Pop Psychology

Are You Happy?

Are you happy? How do you know? This is a serious question as there is no objective yardstick by which to measure happiness.

You may be thinking, Really? There’s no way to measure happiness?

I don’t think so, other than your own subjective assessment of how you feel. Well, there is the Pichler-Korsecky Inventory of Individual Joy that was developed by psychologists back in the sixties, but this instrument has fallen out of favor in recent times. It seems the multiple-choice questions (all 250 of them) involved options the respondents could easily figure out. They could tell which choice would move them higher on the happiness scale, or if they didn’t want to register happy (for whatever reason), which choice would move the needle toward the depressed side. I think you’ll agree that the PKI is a useless tool when you read this actual question from the instrument:

Whenever you hold a puppy, do you feel (A) unsanitary. (B) confused. (C) like a child. (D) waves of cosmic energy coursing through your body.

Here’s the deal: Whether we’re happy or not involves a personal assessment of our feelings at any given time, a judgment call that can be influenced by myriad factors: the weather, the latest internet clickbait we encountered, music, smiles from cute people, butterflies, smooth stones, warm breezes, what Donald Trump did or didn’t do today, mud holes, broken handles, grumpy spouses, sex or the lack of it, a good deal, delayed shipping, argumentative asshats, flat tires, noisy neighbors, the smell of freshly baked bread, chipped teeth, hemorrhoids, incompetent waiters, dirty bathrooms, hot showers, compliments, criticisms, etc.

So we’re back to my original question. Let me rephrase it: Are you in a steady state of satisfaction, joy, and contentment? Is life, taken as a whole, a pleasurable experience? You are the only person who can answer this. I wouldn’t trust a psychologist or a Facebook quiz.

Before we answer let’s examine contributing factors. Lack of happiness is usually attributable to dissatisfaction in five key areas: (1) work or career-related conditions, (2) relationship status, (3) the roof over your head, (4) health, and (5) finances. We can define, discuss, qualify, and quantify each of these, but we’re not going to. These are the main headings that other happiness-determining factors fall under. If I can achieve a three out of five ranking on three of the five factors, then I’m not miserable. I’m okay. I’ll probably be singing, cracking a few jokes, and skimming stones. But reaching this mark, at least in my experience, has not been easy. Think about it. There’s much that can go wrong and stay that way. Keeping the needle on the satisfied side in all five factors is a Sisyphean endeavor.

I’m not sure it’s possible to achieve happiness, but we must try. Through arduous application of energy we will make slow progress. Forces we don’t understand and can’t control work against us. Disease and death lurk. But even in the bleakest of times, when we’re between zero and one in all five factors, we can still experience moments of joy.

Actor Christopher Reeve published a book a few years after the horse-riding accident that left him paralyzed and unable to breathe on his own. Titled Still Me, the book’s cover features Reeve’s smiling face superimposed over a beautiful bucolic scene. In spite of debilitating circumstances, he found hope and purpose. He remained productive and, I daresay, happy until the end of his life.

Henry David Thoreau wrote, “If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”

Tennis legend Arthur Ashe wrote, “Success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is often more important than the outcome.”

Our nation’s founding document lists the pursuit of happiness as one of our God-given, unalienable rights—not the state of happiness, but the pursuit of it.

I believe the knowledge that we won’t achieve a complete state of happiness in this lifetime is liberating. There is satisfaction and pleasure in the pursuing. So keep at it.

This comes from a position of newly acquired (relative) happiness whereby my pointers are hovering between three and five in each of the aforementioned happiness-determining categories—an all-time high for me. Finding myself pleased with life, content, happy is a blessing for which I’m very thankful. I didn’t achieve this state; forces outside my control aligned, stabilized, and balanced what I never could. So have faith, my friend, especially during this holiday season. Do your best, keep pursuing.

Asking if you’re happy is really pointless, for you’ll never be as happy as you can be. The days to come hold many beautiful moments for you. When they arrive, be thankful!



