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Sunday, January 30, 2022

This is My (digital) Life


I spent about 6 or 7 hours this weekend reviewing, re-organizing, and backing up* the data I have accumulated over the years.  All of that amounts to what you see above.  It may seem like a lot...or a little bit...depending on your own consumption of all things digital, but I will note that I don't have a ton of video, which helps keep the overall file size down.

I still have work to do, but at least now things are organized enough so that I can take my time to go through individual files in more detail.  This is less a project than it is a weird kind of quest.  A quest for what?  I can't really answer that, except for the fact that I've tried to keep a record of things over the years.  This is where "things" are pictures, music, more pictures, projects I worked on, old employment records, and still more pictures.  The pictures, you see, make up about 13,544 of the files noted above.  This includes more photographs of squirrels than a non-squirrel researcher should actually have.  What can I say?  I happen to like squirrels.

As is the case for most things that I am involved with, there is a deeper meaning here.  In a way, I need these things now and I need them to be organized.  It's a given that I will probably not gaze upon most of these files, but their presence is oddly comforting.  These things, especially the photographs, provide a kind of solid link to the past, one not clouded by my own emotions or mood at any given time.  The pictures don't lie.  The pictures simply are, and they provide a kind of proof that I actually have accomplished some things over the course of a working adulthood.  This is especially important when the current shiny mental crisis dangling in front of me seems to take up most of my mental and emotional RAM.

Before I forget to mention it, I also have a large cache of paper documents too, neatly organized into well-labled binders.  

Here's the punchline, if you will, to the above:  All of this is eventually moving towards a great purge of sorts.  I did something of a minor paper purge last year, where I got myself to discard documents that no Steve in no parallel universe would ever be using for any purpose.  That felt oddly satisfying.  I also enjoyed having the extra shelf space.  Getting back to the purge of a digital kind, that will be happening, I suspect when I retire (for real) in a few years.  The pictures will by and large stay, but what will go will be the hundreds of book summaries, copies of draft presentations from 2005 (and many other years), and plans/schemes that span the decades.  It will all be instantly vaporized as if none of it ever existed in the first place.  When that day comes, I don't think I'll need the virtual safety blanket that this stuff provides.  I will no longer feel as if I need to provide proof to myself that I've actually done things.  

Maybe that makes me a digital hoarder.  However, I do think it will feel oddly satisfying when the great digital purge occurs.  For now, I need to keep that safety blanket.

(*) The actual backup is to a Samsung 1TB portable SSD, which I keep in my work bag.  I know, I should be backing this stuff up to the cloud, but at this stage, I'm just not ready for that...yet.

Sunday, January 23, 2022

On the Radio

One of the 10,000 or so things that I am interested in is radios.  Old ones, new ones, working ones, non-working ones, it doesn't matter.  I occasionally pick up an older radio at flea markets or on eBay I see something that I am interested in or otherwise just looks unique. 

Something I don't have but would be interested in acquiring at some point is an aqua blue Bakelite radio.

Here's an interesting point to this post:  I don't actually listen to the radio anymore.  Not even satellite radio, even though I have a subscription that runs through July 2022.  Part of this is because I have other things that have taken the place of radio, including various and sundry (with apologies for the double adjectives) online things.  The latest thing, by the way, is an Amazon Echo Show, which I purchased for Ms. Rivers as a Christmas present.  Note "purchased for her"...I liked hers so much that I bought one for myself.  

Back to the old-school stuff.

The radio in my small collection that I like the most is a GE BlueMax.  In fact, I have two of them:

The radio on the left is in perfect working condition.  On the right? It's looking slightly rough, and I mostly got it for parts. The Blue Max is my favorite because we had one when I was growing up, and I recall huddled by it with my brothers on Christmas Eve listening to Santa updates on AM radio.  Anyway, you can read more about the Blue Max HERE.  Current prices on eBay for the Blue Max are running north of $50; for one in perfect condition (such as one of mine), I'd think it's probably worth about $75-$85, not that I would ever sell.  

