Tuesday, June 18, 2019

On the (Vacation) Road, Part 4 - Momentary Lapses in Solitude

Sandbridge Beach, Virginia

It was yesterday evening and the clouds were threatening, yet Ms. Rivers and I went to the beach anyway.  Since I had my camera in tow, I snapped a few photographs.  Probably my favorite is this one...

...if I had to give the photograph a name, I'd call it "Random Lady on the Beach".  I don't know who this lady is (hence the random part) or why she was just sitting in the sand, watching the waves.  Was she contemplating some big decision?  Pondering the mysteries of the universe?  Just getting away from the rest of the family for some solitude?  I'll never know, and that's okay.  I look back on the beach trips taken when my daughters were younger and there were many times when I would find opportunities to seek some solitude.  Thinking back to then, my over-riding thought now is "how did I manage to do all of that back then?", where "that" was the pressures of a difficult job, helping to raise three daughters, and a few other things that don't belong in a public blog posting.  Yet here I am now, around to tell the tale.  Anyway, I hope that the Random Lady on the Beach found her momentary lapse of solitude.

That was a great photograph.  An hour or so after that photograph was taken we had some lightening in the area.  I did my best to try and capture a strike, but I wasn't in a great place and had mostly bad luck.  The best I can offer is the following...

...if you look closely you can see the faint glow of a lightning strike that had just occurred.  In photography timing is everything, and sometimes you just miss.  All in a days vacation.

Sleeping has been something of an issue for me this past three nights.  It's not falling asleep...I don't have an issue there...it's what happens once I do fall asleep.  On most nights some of my dreams seem more the like the ether-mescaline fueled delusions of Hunter S. Thompson driving through the desert, but these past few nights have been intense even by my standards.  The one that I can still recall with some clarity from last night alternated between my trying in vain to install up a light post in our back yard (something I've been thinking about doing in the real world) and not being able to finish some big presentation for work.  That big presentation, by the way, was projected onto an enormous screen, and I was being critiqued by this older foreign gentleman.  I think there is a message in both threads*, some of which probably (again) isn't fit for a public blog posting.

I'm not sure what to do about the above odd mental sights and bizarre dream-visions**  Seeing as though this is a vacation, making it prime-time for deep, contemplative thoughts, I should ponder some more on it.  Well, truth be told, that's not really all that accurate.  I have pondered some of the work stuff before.  Here I am though, well into my career, and I seem to be a bit, well, professionally adrift.  There's a certain thread* to this posting, as I started off with a photograph of someone sitting on a beach contemplating and here I am, having my subconscious more or less forcing me into contemplation regarding my professional life.  Cue Elton John & Circle of Life.

On that note, it's time to put this posting to bed and fully start the new day.  Maybe a walk is in order while others (smartly) sleep.

* * * * * *
(*) I work with a few folks who love to talk about "threads".  As in the "threads of a story".  That makes me cringe somewhat, although not as much as the twisting in American English of the word "skill", as in "he needs to be up-skilled" and "we have to create some up-skilling opportunities".  Can't we just use "learn and learning" instead?  

(**) Subtle reference, made strictly just for my own enjoyment, of a book I enjoyed many years ago.  You can find it HERE.

Monday, June 17, 2019

On the (Vacation) Road, Part 3 - Reach the Beach

Sandbridge Beach, Virginia

My very first trip to an ocean beach was when I was a pre-teen; my actual age escapes me, but it was to Atlantic City, a fact that I've mentioned before in prior postings.  What doesn't escape me is how I felt upon seeing the ocean for the first time and what I (and my brothers) did when we had the chance to run free...it was this sense of wonder, of awe, of something incredible.  As soon as we could cajole our mother into allowing us to run free, we made a mad dash across the sand to the edge of the water.

I was thinking about the above as I sat on the beach yesterday.

