April 21, 2011


You may ask, “Gus, why do you live out loud?” By that, I mean the way I share of myself, both in this blog and on Facebook. You may also be asking yourself, “Don’t you see the risk? What will people think?” I think the more important question is, “Why aren’t YOU?”

Yes, I live out loud. I suppose I always have. Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on one’s point of view, it took a rapid series of what some would call a set of tragic personal experiences over a period of 13 months beginning four years ago, that has taken that way of living to new and unimaginable heights. Because of those experiences and what I’ve learned since, everything I do these days is done in a dynamic and outward way. I AM loud, in fact so much so, that sometimes it’s a wonder I can walk. Why? I can’t count the number of times I’ve shot myself in the foot, sometimes both, with speaking my mind. My little sister even gets annoyed on how I shut her front door. I can’t seem to just simply close it gently! When I awake in the morning, trust me, you’ll know it by all the groaning from pulling my body out of bed. But those are trivial matters compared to how I write, speak, and more importantly, how I URGE others to “live out loud.”

So, back to my question, “Why aren’t YOU?” There are a number of reasons I’m sure, many of which you may feel are entirely justifiable, at least from a “privacy” standpoint, but let me put it this way. If you can walk into any public library, sit down at a computer, type in Google maps, search for 221 E. Salina in Tribune, Kansas, and be able to see clearly an 8’ x 14’ shed sitting in the backyard of my old home there, from anywhere in the world, then I can GUARANTEE you there is NO such thing as “privacy” in our 21st century life. Does that frighten you? If so, why? Because you think someone can “see” what you’re doing? Take it a step further into something perhaps you can all relate to. Many, if not most of you reading this, have Facebook accounts. And most of you, I’d venture to say 90% or more, have your settings set to “friends only”, or have even taken steps to keep some of your personal information hidden. Why? What is it you fear? That someone might be stalking you? Certainly, particularly for women, there are justifiable reasons for doing so. After all, God forbid some lunatic found out your email address, phone number, even learn where you live! Plus, you have your families to protect. I understand those reasons and respect them.

But, here’s my point. When you leave your home in the morning and venture out into your world, wherever that may be, many of you encounter people who won’t look you in the eye, much less speak to you or even greet you with a warm smile. And heaven forbid if someone actually “talked” in an elevator for instance. “What can they be THINKING?” you might say to yourself. “Don’t they know that’s not the way we’re supposed to act in an elevator?” You know what I say? WHO, exactly, wrote the manual on how we’re supposed to conduct ourselves in an elevator?! Think back to when you were a child or, better yet, watch children and how they act in public. Sure, a lot of what they do is inappropriate and maybe even embarrassing. And I’ll be the first to point that out, especially when I think of how I raised my children. But what they possess inside, the way their little minds process the world around them, is simply PRICELESS, and an extremely valuable lesson for us as adults.

We should re-kindle the child-like nature in each of us, keep stoking that flame of passion, and don’t let it burn out. Far too many times, I’ve encountered people in the “adult world” who have ALLOWED themselves to speak or act in a certain way, simply because they feel society “says so.” Each of us are unique, each of us have unique abilities, and something we can “bring to the table” for our fellow brothers and sisters in this world. All of us have a story to tell, especially those of us called “baby-boomers.” We’ve seen and experienced things totally unlike anything in history, especially since the dawn of the 21st century.

I’m going to end this latest chapter with an analogy. Do you remember the movie Crocodile Dundee? In a way, I’m a lot like the character in that movie. For instance, when I go for a stroll along the beach I announce it by saying I’m going on “walkabout.” I recall a scene in the original version, the one where he was having a conversation in a bar with Linda Kozlowski, who portrayed the character Sue Charlton, the busy-body New York reporter. She had just mentioned something about another person’s drinking habits and felt bad about it, saying “I shouldn’t have made that crack comment. I didn’t know she had a drinking problem.” Paul Hogan, the man who portrayed Mick Dundee was trying to describe “Walt”, the guide in the movie. He told Sue, “No worries. Walt will take care of it. He’ll tell someone and they’ll tell someone else. And pretty soon, it’s all out in the OPEN. No more problem.”

