Not Cease from Exploration

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Practicing Gratitude

I've been taking some time lately to thank people who have helped me, taught me, inspired me, or who have been just plain kind to me over the years.  It's a wonderful exercise, and I just wish I would have taken the time to do this sooner.  Sometimes I suspect that it takes a karmic kick in the seat of the pants to boot up this kind of thing.  Anyway, I was going to write a longer post about this...the subject of practicing gratitude...when I just happened to see an entire sermon written about it by Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber.  True story, honest.

You can read and listen to an audio recording of Pastor Nadia's* sermon HERE.  It's worthy of your time if you are interested in such things.  Oh, and we all should be interested in such things, because if we did, the world would be a far, far better place.

(*) Is that the right naming convention?  I confess to being poorly equipped when it comes to Protestant clergy titles and references.  That noted, I can recite the hierarchical structure of the Roman Catholic Church forwards and backwards.  

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Foiled by October

In spite of my best efforts, the month of October is insisting on keeping it's title as "worst month for Steve".  I will note, however, that it hasn't been without an effort on my part to change the dynamic.

Maybe it's all a cosmic metaphor of sorts for the inherent need that Spring has to come after Fall, with Winter sandwiched in between as a kind of exclamation point.

Maybe it's just a "bad luck streak in dancing school" (not the album, I just like the phrase).

Maybe I just dramatically over think most things.

I could continue to come up with dozens of ways to be obtuse, which might entertain me but annoy others.  Actually, who the heck am I kidding?  I'd prefer to be direct, but getting into specifics just isn't the right thing to do, so obtuse is the best I can offer.  Besides, in the ledger of life, my credits far exceed my debits anyway.

The bottom line is this:  Some bad news, but opportunities await.  There is no trick here, no movie plot that gets neatly resolved in two hours.  No, this is about as visceral as life gets.  This kind of thing is, as the late Levon Helm once observed*, an "adult sized portion".  And it's about time to eat.

As I work my way through things, I'm taking notes.  Who knows?  That could end up being my blog magnum opus of sorts.  Regardless, there will absolutely be more to come.

Oh, and next October will be different.

(*) From the film "The Last Waltz", where The Band's drummer was talking about visiting New York City for the first time.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Advice to My 16 Year Old Self

Given that I've been writing this for 8 years now, it's an almost certainty that this topic has come up before.  That noted, who cares?  File this one under most things in this blog:  The category of self-reflective self-indulgence.

Anyway, if I had a time machine and the ability to go back to 1980, this is what I'd tell myself.

1.  Worry Less
Steve, you worry too damn much.  The reality of life is that it happens one day at a time anyway.  There is absolutely no sense in ruminating over all the details of life at age 16 in your head 24/7.  Let most of it go.  Life will come to you in the order upon which it is ordained.  It will be okay.

2.  Study More
Steve, you're smart but lazy.  Would it kill you to actually study for a test every now and then?  That 90% could be a 100% with a bit of effort.  This isn't about grades in as much as it is about simply challenging yourself a bit more.  Real growth requires real effort.

3.  It's Okay To Be In Your Shell
Steve, by the time you get to be my age you will have learned enough about the subject of Emotional Intelligence to actually teach it.  Part of that learning is the realization that it's okay to be more inward thinking and reflective.  Don't listen to those who say you need to "come out of your shell"; if you like your shell, well then that's fine.  All I ask is that you make it a conscious choice.

4.  Continue To Study Religion, And...
Steve, you'll spend countless hours reading about different kinds of religions and religious philosophies, and that's great.  Consider taking your research one step further though:  Actually try to experience some of what you read.  It won't make you become some cult member, and contrary to what you learn in CCD, you won't burst into flames the moment you enter a Protestant church.  Oh, and don't give that Hare Krishna guy money when you see him in downtown Scranton, as that album he's selling stinks.

5.  Let Go Of Guilt
Steve, the guilt you feel about most thing is, quite frankly, really damn stupid.  While you're worrying less, also let go of the senseless guilt.  Yes, you have a good conscience, and feeling bad over something you actually did that's guilty worthy is fine, but realize that's not 90% of the guilt you actually feel about most things.

6.  Question Authority A Bit More
Steve, I know that you've been trained to always respect authority, and that's okay.  However, respecting is different than "never questioning".  You can be respectful of authority figures while also having license to use your own head to sometimes question their motives.  Oh, and this is yet another thing you can do without feeling guilt.  This can serve you well now and into the future. 

