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Just punch those keys…it’s advice I frequently read from bloggers who blog about blogging, especially Cristian Mihai from The Art of Blogging.

Like, punch the keys when? Before or after I have a solid idea? Do I punch them until I see the germ of a workable post? Is it like panning for gold?

I’m taking his advice and punching the keys now to see what comes out.

“Freestyling” like this, I have no idea where I am going – I’m simply punching the keys…

Is it possible to succeed at blogging without drilling down on a specialty – or can my specialty be blogging about the things and people I find interesting?

I love personal development-related content.

I have been sober for more than six years, and I have an endless supply of stories I can tell about this journey – before and after.

I was a single father for quite some time. I have adult twins. There’s a storehouse of gold “in them thar hills” also.

I am a man of a certain age. I used to toss aside mailers and periodicals aimed at those coming up on their “golden years,” but now the people in the photographs are starting to look more and more like me – and I finally realized not too long ago that my time on this planet is limited.

What happened to the immortality I took for granted as a youth? I could blog about that.

Seth Godin blogs constantly about finding one’s tribe, and Kevin Kelly’s “1000 True Fans” concept resonates with me.

Is fragmentation a problem?

Politics? I fear the first time I publish a political post, the bots, trolls and haters will bear down on me with a vengeance. Because this is a fear, perhaps I need to do that.

Feel the fear. Do it anyway…

Aren’t there already too many armchair pundits with way more political expertise than I possess? Yeah, right. What I really mean is that nobody is more of an expert than anybody else. Some are just louder than others…

Opinions are like assholes. Everybody has one, and yours stinks…

I have done a good deal of recording. Little did I know that there were so many echo chambers outside of a recording studio.

I share a podcast with my brother.

I have been a freelance journalist for many years, and enjoy working on personal profiles – getting to the heart of the folks I talk to. Everybody has a story – and I see no reason not to include them in this blog.

I have worked in the premium cigar industry for decades. Why have I not explored this at any length in my writing?

Should I podcast about podcasting? Blog about blogging? At this point, I’ll leave that to the folks who have been in the game much longer than I have.

I am also a working musician, but I thought I’d be a rock star with my brother by the time I was a young adult. I’m 57 now.

Let’s just say the consequences of the choices I made have come home to roost. Another rabbit hole to explore.

I have lived. I have learned. I have lost. I have won.

But I have also been profoundly lucky. Lucky to be alive. Lucky to be punching these keys.

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Didn’t Patty Smythe once sing, “I am the worrier?” No, wait…

This one goes out to the worriers, the procrastinators and those like me with a propensity to gaze inward rather than outward.

Introspection is one thing, but sometimes the inward gaze is insidious. It can take us into dark imaginings and a landscape from which escape is dicey.

How many times have we fallen down the rabbit hole of indecision, mulling over every scenario we can possibly dream up until we wind up lost, confused and in much worse shape than when we started?

Have you ever stalled so much that an opportunity simply passed you by?

Inaction robbed you.

I can’t begin to count the hours I have wasted, waiting for the “right time” to do something – and the sad thing about this is that the something in question might not have been consequential to begin with.

It’s mountains-out-of-molehills, worst-cast-scenario thinking at its finest.

As the years go by, the more I am convinced that action is far superior to inaction, and that executing even an imperfect plan is head-and-shoulders above a well-intentioned delay.

Why?

Because we can usually correct course as we go.

A good plan doesn’t have to be perfect – but without action, any plan is useless.

The magic happens when we take action.

Take it from “Old Blood and Guts” himself, General George Patton:

“A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.”

There comes a time when we must put the ball in motion, to “pull the trigger,” as they say.

I have experienced firsthand the benefits of taking action – and it could be as simple as making that phone call, attacking that overdue project or simply showing up where you need to be – and it feels good, every time.

I’ll leave you with the words of Albert Einstein:

“Nothing happens until something moves.”

Begin.

