Thursday, February 23, 2017

While You're Making Other Plans

I'm not sure I ever had a plan for my life. I can't tell you what, as a child, I wanted to be when I grew up as it changed from week to week, sometimes day to day. Heck, I still don't know. No, there was no plan, but there were expectations.

Whether my expectations were set by observing my parents and their friends or by society and the media I really can't say. But I'm almost 50 years old now and I'm not where I expected to be.

I expected I would be married and have a deep, deep passion for my "soul mate." I love my wife, whom I've been married to more than half my life now (27 years this year), and will love her deeply until I draw my dying breath but there seems to be a piece of that puzzle that either doesn't quite fit or is from a different picture.

I expected I would have children. This is something that has contributed to many existential crises as I get older. I see my friends doting on their children and now their grandchildren. My heart aches and regret swells.

I expected I would know more. This is more one of perception. I am aware that I have knowledge that many are ignorant of and that I am ignorant of many things that others have knowledge of. I do not aspire to be the smartest person in the room - several others took up that mantle long ago - but  I hunger to understand more of the things I do know and wonder what I am missing.

I expected I would be better compensated. Many reading this probably had this same expectation. I saw people in TV shows and real-life who seemed to constantly move forward in their careers. All I ever seem to do is move sideways and when I do move forward it's either so big a leap that I can't handle it or it's into something far, far worse than where I am.

With so many expectations, whether realistic or fantastic, having outcomes that I would consider not toward the positive, is it any wonder I suffer from depression? Or is it the depression that makes me feel that my expectations haven't been met?

I've read enough business success and self-help books to know that I really need to shape my own destiny. The problem is that my destiny is a giant lump of drab, gray modeling clay sitting on the table before me that I have no earthly idea how to shape. It's not that I don't understand the mechanics of shaping it or that I don't feel I have the skill. The skill really doesn't matter as it can be refined over time. What I don't have is a vision. Will it be a human figure(ine)? What about something utilitarian like a cell phone stand? Maybe something grander like a model building or even a statue? Should it be something serious? Or something fun and outlandish? I just don't know. I stare and I stare but it just won't tell me what it wants to be. And for all my wishing (and judicious use of "The Force") it just won't shape itself.

So what to do about it? I need to discover what that lump of clay needs to become. Should I ask it questions? Should I simply push on it here and there and see what it starts to look like? Actually, that last one won't work. I tried that. I also tried starting to shape it into something - anything - to see what it looked like but usually ended up squishing it back into a lump.

I'm rambling. It's time to stop since I'm obviously not going to figure it all out in one blog post. I have no idea how to close out of this so I just say TTFN.

On The Death Of Robin Williams

This was originally written shortly after Robin Williams took his own life but, for some reason, I never published it.
I am about to reveal something about myself that almost nobody knows. I have had suicidal thoughts. Not that I've actually thought of ways to harm myself but I've been in such depressive moods and felt such despair that I've gained understanding into why people do it.

Often when someone commits suicide people will ask why they didn't reach out for help. They will emphasize to others to do so if they're hurting. I've got news for you: I was under professional care and taking medication when I got that low.

The truth is that for me I understood that people love me. I could think of a hundred things to live for. I could think of a thousand things I would miss. Maybe that kept me away from the edge but in the moment they didn't matter. I just wanted the sadness to lift. I wanted to be free of the weight that clung to me like a thick slime.

From there I could see the abyss - I truly saw it in my mind - and I could see that I was closer to it than to reality. It seemed it would be so much easier to simply let go and walk over the edge than to try to fight my way back. There were no thoughts of right or wrong. There were no thoughts of religious condemnation. There was only thought of relief.

I wasn't afraid. I knew I could easily take that next step, and the next until I stepped over the edge. But I knew I didn't belong there. I knew, somehow, the despair was not real. There had been events in my life that hurt me and scared me so bad that they made me want to run away and hide and wallow in my pain - but they were not like this. This had an everythingness about it. There was no source, there was no trigger, it was just there and it had crept upon me.

