Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Motogadget M-Unit Installation on a Honda Shadow VLX

For my first ever adventure into wiring a motorcycle I decided to install a Motogadget M-Unit into my 2004 Honda 600 VLX.  It isn’t a glamorous bike, but its mine. Over the next few months I will continue on with other more noticeable changes, but since its my only bike, and I would prefer not to have it down for weeks or months at a time, these changes will be done piecemeal.

Because of this approach, it became clear that the first thing that needed to be done was upgrading the electrical system to accommodate new lighting and controls. The M-unit offered a very elegant and simple way of doing this, which to me, a total novice, seemed well worth the $300 price.

There are some forums dedicated to the 600VLX,but  it seems very few owners are interested in doing the kind of changes I want, or at least none that post. What posts I could find about wiring were pretty simple – The most complex issue was dealing with installing LED turn signals on the harness which wasn’t designed to accommodate them. All this meant that to install the M-Unit, I was pretty much going to have to figure it out on my own.

The M-Unit is designed to simplify wiring and can, apparently, work very when building an entire harness from scratch. However, going all the way to scratch was beyond the scope of what I thought I wanted to do (In retrospect, having accomplished what I have and learned as much as I have, I will start from scratch next time.)

What I’m going to attempt here is to break down, piece by piece, how to integrate an M-Unit in the a Honda 600VLX wiring harness,  keeping all the functionality of the original system, while adding the functions of the M-unit and removing the bulky and ugly stock controls. For simplicity sake, I’m going to use the OEM wiring diagram as reference and simply work my way around it, clockwise, item by item, and explain what to do with it. After which, I will discuss the new wiring added for the M-Unit and new controls.


NOTE: When I say “Cut and Cap” I’m saying a wire is not needed, and can be removed. If you want to open up the wiring harness and removed all the excess wires, like I did, do this carefully. Several wires branch off to multiple items. When removing a particular wire from a particular item, trace it back to the main wire of the same color where you’ll find the soldered splice. Do not cut the main wire, only remove the spliced on piece you don’t need any more.

My understanding is that many Hondas of this type have very similar harnesses, so a lot of this should translate. I hope you find this helpful.  Here we go!

Mounting the M-Unit: Under the seat, there is a black metal brace, on which is mounted a black cube – The Turn Signal Relay, which isn’t needed any more, so getrid of the relay, and mounted the M-Unit to the metal bracket, by drilling two holes in it. Easy.

At the top end of the Unit, I attached a ground wire and grounded it to the frame with a self-tapping screw (I think the metal plate could have served as a ground, but I felt a wire to the frame was more certain).

The M-Unit mounted and grounded where the turn-signal relay used to be.


THE OEM HARNESS

Ignition Switch (Key): Three wires: Red leads to the M-Unit Positive power input screw on the lower right. Red/black goes to the M-unit LOCK input (I soldered this wire to a smaller gauge wire to plug into the M-unit). Cut and cap the Blue/Orange wire, you won’t need it.

REAR LIGHTS (Tail, brake, turn signals and license plate): Disconnect all these connectors. If you want to reuse the nylon OEM connectors, cut the wires a few inches on the main harness side to attach to later. If you’re going to install new connectors or simple wire directly to the existing wires, cut them on the non-harness side of the connector.

Cut the three wires leading into the tail/brake light connector (Green, Brown, and Green/Yellow), a couple inches on the main harness side of the connector. Splice them all together into a single wire, and attach it to the M-Unit BRAKE output.

When programming the M-unit, set it for a single-wire brake system (LED or light bulb, which ever you have) and the tail/brake lights are all set.

Rear Brake Switch: Both brake switches are wired together with a Green/yellow wire. From the connector there is a black wire that goes to ground, leave it. Follow the Green/Yellow wire to where it leads to the tail/brake light connector (which you probably already cut), before it reaches the tail/brake light connector, cut it and plug it into the M-Unit BRAKE input.

Basically, what you’re doing here is placing the M-unit between the brake switches and the brake lights, by cutting the Green/Yellow wire and attaching switch end to the input and the lights end to the output.

Fuse box:  Remove the box and toss it, you don’t need it anymore. Four wires lead out from the connector: The Black, Black/brown and Blue/Black wires all attach to the M-Unit AUX output (which is a solid state fuse box) by soldering them all to a single wire. The Black/Red wire is cut and capped, its not needed anymore.

