VoiceWithin

  • Talk to Me: Happiness-- what is it?

    This is the open forum and final area of my research fun. Here's the moment when I hear from you. I'm curious to know what your thoughts are on happiness. How does it unfold in your life? How do you know when you are happy? Comment below...

  • Annual Letter: The Happiness Edition



    Picture this. Me sitting in a chic Chicago cafe, just having paid $5 for an Arnold Palmer on a strangely humid afternoon in fall. Deep in thought, typing wildly. I admit my cliché badge is prominently on display. I’m entirely aware that several months have passed since my last email and that my annual letter has arrived every August for the past 8 years, but the delay has not been without reason. I’ve been conducting research and can finally share some results.

    Over the summer my mom called. Usual subjects-- weather, work, and when do I plan to move back home, buy the house next door, start a family, and provide her with eight grand kids? Reassuring her that’s all underway, thankfully, a different topic arose. We talked about what my life was like when I was younger. She recalled, I was usually practicing, prepping a performance, or packing for an adventure in a new place altogether. “This is when you were happiest,” she offered. Great thing about mothers is that they are likely the only consistent witness of our development throughout life. They are probably the only people who possess any real accuracy when comparing their adult child to the rugrat who once didn’t eat his peas, struggled with organic chemistry, or bought his first car. They know us well. Point being, her comment did two things. One, it simply reminded me of values that I hold; and two, our conversation resonated such that it required me to think more intentionally about happiness. This has been my research-- exploring what happiness might mean day-to-day. Here is what I’ve discovered, and here are the questions I’ve posed around this sometimes not so clear cut, perhaps esoteric, often elusive, yet deeply rewarding concept.

    Happiness is a noun.
    Weird. Like a glass a water, a piece of tree bark, or the fuzz between your toes when you take off your socks, happiness is supposedly a tangible thing. If you reach for it, it's just going to be there-- like a coffee table book or a broom at the back of a closet, right? Easy. But according to all-knowing Siri and a dusty dictionary I checked, happiness is the state of being happy. Hmm... "a state of being" that's also readily available like chalk, hand sanitizer, or sand on a beach? I'll leave the philosophy to the pros and avoid getting too Descartes-y, but that’s already kinda trippy, non? By comparison, it's as if just recognizing the glass of water on the coffee table automatically quenches our thirst, but without ever having swallowed any. God forbid there be yard work or a heat advisory. Bluntly put, happiness is weird and it's a complicated idea right out the proverbial box, regardless if you've mastered it or, like most of us amateurs, if you're still parsing it out.

    Over or underwhelmed?
    I read a book that had me envision a see saw. On one end I was to place the concept of being overwhelmed-- like cooking dinner for 40 people, operating on a US president, or whatever would fall conceptually into this camp. On the other side, I was asked to place the opposite, the concept of being underwhelmed-- a dead end relationship, small avenues for professional growth and self empowerment, or perhaps a bowl of plain oatmeal with no toppings. We all hate that. Then it was posed, “what direction should the see saw tip?” Well, that’s like asking what pit I would want to fall into first-- lions, or sleeping lions? Either way, I end up a tall and handsome piece of catnip. No thanks. The answer is neither side. Instead the author describes that happiness lies in our ability to simply be whelmed, being whelmed is enough. By doing so, we actively avoid the extreme ends of the metaphorical scale and avoid the weights that delay, and even deter happiness. Recognizing when the scale begins to tip and teeter is what's key. The goal, is to gradually eliminate the extra weight.

    Pencil yourself in
    I was in England for a while over the summer. During my travel, I passed through Penrith, a small and dusty town in the far north, yet with epic scenes and lovely, lovely locals. This is what some might describe as the middle of nowhere. I decided to have lunch in a pub hundreds of miles from anything, literally an-y-thing. It sat a few kilometers from the base of a very large hill that reached upward, infinitely into a grey and foggy sky. The old cobbled building was surrounded by herds of sheep basking the in damp English countryside. Clusters of carefree ewes scattered themselves wildly across a lush field, wet and green as far as I could see. Before eating, I chatted briefly with a herdsman and his wife to learn that, not once, in 30 years, have they ever missed having tea together in the pub. Come rain, shine, or winds the couple showed up, no matter what. That astonished me as their story was corroborated by more than a few...  While many of us map out the day to pick up the dry cleaning, take the kids to rehearsal, and to get the Buick an oil change, I wonder: who among us makes time each day for happiness-- not that it is a byproduct or afterthought; but instead, re-framed, that it also becomes just as important to the day, that happiness becomes a beautiful habit and our most necessary chore? Two people definitely have me beat.