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As we slouch into 2021, I have so far resisted the urge to participate in my usual self-imposed orgy of navel gazing…

I don’t know if I can hold out much longer, but I hope to take a different tack this year by being kind to myself instead of running down what I did wrong or failed to do altogether.

Should I enumerate all of the times I have been disingenuous this year? Did I fail to show compassion to others? Was I greedy? Was I selfish? Was I arrogant? Did I talk more than listen? Did I procrastinate?

Yes on all counts.

But given the duality of humanity, I don’t think I’m putting together a laundry list of personal shortcomings in my journal this year.

Have I been kind? Have I loved? Have I laughed with others? Have I hugged (Damn you, COVID-19)? Have I been sincere? Generous? Gracious? Of service?

Were my intentions understood more than they were misunderstood?

The longer I live, the more I realize that I have been lucky – and this is coming from a man who has been through the proverbial wringer more times than he would like to admit.

To any thinking person, the choices I have made resulted in the obvious outcomes, positive and negative. The old saw from the bygone commercial, “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature” is a bit erroneous.

We can’t fool mother nature. And as much as our magical thinking would like it to be true, there is no skirting of universal laws. If you think this is not so, give it a bit more time.

You’ll see.

Cause and effect, y’all.

Come on, 2021. Happy New Year to all.

Be nice.

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That moment when you’ve had enough…

That moment when you say “to hell with this” to a situation and begin at last to correct course…

That moment when the pain of the status quo becomes so unbearable that you put the steps in motion to rise above it at any cost…

That deep realization that “insanity is doing the same things over and over and expecting a different result…”

The knowledge that “what got you here won’t get you there…”

That nagging and persistent feeling that you were made for more than this…

The acceptance that your challenges are uniquely yours, and the only person who can pull you out of them is you…

The quiet assurance that you can overcome…

The confidence that others have risen from much more difficult circumstances…

The upward thrust of action…

The moving toward…

The leap of faith…

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Around Christmastime, one of my dear friend’s recurring mantras is this:

“Give from the heart. Not from the mart.”

I like it, and it makes sense.

But anybody with children will attest to the fact that this sentiment only goes so far. I mean if Santa left only baked goods or a handmade craft, a palpable sense of betrayal would fairly howl through most households in this country.

I wouldn’t be any good at handcrafting a PlayStation or a Big Wheel. Hell, I had trouble assembling the Big Wheels and other contraptions Santa left for my twins, and invariably there were parts left over…

I remember grappling with a Foosball table one Christmas Eve as I downed beer after beer, in no way fooled by the fantasy that one more drink would make the process any easier. That table was very nearly my undoing, and it was as wobbly as I was.

But I soldiered on, listening to Pope John Paul II on the television as he concluded yet another Midnight Mass.

For better or for worse, I had the damned thing put together. With an air of drunken self-satisfaction, I took a bite out of Santa’s cookie, finished off his milk and went to bed.

I am so glad I am sober now, by the way. Have been for years.

Because my twins have December birthdays and I am not Rockefeller, I would always find myself “jammed up” about how to pull off the two events…

…but credit cards, a bit of squirreled cash and the kindness of loved ones made it possible for my son and daughter to enjoy their holidays; if not in high style, then by all means in a manner that prevented them from feeling pinched.

Despite my promises to myself to be better prepared “next year,” that has yet to happen. But birthdays and Christmases came and went, and everything seemed to work out. Every. Single. Year.

But what if your kids are adults?

My twins just turned 27, and I am lucky that they are both nearby. My son and daughter-in-law live in Myrtle Beach, and my daughter is down from New York, staying with them as she works from home for a time – a decidedly positive byproduct of the COVID-19 nightmare. I’m thrilled she is able to do that.

They are still getting presents, though, but the endgame moving forward is to keep it simple and avoid credit card spending.

I need to keep in mind that as far as gifts are concerned, 27 is not 17 is not 7 – and yet I keep hearkening back to those times, like, will my gifts be enough

But then I snap back to reality with the profound realization that, yes, they will be enough because I am enough. This is where the heart comes in, where spending time together comes in, where love comes in.