7.  Your Junior Prom Will Be A Fiasco
Steve, first, when you go remember to turn off the car lights before you enter the banquet hall.  Second, before you go, get a decent table assignment, as you'll be defaulted to a table that's best described as "punitive".   Third, for god's sake man, lighten up and have some fun.  Finally, that white tuxedo will make you look like a Q-Tip; do yourself a favor and get a classy black tuxedo to wear.
(The Albert Brothers, Jr. Prom bound in 1981:  I'm on the left...looking, well, very white.)

8.  Buy That Used Guitar
Steve, you'll regret never at least trying to learn to play something.

9.  Fight With Your Brothers Less
Steve, this is an easy one.  Don't be an idiot to your brothers.  They're good men and all four of us are sometimes fighting the same (not different) battles.

10. Take Up Running
Steve, the day will come when you can't eat all (or even any) of the fast food you want.  Take up running (or as it's called in 1980 "jogging").  It will help you later on.

And two bonus points...

11.  When It Comes To Girls...
Steve, see #1...worry less.  Just be confident in who you are, and don't worry about members of the opposite sex liking you.  Instead, focus on liking yourself, and the rest will take care of itself.  Oh, and by the way, at age 50 you'll still have better hair than most of the popular guys in school.  The hair thing starts to slide though on or about age 51...just saying.

12.  Hang On To The Duster
Steve, trust me, the '74 Plymouth Duster will actually be cool one day.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

I am Locutus of Borg

Well, that's how I felt when I looked like this...

...for the uninitiated (and non-Geeks) you can find out who the "real" Locutus of Borg was HERE.

So why all the (truly) wearable tech?  The photo was me, after getting outfitted for a sleep study that I had completed a few weeks ago.

Normally people undergo sleep studies if they, well, have actual trouble sleeping.  Me?  Seeing as though I never seem to do anything the easy (or simple) way, I had to go for a sleep study as the final step in a series of tests designed to figure out why apparently my heart had a rhythm and rate that were about as erratic as the Donald Trump Twitter feed (ooops....I promised to not post about politics in October; my bad).  I confess to not being happy about the whole prospect.  As I may have mentioned before, I actually sleep very well, so I was anxious at the prospect of this test.  Why?  The outcome could have been a diagnosis of Sleep Apnea, and I was not happy at the prospect of the resulting treatment plan, as that would mean me no longer sleeping well.

Getting through the test, all wired up as I was, was difficult.  It took a ton of concentration on my part, as I've never worked so hard in all of my life to actually sleep well.  It was, however, all for good as the diagnosis came back the following morning that 1) I don't have Sleep Apnea and 2) My blood oxygen levels at night are fine-n-dandy.  No c-pap Darth Vadar mask for me.  I was genuinely thrilled.

I am relieved at the outcome, but it still leaves the mystery as to why my heart started acting up at the beginning of the year.  Again, as I've noted in prior postings, I blame it on a daily habit of energy drinks, to which I can proudly state that I've not had any at all since this past January.  The strongest thing I drink these days is Earl Grey tea.  So far, after undergoing a Cardioversion in March, my heart seems to be doing very well, and my blood pressure has been great (aided in part by the loss of about 30 pounds).

There's a greater lesson in all of this, but I'm just not sure what it is, quite frankly.  The easy route would be to say the "can't take your health for granted" or the "getting old stinks" stuff, but I'll pass.  Both prior statements are true, but yet somehow I think there's something more.  Maybe one day I'll figure that part out.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Good News (out of Harrisburg)

I'm not the biggest fan of the Pennsylvania Legislature, so it's refreshing when they actually accomplish something good, especially so when the intent is to try and make something bad a bit more bearable.

Credit to (local) Representative Tara Toohil for sponsoring a legislation that will make the no-fault divorce process in Pennsylvania a bit easier.  You can read the specifics HERE.

I speak with some experience on the divorce front, although to the best of my knowledge I've rarely to almost never written about my own divorce in this blog, for a very good reason:  It was painful, and I consider myself lucky in that it could have been worse.  Mostly, I'm glad that I'll have to go through it again (as in Ms. Rivers is stuck with me, basically forever).  

Now the argument could be made by the conservative religious types that anything which makes the process of obtaining a divorce easier is inherently bad.  Me?  I think that's just ridiculous.  In fairness, you can read an article that's critical of no-fault divorce laws HERE.  Divorce is at its heart conceptually...emotionally...financially...very difficult.  No mentally healthy person undertakes it lightly, which is all the more reason for the government to do whatever it can to not make a bad situation worse.

