Not Cease from Exploration

Friday, March 24, 2017

Affordable Care Act (ACA) Repeal and Replace

As I write this, the news of the U.S. House of Representatives not voting on a replacement for the ACA is still fresh.  If anything, this is an important moment for several reasons:

1.  Theatrics.  How many times did the U.S. House vote to repeal the ACA during the Obama administration?  One thing is now remarkably clear now:  Those votes were theatrics, and the GOP knew it.  They were counting of losing, mostly because they knew then, and have been reminded now, that actually replacing the ACA is about governing, not politics.  Which brings me to the following...

2.  Governing.  The GOP can be masterful as an opposition party.  Seriously, they have that locked down.  Governing?  That is, as Ben Hoon observed, "Hard".  They are not prepared.

3.  There is no GOP.  There are GOPs.  There is no single Republican Party.  It's pretty clear now that the party is fractured along ideological lines, as Trump lost the votes of moderates in order to appease ultra-conservatives.

4.  It's Not Reality TV.  The debate about healthcare in this country isn't some slick commercial that runs 60 seconds or slogan that's repeated over and over again at a Trump rally.  No, it's deeply personal for many Americans.  It's about what happens when your grandmother gets sick.  Or when poor women need care.  Or when the middle class have to declare bankruptcy because of catastrophic medical bills.  The lobbyists and the inside the beltway spin doctors can grease all the palms they want, but in the end, healthcare is a common denominator in this country and it can't be "fixed" by a group of congressmen in two months.  Which brings me to the following...

5.  No, They Had Replacement.  There never a serious replacement alternative before Trump's election.  None.  Zero.  Zilch.  They made it up over the course of two months.

6.  This Isn't the Democrats Loss.  Trump is already blaming the failure of passing an ACA replacement at the feet of the Democrats.  That is, to be blunt, horse$hit.  The House could have passed the ACA replacement with just GOP votes.  They simply didn't.

This is a multi-dimensional failure that will have repercussions for a long time to come.  The ACA is deeply flawed, needlessly complex, and divisive.  It needs to be replaced.  The fact that the GOP couldn't execute when given such an opportunity speaks volumes about how ideology can get in the way of substance.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Good Learn'n

I enjoy reading about human behavior.  That's something of an odd statement coming from what appears, at least on the surface, to be a STEM kind of guy.  Yes, I spent two years in Engineering in college, and yes, I've taken enough college level math courses to likely qualify to teach it, but I also suffer from an almost unbridled mental wanderlust.  I just can't keep my mind turned off, and sometimes those though go to that greatest of mysteries:  Why do we act they way we do?

I haven't found many concrete answers, but I'm going to keep looking.

What have I learned?

Well, from Melody Beattie, I've learned that adults are always responsible for their own behavior, unless they are so unhinged that they actually require institutionalization (my words, not hers).

From Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, I've learned that it's perfectly okay to be a little bit weird.  Note that this is a great example of the difference between "learning" and "application".  The former I got in high school; the latter is a work in progress to this very day.

From Eckhart Tolle I've learned to always "be present in the moment".  Not exactly easy for me, but I'm always up for a challenge.  In other news, I just got a new (actually old) Tolle book to read.  His are the simplest most complex things in the world.

From Donald Trump I've learned that it's entirely possible to sell just about anything.  

From my daughters I've learned that what we do, especially as parents, has consequences.  When I look back over the past 30 years, sometimes I see a lot of turmoil.  When I deeply ponder things though, I realize that it was all worth it, because I ended up with three wonderful, professional young women that actually, truly, honestly call me "Dad".  I could fail at everything else in my life, but end up being a success simply because of them.

From Daniel Goleman, I've learned many things, including the fact that empathy is an actual, real super-power that's ours for the taking.  

"Empathy in leadership is particularly important for three reasons: the increasing use of teams, the rapid pace of globalization, and the growing need to retain talent. As anyone who has ever been part of a team can attest, teams are cauldrons of bubbling emotions. They are often charged with reaching a consensus - which is hard enough to do with two people, and much more difficult as the numbers increase. A teams's leader must be able to sense and understand the viewpoints of everyone around the table. The result is not just heightened collaboration among team members, but also growth in business."