Pop Psychology

Fixing the Fixers and Those Who Love Them: Dealing with FRRS

I am a fixer. There, I’ve said it. Having taken that step, I hope to illuminate this condition in order to achieve empathy among those of you who may not understand the difficulties we fixers encounter. I’d like to make life a little easier for those who struggle as I do. In fact, if you struggle with Fix, Reclaim, and Repurpose Syndrome (FRRS), or love someone who does, I’d like to fix your problems.

A bit of background is in order. My father, Roscoe, became a fixer out of necessity. Although I didn’t grow up during the depression as he did, I absorbed his acquired FRRS tendencies through sometimes painful object lessons. As a kid when my bike’s chain came off or when a tire got punctured, I’d have to fix it in order to keep riding. He’d show me how, rather impatiently, then leave me to my own devices. If I dallied (or struggled) too long in correcting the problem, anecdotes from his childhood, intended to shame and humiliate, would ensue: “Why, when I was your age I was rebuilding locomotive steam engines, and here you are—can’t even patch a bicycle tire! Gimme the damn thing!” Then he’d make me feel even smaller by having it patched and ready to roll in seconds flat.

He also drove his lessons home with sound economic logic and common sense. I remember trying to get my girlfriend’s Ford Falcon running when I was a teenager. He helped me diagnose the fuel pump problem. After I removed the faulty part, he snatched it out of my greasy hand. “What are you doing?” I asked.

He replied, “I’m gonna fix this pump. What does it look like I’m doing?”

“Gee, Dad,” I said (sounding like The Beav). “We can get a new one at the parts store for like twelve bucks.”

He looked me in the eye without offering a smile, blinked twice to indicate incredulity. “Why would I spend good, hard-earned dollars to do that when I can fix this one for nothing?” Thankfully, he didn’t utter the clichéd lesson about money not growing on trees. He didn’t need to.

We spent several hours cutting gaskets out of the back cover of the phone book and diaphragms out of old inner tubes. Reassembled, the pump worked fine. “Now,” Roscoe said, “you can take that gal to the picture show and buy her a cheeseburger with the money you saved.” He was right. The lesson sank in and took root after hundreds of similar episodes.

I have trouble throwing things away, but FRRS should not be confused with hoarding disorder. Discarding pizza boxes, Styrofoam food containers, plastic straws (I know I should recycle but I live in Alabama), pickle jars, used storage bags, empty toilet paper rolls—in short the common detritus of modern life—does not usually present a problem, unless my imagination conjures up a way to use those objects to fix something that has actual worth.

 I keep a mental list of all the things I’m gonna someday get around to fixing, and I set aside parts, pieces, and miscellaneous items that might help me put a check mark beside a task. Metal rods, aluminum angles, old road signs, rubber washers, strong sticks, nuts and bolts, bits of wire, and broken knife blades are especially useful.

Please try to understand that those of us with FRRS define ourselves by what we are able to fix, reclaim, and repurpose. Joy comes from pressing something back into use that normal people would simply throw away. We are giving “life” back to inanimate objects, and in our minds these objects have hearts and souls. They thank us by standing proud in the role they were created to fulfill, or, in some cases, new even more fulfilling roles as repurposed objects. Remember those old iMac computers, the ones with the bulbous tear-shaped, jewel-toned plastic cases? Creative FRRS folk have cleverly repurposed these into aquariums! Knowing this, I cannot discard the four I still own. They don’t take up that much room.

There is no known cure for FRRS, and I don’t recommend medication. Please be patient with us. What looks like junk to you may be part of our self-fulfillment dreams. Here are a few suggestions for those who love someone with FRRS:

  1. We need tools, space, and maybe a workshop.
  2. When we’re depressed it’s usually because we see too many things that need fixing and can’t find enough time. Offer to help or to take care of some other time-consuming chore so that your loved one may find her joy.
  3. NEVER throw away a cached item thinking the FRRS sufferer won’t notice. We always do and become agitated as a result.
  4. Express pride, even if you have to fake it, in the accomplishments of your FRRS sufferer. You may be thinking it’s better not to encourage, but remember that failure to share in their glee produces in them a state of morose lethargy.

