Thursday, March 30, 2017

History Perspective


Living in the past is not especially healthy but studying it can be interesting. Sometimes timelines can provide perspective or at least lead to "wow, I didn't know that."

Here are a few timelines I find fascinating:

The USA only had 48 states when most boomers were born. Hawaii became the 50th state in 1960. Alaska became the 49th state in 1959.

More geopolitical timelines: two of my favorite states to visit didn't become states till the early 1900s ... Arizona and New Mexico both in early 1912.

Women could not vote in the United States till 1920.

Media timelines: commercial radio began in 1920 (KDKA, Pittsburg, which still exists).     Commercial Television is more ambiguous; an experimental licensed station began in 1928. More realistically, there was a TV station in New York in 1941 which is credited with the first TV commercial.

When the Internet became a public thing depends on how you define it. Domain names started in 1985, www started in 1991. Mosaic, the first browser I heard of, came out in 1993. Netscape, WebCrawler and Lycos were born in the mid 1990s, Google in 1998.

The Star Spangled Banner wasn't our official National Anthem until 1931, even though the original poem was written by Francis Scott Key in 1814.

The words "under God" were not part of the original Pledge of Allegiance. They were added in 1954.

The study of history is more significant and complex than the listing of facts, but these dates are a good starting point for further exploration. They also might help if you’re ever on Jeopardy.




 

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

My Book


Five people in my circle of friends and acquaintances have written and published books. Four of the books are in some way autobiographical and I've read three so far. Two of the authors are from my distance past, one from a more recent past and two are current acquaintances. I am not close friends with this quintet so it is fascinating to me to read about details of their lives that I did not learn from conversations.

It is also inspirational to read their writing ... wow, I know some freakin' authors ... people who are not writers by profession but who wrote books. Well, one is a part time journalist, but the others all do something else unrelated to writing books.

I hope to write a book someday. In fact, I have outlines for three books in my head, all somewhat autobiographical. I'm no John Grisham or Christopher Moore, but I have had enough drama and humor in my life to think I could write something interesting that somebody might actually read.  I also don't expect anyone to read them, assuming I ever write and publish them. My purpose for a book is the same as it is for my blogs: a balance between sharing observations and looking in a mirror.

This blog is the potential basis for one of my books. I wouldn't be the first writer to publish thoughts on baby boomer life. It's probably a crowded topic on bookshelves and Kindle but that wouldn't stop me from writing it.

Another possible book is basically my autobiography. In the grand scheme of things, I am nobody so there is no real reason for anybody to buy a book by nobody about nobody. So I could present it as fiction. Truth is, people who think they know me wouldn't believe half of what I'd write about myself anyway, even though it would all be true.

My third potential book topic relates to my dad and my up and down relationship with him. I'm pissed that he died when he did, before we could truly become friends. At the point in my life when I wanted to try and have deep conversations with him, which would have been out of character for him but could have happened anyway, the dementia part of his Parkinson's had already started. My book would be a combination of his life story and my guess as to the content of our would-be conversations.

Meanwhile I'll keep writing for this blog and my other blogs. If I ever write a book, you'll be the first to know.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Repeal and Replace Trump


Agent Orange is at it again, proving every day that he is unfit for the office of POTUS. He's had two months to prove us wrong, but all he's done is reinforce the belief millions of us have that he is mentally unstable.

Russia issue #1: The problem with the possibility that Russia hacked our voting process is not that they might have helped Trump win, but rather the possibility that they could interfere with the process at all. Don't you want to find out what they did and then prevent it from happening again?

Russia issue #2: Contact between Trump surrogates and Russian officials is a medium sized problem. Lying about it is a HUGE problem!

Emails: Remember when Trump the candidate made a big issue of Clinton the candidate using a private email server and unsecured personal email accounts for official government business?  And now he doesn't seem to care that members of his cabinet and even his Vice President do or did use unsecured private email accounts  for sensitive government business.

Conspiracy theories: Obama wiretapped Trump Tower? Millions of people voted illegally? Evidence?  Who needs it?