Main Fuse/Starter Solenoid: Four wires. The Red wire connects to the M-Unit at the Positive Power input screw, along with the Red wire from the Key Ignition. The Yellow/Red wire plugs into the M-unit START output. The other two, (Red/White and Green/Red) stay as is, leading to the Regulator/Rectifier.

Regulator/Rectifier, Alternator, Ignition Pulse Generator, Ignition Control Module: Leave these.
Turn Signal Relay: You removed this when you installed the M-Unit. Cut and cap all three wires. DON’T wire them to each other, cap them off individually.

LEFT HANDLE BAR CONTROLS:  The plan is to lose the whole bulky button housing. The only two wires to keep are the Green/White and Green Red wires, which connect to the clutch switch.  Everything else gets cut and capped (Drk Blue, Blue/white, Green, Orange, gray, Lt Blue, Black and Black/Brown).

NOTE:  If you choose to remove the clutch wires too, all that happens is you can’t start the bike with just the clutch pulled, the gear box will have to be in neutral.

Dimmer Switch: This feeds low power to the turn signals, so they are also marker lights. I plan on switching to 2-wire LEDs anyway, so I discarded this all together.

NOTE: The M-unit does have a programmable setting to fill this feature, however, the way I choose to wire, that program did not work. In my case, the OEM turn signals function only as turn signals.

Front Turn Signals: Disconnect both. Just like with the rear, if you’re going to reuse the connectors, leave yourself a few inches of wire to connect to, then cut and cap the remaining wires.

NOTE: I think, but I’m not sure, that if you solder the solid colored wires and the color/white wires from each turn signal together, creating a single wire, the marker light feature of the M-unit will function. But I have not tested this, since I really don’t care.

Headlight: The M-unit will now handle this. Cut the Blue and White wires a few inches back from the bulb connector. Attach new wires to each and run them to the M-unit, White to the LIGHT LO, and Blue to LIGHT HI. Green is your ground, you can leave it.

Indicator lights (Turn signal, Neutral and High-beam dash lights):  The single turn signal light and High-Beam indicator light will be powered through the M-Unit, so cut those wires a few inches back from the connector on the main harness side, and cap the remaining wires. Leave the Green and Lt Green/Blue wires.

Gauge Lights (Meter light, Temp Indicator, Oil Pressure): Leave these.

RIGHT HANDLE BAR CONTROLS: Even though we’re losing the bulky Starter/Engine Stop box, we need some of these connections. The Brown wire needs to be connected to one of the Black/brown wires. Do this either by keeping the other side of the connector where a small loop of Brown/Black wire makes the connection, or by cutting and splice the two wires together. The Black and Black/white wires need to be spliced together. If both of these loops are not made, the bike won’t start.

Cut and cap the Blue/White, Black/Red, Yellow/ Red. Keep the Green/Yellow and other Black/Brown wires (these are your front brake switch wires).

Side Stand Switch, Diode, Fan Motor Switch, Temp Unit, TP Sensor: Keep. The Diode, in case you’re wondering, is actually just a connector with a black cube plugged into it and wrapped in tape inside the wiring harness, if you don’t open up the OEM harness, you won’t even see it.

Horn: There isn’t a nylon connector here, just two black wires that plug into two tabs on the horn. The M-unit will control the horn, so you’ll need to connect one of these to the HORN output (by cutting and extending it) and the other to ground. One of the black wires does connect to a green wire if you follow it, that is the ground - leave it connected. Cut and extend the other wire to plug into the HORN output of the M-unit.

Neutral switch/Oil Pressure Switch: Leave these wires.

Ok, that’s it for the OEM harness. The M-Unit should come on when the key is turned and do its little LED cycle, ending with the LOCK and AUX LEDs lit. If you attach a temporary button to the START input and to a ground, the bike should start up. You should be able to also turn the head light on and off, and switch between high and low beams, using the same button at the LIGHT input. Same for the horn and each of the turn signals (but you might need to configure some things first.)

Connect a temporary button to the CONFIG input on the M-unit, and to ground, and follow the instructions to program the M-Unit for “one wire brake lights.” Once that’s done, the brake lights should work from both the front and rear brakes individually.

If all that works for you, you’re in great shape!

Now onto installing new control switches. I opted for the 5-button setup with the M-unit. The buttons are headlight, right and left turn signals on the left, and horn and start on the right (thanks to the M-unit, a double tap on the start button will kills the engine.)

THE M-UNIT CONTROLS HARNESS

All the buttons I used with the M-Unit are “Momentary” buttons, meaning they only close the circuit while being pushed, as soon as you release them, they spring back to the open state. The M-unit can also be programmed to work with “Japanese and European” buttons setups, which is what you’d use if you kept the stock controls (but why would you? They’re so ugly!)

