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COM students to perform with Texas All State Band

January 15th, 2019

College of the Mainland musicians, Thomas Austin, left, and Austin Kelton have been selected to perform with the Texas Community College Band Directors All-State Jazz Ensemble and Symphonic Band next month.

Two College of the Mainland students will perform with the Texas Community College Band Directors All-State Jazz Ensemble and Symphonic Band next month.

Austin Kelton and Thomas Armstrong, both music majors at the Texas City community college, auditioned and were chosen to play during the Texas Music Educators Conference on Feb. 16 in San Antonio. Armstrong, a clarinetist, is part of the Symphonic Band while Kelton, a trombonist, is part of the Jazz Ensemble for the second year.

“I am really happy for them” said Sparky Koerner, chairman of the Fine Arts Department.

“They both put in lots of practice on the audition music and it has paid off.”

Kelton will rehearse and perform under the direction of Rick Condit, director of the Lamar University Jazz Ensemble, and a former member of the Stan Kenton Orchestra.

“That will be exciting for him, considering that Mr. Condit has an international reputation as a jazz educator and performer,” Koerner said.

Kelton is part of the COM Jazz Ensemble and Concert Band and Armstrong is a member of the COM Concert Band. Both students are from Texas City and were part of the Texas City High School band program.

Being a part of the All-State ensembles has become a tradition at COM with 32 students having performed in the All-State and All-Star jazz and symphonic bands in Texas and around the United States.

Age-Adjusted Philosophy

January 2nd, 2019

Photo by Michael W. Gos

By Michael W. Gos

McKinney, Texas

We were in McKinney all weekend for a wedding and all the parties that go with it. In between the festivities, we had an afternoon to kill. As a married man, I knew what the agenda was going to be—shop till you drop. Fortunately, my sweetie and I have a system that works well for both of us. She drops me off at husband day care (the nearest bar) and she goes about her business while I read, talk with other oenophiles or just watch the world go by. McKinney is the perfect place to do this since the old courthouse square is surrounded by outdoor cafes and one very nice wine bar, the Landon Winery. It was a perfect autumn day, so I had no complaints.

A glass of French wine in front of me, I was watching two police officers saunter by on horseback when a waiter brought a woman to the next table. She immediately ordered a Cotes du Rhone. The waiter laughed and pointed out that this wine was seldom ordered there. And now, here were two strangers, sitting at adjacent tables requesting the same thing. He said it was “too weird” and walked off. Of course, that started the conversation.

She told me about her daughter, now in her early 30s, and the attitude she had that the future wasn’t worth devoting any of her time or energy to. She wanted to have fun, to do things, to live now while she was young and could enjoy it. As you might expect, Mom was not pleased with that mindset.

It is a universal human trait for each generation to complain about the younger one. I know I often find myself thinking things like that about my students. (I have solid evidence of the decline; student performance on college admissions tests has crashed and burned in the last 50 years.) But then, I also keep getting slammed by memories of my dad saying exactly the same things about my generation and how we were going to hell in a handbasket. (Okay, he might have been right.)

There is a lot of research that suggests the woman’s daughter may not be so far out of the norm, especially for her generation. I think there is a lot of energy being put into indoctrinating us into that way of thinking, especially by pop culture and self-help gurus. You know the claims. The past is dead; the future doesn’t exist. All we have is today, so you’d better make the most of it.

The problem is, I can’t really say this is such a bad way of looking at life. It seems to me, in the end, we will probably regret the things we didn’t do more than those we did, so why not use our time, and money, doing exciting, fun things? After all, we might not ever have a chance to do them again; we might not even be here tomorrow.

But then there is the other side. When I was young, I thought about life in much the same way as that girl. I was well into my thirties before I started seeing this issue differently. The fact is, regardless of the catchy phrases and persuasive arguments to the contrary, the here-and-now is only one third of the whole picture. If we buy into the usual definitions of time and space, life is a long chain of events. To understand life, we have to see it all. The problem is most people never see the entire chain, only the closest link.

Photo by Michael W. Gos

First, there is the obvious problem, the one I think the Cotes du Rhone mom was most worried about—the future and the obvious issue of finances. When do you start planning for buying that house, having that kid, or for retirement? I think the lack of attention to this matter is what most people see as the problem with living only in the now. In fact, most see it as being irresponsible.

But there is a more important issue regarding the future than finances. Those who don’t look to—and plan for—the future, stagnate. You can’t move forward into a future you didn’t plan and expect good results. Life will always be a series of “accidents” and you will never feel like you have any control over what happens to you.

And then there is the other direction. Fewer people consider the downside of ignoring the past, but it may have even greater consequences for our lives than not thinking about, and planning for, the future. Looking back, I can see how dumb I was about life. Like many young people, I made a lot of stupid decisions. But I learned from them; they made me what I am today. However, this learning always happened long after the fact. Only by looking back later could I understand the events and why they were important. Mistakes are a necessary part of life, but if I had not spent some time looking at the past, they would have remained just mistakes. I would never have received their gifts.