    Happiness requires the right equipment.
    A tricky thing happiness is. It sometimes feels as though it exists at the top of a mountain, and below near the base, we peer up and scream, "how the mother fricking frick do I get waaay up there? I don't climb. I can barely make it through Zumba!" With self-discovery as our only guide, we set out onto a bumpy terrain, just hoping to arrive somewhere near the top. But what good is this type of hope, especially without a helmet, a harness, and a few sturdy ropes? In spite of how narrow or intricate the path, it appears equally important to acquire and maintain the required tools. Happiness is no different. Like scaling Kilimanjaro, it demands a mix of both simple and sometimes more intricate inner tools to help achieve it. Challenge is, there is no catalogue, no app, or no such archive to which we can turn to order our supplies. Instead, here is where the work is done and the effort we must supply. Here is where we must learn to take stock. Here is where it's imperative to identify what is critical and necessary for the climb.

    Purpose. It's the most important thing.
    I'll end this year's annual letter by harping back to a subject I wrote about when I crafted a Fulbright proposal and was rejected for the third time. It's linked so closely to the theme of this letter. I wrote about purpose. More specifically, I wrote a little about Downton Abbey, Isobel Crawley, and a compelling monologue she gave before leaving the Abbey. She says, "It might surprise you that wish to leave such a paradise, but I require that I be useful. I must go where I have purpose. It is the only way to see and feel my happiness." What is so striking about this concept is the suggestion that each of us posses a similar compass. That each of us is innately guided by the same identical nudge that directs us, ushering us towards the bastion of our values; towards the richness of a purpose; and towards the very center of enduring, complete, and transforming happiness.

  • Quiz: Answers Revealed

    Thanks to the 73 friends and family who helped make my birthday just a little more fun this year by participating in my birthday quiz. That everyone is able to know the answers, here is the answer key and the correct responses to all my quirky, silly questions. Congrats to the top three scores-- you three will be getting a prize.
    Thanks for playing!
    ---

    How long have I lived in Chicago?
    11 years, 3 months, 4 weeks, 3 days

    I have a few nicknames. What's the one that's followed me since grade school?
    Travissimo

    Number one country I want to visit.
    Nepal

    When I gotta have it, I gotta have it...
    Wendy's

    Sounds true, Sounds fake: I first encountered Miley Cyrus when she was drunk, twerking on a golf cart in a park in Chicago.
    Sounds True

    I have a tattoo of a ________ on my _________.
    Nothing, Nothing

    Sorry, but I just can't.
    Asparagus

    I freakishly know a lot about these historical figures, because they are my favorites.
    Joan of Arc, Marie Antoinette, Cleopatra VI, Elizabeth I

    I hate, yes hate, these creatures with all my being.
    Baboons

    We all have stupid, irrational fears. Which one seems like mine?
    Kids under 5, for whatever reason, always seem to want to fight me and would win.

    Bake me a birthday cake, you think I'd devour.
    Chocolcate: Fudge Frosting and Ganache Filling
    Carrot: Butter Cream Frosting

    Likely true or totally false: I was a certified development coach for the United State Tennis Association from 2005 to 2007.
    True

    But, for real, my fantasy job is....
    mastering the upper tiers of espionage and being a spy

    I'm likely to rent a...
    Horror

    Superstition I've held since grade school
    Never spliting a pole when walking in a group

    Im 100%, no joke, hands down...
    Team Rihanna

    TW's number ONE top pet peeve
    Talking over others

    I am from________ but was born in_________.
    Dallas, TX; Jackson MS

    Tell me, what is my FULL Christian name?
    Travis Earl Whitlock

    Hypothetical: A driver cuts me off in traffic. I respond by...
    accepting the situation as a minor frustration; but then later that night, by candle light, pray to the biggest, meanest, most horrible demon in Hell to visit the transgressor and eat their soul

    We all have an inner diva. Who's mine?
    Selina Kyle/Catwoman

    I went to the same high school as Eryka Badu, Roy Hargrove, and Nora Jones.
    True

    My absolute FAVORITE thing.
    Moonlight

    I am a...
    righteous purger
  • Happy Birthday Me: Quiz Yourself

    Some of you, I have known for centuries, others maybe just half a century. Regardless, here is your moment of truth. Test your luck! How much do you really know about Travis Whitlock? Now is your time to shine, or utterly fail. Top 3 scores will win a prize-- yes a PRIZE-- and bragging rights, whatever they are worth.

    Instructions:

    1. Sharpen your virtual pencil, sit comfortably, and link below to the quiz. Although there is no timer, you can only submit your answers once. Choose wisely.

    2. There is a possible 100 points. 24 questions. 1 Free response. The free response is not weighted and won't count against you-- unless I don't like what you put.

    3. You will be ranked against your peers. The top % of respondents get a prize-- something stupid and dumb, after all it's my birthday, you should be sending me stuff.

