Monday, July 28, 2008
I am struck that the current of my family has oozed across the country like the tides. I find streams beginning in places like Ohio, Missouri and Virginia. They trickle through to Iowa, Kansas and Oregon. Mine washed up in Idaho. Then I drifted on to Washington and sit on the shore in Seattle watching the boats. Some of my mother's family ended up in California and also sit on the shore watching boats. I had one uncle who ended up in Hawaii for awhile. But then he drifted back to California.
The trouble with family trees is that they only tell you where your family was at any given time, not who they were. I begin to understand how archaeologists feel as they piece together bits of information to try an know something about the people who were here. Census reports were obviously recorded by people with various levels of education. I imagine the prerequisite was that you could write.
Information is recorded, but it is obvious at times that the census taker either didn't bother to ask how to spell names or the person providing the information didn't know how to read or write anyway to help the census taker along. My great, great grandfather on my mother's side was named Austin Clark. One census records his name as Oston Clark.
You can get snippets of soap opera as you dig through records. One of my widowed great aunts is shown in one census living with her son and a boarder. Ten years later, the boarder is listed in wedding records in Idaho as her new husband.
Occasionally I see names I recognize from my mother's stories of her family or labels from old photographs that I can now put in context. The irony about genealogy is that the more you piece together the puzzle, the bigger it gets and the more pieces you find missing.
I am in awe, at times, of the way families stretch back exponentially through time. And it challenges my OCD nature to stick to one thread of family without meandering off on another as they branch and weave through time and geography. I wonder at times that we aren't all somehow related somewhere at sometime.
I do this in a way for my children. I want them to know where their parents came from physically, emotionally and demographically. As near as I can tell, my roots were primarily farmers and laborers scratching livings out of the dust of history. I suppose part of me wishes they were all heroes and great figures out of history. But I suppose knowing what I know about public figures, it is better that they were just simple people living out their lives.
In a way, my children are a product of me looking at my roots. A few years ago, not that long after Tess and I married, we were driving to a friend's birthday party. I'd been working on the family tree that weekend. Suddenly I turned to her and asked her if she felt we were missing something by not having children. I could tell by the look in her face at that time that she believed we were. Now three years later we have a lovely daughter and are awaiting our son.
The tides are flowing.
Friday, July 25, 2008
Note to self: Figure out how to launch Dizgraceland, the podcast.
Note to self: Remember to learn to play the banjo.
Note to self: Trim eyebrows.
Note to self: Unpack and organize my animal skull collection that has been in boxes in the garage for three years.
Note to self: Figure out a way to keep my wife from disposing of my animal skull collection (if she already hasn't).
Note to self: Hire someone to do my day job at half the salary. I would keep collecting the paychecks, pay the surrogate and collect half my salary without working. I could even get several jobs, do the same thing and make major bucks without working a lick. And no, this isn't a pyramid scheme.
Note to self: Create a broom with bristles made out of double-sided tape. This puppy would pick up everything.
Note to self: Figure out how to get dirt out of double-sided tape broom.
Note to self: Think of a way to keep the millions of people who read my blog from stealing my great "note to self" ideas and reminders (though if anyone wants to trim my eyebrows that would be cool).
Saturday, July 19, 2008
Inside I cringed. I am not a bus driver and people assume that anyone working for a public transit agency either operates a bus or is a mechanic. I do neither and trying to explain the other functions required to operate transit systems is not my favorite topic.
It is not that there is anything wrong with driving a bus, but I knew that this question was a precursor to either a complaint about the bus system, suggestions on how to improve it or a detailed description on how many seats there are in the standard 40-foot coach. The fact that the bus wasn't operated by the agency I worked for wouldn't matter. Regardless, I shook my head and replied, "No, I work in their marketing department."
They young man was quiet for a minute and I prayed briefly that I had dodged the bullet of a prolonged discussion when all I wanted to do was play backgammon on my Blackberry. But then he began speaking. He complained about where we were putting our new light rail system and how we shouldn't have buses or trains that use fossils fuels. He complained about the cost of riding the buses and the trains and recounted how it used to be cheaper to drive than take public transit. Then he complained about how the cost of gas was driving him to the bus.