All buttons have two wires, one which leads to the M-Unit, and one which goes to ground. You can ground your wires however you like, and you can connect all your grounds together to reduce clutter/confusion and save space. The M-Unit uses very little power for the buttons, so you can use very thin wires (I used 22 AWG).

Start Button: Run a ground, and plug the other wire into the START input on the M-Unit.

Horn: Just like the Start Button, a ground and one wire plugged into the HORN input.

Headlights: Same as above, input into the LIGHTS input (see a pattern here?)

Turn Signals: Again, one wire to ground for each button, and one wire each to the M-Unit inputs, TURN L and TURN R.

That’s its you’re buttons are wired. Seriously, look at the OEM wiring diagram to accomplish what you just did, its insane how complex it is without the M-unit!

M- UNIT LIGHTING HARNESS

This is a bit more complicated, but if you take it step by step, its pretty easy.

Headlight and High-Beam Indicator:  Splice into the Blue Headlight Wire, and connect it where the Blue wire was at the Indicator lights harness. Where the Green wire was on that harness, should be connected to ground. Now when you turn on your high-beams, you’re indicator light will come on too.

Turn Signals: This is the complicated one, so take it one step at a time. Both left and right are identical, so just repeat the procedure.

Top: The stock headlight and turn signal controls. Bottom: New Motone Mini-Buttons, much smaller, cleaner look, plus Blitwell Kung-Fu grips. .


A wire needs to leave the M-Unit from the TURN L or TURN R output and split into three wires. One will go to the front turn signal connector, and one to the back and one will be bridged to the indicator light on the dash.

 The second single wire from each of the connectors needs to go to ground from each signal itself.
Once this is done, the turn signals should work. To make the dash indicator work, attach a 1N4001 Diode to the third wire from each of the turn signal harnesses.  Be sure the direction of flow for the diode is away from the M-Unit.

 Then connect the other end of both diodes to a single wire which will connect the either the Lt Blue or Orange wire from the Indicator Lights connector. The other unused wire should go to ground. Now the indicator light should work when the turn signals come on.

That’s it! You should now have everything on the bike working. Program which ever features you want for the M-Unit.

Fully wired M-Unit. 
If you’re leaving your bike otherwise stock, there’s probably not a lot of point in doing all this. But, if you’re planning on future mods which will impact the electrical system, everything should be pretty simple now, just plug into the existing wiring and, if necessary, change the programming of the M-Unit to accommodate the new item.

Any new accessories (hand warmers, ground effect LEDs, etc) get spliced into the AUX power lines. Changes to the lighting just plug into the connectors you already have.

I hope this was helpful!

UPDATE: One the second day after finishing, I took my bike out for a night ride and immediately noticed that all the lights were brighter. The headlight, which I had planned on upgrading, is suddenly perfectly adequate, the turn signals are brighter and the dash indicator lights are actually annoyingly bright!

I'm not sure exactly where, but its clear that somewhere this new setup is saving a lot of juice which it can now devote to the lights.

Monday, March 13, 2017

This is How I Learn... Everything

I'm sure it hasn't escaped my one reader, who ever that is, that my motorcycle is at the core of this blog. It wasn't meant to be that way, but the two came into my life at about the same time, so there it is. If this blog goes on long enough, that may change, but until then...

I've been struggling with getting my carburetor tuned properly. Since wrapping the exhaust pipes and removing the airbox, there have been issues. Mileage has decreased significantly, there has been "popping" in the exhaust when I throttle down, power at first seemed to increase, but has since declined, power does not increase smoothly as I throttle up... I could probably go on, but those are the main things.

So I've been approaching it from different directions. Trying different tuning approaches from various sources, some solved some issues, but increased others. Nothing seemed to solve them all, which proper tuning should do. I initially looked at all the issues from the perspective of how they related to the air-fuel mix, but when that continued to yield unsatisfactory results, I changed my approach.

Last week, I took one obvious symptom, the popping, and searched to see what other issues it might arise from. It turns out, it could also result from a poor seal between the cylinders and the exhaust pipes. Since I've removed the pipes several times and never replaced the gaskets (they're supposed to be replaced every time! opps!) I ordered new ones. (BTW, exhaust is closely related to the air-fuel mix, so this would be a contributing factor that needed to be fixed in order to get tuning corrected.)

