire right side of Frank’s body still felt numb, and he went for walks every day trying to revive the lifeless. He limped noticeably. The kid accompanied Frank on his walks each night after dinner while Frank told tales of his struggle with the bottle. Frank thought he saw his younger self and wanted to warn him of the dangers of alcohol, so he invited the kid to a meeting. The kid went to the meeting but he couldn’t stand it. The place was filled with people telling stories about how they fucked up, and how their lives were out of their control. The kid hated these messages because of his belief in controlling your own destiny. All of that talk of a higher power essentially meant we are powerless. Frank and the kid played a game of chess every morning before the kid went to work. Frank liked to brag that he had the mind of a 25 year old stuck in a 55 year old body. Games that were unfinished due to time got picked up later in the evenings after Frank’s walk. Frank and the kid kept up this routine for a solid year, Frank’s 4th year of sobriety. On the anniversary the kid went with Frank to his meeting and Frank told the tale of how the kid helped him through that 4th year just by enjoying walks and playing chess with him. Perhaps Frank’s higher power put the kid in his life for that year.

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Hell and Heaven

The game I play and the arena that I play in is filled with quotes that span the entire life of the markets. Several of them relate to feeling the pain of loss versus the pleasure derived from a gain. You only need to refer to the previous essay to see that I am more concerned with a possible punishment of hell than the pleasure to be gained from going to heaven. Perhaps my trading and the years that I have been involved in this game has taught me to be as dispassionate about religion as much as I try to be dispassionate about my gains and losses from trading .

I saw a quote from the winning Super Bowl coach, Bill Belichick, after his team won the big game this year on a very dramatic play at the end of the game. The opposing coach, Pete Carroll, was heavily criticized about his play-calling after his team, the Seahawks, were on the Patriots’ one-yard line trying to score. The Patriots made the better play and a few moments later sealed the victory and championship. The quote related to trading, that was uttered by Coach Belichick after the victory, stuck with me:

“I know they are disappointed, as we’ve been in that spot a couple times ourselves. So the high that we feel is probably not as high as the low that they feel. But that’s a really good football team.”

What he describes is a psychological phenomenon that was best brought to the trading world’s attention in 1992 with a study called, “Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision Under Risk” written by two psychologists, Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky.

If you are a novice trader reading my journal trying to gain insights about trading, stop here!, and go read that study first.

Somewhere in the Universe

Considering the logic of religion, I am indifferent. I do not want to believe in God or some other fantasy about a destiny that He has outlined for us. Of all the nonsense, it makes me laugh when I hear someone say something like, “It happened for a reason.” I do not want to offend so I always say the response silently to myself, “No. Things just happen.”

The trouble I have with not believing in a God is that I am puzzled by where we are. I will take you through an abbreviated chain of my box in a box puzzle to explain my concern. I live in the United States, which is on the planet earth, which is in the milky way galaxy, which is in our universe…

Then comes the perplexing part, the question that has had me baffled for years and the only reason I can find for perhaps continuing to believe in a God. Where is the universe? Even if you are a rock solid, dyed in the wool scientist that firmly subscribes to the big bang theory, fine, but where did that first explosion take place?

So that leads me back to how I can believe in God while still snubbing my nose at Him until He provides me with some solid evidence of His existence. It is called Pascal’s Wager. Perhaps you have heard of it:

Believe in God and he exists = eternal life in a heaven.
Believe in God and he does not exist = a wasted belief in a fantasy.
No belief in God and he exists = eternal life in a hell.
No belief in God and he does not exist = no wasted belief in a fantasy.

The logical choice is to believe in God as it minimizes risk of the downside.

God Did Not Give This to Me

My sister posted a comment on one of my photos last year that said, “This is your gift.” I let that compliment go without thanking her or retorting, but I disliked the comment. I found it offensive to the amount of time and effort that I have dedicated to the craft of photography. I have since deleted the comment from where it was posted.

I am a professionally trained photographer. To imply that I have some ordained gift from a creator, or some inherent ability given to me by a God, is a load of bullshit that I will no longer accept. I have logged thousands of hours behind a lens and have benefited from the critique of peers and mentors to help me hone my skills. There is no inherent gift. Please refrain from inserting your religion or beliefs into my works of art. My skills and the products that I produce from those skills did not come to me by way of a gift. I earned them through hard work and applying myself to my chosen craft.

This is also true with my writing. This is no gift. I work at being a wordsmith. I realize that I am no Hunter S. Thompson or Jack London, but I work at rising to their level every day. Much like Ernest Hemingway did during his years spent in Key West, I sit at my keyboard every morning and try to hammer out 300 words in coherently structured sentences to please an audience of one. Myself. I do not write for a God or because of one. I certainly do not capture stunningly beautiful landscapes with my lens for or because of a God. If I thought my artistry was a result of a gift, then why would I work at it?

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The Household Predator

Everything looked wet this morning as I was getting ready for my run yet the sky was clear blue. I opened the sliding door to let the cat have her time to imagine chasing lizards behind the safety of the screened in patio. The shrubs that line the outside of the screen often have many little creatures to capture the mind of my little predator. She will sometimes sit on the table and stare at them. When the sun comes up she takes to doing what cats do best. She melts into a nap. Yesterday a tiny reptile found its way into that screened patio, which was odd to me as it is pretty tightly sealed. My little killer was busy stalking the slithery creature for a snack as I was trying to figure out how the lizard got in here with us. It was fun to watch the singular focus and intensity as she darted around the chair and table that I have set up out there. I instantly forgot about my problem, the portal that allowed this lizard inside, and enjoyed the show. I had to shut the patio door and force the unfair match as I did not want this hunt to make the transition to the inside of my home. After all there might be blood. I stood at the door watching. At one point my cat looked at me through the glass as she lost sight of her prey. All I could say was, “You have to finish the job, kid. I cannot help you.” Just then her head swiveled away as she regained sight of her target. She leaped toward a corner of the patio finishing with a landing that would have made her ancestors proud. Then looked under her right paw. Got it.

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