From Gordon Livingston, M.D., I've learned that if the ground doesn't agree with the map, then the map is wrong.  Ponder that one for a moment.  How often do we end up following maps in our life that are wrong?

From my (late) Mom, I've learned the value of punctuality.  And cleanliness.  And the cost of harboring bitter feelings for far too long.  

From my first manager at my former employer, Paul A., I learned to "always promptly return phone calls".  Granted, back in those days we didn't have email.  Anyway, I always try to...promptly return phone calls...but the lesson was actually bigger than that, or so I want to believe.  It's more about just being respectful of others.

From recent events in my life, I've learned that I'm sometimes guilty of pridefullness.  This is not something I really wanted to admit, but while I'm being honest about "learn'n", it should be on the list.  In the end, things like job titles and salary figures are important, but they are far less important than the value of simply showing up at work, trying to make a difference, and them coming home.  Really coming home, by the way, both physically and mentally.

From my wife, I've learned that I must be relatively okay, otherwise she would have nothing to do with me.  I know, that sounds horribly self-effacing, and a tab bit over the top, but buried deep within the comment is a chunk of reality:  The company we keep says a lot about us, whether we want to admit that or not.

From Brene Brown I've learned many things, including the value of just simply showing up.

When I find myself not knowing what to do, simply moving forward has seemed to work reasonably well.  The importance of how you show up is something that I learned from a prior leader a few years ago.  

I could go on, but what's the point?  This kind of stuff...this important work...never really ends anyway.  Or at least it shouldn't.  At least not for me.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

I'll See You In My Dreams

Related to my last posting (HERE).

If you've never seen the Concert for George, well, you don't know what you've been missing.

Saturday, March 11, 2017


When I have my professional hat on, I often times talk about the need for clarity.  For the uninitiated and/or those who have lives, by "clarity" I refer to the basic desire we have to simply understand.  In the business world, clarity is important because we want employees to understand what they are dong...and probably more importantly why they are doing it.  Clarity is a cost of admission, if you will, for leaders who want their teams to go simply above getting the basics done.  Clarity is, as a respected colleague of mine once observed, king.

I also think that, even beyond my day job, clarity is still king.

There's been a bit of clarity that's alluded me related to my brother Chris, who passed away in January.  Not so shockingly, I might add.  How and why does someone so full of life at one time just seem to have that life snuffed out?  In some ways, it would have been far easier if he would have died in a car accident (although he had a few of those), but instead, he was more or less taken apart almost one molecule at a time.  Those who knew and loved Chris tried our best to help, but in the final analysis, it turns out that all we could do was just watch.  In a world that can be cruel, well, there are few things crueler than this.

As a side note, probably because of a cocktail of prescribed medication that no simulation could model the interactions, I can sometimes have extremely vivid dreams.  Given the utterly bizarre place that is my head normally, put me in R.E.M. (the dream-state, not the band) sleep with the previously mentioned pharmacology and you have the makings of an almost mystical nightly journey into the surreal.  We're talking Rod Serling here.  Thankfully that journey is almost never negative, but it's also almost never makes sense.  Except for the dream I had a week or so ago about Chris.  He was talking to me.  And he looked so vivid, so clear, so clean.  A far cry from the body I found in his house on January 5th.  I don't remember what he said to me in that dream, and quite frankly I don't know that it meant anything of a higher-power sort, but I do know that I woke up comforted.

Back to clarity.

When it comes to my late brother, we've been missing a key element, if you will, that could provide some much-needed closure...and...clarity.  We simply didn't know what caused his death.  Well, we do know now, in a way.  The details aren't important, over and above than to say that what we've learned from his official cause of death more or less repeats a narrative that dogged my brother for many years.  Yes, when it comes to clarity, we now know "what", but we don't know, on a deep level, "why".  That is likely to never change, ever.