    4. Use your noggin. Some of the questions are tricky on purpose. Take your time, shouldn't require more than 6 or 7 minutes if you've taken everything I've ever said to heart and listened/observed me carefully ever since knowing each other.

    5. This is the linchpin of our friendship. Score below 30 points, we're over. I'm deleting you from not only my phone and Facebook, but also from my memory. No pressure.

    6. I love you. I'm expecting 100%. Don't disappoint me.

    7. Good luck

    LINK TO QUIZ

  • England: Weird and Lovely

    This past summer I spent almost 3 weeks exploring the UK. I travelled all over and spent most of my time in the far north, in the Lake Discrict. Below are highlights from my travels. I have tons of pictures. I travelled to Lake Windemere, Penrith, Blackpool, Manchester, Salford, Pooley Bridge, York, Aira Force, Ullswater, Bowness of Windemere, Patterdale, Glenridding, Chorley, and of course London. Great friends helped make this dream a reality.

  • Happy Holidays 2017

    Tis the season for Netflix, Redbox, and ham!

    Whether you've been naughty or nice; whether sleigh bells are ringing bright and loud; or whether it's as simple as leftovers and a phone call, may this holiday season be bright and full of family, friends, and delicious treats!

    Happy Holidays

  • Turkey Day: Happy Thanksgiving

    Here it is again, the ultimate holiday granting permission to sample, eat, bake, and taste everything in sight-- Thanksgiving!

    As we enter a season of thanks celebrated by food, family, and friends, remember the greatest ingredient of all is still good ol' fashioned L-O-V-E.... oh, and butter.

    No matter where you are this Thanksgiving or at who's table you find yourself sitting, embrace the spirit of thanks and share it with anyone you can.

    Have a slice for me.

  • Happy Birthday Me: Time Capsule Project

    https://gallery.mailchimp.com/f16966eb5677b523a06cc1f24/images/5ec527ff-d1f6-41b5-a00a-8f3b7b2a010e.jpg

    This year as I grapple with birthday plans-- what to do, where to go, and what to wear-- I thought I would honor my want for nostalgia but couple it with modern overtones—hence, my birthday time capsule project; and you're invited.

    Here are the rules; they are simple:

    1. You're already at my blog. So half the work is done. No need for GPS.

    2. What's the best memory you have of us, together? Maybe it was in a restaurant, maybe it was on a road trip, maybe you’re my mother and going to say the moment I was born. Whatever the case, conjure your best "you and me" moment—be specific. I want all the details you can muster! Or, maybe it’s really short and sweet. Whatever the case, think about it.

    3. When you’re done pondering, add the memory below in the comment section. Retell your best you n’ me memory. I'm looking to rehash great moments. This is your out, especially if you haven't already sent a card filled with cash. One entry per person. Couples count as two separate people.

    4. I don't care how long I've known you--no prerequisites.

    5. I want to reach at least 50 entries, by October 31st!

    And voilà--you help my birthday dreams come true, a virtual time capsule filled with memories from all walks, moments, and stages of life. I want to hear from you! This is my way to relive a handful of great, embarrassing, and funny moments authored by you.

    | Born | October 1st, along with Jimmy Carter and Julie Andrews | Year | A gentleman, never tells | Time | 2:26 AM | Weight | 5lbs | Hospital | Mississippi Baptist Medical Center, Room 25-B | Person with the forceps | Dr. Wesley Prateven | Notable infant characteristics | pizazz, ambition, UNO expertise, great posture

    GET STARTED

  • Independence Day: F'ing Dangerous!

    I spent last night tossing and turning. Every fifteen minutes-- Boom... Bang... Pow... Pop! It was clear; a lesser cartel had won. Holiday contraband from Indiana, southern Wisconsin, east Iowa, and Michigan had been smuggled into city limits, into the eager hands of civilians living on my block! My serene street became nothing less than a war zone, a brilliant, and shimmering war zone.

    Instead of calling the cops-- a futile, rookie move on this holiday-- I stared into the courtyard, witnessing every colorful strata of open fire catapult into a canopy of dry leaves and electrical high wire. Ahh... America-- land of the free, home of the third degree burn.

    Then... suddenly! At midnight, as if the assailant had been waiting patiently for the clock to strike an official start of American independence-- KAABOOOOM!-- the loudest declaration of independence heard all night, followed almost immediately by a yawp that pulled me swiftly to the window and an ambulance to my block.

    I was certain that I would start my morning run, having found fractions of an ear, bits of a nose, or perhaps slipping on an entire hand altogether, blown clear off, into the helpless marigolds and coreopsis lining my entryway. I didn't, thank the stars.

    Point being... you're probably celebrating. You're probably eating. You're probably going to be somewhat near combustible, high-pressure explosives with some form of adult libation in hand that, actually, contains accelerant properties.

    Be smart.
    Happy, without carnage, fourth of July.