The best-sounding radio I own?  That would be a tie between my not-so-old Tivoli Audio Henry Kloss Model One...

 ...and the Bose Acoustic Wave Music III unit that use for my computer audio.  I would note that a close second would be one of my early 1970's Sony table radios.

So what is it about radios that I find so appealing?  As referenced above about the Blue Max, I think it's more about a connection to the past.  Back in those days, it seems like radios (and many other things) were just more important.  In a day and age where most of us upgrade cellphones every two or so years, radios were more of a permanent thing.  Having a radio was was a 6-year-old's portal to the larger world in 1970.  That was a simpler world, for sure.  

In 2022 most of us have cellphones that provide an instant connection to the collective knowledge of the known universe via the Internet.  That's a far cry for 1970.  I'm not suggesting that things in 1970 were better, but they were different.  I somehow doubt that 50 years from now, folks will have my kind of emotional connection to, say, an iPhone 8.

Sunday, January 16, 2022

John Lennon and Asking for Help

In one of his final interviews, John Lennon was asked about which of his songs he liked the best.  He thought about it, mentioned a title or two, but the final answer was actually pretty surprising:  “Help” Now if you are not all that familiar with the Beatles, “Help “ comes from a movie of the same name and is decidedly in the Beatles mop-top era, not long after songs such as “She Loves You” and “Hard Day’s Night”.  Not exactly a time of lyrical poetry and deep meanings.  The fact that Lennon has written some pretty weighty stuff…think, for example, “Imagine”…is what makes “Help” such a surprising choice.  When asked why he made this choice, Lennon responded that “Help” is one of his most honest songs, and while writing it he really was asking for help.

All of the above occurs at a time when (and maybe still is, to a great extent) men actually asking for help was considered to be a sign of weakness.  In answering the interviewer’s question, Lennon once again gave us an example of why he really was a genius.  “Across the Universe” could have been his choice and that would cause few to give any kind of pause, as it really is a great song.  But Lennon picked the simple but honest choice instead.

The point is that asking for help is hard.  Damn hard for many, especially men.  Yet in the here and now, with so much turmoil in the world and in the lives of many folks, many of us may need help more than ever before.  Personally, I have…and still do…have trouble asking for help.  The mere thought of it conjures up a bevy of responses swirling about in my head:

“If I ask for help someone is going to think I am not competent”

“What if they say no?  I will feel embarrassed”

“If I ask for help I am going to owe someone”

“No one really wants to help me anyway”

 “Smart people don’t ask for help”

“Weak people ask for help”

At least for me, part of the equation is the fact that growing up, asking for help was a crapshoot with my mother.  I just never knew if I would get help or get criticized for asking for it in the first place.  Things like that have a very, very long shelf-life in our heads.  The easier thing, again at least for me, is to just do whatever I have to do in order to get through things on my own.  Maybe, in some small way, this is part of what Lennon was tapping into when he talked about “Help” being among his favorite musical creations.  Even writing this is a bit uncomfortable for me, but Lennon goes and writes a hit song about it.  Up until reading that interview, I never would have guessed that the song “Help” was an actual cry for help.  I just thought it was just a great song.

The genius of John Lennon and this song was his ability to hide vulnerability in plain sight, broadcasting it for the entire world to see, but yet most didn’t actually see what it truly meant.  He turned a bunch of complex thoughts and emotions and crafted them into a song that was then disguised as a pop-music hit. 

“When I was younger, so much younger than today, I never needed anybody’s help in any way”

All of the above reinforces something I’ve learned to be very true about people and intelligence:  Anyone can spew complex-sounding stuff, but truly smart people…the geniuses among us…are able to take the complex and make it simple.  And hide it right under our noses.

Rest in Peace Johnny.

Sunday, January 9, 2022

2022: Let's Just Get Through It

(looking down the road at 2022)

Most of the time when I think about the new year, my thoughts gravitate towards what I want to do, what plans I need to make, and how I somehow want to re-engineer my life in small and big ways.  Not so much for 2022.  If recent years have taught us anything, it’s that we are not always masters of our own destiny.

