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Jun. 18th, 2010

Reading

Short Letter #1

Dear Concert Goers, et.al.,

In the sordid days of my youth, I enjoyed going to concerts so that I could look at lots of peoples' butts while hearing something that may or may not have vaguely resembled a CD (or tape) in my collection. This was a serendipitous desire on my part because my fellow concert goers stood on all sides of me, and indeed, all I saw were butts in every direction. By merely looking straight ahead, my detailed explorations came to fruition.

Having completed my in-depth study of the "droop," boxers versus briefs, too-tight jeans, see-through pants, way too short skirts, and different ways people fondle each others's butts, I have decided that I would like to alter my concert-going experience and revert from my anal-retentive focus. I am hoping you find the resulting study, Rear View Mirror (available on Amazon) educational and informative. I know a lot of prison folk have really enjoyed it.

To that end, please be advised that I no longer need you to stand directly in front of me at a concert venue. That even means you, 6'5 guy with a foot-tall cowboy hat on. You are no longer required to stand directly in my field of vision whilst making out with your significant every other day. You do not need to stand in front of me and sway from side to side, thus teasing me with alternating non-views of the stage. All of your duties in this regard have been performed admirably, and I want to make that clear. My concert scrap book is nothing if not a collection of photos of butts, lit differently but generally creating the same ambiance. This scrapbook is currently in the hands of the FBI, by the way. Stay tuned.

I hope this can be an amicable separation. Crack a smile and know that you contributed something great to the world, and now your duty is done.

With amorous feelings for all,

~Me

Jun. 14th, 2010

Reading

What will make them say mercy?

Yesterday morning, as I so often do, I was watching Face the Nation (used to watch Meet the Press but it's just not the same without my Tim Russert, RIP). Bob Schieffer had 3 governors on: Haley Barbour, Rob Riley, and Charlie Crist (Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida, respectively).

Haley Barbour was interviewed first. Rather than me telling you what he said, here it is:



The night before I had gotten around to watching Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. A cute movie that showed that some people can learn from their gluttonous ways while others just keep asking for more more more.

When I was watching Haley Barbour I thought of Tolkien's description not of man but of dwarves. "They delved too greedily and too deep." The dwarves were so greedy and so driven to find more and more wealth that they ended up digging up some evil demons. You know, like the Balrog.

I always have believed that there is a point where a human being will say, "Woah. This is like bad, man...We should stop." I'm not sure that's true anymore though. If the governor of Mississippi can tell us that he still thinks that offshore drilling should keep going, I really don't know what would convince him otherwise at this point. Clearly, the destruction of an oil company, a rig, the end to a dozen human lives, the end of a culture for thousands, apparently none of this is enough.

What has to happen?

Does his first born have to be taken?

Does Moses have to come back and part the now black sea?

What will get through to you, Mr. Barbour?

Look, I understand that the governors of the gulf coast states are looking at this thing pragmatically. They have to tell people to come on down. They have to tell people that the beaches are "fine just fine" even while I'm looking at a poetic image of an oil soaked coke bottle lying there. But really...what needs to happen for them to see that this particular thing we've got going on here is not good? Yes, it's true that something like this hasn't happened before. So what? It's happening now, man.

One more movie reference? How about Erik the Viking. "No, we're not sinking. This isn't happening. Everything's fine."

Yikes.

Jun. 11th, 2010

Reading

Founder's Day

This weekend marks Founder's Weekend/Day, an important moment in time not just for members of AA but also for the citizens of Akron, Ohio.

A lot of folks may have heard of Stan Hywet Hall, but what some folks might not know is that the Gate House at Stan Hywet is where Dr. Bob and Bill W were first introduced to each other. After an overnight marathon discussion the two walked away with the idea for Alcoholics Anonymous.

A few years ago I volunteered at the Gate House and my round of duty happened to coincide with Founder's Day. I had thought the house was pretty neat just because it is historical and because I got to sit there on Saturdays and imagine living there. I also got to go to super secret volunteer places :) Anyway, the Founder's Day experience was unlike anything I have ever experienced before or since.

This is strange because ultimately, I am too cynical to be able to follow the general jist of AA. I believe in taking life by the horns, along with any external forces, and saying, "nope, you're doing what I say now."

I digress.