So the dumbest person to ever be sworn in as President finally makes a good speech, the recent one to a joint session of Congress. For a few minutes it seemed like he might have turned around a little. He allowed some smart person to write the speech (you KNOW he didn't write it). Some skeptical Republicans probably breathed a sigh or relief. That lasted one day. His tweets proved that speech was a fluke.

Then came the Republican version of a health care act with the slogan 'repeal and replace Obamacare'. Of course neither he nor Paul Ryan nor anyone else is explaining in layman terms exactly what is wrong with the existing Affordable Care Act; all they're doing is labeling it as something Obama haters want to get rid of simply because Obama was behind it. If Trump, Ryan and the others really cared about us, the American people, they'd try to fix the existing law and not reject it just because they don't like the President who pushed for it to begin with. On Friday Ryan couldn't get the votes, so they dropped it. Trump blamed Democrats because they wouldn't vote for it, completely ignoring that a few dozen Republicans wouldn't vote for it either.

Have you read the existing law?  Have you read the proposed new law?  They haven't either. Idiots.

Isn't it time to repeal and replace Congress?  And isn't it time to repeal and replace the fake President?

Friday, March 24, 2017

How Many States?

Sunday drives and cross-country road trips were a memorable part of boomer life for many of us. You?  Flying has been a dominating travel choice for the past few decades but driving was much more popular in the 60s and 70s. For more than ten years of my youth, my family of four took an annual road trip. The shortest was two nights and ninety miles, the longest was thirteen nights and a few thousand miles.

“Standing on a corner in Winslow Arizona and such a fine site to see.”

I think I was 10 for the first trip. It was my first time out of Louisiana (all the way to neighboring Mississippi), first time in a hotel (probably a Holiday Inn), first time seeing an 'ocean' (Gulf of Mexico). The longest trip was Louisiana to New Mexico, which included our second time in Texas, a state I eventually lived in.

I took my first two plane trips in my 20s on a very small airline that only flew in Louisiana. I was in the Army and stationed at the other end of the state from home. My third flight was several years later for a job interview in Wisconsin.

“Nighttime on The City of New Orleans
Changing cars in Memphis, Tennessee
Half way home, we'll be there by morning
Through the Mississippi darkness
Rolling down to the sea.”


My first train trip was Milwaukee to New Orleans. The Chicago to
New Orleans part of that route is called "City of New Orleans" and is the inspiration for the song of the same name.

I have visited 40 states. Some of those 'visits' were drive-throughs but that's still a decent number. I'd like to see all 50 at some point and revisit a few.

Memorable big cities: New York and Chicago (even lived in that one briefly). Memorable smaller cities: Asheville NC and Moab UT.  Memorable non-city places: Grand Canyon, Arches National Park, Monument Valley, Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

“Get your kicks on Route 66
Well it goes from St Louis, down to Missouri
Oklahoma city looks oh so pretty
You'll see Amarillo and Gallup, New Mexico
Flagstaff, Arizona don't forget Winona
Kingsman, Barstaw, San Bernadino”


At some point in the 1990s I stopped taking road trips, except for a few 5-hour drives to the NC beaches. Flying is easier and faster. After Hurricane Katrina, I took a road trip out of some necessity, helping my sister move to my Maryland home for a few weeks. The trip to move her back to New Orleans began a 9-year string of road trips. My last one was two years ago and sometimes I miss them.

The ultimate road trip for me would be an open-ended adventure, maybe a month or two, with drives of 5-hours every two or three days, and leisurely stops along the way. Road trips slow you down and give you a chance to relax and really see America. And I've still gotten more stares to visit.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

It's Worth Recording

Journals, diaries, resumes, letters, emails, birthday cards, job applications, car titles and photographs combine to form a record of our lives. We learn what we've done, where we've been and what we were thinking.

I spent a recent Sunday afternoon engaged in the never-ending attempt to declutter my home office/studio/guest room. I spotted a stack of file folders I was sure I could feed to the shredder. Copies of car titles from three cars I owned in the 1980s topped the stack. The rest, however, were all the items I mentioned in the previous paragraph and that part of the stack provided a detailed narrative of my early 30s.

