Sunday, March 18, 2018

Writing and Emotions

In October this blog will be ten years old.  In blog years, well, that's pretty damn old.  So many blogs have come and gone since I started this, far more than I can actually remember.  Anyway, that fact...coupled with a lot of work I'm doing on/for me to thinking about recently about why I do this thing.  Well, outside of the obvious part about liking to do this thing.

I've always been writing things.  In college, I would write voluminous letters.  When I started with my last employer, I kept something of a journal.  I would, in fact, journal quite a bit over the years.  Much of that stuff still exists in notebooks that are stuck in boxes and corners, awaiting my untimely demise, ready to find some emo-esque enjoyment on the part of my children no doubt.

Prior to the formality of my own URL, I was writing on another social media platform.  Side note:  I really do need to recycle...or at least read...some of that old content.

Anyway, the point is made:  I write a lot.  But why?

I think it's because writing allows me to process things that are sometimes too difficult for me to process otherwise.

Growing up, well let's just say that emotional expression wasn't exactly encouraged by my sole engaged parent.  As I've noted here from time to time, I think it was everything my Mother could muster just to keep four boys fed and clothed.  Granted that the Albert boys...

(circa 1970)

...could be something of a handful, but more than a half-century and my own parental experiences later, I can say with some certainty that we were actually among the better crop of young men in our respective age brackets.  Recent deep ponderings on my part yield the fact that there was likely more going on with my Mother, which for better or worse, pushed things like encouragement, developing healthy relationships, self-confidence, and managing adversity out of scope for us as life-lessons (at least as taught by my Mother).

Many of these skills I have learned...some the hard way, I will note...later in life, and I am grateful for that fact.  I do, however, think my late brother Chris may have struggled even more than yours truly when it comes to some of these lessons.  Let's hope that there is an afterlife and that he's there now, fully redeemed.

Anyway, I didn't learn how to manage emotions in a healthy manner growing up.  For some, that could equate to a lifetime of, for example, anger management issues, or maybe even self-medication/substance abuse.  For me?  It manifests itself through what I've learned is a kind of intellectualization of emotions.  Basically, I have difficulty understanding and expressing my feelings, so my lifetime coping mechanism has been to try and parse things out into logical chunks that I could more readily understand.  I turn how I am feeling into an exercise in data analysis, mostly because:

1) I am good at analyzing things


2) See above...I never learned about the healthy expression of emotions

I actually have to be careful here, as I could end up being guilty of the same set of actions in this very posting.  Simply put, it's easier for me to deal with emotions intellectually than it is for me to actually feel them.

The above is a workable strategy, to a point.  The wheels came off though with the rapid-fire loss of a job and a brother.  I've learned that there is no amount of logic could help me through the heartache of losing my brother.  In tandem, the anger I felt at the way in which I lost my last job defied a logical, intellectual understanding (see THIS posting).  I've actually felt guilty over feeling angry in that case.  In totality though, my ability to simply intellectualize my feelings was overwhelmed by the dual loss of a job and a sibling.  Rightfully so, I will add.

Now the rainman gave me two cures
Then he said, “Jump right in”
The one was Texas medicine
The other was just railroad gin
An’ like a fool I mixed them
An’ it strangled up my mind
An’ now people just get uglier
An’ I have no sense of time

For me, there is no Texas medicine (or railroad gin) that would actually help, which is actually a pretty good thing.  No, what happened to me has forced a kind of re-assessment of how I experience parts of the world...mostly the part of the world that sits inside my own head.  While I am grateful for the opportunity that my losses have given me for reflection and growth, part of me is a bit saddened at the revelnation/prospect of just how much I missed growing up.  Reflection will do that sometimes.  Now no parent is perfect, me especially, but I hope was able to provide more encouragement...more permission to my children than what I was given.  Hopefully, I've broken a cycle before it could continue.
Now the bricks lay on Grand Street
Where the neon madmen climb
They all fall there so perfectly
It all seems so well timed
An’ here I sit so patiently
Waiting to find out what price
You have to pay to get out of
Going through all these things twice

The song lyrics, by the way, are from Bob Dylan's "Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again".  Highly recommended.

So where to from here?  Why even write this?

Well, I feel a bit unsure about posting this, but that hasn't stopped me before.  Besides, I do feel a kind of need to now "get on" with some things in my life, and I do think this is a part of the process.  What kind of chronology of my life would this be if it didn't include revelations of both the small and the big? 

In the end, I still can't give a complete voice to how I feel over Chris' death, but I do feel more at peace with having those feelings.  What's more, I have an understanding why the process of expressing those emotions has been so very difficult for me over this past year.