I nodded politely.
Then the young man began his tirade on environmentalists, off shore drilling, spotted owls, the timber industry and government waste. Fortunately I got to my stop before he could begin providing his solutions.
I smiled at him and scurried off the bus while he turned to look for some other captive audience on the bus to pontificate to. I shook my head as the bus pulled away and chastized myself for wearing anything that identifed where I worked on a bus. It is the equivalent to wearing a kick me sign.
In my younger days I may have engaged the young man in a debate and pointed out his misconceptions, corrected his facts and suggested alternative viewpoints. And he would have been more passionately engaged and rigid about his point of view. I've encountered hundreds of such people at parties, at public meetings or just riding buses. Other than the fact that he votes and likely will reproduce progeny that he may be able to imprint with his narrow point of view, he is probably harmless.
I learned long ago that when you work for a government agency you give up having personal opinions when you are identified as a government employee. If you voice one in defence of your company, you risk being repremanded for taking a stand that may be perceived as the company's. At the very least you risk being mired in a neverending debate with a person who has no interest in facts, regardless how rational those facts may be. Because everyone knows government lies and private industry (and citizens) always tell the truth, right?
So I've learned the path of least resistance is to nod, smile and say things like, "That's a very unique way of looking at it" or "You make an interesting point" (which is the equvalent of telling someone with an ugly baby that "he sure has lots of hair).
Deep down, though, I feel like I've taken the coward's path when I don't stand up to people with really twisted opinions or are just blatantly wrong. Because there are too many times in history where people just nodded, smiled and tried to ignore very scary points of view.
I wonder if Hitler rode the bus?
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
The cool thing about The Man from Earth is that it is entirely comprised of dialogue between intellectual characters sitting around a living room by a fireplace. There is no action, no special effects and no nudity. By Hollywood standards that translates to no audience. Shoot, by my normal low standards that sounds like a snoozer.
I loved the film.
The premise of the film isn't new. A college professor is picking up and moving after ten years teaching at a school. His friends don't understand why. They ambush him at his home where he is packing up a pick up truck with his possessions that include what one professor identifies as a pretty darned good rip off of an original Van Gogh painting.
The main character then proceeds to tell his circle of friends that he moves every 10 years to prevent people from questioning why he never ages past 35. He then proceeds to tell them that he is 14,000 years old give or take a couple of decades. He goes on to tell them he was a Cro Magnon man who was driven away from his tribe when they couldn't get past the fact that they were getting old and dying and he wasn't.
Of course, all of the professor's friends think that he is pulling their collective legs or that he is a major nut job. He proceeds to describe being a student of Buddha, a crew member of Columbus' ships and a friend of Van Gogh. That doesn't help much.
I don't want to ruin the movie for any of you who want to see it, but the guy really freaks out his friends when he claims to be a major character out of the New Testament who later has a rock opera named after him by Anthony Lloyd Weber. One woman practically has a breakdown because, if he is telling the truth, it counters every religious belief system she had.
Okay the plot is a bit reminiscent of the Highlander (sans the action and bad acting), the dialogue is a bit too pat and the intellectual friends a bit too cerebral and glib, but the overall "make you think" factor of this film is pretty impressive. It presents a fairly practical look at immortality and reinforces the reality that coming clean about being Jesus is a sure ticket to the funny farm. As Jack Nicholson said in a movie some time ago, "You want the truth? You can't handle the truth."
I don't think anyone wants the truth if it means giving up something they have believed in for a long, long time. Even in this day of instant information and cameras everywhere capturing reality every second, most people don't believe what they see, read or hear. You can watch video clips of a politician's speech where he claims to be the Antichrist and 99 percent of the people who watch it won't believe it, especially when the politician's image consultants move in afterward and begin recreating what was said with carefully crafted messages and misdirection.
So god knows how many times Jesus or Buddha or L. Ron Hubbard has returned and been committed, ridiculed, discredited and locked up because no one really can believe the truth.