In the end, obviously, I turned around. I made some changes to reduce stress. I stopped doing things that contributed to my emotional state (the cleanliness of my house suffered). The thing I didn't do was tell anyone about it - not even my doctor. I didn't want people to know. I didn't want people to think less of me for letting it get that bad. I didn't want people to tell me I should have called or reached out. I didn't feel foolish but I knew that kind of talk would have made me feel foolish. I didn't see it coming and I didn't want to feel like it was somehow my fault for not noticing.

My doctor knows about this now. She asked the direct question and I answered, "I can't say that I haven't thought about it but I can say that I haven't thought about actually doing it."

Maybe this has nothing to do with the situation or state of mind Robin Williams was in when he left us. Maybe he just said, "Fuck it." But maybe I can help someone to understand that it's not as simple or straightforward as it seems.

I will tell you this: If you're ever looking toward the abyss and you don't know what to do and you don't feel like explaining yourself, reach out to me. Tell me, "It's dark in here" and I'll understand. I won't ask for details but I'll be there for you. I'll distract you if that's what you want. I'll come hold your hand. I'll let you cry on my shoulder. I'll sit quietly listening to you breathe just so you know someone is there. I will just be there because I know that sometimes that's enough.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Musings for MLK day

Yesterday, I went to see "Hidden Figures." The story follows three black women who were part of the early NASA space launches. These ladies were mathematical geniuses and were responsible for calculations critical to the successful launch, landing, and recovery of our spacecraft. They and their role were never recognized until recently because they were female and they were black.

I grew up in a fairly progressive household. Skin color was no more than a descriptive trait and carried no more weight about the person themselves than hair or eye color. I was born toward the end of the civil rights movement and by the time I was aware, blacks were supposedly equal in the eyes of the law. I had heard they were treated unfairly but it meant no more to me at the time than hearing of the plight of the American Indian. Race riots and the Trail of Tears were equally outside my scope of true understanding.

I will admit that I bought into some of the propaganda about the differences in caucasions and blacks. I don't know where I picked it up but I honestly believed that blacks were mentally inferior to whites by simple genetics. Their brains were simply incapable of the same capacity. I didn't speak of it much because it was never really relevant but I mention it now because it illustrates my ignorance.

In the fourth grade, I started in the magnet school program in Tulsa, OK. The magnet school program took students from across the city and put them together for a fully integrated learning environment. This was not forced bussing. You had to apply and be accepted into the magnet program. Per my understanding at the time the goal was to be 50% white and 50% black or as close as they could get. I continued in the magnet school program through high school graduation and I met some of the most incredible, talented, and intelligent people of all races.

As I watched the movie yesterday I came to the realization that I do not understand and cannot understand the reality that people of color or non-caucasion races have to endure. The best I can do is to recognize when someone - anyone - is being treated differently and do what I can to correct that. But, like the characters in the film, my view is forever colored by the "caucasion colored glasses" through which I see the world. Sometimes I just don't have the capacity to recognize those injustices. Maybe we, caucasions, are the ones who are mentally inferior. Not by genetics but by experience.

There is a very powerful scene in the film where Katherine (Taraji P. Henson) finally boils over. She has been assigned to one of the main buildings from the colored computing group. As it turns out, the only colored ladies restroom on the entire campus is in the building that houses the colored computing group - almost a quarter mile away from the building where she is assigned. Her boss, Director Al Harrison (Kevin Costner), finally confronts her for being MIA for long periods of time every day. "Where do you go?" He asks. "To the bathroom." Comes her simple reply. "For fourty minutes!?" He's not angry but obviously being managerial, trying to address an issue. That's when she breaks. She explains to him her half-mile hike to get to and from the bathroom because there are no colored restrooms in any other building and it opens a crack in the flood gates as she educates her boss and co-workers about the kind of discrimination she has to endure. And you can see the awakening in Costner's eyes. You can see that she shone a light directly through his caucasion colored glasses so that he could see... so that he could understand just a fraction of what she has to go through for no other reason than she has dark skin.