In spite of the above, there are other things I do know, and despite my better judgment, I'll share a thought now.

I know that there were people in my brother's life who aided and abetted the choices he made, choices that directly caused his death.  While that's a tough statement to make, I'm going to ratchet it up a notch by saying that some of these people did what they did for their own selfish economic gain.  Over the years, the profit these people made from my brother was, in all likelihood, enormous.  I wish I could express the depths of anger I feel towards these people, but I simply can't.  As I've noted before, I wasn't born with the rage gene.  What I will say is this, directed towards those people who participated in the slow decay of my younger brother:

My hope is that one day all of you will have one still moment of perfect clarity, a moment where you'll be able to finally comprehend just how monstrous your actions have been (both for my brother and, no doubt, others).  In that one moment of perfect clarity, you will be completely and utterly terrified down to the depths of your soul at what you've done.  You will be filled with a blackness that no amount of light will ever be able to penetrate.  You enabled his death slowly, and the people that loved Chris got to see that unfold over years, all while you counted your profits.  Unlike what happened to my brother, I hope that the weight of your actions hits you all at once.  You should be terrified at the prospect.  And you should pray that our paths never, ever, cross.

Consider this my moment of clarity.

* * * * * *

If you or a family member struggle with an addiction, just know that where there is help, there is hope...and there is a lot of help available.  Just don't give up.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

United States Department of Veterans Affairs, Help Resources for Veterans

Addiction.Org:  Help for the Family

Saturday, March 4, 2017

4 Months

What I've learned, looking back over 4 months (mid-October through mid-February) of a life in flux, filled with job and family member loss.

  • Your Body Rebels.  Put enough stress on yourself and your body will, in fact, rebel.  And we're not talking about rebellion as in your kids refusing to eat peas.  No, we're talking various parts and systems screaming "f&^k you!" while falling face first into a gutter, with all the gusto of a drunk at the Scranton St. Patrick's Day parade.
  • You Can Overdose On Thinking.  This one is easy and hard, both at the same time.  I spent more time thinking and contemplating than a human probably should, and most of it wasn't helpful.  Yes, of course, we should all be reflective, but too much of anything isn't healthy, reflection included.  Some things don't have answers, and ruminating over them continuously serves no useful purpose, other than inching you one step closer to psychosis.
  • Emotions Aren't That Predictable.  There have been times when I'd easily give one of my lessor-used fingers for fifteen minutes of pure, unadulterated anger.  Or sorrow for that matter.  It would be a wondrous purge of sorts, a working out of the poison.  And yet, for the life of me, I just can't do it.  I just can't give up that control.  
  • We Search For Routine.  I did:  I replaced work routines with other routines.  Forget about watching all of those videos I've been holding onto, forget about afternoon trips to the movies, or other fun stuff.  My psyche needed to replace what it knew with something very similar.  Oddly enough, I think I was reasonably productive during my 4 months.  I got stuff done.  And yet not much of it felt fulfilling.
  • Who Are You?  I had to face who I was during my 4 months.  Now I thought I knew this, by the way, but I really didn't.  The good news is that I'm closer now.  This isn't about mindless reflection (see above), by the way; no, this is a starring in the mirror kind of thing and seeing yourself with the veneer of "well I'm a __________ (insert title)" fully removed.  Big reveal:  We aren't what we do from 9 to 5, not in totality.  Those kinds of things are fleeting*.  They are a vaporware of the worst sort, as they literally can disappear with a 30-second video call letting you know that your services are no longer required.
  • You're Never Prepared.  No amount of mental preparation readies you for the major shocks in your life.  I'm convinced that mental toughness can't be saved up for a rainy day.  Those sorts of my case, the loss of a job and the loss of a brother...defy preparation at an almost genetic level.  How you face these things, unlike say pride in a job title or a paycheck, actually does define who you are as a human being.
  • Separating The Wheat From The Chaff.  Big shocks help you separate the wheat from the chaff in your life.  I'm convinced, utterly so, that western culture (particularly business culture) creates a kind of phantom universe of sorts, where sincerity is full of dependencies.  The reality is this:  There will be some people you work for in your professional life who will do everything in their power to convince you that they do, in fact, care about you as a human being.  But many actually don't, at least when you cease working for them.  Call that one as you like, but empathy shouldn't be conditioned by employment.  Now, while that may be a downer, there is an upside:  When that change in your employment status occurs, you'll be (positively) shocked at who does reach out to you with a helping hand.  Yes, the disappointment you may feel at some will be replaced and overwhelmed by the satisfaction of knowing that there are plenty of good people in this world who are pulling for you.    

