Not Cease from Exploration

Thursday, December 29, 2016

2016 Bookends

What can you say about a year that starts with a health scare and ends with (arguably) a career scare?

(from THIS website)

Part of me thinks that I shouldn't even try, but I'm going to keep writing anyway, so let's see what comes out.

Thinking about the year, it's easy to be negative, at least on the surface.  However, that's just a cheap sentiment.  Or so I want to believe.  Regardless, as is the case for most of my life (and that of most others), what seems like a negative actually ends up being a net positive.

Take, for example, some health issues I was facing at the beginning of the year.  Yes, getting a chemical stress test isn't something I'd recommend as a party game.  And a sleep study?  Well, let's just say that it doesn't actually involve all that much actual sleep (unless you try very hard...see HERE).  And a few other tests I won't even mention, the sum total of which added up to more needle sticks and doctor visits than I've had since my appendix burst in 1969.  Still, what problems I seem to have had have (hopefully) been remedied, and the whole episode taught me the value of taking better care of my physical self.  Granted, I don't have all that many bad habits to begin with (Is watching TV preachers just for fun considered a bad habit?), but still, age has a way of catching up with us, whether we like it or not.  Better to deal with stuff like this earlier than later.

On the career front, well, I can't say with complete candor that a major job change was a complete surprise, because it wasn't.  In fact, I'll cop to this one:  The possibility of a change has always been in the back of my head, wandering around like a stray cat through an alleyway.  Easy to deal with?  No.  Opportunity to learn a few important life lessons?  Of course.  The accounting is still on-going on that second front, but suffice to say that in the end, it will be all worth it.  It has to be when you think about it deeply, as we are all given changes like this in our lives, and it's as if the universe (and/or God) says to us "Hey, you know that choice you've been putting off?  Well, guess what?  We're tired of waiting, so this is going happen right now, in spite of your sloth, okay? Thank you, drive through.".

Two major life events, and one common theme:  Choices to me made which I had, in all likelihood, been putting off for a long time.  What I do with them, well, that remains to be seen.  Here's to keeping the faith in 2017 and beyond.

Now 2016 wasn't all health gloom and career doom.  In fact, by just about any objective standard, I had a great year.  I am still married to my best friend and we celebrated our one year anniversary.  My daughters are all doing well (go ahead...ask me about them...I dare you...), as are my stepsons.  Oh, and I purchased this...


Yes, quite possibly the least red-neck man on the planet now has an over-sized pick-up truck.  And I love it.

Learning is important to me, and 2016 I did learn quite a bit...

I learned that a lot of people are pulling for me in this time of change.  

I learned just how fortunate I truly am to not be suffering from many of the maladies that seem to plague so many in this day and age, including mental health and substance abuse issues.  I genuinely grieve for those who do suffer.

I learned to rely on others just a bit more.  

I learned to be a bit more fearless.  This goes hand-in-hand with relying on others; for me, it takes a leap of faith to rely on someone else.

I learned that all of the work I've done over the years to not needlessly dwell on the past has really paid for itself, several times over.

I learned that the Eastern Gray Squirrel is actually a ninja with a fluffy tail.

I learned that I have mad electrical skills.  Four words:  Power to the garage.

I learned that faith is the hardest simple thing in the universe.

Not bad 2016, not bad at all.

Gratias Ago
Last, but not least, and seeing as though this will be my final posting for 2016, I want to say thanks for reading my blog.  I appreciate your allowing me to share bits and pieces of myself with you.  I hope that you and yours had a good 2016 and that the prospects for 2017 are even better.


Steve Albert
West Pittston, Pennsylvania



Saturday, December 24, 2016

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

In the Trump Era - What Should We Do?

Well, the election is over and the actual electors have voted.  Donald Trump is our President-elect.  If that frightens you, well just what should you do?

Something along the lines of the "what should we do" question was posted by my sister-in-law on Facebook, in a far more eloquent way than I am describing.  It's a good question, and while I don't have an eloquent answer, I do have a few thoughts.  For whatever it's worth, here they are...

Act - I'll speak out about and financially support the causes that matter to me.  This includes promoting basic human rights for the LGBT community, helping organizations that address women's health issues*, and supporting a local organization that helps the homeless.  Curling up in a ball isn't an answer as far as I am concerned.

Remember - I'll also use these next few years to remind myself that we can NEVER truly and entirely rely on the government to do the good work. At best, the government is amoral, as in doing no harm; at worst I think it's immoral.  In my opinion, this is one of the biggest blind-spots in the liberal/progressive community, namely this idea that the government can or should fix most things.  That too easily gets the collective "us" off the hook.  The commandment is to "love your neighbor as yourself", not "have the government do that for you", or worse yet, "force you to love your neighbor".  Handing stuff off to the government seems to me to be something of a cop-out, a way for us to have someone else do the dirty work.  