My days of sprinting in the sand, barefoot mind you, are long gone.  What hasn't left though is the sense of awe I get every time I see the ocean.  Now, of course, I can at least better understand the feeling,

Funny story from back then:   Growing up we didn't eat seafood, well outside of Mrs. Paul's fish sticks.  Anyway, the Albert Boys were amazed at clams.  We dug up about a dozen of them and brought them back to our hovel of an efficiency unit and left them in the dry sink.  Coming back to the hotel room a few hours later we got to experience what dead/rotting clams smelled like.  I still don't eat clams by the way.

Back to the present day, and I enjoy sitting on the beach, listening to waves, and thinking back to days gone past, be they with my brothers or my own girls when they were growing up and we'd have beach vacations.  These days my beach activities have moved away from digging up clams (and sentencing them to a long death inside a dry sink) and making sand castles with little girls and towards reading and walking along the water line.  I do confess though that the thought of one day having grandkids to do things with is appealing.  For now, I'll enjoy reading on my Kindle (which is great for reading the bright light, by the way) and the company of my wife.

What do I read?  I read about 4-5 self-help/personal improvement books a year.  Based on that volume a reasonable person would conclude that I should be in pretty good shape mental health wise.  To that point, well, I will offer no opinions either way.  The current book is a look at how our unconscious biases about ourselves drive our behavior.  It's a pretty good read.  I have a physical book with me also...

...that I'll probably get around to start reading before the end of the week.  Yeah, I get the criticism:  I don't exactly enjoy "light reading", but it works for me.  I've never been much of a fiction reader, and at best I've read about a half dozen novels in my lifetime.

As for today, Monday's plans include taking a drive up to the more commercial end of Virginia Beach.  Tomorrow with be a trip to Norfolk.  The latter makes me think quite a bit about my late brother Chris, as he was stationed at Norfolk for half of his U.S. Navy service.  I'll also keep the following thought in mind:
(from THIS site)

Sunday, June 16, 2019

On the (Vacation) Road, Part 2 - Road Apples #179

Sandbridge Beach, Virginia

Random thoughts pinging through my head at the moment.

Right Now...It's 8am and I am sitting at the dining room table of a condominium in Sandbridge Beach.  I'd be typing this on the balcony, but it's currently over-run by something of a small swarm of dragonflies.  The locals tell us that they are harmless (I already knew that) and that they kill all of the annoying flying critters (I already knew that too).  I just have to get used to swarms of two-inch long flying assassins being around me.  

Pill Load...Yes, this (below) is what I bring with me on vacation.  I didn't bring my multi-vitamin, mostly because the bottle wouldn't fit in the ziplock back with the other stuff.  For something of a science guy, I admit that I probably take too many supplements.  In my defense though, the glucosamine and chondroitin I take really do help with my arthritic toes (yes, I have arthritis in my big toe on my right foot...and nowhere else...go figure). 
On the good news side, I have no life-threatening illnesses, mostly stuff that comes from living an active life and getting older.  

By the way, there was a time when I didn't take anything.  I literally could get up and go, and go to bed at night without having to swallow or inhale a blessed thing.  

On the Road...I felt literally battered from yesterday's drive.  It was long, traffic was, at times, stupidly backed up, and my knee was hurting from having been bent for so long.  While I can't do much about the traffic, I can adjust my seat for the drive back.  Speaking of driving, we drove my Silverado down for this year's vacation, mostly out of a desire to have lots of room.  Speaking of room though, I've parked in a garage, so I have a feeling that getting in and out of the parking space is going to require some patience.  Thank God for the back-up camera.

Work...I actually have to do something for (my professional job) work today.  I'm putting it off, but that can't be forever.  It's something I should have done before I left, and it's honestly not fair to stiff a team member and have her do it for me.  There are times when I think I should have been an electrician.