All of this has now happened before, and it very may well happen again, and while I will never be fully prepared, I now have the advantage of experience as a guide.  I'm also committed to being a better human being thanks to these experiences.  I didn't get to choose this path, but I'm going to walk it with purpose nevertheless.

(*)  As wonderfully articulated in the song "Minutes to Memories" by John Mellencamp:

"This world offers riches and riches will grow wings.
But I don't take stock in those uncertain things."

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Road Apples, #171

Irish People Eating [        ]...a brilliant series of videos on YouTube.  You can watch one HERE.  I've spent over an hour watching these clips, with no regrets.

News Boycott...I'm still mostly engaging in my national news boycott.  And I have no compelling reason to change.  Mind you, I'm staying informed, it's just that I have no use for the theatrics of the Trump Administration or the news media that's feeding it.  On both sides of the political spectrum by the way.  Donald Trump will go down in history as the worst president in this country's history, of that I am sure, but part of that story will be lost because of how the media has chosen to cover the man.  Here's a suggestion:  They are not "alternative facts"...if you or I did it they would be called "Lies".

In Nausea News...I had my first ever case of Norovirus.  I don't like to throw up (I know, who does?), and in fact, it takes me a lot to get to that point.  But last week, well, it happened about six times, in succession.  And other things happened as well.  A week and a half later there are still some things that I just can't be around, as the smell makes me want to gag.  I also can't seem to stomach diet cola for some reason.  Maybe there is a silver lining to this past storm after all.

Just to add a coda of sorts to the throwing up part, well, the cold I had before talking to Ralph has come back with a vengeance.  I'm shocked as to how much worse my asthma makes having a cold.  It's like a turbo-charger of suck.

What's I'm Listening To Now...A Flock of Seagulls.  Really take a moment to listen to the guitar parts in "I Ran" and "Space Age Love Song"'ll be shocked as to how good of a player Paul Reynolds was, back in the day.

At the time he was very, very young.  Sadly, he doesn't seem to play much these days.  As I understand it, he had something of a breakdown just two years or so into his time with AFOS.

9/10ths...In about a week or so I will be 9/10ths of the way done with my graduate degree coursework.  After completing my last class I need to pass an industry exam and then, well, I'll be a fully fledged Villanova graduate.  In an odd sort of way, the timing could not have been worse.  During my time working on the degree I've had more than a few major life events, but yet, the show (or in my case "the paper writing") must go on.  More than anything else though, I've promised myself and Ms Rivers that, after the final class, I'm going to start to throttle back my life a bit.  It's time to end doing things because I feel as if I have to, and it's time to start doing more things that I just plain and simple enjoy.  All of that is a just a few months away, and I'm very, very glad.

The Expanse...I don't watch much television, but I'm never the less intrigued by the SyFy channel's "The Expanse".  So much so that I'm going to buy the first season on DVD.

One Week (in the can)...Prior to Monday the 20th, the last time I was a new employee somewhere Ronald Reagan was still President.  I seem to have survived the week, although physically it was on the difficult side (see above).  My mantra, more than anything else, is that this time I'm doing it for me...not to climb some corporate ladder, not to impress anyone, not to somehow prove something to anyone other than myself.  One of the many blessings in my life has been that I am now at a place where I can actually think in those terms, although I will note that old (and bad) habits relating to competition (both real and imaginary) are hard to break.

