Sunday, April 22, 2018

From the Anger-Avoiding Control Freak Lessons Learned Department

Something of a follow-up to THIS posting from February.

I've been thinking about anger lately.  Not as in "I am angry, therefore I am thinking about it", but rather how I feel and express anger.

Am I afraid of anger?  Part of the answer is, I think, yes.  Growing up, as I may have noted before, my Mother basically had two emotions:  Angry and not angry.  There would be some occasional happiness thrown in, but by and large, her predominant emotion that her children witnessed was that of being mildly pissed off.  To that point, my Mother never needed to do much in the way of disciplining her four sons, mostly because she was so very skillful at intimidation through anger.  We behaved mostly because we were afraid not to.  And we didn't know any better.  Anger was a kind of mental blunt-force weapon.

Fast forward to adulthood, and I tend to react strongly to anger.  While those reactions run a certain gamut, one isn't usually present:  Anger.  I don't get angry because someone else is angry.  In fact, and as I noted in February, I rarely now get truly angry.

In some respects it's a blessing:  I am truly at my best in times of crisis.  I am good at listening when others are upset.  I can be the voice of reason when chaos seems to be swirling all about me.

Like many good things though, there is also a dark side:  My being calm is, in some respects, simply a reflex reaction, an ability to withdraw when strong emotions are present.  I am calm in part because I learned to avoid strong emotions like anger.  For me, well, anger isn't a healthy emotion.  In fact, I have a tendency to view those who are chronically angry as being, in some respects, weak.  Out of control.


There's the pivotal word in all of this stuff.  Anger for me represents a loss of control.  And I can't lose control.

Anger = Loss of control.

Loss of Control = I can no longer rely on myself.

I Can't Rely on Me = There is no one else to rely upon.

Growing up, we were something of an island onto ourselves.  Knowing rationally that we can rely on someone is different than actually feeling that you can rely on someone.  For me, well, the feeling was just never really there, and that part has repeated itself throughout my life.  It influenced me far too much in my young adult years, and I'm fairly convinced that this obsessive need for control ended up driving more than just mental knots in my's likely also responsible for some of the physical ailments that face this "sooner to be an older" guy.

So what's the purpose here?  What's the "endgame"?

The latter, well, I guess within life we all know what the "endgame" really is, so no sense even mentioning it.  No, here it's the space between here and the "endgame" that's important.  All of this means that I need to/am working on a few things...

...authentically expressing my feelings
...not using guilt as a plug-n-play cop-out for failing to deal with my own feelings
...remembering that I do have truly good people in my life who I truly can rely on
...acknowledging that ultimately control is nothing but a sloppy (at best) excuse for insecurity

Heady stuff, I know.  With that, the psychoanalysis postings are (mostly) concluded.  For now.

The next posting will be about cats.  Maybe.

Friday, April 20, 2018

5 Essential Life Truths (that sound depressing but aren't)

The Psychology Today feed on Facebook is terrific.  Recently they posted this article that I enjoyed so much that I just had to share it with my wife.

It's worth the time to read the article.  By way of summary, the 5 Essential Life Truths are:

1.  Stress Happens
2.  There's No Such Thing As A Happy Ending
3.  The Cover-Up Is Worse Than The Crime
4.  There's No Magic Bullet
5.  There's No Elevator...You Have To Take The Stairs

In some ways, the article reminds me of one of my favorite books, Dr. Gordon Livingston's Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart.

I think a lot of what the article (and the book by Dr. Livingston) says can be rolled up into one simple thought:  So many spend so much time looking for shortcuts in life that simply don't exist.

Yes, and to be blunt, there are no shortcuts.

What may seem like a shortcut that may even work at the moment...will almost always cost more in the long term.  Life is a bank where it always ends up costing you more if you delay putting the effort into making payments now.  Today's shortcut is tomorrow's balloon interest payment.

Part of why this is an issue is the fact that we live in a society obsessed with immediate self-gratification.  We get upset if we have to wait more than five minutes for fast food.  We see the seemingly carefree lifestyles of those in the media and delude ourselves into believing that they somehow "have it made".  Never mind how much substance and other forms of abuse are rampant among public figures.  We think we're entitled to instant happiness all the time, and we become depressed at the thought that we're being denied.  I firmly believe that it's all a mirage, designed to distract us from the simple, essential truths of life.

In life, I'm more convinced than ever that it's doing the simple, basic things well that matter the most.  Things like:

Show up on time.

Be polite.

Be first to compliment and last to criticize.

Work hard.

Put the effort into being prepared, no matter what the task.

Always do a little more than you are asked.

Be everyone...even those who aren't necessarily kind to you.

Be truly present in the moment.

(I fail at many of these by the way, but I do have a secret weapon:  Persistence.)

None of the above costs money.  None of the above makes for a very good television show plot.  None of this will generate many social media "likes".  But in the end, when we all, no matter our wealth or social status, have to look back at the realities of how we've spent...or squandered...our lives, all of this will matter.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Forever Young

I've never gone this nearly 10 years of writing this blog...without posting something.  Even now I'm somewhat iffy on this posting, but guilt is starting to creep in, so I best get a typing.