Ordinarily, volunteering at the Gate House was a pretty quiet, even boring experience. I would sit there for several hours crafting or reading and maybe 2-3 visitors would come in. I would run through my basic spiel (this was Henrietta's house, this den is where Dr. Bob and Bill W met and talked, this is why Henrietta should get more credit). There are a lot of neat pamphlets in there. Sometimes I would imagine I was the original owner of the house, who I think was the estate's gardener. What a day he must have awakened to!

Anyway, on this particular day, there were little dividers up guiding people through the house. The front and back doors were left open, which let in all of the flies who also appreciated the day. And people started to pour in. I would try to greet people. You start in the dining room. "This is where Henrietta got Bill W and Dr. Bob to sit down and eat. Dr. Bob almost didn't make it because he had had a real bender the night before." Then the ropes led the people into the living room, where there are pictures of Dr. Bob and Bill W along with info about their lives and how they came to meet at that place on that day. Information about the cultural influences that inspired Henrietta to inspire them. Then the den, where they actually talked and hatched the idea of AA.

As more and more people started to file through, the sense that I was witnessing a type of worship washed over me. The fact that some of this reverence was raining down on me just because I was the volunteer who was helping people through the experience was also amazing. Many people, giant bikers, tiny women, children, parents, walked up to me and thanked me as if I had come up with the idea myself. Some of them told me their stories. People hugged each other even though they were meeting for the first time. It was like I had married into a close, tight-knit family and I was being welcomed right in.

I've been doing a lot of reading about the importance of "community" in the online world as it relates to our general culture but also to my job. I have been picturing my blog readers as a city because I don't always know who's reading. My Facebook friends are a village. You can come to visit and if we get to know each other you can become a resident. But even though I love being a part of the various online communities I'm in, I don't think I could ever experience COMMUNITY the way I did that day. And I wasn't even REALLY a part of it. I was there like a kind of lamp, really.

It makes me sort of envious that people who struggle with alcoholism have such an entrenched support group, even if I don't embrace how it all goes down. It would be amazing if groups could spring up in real life like they do on Facebook or LinkedIn. It would be amazing to walk into a 100-year-old house and know exactly how everyone was feeling at that exact moment because you all would be there together. Humbling. Unforgettable.

Jun. 4th, 2010

Reading

When advertising is inappropriate

When it comes to the news, I generally have become a "hide my head in the sand" kind of person. When Brian Williams or Jim Lehrer warns me that the following scenes may be graphic, I turn the channel. Most of the time.

I make a few exceptions when I think it is necessary. One of the most gut-wrenching things I have ever seen was the families looking for loved ones after 9/11. Then there was the documentary that Jules and Gedeon Naudet put together. I felt obligated to watch these things.

Ever since the rig explosion in the Gulf, I've not just buried my head, but I've been covering it with some kind of mixture of mental block, a touch of denial, and maybe some concrete. I really have no stomach for suffering, and when it's animals, who have no real voice, I just can't deal with it. When it's suffering caused by greed, stupidity, and ineptitude, it's all just a little too much. However, yesterday some pictures finally surfaced of suffering birds, and I felt that sense of obligation again. This is something I need to remember. This is something I'm going to need to tell people about 50 years from now. I need to remember.

It's not just the animals

Of course, I'm not ignorant of the fact that people are already being deeply affected by what's going on here. Fishermen, the seafood industry, tourism -- tons of jobs. Suffering people on the way. Then I think about the Pointe Aux Chenes, who have born witness to American cruelty before. They were pushed to the very edges of our country, to the marshlands of Louisiana, and now, guess whose land is being soaked in the slick of greed and stupidity? And I wonder about things we aren't even talking about yet. For example:

1. How many generations must we wait till fish & seafood affected by the spill is definitely safe to eat again?

2. If the oil does indeed reach all the way up to the Atlantic, how will we possibly be able to track the effects of all of the sludge and chemicals floating out there?

3. Who will monitor these things? We can't even keep cadmium out of Shrek glasses.

Isn't there all this talk about crisis PR?

So as a marketer, I'm looking at all of this, and then I see a full page ad for BP in the Wall Street Journal. As Jay Baer points out in his brilliant Blog on the subject, the ad does not apologize. It's basically going through the motions. Now, as a media buyer and as a person rather familiar with media pricing, I happen to know that an ad like that is worth some serious change.

Maybe if the ad DID include even the slightest sense of guilt or apology, I wouldn't be so steamed. However, it really doesn't. So steamed I am.