Finally...I don't write much about dreams in this space, mainly because a) I usually don't recall them, and b) Ascribing meaning to them is about 6 degrees of new-age too much for me.  That noted, I had a dream last night that my brother Chris was talking to me.  I don't recall what he said.  I do recall that he looked well, full of color and full of life.  I'll gladly have that dream again.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Watch

In years past, upon retirement, a (former) employee would get a gold watch as a parting gift.  Perhaps it was a way to symbolically acknowledge the significant time people put into their careers.  A fitting custom in my mind.

These days, well, I'm not sure that custom is still being followed.  Maybe it's because the modern employment dynamic is such that people just don't spend significant time at a single employer anymore.  Maybe people just don't wear watches.  Maybe people just don't view the notion of retirement in the same way as was done in the past (just notice that greeter at Wally World next time you need to stop for motor oil, fishing bait, and a can of baked beans).

What does any of the above have to do with me?  Plenty actually.  For those who aren't paying attention (and I can't blame you for that), I was retired by my former employer after almost 28 years of service, with my last day as an official employee being December 12, 2016.  To call the process of becoming retired easy, well, that would be a lie.  It's been pretty tough on me, and I'm not one to readily admit much of anything when it comes to such things.  In the months since I left the office there were many long drives, many "what if ______" thoughts running through my head, many times when I would literally sit and yell at my computer screen (mostly because it, unlike my cats, didn't seem to take the yelling personally).

I also, by the way, got a watch.

Yes, as a "retiree", and based upon my years of service, I was entitled to receive a retirement gift from my former employer.  I was given an on-line catalog of things to review, including such choices as...

...a mountain bike (no thanks, I have a very good one already)
...a set of power tools (I already have more than I need...seriously) clubs (only if my wife and I were both really retiring together)
...a village full of Lladro figurines (I'm a guy....)
...a telescope (I'd use it once and then it would sit in a closet for 15 years)
...a metrosexual messenger bag (I have a half dozen ways to carry a laptop already)

...and then where was a watch.

I used to wear a watch all the time, by the way, but then came more health concerns and I ditched the Timex for a Fitbit HR.  Certainly functional, but it also kinda looks like something that a convict on work-release would be wearing.  I also have managed to bang it up quite a bit over the past year, to the point where it looks about five times older than it really is.  Not especially classy.
So I picked a watch as my retirement gift.  It's heavy, fancy, solar and it has little dials that I can't particularly read anyway.  That was two weeks or so ago, and the watch has been sitting in my office, on its own little watch pillow, waiting to be used.  More specifically, I promised myself that the fancy retirement watch would stay on its fancy little watch pillow until such time as I got myself un-retired from the workforce.  Put another way, I'd only wear it if I had a job to wear it to.  And I'll be putting it on tomorrow.

Before I go further, I'll note (probably again, for the Nth time) that I don't especially believe in the notion of "fate".  I also don't believe in ghosts, the supernatural, bigfoot, that the Patriots are completely innocent of all cheating charges, or that Roman Polanski is anything but a child-molester.  But events have certainly given me pause (not about the Patriots or Roman Polanski though).

Going back a few weeks, I noted in this space that I found my younger brother after he had passed away.  I likely wouldn't have done that if I were at a new job at that time.  It was almost as if I need to be available to find him so that my older brother or his wife wouldn't be the one's who did.  A man of greater faith than I would likely say that was an act of fate...for faith..or some kind of intervention that is beyond my cosmic pay-grade.  Add to that list the fact that my new career adventure really didn't materialize in a meaningful way until the Monday after my brother's funeral Mass.  It was as if I needed to finish that work before the new work could begin.

I'll note with some pride that, during my last round of job interviews, I wore a tie that had previously belonged to my brother.  Like so many around me during this "retirement" period, Chris (the brother, not the wife) had far more faith in me than I did in myself.  He knew...heck, he told me outright, several times before he passed...that I would land on my feet and that everything would be okay.

My brother Chris was not alone in the faith-in-me department.