There is nothing wrong with making the most of today. But if we are going to excel in life, our world view should include learning from the past and planning for the future. For a happy future, we must look beyond the closest link and see the entire chain. It only makes sense.

And yet, I can’t deny that there is that other issue; we never know what day will be the last, so obsessing over the past or working diligently for a future could turn out to be a total waste of life. If you are thinking I can’t make up my mind which approach is better, you are exactly right.

Winston Churchill once said, “Any man under 30 who is not a liberal has no heart, and any man over 30 who is not a conservative has no brains.” Perhaps we can apply Churchill’s logic to the question of how to live life; I wonder if the answer to this dilemma might be age-dependent.

When young, it is certainly prudent to study past mistakes and plan for the future. But there comes a time when our futures are fairly secure, and we have life pretty well figured out (at least we hope we do). Usually by then we become aware of our mortality and recognize that we are indeed running out of sunsets. It seems to me that maybe this is the time when living for the now is appropriate.

A friend of mine once referred to his retirement as “selfish bastard time.” Maybe he had this thing figured out and he was trying to show me the answer.

Houston Methodist Clear Lake Pledges $500,000 to expand Leader in Me program

November 1st, 2018

Joining in to celebrate the CCISD Leader In Me Houston Methodist announcement at the Clear Creek Education Foundation Kick Off Breakfast were Armand Bayou Elementary students, from left to right, 5th grader Miller Skowron, 4th grader Sophia Tamayo, 5th grader Carmen Evans, and 1st grader Violet Van Haaren; along with Port Commissioner John Kennedy, who serves on the Houston Methodist Board of Directors; CCISD Superintendent Dr. Greg Smith and attorney Levi Benton with Mahomes Bolden PC and on the hospital Board of Directors and CCEF Board of Directors.

Houston Methodist Clear Lake Hospital has committed half a million dollars to the Clear Creek Education Foundation in support of the Clear Creek School District’s planned expansion of The Leader In Me program in 14 schools over the next five years.

The announcement was made at the Clear Creek Education Foundation’s Community Kickoff Breakfast held at the CCISD Challenger Columbia Stadium Fieldhouse.

Clear Creek ISD is in its third year of progressively implementing The Leader In Me program at its schools. The Leader In Me program is a whole school transformation process that teaches 21st century leadership and life skills to students and creates a culture of student empowerment based on the idea that every child can be a leader. This mindset leads to tangible improvements in the academic, behavioral and social wellbeing of participating students.

With funding made possible by the Clear Creek Education Foundation, Falcon Pass Elementary and Armand Bayou Elementary schools were the first two CCISD campuses to introduce The Leader In Me program into their school culture. Both campuses have seen the trajectory of their school’s academic performance rise along with student achievement and positive behaviors.

Over the next five years, the Houston Methodist Clear Lake contribution will have the power to substantially increase the footprint of The Leader In Me in CCISD and positively impact an additional 13,000 students in grades pre-k through 12 throughout the District.

“The impact of Houston Methodist’s generous commitment will be both measurable and immeasurable for years to come,” said Superintendent Dr. Greg Smith. “Our students will be even better equipped to achieve their full potential, build the skill-set necessary for success in the 21st century and access more opportunities for a better life.”

The announcement comes on the heels of a similar commitment of $60,000 over three years by Space Center Rotary Club to begin the program at Space Center Intermediate.

Based on Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, The Leader in Me allows administrators, faculty, staff and students the opportunity to practice and celebrate the 7 Habits daily, learning how to be proactive, set goals and collaborate with others.

The Leader In Me is aligned with many national and state academic standards and the process teaches students the skills needed for academic success in any setting. These skills include critical thinking, goal setting, listening and speaking, self-directed learning, presentation making and the ability to work in groups.

“The Leader In Me cultivates the qualities and attitudes employers look for in today’s highly competitive environment,” said Houston Methodist Clear Lake Hospital CEO Dan Newman. “Self-management, independent thinking, problem-solving and other important skills like these empower our students with the tools they need to achieve success. I applaud CCISD’s innovation and its commitment to adopt The Leader In Me. Houston Methodist Clear Lake is proud to play a role in providing this unique opportunity to potential future leaders.”

The District plans to continue to expand the program into even more schools until every CCISD campus and student has the opportunity to experience The Leader In Me and unleash their full potential. Business, government and community organizations interested in becoming a Leader In Me underwriter and partner may contact Deborah Laine, executive director of the Clear Creek Education Foundation (a 501c3 organization) at 281.284.0031 or at

Harvest Moon, Hurricanes, and that particularly bad boy, Harvey

September 1st, 2018

By Andrea Todaro

The Harvest Moon Regatta® is probably the best known sailboat race on the Texas Gulf Coast, although even many participants do not know its history, or the role that hurricanes have played in its evolution.

