Just Charlie

A digital commonplace for a Regular Guy called Charlie Pharis

Because I Have To, That’s Why…

Here we sit on the third day of 2024, and I’m writing this at 4:26 am because I have to. 

If I don’t, there mightn’t be time to do it later, what with the return to the office and the daily grind and all. So, here we are.

Now, there’s the key difference. I have to write this to keep up the habit. To keep the commitment I made to myself. To not break the streak. I have to because I want to, and if I don’t…well…it’ll be a lot easier next time to blow it off. And that might apply in something else besides the worthless ramblings of a wannabe blogger. I mean…who would know? Would either of the two of you loyal readers miss it if I didn’t? I don’t think so.

But I would know.

Cover of Bob Burg's The Go-GiverOn another note, I finished reading the first book of 2024, The Go-Giver by Bob Burg. It’s one of those little business/success parables that are so popular. While it was an easy read, and while I reported in my notebook it seemed rather trite and formulaic, there were some good points. It made me think about saving and authenticity, two things I consider to be important. And now I’m trying to recapture why those two aspects are crucial. Maybe it’s because I’ve struggled so long to look like an authentic servant, that it has become just another finely crafted and carefully maintained mask for the character I want to portray.

And that leads us back to the start of this little screed. I’m writing this because I have to.

And I want to reclaim the servant heart because I have to. Or I’ll continue down the path of Whatever This Is.

Thanks for coming along. One of these days, there might really be something here worth reading and pondering.

Habits, Old and New…

It’s that time, readers. It’s time to assess where we’ve been, where we’ve gone wrong, where we’ve gone astray, and where we’ve failed; and to figure out and commit to a way forward, a way to get back on track, a way to improve our lot in life. Yep, it’s the new year, only a day and a few hours old.

I listened to Justin Whitmel Earley on The Habit podcast this morning, and he was talking about habits, daily and weekly. One thought that stuck with me is that habits help us to become free. Freedom doesn’t mean we can do whatever we like, but it means living the way we were created to live.

I need to develop some good habits this year, and the best place to start is with the habits of my heart. So I committed—again—to investing quality time into spiritual practices: scripture, prayer, worship, gratitude, service, etc.

Last year, I joined a couple of my church folks and used the Navigators Bible reading plan. This year, I’ve settled on the Five Day plan from Lower Lights. It’s an interesting format, somewhat chronological.

“Let’s do this, Lord!” I said. And then it hit me suddenly. There really is a Resistance to doing what you know is right and necessary and helpful. That Resistance for me, comes from two distinct dangers.

One is the danger of Distraction. As I started to find the document with the Bible reading plan, I thought for a moment about a quote from the earlier podcast. “Wait,” I said. “I need to get that quote in my head because it will help me as I think about this new old habit. I opened the podcast page on my computer. While I was there, I noticed I only had four minutes left in this particular episode. So I hit the play button and listened to the end. I wrote some notes in my notebook, and started to close out the podcast app and get to my Bible reading.

But there on the podcast episode page were some recommendations for other podcasts I might like. I clicked on one, and as I began to read about the host, I navigated to her website and started looking through the content there. But that wasn’t all. I thought about the design of the website and how I liked the font choices and the layout. So I started trying to find the fonts. And as usually happens for a guy who loves typography,   I started down the rabbit hole of fonts. I didn’t find the exact matches but I did find some I liked and noted for future use.

That’s not the point. The point is I was distracted from what I had intended to do: start a fresh reading plan. Of course, the fonts were not bad things. But they were distractions that kept me from the main thing. In our world, distraction is all around, and it fights our best intentions and keeps us from the parts of life that make it abundant.

But the other danger I faced this morning is the danger of Familiarity. The reading plan starts on Day 1 with Genesis 1–2, Psalm 19, and Mark 1. Having read and studied the Bible as a “professional” for all these years, it’s hard to avoid the “yeah, yeah…I know that already” attitude. It’s as though I said to God, “Give me something new and stop boring me with the basics that I already know.” Wow! What an attitude!

They say familiarity breeds contempt, but more insidious than contempt is apathy. Apathy may not be the best word here, but it’s all I can come up with. Just because we’ve read the words hundreds of times doesn’t mean the words have done their work in our hearts. I know the creation account in Genesis. I know the heavens declare the glory of God and that His words, laws, and precepts are good, corrective, and restorative. I know I need His activity to keep me from sin and make my words and thoughts acceptable. I know Jesus started His ministry, was baptized by John, called his disciples, healed people, and all that. I know all that.