Throughout this period, I've had a cadre of people who have listened to me, provided me with sound advice, made me laugh when I didn't want to, coached me, and, like my brother Chris, filled my faith bucket when I had nothing left to add to it myself.  Jean, Luke, Connie, Allan, Robin, Rich, Leslie, and others (for those I have not named I do are not forgotten) have helped me more than I could ever possibly and rightfully acknowledge.  There literally was a "Team Steve", with the CEO being my wife.

Looking back over these past few weeks and months, three things stand out for me:
  1. I have a renewed sense that maybe, just maybe, all of what we encounter in life may not just be some random act of chemical chance.
  2. I have a renewed appreciation for those who are under or unemployed.  If that's you, well, reach out to me and I'll do my best to help you in some way, just as others have helped me.
  3. It's okay to need help.  It really is.  This will probably always be a lesson in progress for me. 
Looking ahead, I have new colleagues to meet, new challenges to be overcome, and a new watch to wear.


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Shadows Falling In A Land Of Confusion

"Shadows are falling and I'm running out of breath, keep me in your heart for a while"
- Warren Zevon

* * * * * *

I don't know why the title is associated with this posting, other than the fact that it just occurred to me.  What I do know is that I feel, well, strangely kind of vacant.  Empty.  Tired and spent, if you will.  Part of this all relates back to the whole notion of being between careers, at least for me.  I am, simply put, a very poor career seeker.  I despise marketing myself.  I have difficulty initiating conversations solely for the sake of networking.  I like order, and personal uncertainty (as opposed to, say, the professional variety...which I have no problem with) can be challenging for me to mentally manage.

I know, this career change stuff isn't supposed to be a picnic for anyone, and I know some folks that have struggled with this before and someone who struggles with it now.  Yet that clarity is of little help.

Making all of this even more difficult is the fact that the in-between careers part actually is coming to an end.  As testimony to just how difficult this has been for me, I offer the fact that, even in the face of a victory, I still have this vacant feeling.  My wife asked me one morning "Aren't you excited about...?", and I didn't say yes.  I couldn't say yes.  None of which is a reflection, by the way, on my new career.  If anything, I have righteous reasons to be happy and excited, yet I'm mostly tired.

Now I am not an athlete, nor do I play one on television (you have to be old to get that reference), but I imagine that this might be how someone feels after completing a long, arduous marathon.  Victory lap?  Nope, I'm mainly just glad that I no longer have the (career) Sword of Damocles hanging over my head.  I am looking forward to new challenges ahead, but yet, it feels as if I'm still waiting to fully exhale.

When this whole career change adventure began, I kept a written diary of sorts.  The idea, back then, was that I would chronicle the process of losing and finding a career.  It would be dramatic, insightful, full of emotions...all of the things that garner high page hits.  Yet I haven't used any of that material, nor will I likely ever.  It just doesn't feel right.  I will though offer the following, if for no other reason than the fact that it's instructive to how I've been feeling:

(Written two days after being told I would be "retiring")  
All told, I'm still in this fuzzy kind of, almost conflicted, place.  I know that in the grand scheme of a life, this change...thrust upon me as it still going to be good.  But yet, and at the risk of evoking unwanted pity, I can't help but mourn for this loss.  I've felt this way before when I was going through a divorce.  Complicating matter is the fact that I am naturally just so very impatient.  I want this solved now.  My lesson from going through a divorce is that, to be blunt, "it just doesn't work that way".  I remember back then when others (who had been through a divorce) were telling me that "it's a process", and feeling very discouraged, as I have no need for "a process"...I just want a resolution.  This is what impatience rearing it's ugly head actually looks like, and for me it's frightening.

(Written in mid-November)  
There are times when I just wish...and I really do wish...I could just explode in a fit of rage, alone in my truck, for about 30 minutes...and then be done with it all.  I'd yell out all the anger and disappointment I myself...and it would somehow be purged for good.  It would be a grand and glorious exercise.  It would be healing.  But that's not to be because that's simply not me.  