The first HMR was the brainchild of three sailors from Lakewood Yacht Club. As John Broderick told the story, one Friday night at Lakewood the bar conversation turned to the need for more opportunities to sail and in particular, opportunities to get offshore. Sail maker John Cameron offered “the best sails I’ve had were late in the fall in the Gulf after the summer doldrums are over and the winter Northers haven’t started.” Competitive racer Ed Bailey agreed, saying he missed the old Texas Offshore Race Circuit (“TORC”) sailing events. Broderick, a dedicated cruiser and, at the time, Lakewood’s commodore, agreed and said, “why don’t we organize something?”

The bar talk led to discussions with members of other area sailing clubs, some of which were held at Frank’s Shrimp Hut, which is now Hooter’s in Seabrook. The first regatta, in 1987, was planned as a four race event beginning with a skippers’ meeting on Friday, Sept. 25, and a kickoff party on Saturday, Sept. 26. Racing started on Thursday, Oct. 1 and ran through the 10th with race segments or “legs” from the Galveston jetties to Port Isabel, back up the coast to Port Aransas, back to the Galveston Jetties, and then up to Marker Two at the Clear Creek channel leading into Lakewood’s homeport, Seabrook.

The full moon closest to the autumnal equinox is known as the “harvest moon” and is characterized by a bright orange color; it is followed by a “hunter’s moon. The “harvest moon” can occur as early as September 8th or as late as Oct. 7 which was the date of the “harvest moon” in 1987. Thus, in October 1987, with the races occurring between October 1st and the 10th, the Harvest Moon Regatta® was born. Seventeen yachts sailed that first year, with several bikini beach parties along the way.

In 1988, the “harvest moon” fell on Sept. 25, so the race start was scheduled for Thursday, Sept.22, but on Sept. 8 Hurricane Gilbert destroyed the Queen’s Point Marina at Port Isabel. The race start was delayed three weeks to Oct. 14 and the destination was changed to Port Aransas. Thus began the tradition of sailing to Port Aransas under a magnificent full moon, sometimes a “harvest moon” if it fell during the first seven days of October, otherwise a “hunter’s moon” if it fell on or after the 8th of October.

Mother Nature and Hurricane Gilbert are credited with the growth of the Harvest Moon Regatta® which grew steadily from the 17 yachts of 1987 to over 260 yachts in later years. The growth was due in large part to the perfect destination, Port Aransas. As John Broderick described it: “This ideal Texas port allows yacht owners and sailors to use minimal days from work to join in on what can be a most memorable overnight sail down the Texas coast during traditionally the best offshore sailing time of the year. And we can all do this in relative safety shared by some 200 other yachts.”

The race, open to sailors with no club affiliation as well as members of other area sailing clubs, became a bucket list item for many Texas sailors, many of whom had little or no offshore experience. The growth of Harvest Moon Regatta® also resulted in the formation of a charitable organization, Bay Access Sailing Foundation. Bay Access now serves as the regatta’s organizing authority, with race management provided by volunteers from Lakewood Yacht Club.

In 2015, Hurricane Patricia was forecast to envelop Port Aransas in a “catastrophic rain event” with the worst conditions forecast for Sunday morning when sailors would be required to leave the relative safety of Port Aransas City Marina for the trip back to Houston and various other home ports. Numerous warnings from weather officials eventually prompted race organizers to cancel the race for the first time in its history. Despite the race cancellation, the party in Port Aransas went on, and some of the more seasoned sailors sailed the course and were able to obtain slips in the City Marina harbor to ride out the gale force winds that arrived as forecast on Sunday morning.

In 2017, when the actual “harvest moon” again fell in October, on the 5th, Hurricane Harvey put a new twist on the story. Hitting the Texas coast near Port Aransas on Aug. 25, the storm devastated “the ideal Texas port” and dumped torrential rain on the entire Houston area. This time, instead of canceling the race or rescheduling it, race organizers decided to reformat the race as a triangle race, similar to Lakewood’s TORC event, the Heald Bank Regatta, which is traditionally held in April. Beginning and ending at the Galveston Jetties, the Regatta was followed by an awards party at Lakewood Yacht Club in Seabrook, where regatta volunteers put a special focus on raising money for the devastated Port Aransas. Port Aransas city officials were surprised to receive a check for about $20,000 from the regatta, and they are looking forward to the return of the regatta this year, although it will be many years before Port Aransas recovers to pre-Harvey prosperity.

Prairie Dogs

September 1st, 2018

By Michael W. Gos
Caprock Canyon, Texas

We came to Caprock Canyon State Park up in the panhandle with the intention of seeing the State of Texas buffalo herd. We spent the better part of a day driving and hiking to the various spots where the park rangers told us the animals tended to frequent. However, it was already nearly sunset, and it was looking like that wasn’t going to happen for us. As we made our way back toward the visitors’ center, we had a stroke of good luck. While still not finding buffalo, we did stumble across a prairie dog town.

