Prioritizing Life: On being a dad, doctor, and writer. Oh yeah, and a fisherman.

The New Year is all about resolutions, so try this. The lesson is at the end. It’s only 7 minutes.

I’ve been a dad almost as long as the others, so it seems natural for me to compare them. All of them competed for time, that illusory wisp of the disappearing present, so how can you do any of them well?

Of course being a doctor must be first. It’s special, a calling, on a higher plain than any other job. More important than children or wife, right? Sure. Ask any surgeon, or interview at any surgery residency program. They pride themselves in destroying families for the sake of almighty medicine. Patients are priority. That’s what most patients want—a doctor who will stay up all night with them when they’re sick, read every book, every current article about their malady, and be there when they need them on Christmas Eve. “It’s wonderful that you have a family and all, Doc, but if I am having belly pain in the middle of your daughter’s
birthday party, you better come see me. How else are you going to save my life?”

And writing? Well, you must write every day to get better, and not for a few minutes, at least twenty hours a week. The more hours, the quicker you improve. You have to take all the latest courses on how to hook your reader, how to market your writing, who the best agents are for your genre. Family is important, sure. Maybe you can write about that, if you have a family after becoming a doctor. Or maybe you can sell a book about losing your family to medicine? You never know, one of them might be the All American Breakout Novel.

Fly fishing can relieve stress, keep you healthy, get you outdoors. If you want to actually catch some fish you must learn how to cast a fly line, practice twenty minutes every day, at least. You have to learn the river, fish at least once a week, three days to figure things out well. It’s a big river, and there are so many others, too. And the flies you buy fall apart and are too expensive, so you must learn to tie your own. Oh, yeah. They catch fish so much better. Why not teach what you know and help others to get the addiction? You can be a guide. You could teach your kids how to fish, if you can wait for them to learn to cast, to mend, to set. Then again, how will you ever get to excellence if you wait for them? You’ll never catch that record.

Okay, time for a reality check. The son and daughter are only six-years-old once. Their birthdays will be no more than photos and memories in hours. Them learning to ride a bike with you holding onto the seat will pass in maybe even one peddle down the street. It does take a few moments to sit with your wife at breakfast discussing her latest creation, or crisis, or watching her laugh at your grandson eating an ice cream cone.

If you’re not there at that special moment, time will piss on you leaving. The only memory you will have is wishful thinking.

You figure it out yet? Save patients, write the breakout novel, catch the world record fish, or enjoy your family. It’s your choice, not mine. I made mine and I have to live
in the present every day with them. You’ll have to live with yours, too.

But here’s a method to ferret it out: It takes 7 minutes. Do you have the time?

1) Write down the top 10 goals you really want to accomplish in the next 10 years, but do it in two minutes. You’ll have to write fast, and you MUST do it in under two minutes.
Make them specific, or general. Whatever. We are working with your unconscious mind here. Don’t give the conscious one a chance to interfere too much.

2) Write down the top 10 goals if you only had five years to live. Same method. Two minutes.

3) Write down the top 5 goals if you only had 1 year to live. Only 1 Minute this time.

4) Now you only have 6 months to live. Write down the top 5, one minute.

5) Now you have been given 1 month until you die. What are the top 5 goals. One minute, if you need that long. You’re wasting time if you take longer.

I hope you came up with the real priorities in your life and live with them. If you are a list maker, make sure you include the top 5 in everything you do every day. You can always change them, redo them if something comes up. But, pretty soon you won’t need to make a list. It will be as natural as sharing a mountain stream, flyfishing with your kids.

We have no control over time, only what we do within it. Take 7 minutes to make a better New Year. It would be a shame if it took a war, like for Dan, to wake you up.


What if EVERY DAY was Veteran’s Day, Whether you Liked it or Not?

I don’t have their problems, thank God. They had to spend months and sometimes years wondering if the next IED or RPG would have their name on a piece of its shrapnel. Or, they already got their brain pan blasted and now can’t figure out how to make a simple to-do list. Maybe they came away with a mangled eye or leg. Could be the only thing that happened was running through a jungle that had just been sprayed with Agent Orange, and now they’ve got diabetes or prostate cancer or had a heart attack. Yep, that’s right—we gave them that. Not the enemy. The U.S. government. And in a democracy that means us. You and me. So we should be responsible for their rehab, paying their family if they can’t get a job, making sure they get surgery or medication for their illnesses.

Not all of them had really traumatic experiences in the service. Many had a great job with good friends, and then got discharged into an economy that has no jobs and gang
members that want to take a piece of “the war hero” every day. All they really want is to feel a part of something more important, feel useful again. But, just like in Vietnam, something happened when they were gone. The U.S. of A. changed. Now they must change, too. And we must help them.