Now ain't that the truth?
Saturday, July 12, 2008
I started thinking, hypocritical as it may seem, that it would piss me off if I discovered that other people classify and file me as well. Who wants to be generalized? After all, we are all multifaceted and individuals. But unfortunately life is too short and time is too precious not to segment people into categories to help manage our expectations of them. So I imagine I am pigeonholed the way I pigeonhole others.
I'm one of those firm believers that perception is reality. And self-perception is a powerful force. I know how I'd like to be thought of (or pigeonholed if I have to be). But I can also give you a list of character flaws a mile long (though I fantasize that I'm the only one aware of them). I hate the realization that, if I can see my flaws, so can everyone else. You can put a tablecloth over an elephant and pretend it is not an elephant but it is still an elephant. And lately my intense self-reflection (self-absorption and ego to some) has been pulling up the corner of the tablecloth and poking that elephant with a stick.
It is paralyzing to some extent to unveil the elephant, because the ability to act decisively depends a great deal upon having the self-confidence to forge ahead without tripping over self doubt. You have to believe what you are doing is the right thing.
I have never really fancied myself a leader. Throughout my life, however, leadership has been thrust upon me. Teachers were always putting me in charge of study groups, class councils, and science projects. I was a safety patrol lieutenant, president of the chess club in junior high and 9th grade president (I ran unopposed and won by a landslide). I was made a drum major in band in high school. But I learned being made a leader by school authorities and being accepted as a leader by peers are entirely different things. I wasn't comfortable with being a leader.
In my work life I tried to keep a low profile for years. Writing, after all, is a solitary profession. But I eventually had to accept that unless I became a best selling author, making progressively more money as a writer would require me to take on more responsibility. I progressed to managing projects and programs. Finally I was faced with managing people. And as I had learned in my school leadership days, being a manager and being accepted as a manager are very different.
In my fantasy world, being a manager would mean having people do things the way I want them to do them and being in control of my own destiny. But I never took into account that everyone, even the people you manage, have a fantasy of everyone doing the things the way they want them done. And the quirk of managing people is that you also are managed by someone else who wants you to do things the way they want them done and direct other people you supervise to do things the way you have been told to do them.
In other words, unless you become a millionaire by winning the lottery, you never really get to do anything the way you would really want to do them. Even if you have a boss who is open to you expressing your opinion about the best way to accomplish something, you will more than likely be constrained by some corporate police, guideline or directive dictated by something worse than a manager who wants things done their way -- a committee. A committee is a group of people all wanting to do things their way at the same time.
What does any of this have to do with trying to keep that elephant hidden? A great deal. Being a leader at any level puts you under scrutiny by everyone above you on the org chart and everyone below you on the org chart. And unless you are the rare person who is liked AND respected by the people who report to you and the people who supervise you, you aren't going to fair well when people start analyzing, categorizing and filing their perception of you.
So the best I can do is take the table cloth off the elephant and admit I am not a perfect manager. Then at least they can pigeonhole me as honest. Though I still have the urge to cry out, " I am not an elephant! I am not an animal! I am a human being! I am a man (ager)!"
In the interest of full disclosure, we generally only accept blog posts that are on a particular topic or describing some amusing anecdote from your life. We realize that you have likely exhausted your amusing anecdote supply and will accept letters to your blog as a temporary measure until you get your shit together.
In the meantime I want to take this opportunity to thank you for using blogger.com. It is bloggers like you that make the blog community what it is.
I am fine.
Wednesday, July 09, 2008
Okay, I'm not really fine. My sinuses are still infected. My joints ache and I could lose some weight. I wish I made more money. I'm not thrilled with the economy, rising gas prices or the political climate.
Other than that, I'm fine.
I mean, I'm still freaked about being 50. I find myself questioning everything I believed in at one time or another. No one gets my sense of humor so I am beginning to believe I don't have one. I seem to have lost my ability to communicate. Which is okay because I still feel invisible most of the time anyway.
But I'm fine.