I'll call the above a win, all be it a hard-fought one.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Mark Your Calendars (Men): Saturday March 17th at 7pm

The Scranton Chapter...

(from THIS site)

...(also known as the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick) will hold it's annual (men only) banquet this Saturday, March 17th.

The fact that most of the men (only) in the room are Democrats adds just a dash of irony to the whole event.  If this were predominantly Republican event would there be moral outrage coming from all corners of NEPA?  Call me crazy, but I'm thinking that the answer is a resounding yes.

Now does the organization in question do good work?  I am sure that's the case.

Am I committing NEPA career suicide by event writing this post?  Maybe.

Will this post change anything?  A resounding no.

However, I do think this event speaks volumes about Northeastern Pennsylvania, particularly from the perspective of patriarchy, the over-sized influence of religion in the area, and a general resistance to change among local power brokers.   

I'll be waiting with bated breath for the glowing coverage of the event that no doubt be found in the Sunday edition of The Scranton Times.  Who knows?  Maybe that same edition will feature an outstanding editorial on the importance of having more women run for elected office in NEPA.

Note:  It's not just me; read a similar opinion in today's edition of the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Celebrating Scranton's High Profile Sausage Party

For the benefit of the uninformed, every year around Saint Patrick's Day a group in Scranton holds a special event where the politically and socially connected get together, listen to speeches, eat a grand dinner and generally hobnob.  It also happens to be a men-only event.

Yes, in 2018...nearly 100 years after women gained the right to vote via the 19th Amendment to the Constitution...Scranton has a dinner where those same women are not welcome.  What's just as astounding is the fact that the local newspaper gushes over this event year after year.

This is a gathering where, by my estimation, these same politically and socially connected engage in some self-congratulations on how well they, and by extension, the communities they lead, are doing.  Except for the fact that only the men can attend.  And except for the fact that northeastern Pennsylvania continues to be an area where unemployment is high, wages are low and graft has reached Olympic Gold Medal levels.

For the record, I know there is another event for the womenfolk.  There's even a phrase to describe such a thing.  Now, what is it?  Oh, "separate but equal".  Yeah, that's it.  A convenient excuse to continue a tradition that should have died 80 years ago.

Maybe at this year's event, the men can get together to talk about the ramifications of the #MeToo movement.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

The Hollies

My late brother Chris loved the Hollies.  On more than one occasion I would stop at his house and he would have a Hollies CD playing in the background.  Me? I was indifferent about Great Britain's quasi-answer to the Beach Boys (another group Chris liked...but I was indifferent to).  However, for reasons that escape me, I started to really listen to some of the Hollies' catalog last year.  Now?  It's just great, fun stuff.  In particular, Graham Nash's vocal contributions to the group are simply amazing.

Here's one song in particular:  I Can't Let Go.

I found the above YouTube video while looking the Linda Ronstadt version of this song; you can link to that HERE.

I've spent some time reading about The Hollies and Graham Nash lately.  Right before he left the group Graham Nash brought to The Hollies a song he recently wrote called Marrakesh Express.  Apparently, their indifference/disapproval of the song sealed the fate of Graham leaving the group.  I'll note that, for the record, I just happen to love Marrakesh Express; it has a kind of ethereal quality to it that I just can't quite pin down.

The distinctive musical sound of the song's recording, as I understand it, was the product of Stephen Stills.  I've listened to a few live versions of the tune and have been pretty unimpressed.

All aboard the train...


Sunday, February 18, 2018

A Separate Peace*

Revelations are an odd sort of thing.  What is a true revelation anyway?  Are they common or rare?  As for me personally, I simply don't come across revelations, of an important sort, all that often.  Maybe in the "less than the number of fingers I own" kind of frequency.

By way of definition, I can claim a revelation has occurred when an important thing happens:  I find myself in a position where, pre-revelation, I would feel/think/react in a certain way but now, post-revelation well, it's different.  A kind of small victory of sorts.

Anyway, my revelation is something of a follow-up to a prior posting1.  It breaks down to this:  I was very angry about how I lost my prior job.  Not the business rationale behind the decision (I understand that part).  Not how I was treated from a financial perspective post job-loss (exceptionally well, for which I am very grateful).  Not how my severance package was actually explained to me (with patience and understanding).  Rather, I was angry that the actual notice came in the form of a 30 second (or so) video call, devoid of compassion or empathy.  After nearly three decades of dedicated service, after having been a true patriot for my former employer, I deserved better than that, and it made me angry.  Exceptionally so.  I know that I've talked around that point a few times over the past year or so, but the whole thing is far more clear to me now.  I'm using the past tense here, and that's not entirely correct because I am still angry about it.  In fact, I may always be angry about it.