So, the next time YOU are out in public, or even if you’re discussing some of your personal “problems” with a family member or friend, REMEMBER this: letting go of your FEAR and PRIDE will open up a world totally unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. Trust me when I tell you this. Living OUT LOUD is easy, liberating, and even FUN! Try it! When the self-checkout computer lady at your local grocery store says, “Thank you for shopping with us” after you’ve checked out, say OUT LOUD so everyone can hear you, “You’re WELCOME!” You will be amazed how that will bring smiles all around. Just like when you were a child!


April 16, 2011

The Homeless

She was sitting in one of her usual “spots” at the Encinitas, CA. library today, removed from view mostly, sitting near a window with a view of the Pacific Ocean to the west, surrounded by her plastic bags stuffed full of God knows what. She also had her backpack next to her and was busy stuffing wads of newspaper in it. For what reason, I don’t know. Honestly, it didn’t matter. All I know is I just wanted to talk with her.

She had just stood up when I walked up. I said, “Excuse me, may I have a moment of your time?” She glanced at me briefly, mumbled something, waved me off, and walked away, leaving her bags sitting there. As she turned, I said, “Ma’am? May I buy you something to drink?” She said nothing and kept walking. I decided not to push it. I didn’t know if she was embarrassed, intimidated, or what. So I left.

I’m not giving up. I’ll try again to find out what this homeless woman’s story is. But there are others I might get to know, many of whom hang out at the library during the day; “Moonlight Beach guy”, the man who camps out at the beach under a thatch palm with everything he owns, a backpack, a toothbrush hanging on a peg, and whatever food he’s acquired; another who wanders around talking to himself; and many many more.

Seeing these people makes me sad. I keep saying to myself, “Surely they must have some desire to better their lot in life.” Yet, at the same time, they seem resigned to their plight; quietly spending time sleeping in the comforts of the library, reading, and watching movies on the library computers. Where they go at night I have no idea.

It’s funny. When I first moved back to Southern California a little over a year ago, I immediately began noticing these people. They’re everywhere. The reason why I say its funny is because 30 years ago I never noticed them then, although I’m sure they were present. I suppose some of my own experiences in life, some of them tragic, makes me more AWARE these days. One time, shortly after moving here, a man approached me in a parking lot at a Wendy’s restaurant one night asking if I had any money for food. At first, I said no. After all, it was dark and I had NO idea what his true intentions were. Still, after getting in my vehicle, starting it up, and was about to leave, I stopped and looked at him. His gaze was fixed upon me. SOMETHING told me to turn off the ignition. I got out, walked up to him, and said, “What’s your name?” He took a step back and said, “Why?” He seemed scared. So, I extended my hand, told him my name, and said, “Where I come from, it’s considered customary and respectful to introduce ourselves when speaking to another human being in this way, even if it’s a stranger.”

He went on to say his name was David. I remarked that was my son’s middle name and also the first name of an uncle of mine on my mother’s side of the family, the same man who had been accidentally electrocuted and killed in 1972, only a few short months before my mother died. At that point, he seemed to relax and went on to tell me he had been looking for work for quite some time but the economy was so bad he didn’t have any success.  He seemed remarkably intelligent for the brief amount of time we chatted. I asked him to walk into the Wendy’s restaurant with me, whereupon I gave him $5 and watched him order his food, just to make sure.

I’m not sure where to go from here though with the “bag lady.” Perhaps God has other plans for her other than me walking into her life, so I’ll let her be for now. In the meantime, I’ll keep moving forward and “Paying it Forward” wherever and whenever the moment seems appropriate. After all, I could one day be destitute and I would take great comfort if someone reached out their hand, asked me my name, and said, “May I buy you something to eat?” That would be my wish for YOU as well, to treat others as you would have yourself treated.