As a side note, if one's religion teaches that divorce is unacceptable, well then that's a bit of a pickle for adherents to that faith, is it not?  What it shouldn't be though is a matter of public policy.  Part of what government in the United States does is protect me from your religion (and you from mine).  It's a beautiful and simple system.  "Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting its free exercise thereof;".  Yes, adherents are free to shout out their beliefs until their lungs practically burst, but they aren't free to use the law to make their beliefs a matter of public policy.

What this new legislation does is inch Pennsylvania state government just a tiny bit further out of the divorce regulation business.  I do recognize that, conceptually, divorce is a matter of contract law, so there should be some regulation.  However, the best regulations are those that achieve the desired outcome with the least amount of interference into people's lives.  That's a very good thing for all of us.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Newspaper Taxis Appear on the Shore

One of the great arguments I'm waiting to have with someone is "who recorded the best Beatles cover song ever?".  My two cents:  I go back and forth between songs, but most days I'd say it's the Elton John cover of Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.

Some the guitar work and the backing vocals on the studio recording are actually courtesy of John Lennon himself.

I'm not sure why I was thinking about this song on the way to work on Friday, well over and above the fact that it's simply a great song.

Work itself, well that's been a different story.

We had someone at work pass away, unexpectedly, the week before last.  The details are neither needed or appropriate for this venue.  My last posting, how I think God is speaking to us all the time, was really how I was processing what happened at work.  I readily confess that it's far too easy for me to get caught up in the minutiae of work, where I'll end up hanging thoughts on some event or action that likely have no more real meaning than a bird flying across the sky.  I, and I suspect others, forget far too easily that much of our work life is really composed of trivia.  I know, that sounds like I am trivializing what I...and for a living, but that's not my intent.  Rather, I'm saying with all the conviction I can gather that in the great lists that compose our lives, a turn of a phrase by a manager, a benefits change we may not like, a co-worker that may make co-working somewhat difficult, well in the grand scheme of things they all really just don't matter all that much.

What matters?  Well, that's what I can't say for sure.

I do know this:  We're given opportunities all the time to experience and learn.  That's a constant.  What seems to vary is our desire and ability to learn.  The lessons are out there, all around us, waiting to be experienced, but yet what do we spend our time on?  The fact that our manager is too directive?  That we aren't "respected" enough?  That's just more trivia.  No, today's lesson is that there is a higher order out there, a better way to see and experience the world based on a choice we all can make, as long as we remember to do so.

I am deeply saddened by our loss at work and starkly reminded that, at some point, our turn at mortality will come as well.  How and where we spend the space between now and then...a space that could span minutes or up to us.  I think that's what God was trying to tell me last week.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Maybe We're Just Not Listening

I've often wondered if, how, and when God actually talks to us.

I'm probably not the only one wondering that too, I suspect.

Maybe though it's the wrong way to go about it.

Maybe God talks to us all the time, it's just that we aren't listening very often.  I know, this can get very new age-ish very quickly, and I'm not suggesting that we all need to go to Walden and spend a year in a cabin seeking enlightenment either.  What I am suggesting though is that in our arrogance, we expect to receive things in nice little burning bush packages, lightening bolts, or edicts from God-professionals who also just happen to drive nicer cars than we do.  We want God to talk to us like we want fast food:  Quickly and without it costing too much of our time.

Somehow I just think we're getting it all wrong.

I'm not claiming, by the way, that God talks to me...all the time or even any of the time for that matter.  What I am claiming is that I'm pretty horrible at listening.  Or watching.  Or even noticing.

As a younger person, I was far too busy for such stuff.  I just wanted a dose of God on Sundays (which I mostly didn't get) and maybe someone to pray too as I ventured out during that snowstorm.  What I wanted was one-way communication (me to God) and a few favors (God to me) in return.  Age, however, has its benefits, none the least of which is a larger lifetime of perspective.  Somehow I think I got the communicating with a higher power thing wrong.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Senator Warren vs. CEO Stumpf (Wells Fargo)

Submitted without commentary; watch, read, and draw your own conclusions.

You can find CEO Stumpf's official statement to the U.S. Senate HERE.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Making October Great Again

In theory I should be loving October:

The weather isn't too hot, nor is it too cold.

I like the changing Fall foliage.

The non-summer routine has taken hold.

It's a photographer's dream.

It's a great time to ride the bike.

I love taking a trip out to the pumpkin patch.

I like preparing the yard for winter.