This is not to say that we shouldn't hold the government...and it's inhabitants...accountable, because we should.  However, we have to remember that government is really about doing essential things for the common good, for making sure that there is an even playing field for everyone, and for protecting us from each other (as sad as that sounds; sorry, I don't want my neighbor to open a pig farm or install an anti-tank gun on their roof).  We want government to be amoral precisely because morality is a human quality, not a bureaucratic or institutional one.  The fact that the incoming administration can potentially take rights way from a group of people proves my very point as to the lack of morality inherent in government.  

Be Hopeful - I'll remind myself that sometimes you need to take two steps backward in order to take three steps forward.  That's as true in politics as it is in our personal lives.





(*) Done in honor of my three daughters and my late mother.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Book Report & Quotes, Nadia Bolz-Weber's "Accidental Saints - Finding God In All The Wrong People"

Preface:  It's something of a quandary when I think about it...sometimes I create a posting that garners a lot of readers and I'm left with the feeling that I somehow have to "top" (or at least equal) it with the next entry that I publish.  It's as if I feel guilty for not following up the original posting with something of equal or greater value.  That, by the way, is the reason why I haven't posted anything in a week.  Seriously, this kind of thing actually weighs on me.

Thinking about what to do, well, I'm reminded of that great quote for the 1983 movie War Games...



...and the sage advice it provided.  I also try to remind myself that I started writing this blog over 8 years ago primarily just for myself.

So this is where I've landed, and it's okay.  I only feel slightly guilty.  Slightly.  There will be more popular postings in the future, of that I am sure.  In the mean time, if someone does read this and decides to pick up a copy of  Accidental Saints, well then my guilt will be relieved.  

On to the book report.



* * * * * *


I finished this book a few week ago, and am finally getting around to putting some notes together for myself, which I'll gladly share with the 16 or so* of you reading this posting.


Why this book?
This is the second book I've read by Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber; the first was Pastrix.  That book was a good read, so I opted to continue the journey.  You can find both books HERE.


Did I like it?
I'd give it about 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Would I recommend it?
Like most things in life, "it depends".  I readily confess that I like reading books that deal with weighty topics such as religion, philosophy, personal growth, faith, etc.  If any of those topics interest you, well, you might like any of Pastor Nadia's (her own reference to herself) books.


Be forewarned:  Pastor Nadia's language can be a bit gruff at times.  I like that aspect of her writing by the way.  The best comparison I could make, relative to other authors, is that she's a sort of religious version of Hunter S. Thompson.  That's high praise in my book (no pun intended).

What was compelling about the book?
The two things that I found compelling about this book are:

  1. Faith for the rest of us.  More so than many other religious author (and I've read quite a few) Pastor Nadia is able to talk about faith is a way that's very real in a starkly compelling manner.  This isn't some esoteric regurgitation of scripture with a tenuous tie to modern life; no, this is about how scripture can apply to the lives of real people living all too real lives.  There is also no religious hierarchy in Pastor Nadia's book; all...including herself...are equally flawed.  I find that sentiment incredibly refreshing.
  2. Writing Style.  As noted above, I enjoy Pastor Nadia's writing style.  If you are interested in learning more about faith, but are turned off by the idea of reading a book by a clergy member (out of fear that it will sound like oh too many Sunday sermons you heard as a kid), well then this book may be for you.
What wasn't so compelling about the book?
One basic criticism:  Like many other authors who write about faith, Pastor Nadia has a habit of hitting the same themes over and over again.  As someone who had engaged in some educational work for a living, I thoroughly understand the basic need to repeat important themes; however it can get tedious if you begin reading a section and almost immediately guess how that particular story will resolve itself in the end.  File this under the category of "minor critique" though.  

Here are a few select quotes that can give you a flavor for the book:


"The most qualified to speak the gospel are those who know how unqualified they are to speak the gospel." (page 30).