But knowing all that sometimes blocks the power of all that. I need to guard against the apathy of familiarity, and see the Lord’s work as real and active.

A Word and Some More for 2024…

Hello, you loyal readers…all both of you! And happy New Year from this little dusty spot on the interwebs. Traditionally, today has been the day for reflection on the year just past and commitment to be better in the year that is just starting. And as someone somewhere opined, “New year’s resolutions are a to-do list for the first week in January.” That’s about right, because that’s just about how long they last.

Anyway, enough about that. Let’s get to what you came here for, shall we?

Some random thoughts on a new year…

One Word. There are folks out there who subscribe to the idea of having One Word for the year. One word that ideally and hopefully will define your intentions for the year, and guide you as you live, work, and love. One word to remind you of who you want to be and what you’re doing to become that person. One word to rule them all, so to speak. Having never been much on that kind of thing before, this year it seemed appropriate to me to think about it. So my word for 2024 is going to be elevate. Stay tuned for more details. (How’s that for piquing your readers’ interest—and setting up a reminder, a prompt to further develop a thought?)

Thanks, Greg Morris, for the Reminder…

…that sometimes, the best thing we can do is do something for ourselves, because we like it, not because it’s making money or getting attention or approval, or any of that other stuff.

From his post

This isn’t another don’t do it for others, do it for yourself post – there are enough of them online. It’s a realisation that one of the backbones of the web, Google search ranking, and to a certain extent, social media, has ruined so much of it. There are a huge number of people still blogging and not giving a damn, but many more that don’t bother because of these feelings.

Perhaps we are edging our way back towards a better social web that encourages blogging more, or perhaps this is just wishful thinking. One thing I am certain of is that a lot of blogging has been ruined already, and it will take a concerted effort from us all to build it back up again.

Random Tuesday in October, 10.17.23…

As devoted readers of this space—all both of you—know, I’m a firm believer in serendipity, that happy circumstance of finding something valuable on the way to looking for something else. This morning’s installment is brought to you, in part, by serendipitous observance, AKA, the fine art of looking around. For instance…

Serendipity #1: I came across the word welter in one of the blogs I follow. That led me straight to the Little Red Web, where I discovered welter is “a state of wild disorder; turmoil; a chaotic mass or jumble.” Here’s the serendipitous part. A couple of entries down the page, my eye caught the word weltschmerz, a fancy German term denoting “a mental depression or apathy caused by comparison of the actual state of the world with an ideal state; a mood of sentimental sadness.”

And there it was. Those two dictionary entries together summed up what has been the late theme of my life. Oh, there’s nothing particular that has me in that state, just a general feeling that this old man is in the October of the years. And that he (that would be me) is looking back upon a life mostly well-lived, but lacking in real significance or value.

Serendipity #2: This quote about G.K. Chesterton, from Joseph Pearce:

‘Not facts first,’ Chesterton insisted, ‘truth first.’

Serendipity #3: This suggestion from Rilke to the young poet, Mr. Kappus:

So you mustn’t be frightened, dear Mr. Kappus, if a sadness rises in front of you, larger than any you have ever seen; if an anxiety, like light and cloudshadows, moves over your hands and over everything you do. You must realize that something is happening to you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand and will not let you fall.

Substitute “the Lord” for amorphous “life” in that passage, and the serendipity finds its way back home, and there is an assurance, a confidence, that this life, mostly, but not always, well-lived, isn’t a vain endeavor for something you can’t grasp. It is the life that you’ve been called to experience, to live. And there is more to come, more for which to be thankful, and more about which to be curious.

Look for the life around you, and you never know what you might find.


Thankful Friday…

Ooh! Ooh! Two posts…in the same month! And on the same day!

As I was writing the ol’ Morning Pages this morning, I began to think of how Fridays are the perfect time for reflecting on The Week That Was, The Weekend That Is To Come, and The General State Of Things In This Life As We Know It. (Looks more epic if you capitalize it like a title, no?)

Anyway, there are several items that make me thankful today, even in the midst of—especially in the midst of—these topsy-turvy times in which we are called to live. Here we go. Add your own if you’re playing along.

  • Gooey, cheesy ziti al mondo at our favorite reliable American Eye-talian joint is better when it’s shared across the table from My Favorite Hoosier. Oh, and keep the rolls coming, please.
  • Playlists. Yeah, yeah…I know. More AI-generated “music” than real artists sometimes. But I’m very thankful for the people who have the knowledge and the time to curate and share their playlists. Right now, for instance, Tsh Oxenreider’s “Deep Work” is powering this blog post. Thanks, Tsh!
  • And finally, this story showed up in my Twitter…I mean…X! feed. The original feature was in 2021, so I don’t even know if Caitlin and Street Brew Coffee are still a thing in Toronto, but it sure made me smile out loud this morning. Turns out Caitlin is still pumping out coffee and good vibes!

