Not Cease from Exploration

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.