They arrived today, so I set out to replaced the old ones... Only there weren't any. Apparently, I either lost them without noticing (unlikely) or the previous owner didn't replaced them when they put after-market pipes on the bike. Whatever. I put the new gaskets in, and the popping stopped. So I tuned the carburetor following the factory recommended procedure, using a new digital tachometer I also bought (my bike does not have one of its own) and got better performance immediately.

But now there's another problem... maybe. When my initial problems began, one mechanic suggested increasing the main jet size, so I did. It didn't make sense at the time, but I knew less then. Now I know that that may be the cause of my reduced fuel economy, So I have to go back, remove the carb and reinstall the smaller jet.

All this trial and error is annoying, but I realize its also the way I tend to approach and learn everything I do. I jump in, tear things apart, fuck with what's working, generally mess it up, and try to get it back into equilibrium, only different from how it started. Its messy and time consuming, and I tend to go over somethings dozens of times. But in the end, I understand them, and know things I wouldn't have if I hadn't been so messy about it.

I've never been one to just accept what I'm told, I need to know why. If I wanted to be a mechanic professionally, I would got to school for it, and dig very deep into the how and why of all these things. I'm not going pro, so the time and money for school aren't in the cards. But, I am giving myself a useful education on this particular subject, and it will be followed by another.

I did this with carpentry, with bartending, with writing, working on my car (fuel injected, not carbureted, or I'd already know this stuff), and with scores of other things in my life. If you were to study my relationships, you probably see that the numerous long and short term relationships also fall into that pattern (not on purpose, but still probably true).

This is how I learn -- by doing. By getting dirty, and making it real and tangible, not theory.

Friday, January 13, 2017

(Love) I Hope Its Not Finished Yet.

I’ve always envied the guys who can get laid easily, you know, the rock stars, the assholes, the Hank Moody’s of life.  We all want to be that guy, I want to be that guy. But its not who I am, and as much as I wish it was, I’m also grateful for not being that guy, because I’m a different kind of guy.

I’m the guy that girls fall in love with. Not every girl, grant you, but over the years, some genuinely amazing girls, and women, have fallen in love with me, and I with them. All of them, without exception, have been the type of girls, and woman, that many men would kill to be with. Some (more than I’d like to admit) have been young, some have been smart, some have been girls-next-door, some have been wild-ones, some have been MILFs, some have gone on to great success, some lead interesting lives that will one day be the stuff of legends.

I honestly cannot say what it is about me that causes this. I’m terrible at picking up women. I cannot see a woman a bar, or store or on the street and strike up a conversation. I’m not wealthy or connected or a sharp dresser. Yet, every so often I meet someone, usually because they approach me, and it happens – we start dating, the sex is great, then it becomes more, and boom! Love.

Eventually, it ends, usually badly, because I attract women who don’t do gray areas. There is either love or loathing, and not much in between. At first, I either feel grateful to get out, or totally heartbroken, then, over time, be it days or years – and it has been both on different occasions – I settle into acceptance and forgiveness.

I miss all of them, on any given day. Each is special to me, and brought something unique to my life. Then I feel lonely and wonder if that lightening will ever strike again. Sometimes it takes years, during which I just float between long periods of enforced chastity and casual sex. During those times I wonder if I’ve finally gotten too old, to jades, too whatever to ever be loved like that again.

I console myself with the thought that I have probably been in love and loved deeply, by more of the most amazing women than any man has a right to hope for in his life time. If it never happens again, then I should still count myself lucky, because I have had more of the best in life that money cannot buy, than almost anyone.

It is a poor consolation when I’m lonely. Perhaps when I’m truly old, in some distant time, it will be enough. Maybe then I will regale younger people with my stories of romance. But not yet. Now it feels lonely to not be loved in that special way by someone I love back.

I never know when or where it will find me next, except to say it will not find me at home, alone with my cat, on my couch, writing or reading or watching TV. Yet when I go out, to a bar or shopping or wherever I may go, with the vague or specific hope of finding that next great love, I always come back home empty and unfulfilled.

Until the time that I don’t. The time I least expected it – and I hope the last of those times has not passed, not yet. I don’t feel like I’m finished. Not yet.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Detoxing Life

When you've been around the sun enough times, you start to notice patterns. If you're the kind of person who considers one's only life, you probably notice them in your own behavior. I certainly have begun to.

Recently, my relationship with my best friend has blown up in my face. After being inseparable for a couple years, a single incident ballooned into a seething mass of text messaged blaming me for everything from the death of Christ to the election of Trump. To which, my emotional response was to shut down and walk away.