The most revealing treasure was a 9-page 'autobiography' written in response to an exercise in the legendary job-search book "What Color Is Your Parachute?"  I was unemployed at that time. These nine pages outlined my whole life up to that point, with the idea of revealing aspects of my life that I am most passionate about and reminding me of childhood dreams. From that point, a pattern could develop leading the way to what jobs to pursue and how to go about it.

What did I learn about myself by reading what was on my mind thirty years ago?  Some random answers to that question:

I truly have lived my dream for much of my career and adult life.

The periods of my life during which I had specific dreams, goals and ambitions were the most productive.

My confidence was like a roller coaster but even in my darkest moments I knew I'd figure out how to succeed.

Sometimes I am energetic and focused and sometimes I am lazy and unfocused. My motivation follows those patterns.

I have accomplished a lot during my 40 years in radio. I was innovative at times but my most consistent career trait was and is this: I know a good idea or trend when I see it and I usually can find a way to adapt it to my current needs.

I've been told many times that I don't give myself enough credit for my accomplishments. I also know that sometimes my ego gives me more credit than I deserve. These parallel observations must have been the beginning of my search for balance in life.

My confidence in romantic relationships is as much a roller coaster as my career confidence. Attempting to overcome insecurities has driven my behavior more than I like to admit.

I also found notes from the Anthony Robbins self-help program, which I purchased on cassette at the time. One takeaway from Robbins: a life worth living is a life worth recording.  That idea has led me to begin journals many times. 

How does all of that relate to me today and how does any of this relate to you?

Keep a journal or diary. Try to make it so private that you record your deepest feelings uncensored, as if nobody else will ever read what you write.

Try to write every day, even if it's just a sentence about how you feel.

Write what you're thinking about, how your day went at work, how did sunshine or clouds make you feel that day, who do you love. Mention a song you heard on the radio. Note a memory from your past. If your journal can be kept truly private, write down how you really feel about your job or coworkers, who or what turns you on or off emotionally or sexually, what you would do if you won Powerball. Make a bucket list.

Every year or two, or decade or two, reread earlier entries. Ask yourself if you've learned or grown over that time. Do you have patterns you'd like to repeat or patterns you'd like to ditch?


I had very mixed feelings after reading my forgotten files but my overall takeaway is that I've had a great life, so far, and I should celebrate that and learn from it. A life worth living is truly a life worth recording, mine and yours. 

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Film or Digital

Twice in twenty-four hours a few weeks ago, the concept of film photography flashed into my world. The first occurred in a conversation with someone at work and the second was a story on the Today Show that focused on photography through the ages and the possible resurgence of film photography.

What was your first camera? Was it a film camera?  My first was a Brownie. Remember those? Ever heard of them?  I eventually had a Polaroid, a fixed lens Minolta 35 mm, a Canon SLR with three lenses, two Nikon SLR bodies with a total of four lenses and numerous filters, a Sony digital that used a small disc drive, a pocket-sized Canon with an SD card and eventually my current Nikon Digital SLR with an SD card and two zoom lenses. The current one is nine years old, ancient by contemporary standards. The screen only shows pictures after they're taken; you still have to look through the viewfinder to take a picture and you have to put the SD card in a computer to upload pictures. The current version of that same camera can do all that right from the camera. I'll buy one someday.

Funny thing is this: like so many people I know, my most frequent 'camera' lately is my smartphone, specifically an iPhone 6s. Ansel Adams must be spinning in his grave. The iPhone specs are actually better than my Nikon but I can still do more with lighting and settings using my 'real' camera.

Dad's Leica and my Nikon
I first fell in love with photography while watching my Dad shoot with his 35 mm fixed lens Leica, his primary camera from the late 1940s through our early family vacations in the 1960s. I still have that camera but I don't know if it works.

Have you ever developed film?  Dad had a darkroom and taught me how to develop the film and print pictures. I had my own darkroom for a few years in my 20s. I loved the artistic part of manipulating photos in the darkroom but never fully embraced the tediousness or the toxicity of the chemicals. Photoshop would be the modern equivalent and I'm really just beginning to learn some of the finer points of that aspect of photography.