"After years of therapy and twelve-step work, I've finally realized that trying not to need others isn't about strength and independence; it's about fear.  To allow myself to need someone else is to put myself in a position to be betrayed or made to look weak." (page 99)

"I told them that Jesus could have hung out in the high-end religious scene of his day, but instead he scoffed at that, choosing instead to laugh at the powerful, befriend the whores, kiss sinners, and eat with all the wrong people.  He spent his time with people for whom life was not easy.  And there, amid those who were suffering, he was the embodiment of perfect love." (page 110)

"Whenever people annoy me beyond reason, I can guarantee it's because they're demonstrating something I'd rather not see in myself." (page 123)

"It felt like the church's way of creating job security:  the church makes us feel so bad about ourselves that we then have to go to the church for absolution." (page 132)

"This Jesus whom we follow cried at the tomb of his friend and turned the other cheek and forgave those who hung him on a cross.  He was God's Beatitude -- God's blessing to the weak in a world that admires only the strong."  (Page 188)




(*) I'm joking, of course...it will be more than 16.  Maybe 20.

Monday, December 12, 2016

9840

Nine thousand, eight hundred and forty is the number of days I've spent as an employee of a terrific organization.  That ends today, more or less at 11:59pm.  It was a good run, by any measure.

Now I'll answer the question that some may be thinking right off the bat:  Am I bitter/angry/cheesed-off/upset/rankled?  The answer is an absolute and resounding NO.  How could I be?  I worked for one of the greatest institutions of its kind in the whole world.  And I got to do that for more than half my life.  How is that not a blessing?

Speaking of blessings, when I think back over the years, I see so many wonderful things to be thankful for:

I learned from some truly brilliant (and I mean brilliant) people.  And not just leaders, as many of those brilliant people never had a haughty formal title.  The value of the education I received is simply priceless.

I earned enough money to help pay college costs for my three (now graduated) daughters.

I had the opportunity to learn an occupation...several, actually.  If anything, the company encouraged and nurtured my professional wanderlust.  By my own account, I had nearly 4 careers over the years.

I developed skills that have prepared me well for this day.

I was able to travel to places I never would have seen otherwise.  My first ride on an airplane/jet was a company business trip to Boston in 1989.  I got to spend a week and a half in Hawaii on company business.  I could go on...
(2005:  Dinner in Dubuque, Iowa)

I was given the opportunity to help people and make a difference in their professional lives.

I made mistakes and was given the gift of learning from them.

I was able to hire some truly remarkable people who will continue to make a difference for years to come.

I could go on and on and on, but I won't.  I will make a special note though of the fact that I met my wife at work, something that, alone and in and of itself, would have made the whole experience worthwhile.
(July 3, 2015)

Does this mean that my life is now composed of equal parts sunshine, smiles, unicorns, kittens, and rainbows?  Of course not.  Any kind of transition like this is stressful, mine included, and I've had my share of bad days over the past few weeks.  Heck, I've had a job since I was 14 years old (and I'm not going to do that math...), so for me, this is uncharted territory.  As someone who values order and control in his life, this is a tough one.  However, I'm going into this new territory well prepared for what may be in my future.

As a closing thought to this chapter in my life, I'll repeat what a vice president I reported to a few years ago was fond of saying, namely that "...we choose how we show up".  Ponder that thought for a moment:  We make the choice as to what we say and what we do every day and in every situation we encounter in life.  "We choose".  More powerful words have never been spoken.  As I think about my transition, I'm keeping those two words in mind.



Tuesday, December 6, 2016

My Mom, Smiling

I've had some free time of late, and one of the things I've been doing is going through old records that I inherited from my Mom (who passed away in 2013).  My Mom had this period, apparently, when she was very active in the Scranton Boys (now Boys and Girls) Club.  This was probably in part because her four sons all needed something constructive to do with their time and boundless energy, so why not go there?

Anyway, I found a half dozen or so newspaper clippings from that period, including one where she was actually smiling.
This particular clipping is from January 29, 1973.

I honestly don't have many photographs of my mother with an actual smile on her face, making this somewhat rare.

I won't get into the deep pseudo-psychology of why my Mom rarely seemed to smile, other than to say she had something of a tough life.  I'll confess to not being much of a smiley person myself, although that's not for lack of happiness or joy, but instead, more about a face that seems to look, well, stupidly fake when I smile.  If anything, I seem to have a face built for accountancy, or maybe financial services human resources.


Saturday, December 3, 2016

Road Apples, #170

Trump and Twitter...Can someone, please, permanently take away Twitter access from the President-elect?  This is getting embarrassing.


I really, truly want to give Mr. Trump the benefit of the doubt, but he's making it very, very difficult.  I would expect this kind of stuff from someone after a junior high student council election, not from the presumptive leader of the free world.

Please stop Mr. Trump.  Please.

Glorifying Rape...I am sorry, but any television program that relies on violence against women (in the form of rape) doesn't deserve its viewership.  I'm speaking specifically of Game of Thrones and the Walking Dead.  What's more, I'm not sure how folks who view themselves as being "progressive" can actually watch these shows.  I can't.  I no more want to see rape being enacted as part of a plot than I want to see kittens or puppies tortured.

