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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.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

5 Questions, #1 - The Career Tango

Note:  I readily admit that I've stolen this topic format from the Lu Lac Political Letter (HERE).  I don't feel too bad about it though because I strongly suspect that other bloggers have "borrowed" the basic concept behind my Road Apples postings.    And who says there is no honor among thieves?

* * * * * *

1) How's the new career hunt going?
I'll keep you posted.

2) So, just what do you do with all this free time you have?
The ironic part is that I don't necessarily have that much more "free time".  I just simply like to be occupied and engaged at all times, so lounging around and watching sports is just not my bag.  That noted, here's what a typical day looks like:
  • Wake up at about the same time as usual (before this whole change occurred)
  • Shower and get dressed.  Take my youngest stepson to school, while forcing him to listen to obscure music (for the record, he actually enjoys the Ramones "The KKK Took My Baby Away").  
  • Come home, eat breakfast and spend about an hour reading through the half dozen or so job feeds I get.  Decide which I want to follow-up on, which is typically best described by the following two words:  Not Many.
  • Go to the gym and try to injure myself* while working out to the Steve Wilkos Show.
  • Grab a bite to eat.
  • Head home and either work on job search tasks and/or projects around the home.  The job search tasks include following up on previous opportunities, telephone calls with some real angels who are actually helping me, sending emails, researching organizations, etc. 
  • Greet my lovely wife when she comes home from work.
  • Help (and or just make) dinner, eat and clean-up afterwards.
  • Work on graduate school stuff in evening until I get too tired to read and/or comprehend.
I know, quite the rock-star lifestyle, huh?  Or, since I've been living in West Pittston now since the end of 2013, maybe I should be saying "hayna?"?

3) What are you looking for in a new career?
I have a short attention span, and my mind, admittedly, can move pretty quickly when I am working on things I find interesting.  Oh, and I'm 90% of the way towards a graduate degree in Human Resources.  All this means that I'm looking for an HR position that provides plenty of challenges, working for an organization where I can make a difference.  I know, that sounds so campy, but I'm being honest.  You can find more out about the professional me on LinkedIn.

4) You keep saying "career" instead of "job".  Why?
When you are in high school you have a "job".  By the time you become an adult, hopefully you have figured out what you like to do, and how you can maybe get paid to do just that sort of thing.  That's the difference between a "job" and a "career".  Admittedly, we all sometimes just have to take a "job" in order to pay the bills, but that shouldn't stop anyone from finding a career.

5) Any advice for others looking for a new career?
Since I'm not across the job search finish line, I'm probably not the best person to be giving advice.  However, since I've broached the subject:
  • It's not just you - This kind of thing (leaving an employer) happens all the time.  You'll be shocked just how many people have been down this path...and who will be willing to help you out because they know what it's like to walk in your shoes.
  • Stay positive - This is very, very hard, but you can't let this change become an all-consuming negative cloud over your head.  Make time to still do things that you find enjoyable.  
  • Don't blame - Never, ever allow yourself to become overcome with anger and bitterness towards your former employer, boss, co-workers, etc.  With very few exceptions, the vast majority of folks are good people, just trying to do their job in the best way they know how.  We are all equally flawed and fragile and we all fail from time to time.  If you feel injured in some way, forgive.  If you can't forgive, well work on forgetting.
  • Gut-check - Use this as an opportunity to gut-check what you do for a living.  You may never get another chance like this, so take advantage of it.
  • Ask for help - See the first bullet.  As a very smart person told me early on in this process, people want to help you, but they will wait for you to ask for that help.  Whether you are an executive or a front-line soldier in corporate America, all of us will need help once in a while.
  • Remember the feelings - As you go through this process, remember the feelings, both good and not so good.  For the "not so good" feelings, well, learn from them and commit to helping someone else in the future who may be similarly struggling; this way you can take that "not so good" and turn it into something positive.
  • It gets better - I'm still telling myself this one, but this process will end, and it will get better.  It's not a question of "what", but rather of "when".    

(*) Lesson learned the hard way recently.