This morning, driving back from my once a week breakfast out ritual I felt as if I was "this" close to an emotional outburst.  It just doesn't happen.  It's as if I'm one of those World War II-era Jeeps with a governor installed on it, so that, in my case, I can't exceed an emotional speed limit of 40 miles per hour.  It reminds me of how I felt after 9-11:  I was angry and emotional, but I just couldn't get it out.  It had to stay bottled up inside as if its exposure to the natural world would somehow cause a catastrophe of global proportions.  

In point of fact, I am angry.  Very angry.

I'm not angry at my former employer, or my former vice president.  Heck, in all likelihood they've done me a tremendous favor, and at this junction, I just can't imagine going back, in spite of how I feel.  No, I'm angry at me.  Furious at me.  Livid.  I somehow allowed this all to happen through sheer sloppiness. 

* * * * * *

Those are two samples of a larger population that, like the older radios I collect, will likely never see the light of anyone else's day.  I bring them up now, in part, to give myself a kind of emotional permission for feeling the way I do.  Having been raised in a highly controlled environment fueled with quite a bit of guilt, having permission is something that's important to me.  I strongly suspect that this is part of the exorcism that I need to undergo before the new career adventure begins:  This vacant feeling is probably designed to make room for many other things, new things, to shortly come.  All told, that's probably a good thing, although I still dislike the uncertainty.

On a final note, this wasn't how I had planned to actually talk about my career search coming to an end.  In fact, I have a whole other posting, titled "The Watch" written and edited, ready for the publish button.  Unlike the above sampled Land of Confusion journal entries, that will still see the light of day, soon I will add.  As for now, well, it's Monday evening* and I'm not quite sure that this is the right thing to publish.  Maybe I'll feel differently tomorrow morning.  That's a common feeling for me by the way; as of this writing, I have 66 unpublished draft postings waiting in the wings, waiting for "tomorrow morning".

(*) Tuesday morning came and went, and I just couldn't get myself to actually re-read this posting.  For whatever reason though, the time seemed to  be right at 9:30 pm on Tuesday to tackle the task.  What you see above is, more or less, what I wrote on Monday evening, all be it with a few tweaks.  I did struggle a bit with the question as to whether the posting is too "dark".  In retrospect, while it may seem less than uplifting, it is honest, and sometimes that's the best outcome you can hope for in life (and blogging).

Monday, February 13, 2017

5 Questions, #2 - Preparing for the Hereafter

Preface:  It's almost taboo in the United States to talk about funeral planning and the like, but recent events for me have highlighted just how important this sort of thing can be.  Oh, and no, your local funeral parlor is not paying me to write this posting.  However, if they wanted to chip in...

* * * * * *

1) Why bother?  You'll be dead anyway.
As my (late) mother grew older, I helped her with many of her financial matters.  One of the things we did was purchase a burial plot for both her and my Dad.  Kind of ironic, given the fact that the two of them never got along, but death does have this way of sewing peace where life made that previously difficult.  Anyway, when my Mom did pass away in 2013, having many of those decisions already made was a big blessing.

Conversely, when my brother Chris passed away, there were no details, no plans, no Will, nothing.  It was all left up to two brothers and a wife to make all of the decisions for his arrangements.  It was, in a very real way, the exact opposite of the experience we had with my Mom, making a stressful time even more stressful, needlessly so I'll add.

Fast forward to now, and the thought of burdening others with having to make decisions for me is nauseating. I never want that kind of attention.  In fact, I've spent a lifetime (and hopefully many years to come) trying to keep my act together, so there's no sense in letting it all fall apart when I pass away.

Added to the above is the fact that I very much want to spend eternity with my wife.  Wherever I go, I want her to go as well (or wherever she goes I want to go as well).  As noted, for the rest of the posting I'll be mostly referring to "we", as I'll try to speak for the collective "us".  My wife can correct the record on any of this if she wants.