All Is Not Glum...I know, so far this posting isn't all that uplifting, but I have to call them like I see them.  For some balance, here's Metallica playing Enter Sandman using grade school musical instruments.


Muslim Registry...Let's file this idea, that of there being a national registry for the followers of Islam, in the category of "hopefully not actually going to happen".  Today's registry of Muslim's could become a registry of Roman Catholics or Baptists tomorrow.  Now if it should come to fruition, I publicly promise now on this page to register myself as a Muslim.  I don't think I'll be alone in that regard either.

JeanLuc...I've had my cat JeanLuc for a little over six years now.  Time flies, from this...


...to this...

It's amazing the impact a pet can have on your life.  For the record, he was almost named "Spock", although I made a case for calling him "Bill" (so I could call him "Bill the Cat"), but I was over-ruled by just about everyone.

The "Theory" of Global Warming...These are New Guinea impatiens (this variety is actually a tropical plant...see THIS description) that are, as of December 3rd, still alive and well on my front porch. 


I'm tempted to put Christmas lights on them.  Good thing that global warming is just a "concept" (put forth, according to the President elect, by the Chinese in order to harm U.S. manufacturing).  And yes, he actually did say it...
My impatiens, alive and well, salute you Mr. Trump!



Wednesday, November 30, 2016

I have trouble asking for...

A revelation of sorts:  I have a very difficult time asking for help.

Now I'm not referring to asking for help about everything.  I have no problem talking to professionals when I am in over my head, so this isn't something that borders on being a mental health issue.  Trust me, my doctor(s), dentist, lawyer, etc. all know that I'm pretty darn good at asking (and paying) for assistance when it's needed.  This is more akin to my having a personal need of sorts, where the act of asking for help borders on the painful.

I'll also note that I am and equal opportunity offender when it comes to this kind of thing, in that my wife and other family members can testify to the fact that this (asking for help) isn't something I do well or do often, with anyone.

Maybe this is all about being too prideful, but something in me thinks that's a superficial explanation, at best.  While I do take pride in the things I do, I am not stupid enough to believe that I am above and beyond needing help when it comes to any of them, be they personal or professional.  Heck, just read any number of postings on this blog (over the years...) and you'll probably see the just the opposite, namely that I tend to be more self-effacing than anything else.  I'll also note that this isn't some kind of repulsion at the idea of maybe having to help others in return, as one of my joys in life is, in fact, helping others.  No, this is far deeper than that, and since I've had some time for pondering, I do have a working theory of sorts.  Here goes...

Growing up, my mother raised four sons, all a year apart in age, all by herself.  I'm not sure what she may have asked for in the way of help, but my perception is that not much was delivered.  I genuinely think I am suspicious of asking for help because of that...I had little in the way of examples upon which to learn from during my formative years.  Perhaps I am afraid that it will not be delivered...that I will somehow be disappointed...that maybe no one would be actually interested in providing help when I ask for it anyway.  Perhaps I somehow believe that I should be above the need for it in the first place.

Now I am in no way, shape, or form saying that feeling this way...having a visceral aversion to asking for help...way is in any way right, logical, or even healthy.  Feeling this way is actually not healthy, because, in part, it's not living in the real world.  Existence in the year 2016 requires help, as the world is simply too complex for any of us to truly master on our own.  And I will note that I am no exception.

So where does this lead me?  Well, I am in a position now where reaching out to some folks is a must.  It is non-negotiable.  When I think about the difficult things I have had to come to terms in with my life, this is a top five item, easily, but not because of the underlying reason...no, it's simply because reaching out to others is simply very difficult for me.  I've mastered the logic behind what I need to do these days; it's just the getting help part that's still a bit vexing.  In the grand scheme of life though, I have to get better at asking for help, and perhaps this is, in a cosmic sort of way, the lesson I am being taught here and now.


Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Thanks

I'm in a period of transition at the moment, which makes the idea of giving thanks more relevant than ever, but yet not necessarily easier to express.  In fact, I have an entire posting "locked and loaded" with the things I am not giving thanks for this year.  Clarity being what it is, though, I'm not sending that one out, at least not yet.  No, the "better angels" in me say the right thing to do is to truly give thanks, as when all is said and done, the balance of payments in my life is far more weighted towards the blessing side than it is anything else.

Thanks (in a time of transition)

I am thankful that my three daughters are all doing what they love as productive adults.  A Teacher, a Scientist, and a Social Worker.  How could I be anything other than so very proud?