April 15, 2011

Stop, Look, and Listen

We rush. We rush to get out of bed in the morning. We rush to get the kids off to school. We rush to the store to get milk. We rush to the post office. We rush to file our taxes. We even rush through our Facebook accounts on a daily basis, looking for the latest news from friends or family. Nearly everything we do in this 21st century world of high-tech gadgetry and instant gratification reminds me of watching an ant colony as a young boy. I’d stop and look at them in amazement. “WHAT are they DOING?” I’d wonder to myself, sometimes out loud. Unlike humans though, I’m certain every one of them knew EXACTLY what they were doing and what their jobs were to keep the colony running smoothly.

I live in an area of the country that reminds me of that ant colony I saw as a young boy growing up on a small farm in Western Kansas. Southern California, San Diego County in particular, is notorious for its citizens who drive fast, dart in and out of lanes constantly jockeying for position as if everyone is in the Indy 500, and the most annoying of all, tail-gating. Sometimes I wonder, “Maybe they’re saving gas?” After all, everyone seems to crawl up on each other’s bumpers as if they’re hoping to catch a draft, much like Indy racers. But, I’ll stop there. This chapter isn’t for me to discuss or complain about the driving habits of my neighbors. I suppose they’re just trying to get to their destination, especially their “homes”, as fast as everyone else is, if for no other reason than to walk in the door and say, “Ahhhh, home sweet home. I place where I can SLOW down and decompress.” The next day, the cycle repeats itself, nearly the very MINUTE they pull out of their driveways. From that MOMENT forward for the rest of the day, baby you’d better not be complacent behind the wheel. Otherwise, you’ll get run over.

Or will you? There’s a song originally made famous by Marvin Gaye and Diana Ross, later sung by two of my favorite contemporary artists, Michael McDonald and Toni Braxton, called “Stop, Look, and Listen.” Though it’s a love song, the context of the lyrics can be applied to the focus of this latest chapter of Ramblings just as easily. For those of you unfamiliar with the lyrics, here are some of the lines that can be easily applied in our daily lives:

“Though you try, you can't hide, All the things you really feel, This time decide
That you will open up, let it in…..It's never too late, too late to Stop, look, and listen….”

For the vast majority of members of my Gusto Facebook page, they’ll never read these words. Only a few, probably way less than 10% of its 900+ members, will ever bother to “stop, look, and listen” to this chapter I’ve shared on that page. But for those of you who have come this far, I say only this. It is YOU who I want in my life. Why? My guess is you are the type of person who takes the time to stop and smell the flowers, you stop and open doors for strangers, you’re friendly and smile at the cashier where you shop, you’re a courteous driver, helpful with your co-workers, sympathetic, compassionate, sincere, loving, and kind. All those qualities each of us hold dear in our hearts and wish for from others. Why is it we seem to have lost those values in our society? Is it because we are constantly bombarded with negative news from the news media? Our economy? The instant gratification so embedded in our culture?

I don’t know the answer and really, it doesn’t matter. What DOES matter is that those of us who really take the time to “stop, look, and listen” to the world around us, keep doing so, regardless of what outside forces attempt to bury those qualities within us. For those of you who are reading this and may NOT be the type of person I’ve described above, let me ask you this question AND to pose a challenge. Do you value friendliness, sincerity, courtesy, sympathy, compassion, love, and kindness? Not ONE of you will answer no to that question. That’s a guarantee. Having said that, here’s the challenge. If you aren’t in the habit of PRACTICING these qualities in your daily life, do it. Period. Next time you see a homeless person, don’t look away. See them for who they MIGHT have been and still COULD be! Who knows, they might be intellectually superior to you, they may have been a person of some influence at one time in their lives, both with their families and in their careers. Talk with them, get to know them. Find out what happened to them. My guess is after doing so, you will walk away with a greater appreciation for YOUR life. But don’t stop there. Help them if you can, in whatever fashion. It doesn’t have to cost much, it may only take the gift of your TIME to “listen” what they have to say.

Keep going. Be AWARE of your surroundings and appreciate the beauty of life, and I don’t mean to just stop and smell the flowers. Smile at people. Offer them assistance with opening a door, buy them a cup of coffee, and ask NOTHING in return. The list is endless on how you can keep kindness alive and keep “paying it forward.”

