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.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Mrs Golden, Librarian

Back in the 70's, I attended James Madison Elementary School in Scranton.  I don't remember many of my teachers from way back then, but I do remember Mrs. Golden.  She was the librarian of the school, and she happened to notice that young Steve kept reading the same old book over and over again.  The book, by the way, was about space exploration.

Fast forward a few years and James Madison Elementary School was turning into East Scranton Intermediate School.  It seems that the much older intermediate school kids apparently didn't have much need for old books about space exploration, so the library was being prepared for "bigger kid" customers.  Just as the school year...the last for James Madison Elementary School...was about to end, I was called down to the library by Mrs. Golden.  She presented me with that old book about space exploration.  My love affair with books has continued ever since.

(My home office...just a few of my many books)
I mention this story because the Scranton School Board, in its infinite wisdom, believes that librarians aren't important.  I beg to differ.  I've written about the incredible ineptitude of the Scranton School Board before, so there's no sense repeating myself.  What I will offer is this:  The notion that every discretionary thing that could be cut from the Scranton School District's budget BEFORE coming to this point where librarians are let go is falsehood of epic proportions.  Simply put, they went after librarians because, among other things, they lack the foresight and guts to make significant cuts in sports programs (which, unlike the library, only serve a very small portion of students) and other things, such as a bloated administrative payroll.

I'll leave you something my daughter Katrina wrote and posted on Facebook.  #ProudDad

“You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.” -Ray Bradbury
When a school district decides that funding sports programs, inflated salaries for upper administration, and hiring friends for kick-backs takes precedence over libraries and fostering a love of reading, there is something incredibly wrong.
As a teacher, I am terrified that a district could and would make a decision that is so detrimental to all parties involved.
As a former resident of Scranton, I am ashamed that my city would allow for this to happen. I know Scranton is not perfect, but I always thought (or hoped) that in the end, my home would have the integrity and decency to do the right thing.
As a product of the Scranton School District, I am saddened that thousands of students will not be given the basic educational opportunities that, in the United States of America, should be a damn RIGHT.
And finally, as the daughter of a school librarian in the Scranton School District, I am absolutely heartbroken.
I have witnessed my mother dedicate her life to the students of the SSD. She has given of herself tirelessly and selflessly in the form of time, money, resources, passion, and love. Hell, I grew up believing that it was normal for teachers to purchase Halloween costumes for the students whose parents couldn’t afford them because that’s just the kind of person my mother is. As a librarian she has increased her school’s collection of books so that students of all abilities and interests can love reading. She has single-handedly executed fundraisers to get new books. She’s worked with classes to create their own stories and then had them bound into hardcover books for each student. She’s created a school newspaper so students can experience the thrill the importance of reading and writing. My mother has brought in guest speakers, hosted a summer program so students could acquire books over the break, and created reading incentives that fostered a love of reading in hundreds of students.
If you think that I am passionate about teaching and my students, please understand that I am only a fraction of the educator that my mother is and know my desire to help students is fueled by the impact I have seen my mother have on everyone she has ever taught.
As a middle schooler, I watched my mother fight for years to acquire a permanent position within the SSD due to the corrupt hiring practices where friends and family are given preference over the most qualified educators. Now, after 16.75 years of full-time employment with the district, and 3.25 years from retirement, my mother received notice that her position as school librarian is being eliminated.
To say that the Scranton School District is making a horrible mistake is an understatement. The fact that the district ended up in this situation is negligence at best— but the decision to solve a budget crisis in this way is criminal.
Ultimately, the amazing educators who are being laid off will persevere. However, it is the students of the City of Scranton who will be damaged most by this decision. These students are the individuals who will grow up to decide the future of the city, our nation, and our world, but the Scranton School Board has decided that our students are not worth the investment. The school board has decided that maintaining the status quo of corrupt politics is more important than providing the youth of Scranton with a well-rounded education.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Revelation (of a sort)

In-between times career-wise(1) are always a good opportunity for reflection.  Well, truth be told, any time for me is a good time for reflection.  Heck, my ideal job...if I could get paid to do it...would just be reflecting on things, basically all the time.  Alas, I'm stuck in the amateur, part-time reflection business, gratis no less.  Anyway, as I've been reflecting on many things lately, I've had something of a revelation.  Others may not be impressed with it, but I (sort of) am, and it's my $10/year domain, so here goes.