Most people think a prairie dog town is one large unit with lots of connected tunnels and numerous entrances that houses the entire colony. The fact is, the typical town is more like a subdivision full of single family homes. The prairie dog family generally consists of one male and four or five females. (Should I be jealous?) In some cases, there may also be a kid or two living at home till the old man decides they are old enough to make their own way in the world.

From the outside, what we humans see is a collection of cute little critters that pop up out of holes, look around, and then pop back down. It is a non-stop frenzy of activity not unlike a game of “whack the mole.” Nothing is ever done, however. They never pick anything up and seldom stray more than an inch or two from the hole. It is just a mass of non-productive up and down energy that we humans find both cute and fascinating.
Even if you have never seen a real prairie dog town, you are probably quite familiar with this concept. One need only look around at our fellow humans to see this behavior modeled. Next time you are in a crowded atrium of a large office building, a shopping mall or any place people congregate, watch what is happening. You will see non-stop random movement, constant energy. But what are these people doing? More important, what are they accomplishing? This seems to be a universal trait of the human condition: non-stop frenetic energy spent with little or nothing to show for it.

I have been a writer for more than 40 years. In the early days, my work habits resembled the prairie dogs’. I would begin by writing the first sentence, in hopes that by the time I had it down on paper I’d have an idea for a second sentence. Needless to say, before a piece was ready for publication, it went through dozens and dozens of revisions. In the process, I was particularly bothered by the fact that I often spent a lot of time revising sections that wouldn’t even make it into the final version. It was time and energy expended with little to no result. But, nevertheless, I felt good about it. After all, I was getting something done.

But still, I was uncomfortable with the process. I was busy, sure, but was I really accomplishing much with all that activity? It seemed I was spending an incredible amount of time and effort given the magnitude and quality of the final product that was produced. I felt there just had to be a better way.

One day, it hit. What if, instead, I did all that planning and revising work in my head while sitting outside in my rocking chair next to the fountain? What if I didn’t get anywhere near a pen, paper or a computer in those early stages? What if I just sat, smoked my pipe and thought? I spent a good deal of time analyzing that idea and, in the end, I was still uncomfortable with it. It didn’t even seem possible.

But I found I couldn’t put the idea out of my mind. Its implementation seemed inevitable, so eventually, I gave it a try. I admit it was uncomfortable at first and I felt guilty just sitting around and calling it work. But eventually, it all came together. I began to understand how this work thing is really done.

Today, I don’t put a single word on paper until I have the entire piece worked out. I know the beginning, the end and everything in between in great detail. I even know what photos I will use. The result: far fewer revisions and much less time and work expended. Best of all, I can enjoy a certain smugness when I am sitting in the sun with my eyes closed and someone asks what I’m doing. When I reply that I’m writing, the looks I get are priceless.

I’m not suggesting there is anything wrong with a “go-get-em” work ethic. After all, in those early years, that process did lead me to some limited success. And today, if a student comes to me with a great work ethic, I can overlook a lot of shortcomings. It takes hard work to get to the point where you start to understand how to do any task well. No one plays concert-level piano on first sitting down to the instrument. But at some point in time, we need to realize that so much more can be accomplished if we just slow down and think things through before we take any action. That not only means less work for the same results, it also makes us less likely to become victims of the calamitous law of unintended consequences. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could teach this to our politicians?

Life is a game. We keep score by results achieved, not by effort expended. Most people confuse activity with accomplishment. When judging their progress toward success, they are often measuring the wrong parameter. I now realize it was obvious all along; I just didn’t see it. The secret to success is to work less but accomplish more.

While all of that frenetic energy is wasted in us humans, it does have some real value for prairie dogs. It provides us two-leggeds with great entertainment and, after all, the little critters are awfully cute. But frankly, I’m not that cute. You might not be either. And I don’t think entertaining others would be high on my list of goals in life. I prefer to use my rocking chair method.

By the way, we never did see the buffalo.


July 1st, 2018

Photo by Michael W. Gos

By Michael W. Gos

Terlingua Ghost Town, Texas

If you spend a lot of time in any place, even as a tourist, you get to know some of the people there and come to call them friends. I go to Big Bend country a lot, and when I am done with my day’s hiking, I head to Terlingua for some laid-back fun. As a result, I know quite a few people there.

I’ve talked to him for about seven years and this was the first time I’d seen him without his wife. He was sitting on the porch of the Trading Post when I pulled up.

“Hey Don, how are you doing?”

“Hanging by my finger nails, like the cat on the poster.”

“Where’s Jules?”

“Not sure; she and I split up a couple of months ago.”

That really took me by surprise. They seemed like the perfect couple. I never saw one without the other and they always seemed to be having fun together.

“What happened?” I asked.

“She wanted to get married; I didn’t. I guess she got tired of waiting. She said eight years was long enough.”

This was the first time I realized they weren’t married.