So what makes better photographs, digital or film?  Landscape photography is my favorite and in many ways film captures the images better. But most people can't tell the difference. I'm not sure I can either. Regardless of the device, a good photographer's best tool is his or her eyes. A good photographer can shoot a great photograph with a Brownie or a Polaroid or a pinhole camera (look that one up).

My single best series of photographs was shot with the Nikon film camera I mentioned earlier during a vacation in Arizona and Utah. The year was 2000, the subjects were Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Navajo Nation, Arches and Canyon Lands. The film was Kodak and Fuji slide film. I'd include examples but I only have one. The other 200-300 shots are in a box in my ex's house; time to bug again her about sending them to me.


I had a great conversation with a professional photographer last night and I’ve been thinking about my camera all day today.  I go through long periods of time during which I don’t even touch my Nikon; I’m in one of those right now.  Then I spend weeks or months taking photographs daily.  Maybe I’m about to start one of those photo spurts.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Why

I am spiritual but I'm not very religious. I do believe in a higher power but I'm not convinced the form is quite like the entity so many people are taught.

Is there a God?  Does God control everything?  Is every action or circumstance "God's will"?  I ask all three of these questions regularly. My answer to the second and third question is the same: no. I don't have an answer to the first one yet but I'm not afraid to ask it. Everyone should ask it. Most people will find an acceptable answer, with or without evidence.

What about prayers?  Do you believe in prayer and if so, do you expect answers to your prayers?

One reason I question the "God's will" concept and the prayer idea is that my Dad, a straight arrow, by-the-book, moral and religious man, lived the last fifteen years of his life with Parkinson's Disease. His reward for doing the right thing all his life?  Did prayers from friends and family alleviate his suffering or loss of dignity?  Kind of random, in my view.

I'm asking 'why' questions the night I'm writing this because I've had a frustrating day with my MS. Why do I have MS? Is this cosmic payback for some wrong doing in my past?  Is this just a random reaction to some intestinal glitch in my past. I think it's the latter. Will prayer cure me? I doubt it.

I do pray sometimes; every time I board an airplane, for example. Do I expect that prayer to keep me safe?  Not really. But it can't hurt, can it?  It does make me feel a little better and eases the fear of flying I developed after 9/11.

Why do I ask why so much?  Basically I am curious about things, people, beliefs, attitudes, thoughts and many more things. I said I'm not religious but I did find a spiritual home in the Unitarian Universalist denomination about twenty years ago. Why? Because their approach is more about the search for meaning and truth - asking why - whereas most other faiths seem to want to provide answers rather than asking questions.

In my opinion, many if not most things in life are random, with a sprinkling of fate. That's all. Nothing fancy. An example of randomness: I thought of this blog while brushing my teeth. Random. And I wrote it spontaneously and now it's time to go to sleep. Good night. Thanks for visiting.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

I Hate To Admit It

March 3, 2015 is a date in my life that is almost as important to me as my birthday. That is the day of my official Multiple Sclerosis diagnosis. I first had symptoms a few years earlier but the neurologist was hesitant to call it MS yet. She ruled out almost everything else but the MRI only showed one lesion, so that meant no 'multiple'. She treated the symptoms and they mostly went away, for two or three years. Then they returned.

Living with MS is more of a pain in the ass for me than anything else. My situation is far less severe than it is for many people I've met. Balance issues, drag foot, some heat sensitivity and fatigue are my main issues. Some people with MS experience vision problems, cognitive issues and incontinence; I have none of that. Some cannot walk; I walk with a cane now, but the cane might be temporary.

Three years ago I had a personal trainer and was in the best physical shape since my 20s. I still looked and moved like I was 50, more than ten years less than the chronological truth. I walked several miles a week and could even run a little. In retrospect, I admit I was pushing too hard with the physical trainer and my current lighter workout is more realistic, with or without the MS.  I admit my balance issue goes back more than twenty years; I just thought I was clumsy. Maybe I had that MS symptom that long ago. I admit I've compensated for a weak right leg for many years, which is why I walk with a limp. Physical therapy is helping to build strength but my walking will be worse before it gets better, hence the cane. While I'm admitting things, I admit that I hate the word hence and this might be the first time I've ever used it in a sentence.