Band...I saw this in a restaurant we stopped at on the trip down here yesterday and thought to myself "what a cool name for a band!".  Cultural reference, for the uninformed, HERE.
Anyway, I was thinking to myself, "If I had a band, what would I call it?".  After all, I do have a bass guitar that, in theory, I am going to learn to play one of these days.  I'll have to work on that thought.

Today's Agenda...I have to get that work stuff done, as it's hanging over my head.  Outside of that, probably some reconnoitering and planning for the week.  From there it's anyone's guess.

Happy Father's Day...to all of the Dad's out there.  Fatherhood is probably the most under-rated job in the world.  Those who do it well deserve our thanks.  

Friday, June 14, 2019

On the (Vacation) Road, Part 1

Emmitsburg, Maryland

It's vacation time, which means, in part, lots of writing.  Mind you, vacation blog posts are more about quantity than quality, so no promises are being made on this end.

This evening's posting comes from Emmitsburg, Maryland.  Why Emmitsburg?  It's just where we decided to stop in route to Virginia Beach.  Most of the driving is in front of us yet, but that can come tomorrow.  For today it was simply important to get out of town as soon as practical.

Both Ms. Rivers and I agree that we need this vacation.  She's going non-stop in her career making sure that her employer stays reasonably compliant.  I'm busy, well, doing "stuff".  There's a bigger posting by the way embedded in that "stuff" comment, and I'm hoping one day it will actually come out of my fingertips.  For now, I need to stay cryptic in order to continue to make my truck payments.  So, in essence, we both need this vacation, all be it for opposite sides of a professional coin.

Since there actually isn't much to write about from a hotel in Emmitsburg, Maryland, I have two choices:  1) End the posting OR 2) Post photographs of the Russian Navy. 

I'm going for #2. 

The photographs were taken last year while leaving St. Petersburg, Russian Federation.

This last photo obviously isn't a ship, but I can imagine it being part of some kind of harbor defense.

On that note, it's time for me to start dialing my brain down just a bit.  See you on the road.

Monday, June 10, 2019

The Waiting

I am not now, nor have I ever been, a very patient man  I am persistent, that's for sure, but patient?  No.  And so we have it that I am in a place and process of waiting.  That waiting could be for two weeks.  It could be for two months.  It could be for, god forbid, two years.  I'll let you know when the waiting is over.

By the way, this is something of an experimental posting:  I'm trying out an Andy Palumbo-esque short post (he's really good at those...I am not) and this is the first appearance of an animated gif in over 10 years of blogging. 

A final note:  I'm not going to pretend that I am a big Tom Petty fan, because I am not.  I do like this song though (The Waiting) in part because it was written in the style of the Byrds

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Father's Day (two weeks early)

Point of reference:  I'm going to be traveling on the "real" Father's Day (June 16th), so I'm putting this out into the Internets a bit early.