I went in and bought a beer and took it out to the porch. We talked for the next hour. He told me about how he was crazy about her and wanted to live with her for the rest of his life, but he refused to ever get married again. He said his divorce years earlier had turned him off marriage for good.

Apparently, that wasn’t an acceptable situation for her. I asked if he was really willing to lose her because of something that happened many years ago. He said he didn’t have a choice; he couldn’t marry again. That made me think about a time in my own life.

I remember the day like it was yesterday, and it ruled my life for the next 15 years. In my football days the coaches drilled into my head that my job on sweeps to either side of the field was to stay in the middle of the backfield. Under no circumstances was I to pursue the ball carrier. Then one day, it happened.

At the snap, the running back ran to the right as the quarterback dropped. The handoff was made and the play went away from me. Not thinking, I took off in pursuit. The ball carrier had a lateral head start of about seven yards, but in order to gain yardage he’d have to turn upfield. I was sure I could catch him; I had the angle. I was already past the center and in a dead run when I saw it happen. The running back handed the ball to the split end on that side, who reversed back to my left. The action froze me in my tracks!

Thoughts flew, but my body remained frozen. I knew I needed to turn back and pursue the play, but it took an eternity to get my rather large body to stop, turn and follow. Finally, word got to all appropriate body parts and I was running up the line again, this time to the left. It didn’t take long to realize that I wasn’t going to make the play. I looked ahead to the corner to see who was there to help, but the corner was empty. Only the left tackle and I were to be on that side of the field, and no tackle would ever catch a wide receiver. I looked up just in time to see the ball carrier run right over the spot I was supposed to be occupying. I could only watch as the play went all the way for a touchdown. I went back to the sidelines, chin against my chest.

“How many times have we told you to stay home on that one?” the coach yelled. “You think we tell you these things for our health? You have a (expletive) job to do here! We told you exactly what it is! How much sense does it take to do what you’re told? You cover on reverses! If you pursue, we lose!”

For days I ran that play over and over again in the theatre of my mind. I had always believed it was best to play inspired — that emotion and enthusiasm would win out over cold, calculated logic every time. Now it looked like, at least in some cases, cold, rational control was far more important. After all, football is a brain game. That is why the intricacies are so hard for most people to understand. But that day I took away a very important, and life-changing lesson. I learned that there are sound reasons for the things we are told to do.

For the next 15 years, that lesson stayed with me. I did what I was supposed to do, stayed within the limits I was given and lived a quiet life. If I had any ideas that could even be remotely considered “wild,” I would always bounce them off someone I trusted before acting on them —and it kept me out of trouble.

Then one day, about 10 years after I finished college, my mother and I had a serious discussion about what I wanted to do with my life. I had been drifting somewhat aimlessly for a long time. I told her what I really wanted to do was to go back to school, get a couple of advanced degrees and become a professor. She laughed and told me to get serious. That was a dream for rich kids, smart kids. She said I should go to work in the steel mills. With my degree, they would probably make me a foreman. That conversation made me start to question the wisdom of living my life “within the lines.”

Both the man at Terlingua and I had fallen into a pattern of letting ghosts from our past limit and even disrupt our lives today. Traumatic events can indeed sometimes have strong effects on us, but when they start to limit our possibilities, our futures, it is time leave them behind. It makes no sense to keep stumbling over objects that are behind us.

It took a couple of years to complete the change. It wasn’t easy; I had a lot of false starts, but I stayed at it and eventually I stopped doing what I was “supposed” to do, went on to get those degrees and to get that life I wanted.

I hope when I next go to Big Bend, Don will tell me he did the same.

Meeting to focus on El Dorado Boulevard widening project

November 25th, 2017

A public input meeting regarding the El Dorado Boulevard Widening Project will be hosted by Houston City Councilman Dave Martin, the City of Houston Public Works and Engineering Department (PWE), and Harris County Precinct 2 Commissioner Jack Morman’s office Thursday, Nov. 30, from 6:30 to 8 p.m.

The meeting will be at the University of Houston – Clear Lake’s Bayou Building, in the Garden Room.

As development has increased in the area, Councilman Martin has received several concerns from residents about future traffic on the section of El Dorado Boulevard, south of Clear Lake City Boulevard to Horsepen Bayou, which is currently two lanes. In response to these concerns, Martin asked PWE to investigate and conduct traffic counts along this section of roadway.

After assessing the traffic counts, PWE determined El Dorado Boulevard is capable of accommodating current traffic. However, Martin believes the widening of El Dorado Boulevard is essential as the area continues to develop. By partnering with Commissioner Morman, the city and county are able to work together and develop three alignment options to improve current and future mobility in this area.

The goal of this meeting is offer residents the opportunity to provide input about these alignment options, as well as address any concerns or wishes for the project prior to finalizing the design.