It was in that moment that I realized I was like the Al Harrison character. I don't see it. It's nearly impossible for me to see the truth because my experience has not been painted with the same brush... or even the same paint. And, truth be told, sometimes that paint comes with prejudice mixed right in. I cannot stop my mind from reflexively telling me to shy away from someone who looks "less" than I do. I even do it sometimes with people I've known for over thirty years. I have to make a conscious effort to correct myself and recognize that our experience is different and not to judge them. And I hate that. I hate that I constantly have to tell myself that but I hope I will recognize and treasure the day when I don't: When none of us do.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Early Morning Ramblings On Economics And The Existence Of God

I once watched a Joel Osteen sermon on television. My takeaway from the sermon was that God wanted for me the blessing of abundance but that the abundance would be delivered on God's schedule, not mine. It was inspiring, to be sure, but its message fades against the fabric of reality.

I look at the United States, one of if not the most abundant countries in the world, and wonder if God might not be hoarding his abundance. I speak from a personal perspective but also from the macro perspective. To be fair, God has always provided me and my family enough but when I look at the imbalance - the distribution of wealth, the wage gap, racism, sexism - I can't reconcile it.

I have heard that somewhere between six and eight families control 80-90% of the wealth in the United States and that the number of families living below the poverty line increases at an alarming rate every year. How can we sustain that? How have we sustained that for so long? I look at modern politics and modern economics and think that some day it all has to reach a critical mass and that day will come sooner than later. I fear that day. I fear that day because the preshocks have already occurred - The Great Depression, the dot com bubble, the housing bubble. Those were bad enough but I fear the tear that is occurring today will swallow us when the big one hits. It's not just the United States that will suffer. The global economy is so intertwined that the collapse of such a major power would destroy so much more than itself.

I am not a biblical scholar by any sense of the word. What I know of scripture is merely bits and pieces and stories. Religion is the source of my morality. My view of the Bible and scripture is more about that sense of right and wrong than of specific words. I thought I might include some bit of scripture here to play off of but I don't know the text well enough to locate anything that might closely express my sentiment.

Here's my point: If God so wants abundance for us all, why does it not seem that His abundance is being dispersed?

Is it because of the love of money in the hearts of those six to eight families? Are they, and not God, hoarding the abundance? How shall they be judged?

Is it because of a lack of faith? I want to believe in God but humanity makes faithfulness difficult. Between terrorist activities, greed, political corruption, broad-spectrum hate speech from religious groups (I'm thinking specifically of Westboro Baptist but there are other groups and other forms), abuse by and morally abhorrent behavior of "men of God," and universal (meaning enacted by the universe, not necessarily widespread) bullshit, there are times I consider atheism as much as agnosticism.

Is it because we have all deviated so far from the word of God? We lend and borrow and spend and acquire so much that we're forced to operate within a system that is inherently corrupt.

Is it because there is no God? The words in the Bible are written by the hands of men. Modern society is so far removed from that time and we have enough inaccuracy and controversy in the recording of our own history, how can we trust a book written so long ago and translated at least twice to present it in a living language? How many "versions" of the Bible are there, anyway? If the words are so divine, shouldn't there only be one? I mean, it's not like there's King James, New International, and modern paraphrased versions of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.

Where is the modern savior who will take it upon himself to drive the merchants and money exchangers from the temple? I'm not talking about the second coming or anything but of the person of power and influence who screams, "Enough!" I mean, look what happened in the mortgage collapse. Banks, actually those that run banks, knowingly sold services based on false pretenses and incorrect assumptions. They fleeced the public into believing they could get so much more for so much less. It was only a matter of time before those lies, and the economic repercussions of them, caused the shitstorm that they did. And what were the consequences? Money from the federal government (you and I) to bail them out of the situation they put themselves in and the reward to their leaders of bonuses so large that the average person does not even have a frame of reference for that level of disbursement.

If one person is not enough to effect such change, why are groups of people not rising up? We certainly should but we can't seem to even care enough to overturn our own congress. I think the reason that the last five presidents have served two terms is that it's easier for people to handle. It's not because they are great men but that they are the devil we know.

Where am I going with this? I don't really know. I woke up at 4 am with it rattling around in my head and had to get it out into the universe so I could go back to sleep (maybe).

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Sarah Silverman's Mouth

Sarah Silverman has a potty mouth (I'm sure even she will admit that) and it probably gets her in trouble from time to time. For some reason she was a speaker, alongside Al Franken, at the Democratic National Convention on Monday. I'm not entirely sure whether she spoke before or after Sanders made his remarks since I didn't watch much of the coverage and neither she nor Franklin are on the official schedule. My guess is they were introducing a scheduled speaker and were allotted a few minutes to offer their statements.