In honor of Father's Day 2019, and especially for all of those father's out there who had no role model themselves (which includes me), I offer the following:  The Top 10 thing I wish I would have been taught to me by my father.  Listed in no particular order.
  1. Screwdrivers.  There is no functional limit as to the number of screwdrivers (or, as my youngest daughter used to say when she was very small "who-di-bers") that a father should own.  Owning 24 is as good as owning 10.  30?  Even better.  The more, the better, because you never know when (or where) you may need a screwdriver.
  2. How To Tie A Necktie.  A kid from the neighborhood taught me how to toe a necktie, just in time for parochial high school.  This is a must-have skill in life, be it for the occasional funeral or when the executives are showing up at work.
  3. Save Extra Screws, Nuts, and Bolts.  Hardware such as screws, nuts, and bolts is strategically packaged to always have an extra piece or six.  Save those extra parts!  You never know when may need a half inch decking screw.  Plus, there is a certain satisfaction in knowing that, after you die, your next of kin will have to go through all your stuff and wonder "why the hell did he save all of this s#it?". 
  4. Be A Good Man.  The world can be a cruel, unforgiving place at times, which makes it all the more important to not add to the insanity.  Be empathetic, considerate and compassionate.  All of those traits cost basically nothing, but yet can be priceless to someone having a bad day.  Be the person who folks say "is a good man".
  5. Most Dogs Are Better Than Most People.  It's true.  What's more, anyone capable of abusing a dog (or other animals) is wholly capable of being equally cruel to other humans.  Don't allow people like that into your life.
  6. Confidence vs. Humility.  Finding the right balance between confidence and humility is actually harder than college-level calculus.  Having worked on both, I say this with 100% certainty.  I tend to air on the side of humility, which isn't necessarily a good thing.
  7. Tell Your Children That You Love Them.  Love is never implied.  Love is the most active of action verbs...it only really exists when it is being acted upon/shown.  Part of that action is in doing the daily things of a father well (fixing things, going on school trips, embarrassing your kids in front of potential/real boy/girlfriends).  Part of it is in simply telling your children that you love them, often.  Part of it is in when knowing when not to parent.
  8. Work Hard.  Set a good example as a father by working hard at everything you do.  Be as passionate about cutting the grass as you are about your career.  Teach your children that there is dignity in all work and that no one should ever be above getting their hands dirty.
  9. Don't Be Afraid (Of Yourself).  "An honest man's pillow is his peace of mind" is what John Mellencamp once noted in a song.  Having that ability to be comfortable with yourself, being able to face your better angels (and worse demons), not being afraid of your feelings is both difficult and necessary.  It's also an example of a "practice"...it's not something you ever master, rather it's something you always work at as a father.
  10. Sing Loudly And Often.  I have a horrible singing voice.  It is wretched.  While I have some decent range (my voice is on the high side for a male, thanks to a lifetime of not smoking anything, ever...but I can get pretty low if needed), what noise that comes out of my mouth is more akin to howling wolves than an angelic choir.  This noted, I sing...often.  Part of this is because I always have a song in my head that just needs to get out.  Part of it is because, well, I just enjoy singing, talent be damned.  Fathers should all set a good example by making a joyful noise, regardless of talent.
I'll close this with a song (see #10) that I think is as good any written about being a Father.

Happy (early) Father's Day.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

After The Ball (May 2019 Primary Edition)

A few choice election comments, admittedly coming from the Peanut Gallery.

Scranton School Board
I am genuinely sorry to see Tom Borthwick not win a seat for the Scranton School Board.  Sorry for the Scranton School District (SSD), to be more precise.  Tom is genuinely a good man, someone I've known for many years, and the energy he brought to the SSD was unlike anything I'd seen from other candidates or board members.  There is good news though in Tom's election results:  He'll be spared the headache and heartache that is coming with a mandatory state takeover of the SSD.  I know that in Tom's mind that is not a foregone conclusion, but it is in mine.

In the end, this just simply means that someone or something else will benefit from Tom's talents.

Scranton City Council
I was thrilled to that Dr. Jessica Rothchild won a seat on Scranton City Council.  I do, however, wish that the Scranton Times spent as much time referencing her significant academic/intellectual qualifications as it did her sexuality.  Don't get me wrong...I'm thrilled that Dr. Rothchild can publically represent a community that has, until fairly recent history, had to be on the margins of acknowledged public life.  I'm not thrilled that she was almost exclusively referenced as "Jessica Rothchild, LGBTQ Activist".  I had more than several mental rants where I was screaming "...but she has a f&%king Ph.D. too!" at the computer screen after reading a Scranton Times article.  Maybe I'm sensitive to that point because I have a daughter on the verge of earning a Ph.D., and I know all too well how challenging it can still be for women in the sciences.

Why is the above such a big deal?  Well consider this:  In fairly recent memory, the SSD had two presidents that didn't even graduate from high school.  This is not an area that has always valued academic achievement, and based on the Scranton Times reporting, well, there may still be some work to be done.

Anyway, Congratulations Dr. Rothchild! 

