Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Paper

The media & pop culture tell me I'm a member of "Generation X". I like to think of that more as the late 70's band with Billy Idol and Tony James than the movie Reality Bites, but the latter seems to be the image that "Gen X" conjures up for most people.

As a member of said generation, I've seen both sides of the digital revolution. I was alive when there were only 3 major broadcast networks in the US. I then saw and experienced the cable boom, the personal computer boom, the rise of the Internet. I played outside from morning til night in the 70's, I sat inside and played video games all day in the 80's. As much as we now live in a digital world, as comfortable as I am in front of most any sort of computer, I have my roots in the analog world.

"So what?"

So, I grew up with the newspaper. We got the paper at home, but I suppose my earliest memories of the paper are at my grandparent's house in Memphis. I'd want to read the funnies, but the paper would be around at the breakfast table for them to catch up on the news of the day. Well, the previous day, anyway. And the Sunday color funnies were always something to look forward to, especially if I had some Silly Putty.

I remember the Commercial Appeal and the Press-Scimitar. I remember not knowing what those terms meant. Newspaper names were always strange to me.

Pretty much since I left home to go to college, I've had a subscription to the paper. The Union-Tribune. The Contra Costa Times (not the Chronicle or Examiner, I didn't live in the City). The Denver Post (not the Rocky Mountain News, I preferred broadsheet over tabloid). USA Today? That's not a real newspaper. That's generic, not local. A newspaper is of a place.

I enjoyed going to other cities and reading their newspapers. Seeing the layout, seeing the different typefaces, where they put the funnies. Eventually, I started doing the crosswords like my parents did. (In pen, natch.)

I subscribed to the daily paper for most of the time I've been out of my parent's house - not that I'd read it all the way through every day, although I might have if I didn't have 57 channels or the Internet or VHS or DVD. Eventually, in the mid-2000's I switched to just getting the Sunday paper because I would hardly read any of the weekday papers. They'd stack up and I'd feel guilty. However, I could make it through the Sunday paper.

Sundays were reading days. I would get up in the morning, make breakfast, and sit down to sort through the Sunday inserts and then read the paper. I remember taking my Sunday paper to my in-laws' house when we'd go over on Sundays. They got the paper, too, but a person's paper is…well, personal. There's an episode of M*A*S*H where Winchester gets a shipment of papers from Boston and, when the camp gets angry with him for "hoarding" his papers, he argues for his "right of first perusal." I understand his reluctance to let anyone else read the paper before he does.

Yes, it's a romantic notion, but I like the newspaper.

And today, I cancelled my subscription.

I understand that newspapers are probably losing money hand-over-fist in the digital age, and I'm sure they've burned lots of cash trying to keep up and transition. I know in my head that they need money. However, I'm disinclined to pay a 40% hike in subscription rate for my Sunday paper. Yes, I do check the occasional local article online, but I find my local paper's site to be kind of a nightmare. Local radio stations, TV stations, and newspapers haven't quite figured out design simplicity and prefer to jam their pages with ads. It's not a look I enjoy, and therefore choose not to patronize.

But I cancelled my subscription today. And it's made me sad. There's a piece of me that is in that paper. It's in my history, it's something I can hold in my hand that's not made of cold, slippery glass and metal.

Nobody else in my family reads the paper. My kids read the funnies sometimes, but even those have changed - they're all squished down onto 4 pages. The majesty of a one-panel above-the-fold Calvin and Hobbes is long gone.

My wife doesn't like the paper because she gets ink on her hands and it kind of stinks. I don't mind. It's something tangible.

When I lamented the price hike on Twitter (see? I'm digital-friendly), a friend at my work tweeted back "You do know you can read Saturday's news on Saturday now, right? #thefuture", and I know the point he's making. Everything is available almost immediately, all the time, everywhere. All the knowledge & data & images & videos & music, all right there for my consumption.

However, I just want to sit. Sit at my scarred kitchen table. Eat my eggs & bacon off my plain white plate. Take my vitamin supplements and acidophilus pills. Drink my pineapple juice out of the glass my sister gave me that has a cassette tape painted on it.

And I want to read my paper.

The paper.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Advertising works.

Advertising works.

I'd like to be one of those guys in the ad who is wearing a brightly colored button down shirt with a relaxed affluence about him. He looks like he's in a foreign country, or in some sort of remote location and although it might be an emergency situation where his car has broken down, he still has a smile on his face. He doesn't have a care in the world. No mortgage to pay, no kids to get through school, no pipes leaking, no drywall to patch.

No helpdesk tickets to resolve, no food he can't eat.

No friends getting divorced (ok, maybe they are, but not our smiling man in the ad!), no Joneses to keep up with.

He has bithday parties to attend, bachelor parties, record release parties, art shows. Impossible people to hang out with, people who play the cello on Saturday Night Live, people who work on the upper floors of tall buildings in corner offices.

