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Friday, September 10, 2021

Suicide Prevention Month

September is National Suicide Prevention Month in the United States, and while I don't typically promote causes in this corner of the Internet, I'll make an exception in this case.


It's very, very hard to describe what it's like when someone close to you either attempts or succeeds in taking their own life.  In fact, I would say "hard" isn't a good enough word, but I'm at a loss to come up with anything more potent at the moment.  It is something that bites you to your very core, something that stays with you for the rest of your life.  It's also something that forces you to ponder questions that simply can't be answered, including "...could I have prevented this?".

There's also what happens afterward, in the days, weeks, months, and years that pass.  This is the notion that the burden of those feelings we carry as survivors, while ever so terrible, pales in comparison to how our loved one was feeling when they made their decision to end a life.  I can not imagine that level of pain.  All I am personally left with is this hole in my life that simply can not be filled, and the possible idea that there is some kind of after-life where all of this will be reconciled.

That last phrase ("...some kind of after-life..."), above, is a tough one for me to write and even tougher for me to put any faith into, as "the next world" is a bit above my philosophical paygrade.  Faith, it seems, is an easy concept to define, but a very difficult one to practice sometimes.  Especially when one is left with many "why did this have to happen in the first place" kinds of questions.

I can't really write much more on this topic without talking about some details that are best left off of the Internet.  That's a sign that it's time to stop.  Stopping a posting though is a heck of a lot easier than stopping grief (which can not be stopped...only...maybe...reconciled in some fashion; see above).  So, what I'll leave in terms of commentary is this:  Please take your own mental health, and that of your family and loved ones, seriously.

Additional information on suicide prevention can be found at:

https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

https://www.nami.org/Home

https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/suicide-prevention

https://www.pa211.org/get-help/mental-health/suicide-prevention-hotlines/

https://www.claremoreprogress.com/news/5-things-to-know-when-is-national-suicide-prevention-month-why-it-s-important/article_72c09a42-1038-11ec-9ee4-e7cbffeb09dc.html

Sunday, September 5, 2021

We Were Just Never Well Trained

(Brace's Orchard, Dallas, PA)

Towards the end of my second year of college, as I was trying to figure out just what I wanted to do with my life, one of my engineering instructors attempted to provide his students with some helpful life guidance.  This was in the form of a short, written piece that talked about how the educational system "taught people how to pick apples".  That's about 80% of what I remember.  The other 20% was something along the lines of how education fails to teach us what is actually important, i.e., why we should pick apples and why apples are good for us.  

I wish I would have read that piece, but at the time, it just didn't leave that much of an impression on me.  I think that proved the point the article was trying to make, by the way.  Ironically though, as I grew older, I began to appreciate Professor Joe Burinsky's attempt at enlightening his students.

I was thinking about that point this past week as I was talking and listening to stories about how many of us were programmed with this directive in mind.  It was important to pick more apples than anyone else.  If you weren't the chief apple-picker then you were doing something wrong.  Those last two points make a lot of sense if you are the person that owns the apple trees to be picked.  For the apple pickers themselves?  Not so much.  Now at first blush, this is a bit of a stretch of the original idea behind what I thought was the whole apple-picking narrative, as that had to do with education.  After I thought about it some more though, it really is the same thing.

Our education system, it seems, is basically just designed to create good apple pickers.

Now we do need apple-pickers, both figuratively and in reality.  But we are painfully poor when it comes to equipping individuals to deal with the truly weighty aspects of life.  I'm not suggesting that formal education is the solution to teaching young people how to deal with real-life questions of substance, but I am suggesting that it at least needs to make an effort.

Yes, by the way, some teachers, such as my oldest daughter Katrina (proud father moment), do teach more than just the formal curriculum (i.e., apple-picking).  But that comes from her desire to expose her students to things they aren't going to experience otherwise.  Shakespeare isn't normally resident in Brooklyn, except of course if you are in her English class.

Where is the effort though systemically to teach young adults how to make good personal relationship decisions?  Where is the effort to teach real financial literacy?  Where is the effort to teach them about what working in the real world is all about, specifically the importance of cultivating and having working relationships?

Again, at the risk of repeating myself, I know that these things are not owned by the formal educational system.  Much of this belongs to parents, other family members, and friends.  But the older I get, the more convinced I become that what we learn in school is to compete...for grades, for attention, for lots of things.  Good for the tree owners who need apples picked.  Bad for the people picking apples who are ultimately just executing some pre-loaded mental code.

I'll also note that some of us (myself included) were not really taught any of these non-apple picking skills as kids.  It was just expected that I would work hard and get good grades (i.e., learn how to pick apples well).  What I do know outside of apple-picking has been acquired in adulthood through a lot of trials and errors.  At age 57 that continues.

Bringing the conversation back to finish this post, I was talking to a former co-worker earlier this week.  We shared our two stories of life in the corporate apple-picking world, of working hard and trying to do our best, but ultimately being the victims of apple tree owners.  Sometimes picking apples well just isn't good enough.  That's a good lesson to learn by the way. although it would help to learn a bit earlier.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Cat Chases Tail (& related career thoughts)

I've been spending a lot of time over the past few months just trying to re-orient my professional life.  That's not a bad thing, by the way...it's just a reality.  That reality is I spent nearly 28 years working for one organization, and then 4.5 years working for 5 organizations.  Needless to say, when change happens to me, well, it really happens.  Granted that, as noted over the past few years, 4 of those changes happened to me; only one was initiated by me.  It has been, in a word, chaotic.  