But don’t wait too long, that ant crawling up your bumper behind you might run you over! I’m kidding of course. Just let him pass and smile as he goes by, knowing you have done one simple act of kindness, because you never know when YOU will need that person’s help yourself. That’s what God created us for, to Stop, Look, Listen and HELP one another.


April 9, 2011

RAMBLINGS - The First Year

It was one year ago today that this website/blog and the associated Facebook page called “Gusto” were created. Looking back, I can see in the mind’s eye what occurred that morning, less than a month after arriving back in Southern California after a nearly 27 year absence.

I remember waking very early on that fateful day, April 9th, 2010. As I sat down at the kitchen table with my computer in front of me in the home of my little sister who had graciously allowed me a place to stay, my thoughts were racing. Suddenly, it occurred to me, all of what I was and what I am, HAD to be expressed in a venue far greater than what I had found in the social medium called Facebook. For nearly the year prior, I had begun creating “notes” so that I could share more freely and in more depth in that venue. For many, what I had done to that point had created feelings of inspiration, something that was not my original intent. I was merely sharing some of what had occurred over the course of my life, but particularly so since June 5th, 2008, or what I’ve referred to in this blog as “that date.” For those of you who are unaware what I mean by that, feel free to browse backward in this blog to the chapter dated April 24th, 2010 to familiarize yourself with the significance of that term. Suffice it to say it was life-changing, the beginning of a NEW life and a NEW way of living.

Within days following the creation of this blog a year ago, there were 7 “followers” of it and 30 “fans” of the associated Facebook page called Gusto, a nickname given to me by my father as a young boy. Ramblings came to mind because of something a friend of mine once told me about how I write. She said, “You have a way with words and express yourself in ways many of us feel but don’t know how. I can sit and read what you write forever.” Hence, the rambling part.

Today, one year later, there are 21 “followers” of Ramblings and people representing 47 countries around the world have viewed 72 posts of various sorts, ALL of which are intended to be a “Source of Inspiration” for its readers, over 6000 page views in all. The Facebook page that began with a trickling of personal friends has swelled to well over 800. Many personal events and milestones have occurred over the past year, including completion of a graduate paralegal program at the University of California San Diego, the primary goal and purpose for moving back to Southern California in the first place. And though that goal hasn’t resulted in a career, other opportunities and people have just sort of “happened” to appear in my life, including the woman I love, Natalie Ryan-Ramirez.

I remember the first time I laid eyes upon her. A mutual friend of ours, a strong advocate of this blog, the Facebook page, and the purpose behind both in inspiring others, had invited me to attend a memorial Natalie and her family had put together in honor of Natalie’s husband. Her husband was a man I had attended high school with here in Southern California and who had passed away in April 2009. Ironically, TODAY just so “happens” to be the 2nd anniversary of his passing, something neither of us were aware of for quite some time after we began dating, but one we both feel bears a particular significance for our journey together. What “happened” that day when we first met in May 2010 was another one of those “life-changing” events and stands as one of the most electrifying and magical experiences I’ve ever had. I don’t remember the exact number of people who came to honor Natalie’s husband that day, but it was certainly well over 100 and perhaps closer to 200. Think about that for a moment. Nearly 200 people show up to attend the “Celebration of Life” of a man who had died over a year prior on April 9th, 2009. For privacy reasons, I won’t discuss the details or events surrounding his death, though I believe it is safe to say that an especially vigorous form of cancer had taken his life in a very short period of time. Obviously, this man was, and STILL IS, loved by many, included yours truly.

So today my friends, I’m moving forward with “Ramblings” by taking this blog and turning it into a book, or perhaps a collection of short stories, for mass publication. The goal is to inspire my fellow brothers and sisters here on earth by sharing some of my experiences, AND yours, with the gift God bestowed upon me with the written word. At the same time, this inspiration has led to another “new” beginning, the creation of a nonprofit organization whose sole purpose is to provide charitable and/or educational assistance to widowed parents and who have surviving dependent children. You can easily surmise where the inspiration came from for this second goal and opportunity, one that I feel amplifies my own personal effort in inspiring others, as well as “Keeping LOVE and KINDNESS Alive”, the impetus behind the nonprofit organization.