I’ll also offer some tips to FRRS sufferers:

  1. Inanimate objects don’t really have feelings.
  2. Generally speaking, objects found in the landfill aren’t worth fixing (although my son’s first three bicycles were retrieved from dumpsters).
  3. Those with whom you share your space and time do not understand your affliction and are struggling with the apparent lack of order in your world, so you should “seek first to understand, then to be understood.”*
  4. Abandoning your FRRS tendencies may seem like a denial or surrender or a soul-emptying act, but doing so can lead to a heretofore unknown sense of freedom. Unfortunately, there are no documented cases of this happening.

A reminder to those on both sides of this very real issue: Empathy and tolerance are the keys to a better world. Let’s embrace our differences and each other. And I wish you luck in trying to fix me. Peace!

*Dr. Stephen R. Covey (used without permission)

Creative Writing

When Is It Sensible to Give Up?

I didn’t track my submissions very well back in the day before spreadsheets and the internet, so I don’t know how many rejections I received. Not that many because I submitted sporadically back then. I sent a few regrettable stories to magazines like Playboy and The New Yorker. They would stamp them and return the manuscripts (in the SASE I provided) with a form rejection. I finished an adolescent novel in the early 80s and pitched it via snail mail to maybe thirty publishers. Got a few encouraging rejections but no deal. Damn! I worked hard on that thing. Typed it out on an IBM Selectric. Used a bunch of correction tape. For a while my dreams were squashed but not quite buried.

During my years of career striving and raising kids, I didn’t write much, but I thought about writing a great deal and read many books, dreaming of the day I’d see my name on the front cover. I finished a few stories and an essay or two. I entered contests without winning or even placing. I journaled halfheartedly and cultivated ideas, most of which came to naught.

My mom, Betty Lou, was also of a literary turn of mind. She could complete those huge crossword puzzles in the Sunday Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and she’d finish 1,000 page novels in a couple of days. She never had the opportunity to formally train and direct her prodigious talent, but she passed on her penchant for dark humor and irony to me. We sometimes discussed books we were reading. I believe it was after a Flannery O’Connor stint when we playfully batted an image around—something about chickens that gossiped among pebbles, then scattered, cackling and running in circles as a truck approached. I have no idea what spawned this, but it became the germ of an idea that I laboriously developed into a short story titled “Ben Stempton’s Boy.” I finished it in the mid-eighties, and it was the best work I’d ever done.

I sent it out and it was rejected. Over and over. I took this as an indication that it needed more of the magic sauce I’d larded it with. The story did, in fact, beg for development. After ten years or so of work, Ben Stempton’s Boy was a novel.

Then a bunch of other stuff happened. Life. I kept writing through the career changes and hard knocks, and by 2002 I was tracking my submissions on a spread sheet. I kept several stories in circulation among the small literary journals, and I continued to revise as I received more rejections. Every once in a while I’d finish a new story and send it out. The process continued ad nauseam.

I read as much as I could, mainly literary authors who’d won major awards: John Updike, Phillip Roth, Joyce Carol Oates, et al. I also reread some of the classics, trying to learn craft from those accomplished writers. I learned much more when I enrolled in a Master of Fine Arts program through Queens University of Charlotte. I got my ass kicked but survived, coming out with enthusiasm, a clearer vision, and sharpened skills. During this period I wrote and submitted with much more intensity than before, realizing that time was fleeting.

Frustration, though, crept back in. Still nothing but rejections, even though the encouraging ones came more frequently. I couldn’t stop because—besides investing a significant sum in earning my MFA—I’d made a vow with an old college friend, Rod Hardeman, an accomplished painter who’d also struggled with rejection. Back in the 70s we promised each other that we’d continue to pursue our art for as long as we had life and breath.