At 43, I still want to be this guy. Advertising works.

At 43, I still am not doing what I want to do. I'm doing what I need to do. I live in fright of losing my job, I live in a state of fear and uncertainty, of doubt, self-doubt, self-deprecation. Sadness, hunger, longing.

Advertising works. At 43, I still don't believe I'm who I am. I want to be that guy in the ad.

There is no redemption here, no bootstraps I've pulled myself up by, no denouement, no ending scene with the kiss over the cake, or a fist held high, or a death at the end of a life well lived. Just a confused, scared, terrified, overbooked, misunderstood man. As well we might all be. But it just feels like me, at this moment. Which I hope does pass, and soon.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

It's just too much.

So many times lately, I put my head in my hands and say "It's just too much."

I don't feel like I have enough time to do all the things in my life that I need to.

So write a blog post about it.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Just helped him go to the bathroom & wash his hands. I looked on with pride as I watched him soap up palms and fingers, then rinse them thoroughly, and then push the hot & cold faucet spigots closed. He stood up from the sink on his own and grabbed his walker.

Of course I'm talking about my father, and not a little boy.

The wheel seems to be turning and I'm up helping him and my mother as they negotiate through his illness. The illness used to be cancer but that seems to have abated with the chemotherapy. The illness now is possibly impending pneumonia, striking what little strength he had. Amazing what life has in store on the inside of a year.

One year ago, he was in fine health, or so it seemed. He had a couple of rough spots - eschemic colitis that was brought on or exacerbated by colonoscopy prep. That turned into some weird back pain that had him laid up for a while. I think he had pneumonia or something close to it last fall - or was that last summer? - and when all was cleared up, he went in for his colonoscopy.

And there we found the cancer.

Or rather the doctor did, *I* didn't find anything. So, they scheduled surgery to remove part of his colon. The surgery fell on our family vacation, I'd be on a boat with my and my wife's families, planned for a year and a half, so I'd be checking in using the little Internet access I had per day. He came through the surgery fine, the lymph nodes they removed around the colon showed no signs of the cancer. All good news. Except for the "hot spots" they observed in his lung & liver. So, chemo started in January.

The weight loss probably started around February or March.

The neuropathy started around May.

The break from chemo lasted for a couple of weeks in July to try and help him regain his strength.

The last chemo treatment was this past Monday. The spots had been reduced by half from what they were in the summer catscan. They weren't recognizable as cancer anymore, we were told.

The illness started Wednesday and went downhill really fast. My mom texted me yesterday asking if I could come help. My mom doesn't ask for help.

He's ok today. Sitting up, blowing his nose, on oxygen (definitely needed at 7500 vertical feet). Needs a walker. Still isn't all that stable with it. No appetite, but we'll feed him something. His hands are skin on skeleton. He opens and closes them, slowly, like he's unsure that they're still his. He rubs them on what used to be his thighs, using friction to feel them on his legs, the tingling in them not registering his touch on anything.

My mom is doing as well as she can, which is to say not all that well, either. She walks with a limp, she's not so much a caregiver as a get-through-er. "Stop that coughing" she'd say in a joking voice when we were kids and caught whatever cold was moving through the school. "We don't have time to be sick" she would say, as if the words would drive the illness out, ashamed that it had alighted on us, sorry that it had inconvenienced.

Her patience runs short with him. She has to be here 24 hours a day, though, whereas we're free to leave to our lives once the weekend is over.

Our lives. Our lives, born from them. The wheel turns.

She shakes her head at his mumblings, his repeat sentences, his recollections of details that didn't happen. I look at them both with compassion, sometimes. It must be hard to be confused and trapped in your own skin, uncertain and weary. I look at them with frustration sometimes, confused myself - just take it easy on him. Just stop mumbling. My own body, sick for years on the inside, still functions fine to get me from place to place. Small back pains now & again, but I stretch in the mornings and my range of motion returns.

I'm not scared, necessarily. I know we'll all die. No, that doesn't make it any easier, but I'm just here on the other end of the wheel. I haven't known that many people who have died, actually. I'm lucky, I guess. And maybe that's why I'm not scared. I've seen my grandfathers die, one grandmother, one uncle. Another uncle. A friend here or there, after high school graduation, people I didn't have a lot of contact with anyway.

I struggle less with death than I used to. Raging against the dying of the light is fine, but ultimately self-flagellation. I'm trying to be here for him, and her, and them. I live close by, my sister lives in Southern Cal. She probably suffers more about it than I do, not being around. She'll be here on Monday, having driven in with my aunt, who is moving in with my parents. My mom will have some help, and someone to listen, who will be here. My sister will go back to southern cal, her daughter gets married soon. We had hoped my dad would be able to be there. We still do.