For those keeping score over the last 4.5 years:

  • Organization 1 was bought by organization 2.
  • Organization 2 laid off almost everyone on my team, including myself (and my Director, who had worked for that same company for more than 20 years).
  • Organization 3 laid me off as a result of COVID.  In all fairness, it was a business necessity, and while getting laid off always stinks, there is some consolation found in the fact that this was an event outside of anyone's control.
  • Organization 4 just wasn't a good fit for me.  I wish them well.
  • Organization 5 is where I find myself now.

With that in mind, here I am now, almost 4 months into my current gig.  Now every morning before I start my workday, I spend a few minutes pouring my thoughts out into a personal blog of sorts.  Maybe one day that stuff will see the light of day.  

Anyway, one of the things I've had to mentally settle on and musing over is the fact that I really do want this to be my last stop.  As in the end.  As in my primary goal is to simply get paid a reasonable amount of money for the work I do (and I am) and not work for a bunch of jerks (which I am not).  No promotions, no self-promotion, no rat-racing, no ego.  To that last point, it's a bit trickier than it sounds.  Like most blue-blooded American folks, I have been conditioned to believe that, in our working lives, we are either climbing up or we are pathetic losers.  With my current situation, as already explained, I have to come to terms with the whole "pathetic losers" thing.  Or, as I have explained to my boss, I have resigned myself to "shutting off my ambition gene".

Yet there is more to this whole mental mess.

Why is ambition even an issue here?  Ambition for what?  To find some sort of validation that I am smart or hardworking or talented?  This brings me to my cat Oren.

(Oren and Rambo)

Oren loves to chase his tail.  He REALLY LOVES chasing his tail.  He must think it is some other thing that he needs to capture.  To acquire.  In reality, he doesn't need to acquire it...he already has it.  He just doesn't realize that fact.

And here I am now.  Maybe I've been chasing something that, at this point, I already have.  Maybe I don't need the validation that I am smart or hardworking or talented.  Maybe chasing a "career tail" makes about as much sense as what Oren does.  In all fairness to Oren though, at least he has fun with his chase.

Finally, adding another dimension to all of this is the fact that Ms. Rivers and I think we'll be ready to retire in 6 to 7 years.  That will put both of us 2-3 years away from the magic age of 65, but we have a plan.  We're good at that sort of thing.

The above noted, Oren needs some attention.  





Monday, July 5, 2021

Of Cats and Cars

It’s pretty much an established fact at this point that I’m only writing this stuff once a month.  Not that I want to make this a posting about postings, which bores even me to tears.

Anyway, summer is in full swing, as is life in general.  As I write this, we have a new addition to the family, the former Gaston (now re-named Oren).


I hadn’t planned on getting a new cat after JeanLuc passed away, but Ms. Rivers and Robby wanted to, and questions about “getting a cat” are, for me, about as easy as “hey, want to go for ice cream?” to answer.  A few things about Oren:

  • It literally took weeks to come up with his name.  Weeks.
  • Speaking of names, his full name is, in theory, “Oren Bruce Albert Carroll Rivers”.
  • He has enough energy to power a Tesla for a round trip to/from Philadelphia.
  • Among his cute traits, he sometimes growls like a dog, in addition to making an assortment of chortles.

He also absolutely adores Ms. Rivers. 

While I still do miss JeanLuc, it is nice to have a new cat in the house.  His housemate, Rambo, has been very patient with him, for the record.


Another addition will be arriving tomorrow, in the form of another car.  With my younger stepson getting ready for the quasi-adulting world after high school, I have gifted him my 2008 Nissan Altima.  As I told Ms. Rivers, I think having a car post-high school is important.  It speaks to the freedom to go places and the need to act responsibly when getting there.  It also teaches an important lesson about how things in the real world (such as the freedom to drive places) always come with some costs (be it gasoline, insurance, etc.).  I’ve had the Altima since 2017, and outside of assorted occasional leaks and wear/tear items, such as tires, it has served us well.  Given its age, the mileage isn’t too bad (less than 100k), and it is very well equipped.  I hope Robby continues to enjoy it as much as I have over the years.

By way of additional background, I bought a brand-new Chevy Silverado back in 2016, which I thoroughly enjoy driving.  It’s not very good on gas though, hence the need for the Altima back in2017.  There’s also the fact that I pretty much want to keep the Silverado forever, so driving it less than more is a goal.  Anyway, since I will be working in an office with some regularity for the foreseeable future, it makes sense (in other words, I’ve created a justification that probably only exists in my head) for me to look for another vehicle.  That process has been ongoing but concluding tomorrow when I become the owner of a 2018 Toyota C-HR.  As they say in the television news business (or used to say…) “film at 11”.