A behavioral characteristic I share with some MSers is that I hate to ask for help. I can do things on my own, right?  Well, I admit that sometimes not asking for help is dangerous. A snow and ice storm blanketed my county with slick slush the other night and I reluctantly accepted my GF's offer to clean off my car. I also reluctantly followed her strong advice to stay in and work from home that day. I admit she's correct in her observation that it is dangerous for me to even walk across the parking lot.

Living with MS is a challenge to my usual optimistic outlook on life. Aging doesn't help. Admitting all of this, however, does help and paying attention to that negative inner voice helps me silence it, so that I can focus on positivity. I admit there are people in my life who care about me and love me and that is one admission I truly like.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Fear

What scares you?  Ghosts?  Walking alone on a dark street?  Forgetting somebody's name?  Dying before you're ready?

The guy who holds the record for working at the local branch of my company the longest (more than 30 years) retired eighteen months ago, not long after his 70th birthday. I received an email from him this week.  He found some old work stuff he thought I might want. A couple of back-and-forth emails later, in the middle of some catching up, he casually told me he has been diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer and is undergoing radiation treatments.

WHAT!?

I've lost parents, aunts, uncles and cousins to various diseases over the past few years but getting this kind of news from someone I used to see almost every day, someone who isn't all that much older than me, someone who rarely took a sick day, is what scares me. Just last year I learned a former girlfriend died. Last week I learned my former mother-in-law died. A former coworker died about five years ago, at an age just one year older than I am now. Two years before that, another coworker died, in her 40s, after surviving three rounds of cancer. A bar friend in her thirties was diagnosed with cancer last year; in remission, for now, but experiencing other health issues.

Nobody lives forever but many of us want to. If I died this afternoon, people would say I lived a remarkable life, but I am in no way ready for it to end. If family genetics are any indicator, I could live another thirty years or more. I'd like that a lot, especially if my health remains fairly good.

My fear is that I'll die before I'm ready. Close proximity to death was rare during my first fifty years but now it seems to be all around me. My parents outlived all of their friends and most of their siblings. That kind of loneliness scares me.

Fortunately I am fairly social and make casual friends easily. Deep friendship building is more of a challenge. But I am an optimistic man and I usually think I'll live a long time, in pretty good health, surrounded by people who care about me. However, the all-too-frequent reminders of the fragility of life definitely scare me.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Eleven Already?

This month marks the 11th anniversary of my first blog post. Wow, I've been doing this for eleven years?!

My first blog was all about being in my 50s. Through most of that decade I struggled with admitting my age. I still do, especially now that I've entered the next decade. I am usually grateful that I don't look, act or feel like the stereotype of my real age but I still rarely speak the number out loud; and never at work, where most coworkers are half my age.

One of my favorite books on aging is written by the CEO of AARP. Her "Disrupt Aging" suggestion is rather than saying 60 is the new 40 or 50 is the new 30, she says to say "50 is the new 50."  In other words, redefine what it means to be 50 or 60 or 70. I'm all in!

So being a newspaper columnist was a childhood fantasy of mine. Eventually I realized columnists started as reporters and reporters need specific educational qualifications and training. I had different plans but writing has always been part of my career, although it was mostly commercials, brochures and press releases. That last one is similar to a newspaper article, so at least I've experienced a little bit of my fantasy.

Looking at blogging through a different filter, however, leads me to believe I actually AM a columnist. Boomer Randomness isn't exactly the New York Times but in some ways the result is the same. I write an opinion or observational piece a few times a week and publish it. On some level, I'm living that fantasy.

So this blog is 1,250 posts in, plus a few hundred more on the other blogs. Not bad for eleven years.
 
My next fantasy is making part of my living writing stuff like this. Wish me luck.