There will be free parking for attendees in Lot R. Please see the map below for reference. For more information, contact the District E office at 832-393-3008 or via email at

It’s Embarrassing

June 1st, 2016

GOS616By Michael W. Gos

Washington on the Brazos, Texas

Sometimes life can seem overwhelming.  We often feel completely burned out after long periods of intense work or during difficult times in our lives.  In response, we can start to feel sorry for ourselves and sometimes, in extreme cases, just shut down completely.  I know I do.  I’m sure it’s not much different in your line of work.

By the end of a semester, I am absolutely spent.  Unfortunately, in academia, in that last week or two of every semester there is a mad scramble to schedule meetings. This happens mostly to make up for the fact that the chairs of committees have failed to do anything all semester long and are afraid that maybe someone will notice.  Committees have to have some progress to report, and administrators have to rush to do things before the faculty disperses to locations around the world.  As a result, the last week of the semester is filled with giving finals, grading finals and attending up to four meetings a day.  I’m sorry for others who feel guilty about their lack of performance, but that does not constitute an emergency on my part.  In the last week of the semester, I do what I have to do in order to finish out my classes properly, but that’s all.  The meetings go on without me.  And all the while, I’m thinking “poor me.”

Sound familiar?

We were at Washington on the Brazos to learn more about the founding of Texas as a nation.  I was especially curious as to how Texas became so small when in 1836 it covered parts of what are now New Mexico, Colorado, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Kansas and even stretched into Wyoming. (It turns out that reduction in size happened much later when Texas sacrificed its independence in order to join the U.S.)  I had been to the Alamo, to Goliad, Gonzales and San Jacinto.  I even walked part of the original El Camino Real, but I was still vague on the political part of the picture.  How did Texas get a Declaration of Independence and a Constitution written and ratified unanimously in just over two weeks?

Richard, our guide, told us the story in vivid detail.  While the constitutional convention may have lasted only 15 days, some of those days were pretty trying.  Independence Hall was then pretty much as we see it today—a small wooden structure originally designed to be a mercantile store.  It had cutouts for windows, but no glass—just a few raggedy muslin curtains that they hoped would keep the harsher elements out.  When the delegates began deliberations on March 1, 1836, it was a warm spring morning.  But by that afternoon, when they had agreed on and signed the Declaration of Independence, the temperature had plummeted and rain pelted the building.  But weather was just the beginning of the difficulties they faced. The tiny structure housed the 59 delegates morning till night, day after day in the heat and the cold.  Bathing was uncommon back then so I can only imagine the smell.

When they finally disbanded with the constitution complete and ratified 15 days later, Santa Anna’s army was less than 60 miles away.  Whatever peace the delegates had in their lives prior to that fortnight was now gone.  Having finished their work, their signatures on the Declaration made them all marked men.

When Santa Anna’s troops arrived a few days later, they found the town completely deserted.  Afraid for their lives by mere association with the events that took place there, every one of the town’s residents evacuated with the delegates.  Washington remained a ghost town until Santa Anna was defeated at San Jacinto.  For all they knew at the time, the revolution could have taken years to play out.  And what if they came up on the losing side?

I tried to imagine what their lives must have been like then—on the run, looking over their shoulders all the time, never being able to rest and relax.  Frankly, that’s not much of a life.  There also had to be some degree of guilt over the decisions they made.  Before they left, they had learned about the fall of the Alamo and the Runaway Scrape (the evacuation of the women and children of Gonzales and the burning of the town).  They were clearly aware of the consequences of their actions.  That had to weigh heavily on their shoulders.

Looking back we see them as heroes, as the men who gave us the lives and the Texas we have today.  But sometimes I wonder if we ever think about what they had to live through, the sacrifices they made, to make it happen.  At the end of a semester I can just say “no mas” to constant demands on my time and energies.  I can feel sorry for myself and go home, hide and “lick my wounds.”  These men could not go home.  They no longer had homes to go to.  And for them, it wasn’t just a matter of being emotionally and physically spent; it was dealing with the ever-present danger of death.  Rest?  That was out of the question.  They had to keep running and keep fighting.  For them, it never let up.

The average age of the men at the convention was just over 37 years.  We may think of that as young today, but these were, in their time, aging men who I’m sure would have rather been thinking about relaxing in retirement than running from the Mexican Army.  Yet they chose to make this sacrifice.


I have to admit, I don’t understand what causes a person to make the decision to give of himself that way.  Surely they were aware of the consequences of their actions.  And yet they chose to sacrifice the peace, safety and tranquility we all desire in order to accomplish a goal they believed in—one they might never live to see come to fruition.  I know I could never do that.  Maybe it’s selfishness, maybe cowardice, but it is not something I am, or ever would have been constitutionally able to do.

I guess that is why they are famous historical heroes and I’m just me.  I’ll probably continue to moan and whine about my workload, especially at the end of every semester, and I’ll continue to feel sorry myself.

And I’ll try not to think too often about the 59 men at Washington on the Brazos in the spring of 1836.  The comparison embarrasses me.