A bit paranoid though. I pretty much believe everyone is out to get me. But I know that is my imagination.
But I'm fine.
I've been writing a lot of blog posts lately. My blog stats, however, are at an all time low. Did I mention I no longer think I have a sense of humor and I've lost the ability to communicate?
I don't think anyone likes me. But that could just be the paranoia talking.
Other than that, I'm fine.
How are you doing? I'm pretty much okay, other than all that low self-esteem stuff and the paranoia.
Oh well, take care.
Your friend (or not),
Monday, July 07, 2008
But I suppose all holidays are built around myths: Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, Pilgrims sitting down with the Indians (or Native Americans if you want to be politically correct about it), and Leprechauns. Let's not forget the little people from the old sod. Why shouldn't the Fourth of July be built around myths, too. So what if Paul Revere never really warned the people of Concord and Lexington that the British were coming? And who cares if the Sons of Liberty were really barflies and bullies pissed about taxes that really weren't that big of a deal. Okay, Ben Franklin was a womanizer and Thomas Jefferson slept with his slaves.
The truth doesn't make for good PR. But we need our myths. The truth rarely inspires. And history needs polishing or heroes quickly tarnish. Just like my parents, I have no desire for my children to grow up too quickly disillusioned by the lies of our forefathers.
It is too easy and cliche to blame the government for everything. The government isn't a thing. That is most people's mistake. They view the government as an malevolent entity that conspires against them. The government is simply people. And people operate out of one basic principle -- self preservation. Bureaucrats have families, too. Government workers have mortgages, pay taxes, buy groceries, and worry about their children. If there is a conspiracy in government, it is based on individuals trying to hang on, survive and pay bills.
I don't necessarily believe this is true for politicians. Politicians aspire to power. And anyone who aspires to power should be suspect and not trusted with power. Even the ones with good intentions bend to the addiction of power and sink into various forms of corruption to hold onto it.
There are other bogeymen people seek out to blame for our woes. Small businesses blame big businesses, Protestants blames Catholics, Christians blame Muslims, Blacks blame whites, whites blame minorities, Republicans blame Democrats, Liberals blame Conservatives, freaks blame straights, environmentalists blame industry, workers blame intellectuals and just about everyone blames WalMart.
I personally blame reality TV and Deal or No Deal for the downfall of civilization...or at least prime time television.
But the one person no one blames (as I've said before and forgive me for repeating yet again) is themselves.
And that is probably the one person who is really to blame.
Sunday, July 06, 2008
Now that's a better question than, "Is there life after death?" It doesn't presuppose that you die first (which technically means you cease to exist) and then wonder if you go on living (a paradox). So the real question becomes do we die after we live or does death really exist??
Merely semantics, I'm sure some people think. But as a writer, words are my mathematical formulas and they have to add up properly or they are just a series of letters strung together.
I don't want you to think that I am preoccupied with death. I firmly believe that we should be preoccupied with life. It's just that nagging question of the afterlife that pops up when the spectre of our mortality rears it's ugly little head.
I wouldn't really want to live forever. I think it be frustrating to eventually have to say, "Been there, done that," to just about every suggestion. I don't mind doing things I like over and over, but eventually even fun things can grow stale if there isn't something to break up the monotony.
Perhaps that is what death is. It's something to break up the monotony of living. It is a reasonable theory. But it's flaw is when you ponder the tragedy of a young person or a child dying. That breaks my heart. It puts death back into the random, senseless realm. And if death has no rhyme nor reason, how can life?
Sometimes I feel as though my thinking processes are patterned after a dog chasing his own tail. I am a writer/philosopher chasing his own tale.
But perhaps it is the pondering of death that holds the clue to it. If we live and die and poof...that's it, where does the collective knowledge and experience that permeates our DNA come from? I mean, one person can only theorize about death for so long before they die. So how is that theorizing passed on so that the next person pondering death doesn't have to start from scratch?
Damn you, tail...tale!
Saturday, July 05, 2008
Is there life after death? Well, no.