No. Veteran’s Day is only once a year for most of us. For them it’s every day, whether they like it or not. Memories haunt them, or are carved into their anatomy.

Click on this video and click through the initial advertisement, if one comes up.

I’ve spent most of my adult life trying to help those who have sacrificed. That’s why I work for the VA. It is also a big reason I wrote Dan’s War. I hate it that our soldiers must fight in a land most would never have dreamed of going, nor wanted to. They have to fight for oil, which happens to allow us freedom. I want to be green, tomorrow; but there’s getting to work, visiting relatives, heating my house—all things that require fossil fuels. I hate and love oil every day. We must keep trying to be green, and to stop war,
for those that have served, and for our future sons and daughters.

That’s why, beginning December 1 2011, $1 for every Dan’s War sold will go to the VA.

Maybe you have something you can do every day for veterans, too. It doesn’t have to be much. But with the war in Afghanistan winding down, funding for the VA is already
reducing—out of sight, out of mind. I’m not saying we need another war, God no. We just need to keep helping the veterans until each and every one has recovered from the horrors they experienced to allow us to continue living in freedom.

They sacrificed for us. The least we could do is sacrifice something for them.

Don’t make Veterans Day only one day a year. Do something every day.


I Fly Fish for My Heart

My brain tells me it’s too cold right now to brave blizzards, to stand in a freezing river flinging feather and fur to catch a wriggling piece of cold-blooded muscle. But my heart aches to hear the river rush and the hawk scream, smell the moss mixed with fallen leaves, to see a wild brown trout with red spots as bright as paint jump from a river as clear as gin, pulling on my rod, testing my skill.

It’s stupid to travel five-hundred miles over icy roads to catch dumb fish and drink beer and tell lies. I should stay home and do something more productive.

Not if I want to keep living.

I can drive slower and soak in more conversation from friends I’ve missed. Our stories are of life, hardships and joy, bringing our souls warmth and touching that elusive thing called humanity. The nights after the river are full of laughter at conquering a wily opponent, the brown or the rainbow that took seven changes of flies and three changes of depth to catch. Beer and gin are not the only tonic, nor required to put our minds at rest from the crazy concrete and computer worlds we have escaped, if only for a week.

When I fly fish I step into another world, one of here and now, of casting and drifting, of observing and breathing in nature: a balm that has healed my overworked brain time after time, year after year. Sharing it with friends is more than a pleasure—it makes my year. Without this, my heart would shrivel, and soon my brain and body would follow.

I fly fish for my heart.



The Luckiest Man on the Face of the Earth

Tons of people suffer every day. But it’s not the cards you’re dealt; it’s how you play them that make you a success. One man did it all for me: Henry Earl Mays, my dad.

What if you woke up to a disease, an imperfection that
screwed up every damn day? How could you succeed?

My dad worked through a lifetime of adversity and overcame.
His father died when he was two. His drug-addicted mom gave him up for
adoption. As a child, he survived a fall from a one-story building, landing on
top of his head, causing poor vision, an imperfection that plagued him the rest of his life.

He still played singles tennis. His grades earned him a scholarship. He graduated from college, obtained a master’s degree, raised a family, and provided well for us. He taught me, his oldest son, the value of honesty, hard work, how to throw a baseball, play football and tennis, and the beauty of the outdoors and the art of fishing. He was always there for my ball games and graduations, though he could barely see twenty feet. He taught me about love, and to put family first. His blindness forced him to retire early. Though he prided himself in his emotional control, he cried at my graduation from Annapolis. I wish he could have seen my medical school graduation, or at least heard it. He died two years before of a heart attack, at fifty-four.

Steve Jobs developed the iPhone despite cancer. Beethoven wrote symphonies even though he was deaf. Lou Gehrig, earned the “iron horse” of baseball with 2130 consecutive games, then lost his ability to even move and died at age 36. He said he was “The luckiest man on the face of the earth.”

Of all these great men, I believe my dad, an ordinary family man, was greater. And I am luckier than Lou Gehrig. I am the oldest living male Mays for two generations. I hope one day to shake Dad’s hand again—Nah, I want to hug him and hold on for long, long time, and thank him for his determination and sacrifice.

His example makes me keep trying.

Love you, Dad.


Are you a closet liberal like me?