One More Click

May 1st, 2016

LonghornsBy Michael W. Gos

Boerne, Texas

I was sitting in the park by the bronze longhorns when it “clicked.”

Boerne is a small Hill Country town that is sort of a miniature version of Fredericksburg.  Or perhaps Fred is Boerne on steroids.  Both are the shop-till-you-drop kind of places that can keep women occupied all day.

I can’t shop.  Like most humans, I was born with the shopping gene.  However, like most men, I decided early in life to sacrifice the shopping gene in exchange for a special gene that allows me to go to the bathroom alone and to find my way in and out quickly.  I think it was a good trade.

Normally, I would find a local watering hole and stay there until the women-folk were satisfied with their day’s work and then we would all go on to The Creek restaurant for dinner.  But this day was magnificent—a Hill Country Chamber of Commerce kind of day.  I decided to instead sit with my girlfriend Maggie Mae (remember her?  My Labrador retriever?) in the park and just watch people and maybe read a little.

Of course, whenever that happens, it isn’t long before my thoughts turn to philosophical questions.  The first topic that jumped into my head was happiness.  After all, isn’t that just about everyone’s No. 1 concern in life?  It certainly has been a hot topic among philosophers for at least the last two and half millennia; they all ask the same questions.  Strangely though, I don’t remember reading many answers.

That got me thinking.  Why would there still, after all these centuries, be such an eternal seeking for truth, happiness and the meaning of life if the answers really existed?  Surely after more than 2,500 years, someone would have stumbled on an answer.  If any of the great minds did so, they never bothered to write it down.  And if these guys couldn’t find the answers, why would I be so arrogant as to think I would be able to?  That left just one option: one can only assume the answers simply don’t exist.

When my thoughts lead to an unpleasant impasse like this, it always makes me uncomfortable and I usually try to escape by changing the subject—thinking about something else.  Sometimes I get up and walk around to get my mind off it.  But walking down Main Street with nothing but little shops selling things I have absolutely no interest in is not my idea of a good time either, so that would have been even more depressing.  Instead, Maggie and I decided to just close our eyes and take a nap.

I’m not sure how long it was; it felt like just seconds.  I heard a loud click, almost like a door latch snapping into place.  That woke me up.  I looked at Maggie and saw that she, with her super hearing, was still out cold.  I looked around at the few other people strolling through the park.  No one else seemed to be disturbed by the sound either.  I decided I must have been dreaming.

Studying philosophy is a lot like trying to open a safe that is guarding a treasure.  We want the treasure, in this case, the secret to happiness.  But in order to get it we have to go through a series of very exacting steps in precisely the right order (left 16, right 34, left 22). Each number we dial in appears to do nothing, a tiny click at best.  But in spite of that, we dial on because it is human nature to continue the quest for fulfillment.  Sometimes that quest requires a journey that takes years—maybe even the bulk of our lives.  Most of the time we get the numbers wrong and the safe remains solidly locked, holding the answers inside.  It is only when each of the tumblers is properly activated, when everything is aligned precisely in its proper place that the door opens. I think that is what happened that afternoon.  The click I heard was that last tumbler falling into place.  And then, I finally understood.

There were times in my life when I absolutely knew I was unhappy.  I even admitted it out loud to a friend once, an act I consider to be extremely crass and almost never let happen.  When I was unhappy, there was never a question about it.  I knew it and felt it deep in every fiber of my being, 24 hours a day.  But what about the rest of the time, times when I didn’t feel that way—when I wasn’t profoundly unhappy? Mostly, I felt nothing.  I had no awareness of being either happy or unhappy.

Sure, there were times of occasional ecstatic highs—times when I was in love, or had accomplished some goal I had struggled long and hard to gain.  But I was always abundantly aware that these were momentary blips on the happiness monitor.  They did not constitute true, long-term happiness—just a nice break from the dullness.  Most of the time, there was nothing at all, no awareness of happiness or the lack of it.  That is, until that afternoon in Boerne when I heard the click.

Sitting there on the bench napping, the last tumbler clicked into place and years of searching finally came to fruition.  The door to the safe opened.  I never would have guessed its contents.  The treasure I had searched for in vain for decades lay there before me.

Looking inside, I saw the whole picture.  I realized that, except for those times when I was clearly unhappy, I had really been happy all along—all those years.  I know what you’re thinking—what is this lunatic talking about?  Well, it’s really quite simple.  When I felt nothing one way or the other, it was because I was really happy.  The question is, why did I not realize that sooner.  Why did I understand it now?

There in the park in Boerne, I realized that happiness is like air…we are only aware of it in its absence.  It is around us all the time.  And like air, we take its presence for granted to the point where we no longer even notice it.

As Maggie came awake, opening first one eye, then the other, I couldn’t help but smile.  I thought about just how easy it is to determine if you are happy.  If you have to ask yourself if you are happy, you are.
And then a man, who for the first time knew that he was happy, joined the group for dinner at The Creek.