From a story on The Slot, Silverman spoke of her support for Bernie Sanders, which likely pleased those of similar mind in the crowd, then started saying why she would be supporting Hillary Clinton. This drew jeers and boos from die-hard Bernie fans. She tried to speak over them but they were, apparently, quite vocal. She'd apparently had enough because her next statement was, "To the Bernie or Bust crowd, you're being ridiculous" I saw a video clip of that comment and her attitude seemed to be one of, "You lost. Get over it!"

Well, Ms. Silverman, it's not that easy. It's obvious from the vocal reactions, emotional tears, and the walkout yesterday that there are some deeply dedicated Bernie fans. And those people need a chance to grieve. They have to come to grips with the reality that a person who they rallied against for so long and has had her share of controversies during the nomination process now represents their party as a presidential candidate. It can't be just put aside.

Don't get me wrong, I get where you were coming from. It's bothersome to be interrupted like that and frustrating that a situation that you've already come to accept is still being bantered about. You could have been less harsh in your comments. You could have given them something like, "I know it's difficult but this is our reality now. Let's work together to accept it and win this election!"

I'm just sayin.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Bernie Goes Bust

If you follow me on Facebook it should be no secret to you that I support Bernie Sanders in the 2016 presidential election. I guess I should say that I supported Bernie Sanders. Until last night, I held out a minor modicum of hope that he might still seek the Democratic nomination or might run as an independent, despite what he's said over the last few weeks.

Last night, I watched a few minutes of Sanders' speech at the DNC in Philadelphia. I was hit with a sense of finality when he said, "Hillary Clinton must become the next president of the United States. The choice is not even close." Many in attendance were hit with this as well. From the crowd came a mixture of cheers and sounds of dissent. I'm not sure what I will do in November but let's rewind a little.

I supported Bernie Sanders not because he was anti-establishment but because he was true. First, he eschewed corporate money and mounted an incredibly successful supporter-funded campaign. If real people just like me hadn't wanted him to run, his campaign would have fizzled before it really got started. He made it all the way to the convention. If he wanted, he could seriously contend for the nomination.

The second reason is his integrity. I'm not using integrity in the sense that he's scandal-free. Everyone has skeletons in their closet. What I'm saying is that, throughout his political career, his messages and goals have been consistent. He has always been for a fair wage. He has always been for human rights. He has always been in favor of education. He has always been for more equitable distribution of wealth. Okay, maybe you can point to some instance where one or more of these statements do not hold true but, overall, he's been fighting for the same things since he started.

My third reason for supporting him is his message. Do I agree with every goal he wants to attain? No, I don't. Do I agree with every method he wants to use to attain those goals? No, I don't. Do I believe all of his goals are attainable within a four-year term? No, I don't. The thing is, though, that he is the only one really talking about some of these issues. While many of the candidates have been hitting hot buttons of "christian" values, the sanctity of marriage, who should use which bathroom, and discussing hand size in relation to manhood, Sanders has continued to talk about raising the standard of living, bringing back the middle class, improving access to higher education, reforming the student loan system that's structured in heavy favor of the lenders, and no longer considering a business a person.

As Sanders gained momentum and there was a good chance he could win the nomination, Clinton started parroting some of Sanders' rhetoric, presumably to sway some of his supporters to her side: "See, I can do that too." Her inconsistency of message alone caused me to be leery of her but the email scandal is what really made me distrust her. Her use of an external server really doesn't bother me that much. There have been others that have done the same. Was it a wise thing to do? Certainly not! Utilizing a server outside the government network poses a technological security risk at the very least. If even one work-related email passed through that system then it poses a national security risk. That can all be handled internally and might be the catalyst for a formal rule change but that wasn't my primary focus. What caused my distrust was the deletion of a large number of emails from that system after the contents were requested by the congressional committee or the FBI or whomever requested them.