The Feeling...
All throughout my 30 (or so) years of professional life, I've had a consistent, persistent feeling, maybe best described as an "intensity" at work.  I just don't relax.  When I'm at work, I just have this kind of frenetic state inside my head, all the time, with almost no exceptions.  I've always had it, no matter what I was doing, from working with disabled children/adults through what I do now for a living.  It's as if my body is a Toyota Yaris, but with a 400 cubic inch Chrysler V8 under the hood(2).   I've never really understood this all that well, in spite of the fact that, at this stage of my career, I think I have a fairly accurate self-assessment and I'm pretty good at coaching (others).  Then again, we all know that doctors aren't always all that good at diagnosing themselves.

I also know that I'm pretty good at hiding the above.  Maybe that, in and of itself, is part of the problem.

The Impact...
To the above, well, so what?  A perfectly valid question.  Everyone has "the feels"(3), so what makes what's running in my head so different?  Well, I'd like to blame this on my inability (so far...well maybe never) to make it to CEO, but that's simply ridiculous.  I do know though that I think some of the health issues I've faced, particularly since my mid-40's are at least in part an outcome of my mind running at high idle at work for so very long.  I do also think that this, in part, hasn't always helped my career either.  To the latter, why?  I think I mentally burn-out after so long.  Not understanding this whole thing also contributes to negative feelings I might have in particular situations.  Just as great physical exertion can lead to physical pain, I think you get a similar kind of situation when it comes to your thoughts, feelings, and emotions.

The Revelation...
I think that inside of my head there is this combination of guilt and a desire to try to fit into American business culture(4).  Simply put, the intensity is the outcome of my feeling a need to be "on" all the time at work, with "on" specifically referring in part to significant inter-personal interactions.

The guilt part may seem odd, but I genuinely feel bad if I don't deliver enough value for what my employer pays.  Regardless of the job or the employer.  They pay me, and I need to give them something back in return.  All the time.  I'm left with constantly thinking about whether or not I am actually earning my compensation.  I'll note that is not an effective strategy for negotiating a higher rate of pay, for the record.

American business culture values a few things that I struggle with, including extraversion(5)...with its premium of social interactions...and risk-taking.  I can act like an extrovert, but it takes a toll on me.  The need to be more outgoing sometimes causes me to me over-compensation in many different ways. For example, I go above and beyond in terms of being available for others; I will literally drop what I am doing to help someone else.  I am also exceedingly uncomfortable in many situations when I have to be out-going, so much so that there is a kind of running chorus of critique in my head: 

How did that sound?  
Was I too outgoing?  
Did I talk too much?  
I think I need to shut up now.

I'm also naturally risk-averse, which is understandable, given an upbringing where there was a premium placed on not rocking the apple cart.

Where I end up is with one part of me pushing ahead to be more outgoing, while another part of me pulling back because in part it knows how uncomfortable some of this ends up being for me.  The latter is the voice in my head that more or less says "well that was uncomfortable" after almost every social interaction.

A great example of the above plays out when the subject of working from home is discussed.  Simply put, I personally(6) don't like it.  Why?  Let me count the ways:
  • If I work from home, I feel like I'll begin having these frenetic thoughts here too.  My calm place, my own home fortress of solitude, will be forever contaminated.
  • I would feel guilty that I'm somehow taking advantage of something, somehow.
  • I'm uncomfortable with social interactions, yet I know that the challenge of having them isn't a bad thing.  It would feel somehow mentally lazy to not have to do this thing that pushes me.      
In an odd sort of way, I actually envy people who can successfully work from home.