As a side note, I actually wrote a posting last week, but I just don't feel like publishing it.  Doesn't feel right for some reason.

Anyway, a lot is happening.

In news of the sad, one of our cats, Tiger, passed away this past Monday.  Tiger was very special for three reasons:

  1. He was the fluffiest cat I've ever seen, bar none.  He had fluff in abundance.  A surplus of fluff.  And for the record, I've seen some fluffy cats in my lifetime.
  2. He was one of the friendliest cats I've ever encountered.  In fact, to the best of my knowledge, there was only one person on this Earth that Tiger didn't like.  Most humans can't say the same thing.  Tiger lived for getting petted.  Absolutely lived for it.
  3. He was genuinely beloved by my youngest stepson, with whom he spent countless hours.

Tiger passed away by my stepson's side, a point of which is both heartening...leaving this Earth next to someone you love...and saddening (for my stepson).  He will be missed by all, with the possible exception of our two remaining cats, who, in the truest spirit of cats everywhere, seem more or less indifferent to it all.

Tiger, doing his "I want to touch your face" thing.

I do miss the fluff-monster, but I take some comfort in knowing that he was likely very sick before he passed, and is now free from all such flesh-laden liabilities.  

My youngest stepson has taken a liking recently to Bob Dylan, which, given all of the horrible music out there these days, is nothing short of wonderful.  Like most teenagers though, he has to face a world that's rapidly changing around him.  Some of those changes are incredibly sad, such as losing a pet who was your constant companion.  While none of us can avoid loss, we make the choice to not let it turn us into cynical old people well before our time.  Maybe part of us can stay Forever Young.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Radio Personalities/Imus Retirement

In his Tuesday (April 3rd) blog entry, WNEP's Andy Palumbo writes about the retirement of Don Imus (see HERE).  He also shares his listing of top 5 radio personalities.

quack quack

It's a topic I can't resist, although I'll preface what I'm about to write by noting that my opinions are completely those of a listener.  Put another way, I don't know much about the media business, and at age 53(1), that's not likely to change.  So if you want a professional's opinion, find another blog.  On to the amateur hour.

moby worm, coming to get ya

My list isn't in any order, other than the first one listed.  I'll also note that I've only listed broadcasters that I've actually listened to over the years.

Howard Stern
I've written about Howard Stern before on this blog over the years.  I first heard his show during the summer of 1986 while I was living in York, PA.  I've been a fan ever since.  I don't find everything he does funny; in fact, I find some of his bits to be cringe worthy.  However, when all is said and done, Stern will go down in history as someone who basically re-invented radio and who could be wildly entertaining.  His sound effects guy, Fred Norris, deserves special recognition for his ability to drop just the right sounds at just the right time. 

Rush Limbaugh
I hate what comes out of Rush Limbaugh's mouth, but I admire how it comes out.  If that makes sense.  He's entertaining and engaging.  What I find fascinating about Limbaugh is the fact that, deep-down, I don't think he believes half of what he says, in spite of the fact that his legions of "ditto-heads" take it as gospel.  I also admire the fact that he's not above making fun of his "character".

Art Bell
I've read where Bell was notoriously difficult to work with, but man, he could keep an audience mesmerized.  I know 98% of the stuff coming out of his mouth was outlandish, unmitigated nonsense, but man, it sounded good (and convincing).  He was kind of like an odd uncle that would tell you incredible stories.  "From the Kingdom of Nye..."

quack quack

Garrison Keillor
The only person on this list I've ever actually seen in person(2).  I was an occasional listener of A Prairie Home Companion.  The music for me was so-so, but I always enjoyed Keillor's ability to tell a story.  There was always something very comforting about hearing him on the radio.

Michael Feldman
I doubt many have heard of Michael Feldman(3).  His show, Whad'Ya Know?, was a companion for me as I made many trips back and forth to college in the mid-1980's.  Think of him as being Wisconsin's answer to Garrison Keillor, and his show as being basically "A Dairy Home Companion".  Back then it was fun and entertaining for a young man (me) who really had no clue what he was doing and was lonely as he cruised down I81 in a 1974 Chrysler.

(my actual college car)

how's your donkey kong?(4)

Papa Joe Chevalier
The only sports commentator that I ever found even remotely funny or engaging.  I loved his show when it was on locally.  He had the best theme song ever.  He also managed to talk about sports in a way such that you really didn't need to be a sports fanatic to "get it".  May he rest in peace.

So, what about Imus?

Don Imus was cranky and mean, be it to his listeners, to his staff, and some of his guests.  While many top-tier radio personalities have healthy egos, Imus has one that seems outsized by comparison.  Towards the end of his career, he was also unlistenable, mumbling his way through rants.  While I've listened to Imus over the years, I never found him to be entertaining.  He needed to retire years ago.

(1) Soon to be 54, for the record.
(2) Twice, for the record.
(3) More about him HERE.
(4) The stupid phrases were all things a listener would hear on the Imus in the Morning Show.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Leadership and Not Being Horrible

A friend of mine(1) recently shared on social media a bit of writing entitled The Church of Not Being Horrible by a gentleman named John Pavlovitz.  It's a nice read, and we can all use a bit less horrible in our lives these days.