Now me being me, I literally analyzed the crap out of the car selection process, including the creation of a car analysis spreadsheet in Excel.  I had criteria and data, but as is the case with buying a vehicle for me, there is also a kind of “X factor/gut instinct” thing going on.  In this case, while the C-HR was on my potential list (good gas mileage, a hatchback, not AWD…which I don’t need because of the Silverado…etc.), what sold me was the fact that it just doesn’t look ordinary.  Not that I am all that interested in calling attention to myself, driving or otherwise, but all of us spend a fair amount of time in our vehicles, so why not at least have that reflective of something that looks good?

This is, for the record, probably the worst environment ever for buying a car (or a house for that matter).  Never being one for good timing, it is more important to get this purchase over with now than put it off any further.  The alternative is my continuing to ruminate over this even more.  Given the choice between probably overpaying or needlessly renting out space in my head, well, I chose the former.

On that note, the yard beckons and grass must be cut.

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Reset

It’s been a while, but the time between my last posting and this one has been fruitful.  I’ll grant the fact that “fruitful” isn’t a great word in this context, but I’m going to go with it at least for the time being.  Anyway, the fruitful part comes as a result of a kind of personal and professional reset (hence the post title).  There has been a lot to reset by the way. 

At work, well, now I am doing something that I think I do well, and I’m working with good people.  In many ways, it feels as if a kind of weight has been lifted off my shoulders.  So much of what we are taught by society at large is that we need to always be moving ahead…getting a better job (where “better” means more money and more responsibility) …earning that high title…having more stuff.  Yet that’s not where I find myself now.  In fact, by some accounts, I have moved behind.  I actually had that high title I had once dreamed about, and lots of responsibility, with people constantly coming to me for answers.  Now?  Not so much.  And I am better off.

I know, I can probably quote some learned sage about ego and stuff like that, but to what end?  For me, well, this is much more personal and practical.  Personal in the sense that, having gotten the position I had wanted, I realized that it made me miserable.  I could do the work, but I wasn’t happy doing the work.  And quite frankly, many of the people I was working with weren’t happy doing their work either.  I reported to someone I like and respect, but that wasn’t enough to overcome the inordinate amount of space the job took in my head.  In a very real sense, that job was becoming who I was; even when I was not physically there I was almost always mentally there.  This was not good.  On the practical end of things, the pandemic amplified just about the worst of everything.

We all can take for granted that, as the Good Book says*, there is a time and season for everything.  For me, well at least in hindsight, there have been times when it was important to be hyper-focused on work and “getting ahead”.  Yet, even during those times, there was this little voice in the back of my head saying, “Hey you, no matter what happens, you’ve already come a long way for a kid from a housing project”.  Most of the time though I just got very good at ignoring that little voice.

Fast forward to now and I’m hoping this has all been, as Hunter S. Thompson noted…

"No sympathy for the devil; keep that in mind. Buy the ticket, take the ride...and if it occasionally gets a little heavier than what you had in mind, well...maybe chalk it up to forced consciousness expansion: Tune in, freak out, get beaten.”

The idea of “forced consciousness expansion” is pretty darn brilliant.  We all have that in our lives, well at least if we take the time to reflect that is.  Anyway, my life over the past year has absolutely been an exercise in this forced consciousness expansion.  I can see now that I have needed events to unfold the way they have, as some things in our lives simply don’t just work on a purely academic level…they must be experienced to be learned.  Chief among those lessons for me:  What we do for a living can’t be so over-sized that it actually begins to take over the whole “living” part.  It all sounds so very simple in retrospect, but yet almost bruising in real-time.

From here, well, where?  For the moment, I’m just trying to step back and learn what I can about what’s been happening with me over the past year.  I’m also taking the time to do something I think I am pretty good at, namely thinking about my longer-term future.  That’s one of the drawbacks for me, by the way, when current events end up renting out too much space in my head…I just go into this survival mode, and I basically stop thinking about five years from now or even tomorrow for that matter.  It’s a kind of Eckart Tolle thing gone to the extreme, where the frenetic nature of the present moment becomes over-powering.  While I have no illusions about living a stress-free life (professional or otherwise) now and going forward, I at least feel as if I now have some breathing space.

Speaking of the future, the way I see things, I’m going to work for at least another 5 years.  Maybe a bit longer if I am enjoying what I am doing at the time.  From there, well, it will be time to be part-time at something or other.  Maybe I can just pet cats at a shelter.  Regardless, I can now see that happening, and the older I get, the faster times seems to flow, so five years could very well be the blink of an eye.

All of the above is cautioned on the fact that I am utterly horrible at predicting things.  In actuality who the heck knows where I will be tomorrow, let alone in my 60’s.  This, by the way, is all the more reason why it’s a good thing that my life feels like it has a bit more balanced now.  None of us gets do-overs in life, and none of us gets out of life alive.  What we need to do is to make the best of what we are given, and maybe get smarter as we get older.  If every once in a while that requires some forced consciousness expansion, well, so be it…we just need to hang on until the ride is over.


(*) This...

Sunday, May 9, 2021

Adjustments

I can't think of a better way to title this posting, so I am going with the above-mentioned "Adjustments".  It has the benefit of at least being factually correct, which makes up for it being on the boring side.  Anyway, there are a lot of adjustments to talk about these days.