That kind of acceptance just became the biggest gift I could possibly give myself.

For many years, my “day job” has been at a cigar shop with a well-known name: Tinder Box.

In my case, I work for Tinder Box of the Carolinas.

If you are of a certain age like I am, you’ll remember Tinder Box.

In the 70s and 80s, you couldn’t miss the small stores with Tudor facades and tiny walk-in humidors and all sorts of briar pipes, tobaccos and collectibles throughout. It seemed that whatever mall you happened to enter, the probability that you would pass a Tinder Box franchise was very high.

The Cigar Boom in the late 1990s/Early 2000s changed the landscape. The humidors grew considerably larger.

I remember seeing such stores when I was younger – in places like Miami and in many locations in Southern California like the Mall of Orange, the Glendale Galleria and more.

Tinder Box was started in Los Angeles in 1928 by a tobacconist named Ed Koplin, Sr. Sadly, that store closed its doors for good in 2017.  A ninety-year run is nothing if not astonishing.

The franchise opportunity became available in 1973, and [my twin brother] Chris’ father-in-law, Jim Cass, was one of the first on board – launching his first shop at the Hanes Mall in Winston-Salem, North Carolina – essentially opening up the Mid-Atlantic region.

Jim started that store as a hobby while he was engaged in his career with R.J. Reynolds. What began in Winston eventually became multiple stores in the Carolinas – and there was a location in Roanoke, Virginia for a time.

Jim, thankfully, is still around, and lives with wife Martha in Myrtle Beach – but Tinder Box of the Carolinas is now generational – headed up by Jim’s son, Craig Cass, in Charlotte. Craig’s sister (my sister-in-law), Betsy Yale, helms the Myrtle Beach location.

Our organization is renowned in the cigar industry, not only by virtue of the longevity of the business and the relationships forged and nurtured with key cigar families, but also due in no small part to Craig’s efforts within the industry, from taking on the Goliath of governmental regulatory overreach as well as his service within organizations such as the Premium Cigar Association (PCA), Cigar Rights of America (CRA) and more.

Exempting premium cigars from FDA regulation is a continuing fight that goes to the lifeblood of the industry, to say nothing of the mom-and-pop businesses that don’t enjoy the deep pockets of their monolithic corporate counterparts.

The cool thing about all of this is that, as with cigar producers, Tinder Box of the Carolinas is essentially a family business.

My experience with the organization began in 1996.

More to come.

Original Tinder Box / Los Angeles

On any given day, you will find me randomly humming, beatboxing or singing parts of a song that somehow crept into my subconscious. The annoying part for those around me is that it’s just a snippet – and that snippet is repeated on a semi-regular endless loop.

But it has to come out – and it doesn’t matter where I am. I mean, I can stop myself if I am at a funeral or a wedding – or an otherwise important meeting where I don’t want people to see how I really am. But those moments are, thankfully, few and far between – so I basically do this with impunity. Even at work.

But I have recently made a personal observation – and it hit me out of nowhere…

When I am going through some sort of mental or emotional issue – or if something is weighing on my mind or I am uncomfortable – it’s like a switch goes on and the singing ramps up. That realization hit me out of the blue, and I’ll be damned if it isn’t true.

It’s like a car in neutral.

I have already said I do this anyway, but it’s more intense in these cases – like sending up a flare or a mayday call.

My brother has a really cool song called “In Distress.”

I believe the endless-loop-singing stops if I make a decision or take action. I will be on the lookout for evidence of this.

But – what about the singing when all is well?

Sorry not sorry. That ain’t gonna stop.

What do you do to cope?

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I had an idea for a song come to me last night, complete with a hook and a melody. It came on strong, like ideas usually do, when I was engaged in doing something else.

In this case I was getting ready to brush my teeth.

I usually hum or sing random verses from songs many times during the day on some sort of endless loop – usually only part of a certain song – and it drives my girlfriend crazy. It’s probably some sort of sickness, but I have long since embraced it.

It has to come out, though.