Its not unknown to me that my friend has been quite toxic for sometime. Having faced some personal hardships over the past couple years, they turned inward with guilt and self-loathing. I have forgiven much of their behavior for sometime, but there is a limit, and when the overblown and unwarranted blame and recriminations were directed full force at me, I decided it was time to let of the friendship.

To be honest, I've felt for sometime the friendship was one sided. They were getting more out of it than I was. I was supportive and understanding and consistent in as their life spiraled out of control. While they... Well, they spiraled out of control. I was there source of stability, and I got very little in return, except this feeling of nobility for being that source when everyone else around them was everything but.

Then I began to see the bigger picture. This is something I do. Something I've done for as long as I can recall. I pick up strays. They always seem to fun, exciting, interesting people and we become great friends, or lovers (the first ones I can clearly identify where early girlfriends) and over time their neuroses come out until the  relationship become toxic and I bail.

I feel guilty about bailing, after all, we have history. More importantly, I've allowed them to become dependent on me, they count on me. I'm also an enabler. My constant forgiveness of their flaws allows them to justify their behaviors. I make them worse.

I've done this my whole life. Its a pattern that takes years to play out sometimes, so it can be hard to recognize, but now I have. I'm not really sure how to stop it, since I don't really see the signs early on, but I'm aware now.

As much as I feel guilty about leaving these people behind, I have to accept that in the end they are hurting me. They drain me, the abuse me, they take me for granted, and they occupy a place in my life that could better be filled with healthy relationships.

I like to think I never completely cut anyone out of my life, that if they got better, maybe some therapy or something, I would welcome them back. But the truth is, I don't know, because either none have exercised their demons or those who have hold a grudge against me for leaving or for being their enabler and simply don't want me around. Either way, these breaks seem to last (I'm not dead, and I'm eternally hopeful that I'm wrong, so I say "seem to".)

Now that it is done, I hope to fill the void left by healthier reciprocal relationships. I'll let you know how that goes.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Writing

I've written a screenplay.

It feels good to say that. What I've written is the first complete draft of a story that  I've been trying to write for literally years. Now, finally, its written, from beginning to end.

And its total crap.

I don't mean to say I wrote a terrible story. I like my story, but it isn't done, its still forming.

My whole life, I've loved movies. Human beings tell stories, fictions, to entertain, but also to teach, to share moral ideals and greater truths about life. When you tell us this is right or this is wrong, we nod our heads and say, "ok, sure," but it doesn't really sink in. When we experience those things, we truly know what is right and what it wrong.

Stories allow us to experience without actually doing. Our brains are wired in such a way that imagining something is as powerful as living through something. So, story allows us to share deeper truths in life in a visceral way that we truly can learn and grow from.

Movies and TV are only the latest way which people have developed to share stories. The greatest stories still are with us from eons past. Ancient myths, plays, ballads -- the best ones survive.

People complain that there's a lot of junk TV and terrible movies, that "its not like when I was young." Well it is. There are more channels now, and more theaters with more screens, and more ways to distribute a movie or TV show. The total volume of media produced has increased, and a lot of it is bad, and will be forgotten. But that has always been true. We just don't remember that from our childhood, because those stories didn't stick.

Shakespeare wasn't the only playwright of his time. He was just better, so his plays survived and are passed down. Homer wasn't the only story telling poet of his time, but he was one of the best, and his stories contain universal truths, so his are passed down. Long after we are dead and gone, most of the stories produced today will be forgotten too, including mine. Some will be remembered and retold, they were among the best.

About 5 years ago, I tried my hand at acting. I took classes, I auditioned, I worked as an extra for money and to see behind the scenes how movies were made. I even got cast in a few no-budget short films I'm too embarrassed to watch. Along the way I read scripts.

I'd tried writing at various times through out my life. I'd been told I was pretty good, that I had an interesting voice.  But I never succeeded in writing anything more than a few pages long. I didn't know how. I've had a certain story floating around my head since I was about 15 or 16 years old. Its still there (it isn't the one I wrote this time). But I couldn't seem to make writing a novel work for me, I didn't know how.

Scripts, they made sense to me. I knew movies inside and out, so I could read a script and see how it would play out on the screen. The format worked for me. So I began writing again, confident that this new format would allow me to express the stories in my head.

My first serious attempt got me about halfway finished before I doubled back and started rewriting. Eventually, it fizzled because I couldn't get to the end, I kept doubling back to the beginning. The idea stayed in my head. A few others have grown along side it, and a few months ago I began trying again, only to find myself doing the same thing. My script has been a quarter to half written a dozen times.