I miss my cat.  I know, that may sound odd coming from a 57-year-old male, but it's simply true.  I think about him often.  In a lot of ways, he is one of the reasons why I am here today typing this posting.  Had he not come into my life when he did, I know my life from November 2010 until now would have been different.  Granted, I am not talking about currently living in a utopia, but compared to what my life could be like, well, I am in a relatively good place.  Jean-Luc gets some of that credit.  He was unfailingly loyal to me and always attentive.  As I mentioned in my last posting, he knew me and knew when I needed him.  With him gone, well, the world seems just a tiny bit less friendly.


I've also made a job and ultimately career change.  The names will be changed to protect the innocent, but I've taken stock of a few things and made the conscious decision that at this stage in my life, it's time to prioritize my physical and mental health.  This means a bit less work stress, although I absolutely recognize that most of that stuff comes more from inside me than anywhere else.  If anything, my hope is that I'll be able to work on that internal stuff more in the months and years to come.  My professional life has admittedly been on something of a rollercoaster since 2016, and it feels like I should be consciously trying to do more of what I truly enjoy along with paying less attention to my inner dialogue that insists on measuring success against others, etc.  I know, that sounds very new-age, but it's the best I can do under the circumstances.  Who knows, I may decide in a bit that I want more of that kind of pressure in my life, but for now, and for as far as I can see, the right thing to do is more of what I enjoy and less of what I don't.  

Finally, I am adjusting to working from home now.  I've never been the biggest fan of that, but the reality of working life in 2021 is that for many of us, it's here to stay.  To make that more palatable for me, I'm almost done re-configuring my office so that I have a dedicated desk just for work.  This now means that my small home office has two dual monitor set-ups and probably draws as much power as Shamokin (Pennsylvania), but so be it.  My hope is that I can view the work desk as just that...my workplace and my work time.  

In the end, it's all about the adjustments.

Looking forward, there is some work for me to do.  For starters, work just needs to be an emotionally smaller part of my life.  Put another way, I desperately need to separate "me the person" from "me the working professional".  If I can do that, and I am hopeful, maybe there will be room for other things that bring me some amount of happiness.  I also have to think about the fact that I honestly don't have a decade more of full-time professional work in me.  At some point, maybe in my early 60's, I am going to make the decision that it's time to have a full-time job of simply being me (also known as retiring).  The next few years need to be a part of that transition.  

Lastly, on the work front, I could absolutely be making a horrible mistake now.  There is a part of me that is always in competition.  The problem with that though is the fact that the very nature of competition implies that there are "winners" and "losers".  When it comes to a constant competition against a notion of what I should be doing and where I should be in my career, well, I don't think there can ever be a winner.  As so well noted in that classic piece of cinematic vision (War Games)...

Saturday, April 17, 2021

"My Work Here Is Done"






In late October 2010, I was in the process of separating and ultimately getting a divorce.  Part of that involved moving into an apartment living on my own for the first time in 23 years.  Saying that was a difficult time is an understatement par excellence.  Fortunately, I have smart and compassionate children, one of whom (my oldest) told me that I needed to get a cat to keep me company.  After some thinking about it, I basically decided "why not", so around Thanksgiving 2010 a trek was made to an area shopping mall where we met a friend of my daughter who just happened to have two available kittens.  Once we were there, the two kittens in a cat carrier were presented to me.  They were identical, except for the fact that one was a bit more active than the other.  I picked the less active one.  

From that point forward I would never have to be alone again.  

Fast forward to April 13, 2021, and that kitten became a constant companion for me.  He would say hello to me in the morning, enjoy getting his morning meal, and greet me at the door when I arrived home from work. He was equal parts stubborn and playful.  He had a knack for knowing when I needed company and when I just wanted to be alone.  For whatever reason, he just seemed to like me.

It was on this past Tuesday (April 13th) that Jean-Luc passed away.  The official reason, as given by the veterinarian, was multiple blood clots that impacted his back legs, and lungs.  I'd describe in better detail just what happened, but honestly, it's just too painful.  Over the past 20 years, I lost my father, my mother, and my brother Chris.  All of those were difficult in their own way, and in particular, there isn't a day that goes by when I don't think about Chris.  However, at no time did I shed a single tear at any of their passings.  Was I sad?  Yes, and in the case of Chris, well, the circumstances of his passing were such that there were other emotions at play as well.  In the case of Jean-Luc though I unabashedly balled my eyes out when the time came to say goodbye.  Granted that I am normally too tightly wrapped for such demonstrations of a lack of control, but at that moment I simply couldn't hold back anymore.  

As I sit here over the course of a few days writing this posting, I've come to the conclusion that there is a certain sense of a cycle being completed in Jean-Luc's passing.  When he became my companion back in 2010 my life was anything but settled.  However, the moment he became my roommate is the moment that things started to get better for me.  Fast forward to April of 2021 and my life is anything but unsettled; in fact, his passing happens to coincide with what I think will be my final job change before I end up retiring.  While I miss Jean-Luc tremendously, it is as if his work here on Earth was finally done and it was time for him to move on.  Perhaps he will be reincarnated into another kitten that will come into someone else's life at just the right time.

There have been a few interesting things about Jean-Luc that are worthy of sharing, so in the spirit of celebrating this life, here goes.