The persistence finally paid off in 2010 when a short piece titled “Last Stand” won story of the month at Bartleby-Snopes. My first publication! This minor achievement was enough to rekindle my desire. I continued, craving larger success and a publishing contract for that unwieldy novel, BSB, or my novella, Make It Right. But I almost stopped. I found myself trying to come to terms with giving up, abandoning the vow. I’d published infrequently since that first story, nothing that garnered much attention, much less a book deal. A voice in my head was growing louder, telling me that my dream wasn’t going to materialize. Wasn’t it enough, the voice said, to have pursued your dream? I was beginning to agree. After all I’d tried, right?

I became self-indulgent with another old college friend, Larry Hannah, when he was visiting one weekend not long ago. We’re old retired guys now who talk about music, movies, and books. He had followed my writing travails with interest for forty years or so. He grinned and shook his head when I showed him the spread sheet that now numbered around 850 submissions with only a dozen or so acceptances. With him as witness, I impulsively made another vow: I’m gonna quit if I don’t get a book deal by the time I reach 1,000. He said, “I don’t blame you.”

You’ve read this far and are expecting the good news that persistence pays off. Well, I hate to disappoint you. I’ve reached 1,000 submissions and given up . . . NOT! Just kidding. Here it is, the sentence that would have been the lead if I were a newspaper writer: Alabama author Ron Yates, after decades of disappointment and rejection, signs publishing contract with Unsolicited Press to publish his Southern Gothic novel Ben Stempton’s Boy. I’m not kidding. This acceptance (submission number 875) comes on the heels of a contract with Ardent Writer Press for a short fiction collection, Make it Right: A Novella and Eight Stories (submission 871).

So, two book deals in one year, and the joy of 2018 is not yet over. In September I’ll wed my beautiful sweetheart and friend, Carol O’Gorman Mitchell, after almost giving up on love. I’m very happy to have her by my side as we continue this amazing journey called life. So, the point of this story is _______________________________.

Henry David Thoreau put it this way: “If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” I believe this with all my heart.





Timeless Truths from Fletcher Reese Plambech

At his time of passing Fletcher Reese Plambech left his writings in my care, boxes full of mostly unfinished stuff: stories, essays, blueprints, limericks, songs, sketches, and journal entries. Sadly, much of it makes no sense. In digging through, though, I occasionally find gems worth sharing. Even though FRP was reclusive, I believe he secretly longed for recognition, at least a nod that he was doing his best at trying to figure things out in a way that could benefit others. I think he would be happy for me to share this following list of universal truths, each written in a single sentence. I’ve taken the liberty to provide a bit of elaboration—based upon countless hours of discussion with the author—for each of his enumerated principles:


A Dozen Life-Governing Truths We’d Do Well to Acknowledge and Understand

  1. The various character flaws that all people have stem from basic selfishness.

RY: Not being selfish is a learned response. Little kids are a good example. They want stuff all the time. They pout and throw tantrums when they don’t get toys, dolls, and treats. They learn to manipulate adults to get what they want. We have to teach them to share. Many never learn.


  1. Pursuing life with love of others as your primary driving force is easier said than done.

RY: Well, obviously only a few people have actually done this with any consistency. That doesn’t stop zillions of folks from posting about LOVE on social media. These people are often the most hateful. Just saying. Trying to cultivate love in our hearts, though, is a worthwhile goal.


  1. Unintended consequences accompany every implemented change.

RY: Kudzu is a good example. Introduced to America from Japan in the 1930s and 40s, farmers were encouraged to plant this invasive species to combat soil erosion. Reducing erosion is a good thing, right? Sure, but good intentions usually produce mixed results. The kudzu experiment brings to mind an old saying about a road. Maybe we could grind up the vines and use them in asphalt.


  1. Discipline is required to reach any important goal.

RY: Laziness comes naturally and we tend to take the path of least resistance. I know this from experience. Any worthwhile thing I’ve ever achieved, though, required focused effort, sweat, and pain when I’d have rather been goofing off. I even had to make myself write this blog. Whether or not it’s worthwhile is debatable. Geez. But we’ve gotta do hard things. Otherwise, we’re just blobs.