I am thankful for my beautiful and wonderful wife, Ms. Rivers.  She is my rock, my muse, my partner, my consigliere, and my editor.  We are our own little gang of two.

I am thankful for my stepsons, who have allowed me to appropriate their Mom as my wife.  I am getting far more out of the deal than they are, but yet they don't seem to mind.  
  
I am thankful that my brothers are all doing well and mostly even talking to each other.  

I am thankful for the family that I joined when I married Ms. Rivers.  The concept of "belonging" is a tough one for me to grasp, but yet here and now I do, in fact, belong.

I am thankful for the fact that I am healthy.  A little banged up this year, and seemingly bruised all the time these days, but still standing.  Cue Elton John.  

I am thankful for my cats, JeanLuc, Tiger, and Adolf.  The "boys" keep me company, tolerate my petting, and remind me that, in life, it's the simplest things (naps, food, drippies) that matter the very most.

I am thankful for the folks who have checked in on me over the past few weeks.  Words can not express how very much that means to me.  

I am thankful for books.  Lots of books.  Books that have been written by very smart people who have given me joy and inspiration over the years.  Books that have made (and continue to make) me a far better person.

I am thankful that Berkely Breathed has re-started Bloom County.  Now, more than ever, our nation needs Bill the Cat.

...and lastly...

I am thankful for the lessons that life continues to teach me.  Sometimes the lessons are about patience.  Other times they are about tolerance.  Still others faith.  Sometimes the lessons are brand new, other times they are refreshers of lessons previously learned but perhaps atrophied over time (and stubbornness) on my part.  Regardless, life is the ultimate classroom.






Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Bad News on the Doorstep, I Couldn't Take One More Step

The title comes from the iconic song American Pie.

Like many folks, I suspect, I've been pretty burnt out by the news.  By "burnt out" I mean overexposed, bombarded, gun-shy.  Now normally I'm a ravenous consumer of news, mostly in writing, from a variety of sources.  But post-election I've been doing my best to stay away from it all.  No NPR Morning Edition (replaced by a local classic rock station) during my shower, no more news feeds in Facebook.  It's not that I want to be uninformed, it's just that I think I've felt over informed over the past few months.

The world will survive without my attention.

I'm sure that others will keep their eyes on things.  Part of this is due to, well, poor performance by the media over the past year.  The whole conglomeration of the news helped create the national pickle we are all in these days.  They were, in my estimation, "played" for free coverage by President-Elect Donald Trump (particularly in the Republican Primary) and had an unstated (but clearly obvious) desire to see Hilary Clinton elected.  If anything, one truism coming out of the election is how truly detached the national media was from the actual concerns of the American people.

This isn't a "liberal" vs. "conservative" thing either.  As I've said before, Donald Trump isn't really a conservative, political or otherwise.  He is his very own breed; if anything maybe "nationalist" or "corporatist" is a better description.  I'm sure a review of Trump's Tweets would show a fairly even amount of venom spat at both traditional liberals and conservatives.  Just ask Charles Krauthammer.

All of the above should be taken with the qualifier that I am not a media expert (see THIS GUY if you want that sort of thing).  Heck, outside of maybe Beatles trivia and what I do for a living, I'm pretty much not at expert at anything.  It's easy for me to say "the media failed", but when you think about it, we rely on the media to help guide us, so what happens when the guides seem just as lost as the rest of us?

Anyway, I'll be enjoying a hiatus from national news for a while.  As with the way most things go, I'll probably slip back into being a big news consumer sooner rather than later.  For now, though, I'll stick with listening to "Freebird" in the shower.


Sunday, November 13, 2016

Conundrum


I think the world should be using the word "conundrum" more often.  Why?  Well, it's kind of silly in its construction, it has a funny way of rolling off the tongue, and, well, the world is just full of conundrums lately.  Especially the world as it applies to me.

To be blunt, I am facing a conundrum:  I've always had trouble in the "self-promotion" department, as it applies to my professional life.  I know I do good work, but it just pains me to promote that work.  I'm much more comfortable simply doing the work, allowing the results to show through, and then moving on.  The notion of actually having to figuratively (and literally) say "Look at me...and look at what I've done!" is at best alien and at worst somewhat uncomfortable.  And it's not really the "look at me part" actually, as I am very comfortable speaking in front of people, be it one person or 300 people.  I think it's more the fact that for whatever reason, modesty seem to be encoded into my DNA, along big feet and my walleye vision.