2) Cremation or Casket?  Above or below ground?
We're not sure on either count.  My brother Chris was cremated, and it seemed to be a very dignified, almost "clean" way of having remains.  Also, the thought of not being in the cold ground (as if I'll be able to tell anyway) is appealing.  Prior to the arrangements for my brother, I never would have considered cremation.  Now?  Well, I think it's something everyone should consider.  Even the Catholic Church seems to approve (see HERE).

3) Where?
Good question, and on our collective "to do" list for 2017, we have, among wallpaper removal, and driveway paving, a decision on a burial location.  A key driver for us is the idea that we want to be in a place where we can be visited, or, God forbid, one of us could visit the other.

Me?  Well, I want somewhere with trees.  And rabbits.  When I went to Penn State Harrisburg (in Middletown, PA), there was a cemetery near the main campus classroom building.  I'd walk by the cemetery on the way to the athletic building and I'd see all these giant, well-fed rabbits hopping along the tombstones.  In a way, it seemed as if their job was to somehow keep the deceased company.  I found it oddly peaceful.  Anyway, yes, rabbits.

We've talked about a few places, but nothing even remotely close to decided.  A big "what if" is where we will eventually retire.  If it were up to me, well, that place would be about five degrees warmer than northeastern Pennsylvania.

4) Services?
I was born and raised Roman Catholic, so it's natural to think of a Funeral Mass when the time comes.  However, and this is a big "however", I don't like hypocrisy, especially my own.  I don't ascribe to all of the tenants of the Catholic Church, and I'm just not sure that I want to portray the diligent Catholic upon death.  This is, by the way, something that my wife and I have talked about from time to time.  Call this one a "TBD".

5) Any special instructions?
You bet...I have plenty...all written down and saved to flash drives.  Yes, I am that anal-retentive.

* * * * * *

End Note:  This is important stuff.  If it pleases you, do laugh, guffaw, snicker, ridicule or whatever else you want related to this posting.  But with all the seriousness that I can muster, please do also talk to your loved one(s) about this topic...not for you, but for them.  Make their job easier when your time comes.  It matters, a lot.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Scranton Follies

I find this whole issue of naming the Harrison Avenue Bridge replacement to be equal parts fascinating and disturbing.

Idea to Name Bridge After Former VP Biden Abandoned

Here's an analogy for you:

(Photo from THIS site)

You are coming home from getting a new kitten at the local shelter.  

Your car gets struck from behind by someone driving a truck.

The truck driver comes out to see if you're okay and notices the kitten.  He asks, "what's the kitten's name?".  

The police arrive.  The nice police officer sees the kitten.  He also asks "what's the kitten's name?".  The police officer and the truck driver get into a long debate about naming the kitten.

You stand there, wondering why no one seems to care about you or car that was carrying you (and the kitten).

* * * * * *

The City of Scranton is functionally bankrupt, meaning that its liabilities far, far exceed that of its assets.  It can't substantially raise taxes anymore (see below), and its leaders lack the political will to demonstrably reduce the costs of providing city services.  Even with the infusion of tens of millions of dollars from the sale of the city's last remaining major asset, municipal pensions will STILL be substantially underfunded, and at best all the city can do is to plan on making the required on-going* contributions.

To this backdrop we see local leaders engaged in a heated discussion about naming a bridge.

Call me crazy, call me insane, call me anything but late for supper, but Scranton is in crisis.  All of its leaders (city council, mayor, state representatives, etc.) need to be focused on creating a fiscal plan that brings solvency without increasing taxes on...

Residents - Scranton already has the second highest wage tax in Pennsylvania.

Businesses - Scranton's business taxes are punitive and include, among other things, the taxation of gross receipts, so even a money-losing enterprise must still pay into the city.

Yes, it's that bad.  But that's okay, as there's been a robust discussion about naming a bridge.

File this one under Bread and Circuses, Scranton style.

(*) From what I gather, the city will be making current contributions, but will not be doing anything...other than dumping proceeds from the sewer system increase the pension funding percentages.  Put another way, while sewer system sale will infuse cash into retirement investments, it comes far short of funding the pensions at 100%.  Reference HERE.  If this doesn't scare Scranton residents, well then nothing will.