The (Official) Name
As my oldest daughter and I were driving over to pick him up, we talked about names for my soon-to-be companion.  My suggestions included "Bill" (it would be cool to have "Bill the Cat") and Fek'lhr (pronounced "Fek-Lar"; read more HERE).  Fortunately, she was a bit more level-headed about things, and the final two choices came down to "Spock" or "Jean-Luc".  The latter prevailed.

The (Unofficial) Names
These included Spud*, Spudster, Buddy, JLA (Jean-Luc Albert), Friend, Special Friend, Good Boy, Handsome Boy, and Potatoe.  That last name was christened by my stepsons as a kind of derivative of Spud.  
(*) When he was little he was just a little Spud.

The (Good) Behavior
In his younger days, Jean-Luc enjoyed playing fetch.  Seriously, I would throw some small object and he would chase after it, find it, and bring it back to me.  We could do this for about a half-hour before he (or was that me?) became bored with it.

Jean-Luc loved my mother.  In fact, there were really only two people whose lap he would willingly sit on, mine and my mother's.  To this very day, I am not exactly sure why.

Jean-Luc knew instinctively when I wasn't feeling well.  All I had to do is lay down and he would appear, take station less than a foot away from my head, and keep me company.

The (Maybe Not So Good) Behavior
A few years ago in the morning, Ms. Rivers and I were doing something upstairs and needed Jean-Luc to get off of our bed, where he was napping.  We coaxed and asked, to no avail.  Just as we started to take more direct measures, he got up, stared right at us, squatted, took a crap on our bed (again, looking right at us), and then just leisurely left.  Point made I guess.

There was also an incident involving a bowl of lettuce around Christmas time, the story of which is legendary with my stepson Robby.

There were times when he just wanted my attention, mostly when I was head's down doing something that, at the time, I thought was important.  His solution?  He would come up to me and take a small nip at me.  As in nowhere near what he could have done, just enough to say "Hey Bozo, I'm down here!".  He would also just randomly swat my leg if I was walking by, looking at me as if saying "Yeah, I did that...so what!".

The Indifferent
Jean-Luc was a water cat.  He loved getting "drippies" from the bathtub spigot.  He would lap up drips and wipe the water over his head as if he were taking a shower.

I could go on, and to be honest, in my head over the past few days I already have, time and time again.

In the end, thoughts about the after-life and things like that are a bit above my paygrade.  Ms. Rivers tells me that I'll see Jean-Luc again in the next life.  That's a nice thought.  Right now, well, I just miss the hell out of the little guy.

Saturday, April 3, 2021

That Changes in the Yard

I love yard work.  This means I also love Spring.

Part of this springs (pun intended) from having grown up in a housing project where I learned to associate planting flowers, etc., as being a sign of affluence.  A bigger part though is more deeply ingrained in the machinery running inside my head.  More specifically, most of the time my mind is like Times Square in New York City, pre-pandemic:  Things going in all different directions, lots of flashing lights vying for attention, and so very much noise.  It is, in a word, tiring.  While I can physically relax (and probably do so too much these days), actually mentally relaxing is far more difficult.

That changes in the yard.

The grass needs to be cut...so my mind focuses on getting out the mower, making sure it has gas, cleaning it off a bit, and actually cutting the grass.  The grass was too high before I cut it, and now it is just right.  I've spent effort and gotten a result.

Time to trim the trees...the dwarf plum in the front needs a bit of shaping, so I break out the tools and get to work.  It looks really nice afterward.  Making sure that the old maple in the back is free from dead branches that might fall onto the garage.  Time to get out the pole saw.

I could go on with about four more examples, but they all revolve around the same story, namely that for whatever combination of reasons, being outside and working in the yard gives me the ability to (figuratively & temporarily) move from Times Square to a quiet meadow.  There's a certain clarity to the yard that I don't get at, for example, work...the goals are easy to understand, there are no ulterior motives and the results are easy to see.  There's also certain predictability to the yard; for example, the lilac's bloom in late April/early May.

This is not just about immediate gratification by the way.  In the yard this year I am hoping for two fully blooming honeysuckle plants (which I spent countless hours on last year planting, trimming, and fertilizing).  I also have plans to remove a rather ratty-looking ground cover plant in the front, but the replacement is still under consideration.   Maybe put in a light pole and clematis?

I'm sure this kind of thing is not unique to me, and perhaps we all need times and places where we can be free from the noise.  Mine just happens to be the yard.  For others, maybe it's sailing.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Amazon Union Drive




The important news that you may not be aware of is a unionization drive at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama.  This is a very, very big deal that could have an impact far wider than just one of the many Amazon locations.  I consider myself mostly neutral when it comes to unionization; by and large, I think employers which have a labor union are in that situation because they deserve it.  


Amazon is a test case though in what's wrong with many employers in the United States today.  As my former Labor Law instructor at Villanova recently said on LinkedIn...

Amazon's pitch is "Don't let the unions come between our relationship".

A warehouse employee counters that by saying "But we don't have a relationship.  We have a relationship with a computer and an app".  

The above also exists in an environment where Amazon employees are afraid to use the bathroom while at work* as the company relentlessly drives for more efficiency and productivity.  Oh, and the company was founded by one (if not the) richest man on Earth.  Now I like getting my Amazon packages quickly with my Prime membership, but I would not complain if I waited an extra day for delivery in order to make sure that Amazon employees are treated more like human beings than a piece of machinery.