I don't know how practical that is, but, practical isn't really what humans do well. We do the impractical. We do the impossible. We do the unthinkable. We do what we imagine.

We do all of that before we die. And then we die, leaving the world to the rest of the living. To the rest of the dying. Flesh to dust. Dust, to flesh. Sunrise to sunset. The wheel turns.

Gotta go get some stuff done. Grocery store, tell some stories to help them remember that there's life happening out there, outside of their appointments that keep them running here and there in an attempt to heal my father.

Behind the wheel, on top of wheels, motion, moving, turning, doing. Walking on the wheel. Dancing. Not stopping. Until the wheel stops us. But it doesn't stop. But we do. But we don't. Because it doesn't.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Mutability

Change comes.

It's interesting how change affects me these days, these days of my middle age. (They could be late age, I could die tomorrow, or even today, but I digress.)

A change that I didn't see coming, came, and now, although not much has changed, I still feel sad. I still feel the loss that the change has brought. I'm not sure how to process it.

It feels like my world has been turned upside down, almost like I've been abandoned. That's not the case by a long shot, but that's the thing about what a friend of mine recently called "The Feels" - they're not really rational. They are based in *my* reality, but not the reality of the world and what's really happening, or what has really happened.

So, I lingered in bed this morning. I finished listening to a podcast. I haven't eaten, but I showered, and shaved, and cleaned my teeth. I dressed, I drove in to work (which is where the change took place), I'm here. I showed up.

And, as Woody Allen famously has said, isn't that eighty percent of life?

I'm here for my eighty percent, sir and/or madam. What's next.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Achievement Unlocked

I don't know why it's always been important to me to hear my dad say that he's proud of me. Probably one of those things where I wanted to know that I've done my job as a son, doing good for the family name or something.

Or maybe it was because I wasn't ever great at all the typical "boy" stuff - dropped out of football, spooked & soured by baseball, didn't much care about basketball. I didn't have a lot of the stereotypical "father-son" bonding moments over sports. Well, that's not entirely true. We did go see a White Sox game in old Comiskey together. That was great, but nothing to be proud of.

It's possible that it could be that while I felt that I was first out of the gate among my friends in the working world, I floundered and faltered over the years, continually having to "borrow" money from him to make ends meet. That feeling as a child that you're just sponging off your parents. It's pretty defeating. Watching my friends grow to be very successful was humbling, and I would have liked to have been that son sometimes, instead of the one I am.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm a great dad, myself. And it's ironic that I would *never* think of my own kids the way I imagine above how my dad might feel about me (although I know he doesn't).

My dad and I have had many great bonding-type moments. The trip to Comiskey mentioned above. A trip to Hawai'i where my mom & sister went back to the condo early, somewhat disgusted at the level of drinking that my father & I were doing. We hitchhiked back to the condo - never actually got a ride, just ended up walking the miles back to the condo by ourselves. Random moments grabbed at their house in Evergreen, talking on the deck.

And while I'm sure he's told me before, it never quite stuck like it did when he said it the other day, when I was telling him about my achievements at work these past couple of weeks, and when I read to him how my boss responded to my thoughts on how to expand the IT department at my current company with "Start / continue thinking like a lead / head of IT and define the roadmap, plan, vision, etc. Consider yourself the CEO of the IT department here, running a startup within a startup. What's your plan, and how will you execute, will you deliver the right product to your market (our employees)?"

Maybe it's because I finally feel proud of myself, too, that it feels genuine instead of a platitude or being cold comfort. Maybe cold is too harsh of a word, but this felt real, from him & my mom.

My dad's proud of me, you guys. And it feels great.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

A short chat

I start a new job on Monday - tomorrow - and my last day at my old job was Friday. So it's perhaps not surprising that my colitis would be acting up.

I had gone to Portland for an experimental procedure at the end of May. I had hoped it would yield fast & visible results. I did stop seeing blood for about a month. Around the beginning of July, I had some drinks with my family, with my sister in town. I didn't think it would affect me as much as it seems to have. I'm in a flare a bit now, but it's an odd one. I do see a bit of blood again, but not a lot.

It's hard to tell if my body is trying to right itself, or if things are sliding back to how they were.

So, the chat. Talking with my wife, I started musing about having surgery to "fix" me, to get rid of my colitis. She started shaking her head "no," and all sorts of thoughts ran through my head. Thoughts of travel, thoughts of driving to work, thoughts of eating, thoughts of drinking, thoughts of being places and not having to worry about my stupid colitis.

"I just want my life back again."

is what I said. And even as I said it, I thought back to when I was diagnosed, in 1994.

This *is* my life.

It's a life I don't want and didn't ask for, but it is my life and has been for almost 20 years. Close to half my life.