Lackawanna County Commissioners
It looks like the adults will be taking over next January, as incumbent county commissioners Patrick O'Malley and Laureen Cummings we denied a place on the fall primary ballot.  Another great choice (not said sarcastically, by the way) by local voters.  If pandering could get an elected official frequent flyer miles, well then Commissioner O'Malley would have accumulated enough points for a trip to Hawaii, taking the Duggar family along with him.  Round trip.  In the first class.  I'm less questioning Commissioner O'Malley's intentions as I am his habit of serial glad-handing (especially when it came to the issues of property reassessment).

Commissioner Cummings, based on the many conspiracy theories that she actively sells on her public Facebook page alone...

(Wasn't Obama supposed to take everyone's guns?  Oh, wait, wasn't he born in Kenya too?)

...doesn't deserve the honor of public service, as it requires respect for all constituents, not just those who happen to agree with you.  In Commissioner Cummings' world, you can't be for any regulation of firearms without wanting to ban all guns; you can't have any differing views about abortion without being labeled a baby killer.  That's a level of toxicity that we can all do without.  Instead, I offer the following philosophy as an alternative, courtesy of musician Vince Gill:

DAN RATHER: "Do you like the way country music is going today?"
VINCE GILL: "I do. It's not my cup of tea, but I don't know if I was Merle Haggard's cup of tea when I first got going. And I don't know if Merle Haggard was Roy Acuff's cup of tea. I don't know if Roy Acuff was Jimmie Rodgers' cup of tea. You know what I'm saying? To me, to be "that" guy that looks back, you sound like a curmudgeon, you sound like you're bitter, you sound like all those things. I love seeing kids come along and being moved by what they're moved by. I don't care that they're not moved by the same things I am. I love seeing young people just out there doing what they love. There's not a rule book that says you have to like this, or it doesn't count or you're not as good. I'm not gonna be that guy. There's a lot of it I'm not crazy about but it's not personal. They don't have anybody cheering for them harder than I do."

More of Vince Gill, less of Laureen Cummings.

Monday, May 20, 2019

A Birthday Wish (to the other side)

As I was thinking about my brother Chris today, on what would have been his 54th birthday, the whole rebel artist trope got stuck in my head.  As a teenager, Chris had, for example, the requisite book of Jim Morrison poetry...not that the poems were all that great...because nothing screams rebel artist quite like "Jim Morrison: An American Poet".

(Probably not more than 300lbs between the two of us)

Another quintessential rebel artist was John Lennon.  I remember the morning of December 9th, 1980, when we found out on Good Morning America that Lennon had been assassinated the night before.  Since I'm not much of a Doors fan, well, I think a good remembrance birthday dedication compromise between Chris and I would be something by Lennon.  So here we go...so long ago...wasn't it a dream?

Until we meet again.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Sensitivity and the Fine Art of WFH

"WFH" is a kind of business short-hand for "work from home".

(Looking out my home office window)

I'll say it right from the beginning:  I don't like working from home.  As I may have mentioned before*, I almost never work from home.  At my former employer, I think I had WFH days maybe three times over almost 28 years.  I had opportunities, mind you, but I just don't like it.  There is something about driving to and from the office that I find mildly productive and, in a way, relaxing.  On the drive to work, I can think about what I want to accomplish first in the day.  On the drive home, I can use the commute time as a kind of decompression chamber.  What's more, I am far too comfortable in my own head, so it's a challenge for me to interact with others in an office setting.  Not working from home just seems to work for me.

Make that "worked" for me.

For the past few weeks, I've been WFH three days (Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, to be precise) a week.  I'm doing my best to make it work (no pun intended), and slowly but surely I'm adjusting.  Why the need to adjust in the first place?  Well, there's the fact that I actually no longer officially support (by way of job/title/responsibilities) anyone in my office.  In fact, since last July, my team has been a virtual one, with none of my co-workers actually working out of a company office.  Then there is the sheer economics of it all, as in I save driving 48 miles a day by not trekking into the office. 