Yet over the years, October hasn't been so good for me.  I have 8 years worth of blog postings to prove the point.  What to do?  Well, starting next month I am going to take October back.  Yes, I'm going to "Make October Great Again".  All of my postings in October will be positive reflections on the world in and around me.  It's the perfect time really, especially given the fact that the media will, by the time October actually rolls around, basically just be saying the words "Trump" and "Clinton" over and over and over again anyway, to the point where blood will be flowing from all of our ears.

Oh, and yes, I am stealing a certain political candidate's slogan.  The above graphic is really just a cheesy modification of a bumper sticker you can find HERE.

Making October Great Again...coming to a blog near you.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Treading While Whispers Become Shouts

Friday Evening, September 9th
I'm sitting here, basically treading water, and I'm not sure why.  Now in theory, this just shouldn't be, as I'm physically doing well, including wonderful little gems such as... last check-up yielded a blood pressure of 120/72
...I'm power-walking on the treadmill for 45 minutes now 5 days as week...on an incline...for an average speed of 4mph (but getting up to 5mph for a stretch)
...I'm still losing weight
...I've dramatically moderated my caffeine intake

I'm married to a wonderful woman who literally saved my life and that I love dearly.

My daughters are all doing what they love, living more or less independently.

I'm closing in on my last two graduate classes.

I'm doing some things I enjoy, such as continuing to write this blog.

While not necessarily religious, I have been working on being more Spiritual.

So, why the treading water?

Well, thinking about the listing above, something is missing.

Should I even be writing this?  In point of fact I'm going to stop writing this now and abide by a time honored rule of people who write (as opposed to "writers", as I'm not at that level):  I'm going to put this down and come back to it later.

* * * * * *
Sunday, September 11th
It's not lost on me that today is the 15th Anniversary of the September 11th attacks.  As  the John Lennon song (#9 Dream) goes, "So, long ago, was it in a dream, was it just a dream?".  Sadly though, it wasn't a dream.  God bless all those who have been impacted by those horrible events.

Back to Friday's thoughts.

* * * * * *

I spent much of yesterday doing two things:

1) Tearing down a coal bin that we are no longer using.
2) Thinking.

I've always found that physical labor helps me quite a bit when I'm perplexed and/or feeling like I am in a rut.  Yesterday was no exception.  Unfortunately, in my professional life the tasks at hand seldom to never allow for the combination of sweat and pondering.  Well, if they do, Security is called and you're taken to a hospital, lest a caring co-worker thinks you are having a heart-attack.

I think part of the challenge for me, at least in my professional life, is that there is always something going on around me, which creates so much mental data to process.  The result is that I get caught up in a kind of mental vortex, where mental whispers become mental shouts and the definitely benign can become the seemingly malignant.  I can lose perspective easily.  Rarely to never though is this ever apparent, as I try hard to always be the consummate professional in the office.

For the record, is it "career suicide" to admit the above?  On one hand, maybe it is.  On the other?  What I say may in fact be what others feel as my crime...if you want to call it giving voice to reality and being honest.  Anyone who wants to criticize me for being honest can do so.  Bring it on.

Anyway, in pondering these things while using a Craftsman 8 amp reciprocating saw...for which I burned through two wood cutting blades...I began thinking about two books I've read by Nadia Bolz-Weber.  I'm not going to bore anyone, least of all myself, with a book report, but here's a central point, of sorts:  I think that God speaks to us not in the "big" ways that Hollywood or tele-evangelists portray, but rather in the quiet moments and odd circumstances we find ourselves in as we go about life.  We're given these opportunities in life to experience the lesson we're always being taught...or on the other hand...we drown after failing to see that we need only pick our heads up out of the water.

Part of it, for me, is ego.  I think, in my recent challenges, I'm being taught to not allow myself to get caught up in mindless mental swirling about how and where I might stack up on some imaginary listing that likely exists nowhere else but inside my head.  I'm being taught it's okay to stand up and be counted, but it better be something actually worth the accounting.  Better yet and better still, maybe it's more important to think about just why an ego might be bruised in the first place, rather than a simple and mindless gut-reaction attempt to defend myself.  Sometimes defending yourself is the worst thing to do, as it only lends credence to an otherwise imaginary foe.

I'm not declaring any kind of victory or even deep insight.  I very well may, in fact, might start the work-week tomorrow and almost immediately be back to square one, fighting to stay out of a mental vortex that I've mostly created for myself.  What I am declaring though is an attempt to listen for those quiet moments and see the odd circumstances as opportunities given to me to grow, not as challenges to an ego that doesn't exactly and hasn't historically served me very well.  I plan on picking my head up before I drown.