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Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Sparking the Mortal Coil: A Look Back at 2017

Saturday, December 9, 2017 
I was thinking today that I really should take stock(1) of the year, before it up and just evaporates on me.  I've had these seemingly good ideas before, namely deeply introspective reviews of the year in passing, all the while looking hopefully into the future.  Most of the time though I don't really end up executing all that well.  Maybe if I start early that will be different.

So, getting this kicked off, what can I say about 2017?

Part of the story is about change.  Big change.  The kind of change that you never want to know about in advance, because such knowledge would likely result in a mental failure of epic proportions.  This is likely why time travel isn't possible by the way:  Forget the technology, it's the actual ability to comprehend what we will all have to do in the future that's beyond our capabilities.

Typing this now on a Saturday evening, I am truly grateful that I couldn't see it...2017...coming.

As I flesh this out over the next week or three maybe just thinking about the year will help to bring some sense to it all, because parts of it simply don't make sense.  Now one of the smartest people I've ever met in my life, bar none, just happens to be my wife...

(one of the best photos I have ever taken)

...who tells me from time to time that I'm not exactly dumb.  I'm not sure I believe her by the way because if I were truly "smart" I would have figured out some of this stuff out already.  At times I feel as ill-prepared for life now as I did in my 20's.

Yes, yes, yes, I get it by the way:  Life is a journey, not a destination.  There is no finish line where you actually do have it all "figured out".  Maybe that sort of thing is reserved for some point after the mortal coil(2) has been completely fried.  Maybe you figure life out just as you no longer have a life to figure out.  That's some heady stuff for 11pm or any time of the day for that matter.  I must be getting tired.

Anyway, today is the preface of sorts.  This posting will get longer, and maybe weirder, before too long. At some point, I may need to break out the (figurative) ether(3).

Big Changes
2017 was a year of big change for me, but I'm not alone in that department.  Two cases in point:

1) The Scranton School District... effectively bankrupt.  That's important for a few reasons, over and above the fact that I'll always consider Scranton to be home.  Decades of mismanagement have finally been caught up to in the books of the district, and with a $19 million dollar shortfall, there aren't many good choices.  The current plan calls for laying off 89 teachers, which would (as noted by a local attorney) result in an $18 million dollar shortfall.  This is not going to end well, and those who should pay the price, namely board directors who repeatedly voted for self-family-friend interests will likely walk away untouched.  A recent report that noted an additional $2 million dollar "donation" on the part of the State isn't anything to write home about; it's like extending credit to someone who can't pay their bills anyway.

2) Our National Moral Compass...
...I didn't think George W. Bush was a great President.  But he is a good man.  Now we have a President who is neither.  In fact, the current White House resident is soiling the office, and our nation, with every vindictive, Jr. High powered tweet.  This is a man with more bankruptcies, fiscal and moral, than every other President combined...and yet was still elected.  History will not be kind to the current resident of the White House.  I feel cheapened just by writing about him, which is one of the reasons why I don't (write about him) on the blog all that often.

It's almost odd that I would spike these two out, by the way.  I don't live in Scranton and quite frankly, since I'm a white, middle-class, heterosexual male, I'm not sure that the current White House resident will not have much of a tangible impact on me or my life.  Sadly, I can't say the same for my children, which is really the point at hand.

In 2017, including this entry, there will have been 82 postings to the blog.  That's my second lowest total ever, surpassed only by 2008 (with 66 postings), but it's worth noting that the first year of the blog was really only October to December.  Maybe on some other day that would be something of a disappointment, but not today.  The good news is that I keep spewing this stuff out, mostly on a regular basis, and I have no intention of quitting.

Speaking of blogs and quitting, so many local ones have come and gone over the years.  I try to read most of what's on my own blog-roll(4), but many aren't updated all that often.  Some, to tell the truth, aren't all that interesting to me.  The worst offense though in local blogging?  Well, make that "second worst" offense, because the first would be not writing at all.  Anyway, the (second) worst offense in local blogging is definitely monetizing(5) one's blog to the point where it 80% of the page seems like it's advertising.  Why bother having the blog in the first place?

I do get requests to place advertising on the blog, by the way, which includes inquiries about hosted articles.  That would be where some person/organization actually write a posting and I'm supposed to post it to the page, all the while selling some trinket, pyramid scheme or other such things.  The practice seems pretty damn shady to me.

Lest I get any hate fan mail on this topic, I'll note that I have nothing against monetized blogs.  It's just not my cup of tea.

Since this is a retrospective kind of blog posting, I'll add for the record that the most viewed posting of mine during 2017 was...

"Most viewed", by the way, equates to about eight times the regular number of posting hits.