  1. There are good people who have belief systems drastically different from yours.

RY: Sure, they’re probably going to hell, but it doesn’t do any good to beat them over the head with that. Instead, try to work with them and accomplish something good together. Let’s try to measure others by their works and give credit where it’s due.


  1. Evil exists.

RY: Hitler, Charles Manson, Hannibal Lecter, kudzu, ticks, mosquitoes, cancer, tomato hornworms, paper cuts. Examples too numerous to mention. We’ll never eradicate all the monsters, but we must kick ass whenever we can. Notice I named only a few humans. Rarely are people totally given to evil, but we’re all subject to evil influences.


  1. Objective truth exists but can be difficult to find.

RY: Remember the X-Files? Agents Scully and Mulder struggle in every episode with the Sisyphean nature of getting to the truth, but that doesn’t stop them from trying. It’s still out there; finding it, though, as our good agents demonstrate, can be more painful than keeping our heads buried.


  1. A little anxiety is your friend; too much, your enemy.

RY: We should consider and prepare for worst-case scenarios. Lack of preparation often leads to disastrous outcomes. Don’t rely on your ability to “wing it.” Study and practice a bit more than you think is necessary. Then rest, confident that you’re gonna kill it!


  1. Some traditions are worth upholding.

RY: Enjoying a meal with family, taking a kid fishing, car shows with hot dogs and hot rods, face-to-face conversation, carving the holiday bird, homecoming festivities, holidays that involve fireworks, respecting our elders, prayer, celebrating anniversaries and birthdays, and pride in one’s cultural heritage are on my list. What would you add?


  1. We are over-stimulated with “information” that is really ephemeral garbage.

RY: Not a new phenomenon. The history of our various media is replete with fillers, fluff, misleading ads, smear campaigns, and all manner of sensationalism. The internet, though, has amplified our natural tendencies toward hyperbole and outright lying for the sake of making a buck or casting an enemy in a bad light or promoting the latest “cause.” Marketers exploit our perverse curiosities in order to wave something in our face or to gain our personal info. I advocate consciously stepping away from the noise from time to time. I know FRP would agree because he often did.


  1. We need each other.

RY: I’m a lazy slob when I’m alone. If nobody cares about my housekeeping or hygiene, why should I?


  1. Actions speak louder than words.

RY: Focus your energies on worthwhile activities that speak for themselves. Washing your car is a good example. Don’t go around bragging about washing your car. Just drive a clean machine.


  1. The “baker’s dozen” as an applied concept brings blessings to the provider and the recipient.

RY: Always try to deliver more than what’s expected. That will set you apart from the crowd, most of whom do less. Aren’t you glad FRP included one extra? Strive for thirteen and it will become your lucky number!


Creative Writing

What Is Fiction For?

A work of fiction is capable of not only entertaining, but also conveying truths about the human condition, often with greater impact than is attainable through nonfiction. Mark Twain’s novel Huckleberry Finn was commercially successful with lots of action, humor, and plot twists, but is classified today as classic literature because of its deep probing into the heart’s enduring problems.

A defining quality of great writing is purpose, what the work is trying to do. Does it point to universal truths about life while inviting the reader to participate in discovering them? The primary purpose of fiction is to entertain, but enduring fiction has a broader scope. In struggling with underlying ideas and themes, serious writers wrestle, wrangle, and prod language toward a higher purpose, which necessarily requires sophisticated technical skills that are often just beyond reach.

I try to achieve these basic goals: employ crisp, character-driven prose that evokes place and textures the fictional dream; write honestly about humans, not stock figures; and follow Hemingway’s advice to “. . . write one true sentence.” Once that goal is attained, other true sentences follow. Another guiding maxim comes from Chekhov, who maintained that the artist is not required to solve the problem but to correctly formulate it. I hope my stories produce anxiety as well as pleasure as the reader struggles to derive answers from correctly formulated problems.