Remember (he says to himself)…you’re pretty much going to find what you’re looking for. This quote from Katherine May’s Enchantment is a sound observation…

Enchantment is small wonder magnified through meaning, fascination caught in the web of fable and memory. It relies on small doses of awe, almost homeopathic: those quiet traces of fascination that are found only when we look for them.

So today, dear both of you readers, make your Friday a day for looking for and finding The Good Stuff that’s all around, the Stuff That Makes Your World Wonderful.

AI for Non-Creative Creative Wannabes…

Greetings, fans of Just Charlie! All both of you have been waiting with bated breath for another infrequent installment in this space. Well, wait no more! It’s Friday, and that often means random goodness from all over the place. Let’s jump in with a quick glance at a new cool tool…

See those two images at the top? They’re what happened yesterday when I discovered the rabbit hole that is Adobe’s Generative AI products. I’ve used the Generative Fill tool in the beta of Photoshop once, and I had pretty good results. But I’ve kind of resisted playing around with Firefly and the tools in Adobe Express, just because. But yesterday, with a little dark and early time on my hands, I jumped in. Here’s what I discovered in my short introduction:

  • If you can describe what you want to see, there’s a good chance these tools will get you a reasonable facsimile.
  • There’s an issue with eyes, faces, and fingers. Why do the eyes look so funky? And why do some faces look distorted and even downright scary?
  • And what’s the deal with six fingers? Seven fingers? No fingers, just club hands?
  • The results are a mixed bag, but if you keep refreshing the space, eventually you’ll get something you can live with.

I know there’s quite a bit of conversation about AI and its role in our culture. I do fear that people like me—old coot wannabes with limited skills, at best—will likely be replaced by these tools. I’m also afraid of the ramifications for communication, politics, and our society in general, as we cede more and more of our rational human function to The Machines. Maybe more on that later. But for a few minutes on a Thursday, it was a fun little distraction for a guy who had an artistic and creative bypass at birth.

Random Notes from That Conference, Day One: The Preliminaries…

Georgia World Congress Center main entrance and sign at Twilight with traffic streaks.


I wrote in this space yesterday about my anxiety about attending a large conference for the first time in a long time. Let me give you a little recap of Day One, just to keep both of you loyal readers in the loop.

  • If you know anything about Atlanta, the event venue is Building B of the Georgia World Congress Center. It’s next to Mercedes Benz Stadium, State Farm Arena, and Centennial Olympic Park. I parked at our headquarters building just across Northside Drive from The Benz, and decided to walk across the street to the conference. At 3:30 pm. In mid-July. It was HOT! Did I say it was HOT? Let’s just say I’ve already paid for closer GWCC parking for today.
  • Check-in was a breeze. Lots of nice smiling folks to get you where you needed to go. But $100 to replace a lost ID badge?
  • I thought my team members would be there already, but they (wisely?) decided to wait until closer to the start of the main session to show up, so I wandered around by myself for a bit. (Fine by me…don’t get me wrong!)
  • I meandered down—and down—and down—and down again to the exhibit hall. That part was wall to wall with vendors of all kinds, hawking everything you could imagine—and some things you’d never think of. I didn’t go to every booth or table, but I was disappointed in the swag—or lack of it. Maybe there’ll be more today.
  • Unless you’re absolutely starving to death—and I mean that literally—you might be wise to avoid the “Philly cheesesteak” booth in the exhibit hall. Just sayin’….
  • I met a few of my colleagues—three women, I’d guess late-30s/early 40s—in the lobby, and went with them over to the Once and Former CNN Center while they ate. And while I washed away the afterthought of the “Philly cheesesteak” with sweet tea from Chick-Fil-A. A wide-ranging, but pleasant enough conversation ensued.

Another installment shortly, in which your observant scribbler reports on the actual content of the opening session. Stay tuned…


Into the Crowd…

Today marks the beginning of the first conference/convention/etc. I’ve attended in a long time. I’m a little bit anxious.

It’s not that I don’t like people. I do. I think I have a servant’s heart for people. I do. But as I get older, my tolerance for people’s BS has diminished. I don’t relish the thought of sitting/milling around/interacting with a crowd.

Anyway, we’ll see how it goes. Get ready to send in the rescue team.