Like many, I think I am decidedly in the camp of “just get through it” when I think about 2022.  “Get through it” as in trying to stay healthy and hope that others are able to do the same.  That’s equal parts sad and realistic as we collectively stare down another year of COVID and the prospect that this disease may never really leave us, in spite of our best efforts.

Side note here:  “…in spite of our best efforts” is a bit of a misnomer on many different levels.  All you need to do is go into any store in most parts of Pennsylvania, for example, and you will see that “best efforts” when it comes to COVID are basically non-existent.  Some folks simply stopped trying.  Some folks never tried in the first place.  Trying would include the highly difficult and complex tasks of wearing a mask in public, getting vaccinated, and avoiding large crowds.  I was being sarcastic with that last sentence by the way, as none of those things are actually complex or difficult; rather they require compassion and thought, two things that tend to be in short supply among some stressed humans.

Looking at 2022, it’s pretty realistic for us to admit that our lives may be in a kind of holding pattern, waiting for something to give.  As noted above though, this may never give.  We may have to collectively change some fundamental things about what and how we do things.  For some, that’s thought-provoking.  For others, it is a nightmare.  Squarely in the nightmare camp are all of those individuals who already have been put in a state of dismay because of changing national (and world) demographics and culture.  I can easily see why, for example, someone who feels that two men who love each other and want to get married are somehow a threat to them also views wearing a mask in a grocery store as some form of capitulation to Satan.  These are the same people who parrot anti-vaccine rhetoric from some dark corner of the Internet but then are in shock and distraught when a loved one spends 30+ days in a hospital, clinging to life via a ventilator.  As noted in the prior paragraph, sometimes compassion and thought are scarce qualities.

It’s worth remembering that every generation is full of people who want to deny change, who want to “go back to the way it was”.  We have an entire region of the country that, for more than 150 years, tried to deny the outcome of the American Civil War.  These days are different though, as we have social media with a global reach, so the most ridiculous voices among us have basically the same megaphone as the most rational.  This is the world that has given us Alex Jones, and we are much worse for it.  The challenge of 2022 is whether or not the loudest voices belong to the compassionate or the compassionless.  The added burden here is the fact that the compassionless are sometimes adept at painting villains as heroes, empathy as a sin, facts as fiction, and TV reality.  This includes every single televangelist who spreads an America-first prosperity “gospel”. 

Getting back to me, (well, technically we never left me), I do have some goals, but they are a bit down the road.  COVID or not, I want to get through the year, maybe pick up a few better habits, and not manage to screw anything up in the process.  Finding some peace at work would be nice too.  Not repeating any mistakes would be a plus.  Five or six years down the road there will be some more monumental changes, so 2022 can be just okay.  And sometimes “just okay” is good enough.  My standards may be low, but these are challenging times.

Here’s to everyone having a happy and (hopefully healthy) New Year.

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

January 5, 2017 – The Boxer

I really don’t like dwelling on things like the subject of this posting, but it feels like the right thing to do at this moment.  The “things like this” is the passing of my brother Chris, who I found deceased on January 5, 2017.  I’ve written about Chris before, and while I try to not repeat myself too often, I’m granting some discretion today.

To this very day, part of me has a hard time understanding why Chris is gone.  While I don’t have the kind of “I was going to call him but then realized he’s not here” moments that others in similar circumstances experience, I instead have a myriad of small reminders that he is not here.  These mostly come at me in a kind of random fashion, where I’ll think of something and then imagine what Chris’ reaction would be.  God, I miss his sense of humor.  We both had a kind of absurd sense of what was funny, although, in fairness to Chris, he was always willing to take things much further than I ever would or could.  That last sentence is just a function of my having to seemingly mature in different directions than Chris did, although there are those who will tell you with a completely straight face (mostly my daughters and my wife) that I haven’t actually matured all that much.