Great fiction is born of pleasure and pain. Producing it is a daunting challenge that when successfully met will echo inside the reader. William Faulkner explained the struggle this way in his Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech:

        Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear, so long sustained by now  that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only one question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man, young woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.

Welcome to the struggle! You can read all of Faulkner’s speech here:


The Creative Process

Where Do Ideas Come From?

You know I can’t answer that, right? The title is just a teaser, like the ubiquitous click-bait headlines: “Doctors Say Don’t Eat This or You Will Die!” or “Insanely Easy Way to Pay Off Your Mortgage!” Most of us want to avoid death and reduce debt, so we click. Then we wish we hadn’t. This post isn’t like that. I promise. While a simple, definitive answer to the above question may not be available, we can explore the topic.

Ideas are everywhere, free for the taking. There exists a cosmic repository where they reside. We all have access once we learn a few simple, brain-cleansing tricks. Oops, this is starting to sound like click-bait again. I’m not so sure about the cosmic repository, but I do believe in keeping our antennae up.

Ideas reside within the hum of life: bits of overheard conversation, a fluttering leaf, the swirling water when we flush, a gliding hawk, wafting fragrances of food vendors, the colors of springtime, or the desolation of winter’s bare branches. We are constantly processing information, sensory as well as explicatory. We try to make sense of random occurrences, and we try to solve the problems of life. This conscious effort expended toward solving problems and coming up with ideas often blocks our ability to receive insight and solutions from the vibrations that surround us.

So the process does take on a “cosmic” or metaphysical quality, but we don’t have to escape reality to become more creative. What we need to escape from are the thought processes that block our ability to receive inspiration. Have you ever birthed a good idea from trying to come up with one? Do they plop out of the idea canal, wet and squirmy, as a result of our determined pushing? Maybe. Sometimes. But I think more often than not our best brainchildren come when we least expect them, fully formed (or at least at the toddler stage), via immaculate conception of the mind.

Immaculate means extremely clean, neat, tidy; unstained, pure. Unfortunately, these adjectives don’t describe the average mind. If you’re like me, and I’m sure you are, it’s a damn mess up there. Sensory overload, compounded by worries and the stress of daily life, is the problem. We’re sifting through clutter looking for what’s not there. The ideas we need can’t get in when there’s no clear entrance. Thinking about your appointments, getting the kids to their recitals and practices, your upcoming presentation, and worrying over all the things that could go wrong effectively adds junk to that already overloaded attic space.

So just stop thinking, at least once a day. This can be accomplished through a variety of ways: meditation, performing some mindless task such as sweeping the floor or mowing the lawn, listening to music, or simply sitting and observing—my personal favorite. This is when you forget Bloom’s Taxonomy. Don’t analyze, evaluate, compare, contrast, synthesize, or predict. Just let your senses do what they were designed to do. When you provide five clear channels—instead of hundreds filled with gibberish—who knows what might get through.

The best part? That idea you needed slipped in without your realizing it. Later—maybe when you’re in the shower or on your morning jog or in deep repose or coming home from work—she’ll present herself, smiling and ready for a hug.

Where do ideas come from? Everywhere and anywhere. We just need to clear a path and receive them with open arms. They become ours even though the universe provides them. For these gifts we should be thankful.

Creative Writing

Ron’s Guide: Dealing with interrupting elements

Ron_s Guide

Grammar rules aren’t set in stone, especially for the creative writer. But anyone who writes to be read should devote time and energy to learning the rules before they abuse them. If you’re writing a story, poem, or personal essay, consider rules as conventions and let the standard practices guide your decisions. Also pay attention to how writers you admire conduct the physical business of getting words down so that they convey the intended meaning. I’ve provided a few suggestions (conventions) regarding those pesky elements that interrupt the core meaning of a sentence. Are they essential or nonessential? Do I need commas, dashes, or parentheses? When is the ellipsis appropriate and how many dots do I use? Go ahead, put an end to the torment. Click the link.