Normally, this kind of conundrum is manageable for me, as I've been able to keep myself in positions whereby I could let the results of my work show for itself and be done with it.  Not so much now though; these days I have to make a concerted effort to "sell" myself and my capabilities, hence the conundrum.  I'm ever so slightly fearful, in the back of my head, that I'll be considered "egotistical", a clear and present violation of my previously mentioned, and deeply rooted, sense of modesty.  This isn't about confidence; for me, the line between confident and egotistical is actually easy to understand:  I am confident in front of an audience of people, but I don't have to be "full of myself" to speak to them.  It's not about attention either, as I do enjoy engaging with people and having them pay attention to me.  No, in point of fact I'm just not sure what this is about.  It's, well, a conundrum.

So what am I doing about my conundrum?  Well I'm writing this blog entry for starters.  This actually does help me, by the way, because I've always found that writing forces one to think about thoughts in an orderly sort of way, you know, in order to put them onto a page (real or virtual).  It's been especially helpful for me, which is one of the reason why this blog has kept going for over eight years now.  My head is almost always full of ever changing divergent thoughts, so writing this blog probably means a lot more to me than anyone else could probably realize.

Outside of writing, I'm also seeking outside opinions to, if you will, poke at my underlying notion of modesty.  It's entirely possible that what I consider to be genuine may in fact be a kind of "fake" modesty, maybe designed as a kind of defense mechanism.  I'm likely never going to see this on my own, so I'm open to all the outside help I can get.

In the end, I think that in life we are always placed in situations that afford us at least two paths:  Learning/Growth or Resignation/Despair.  I'm working on the former.  

Friday, November 11, 2016

Veterans Day, 2016

Dedicated to my father, uncle, and brother, and all who have served their country with honor in the United States Military.  We're free because they gave of themselves.


My Dad, Richard J. Albert, SP2, United States Army (second from the right), returning from service during the Korean Conflict, surrounded by friends.  The picture was taken at the Hotel Casey in Scranton.

Upset About the Election Results? Then Act!

I understand being upset if your candidate didn't win the Presidential election on Tuesday.  I was upset when Ronald Reagan was elected.  And George W. Bush as well.  But life is far too short to waste time on directionless anger and what I'll call "silly" protest actions.  I'm not suggesting that it's wrong to be angry, but what I'm saying is that if all you have is anger, well, I pity you, as you'll miss out on the only life you're going to be given.

Channel that anger into something positive.


Go to your local library and actually learn about Islam.  Actually meet some Muslims.  

Join an organization that supports the LGBT community.  

Learn about ways you can help the disabled.  Become an advocate.

Become a better informed citizen by reading (not watching, but READING) the news, every single day.

Volunteer at a shelter for animals.

Actively oppose any hate groups in your local community.

Learn to speak Spanish and then volunteer to teach immigrants English.

Create and write a blog to express your feelings and political leanings.

Support an organization that helps the homeless.

Fight laws that disenfranchise others, especially minorities.

Find out how you can support veterans...and then get involved.

Attend local city/borough council meetings and speak up about the issues that matter most to you.

Find and support candidates that share your values.

If you can't find a candidate that shares your values, well then run for elected office yourself.

Help the environment by keeping parts of it within your reach clean.

Write your Congressman and Senator and let them know about the issues that are of most importance to you.  Hold them accountable.

Research and buy products that leave the smallest possible environmental footprint.


I could go on, but the point is made.

It's all akin to driving a car:  If you spend all of your time fixated on what's in the rear-view mirror (the election results), you'll likely end up slamming into that truck in front of you.  The better play is to keep your eyes on the road in front of you...the future...and only glace in the mirror every once in a while to make sure that the past isn't creeping on you.


Wednesday, November 9, 2016

After The Ball - Three Things I Care About


The election is over and we all knew that, regardless of the outcome, about half the country would end up discouraged and upset.  That's one...and probably the only...prediction that actually came true.  Here we are though, and as for me, well there are really three things that are important:

1.  That those who now have health insurance through the Affordable Care Act continue to have some kind of medical coverage going forward.  This one is personal for me, as I have a brother who wouldn't otherwise have healthcare coverage if it wasn't for the ACA (he works, but his employer doesn't provide coverage).  Whatever the Republicans in Congress and President-Elect Trump have in mind, it shouldn't leave these folks out in the cold.  Period. 

2.  That the LGBT community retains all of the human rights...they...and we all...deserve.  When the basic right to purse happiness, through marriage for example, is denied to one of us we are all diminished.  

3.  That the days of the back-alley abortion never return.  I don't "like" abortion and I dislike the notion that the government can reach into women's bodies and make healthcare decisions for them.  That's big intrusive government at it's worst.  Yes, religious objections to abortion should be respected, but they doesn't mean they should also be codified into law, forcing non-adherents to follow a set of beliefs for which they sincerely disagree.  The pro-life movement needs to "win" the argument through persuasion, not coercion.