Yeah, I’m confused. I graduated from the Naval Academy, slept in the dirt with Marines—Oorah! Higher taxes—forget it. You should work for your money, just like I must—hard—staying up nights, worrying about making ends meet, not smokin’ your disability money up in dope, or scamming the USA out of trillions of dollars to keep your corporate bank making billions of dollars, so you can cruise to Vegas in a Lear Jet. I don’t really like big government, or people from the same distant planet telling me what to do all the time. But, I’ve worked for government most of my adult life. And, I love to fly fish, hear the splashing song of the river, the hawk cry above, feel the pull on the end of the rod, and see the orange and green cutthroat jump from water as clear as a Rocky Mountain morning. I never want that to end—are you kidding? When my fly, my creation of feather and fur, is taken by a wild fish, there is something that pulls loose in my head and tugs on my heart. That is real. That is precious. We should never give that up. None of us. And if you haven’t seen the stream and the fish, and felt the pull, you must. I’ll be happy to take you and show you.

Stream in Rocky Mountain National Park

Because, I want you to get rip-roaring mad like I do at oil spills in Gulf waters, ruining eons of nature that created bayous teaming with life; clear-cut timber scars on a mountain of pines, previously as beautiful as a postcard; and natural gas rigs in the middle of a pristine prairie, obtained by fracking, which pollutes the water of hard-working farmers and ranchers—so bad you can light the water with a match. All for the sake of profit? Son of a b…! Yet all these things allow me to live in a nice neighborhood with wooden fences, in a wood-sided house, heated or air-conditioned to my comfort; or ride my twenty-seven-speed, carbon-alloy road bike over manicured bicycle trails complete with wooden bridges; not to mention pull a trailer with my SUV across two states at 9 miles per gallon to a place where wild fish live. God I’m confused: Liberal or conservative?

It seems to me others have that same question (maybe not Bill Maher: liberal in all things, or Sarah Palin: conservative forever), and are confused about which tack to take.

Until it comes close to home.

Some oil tycoon starts ruining my streams or Gulf or mountains—they’re done. I don’t own a gun, nor do I want to kill anyone (Sarah Palin shoots herself in another appendage daily. It’s so much fun watching.); however, I do think there should be three simple rules: 1) Don’t ever (yes, that is emphatic), ever spill oil in the Gulf of Mexico, or Alaska, or the Russian steppe, or any other wilderness equivalent, again. You can spill all you want inside your Cadillac, or maybe bathe the streets of your Dallas penthouse with it—those would be okay, not fantastic, but quite apropos for an oil baron. 2) You want to frack? Fine, do it under some freeway in Houston or perhaps LA. Nobody drinks the water there. If you must frack in the wilderness, try places around Three-Mile Island, or maybe Chernobyl. They won’t mind contaminated water—it probably already glows in the dark.

Finally, there is simple rule 3): If you feel like you must break rule 1) or 2), call me. I will take you fly fishing for wild cutthroats in a gin-clear mountain stream surrounded by elk and golden aspen, in a morning you must breathe in deep and hold it so it will never go away. Because if you continue to frack and spill and scar our land so you can have an island to yourself in the Caribbean, that may be the last breath of clean mountain air, or last wild trout you will see; the aquamarine Caribbean teaming with fish will be brown and dead. Please let me know, and I’ll take you into the wilderness and show you why you should stop. There are others out there, like in Dan’s War, who are not as nice as me, not nearly.

Still not sure—liberal or conservative—but more light is getting into the closet.

A comment you might enjoy, and food for thought. Do oil spills actually enhance the environment? What are your thoughts?

Comment from 10/22/11

I class myself as a conservative. I find that the positions generally attributed to conservative and liberal have little to do with the principles that go with the philosophy. Example: conservatives want to cut taxes- the conservative position is fiscal responsibility which, at present, dictates raise taxes and cut spending. Many on the other side of the aisle don’t seem to get the 2nd part. I think your essay is generally what I think. I will point out that polluting drinking water is, in fact, much different than oil spills and clear cutting. Clear cuts regrow and during their cycle allow for considerable biodiversity. (Though not related, I prefer clear cut for forest cycling to what is going on around Steamboat.) Oil spills are inconvenient but the evidence shows the systems return to usual after some time- actual useful time not geologic. Gas in the aquafor is considerably different. It is a problem now and for a long time. In the end, I doubt that anything you or I do will make much difference. Our human need to reproduce (grandchildren are really neat) will overwhelm us. Agent Smith may be right. As you can see, I have developed a major case of nihilism. I have to say, however, that the nihilism has been liberating in its way. Though I make major effort to behave responsibly and with respect for others and the environment, I have given up the angst of knowing it will inevitably be of no use. It allows me to enjoy every day to its fullest and appreciate those around me. Gary

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