There are a lot of things that could have been done with the some $50 million that BP has spent on these kind of pointless ads. Maybe they could have used the ad to ask people to donate to a special clean-up fund. Maybe they could have shared the space with the National Wildlife Federation. Maybe they could have given it to me so I could have purchased $50 million worth of dish soap to help clean up the suffocating birds. Really. That's what I would use it for right now.


Why be mad at BP?

In response to a lot of the "Boycott BP" talk out there, people are saying that BP is really, sadly, no better or worse than any other oil & gas company. And besides, boycotting the corporation will only, per usual, hurt people who are not to blame, like your local BP franchise manager. I've been trying to turn my attention to the National Wildlife Fund, who is asking people to spread the word via Social Media. Social Media which is, by the way, generally free.

I'm not saying that advertising in a crisis is bad policy. But the lesson here is that if you are, say, destroying a national treasure and an entire ecosystem at the same time, you might want to hold out on the "we're working on it" ad campaign until that money has been used to clean up the mess. In this particular case, advertising made BP's situation worse, not better.

Image from MSNBC.

Jun. 3rd, 2010

Reading

Weeds

I have been making a concerted effort over the last year or so to catch up on every show I ever should have watched ever. I am not doing badly. Finished up Battlestar Galactica in time for Caprica to be awesome (hope they bring it back!). Got caught up with Friday Night Lights in time for the start of this season. Lots of people had been telling me that Weeds should be next on my list, so I decided to give it a go. I was tempted to give up after I watched the first couple of episodes, but I thought I would give it a totally fair chance, so I watched all 10 episodes that Netflix sent me.

I still don't like it.

My problem here is that I'm going to end up being a hypocrite. I know, I know. Not AGAIN! But see, the reason I don't like Weeds is that I just find all of the characters to be BAD people. And it doesn't really have much to do with the drugs, although I have some issues with the feasibility of some parts of THAT. Okay, so, given that, my problem is that I ADORE, nay, worship Dexter. And not to spoil anything but uh...he's a serial killer. A BRUTAL serial killer.

In fact, there are a lot of shows I really really like where there are characters that generally are not nice people. Nate on Six Feet Under was about as selfish and up his own butt as you could be. Lee Adama on BSG was pretty darned whiny and annoying, a fact that did not escape me, though his hotness was distracting. Lost, of course, had more than its share of questionable characters.

So what is Weeds lacking?

I think maybe it's trying to walk in the footsteps of the holy Six Feet Under in that it's trying to show really messed up family dynamics, really messed up people who go through really messed up things, and yet do that all with a sense of humor. But it just misses the mark for me for some reason. Sounds weird when talking about a show, but it seems very "put on" to me.

I don't know. Weeds fans, what am I missing?

Jun. 2nd, 2010

Reading

Oh world, your humor is so subtle

When I was a kid, my mom got one of those giant Time Life books, in this case one that focused on World War II. Being the complete history buff that I was at the time, I would spend hours just leafing through the photos in that book. There were a lot of memorable photos, as you might expect. Photos of the holocaust, photos of soldiers covered in oil on the banks of some far-off sea, photos of the Japanese victims of our atom bombs. Today, however, I saw something driving home that made me remember one photo in particular out of that book.

The photo was early on, in the part where it was talking about France shortly after the Nazis moved in. This particular photo was of two pretty young French aristocratic ladies. They were sitting in a little coffee shop, dressed to the nines with their little puppies sitting with them. Meanwhile, there were German soldiers everywhere and the world was falling apart.

I remember  looking at that picture and being perplexed. If you knew all of that crap was going on, why would you go with your friend and your respective puppies to drink coffee out of fine little cups?

As it happens, what I saw today was kind of a recreation of that scene. On my right-hand side was a person holding a cardboard sign. Out of work. Blah blah blah. On my left was a coffee shop, and two very thin women who were were deeply engaged in conversation were sitting there sipping their ice cold beverages.

Now this particular area of my world has become a haunt of people who are trying to con people. There was a family there for awhile who, according to some buddies of mine, switched off who would be in the wheelchair every day. I don't know if this person was a hoax or not, although standing at a busy light on a disgusting day like today would be too much for me, con-person or not. In fact if the person was a hoax I think that almost serves to make it more thought provoking. The juxtapositions, questions, and mysteries are just too much to bear.