Finally, I learned an important new thing: Just write it.

My habit of doubling back, fixing and rewriting and editing before I was done was stopping me form finishing. I was judging the work before the story was complete. So I buckled down a week ago and started writing, for three hours a day. I didn't got back and read what I wrote, or think "does that work?" "What if this happened instead?" I just let it stay as is and kept moving forward with the story.

Some interesting things happened when I did that. I thought I knew my story so well, then I'd write a scene I never imagined and it fit and expressed an idea better than any other way I'd planned. Characters started saying thing I didn't expect them to, because they stopped being me, they became their own people with their own voices.

Last night I finished my first full draft of the story, from beginning to end.

It isn't ready for the light of day. Its rough, it needs to be rewritten, it has lots of problems, which is why I say its crap. But the entire idea, the whole plot is there now. More than I've ever managed before. So now I am confident that I will in fact finish it. It may not be great art, but it will be my art and it will be complete.

Then I will move on to the next one, and the one after that. There are at least four in my head now waiting to be be written. But right now, this morning I can truly say, I have written a screenplay. And that feels pretty damned good.

Friday, November 18, 2016

My Rules for a Fulfilling LIfe

"So what do you do when you get to that point in life where you don't have anything to live for anymore. Or you feel like you have no purpose, except to go to work?"

That's the question a friend of  mine asked on Facebook the other day, and it struck me, not because I feel that way, but because I don't. In fact, I had to think really hard to remember a time when I did feel that way. Which made me wonder why I don't feel that way, because I know its a common thing for a lot of people.

Years and years ago, when I became a single father, I decided to make being present as a father my priority, over making more money to give my child a "better" life. At the time, I was struggling to survive on $250 a week with a kid. I told my employer I would not work past 5pm or on weekends. At first is was really hard, but eventually, that choice led me to work with people who supported the decision and that turned into a work life and eventually a business that supported me as a single father. 

Fatherhood was the reason I had, but I don't believe its the cause for my having the fulfilled life I do now. I used fatherhood as a socially acceptable reason to not bow to the pressure to work more and more and to make money a priority for my existence, but one does not need to be a parent to make those choices.

I joke that I have a lousy work ethic. I want to work as little as possible to have a life I enjoy, and I don't want to work now, so I can have a good life later, I want it now. Over the years, I've developed strategies and habits that have helped me create a life I truly enjoy on a daily basis. In simple terms, here's my "rules" for a happy daily life (in no particular order):

  • Get a job that inspires you. Sounds simple, but it might mean giving up your career, or not doing what you studied in college, and you might not even know what that job is! But if you're job doesn't regularly satisfy you on an emotional and intellectual level, get a new one, and keep moving until you find one that does. Some times its the job itself, other times its who you work with and for, and your ideal job might not be one your partner or friends or family think is "worthy" of you. Whatever it takes, do it, because you spend a third of your time at it, so make it rewarding.
  • Don't work so much. Set boundaries with your job. What those are is up to you. Choose things outside of work that are more important to you, and make it clear to your employers that those come first. For me it was my son at first. Now its my free time, and certain events I want to attend, like Burning Man. Whatever those things are for you, set firm and reasonable expectations and stick with them. It can be hard to tell your boss "no," but if they respect you, together you can figure out how to make it work (and if they don't, then find another job).
  • Get your finances in order. Many people think this means earning more money to afford things (which breaks the above rule), or cutting out fun things (which makes life pointless and dull), or both. Honestly, it depends on you and your particular situation, there's no single magic bullet for this. Having debts and worrying about your bills constantly erodes your quality of life on a daily basis. If you need help with this, seek it out, there are non-profit resources available. (I will write about my solution in another post)
  • Try new things. New foods, new music, new ANYTHING. Develop the habit of saying yes, and don't be afraid to admit, after you tried it, that you didn't like it. Take pleasure in discovering something you didn't like! Take pride in saying "I tried it!" instead of being the person who sits back and shakes their head. It doesn't need to be big things, everything counts. 
  • Learn new things, your way. Pick something you want to learn and start. Read books, take classes, watch online videos. Whatever, just get started. Anything counts. 
  • Learn to quit. This is a big one. Our culture is big on finishing and following through and "quitters never win, and winners never quit!" Its bullshit. A wise person knows when something isn't working, and changes course. If you don't like the class you're taking, stop. If you're job isn't fulfilling, look for a new one. If you always wanted to ride motorcycles, and after a ride or two decide its not what you thought it was, then stop. There is no shame in having tried and realized its not your thing. The only shame is in not having tried. This applies to relationships, too. Don't stay in one that isn't working, no matter how long you've been in it. Not everything is meant to last forever, move on.
  • Be selfish. Two of the most acceptable reasons for anything you do need to be "I want to" and "I don't want to." This doesn't mean be a self-centered person, it means not to be entirely other-people-centered. Find balance, and include yourself in your choices. You have to stop viewing your life as other people might see it. In today's world, people tend to think other people's lives are amazing because of their posts on social media, and you might want your life to seems amazing to. That's living for other people. If you love sitting on the couch reading, just do that. It won't look awe inspiring on social media, but it will make you happy.
  • Take care of your health. A lot of things in life feel better when you're healthy. Just waking up is better when you're healthy, because you sleep better. You don't have to go nuts with a radical diet change or get a personal trainer. Start small and make little changes that will accumulate, but do something to improve your health, whatever it is now. 
  • Reflect. "A life unexamined is not worth living." Think about your experiences, you choices, how they turned out and what you can learn from them. Again, even the little things count. You will learn about yourself, and that will guide you to a more fulfilling life. 
In a nut shell, that's it. I could expand all that into a book (maybe I should!), but in essence, that's it. None of them is that difficult on their own, and chances are you already do some of them. Together they will improve your life exponentially.