Granted, unionization isn't always the best answer to addressing employee issues, but sometimes it may be the only answer that's left for employees.  As a professional, this makes me truly sad.  I believe to my very core that individuals are capable of representation themselves...they don't need an intermediary...but what happens when the leadership of an organization won't actually listen to individuals?

There are better ways out there to do things from a labor-management perspective.  It's worth looking at, for example, how things are done in Germany.


As it stands though, I can't help but support the workers who want to organize in Alabama.  What other choice is left for them?



(*) Citation:
https://www.theverge.com/2018/4/16/17243026/amazon-warehouse-jobs-worker-conditions-bathroom-breaks

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Last Gasps

Two Last Gasps.

The first is (hopefully) winter.  In some respects, it has been one of the most difficult winters I've had in a long time.  This is how I suspect difficult years end, by the way, in a kind of last gasp.  And I can't even claim to have had things all that bad, by most practical measures.  What I can claim though is that, for the most part, this is not how I imagined my life would be at age 50-something (I am too tired to do the math...at some point, you just stop counting anyway).  That's not a measure of what you might think, by the way.  I would have hoped that I would just have more of this "battles inside my head stuff" figured out.  

Was it always this way?

That's a great question.  I think that, in the past, I always had what I'd call bumpers to my life...things that basically forced me to just plow through stuff.  These are the things that good husbands and fathers do.  Think along the lines of "I don't know what the Hell I am doing, but I'm just going to do it anyway".  With age though, some of those things just go way.  Kids grow up and become successful.  Marriages end and begin again.  Before you know it, there is nothing left to distract me, and here I am, left to answer 40 years of "why" questions.  

Maybe, just maybe, Spring is part of the answer.  A kind of magnificent metaphor.  No matter how horrible the Winter was, between bad weather, pandemics, and insurrections, the snow piles dwindle into nothing and Spring comes.  Maybe I just need to stop thinking so much and just enjoy the coming flowers.


Another last gasp is Kmart.  One of the few remaining Kmarts in the known universe, located in Edwardsville (PA), is closing.  My first trip into a Kmart wasn't really a Kmart...it was a kind of proto-Kmart known as Kresge's in downtown Scranton.  My brothers and I would parade down there with my mother, probably looking like a duck walking with her ducklings, and do the shopping thing.  A high-point was stopping in the cafeteria, where we could get a soda and on the rare occasion a muffin.  Kresge's evolved into Kmart, the staple for us being the one located in the Birney Plaza in Moosic.  Alas, that died a slow death a few years ago, only to be replaced by a pretty nice supermarket.

Anyway, I couldn't forgo the opportunity to make my last stop in one of the last Kmarts in the universe, so my younger stepson and I make the few-mile trek.  It was everything one would expect...this combination of sadness and apathy rolled into an odd mix of horrible-looking clothing and a few Craftsmen tools.  I did end up getting some tools during that trip by the way.  I also saved the bag.  30 years from now maybe I'll pull it out from a drawer and reminisce about how my brother Chris had this habit of pouring some of each different kind of soda into his cup as we were at the small Kresge's cafeteria.  Yes, he was a rebel even back then.

Sunday, March 7, 2021

It's Been A Long Road, Getting From There To Here


I don't think I have ever gone this long without posting something before, but February was a long month, even though it is actually the shortest month.  As for why it has been so long, I wish I had a good answer other than, maybe, "tired".   That can be tired as in physically, mentally, emotionally, etc.  While it may not seem like much on the outside, writing this stuff can be taxing on me.  Granted that I enjoy this...I would be doing it for going on 13 years if I didn't...but sometimes things just get in the way.  

Work has been taxing, and I readily admit that I am needing to learn new skills to make it work.  The skills, by the way, have nothing to do with strategic job stuff.  More like the skills associated with balancing my needs to do everything right, self-flagellation when I get it wrong, and better understanding my boundaries.  There is a kind of moral here, namely that getting older doesn't mean you have all the answers.  It also makes me question how well I have served my own needs by having stayed at the same employer for so long.  Was I ultimately too isolated from the "real world"?  No sense expending too many mental calories on that one, as the rear-view mirror examination is best used in very small doses.  

For the record, trying to mentally back out of certain thought patterns is very, very difficult for me.  For example, where I should be in life right now, I think, is working towards an eventual retirement.  That's the big goal.  I should be viewing what I do now through that lens, not the one where I over-examine in microscopic detail what I do every day.

Then there are the reminders every once in a while where the universe tries to re-focus your head.  Recently, in my case, part of that has been a friend who is going through cancer treatment.  Here I am wallowing in whether I cheesed someone off at work and this person is dealing with "the Big C".  I readily confess, in a brief moment at work that I nearly broke down thinking about it.  Sometimes "...universe tries to re-focus..." is just a fancy way to say "...dramatically unfair $hit..." (with apologies for the quasi-swear word).

I do sometimes wonder if I have reached a kind of existential moment in my life, with more questions about "why" than there are actual answers.