An Inconsequential Destination

March 1st, 2016

gosimg316By Michael W. Gos

Rusk, Texas

For years I had been seeing references to the Texas State Railroad that runs between Rusk and Palestine.  Prison inmates originally built the train in 1881 as a method for shipping lumber from the Piney Woods to the Rusk Penitentiary where they used the wood as fuel for an iron smelter.  The iron produced there was sold throughout the state of Texas until the prison closed in 1913.  After that, the train changed hands a few times ending up in private hands, where it remains today.  A couple of times I heard that it was about to shut down.  Each time the rumor arose, I thought to myself, “I need to take a ride on this historic train before it is gone.”

Frankly, though, I’d also heard that the train was usually filled with kids and the idea of a four-hour round trip ride on a train filled with ankle biters just wasn’t that appealing.  They tell me the “Polar Express” rides in the winter are the worst for adults (but the best for kids).   However, even a normal ride in mid-summer could be trying.  Then one day, I saw an ad for an adults-only wine tasting run.  As I’ve mentioned here before, I am rather fond of wineries so this opportunity sounded right up my alley.  I did a bit of research and a few hours later we had two tickets on the Texas State Railroad.

The trip turned out to be much more pleasant than I had expected.  Of course, we were riding through the magnificent woods of East Texas with lots of streams and springs and trees so dense you could see very few signs of civilization along the way.  That in itself would make the trip worthwhile.  But there was so much more.  Here, in the train car, we were about to enjoy “high civilization.”

I was surprised when the first wine was brought out.  Unlike the little one-ounce tastes you usually get at Texas wineries, these were full glasses.  Even more appealing was that along with the wine, we were served a small plate with three different appetizers.  Since we had to skip dinner in order to make it to Rusk in time for departure, any food was a pleasant surprise.  But the quality—well, let’s just say it was outstanding.   We took our time enjoying the food and drink and chatting with the couple sitting across the table from us.  It was a thoroughly pleasant setting.

About 40 minutes later, we were brought another glass of wine, and another plate of appetizers.  Both were even better than the first round.  And, as the wine flowed, the conversation got more pleasant.

The process repeated again about a half hour later.  As we progressed through the evening, the wines got more full-bodied and the appetizers got more substantial.  About two hours into the trip the train came to a stop in a small clearing in the middle of the forest.  We were told that they were turning the engine around for the ride back to Rusk.  While that was going on, we received the fourth glass of wine and the tastiest appetizer plates yet.

A little while later (I had now lost track of time), we were on our way back to Rusk and were brought another glass of wine, this time very sweet, and a plate of small desserts.  By now people were talking to each other all over the car, not just to those they were seated with.  The intimate wine tasting had become one big, jovial party.

Finally, the last course was a nice port, again served with a plate of desserts.  I don’t have to tell you that the women on the train were ecstatic at the thought of sweet wines and six desserts.

When we finally pulled back into the station in Rusk it was 10 p.m. and we had been gone four hours.  It seemed like 4 minutes.  We had sampled six different wines and had more than a full meal, served in multiple small courses (my favorite way—I love tapas and dim sum houses). Most of all, we had a train full of people who were out to have a good time—and they succeeded spectacularly.

That evening in Rusk, we took a train journey to an inconsequential spot in the woods and then returned—and that’s all.  But as I was driving back to the hotel, I couldn’t help but be aware that I had just experienced a perfect metaphor for life.  I came to Rusk with a goal—to take a trip on the Texas State Railroad.  We left the station with another very specific goal in mind—to travel toward Palestine till we got to the turnaround point and then return to where we started.  We met both goals.

But so what?  Reaching the destination did nothing for us in terms of pleasure or fulfillment.  It was no great accomplishment and our lives weren’t changed in any way by that success.  Ah, but the journey itself!  Now that was a different matter.  While the reaching of our destination was entirely inconsequential to us, the true value lay in the journey itself, in the wines, food and conversations that were happening along the way.

We all need goals to be successful in life, a destination to head toward.  In many cases our goals are about the acquisition of things; we work hard to be able to buy a new car or a fine home.  But, many of our goals go far beyond that.  I might want to learn to be a great piano player, get another graduate degree or spend a summer in Tuscany learning Italian.  Self-improvement goals seem to be of a higher quality than the mere want of “things.”

But regardless of the innate quality in any goal, it seems to me that the anticipation of reaching our goals, and more important, the active pursuit of them, provides far more pleasure for most of us than their final achievement.  As a species, we need to have goals to work toward.  But it is in the pursuit of those goals that our lives happen.  It was in the time spent working toward Palestine, and then back to Rusk, where the real value of this trip lay.  In fact, reaching the destinations was anti-climatic.

Our lives happen not at our destinations, but rather in the journeys we take to get to them.  And it is in our day-to-day lives where we really want to experience happiness, not in those moments of accomplishment.  No matter what goals we have, if we aren’t happy striving for them, we won’t be happy achieving them.