Growing up, we were all a year apart in age, so we did a lot together.  I will note that it was a bit tougher for Chris, as I tended to do more stuff with my brother Rich, but those kinds of degrees are tough to measure.  The years between childhood and fully-formed adulthood took us in different directions.  He went into the Navy right out of high school, mostly, I suspect because of two things:

·         Lurid tales shared by Navy recruiters of far-off exotic women eager to meet young American sailors, and…

·         …he knew that he needed the kind of discipline in his life that couldn’t be found in too many places other than the armed forces.

In the year before he passed away, Chris and I talked a few times about his experiences in the Navy.  In those conversations, I think the personal demons he was desperately trying to confront sometimes manifest themselves in some traumatic memories from his service.  As someone who worked in the medical field in the Navy, Chris told me he saw a lot of disturbing things.  I never once doubted him, although I have wondered if these things were more symbolic of the other issues he was trying to deal with as he moved into his 50’s.  Regardless of the cause(s), I genuinely believe that my brother was in pain, and he spent an inordinate amount of time in the year or three before his death trying to self-medicate his way into some kind of peace.  Sometimes the pain…physical and/or emotional…is so great that we just want it to stop and we’ll basically do anything to make that happen.

In addition to a similar sense of humor, I think Chris and I both spent a lot of time searching for some way to deal with the difficulties of our mutual childhood.  In my case, that meant diving head-first into college, then a career, and then a family, all in short order.  That kept me busy and my mind off of other things.  Chris, having served his term in the Navy, had to find his own way to manage life.  For him, that also meant an early marriage and a daughter that he absolutely adored.  Chris, having been an amateur boxer, always however seemed keen on the fight, which never really interested me, physical or otherwise.  I found (to this very day) that most forms of confrontation are counter-productive.  Chris thought the opposite, and many times those confrontations had something to do with our mother.  As I have noted before (probably), our mother’s passing in 2013 impacted Chris deeply.  He would never admit that when he was alive, by the way, but I am as sure of that as I can possibly be of anything.  With our mother gone, the boxer (Chris) no longer had an opponent in the ring.  The thing he could point to as a concrete reason for this inner turmoil was gone, and all that was left was in fact the turmoil, unabated and running rampant.  He no longer had an opponent, so the opponent became himself.

In the years after his passing, I spent a lot of time trying to understand what happened to my brother.  I’ll confess that I can’t really offer much in the way of actual understanding though.  I don’t understand why somehow we had the same upbringing (we were both “…a poor boy…”) but yet we had such different outcomes.  I don’t understand why he just couldn’t be somehow stronger...I always felt he was, in many ways, stronger than I was, so why am I the one still here?  I don’t understand the appeal to things that were harmful.  In totality, a part of me just doesn’t understand why he isn’t here now. 

Selfishly, well this whole posting is selfish, I always had this vision that in his retirement years Chris would be mostly free of his demons and that we would spend more time together.  We could celebrate the fact that we both reached our retirement years in spite of seeming to start from three steps behind and four doors down.  That’s never to be though, and it’s just so hard to imagine someone like a sibling just not being here anymore.  On some level, I just assumed he would survive, since that’s what I was doing, and as noted above, in some ways I always thought Chris was tougher than I ever was anyway.  You can add that to the list of contradictions in this screed.  Yes, the tough guy, the boxer, was the one who didn’t survive; instead, the introspective one who never really felt all that comfortable around other people…but yet has made a career out of interacting with them (me)…did.  It makes no sense, but then again a death like that of my brother is never going to make sense.  My cross, if you want to call it that, is the fact that I am forever doomed to try and figure this all out.

So, what’s left?  Well, January 5th will never really be a good day for me.  And I wish Chris were still here.  That’s pretty much what’s left.

* * * * * *

I wrote and delivered the eulogy at Chris’ funeral, and it quoted the Paul Simon song “The Boxer” because part of that story, including “I am just a poor boy…” and “in the clearing stands a boxer and a fighter by his trade…” really is my late brother, both practically and metaphorically.