Of course, I understand now why those French women would have been photographed doing what they're doing. Look at our world now. Oil gushing at unfathomable rates into our beautiful wetlands and ocean, the Koreas squaring off, the Middle East going berzerk, violence everywhere from England to Jamaica to right here in the US. And all of that is far away from where I live. I'm sitting here in my pretty little air-conditioned apartment, passing judgment via online media on people who sixty years ago wanted to pretend that their very direct lives and world were not disintegrating around them. Maybe I could have been one of those women drinking and talking at the coffee shop. Like I said, it was really hot and gross out today.

May. 28th, 2010

Reading

Memorial Day

I never know exactly what to say around Memorial Day. I worry that my words will impact a lot of people negatively because I have always believed that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been wrong. That's right, I think that our attacks on Afghanistan after 9/11 were misdirected. Now we turned it around and said we were attacking the Taliban, but truthfully, it was misdirected and misguided.

Anyway, all that being said, when Memorial Day has come around for the last 10 years, I consciously stop and think about the fact that people in my generation and younger are getting hurt, getting killed, are coming home to find they can't readjust. Families are spending every day wondering if their loved one is okay. I always come back to the same thing.

I can't imagine what any of that is like.

I am not a big fan of war. I kind of dig Mark Twain's take on it that essentially, war begets war because it breeds contempt. And I can't be 100% genuine if i say things like, "Well, I appreciate all of this on a patriotic level" because frankly, while there is a lot about being an American that I appreciate, our history is too bespotted with ill deeds for me to be a ra-ra flag waver.

So, in a way, I feel like I am kind of intruding when I mark Memorial Day. But I do stop and take notice, and I try to face the fact that more than 4,000 US citizens have died in Iraq. We just reached 1,000 deaths in Afghanistan. That is more than the number of people who died on 9/11. It's more spread out. It's more distant, somehow, at least to those of us who don't know those people. But it's happening.

I think about my grandfather a lot on Memorial Day. He was a gunner on the USS Nicholas during WWII. I watch documentaries about World War II and see footage of battles in which we know my grandpa was involved. During my life, my grandpa was a kind of scary, bear-like man who sat in 1 of 2 chairs, seldom leaving his house. It's so hard for me to imagine him in the Pacific, shooting down planes, watching men on both sides die. I think I would probably just sit for awhile after going through something like that.

Here is Mark Twain's War Prayer. I think it speaks well to how I feel about war. How I feel on Memorial Day. I mark it. I am full of confusion and contradictions.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=75dEdZNCI4E

May. 26th, 2010

Reading

Who Nose Where The Time Goes

I had a strange experience this morning as I was leaving for work. A smell wafted into my nose that immediately sent me back to my old, old apartment. I think it's just the smell of an apartment air conditioner. Kind of a wet, swampy, yet kind of pleasant and cool smell.

I often think about the olfactory sense and its relation to memory. More than any other sense, and I think this is true for anyone, the sense of smell can transport me to a time and place now past. A missing smell can also alert me that times have changed. When I go to my parents' house now, I still take in a breath to smell the kitty litter that coincided with the existence of our wonderful kitty, my feline brother. But that smell isn't there anymore.

When I smell slightly burned scrambled eggs, I think immediately of brunches at my dad's parents' house when I was a kid.

When I smell brownies, I think of my grandma and the amazing Texas Sheet Cakes she used to whip up.

The smell of vanilla still takes me to my dorm room when I was a freshman in college ( I had purchased a vanilla sachet for myself)

So I am curious. Do smells trigger time travel in your life? What smells have the most powerful ties for you?

May. 25th, 2010

Reading

When big things fail, the little things carry you

A few years ago, I contacted a person I had "met" through an online support group. I was going through what has been thus far the winner in "the nadir of your existence" contest. She had traveled a similar path but was standing in a clearing. I asked her how she had turned it all around. Whe everything seems covered in thick, black, burlap curtains, how do you get any light in?

She said that a change in thinking is what had made the difference for her. Instead of thinking, "I don't have this thing that everyone else takes for granted," she began realizing that NOTHING can be taken for granted, and therefore everything you have and see and hear and do is pretty amazing.

My response at the time was something along the lines of, "Yeah...thanks for that. So true. Hem hem hem." Hey, it's hard to hear wisdom when everything is being muffled by super thick curtains.

However, her words of wisdom have stuck with me all of these years, and while they are not always effective in making me feel "better," they do serve as kind of my "true North," if you will.