Of course, I can’t speak for Natalie, but I ask YOU for your support in both of these efforts; inspiring others and keeping love and kindness alive in this world. One of the ways you can do so is by taking an ACTIVE role with the “Pay It Forward” concept, something both Natalie and my-self consciously do on a daily basis. I challenge EACH of you to perform at least one “act of kindness” every day from this day forward. TOGETHER, we CAN and WILL make a positive and lasting impression for our families, our friends, and yes, even strangers, in a world often seen as complicated and confusing. It doesn’t take much of an effort to do so; it can be as little as offering a smile or a hand to a stranger.

In closing then, I offer this famous quote and a favorite of mine that embodies that effort:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful and committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the ONLY thing that ever has.” ~ Margaret Mead.

May God Bless you all with good health, happiness, peace, and LOVE. Always.


April 4, 2011

What Was Your First Time Like?

You’re here? Good. Then that means I’ve got your attention. What I’m about to tell you, some of you may disagree with. Why? Because I know many of those who use Facebook think it should be used merely for staying in touch with family or friends. A convenient means of socializing informally. To play games. To have fun and banter around. Frankly, if that’s ALL you’re using it for, you might as well pick up the phone and TALK with your family or friends or simply stare mindlessly for hours at a television set. A judgmental point of view? Perhaps. But think about it. A social media forum LESS than ten years old, a forum that is FREE, is currently being used by nearly 1 out of every 10 men, women, and children on this entire planet. If you exclude small children, the poor, the indigent, the disabled, or simply those without internet access, that ratio goes up exponentially. THINK about it. Do we have ANY idea of just how POWERFUL this thing called Facebook has become? A place where we spend our idle time that can have such a profound impact on SO many? Lives have been altered permanently by it. Marriages have been forged. Divorces have occurred. Jobs have been lost or gained. People have even DIED because of it. And yet, many continue to use it nonchalantly, never thinking about the ramifications of their words, thoughts, or actions on it, especially our teenagers and the younger generation.

I remember my first time. I was living in Liberal, Kansas and it was December 2008. My old Alltel LG cell phone had died, the same one I’d had for over 5 years. At that point in my life, I didn’t even know Facebook EXISTED. I went to the local cell phone company, thinking I’d just get a replacement for my LG, a newer model perhaps. As fate would have it, turns out the cost of that phone was $20 MORE than this other phone the salesman was showing me. Something called a Blackberry. Curious, I decided to give it a try. After all, it came at a time I didn’t have access to a personal computer and with my trusty “Crackberry”, as it came to be known in time, I had UNLIMITED access 24 hours a day!

So, one morning in early 2009, as I was exploring the myriad of options this little thing in my hand called a Blackberry had, I discovered Facebook for the first time. I didn’t have the first CLUE what it was or what I was doing. But, once I “signed up”, the WORLD exploded upon me! First, I get this thing called a “friend request.” “Wow”, I said, “I know HER!” “I went to high school with her over 30 years ago in Southern California!” The rest, as they say, is history.

Before long, I’d been “friended” or asked to be “friends” with a number of people; old classmates and family alike. By the time I returned to Elkhart, Kansas in June 2009, and with the kind assistance of one of my first “friends”, a lady I’d gone to high school with, a lady I hadn’t laid eyes on for over THIRTY years, I’d learned how to share photos, how to access YouTube, and with a simply click of a button, I could share any song I wished on my wall. And then I discovered “notes” on Facebook on my own, a convenient way of expanding my thoughts beyond “status updates”, since that particular Facebook application is limited to 420 “characters” per update. THAT’S when my life truly started changing and when my words, thoughts, and feelings were being sent out over cyberspace, impacting dozens of friends, many of whom began saying what I was sharing INSPIRED them. Feeling inspired myself, I continued to write. And then a family friend came into the scene. My mother’s cousin from Kansas, my first cousin “once-removed”, began sending me emails that contained inspiring messages and videos. I shared those, too.