For a long time after Clinton started to gain her lead, Sanders would not entertain the idea that he would not be the nominee. He was asked if he lost the nomination would he support Clinton and his response was that he did not intend to lose the nomination. He was asked if he would run as an independent and he saw no need to. At some point after Clinton "locked up" to nomination, as a result of shenanigans or not, she and Sanders must have had a meeting. I say this because almost overnight he put his support behind her and told the media that he would not run as an independent no matter the outcome. Then, in his speech at the convention, he spoke about student loan debt saying, "During the primary campaign, Secretary Clinton and I both focused on this issue but with different approaches. Recently, however, we have come together on a proposal that will revolutionize higher education in America."

I know why he did it. The Republicans are not putting forth a united front and he wants to ensure that the Democrats do. I applaud him for that and I applaud Hillary Clinton for working with Bernie Sanders to put forth a united platform. I am disappointed that Clinton's choice of running mate was not Sanders nor Elizabeth Warren but I see a high probability that Sanders will be appointed to a position in the Clinton presidency where the two collaborate. At least, that's what I hope. Either that or I see Sanders ending up in a powerful congressional position to the same effect.

So, in all likelihood, come November, I will have a megalomaniacal [insert additional negative adjectives here] oligarch on one side, an entrenched politician who even the FBI thinks is shady on the other, and candidates from whatever tangential parties may show up on the ballot. I certainly don't want Trump to be my president. Without getting too opinionated, I do not feel he represents me or my interests in any way, shape, or form and I distrust Clinton to follow through on her promises. I would like to think I would vote for one of the non-major-party candidates but I honestly fear that doing so would tilt the election in Trump's favor - and that scares the hell out of me.

I don't know who, at this point, will get my vote for president in November. The only thing I can say for certain is that I will cast my vote then hope and pray that everything turns out okay.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Primary Fandoms

When I was seven or eight years old cable television either didn't exist or wasn't widely available. To watch television we needed an antenna and with that we could receive four channels: NBC, CBS, ABC, and PBS. There were two times when television went straight to ultra boring - when the president was giving a speech and Sunday morning. It was Sunday mornings that got me interested in SciFi.

While Saturday morning was cartoon time for the kids, Sunday morning was for the religious. All three of the big networks played church programs. Now, this was before mega churches and video sermons. The programming that was on was the service from a local church. If you were lucky, there was more than just one camera sitting in the back of the sanctuary with a wide shot of the altar/pulpit. Considering we often left the television off on Sundays until after church, the last thing my eight-year-old self wanted to see was more church. As George Carlin said, "Church was a weekly reminder that there was something worse than school."

With church on the big three we usually turned to PBS. This is the only reason I know what Nova is and it is what introduced me to Star Trek. It wasn't just that it was often the only thing to watch on Sunday mornings that wasn't church, I really enjoyed it. I loved Star Trek so much over the years that there was a time that I could literally identify the episode, by name, and give you a full plot synopsis by watching no more than ten seconds of any part of any original series episode. Even if it was just a closeup of Mr. Spock raising an eyebrow. Yes, seriously.

Star Trek, in its many forms, has always held a special place in my heart, like a first love. If you asked me what my fandom was, my unhesitating response, for many, many years would have been, "I'm a Trekkie!" [side note: fandom is a recent expression. It's sort-of like cosplay. It's always been there, we just didn't always call it that.] I will forever refer to myself as a Trekkie (or Trekker, depending on my mood) but I've recently been taking notice of which fandom I gravitate toward most strongly and, to my surprise, it's changed.

Way back in 1977 there was this little box office sleeper that was quietly released to theaters called Star Wars. You may have heard of it. I think it was the first movie I absolutely had to see. There were so many incredible things about the movie theater experience back then but seeing the lines wrapped around the building (we mostly had single-screen theaters back then) had to be the most spectacular to my young self. If that many people wanted to see this movie at any particular time it had to be good.

I love the original Star Wars and will forever raise it up as an example of great film making. From the story to the characters to the then ground-breaking special effects (up to that point no one had left the model stationary and moved the camera around it to create motion) it's absolutely amazing. I watch it now and can see its rough edges but still marvel that George Lucas and his team put so many firsts in that production. They literally had to invent new ways of producing special effects, some of which are still used today.

As great as it is and as great as it was I still identified myself as a Trekkie. Maybe because the fandom never got saddled with a catchy name, I don't know. What would you call a Star Wars fan, anyway? Star Warrior? Star Warian? Skywalkerer? At any rate, my placement of Star Wars as my number one favorite lasted maybe a year or two after its release if it ever was on top. I eventually settled back into my old, comfortable, Starfleet mindset.