I've said before that this disease/disorder/whatever has taught me much in my life. Humility, compassion, empathy, patience to name just a few. But I'd like to be done learning those things. I know that's not rational or right or...does it make sense at all?

But I just want to be done. I want to wake up in the morning and not have my first thoughts be about my gut and how it's feeling and bathrooms and toilet paper and …

I just want to wake up and be me.









And related to my last post about meditation, I realize that waking up and being me is all I do, every day. And I don't know why I want to be someone else. I don't know why being "fixed" is so important to me.

I'm happy. Otherwise healthy. Everything is so very good.

What do I *really* want? That elusive life that I seem to keep chasing? Why can't I just be me and be satisfied with that?

Perhaps it was because this procedure offered a way out. Not easy nor cheap, but a possible way out. It might still work. But for now, I'm still where I'm at. And I just need to relax. And be me. Broken and all. Because I'm not broken. I am as I should be.

Today is not yesterday.

Yesterday's meditation was kind of a breeze. I was thinking about things here and there, but I was comfortable and not in any huge rush to hear the bell.

Today, however…. I don't know at what point because I don't have a midpoint timer in my weekend sittings, but my brain was SCREAMING for the bell to ring. One of my legs fell asleep, and my mind portrayed it as the most URGENT THING EVER.

I returned to paying attention to my breath, and telling myself that I would not die because my leg fell asleep. It worked for a bit, I was focused, and then I started thinking of other things. That was just a distraction, because when I returned to my breath, my mind still screamed out for the bell. "It's asleep! Your foot is asleep! I can feel it tingling! AAAAAAAAA!"

My wife walked in to chat with me after a while and I looked to see how much time I had left by that point.

46 seconds.

I smiled, stretched, started talking with my wife, and heard the bell ring.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

I wanted to write a bit about how my thinking around employment has changed over the past few weeks. It's been an interesting journey, sparked by the convergence of my frustration and disappointment at my current job and a tweet by @LissaRankin. I don't know why her tweet caught my eye. I wasn't an entrepreneur, and I didn't have a business. I had a blog that I was hoping to monetize and had some big ideas around, but that wasn't working out, either, which is to say the money wasn't just pouring in.

Her post was about the book The $100 Startup, which, as misnomers go, isn't that bad. The subtitle has more to do with the book than the main title, but that's neither here nor there. Lissa's article was about not making mistakes when launching your own business, something that I don't even think was on my mind when I read the article. The point was that I've known for my whole life how to go about finding work - just do what you love, just like my dad did. He was an airline pilot. "Love what you do and you'll never work a day in your life." I've just never really done what I loved. I've always done what I thought was the right thing - making money to support my family, pay our mortgage, etc. Noble and "right" things, to be sure, but it didn't contribute to my happiness in any real way.

So, I bought the Only72 deal. I had some money coming in from a side gig I had worked and figured, what the hell. I'd get the book and some other stuff to read. As I read the material from Scott Dinsmore and Ashley Ambirge I thought "even if this is 'rah-rah' bullshit, if it gets me off my ass and *doing* things, it's worth the $100." (Some of it was rah-rah bullshit. Some of it felt like a handjob that took you right up close to the end...but then asked you for more money. But most of the content was on the up-and-up, full standing. Maybe offers for more help, but that could be expected.)

As I was reading and listening, I started brainstorming some old ideas, and getting ideas for how I could possibly make money from those. And just like that, the $100 was worth it.

How has my thinking around employment changed? Well, with all the talk of "Yooo can dooo eeet!" I started to think, yeah, I can do it. I started thinking about my business ideas from the standpoint of just getting things moving, not resting on my laurels. The more I thought about starting my own business, the more I saw how energized and motivated I am to bring these ideas to light along with how to bring them to light, the more I realized that my current job is a dead-end no matter how I look at it. If I continue to "buckle down" and specialize, then I'm still not doing the things I want to do. If I get into management, then I'm doing things I'm more interested in doing, but I'm still staring down 25 years of just doing that.

If I become my own boss and only do the things I want to do, then I'm doing what I love, and not "working" another day in my life.

So, what do I love? Music. Food. Traveling. And helping people do those things, too.

My ideas and thoughts were further cemented when I was talking to a friend about music a couple of weeks ago, before we went to a concert. I was so energized when talking about music, so engaged, it just hit me. I don't want to do what I'm doing, what I keep trying to do, what I keep trying for people to notice me at. I want to do what feels right. What makes me happy.

I realized that I've been making so little money over the past few...10 years, that I'm not "comfortable" anyway, and that my family has learned to live with so little, that making the leap wouldn't even be that drastic. It wouldn't be jumping off a cliff, it would be stepping off a ledge.

I would be learning *real* business skills, and not just "paying my dues" and trying to work my way up the ladder. I'll be at the top, and all of my success will rest on my shoulders.

Scary? Hell no. It's exciting and invigorating.
 
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