In any event, I am moving along.  Part of that moving along involves my doing a better job at work of just focusing on task achievement...in other words, just trying to get some stuff done.  Part of that, in turn, involves being less emotionally invested in things.  I need to come to work, do my best, and leave work.  I am learning (make that trying to learn) that I need to save the emotional investment for things where an actual emotional investment is more appropriate.

Re-reading the above, it seems like I have spent a few hundred words trying to say something that could easily be described in a single sentence.  So I'll give that a try now:

"I am re-examining just how important my professional experience should be in the context of my larger life."

How's that?  I know, all of the above is an incredible exercise in over-thinking.  Maybe that's the point...and also the problem.

* * * * * *

On a more practical, non-internal dialogue note, I am officially fully vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus.  I should probably feel more relieved than I actually do, but in all fairness personal worry about the pandemic hasn't been much of a driver for me over the past year.  If anything, I worry more for others, including those who are more vulnerable to infection because of their health or what they do for a living.  Here's to hoping that we, as a nation, have turned a corner in the fight against the virus.


Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Today's Prediction

For reasons that escape me, from time to time the following clip comes to my mind when I am dealing with stressful things...


Ironically, I didn't really like that Rocky movie (#3) as much as the first two.  

Anyway, and without getting into too many details, it's been a bit rocky (no pun intended) on this end over the past few weeks.  As usual, probably about 66% of that is just in my head, but there is that good third that is definitely sourced from the exterior.  Honestly, the details are not all that important, other than to say that no one is sick, I love my wife, and my children are all doing okay.  

One of the things that I have realized over the past few weeks is when I was younger, I had a much stronger tolerance for certain kinds of stress (of the 9 to 5 variety).  As I've grown older?  Well not so much.  I suspect that, in those younger days, no matter what was happening in and around me, I always had that compelling reason to push through in the form of my young children.  Failure...however you want to define that...was never an option.  What happens when you don't have that compelling reason?  That's the $64,000 question, and I don't have an answer, other than what Clubber Lang notes in the clip above.

I will note that I am not the only person of my age who has these kinds of feelings.  What does differentiate me from others, maybe, is the unrealistic set of standards I set up for myself when I am earning a living.  I am smart enough to know not to hold others to unrealistic expectations, but not smart enough to prevent myself from doing that same thing...to myself.  What's left is a kind of opaque cloud that's settled on me, where it's difficult to gain the proper perspective.  What isn't opaque is the fact that I wake up worrying about the 9 to 5 stuff most mornings.  As in it's the first thought that comes to my mind.  To be fair though, I somethings think those thoughts are new; maybe they are just continuations of what's pinging around in my head while I am asleep.  That may, in fact, the scariest part of this posting.

In any event, the purpose, if you want to call it that, of this posting was to engage in a bit of venting.  Which I've done.  Do I feel better?  I'm not sure.  Regardless, here's something better...a video of Linda Ronstadt singing a song by the Hollies.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Stand Up In A Clear Blue Morning

Tomorrow at noon will feel like a brand new day.  At least for many of us.  

Four years ago, during a November vacation that happened right after I was "retired" from a company I had planned on retiring with, my wife and I watched election results in horror.  A man who had basically failed at much of what he had done in life...two failed marriages...six failed businesses...was going to the be next president.  From that point on, it honestly felt as if there were a cold wet blanket on this nation.  I wasn't proud to be an American.  I watched with a kind of downward head-shaking acknowledgment when he promoted racists and demoted those allies we had that shared in our supposed national values.  

Last November, there was a kind of glimmer of hope if you will that maybe, just maybe, we might get a new president.  A president that didn't, for example, rage-tweet in the middle of the night.  Even then though, I basically still wasn't sure it was going to end.  The tweeter-in-chief's campaign of countless lawsuits succeeded in planting some doubt in my, and I am sure others, minds.

On January 6th of this year, we had a kind of crescendo of sorts, when all the ugliness of a failed president and his supporters had their final stand.  A Waterloo worthy of any dictator.  While those events are a stain on this nation, they also gave me though something that was lacking:  A real sense of hope.  After January 6th, I knew it was truly going to end.

As I write this now, Joe Biden will be the new President of the United States of America in about 14 hours.  It feels like I can finally exhale after four long years.  In something of an interesting bit of synchronicity, I now find myself a few months into a new job where I very well may be until retirement.

Lastly, I offer this...

What do the President of the United States of America and the author of this blog have in common?

We were both born in Scranton, Pennsylvania!

#ScrantonProud!


Sunday, January 10, 2021

Life is What Happens

Last week was, in a word, terrible.  Granted, it was terrible for many of us, but I had two extra things going on, in addition to the terrorist attack at the United States Capitol:

  • It as the anniversary of my brother's death
  • My stepson's father passed away
As a general rule, I do my best to protect the privacy of others on the page, and that will continue for my stepsons.  I will note though that they had a complex relationship with their father, which is something I knew about going into my relationship with Ms. Rivers.  Based on that, and the advice of Dr. Gordon Livingston (in one of his books...), I made the decision early on that I would work hard at being a positive part of their lives.  Time will tell if I have been successful with that goal.  

For the record, I didn't attend the funeral services.  This was in part because I viewed my possible attendance as being both disingenuous and a distraction.  The disingenuous part comes from the fact that I could not honestly honor the life of someone who caused pain to people I love.  I know though that there were good times in that family in years past, so it is entirely proper for others to come and pay respects.  But not me.  I did though contribute to the effort in other ways, including editing the photo for the obituary.