In the early '80s PBS, yet again, introduced me to this odd little show from England called Doctor Who. I know it wasn't another Sunday morning find. I think it may have aired on Saturday afternoons. Anyway, Here was this show about this quirky guy with bushy hair and a looooong scarf around his neck traveling through space and time in... a British police box... that was bigger on the inside. This show was not some highly-polished, big-budget production. On the contrary, it looked quite cheap. But that was part of its charm. Being interested at the time in television/video production it was fascinating to see how they used ordinary objects and materials in unusual and unexpected ways.

I lost touch with the show when the local PBS stations started shuffling the schedule. It was also around that time that I really started to take an interest in girls. The latter was likely the reason I didn't fly my geek flag quite so high anymore. I lost track of The Doctor and eventually heard that the show had ended in 1989. It wasn't such a hard blow for me because I'd missed out on something like four doctors by that time and I'd settled comfortably back into my Trekkie seat in 1987 with the introduction of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

With a steady diet of Star Trek movies and television and Star Wars sequels I'd put The Doctor on a shelf to gather dust. I kept him around, to be sure, and when people asked I would politely tell them, "Yes, I know of The Doctor and enjoyed the show very much." I really didn't give him much thought until 2005 when BBC America, a channel that didn't even launch until 1998, announced that they were bringing it back.

By this time I'd done away with my self-consciousness and flew my geek flag as high as I could. I was uneasy about this rebirth (or should that be regeneration?). Would they maintain the spirit of The Doctor? Would the stories be any good? Would The Doctor be any good? I watched the first episode with trepidation. I didn't want to hate it but so many rebirths of so many shows had failed miserably. I needn't have worried. When I heard Christopher Eccleston utter the phrase, "Hello, Rose. I'm The Doctor. Run for your life." in that Doctor-esque calm and whimsy I was hooked again. This time, I don't think I've missed a single episode (thank God for DVRs).

As I look around my desk I see four Star Wars figurines, some The Walking Dead Funko pocket pop!s that I got in a grab bag, a Captain America Funko mug I won at work, a Darth Vader Mr. Potato Head, and a space marine action figure from Starcraft. Scattered about amidst all of that is a six-inch vinyl TARDIS, three postcard-sized pictures of the TARDIS (one looking in to the control room, one with the doors closed, and one with a cat peering inside), a photo of me stepping out of the Tulsa TARDIS, and a Funko pocket Pop! of the fourth Doctor (Tom Baker). But it doesn't end there. My current vehicle is a 2014 Jazz (darker) Blue Dodge Charger with a vanity plate that reads TMTRVLR (TARDIS was already taken). I think it's safe to say that I've changed my primary fandom from Trekkie to Whovian.

Live long and prosper, may The Force be with you, always know where your towel is, and Allons-y!

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Meatball Sandwich Casserole

Meatball Sandwich Casserole

You will need:

! bag of frozen meatballs (I use Mama Lucia Brand, personal preference)
1 jar of marinara sauce or spaghetti sauce if there isn't any marinara on hand
1 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
1 cup Italian blend cheese, shredded
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
1 loaf of fresh Italian bread, sliced

To prepare:

Preheat oven to 400. Place entire bag of meatballs in pot with sauce (I also add garlic, onion powder, salt and pepper to taste) and cook over medium heat until warmed completely through, about 10 minutes. Stir as needed to keep meatballs from sticking to pot. Once heated through remove from heat. Place meatballs in the center of a 9x13 baking dish, layer mozzarella and Italian blend cheeses over meatballs topping off with the Parmesan. Take the slices of Italian bread and line the pan all the way around with them so that they are kind of keeping the meatballs toward the center of the pan. The bread slices will be standing up in the pan as shown in the picture. You have creative freedom here with the can lightly butter and garlic the bread prior to placing it in the pan if you prefer or even brush lightly with olive oil and garlic. The choice is yours. I have made it plain and as noted above and all are delicious!

Place in oven and bake for approximately 25 minutes or until cheese is melted and bubbly. Remove from oven, serve and enjoy!

A side salad goes nicely with this quick meal!