So here's the nut of the revelation:  I no longer feel guilty about feeling angry.  I no longer feel like I should just "get over it".  I am okay with my anger.  While I am angry over what happened, I am also at peace with that anger.  I accept the feeling for what it is, and for as long as it lasts. 

It seems oh so very simple to write this all out2, but in reality, it was far harder for me to get to this point.  Harder as in months worth of work.  Sometimes the simplest feelings can be the most difficult to understand.

(*) The title comes from THIS book, which I attempted to read once when I was in middle school.  "Attempted" as in unsuccessful due to a lack of motivation.
(1) Anger.
(2) It has actually taken about three hours to write this posting, including three major re-writes.  So much for simple. 

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Of Guns and (More) Dead Children

Another mass shooting, this time in Florida.  What I wrote in October is equally true now, and it will be equally true the next time more innocent children are gunned down in a school.

In the end, the sad fact is this: 

Dead Children Are The Price We Pay For Liberal Gun Laws In This Country  

How many children have to die before something is done?  I know, it's "too soon" to be asking serious questions about gun violence in this country.  We have to instead go through an obligatory period of "thoughts and prayers", which will be followed by precisely NOTHING. 

Lastly, the argument can be made that folks tend to react emotionally to events such as mass shootings, which provides a convenient discount to any opinions expressed.  My response?  If you DON'T react emotionally to the deaths of children then, well, I think you are a damaged human being.  My "thoughts and prayers" are with you.

School shooting in Florida

* * * * * *
(Originally posted on October 3, 2017)

On December 14, 2012, 20 children (and six adults) were slaughtered at Sandy Hook Elementary School(1).  That's an important date and fact to remember as we all process the most recent mass shooting in Las Vegas.  Why?

Well, I by no means wish to minimize the tragedy in Las Vegas, but the simple fact is this:  As a nation, we did BASICALLY NOTHING after 20 children were slaughtered.  Yes, we really did nothing.  What was done?  Well, among other things, the gun manufacturing industry, via its proxy the National Rifle Association, advocated for the purchase of more of its product through the arming of school personnel(2).  Yes, the solution to gun violence is more guns.  That's what we call in the business world "Marketing Genius" in action.  

By the way, I'm not advocating for any specific form of gun control.  I've simply stated two facts.

In the end, I firmly believe that NOTHING will be done in response to the Las Vegas shooting.  Nothing.  That decision was already made in the in the days, weeks, and months after December 14, 2012.  Sadly, it will have to get much worse...worse than the slaughter of 20 children...before anything is done.  As much as anything else in this nation's history, that will be a permanent stain on our collective morality.

(1) Citation HERE.
(2) Citation HERE.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Valentine's Day 2018 - I have no life but this

I have no life but this,
To lead it here;
Nor any death, but lest
Dispelled from there;

Nor tie to earths to come,
Nor action new,
Except through this extent, 
The realm of you.
                            - Emily Dickinson

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Goodbye Bon Ton Store #9

My first "real" professional job...where I had responsibilities and people reporting to me...was at the Bon Ton in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.  Back in those days, it was referred to as "Store #9".

Rewinding a bit, I was hired as a management trainee by what was "S. Grumbacher and Son", the department store chain that owned the Bon Ton, Maxwells, half of a Mailmans store and probably something else I've long since forgotten.  This company would eventually become Bon Ton Stores, Inc.  The actual "trainee" part was supposed to take some measure of time that I also have forgotten, but as I recall(1), I finished the whole trainee process pretty quickly.  My first real job with the company was basically that of an assistant store manager at the Bon Ton in Carlisle, PA.  I was there for about a year and a half.

(photo from ABC News27 page; link HERE)

Fast forward to January 31, 2018, and the Bon Ton announced that 42 of its locations would be closing, including the Carlisle location.

Bon Ton Store Closings

I think this is one of the things that happens as you get older:  Things you knew in your younger days fade away, die off, or otherwise are transformed such that they no longer seem all that familiar.

What do I remember from those days?  Mostly random things...

...feeling awkward supervising folks who were much older than I was
...really not knowing how store inventory worked
...enjoying having two slices of pizza and a coke for lunch inside the mall store manager, a nice man named Ron Blasser of my worst professional experiences ever via a store inspection

...and the list can go on and on.  Like I said, mostly just random things. 

I ended up leaving the Bon Ton for another employer that I would end up staying with for nearly 28 years.

Over the years I visited the store a few times when I just happened to be in the Carlisle area.  It looked shockingly the same each time I was there.

I know there's probably a longer posting to be written about how the Bon Ton got into this pickle in the first place, but while I'm thinking about the subject, I will share a few thoughts and experiences.