But when this song idea came to me – I immediately started softly singing the lyric piece with the melody that was presented to me, and I was confronted by a choice soon afterwards: Go record it on my phone or wait until morning to capture it.

I grabbed my phone, rushed into my office and recorded what I had.

Without exception, that choice is always the correct one – and this could apply to anything from a story idea to a business concept, a personal development epiphany to a plan for your home.

The key is to strike while the proverbial iron is hot.

How many ideas do we let pass through our consciousness in any given day – only to ignore them or suffer from the delusion that we will remember them because they are “so good…”

These ideas – these flashes of inspiration – are gifts presented to us in the moment. Claim them while you can!

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There’s a Bible verse about worry, to the effect that each day has its own trouble and that we shouldn’t entertain thoughts about what drama tomorrow might bring.

It’s Matthew 6:34:

“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” [NIV]

I have also seen or heard riffing about the fact that a large percentage of the things we worry about never come to pass. It’s all in our heads…

Here’s some input from 16th century French essayist Michel de Montaigne:

“My life has been filled with terrible misfortune; most of which never happened.”

I have written here before about my moments of mountains-out-of-molehills, worst-case-scenario thinking that runs counter to my predilection for personal development – and I know that concocting scenarios can come to no good end. At best, this thinking saps my energy and makes for a “blah” day. At worst, I might be summoning a wave of negative energy that could be very difficult to quell.

Which brings me to a contrasting question:

When something good happens in your life – especially something that you have been wishing, hoping and praying for – how does that make you feel?

It could be something as simple as an unexpected check that covers an overdue bill, a passing grade on a daunting test, a phone call you have been waiting for – or as dynamic as a job offer from the ideal employer or a much-needed reconciliation.

When cool things happen like that, I feel a rush of joy, well-being and gratitude.

It’s important to be grateful.

If you are like me, you have experienced so many wonderful and serendipitous moments in your life – so many blessings – that, in the moment, you know these to be brushes with divinity.

I have experienced too many of these “God moments” to ignore them. That being said, however, why do we sometimes have trouble realizing that the “troubles of the day” can be met and overcome by the same cosmic presence?

Memory is a funny thing.

If we know that many of our worries never come to pass and that we have experienced examples of what I’ll call divine providence, why is it so easy to revert back to limiting beliefs and overthinking?

I want so much to remember once and for all that we have the power to choose our responses to any situation. We have complete control in this realm, whether we believe that in the moment or not.

Take it from the “Father of American Psychology,” William James:

“Human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitudes of mind.”

Yes, please.

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On an otherwise awesome trip to Asheville, somebody jacked my favorite hat.

I wouldn’t even consider myself a hat guy, but this one fit me right – and the brim was bent just how I wanted it….

And now it’s gone.

Am I really grieving the loss of a hat?

It was made well, a Legacy baseball cap, grayish dark brown with the words TINDER BOX (I work there) emblazoned on the front. It was my go-to whenever I reached for a cap on the way out…

…and it was almost like a signature or calling card.

I have many other caps – and some have emotional significance for me. I want to treasure a couple of them into my old age – like the Marine Dad cap my son gave me or the College of Charleston Dad cap from my daughter.

Why – oh why did I take it off when I was checking in at our hotel? Why didn’t I just leave the thing on instead of laying it on the front desk? Thing is, I wasn’t even gone ten minutes until I realized I had left it there and went down to check on it.

I asked – and the manager (I think) told me he hadn’t seen it and “maybe it’s in the car.” The guy who checked me in remained quiet.

My girlfriend thinks his answer was a little too quick.

But of course there’s no way to prove who took it – and it’s astonishing in this age of COVID-19 that anybody would be interested in somebody else’s hat.

Maybe somebody else took it while they were checking in.

This was one of my “overthinking” moments – creating a veritable game of Clue in my head, all the while knowing that I would never get it back.

The hat was old, but it was cool – but it was my hat. The sense of violation and loss about this was acute for a couple of days. Now, it just stings a little.

So long, my friend.