When you approach humanity as an empathetic listener, you learn one thing very quickly. Everybody has SOMETHING that puts the sour taste into the mix of their lives. I like to call it "the reason for the 3-hour late night conversation." The time for confession, even if it's not a confession, per se. We spend a lot of time dealing with these somethings. Some people use medicine to help them. Some turn to drugs or alcohol or food. Some people just come across as being completely schizophrenic like me (I'm happy ohhhh I hate the world but wait...do I???).  I think we all are surprised that we all have SOMETHING. We feel like we should have no somethings. Life is supposed to be knights in shining armor, golden locks, and happily ever after. Somehow, I think a lot of us have come to think that we are entitled to have the basics. Our loved ones should be able to live forever, obviously. We should never get sick. We should never lose our hearing or our eyesight or anything that any one other person could take for granted. We are entitled to be giddy with excitement all of the time, because that is what we expect.

it's easy for me to slip into a mode of thinking like what I was in a few years ago. I'm just coming out of a patch like that, actually. No one can understand how I feel. Woe is me. Woah woah woah. Wah wah wah. No one understands what it's like to be missing something that comes so naturally to so many other people, to be lacking something that is a given for so many others.

But really, as we all know, this is bollocks, and as much as I am full of bollocks, so too is anyone else who thinks that way (sorry teenagers). The blind are likely often disgusted at the fact that those with vision take it for granted. Those who are deaf may wonder why no one treasures the gift of hearing. Those who can't walk are surrounded by those who run. Orphans are surrounded by happy families. The abused are surrounded by those who are blissfully ignorant of such torment.

But the idea is not to lament that other people can't get to the point specifically where you are, is it? No. The point is to say, "Man...we all may be missing one element in our life that we can't believe other people take for granted. Maybe more than one! But look at all of the stuff we DO have."

So...if you're reading this, you can see. Say thank you.  If you know what my voice would sound like as I blab endlessly on, you have the gift of hearing. Say thank you. If you have all of the loved ones now that you started the day with, say thank you. If you see your flowers growing in your garden, say thank you. If you have fans or air conditioning to cool you, say thank you. if you have a roof over your head, say thank you. If you have one friend, say thank you. If you have a host of friends, be joyous. if you are in good health, say thank you. If you made it to work and back again, say thank you. If you have a job, say thank you. if you have a job you love, be joyous.

You may not know what everyone's SOMETHING is. But you know they probably have SOMETHING. Maybe multiple SOMETHINGS. If asked, they might tell you that they envy you, and if you were to ask why, you may well be shocked that something so small in your life can be someone else's SOMETHING. Love the things that you HAVE is what my life has taught me so far. Nothing is a given. Nothing can be depended upon with 100% confidence. You are not entitled to anything, and therefore everything you have is icing on the cake. Gobble it up.

May. 24th, 2010

Reading

Oh give me a home with a deck all my own

It's probably worth noting that Saturday marked the six-year anniversary of me leaving academia. I left my one-bedroom apartment on Saturday, May 22, 2004. I had two Masters Degrees under my belt, but I felt like a complete failure because I was leaving without completing my PhD. I didn't even get to comps. I couldn't drive, I had no job even though I had applied to more than 30 that seemed the perfect fit, I had no money, and soon my college loans were going to be asking me to pay them off. I was almost 26. I felt like a complete failure. In fact, I felt like such a failure that I threw up twice that day, a fact my family still does not let me forget!

At my old apartment, there were two things that often occupied my mind. I always wished I had a deck. My apartment building had a little porch that I would go sit on sometimes, but it was public property. I couldn't just walk out there barefoot. And I wondered how much better my life would be if I could drive.

It's probably worth noting that I just came in from sitting on my deck, where I have flowers and herbs and potentially some vegetables growing (pictures soon, when it's the way I want it). I walked out in my PJs and felt the new Summer air as I basked in the light emanating from my own bedroom. And it's worth noting that against all odds, I have a car and I can drive it -- without pedal extenders.

It's so easy in life to say "I want more. I want this better. I want this bigger."

I'd like to take this moment to say that right now, at this moment, I have everything I wished for six years ago at this time. I have the perfect amount of perfect friends, I have my own place with my own deck, a job, financial security, a car I can drive, and a trip to Hawaii under my belt. 

Have you taken stock lately of the wishes that have come true without you noticing?

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