The Outcome...
So where does all of this lead?  Am I to now somehow channel the frenetic energy noted above towards a drive to become some kind of senior executive of something or other?  In a word, "no".  That's not what this...and about.  That's never what this has ever been about.  This whole mess, this whole compartmentalized revelation, if you want to call it that, isn't nearly so grand; it's simply about trying to be a better person during working hours by being more comfortable in my own skin.  I want to be able to breathe better in a figurative, and sometimes literal, sense.

Like most revelations, it's interesting to note that none of the parts here are really all that new to me.  I'm relatively well versed in, for example, MBTI theory(7). and I've read quite a bit of Eckart Tolle(8).  I'm also comfortable engaging in self-reflection (obviously).  No, what's new is the combination of these various parts, and maybe some element of timing that so far escapes my understanding.  Maybe this is all a natural part of the aging process...the"wisdom" of old age.  Maybe this is all just a mental blip of sorts.  I'm just not sure.

What's next? 
Decidedly low tech here in the sense that I'm really just aiming to understand with all of this "stuff".  I'm hoping that "understand" leads to a bit more peace within my own headspace.  Part of me thinks that all of this is a process and that by the time I'm ready to retire I'll have it all figured out.  How ironic would that end up being?  Mostly though, maybe the end product of all this self-indulgence is that I'll simply be able to cut myself a bit more slack.  A bit anti-climatic, I give you that much.  Then again, sometimes the most important things in life aren't grand in nature, but rather are the simple truths that we can somehow remind ourselves exist just as it seems that the world is getting to be a bit too much to swallow.

(from THIS page)

* * * * * *

(1) Not to be read into all that much; suffice to say my current job is likely evolving.
(2) As what I had in my college car, a 1974 Chrysler Newport.

(3) Common younger folk speak.
(4) I am not fond of references to "business culture", mostly because I think the term is misunderstood and over-used.  For purposes of this reflection, "culture" refers to a set of unwritten rules associated with working in an organization.  
(5) For a good definition of extraversion follow THIS link.
(6) The key word here is PERSONALLY.  I have absolutely no problem with others working from home.  Heck, if someone does and it works for them, well that's simply excellent.  I just can't get it work for me.
(7) Myers-Briggs Type Indicator; more information HERE.
(8) Being present in the moment.  Far easier said than done.

Monday, January 15, 2018

J. Edgar Hoover's "Anonymous" Letter to Dr. King

There's been a lot of talk about "government persecution" of Christians from some quarters in the United States. This is mostly voiced by folks who would have you believe that the government's failure to codify their specific religious dogma into the written law of the land, for all to follow (regardless of religious...or non-religious...affiliation), somehow constitutes an act of persecution. Nothing could be further from the truth, and Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a good time to remind us what just a real government persecution looks like, in the starkest of terms. You can read more about the letter noted below HERE.

(Image from the PostSecret Facebook Page)

There are quite a few of quotes floating around social media today from Dr. King, which is truly fitting. All of them (and this letter) serve to remind us that sometimes there is a high price to be paid for doing what is right. Sadly, in the case of Dr. King, the letter noted above wasn't even the highest price to be paid.

For the record, I've read much of what has been negatively written about Dr. King (basically the fodder for the letter), and I won't dignify any of it by reference. What I will say this: Judge the man by what he said, what he represented, and what he accomplished. The fact that he made powerful enemies speaks volumes, both about his work and tragic history of racism in the United States.

"Free at least, they took your life, but they could not take your pride".

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Happy Birthday Brother

A personal indulgence, of sorts:  Today is my (older) brother's 55th birthday.  That's a mighty large number of orbits around the sun, and I'm only a year and a few months behind him.  It wasn't always the greatest growing up, but heck, we made it anyway.

(Looks aside, two brothers - Rich & Steve)

Due to an unfortunate series of events that have been long forgotten, we were in the same grades for most of our primary and secondary educational experiences.  That's both a blessing and a curse, but yet all these years we still talk to each other, rather frequently I'll add.  It's also important, given that the world's supply of Albert brothers was been diminished over the past year or so.

Here's to a few more orbits brother.