The fact is, having a fulfilling life is not a difficult thing. We are built to be in love with life. We just get caught up thinking that we are supposed to be happy doing what makes other people happy, and that's not true. How boring the world would be if we all like the same things! What would we talk about? Seek out YOUR happy life, don't try to replicate someone else's.

If you're feeling like you lack direction in your life, you don't need to make a radical change. Just commit to making a small change every day.

There's a parable about a prince, who decided he would toss a pebble, every day, into the river he walked past daily. At first is seemed like nothing, and he did it. Eventually, he thought it was pointless, and he considered stopping, but his mentor convinced him to keep it up. Over time, the pebbles accumulated, into a large pile in the river, which noticeably changed the course of the river. The tiny daily effort of the prince built into a big change. That is how you build a fulfilling life from where you are, with a small consistent effort. 


Thursday, November 3, 2016

Midlife San Crisis

I spent yesterday and this morning working on my motorcycle. A month or so ago I wrapped the exhaust pipes in fiberglass, the result was a change in the tuning of the bike, it didn't run as smooth and my mileage dropped from over 50 mpg to about 40. I understood why, it had to do with trapping more heat in the pipes and increasing back pressure and blah, blah, blah.

I knew I'd have to make changes to the carburetor,Yesterday I installed a velocity stack and re-jetted the carb (see post here if you want details), but by the end of the day, after about 30 miles of riding and tuning I still couldn't get it quite right. Carburetor tuning is a tricky thing, and I'd never done it before, every car I ever owned had fuel injection.

This morning, I pulled the carb off again, opened it up and changed one of the jets again. Once it was back in, it only took a few miles of riding to get it tuned right and the bike was riding like it hasn't in weeks. I took it out around town and put another 30 miles on it just for the pure joy of riding. Neighborhoods, city streets, highways, stop and go, cruising, throttle wide open, working smoothly up through the gears or full throttle, 1-2-3-4! Just riding my ride.

There's nothing quite like riding a motorcycle, especially one that's running perfectly, doubly so for one that you've been elbow deep inside to make it your own. Which is what brought me to where I am now, writing this.

When I was a kid, in the late seventies, Star Wars was a big deal for me, I owned dozens of the toys. But my fondest memories were of riding my bike down the street to the community college and scavenging cardboard from the dumpsters to build my own space ships and secret bases for my Star Wars figures. As cool as the manufactured ones seemed on TV, they never lived up to my expectations, but when I built something out of cardboard and glue, it never failed to be prefect -- at least in my eyes.

It was about that time I first heard the phrase "mid-life crisis." I was a pre-teen and it didn't mean that much to me, I just knew adults said it half jokingly when ever someone's father bought a sports car, or some other "toy."

Eventually, I came to recognize it as meaning a man, usually  in his late 40's or early 50's, who society believes is trying to relive his youth through flashy cars and younger women and generally "not acting his age." People said it behind some poor guy's back and giggled at him. Its a derogatory term, and one I've come to believe completely misses the truth for many men of every age.

Underlying the "juvenile" behavior of such men is an assumption about what they should be doing, how they should behave, and what should make them happy. Which is backed by the blanket assumption that everyone should be fulfilled and satisfied by a fairly limited set of ideals, usually career, wife, kids, house and a week or two of vacation every year -- The one-size-fits-all life path.