The above isn't intended to diminish the concerns of the Hispanic community, Muslims and others who certainly feel marginalized after the recent campaign.  It's simply my top three. 

Finally, I'll continue to always believe that the vast majority of people in this world are inherently good, Donald Trump and Mike Pence included.  They deserve the opportunity to govern in a way that brings people together; whether or not they choose to do so is up to them.  Regardless of party affiliation or philosophy, all of us have a responsibility in the weeks and months to come to hold them accountable for their actions.




Sunday, November 6, 2016

Election Day 2016

I've mostly stopped writing about politics and politicians, and I'm not making an exception for Tuesday's Presidential election.  That noted, when I think about the election, one thought has emerged most clearly for me...



...regardless of who you vote for, don't allow darkness or hatred to dictate your actions, as that's never a cure for anything that troubles our nation.  History has taught us time and time again that darkness and hatred only breed more of the same, and quite frankly, we are currently experiencing surpluses of both.

Mostly though, please make sure you do vote.

Peace & Love...Steve


Friday, November 4, 2016

(I'm Darn Glad That) October is Over

It's actually kind of funny, in a sad sort of way:  I had this idea to post positive things in order to "take back" the month of October, which hasn't always been so friendly to your's truly.  And what happens?  Well, let's just say that it was a challenging month, and October reigns supreme in my life as the month I usually want to forget.

Know what though?  As challenging as October 2016 and, outside of the minor bouts of quasi-anxiety that we all face, I've kept a positive attitude.  I know, "Awww, well good for you Steve!" (said with sarcasm); actually what I want is is for next October to come, so that I can have a round two with this whole "make October great again" idea.  As a wise fictional Philadelphia boxer once said...

(photo credit:  http://addicted2success.com)

Enough already, it's now November, which is a good month for me.  Outside of the fact that I like turkey...and stuffing...and mashed potatoes...and visiting with family...a vacation is happening in a few days that involves some travel, and this is a great opportunity for me to step back, reflect, and recharge.  Part of the trip will be to fulfill a life-long desire, namely to visit the Kennedy Space Center.

(photo credit:  kennedyspacecenter.com)

As a very young man I would run home as fast as my little legs would carry me in order to catch the news of the Apollo missions on our black and white television.  Actually being at Cape Kennedy really is a dream come true for me, and a reminder of how blessed my life has been.

Now in the spirit of full disclosure, I am taking some "work" with me, but it's all for good, as what I will be doing is more of a future investment than anything else.  I've created some of my best postings while on vacation, so who knows what the week will bring?  I do know this:  Come Monday the 14th it's full steam ahead.


Monday, October 31, 2016

5 Scariest Movies of All Time (According to Me)


In honor of Halloween, here are the five scariest movies I've actually watched:

1.  The Exorcist
I'll confess that this hasn't aged well, but when I first watched it, man, for a young Catholic kid it didn't get much more frightening.  If you watch this, really listen to the audio...in retrospect, that's one of the most frightening parts of the movie.

2.  Alien (the Original)
I first watched this at the Comerford theater in downtown Scranton, and the atmospherics were incredible...very dark, very gritty, definitely not Star Trek.  This is what you get when you combine a great script with a top-notch director (Ridley Scott).

3.  Event Horizon
Laurence Fishburne, Sam Neil and some very frightening scenes.  While I don't find gore to be particularly frightening (as a result there are no zombie movies on the list), in this movie it really adds to the experience.

4.  The Prince of Darkness
Not a well-known film (at least relative to John Carpenter's career), but I found this incredibly frightening, especially the dream sequence towards the end.

5.  The Omen
Another one from when I was younger.  There is something particularly sinister about portraying evil in the form of a young child.


Sunday, October 30, 2016

I'm Working at Listening



Here's a review of this blog's postings:

  5% - Great, almost publication worthy
60% - Good, postings that I think are reasonably okay
20% - Okay (at the time), but I find them embarrassing now
15% - Sheer, utter, unadulterated crap

I'd consider THIS POSTING to be in the 5%, and it's not even all that old.

Why?  Well for me, it was almost as if that particular thought was planted, just in time, to help me now.  The "now" part is something that I'm not going to be particularly transparent about, for two reasons:  (1) I actually find it interesting and challenging to write about something without actually saying what the "something" is; and (2) I just can't, for reasons that I'll explain in the future.