There I answered that one. I think what people are really trying to figure out is what happens after you die. Is it like a video game and you have to start over at the first level? Or do you get to start where the game left off? Or do you start a completely new game?
The dumbest option I can think of is that you float around in the spirit world, hanging out where you died or lived a long time and hope that someone takes a photo of you that appears to be an "astral orb" or uses sophisticated recording equipment to try and capture your spiritual wisdom and all you can whisper is, "Soooo..."
I used to want to believe in ghosts because I thought it would ease that cosmic fear I have of death just being the end and then you are nothing. I still don't want to believe that. But I also don't want to believe that death means being put on hold in a limbo world listening to elevator music.
This post was prompted by a program I watched today on the History Channel while working out on the elliptical machine. It was about a group of ghost hunters who put tons of cameras and recording equipment in several rooms of the Lizzie Borden house to see if they could capture the ghost of Lizzie or her murdered father and step mother (remember the nursery rhyme, "Lizzie Borden took an axe, gave her mother 40 whacks...When she saw what she had done, gave her father 41").
After about 50 hours, the best the ghost hunters could come up with was a recording of what sounded like a whispered, "Sooo..." after the ghost hunters were packing up the rest of the equipment. Oh, and they took an infrared photo of a trunk in one room that liked like the bottom of the trunk was hotter than the top part.
Apparently the next world doesn't have cable so spirits spend lots of time trying to figure out how to communicate with this world. They think of clever things to say like, "So," and "yeah" (perhaps all spirits are teenagers). And they heat up the bottom of trunks.
Maybe death just being the end isn't so bad after all.
So this post is dedicated to her and to allow her to see what she missed.
I have to admit that I was just as enthralled by the spectical of skyrockets as I used be as a kid laying on the roof of my grandma's garage watching the starbursts from Boise State Stadium. I'd never been so close to a show as we were at Gasworks (other than the time I when out on a tug pulling a fireworks barge for a freelance story I never wrote).
Ashes rained down on us as we thrilled at the explosions. And yes, I'm sure it wasn't good for the environment. Nor were the hordes of onlookers who rushed back to their cars to avoid the inevitable jams getting home.
But those few minutes of fire in the sky were somehow worth it.
Friday, July 04, 2008
You don't realize this when you are young. How could you? Your life bank account has barely begun accumulating interest when you are young. It is only after years of living that you realize you are standing upon the shoulders of experience. Or mired in it.
So I'm not buying blaming things on circumstances. As Jimmy Buffet, my philosopher of choice says, "Some people claim that there's a woman to blame, but I know, it's my own damned fault." Because shit doesn't just happen. You set the stage for it.
And I'm not saying it's your fault if a meteorite hits your house and kills you when you were sleeping. I'm saying if you don't finish high school (or college these days) then you aren't going to get a decent paying job. And if you don''t have a decent paying job, you aren't going to be able to afford a house. And if you can't afford a house, you aren't going to have anything to sell and buy a better house. And if you don't ever have a better house than you aren't going to have anything when you are too old to work that crappy job you had because you didn't get a good education.
Everybody makes mistakes. The trick is not making the same mistake over and over. So if you mess up and don't do anything to correct it, you are going build on that mistake. But if you correct the mistake, you have a new foundation to build on. You've changed the future.
I bought a house when I was 30 years old. I sold it when I was 48 for enough to put a down payment on a much nicer house for my wife and I. And we had enough left over that allowed us to afford adopting our daughter without going into debt. And we have a house big enough for our daughter and the son we are expecting.
These things were the cumulative effect of doing something positive back when I was 30 and didn't have a clue 20 years later I'd have a wonderful family that would benefit from my decision to invest in a house. If I could go back and give advice to the young me (and knew that the young me would listen), I'd tell him that everything you do matters. Karma is not a metaphysical concept of punishment and reward. It is natural law of cause and effect. Just living in the now is like driving a car at 70 mph on the freeway with a blindfold on. It's a guaranteed accident waiting to happen.
I'd also tell me to invest in Microsoft and Starbucks stock.