My life never followed that exact path, but then I never wanted it to. My life also didn't follow the path I wanted for a long time, either. At 20 I became a father, by 23 I was a single father. By the time I was 30, I owned my own growing business and was raising a school aged child on my own (not to dismiss the help and support of my family, just saying I didn't have a wife or girlfriend living with me to share the responsibilities or financial burden.) At 33 I bought a house. I had a career, a family, a house, I took a couple vacations, life was good.

But it was not fulfilling.

That's not to say I was miserable all the time, there is a lot of gray area between utter and complete misery, and blissful happiness, I liked my job, most of the time, I had a good set of friends, I had hobbies I enjoyed. But I didn't have the freedom I expected of my life when I was younger.

Having a child, particularly alone, limits your freedom, and freedom is what I wanted from life. Freedom to explore, to be creative, to try new things, go new places -- to walk away from whatever wasn't fulfilling me. You can't do that when you have a child. Sure, you can do some things, but if those aren't the things that fulfill you (and they mostly weren't) then you're stuck.

When my son left for college, I left all that behind. The house, the business, the Midwest, I walked away from it all and started over with a girl half my age in a new city. I stumbled around for a few years, broke, often unhappy, not sure where I was headed, but oddly fulfilled. Even in my misery I was fulfilled.

For the last few years I've pursued things that interest me for as long as they interest me. Sometimes I walk away from them because I loose interest, but at least I know that it wasn't for me, because I tired. I tend bar and sleep til noon, I have no drive to buy another house or have an expensive car (I love my beat up old Jeep!) I bought a motorcycle at 44 years old, I go out drinking with 20-somethings and party til dawn frequently. I usually work 3 or 4 days a week, and don't care about "career advancement" because I don't want the responsibilities, I'd rather have time to take day trips or tinker on a project in the middle of the week.

If I were 25 this kind of behavior would be expected. People would say I was getting it out of my system or sewing my oats before I settled down. At 45 many surely point and giggle and whisper "mid-life crisis," behind my back.They're wrong.

In fact, I think for most men hung with that label, its wrong. The simplified mold doesn't fit us all. I never wanted a wife and kids and career, my mother will tell you I said as much in kindergarten (I wanted to be like my Uncle Jimmy!), I might not have expressed it as clearly then, but I felt it.

The crisis in my life came when I had to fit at least part of that mold. I had to settle down into an existence I was told should fulfill me, and yet I was unfulfilled. For years -- more than a decade -- I believed there was something wrong with me, that I wasn't happy because there was some flaw in my psyche. If I could only let go of my foolish ideals, and "grow up," I could be happy.

I now believe that many men go through life equally as unfulfilled, but due to the emotional self-castration our culture forces on boys, they never even face the empty feelings they have. Some drink or do drugs, others are abusive, others quietly retreat into silence in front of the TV or spectator sports (believing they're too old to participate). They either wither and die inside, or they rage and seek escape in unhealthy ways.

Until the day comes when enough is enough and they leave part or all of it behind, seeking to find the happiness they once knew in their youth by doing the things they did in their youth. Where else would you start looking for happiness than where you last felt it?

At these times they no longer identify with the man they've tried to become, they seek a new identity, their authentic identity, the one they've been told is wrong for all their lives. And our culture calls them fools, and laughs at them for it. We laugh at them for trying to be happy -- for not finding happiness where we told them they must.

This is why I reject the idea of a mid-life crisis. Its not a crisis, its a self-rescue from a quiet, desperate crisis one has been living for years, perhaps decades.

Not everyone finds happiness in the same things, and that's ok. My happiness is not a threat or invalidation to yours. If what fulfills me doesn't fulfill you, then go find your own way, and I'll find mine. The sooner, and younger, you find the courage to walk away from things that don't fulfill you, and to admit to the world your path is different, the happier you'll be, even if its a difficult path. (This goes for men and women, by the way.)

As I cruise by on my motorcycle and flirt with that 20-something girl, you may giggle, but you shouldn't, because at least I'm trying. I may find these things don't fulfill me ultimately, or having satisfied the desire, I may move on to something else equally as funny to you, but at least I tried, and I know and don't wonder anymore.

I've been elbow deep in my own life (and will be many more times, I expect), tinkering and modifying it to fit my tastes and trying to getting it running perfectly. As fun as riding a motorcycle is, nothing compares to riding a life that fulfills you.