I am reminded though by last week's events that sometimes great pain...and even death...is part of the cost for a new life to begin.  That could be a new life for a nation that struggled for four years under the divisiveness of a malignant narcissistic leader.  Or a new life free from the what-if shackles of a non-supportive parent.  To that second point, well, I have some experience.  If you were to ask me how I felt when my own father passed away, my immediate answer would probably be "glad", as he was finally wrenched free from his physical and emotional pain, and at least one of his sons (me) was free from trying to understand why his father was never capable of actually being a father.  I know that's pretty dark, but on the other side of that passing is a kind of peace, as some memories do soften with the passing of time and (hopefully) the wisdom of age.  I hope that turns out to be true for my stepsons as well.

It's also time for life.


Sometimes when we're going through difficult times it's hard to remember that this is life.  That our life is ticking away.  By all means, we have to do the hard things of life, including losing people close to us, but we also can't get so focused on the trials that we miss everything else around us.  Life does not pause for us.  Life is always happening.




Monday, January 4, 2021

The Things We Can't Leave Behind


I'll cut right to the chase:  There isn't a day that goes by in my life when I don't think about my late brother Chris.  As in no matter what I am doing, no matter where I am, there are always thoughts about him pinging around in my head.  Some of those thoughts are probably best described as "whistful", as in thinking about what our lives should have been or what he would be thinking about relative to some current event.  Some of them are sad.  Some are just, for a lack of a better word, perplexing to the point of mental exhaustion, as I still really can't fully grasp just what happened 4 years ago on January 5, 2017.

If you are at all wondering just what the hell I am talking about you can click on this link:  http://www.sgalbert.com/2017/01/my-brother-chris.html

Yes, 4 years later and part of me just doesn't understand what happened, and that runs counter to all of my emotional and intellectual programming, as by and large I ALWAYS HAVE TO UNDERSTAND.  I have to be able to make sense of my world and what's happening in it to some degree, as any loose-ends gnaw at me like a beaver on a birch tree.  I need understanding and order in my life now to balance what I experienced growing up.  Yet though on another level the death of my brother does not now, nor will it ever make any real sense.  What's more, one of the few bits of saving grace in my childhood was the fact that there were 3 others in the world who could understand this to one degree or another.  Now my youngest brother has settled into a world and routine where maybe these things don't matter as much to him now, which I think is a good thing.  That means now there is really only 1 other.

There are times when I honestly just wish I could break down into a puddle of emotional goo over what happened, knowing that at least then maybe I could hit the emotional re-set switch of sorts.  That doesn't work though for me.  I somehow believe that I was fated to find my brother in January 2017, precisely because that was better than others finding him.  You see, that almost stoic, restrained, logical person that I am is well equipped for calming the emotions of others during trying times.  Yes, I do the crisis management thing really well.  Yet that comes at a high cost (as John Mellencamp once wrote, "I do things my way, and I pay a high price"), namely a kind of emotional governor that I can't seem to disable.  I am left with trying to use logic to describe feelings that are inherently illogical.  It's a vicious cycle.  

For the record, I don't know what actual purpose this posting serves.  It's not actually even a half-way decent tribute to my late brother (you can click on the link above for that).  If anything, it's the kind of rambling insider stuff that part of me wants to dismiss.  However, this seems to be what I can manage to scrape together from the jumble of feelings I can't seem to fully process all that well these 4 years later.  I also get the impression that I'll be able to write this same posting 10 years from now, as the fundamental conflict at play, namely my needing to be "in control" vs. the very "out of control" feelings I have buried deep down are not likely to be resolved.  Simply put, I'm not likely to change all that much, and Chris is not coming back.  

In the final analysis, what is clear is this:  I just wish he was still here.

Friday, January 1, 2021

All is Quiet on New Year's Day

 



Welcome to 2021, and I'm not even going to try and add to the chorus of why we collectively needed 2020 to come to an end.  While it wasn't the worst year in my life, it definitely was up there in the top 5, and I, fortunately, haven't had anyone in my family get sick.  Sometimes though there is this collective terrible that falls upon us all that doesn't need to touch us specifically, and it just wraps around everything and everyone like a cold, wet blanket.

As for me, I did something around midnight that I almost never do...I had alcohol (pink champagne, to be precise)...to both ring in 2021 and to toast Ms. River's birthday.  I'm good now in the alcohol department for another year+.

As for the new year, I just want some normalcy.  

I want to continue to have a normal job.

I want to be able to go out to dinner in a normal way.

I want to worry about normal things when it comes to my children.  

I want the national news to be filled with normal, boring things.

I want politicians to Tweet about normal, boring things.

If anything, COVID-19 continues to remind us all just how good we had it back before "pandemic" became a present-tense word.

I'm not sure any of the above is too much to ask for, but yet some of it still seems so out of reach.

In any event, there is only so much we can control, and most of that is simply our own reactions.  So as we all stare down 2021 with a mix of hope and suspicion, let's not forget that every big thing is made of a bunch of small things, which holds equally true for the pyramids and our own attitudes.  

We can do this...2021...one small, hopeful step at a time.