The article also reminded me of something I've been working on for a while now, something that I really do need to finish one of these days.  That something is to more clearly define my own personal leadership philosophy.  I put a few minutes into it every now and then, but post some other things coming up in the next few weeks I'm going to really work on calling it more or less complete.

Anyway, at the center of my nascent leadership philosophy is a simple idea:

Be a decent human being.

Yes, I firmly believe that leaders, more so than anyone else in an organization, and regardless of who and what they lead, have a special obligation to be decent human being before anything else.

This doesn't mean that, for example, as a leader, you don't make tough decisions.  A leader can make tough and unpopular decisions, but still, do it in a way that holds to the spirit of being a decent human being.

Have to let someone who is performing poorly go?  Do it in a way that exemplifies being a decent human being.  That means, for example, making sure that the employee in question has been given ample opportunities to improve their performance.  That means that you have provided clear and concise feedback about what needs to be improved.  And you specifically ask them why they are not adequately performing.  That means when it's time to give someone their notice, you don't outsource the deed to anyone else, including Human Resources.

Have to reduce staff/lay someone who works for you off?  Be a decent human being and do it in person.  Explain the reasons behind the decision.  Show kindness and compassion.  Offer every opportunity available to you to help the employee find a new job (either in the company or externally).  Be fully present and accept responsibility for the decision, even if it wasn't yours entirely to make.  Accept the shock, anger and perhaps sorrow the person may be feeling(2) and demonstrate nothing but empathy in return.  Being a decent human being means that you don't "dump and run".

Dealing with a lot of change in your team/organization/company?  Being a decent human being means that you go out of your way to make yourself available to answer questions(3), even if you don't have all the answers.  It means that you have an information sharing switch that defaults to "share" unless there is a compelling business reason to do the opposite.  It means that you make dealing with your team's uncertainty a top priority instead of simply hoping it will go away.

Lastly, being a decent human being means that you are as friendly and respectful to the maintenance staff, cafeteria workers and all those others who serve you as you are to executives you want to impress.  Put another way, if you know the name of the highest ranking person in your organization but not the name of the person you see every day that empties your trash, well, I'm sorry but you're not succeeding in the "being a decent human being" arena.

By the way, if you think this is so simple that it doesn't need to be said, well, I'd say in return that you're not working in a typical organization these days.  As noted above, there's a lot of horrible going on.  This is difficult stuff, and I openly admit that I fail sometimes to be a truly decent human being.  That noted I do have one thing going for me:  I do keep trying (to be a decent human being).

(1) Michele; you can find her blog HERE.  You can find out more about her business HERE.
(2) Even towards you.  Note that they may want nothing to do with you, and that's their choice.  Your choice, however, is to be a decent human being.
(3) As opposed to avoiding questions.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

The Grand Unified Theory (of NEPA)

The Scranton Times had an opinion piece in its March 24th edition that talked about why so few women run for office in Lackawanna Country.  This comes almost a week after the same newspaper glowing reported on the annual Friendly Sons banquet, an ALL MALE event held every year around St. Patrick's Day.  That event is as much about establishment power brokers as it is local Irish Heritage.  Apparently, the editors of the Scranton Times don't see the irony in their reporting/opinion pieces.  I do.

In other news of the ironic, Lackawanna County Commissioner Laureen Cummings, self-styled "Tea Party Patriot", apparently is fine with a back-room Democratic party public job offering to someone who seems more connected than qualified(1).  Yes, she who rails "against the system" is actually fine with the system, all the while managing to try and protect county residents from that scourge known as the bicycle(2).  My personal feeling is that, with all due respect to Ms. Cummings and her personal achievements, the simple concept of irony seems beyond her capabilities.

What do these things have in common?

Well for starters, this isn't about some big-headed anonymous Internet commentator throwing stones.  I will readily and publicly admit that I'm an idiot sometimes.  However, I try to be a consistent idiot.  What's more, I just write crap on the Internet. I don't pretend to have a big audience.  I don't claim to be inspiring or smart.  I can barely influence my own behaviors, let alone the behaviors of others.  I just claim to be me.  I'll leave the biting political commentary to Tom Borthwick(3).  However, few things bother me more in life than hypocrisy. 

No, these things are about something bigger.  If there was a Grand Unified Theory(4) of NEPA, it would center around the notion that power is the antithesis of progress.  It would be that change... it to "cutting edge of 1950's" social norms

or the notion of politics as usual no matter who you are inherently something to be avoided at all costs.  It's about "We've got ours, so screw yours!".  NEPA is a small pond with a few big fish, a small number of aspiring to be big fish, and lots of guppies.  And that's the way the big fish have always like it. 

(1) Reference THIS story.
(2) Reference THIS editorial.   
(3) You can find him HERE, although I do think fatherhood has mellowed him out quite a bit.
(4) Just because I am also a science nerd; see THIS reference.

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...