Maybe Why The Bon Ton Is Failing

  • My local Bon Ton (Wyoming, PA) has zero tall sizes for men.  None.  Their men's dress shirt assortment can best be described as "lacking".
  • Checkout times at the Bon Ton can be laboriously long.
  • To the previously bullet, it's because one needs a Master's degree in couponing in order to figure out how the various sales, coupons, events, etc. work at the Bon Ton.
  • Actual help on the sales floor is hard to come by most of the time.
  • Like most traditional retailers, they are getting killed by Amazon.  

In any event, I hope the company does bounce back, not just for the sake of this guy's memories, but because there is something special about shopping for something important when you get to see, smell, and touch the merchandise. 

(1) Hired in May 1986; you can do the math.  Yes, I am old.

Sunday, February 4, 2018


 "Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry: for anger resteth in the bosom of fools" 
Ecclesiastes 7:9

I was talking to someone Saturday morning and the subject of anger came up.  Thinking about the topic during the conversation, I had the realization that I've only really been angry enough at another adult, such that I've actually yelled at them, twice in my lifetime.  That, by the way, was incorrect, as a few hours later I remembered a third time.

Granted, I have no yardstick by which to measure whether or not the above is actually a good, healthy, normal thing.  Maybe it is; maybe it's gloriously unhealthy.  I just don't know.  I do know that it's at least normal for me.

Two of the three situations involved family members.

The first of these circumstances involved my (late) Mom, who said something to one or more of my daughters that, at the time, resembled far too closely the verbal guilting she would use on her own children growing up.  I don't recall specifically what she said or what I said in return to her, I just know that I was incredibly angry.  My daughters had their own challenges growing did we all...which didn't need to be compounded by a someone who, in all actuality, didn't invest much of her time into building relationships with others, her grandchildren included.  In a rare event of sorts, a few days after my outburst, my Mom did go out of her way to explain that I misunderstood what she said, or some other kind of verbal gymnastics that I have long since forgotten.  It was a very rare sort of walk-back for my Mom.

Another time involved my late brother Chris.  The details here are unimportant, but suffice to say that it was mostly wrapped up in my frustrations over his behavior.  And money.  I think I did end up apologizing to him afterward.  In hindsight, that was a stupid thing...the yelling part...not unlike trying to push your cat:  It doesn't work and you just end up pissing yourself off far more than actually motivating the cat.

The third time?  That's a bit of a touchy subject for me.  What I'll say is this: I spoke the truth as I felt it, but I regret the impact it may have had.  Alas, there isn't a rewind button in life.

Speaking of regret, in all three instances, I don't regret being angry.  And I don't regret raising my voice either.  My feelings at those times were genuine, and to have not been angry would have been something of a fraud on my part.  What's more difficult for me is the fact that I may have hurt these three individuals.  That was not my was never about "hurting" someone as punishment for "hurting" me.  It was more along the lines of a feeling, namely anger, that I'm just not well equipped to manage when taken to something of an extreme.

As I've probably noted in other postings, growing up my Mom was in something of a perpetual state of anger.  At her children for various infractions.  At her job.  At her absent husband.  At men in general.  At the world at large.  Given her circumstances, some of that wasn't all that misplaced.  However, for whatever reason I just never caught that...or it never caught me.  I'll call myself lucky in that regard.   

Sunday, January 28, 2018

West Pittston Dodges Ice Dam(n)

A few photographs from the recent ice dam (or is that "ice, damn"...English is a such an imprecise language) during the week of January 22nd, 2018.

An ice dam formed on the Susquehanna River, just south of West Pittston, Pennsylvania.  Actually, the river had been full of ice for a few weeks.

January 14th, looking south.

As an area that is prone to flooding, there were much to be worried about as the water level rose on Wednesday.

Water forced the closing of the Water Street bridge.

We bought our home in 2013, on something of a haste basis, as I was about to become homeless due to the sale of my prior dwelling.  That's a different story for a different day (that I've probably already told on the blog, somewhere), but one of the things we made certain to do was make sure our proposed new home was out of the flood zone.  The zoning officer told Ms. Rivers and me that if our house were to flood, it would be "the end of days".  We took him at his word; the prior owners confirmed for us that the house was completely dry during the massive flood of 2011.

Getting back to Wednesday, as the evening wore on, the Borough of West Pittston issued a mandatory evacuation for the following areas:

Map courtesy of the Borough of West Pittston, via the Citizen's Voice.

Fortunately, around 11:30pm or so on Wednesday, the ice dam broke and water levels began to recede.  By Thursday morning the mandatory evacuation has been canceled and the clean-up began.  

What was left along the banks of the Susquehanna River can best be described as a boulder field.

It's likely the boulder field will be here well into May, barring a very warm rest of the Winter/early Spring.