The above are some solid reasons, for sure.  They are, however, not the driving reasons.  To put it delicately, my current office location is a difficult place these days.  The company has been re-allocating resources, and with that, there is a fair amount of what I will honestly call despair.  It's a difficult environment for me to be in, in part because I can literally feel much of the negativity.  Granted that I am the last person on Earth to spout new-age stuff, but even the least sensitive person in the world could feel the negative tension in the air.  Yes, I get the need for businesses to change and adapt, and this isn't intended to be a screed about the corporate practices in 2019.  However, actions have consequences, be they the actions of a15-year-old boosting chocolate milk from Turkey Hill or those of a multi-national corporation shuffling jobs across the planet.  In the end, and merits of change theory aside for a moment, it's just not healthy for me to be in the office.

Why go in at all?  While I no longer have any direct reports, I still have 3 former team members in the office, so I owe it to them to at least provide some kind of moral, if not practical, support.  It may not be much...that is what I am able to give...but I owe it to them to give something.  Loyalty is important, especially in dark times.  We have nothing if we don't have each other.

Is there a bigger story in all of this?  Absolutely, and maybe I'll tell it one of these days.  Until then, I'm going to continue to craft some kind of WFH routine.  I'm not shooting to love the WFH thing, just maybe make it more palatable.

(*) It's hard to remember what I write here, in all honesty, as "here" is over two thousand postings, so you'll pardon me if I can't remember every word in every former posting.  Honestly, I am lucky if I remember what I had for lunch yesterday.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

May is Mental Health Month

(A small part of my library)

There are literally months for everything these days, so the fact that May is Mental Health Month probably escapes most people, including me (up until recently).  Not to slander other month-worthy topics, but I can think of very few things that we need to talk more about in this country than mental health.  I know I talk about it on this blog quite a bit; in fact, there are about 78 postings tagged to 'Mental Health' so far.  Make that 79 after this one.

In the interest of complete transparency, I will note that I think about mental health quite a bit.  That would be my own, family members, co-workers, friends and the subject in general.  As I've grown older, I've come to realize just how much mental health has been an underlying theme in my life.  I'm not going to get into any details that might compromise others, but suffice to say I have had people very close to me deal with significant issues over the years.  Part of my own struggle has centered around a central question: 

Why me?  Why am I (seemingly) okay when ________ isn't?  What makes me so special?  

The above are not necessarily pleasant thoughts.  Rather, at times I've suffered from a kind of survivor's (literal survivor...) guilt.  I know, I should be grateful for what I have in the mental health department, but that doesn't make the sting of dealing loved ones who struggle any easier.  On one hand, every time I've helped someone in some small way in this area I seem to get a bit more enlightened, a bit stronger.  On the other hand, well, I've had far more failures than successes when it comes to others, at least in my own mind.

"When logic and proportion have fallen sloppy dead.*"

Part of the challenge, at least for me, is the fact that I try and process the world around me using logic and reasoning.  That's all well and good, except for the fact that logic and reasoning are of little help in an arena that is inherently illogical and at times unreasonable.  That's something I tell others all the time but yet I have to tell myself even more frequently in some circumstances.  Sometimes I hear that self advice but yet still don't follow it.  Maybe that's one of my mental health issues.

So what does all this mean, other than the intemperate ramblings of an exceptionally amateur person that writes?  Maybe the answer is as simple as this:  We need to talk about this stuff more often, regardless of whether or not you find yourself being the patient or the caregiver.  In point of fact, for most of us, well, we usually end up being both.  That makes the dealing with the whole stigma thing about mental health issues all the more important, as we can pretend these issues don't exist in our lives, managing to fool everyone in the world except the person that matters the most:  Ourselves. 

You can learn more about Mental Health Month by following THIS link.

(*) Grace Slick, White Rabbit