Later that summer of 2009, my friend and I were chatting one day on yahoo instant messaging, the same friend who had shown me so much earlier that year. After reading one of my notes one day on Facebook, she sent me this message: “Do you have ANY idea just how many people you are touching with your words? I could sit and read what you write forever.” Before long I recall saying this to her one evening quite late as we were “chatting”: “I don’t know WHERE it comes from. All I know is something BIG is going to happen, something MUCH bigger than Facebook.” Little did I realize just how prophetic those words were.

Fast forward to today. The friend I once had has moved on. So have I. That's life and I'm grateful for the help she gave me. In just a few short days, April 9th, 2011 to be exact, “Gusto”, the Facebook “page” I created, will be one year old. There are over 800 members of that page who come to see and hear the messages I try to convey. Messages of hope. Messages of inspiration in a world otherwise seen as often cold, complicated, and confusing. The associated website and blog called gustoramblings.com is also about to reach its first year of existence. People representing 47 countries around the WORLD, well over 5000 page views in all, have read many of my “Ramblings”, including this one. Why?

Obviously, SOMETHING is happening, though I’m still learning and growing. Still discovering what this is all about, this “thing” called Facebook, the “Gusto” page I created, the website/blog where I can expand further into the far reaches of my soul’s thoughts and feelings. All I know is I have this insatiable NEED to reach out, touch, and possibly INSPIRE my fellow brothers and sisters in this world through the gift God gave me in the written word. As a result, I reached another life-changing decision recently. I’ve decided to turn another page in the book of life. I’m taking all those thoughts and feelings I’ve expressed on Facebook and on my blog and turn them into a book for mass publication. A book whose sole purpose is meant to INSPIRE others. To show them that nothing is impossible and everything IS possible, when we open our hearts and minds.

Let’s go back to the beginning of this chapter. Do YOU remember what YOUR first time was like? More importantly, what’s different, if anything, about HOW you use Facebook today? Granted, after reading my example, I’m sure many would say, “Well, I don’t have THAT much time to spend on it like YOU have.” My response? “Oh, really?” I know for a fact, many of you use a TREMENDOUS amount of time on it, perhaps even more than you realize. The difference is in HOW you use it, whether it’s being used merely as a means of self-pleasure, staying in touch with family or friends, or simply fun and banter. My whole point of this piece is this, and again, I realize some of you may disagree. Facebook is one of the most POWERFUL means of mass communication man has ever created, if not THE most powerful. And since WE use it for free, then by definition, WE have an inordinate amount of power and impact we have on our fellow man with what we choose to share on it with our “friends.” Every time you post something, every SINGLE time, whether you get a little “notification” or not from someone saying they “liked” it, laughed about it, or commented on it, I GUARANTEE you probably 75% of the time or MORE, no one ever responds to it. Yet, EVERYONE sees it, reads it, and FEELS it.

There’s more. All of us can think of examples of people using Facebook as a means to further their self-interests. But there’s a key difference between merely writing about ourselves and using it for the benefit of others. All of us can think of friends or someone we know who uses Facebook for the latter and greater purpose. For example, a good friend of mine from Kansas created a page separate from his personal one, so that he could promote and advocate agriculture in his home state as well as nation-wide. One of my sisters is also part of a nonprofit organization in Kansas whose sole purpose is to preserve, sustain, and promote rural culture, not only for Kansas, but also for other areas of the country. She and the members of this organization have their own business Facebook page that strives to accomplish that noble goal.

Think about these things the next time you post something on your wall. Do you wish to be known as someone who is one-dimensional, perhaps even sophomoric and disingenuous? Or do you wish to be known as someone who is making a positive and lasting impression on others?  Someone who is using Facebook not as a means to merely pass idle time, but as someone who rather chooses to serve others? Something to ponder.