My favorite posting?  Well, it's easier for me to point out the postings that I really didn't like all that much, but word for word, the one that sticks out for me...outside of those that were about my late brother...was...

Going through those old photographs really did stir up a ton of feelings on my part, and writing the posting actually did help me process things.  That's this stuff at it's very best.

On the Subject of Loss
Over the course of three months, I lost 51-year old (younger) brother(6) and a job that I thought I'd have for the rest of my life.  It's only been fairly recently that I've actually started to come to terms with both losses.  As a side note, one of the lessons here in the collective sense is as follows:

When it comes to loss, don't confuse the ability to function with the ability to deal.

Now I've functioned comparatively well over the course of the year, but I think that has more to do with this kind of driven nature of my mine(7), well at least at times.  There is more work to do on both fronts, but at this stage, two things are apparent to me.

First, losing my job, over a year out, feels like I went through a sudden divorce.  The emotion is more of feeling hurt than anything else.  That's pretty ironic, given the fact that, in spite of what the United States Supreme Court has said, corporations are not people.  Yet, in my mind, my former employer was kind of like a spouse in a lot of ways, who suddenly one day simply kicked me out of a house that I had been living in for nearly 28 years.  I played by the rules, gave more than I took, obeyed the letter and the spirit and the letter of the law, yet that wasn't good enough.  There is more work here to be done, and I'm told I eventually may get angry over this, but regardless, I walked away with more gifts from that relationship than I could ever count.  I don't think I'll ever be that bitter ex-spouse.

Second, losing my brother, nearly a year out, still feels almost surreal.  When I ponder the feelings I have about it, well, I end up being pretty damn angry.  I'm not good at being angry...never have been.  That's part-and-parcel the result of an upbringing where my Mom was angry enough for everyone else, so there was nothing left for me.  The ironic part?  I think my brother Chris was a very angry guy himself.  As I noted on more than a few occasions, he was a lot like our Mom, a point which I think he strenuously denied but which was never the less very true.  Anyway, when it comes to losing my brother, I'm just not sure where those feelings end up going.  I do know that more work needs to be done.

(from the right:  SGA, our Mom, Joe, and Chris)

Wins and Losses
I don't play table or board games.  It's really a kind of psychological thing to be perfectly honest.  If I took the time to learn the rules of a game and compete, I'd feel compelled to win, and I just don't like that feeling.  The last board game I played was Monopoly, maybe a year ago; after about five minutes I did everything in my power to lose, and lose quickly.  The point here is that I don't particularly try to think about things in the context of "winning" and "losing".  I'll save that kind of crap for the current resident of the White House.

Anyway, thinking back over 2017, somethings went well...

...I have a wife who loves me...for me no less children and step-children are healthy and doing just fine
...I found a new job, complete with a great group of co-workers
...I can pay my bills

That's not to say that there haven't been some setbacks.  See above.  I'll also add that, if I gain any more weight, I'll soon develop my own gravity and random objects will start orbiting me.

Looking Forward
My wish for 2018?  Simply that it be better than 2017.  That's enough for me.

I have some time away coming up, "away" as in more or less unplugged.  I'll have some time for writing though, something that I kind of savor actually.  Between that, hiking and some photography, I'm hoping for a reset as the new year begins.

Thank You
Finally, thank you for reading this stuff.  I'd still be writing even if you didn't read it, but still, the fact that some do actually amazes me.  I don't think that I offer all that much, but perhaps from time to time, I do offer just enough.  When all is said and done, life isn't a quantity game...if it were, the Kardashians would all be in healthy marriages, Michael Jackson would be alive, and the President would be a happy guy.  No, life is a quality's the quality of our lives that matter the very most.  If I get one or two quality posts out in a year, things that may stir, provoke, evoke, well, I think I've done good.

Happy soon to be 2018.

(1) Yes, there will be many irritating footnotes to this posting.  As I noted in a prior blog entry, you can blame David Foster Wallace.
(2) The struggles of daily life; most recently, I heard Bono make reference to it during an interview on the Howard Stern Show.
(3) "Every now and then when your life gets complicated and the weasels start closing in, the only cure is to load up on heinous chemicals and then drive like a bastard from Hollywood to Las Vegas...with the music at top volume and at least a pint of ether." - Dr. Hunter S. Thompson
(4) Fancy blog terminology for the listing of blogs I keep on
(5) Another fancy blog term, this time meaning selling advertising on the page.  
(6) See THIS posting.
(7) I hate that sentiment, for the record.  "Driven" sounds like Gordon Gekko from the movie Wall Street, not some kid from the housing project.

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