Anyway, as I think about spirituality and the notion of trying to understand the larger universe around us, I'm reminded that while some hold fast in the notion of predestination*, I tend to take a different tact.  Specifically, we're all walking this journey in life and along the path we're always presented with choices.  Yes, sometimes we're put into situations where it may seem like we don't have a choice, but that's a false notion (at best).  I think the more correct description is that we always have choices to make, including the choice to, well, not make a choice.  It's these choices in our lives that define us, probably more so than anything else.

As professionals, we make a choice as to how we "show up" (with a nod to a great former leader who taught me the importance of always being mindful of this fact) when we go to work.

As citizens we make a choice as to how we stay informed about the issues of the day.

As parents we make choices about how we respond to our children.

As partners we make a choice as to who we spend our lives with.

As human beings we make a choice as to how we view the world around us...be it a world of fear & darkness or a world of hope & light.

You see, the bigger point is this:  It's not the events in life or where we find ourselves around which things pivot...it's the choice we make about (and in response to) the events that matter the very most.  Now I understand if that sounds, well, trite (at best) and overly simplistic, but I tell you all with complete honesty that it's taken me decades of living to even grasp this concept.  As a younger man I would look at world I was living in and bemoan my plight, not realizing that it wasn't the "plight" that was to blame.  In fact, the places we all see ourselves in are always temporary, at least up until we die.  Until then, we have far more control than we can ever really realize.

The good news in all of this, I think, is that I don't think we have to make those choices alone.  I think that we're always given subtle clues (whispers, if you will) to help guide us.  We just have to be listening...at watching.





(*) With thanks to the almost omnipotent Google for the following:



Friday, October 21, 2016

Three Paths


One of the things that I think I've learn as an "older adult" is that (in general) all we have been through has been to prepare us for now, just as now is to prepare us for tomorrow.  Pretty deep, huh?  Especially for a kid from a housing project, but so I digress.  What I can't digress from is that I've reached a kind of fork in my road of life.  Maybe it's more like a trident than a fork, as I can see three distinct paths in front of me:

Path One...This is the familiar path.  Predictability is a wonderful thing, and we humans have it coded into our DNA, which is why, for example, racism is such a problem (we tend to not be afraid of those who are "like" us and fearful of those who are different and, by extension, unpredictable) with our species.  The problem with path one, I suspect, is that it's rather circular; it may simply bring me back to where I am now, but without the benefit of knowing that place for the very first time*.

Path Two...This is the dark path.  This is the path of the worst possible (whatever that is) happening.  This is the path where the past plays an out-sized role, where failings, both real and perceived, suck up all the oxygen in the room.  This is the path of "what if...?".  Unlike the two other paths, this more like an outcome than a choice, a kind of dark gravity.

Path Three...This the uncertain path.  This is the path of taking a chance.

When I write it out, it's pretty clear how the paths differ, and which path is likely the "best" (if there is such a thing), at least for me, at least for now.  Yet, why does it seem so very, very difficult?  I think the answer is embedded in path one, namely an almost genetic wiring for the familiar, a need to feel safe.  I think it's also a function my upbringing, an extension of economic insecurity coupled with a tendency towards guilt whenever I may want to do something that seem (on the surface) to be for me.

All of this seems so simple, especially when I try to look at myself from the outside.  Yet step inside my head and it becomes far more complex.  If you've ever been through a transition in your life perhaps you know what I mean.

"Always looks so good on the outside
When you get to believin'  it's true, then you know
That you're on your way"'
(David Gates, Been Too Long On The Road)

It's worth noting though that talking yourself onto a particular path is far easier than actually walking it.  Good thing I'm a "tough" hombre.




(*) Reference the title of this blog.



Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Practicing Gratitude



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

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





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

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Foiled by October



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

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

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

Maybe I just dramatically over think most things.

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

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

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

Oh, and next October will be different.




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


Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Advice to My 16 Year Old Self


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And two bonus points...

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

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



Sunday, October 9, 2016

I am Locutus of Borg






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


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

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

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

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

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

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


Friday, October 7, 2016

Good News (out of Harrisburg)


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

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

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

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

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

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







Sunday, October 2, 2016

Newspaper Taxis Appear on the Shore






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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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





Thursday, September 29, 2016

Maybe We're Just Not Listening

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Senator Warren vs. CEO Stumpf (Wells Fargo)

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



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

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Making October Great Again



In theory I should be loving October:

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

I like the changing Fall foliage.

The non-summer routine has taken hold.

It's a photographer's dream.

It's a great time to ride the bike.

I love taking a trip out to the pumpkin patch.

I like preparing the yard for winter.

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

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

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