Thursday, June 13, 2024

The "Distant" Past

 Some perspective:

Time is a funny thing. When we look at big chunks of time, like decades, we tend to place it against our own personal histories to contextualize it, to make sense of it. But if that time frame is shifted just a step back, it is almost inconceivable. Try this on for size...
I graduated high school in 1981 - just 43 years ago, almost to the day. However, to even "remember" 1981, one would have to have been born around five years earlier - so, about 1976, our nation's bicentennial, coincidentally. I remember it well. That was all in the 40-45 year time frame ago. Many living today remember those days, it was "not so long ago." Of course, for many more, it was ancient history - the veritable stone-age. There were no personal computers, no internet, no cell-phones, no Fakebook, no electric cars, no streaming, etc. It was a time that only lives in history.
For those of us in 1981, walking across that stage, we were all born in the early 60s. But the graduating class 40 years before ours was... the class of 1941. They were graduating right smack-dab in the middle of WWII. Living in those times, for us walking that stage in 1981, was inconceivable. Those days lived only in history books and through the stories of not our parents - they were, for the most part, too young to remember
Why is this important? Because history books don't tell stories - we do. If our kids "don't understand us," it's not their fault, it's ours. It is our job to tell our stories of what the world was like, the good, the bad and the ugly - to reveal what worked, what didn't and why. Various versions of the quote, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it," attributed to George Santayana in 1905, have been repackaged by many, including Winston Churchill, who said in a speech during WWII, "Those who fail to learn from the past are doomed to repeat it." That past is revealed through art, through stories, through our elders, by those who were there.
If our kids "don't understand," maybe it's because we aren't telling our stories anymore. Maybe it's because we are too busy passing judgement on who they are to spend any effort explaining who we are - who we were. Because, for them, 1981 was just as ancient as 1941 was to us.

Friday, June 07, 2024

Finding Peace

There are a lot of things in life that used to really irritate me. They were typically things I did not understand and I would conflate that misunderstanding with some kind of a negative effect on my life. In most cases, that is not so. There are other things that irritate me that do constitute a negative effect on my life - at least tangentially. But is that irritation due to their mere existence, or of their being brought to my attention? A good argument can be made for the latter, although the existence of many of those things should irritate everyone.

If someone buys - and drives - an ugly car, like the new Tesla truck, I do not have to find it visually appealing. I do not have to understand why others might. I do not have to understand how anyone could justify buying one... I do not have to "get it." It's none of my business. The same goes for an infinite number of other personal choices ranging from dress, to music, to sexual orientation to gender preference - it does not affect me and why I would care in the least makes no sense. Yet, some of those issues (some, we all have our "some" - I don't get Priuses, but that's just me), used to irritate me. In the past, they irked me to the point I'd be compelled to make commentary about it on social media. I'd get community support validating my position, helping me believe that mine was the right side of decorum, the other side would fade into historical ambivalence.

But it didn't matter. None of those things (not mine, not yours) directly affect my life. They are simply the choices others' are making about their lives, living in a free country. However, there are other things that do affect us and should elicit some type of response, even if it's just a mental note of what to do at the ballot box. No one likes our tax-dollars wasted. No one likes politicians skimming off the top. No one likes the powerful subjugating the powerless. These things affect us all. Personally, as a state employee, I am sensitive to the stereotype of the state employee being paid for a 40 hour work week when they actually put in far less. The reality is that the vast majority put in an honest work week for an honest week's pay. But there are those few who do not, sometime flaunting it publicly, perpetuating the stereotype.

And, of course, there are gray areas. Not in terms of personal gray areas - we are all pretty sure what are public matters that affect us all and what are not - the grayness comes into play in the areas I believe are personal choices that have no affect on me versus the same ones you think are public and a direct affront to you. I cannot resolve this. I can say this, however: My list of things that affront me is considerably shorter than it once was. Considerably. As a result, my life is more peaceful, more serene and brighter. I have also, almost as a side-effect, gained a greater degree of empathy. I wasn't looking for that, but it's not a bad thing. I also wasn't looking to pare down my list, I was simply looking for peace - this was one way in which I have found it.


Thursday, May 30, 2024

Bringing the World Closer

I don't "rank" my friends. I do not have a best, a second best, third best, etc. friend nor do I have any "BFFs" (and, in the words of my dearly departed little brother, "forever is a long-ass time"). Even if I did, I would avoid such labels. Every relationship - friendship or otherwise - is unique. Each has its own combination of characteristics that makes it the only one like it in the history of forever (and, again, that's a long-ass time).

However, there are certain characteristics that can be used to make broad categories. But even the word "friend" is not so concrete. Some people view every single one of their Fakebook friends as an actual friend. I am not here to argue that they are or are not (I don't care, have 5,000 friends, it's your life), but I can say with certainty that all of my 2,000+ Fakebook "friends" are not real friends. In fact, most are not (if you have to ask, you already know the answer).

Further, among them, there are those who are friends, but friends who, if I had some particular urgency, I could count on them to be conveniently unavailable. There are others who I know will drop everything if I needed them. That does not make one group "better" friends than the other, but there is a qualifiable difference in those relationships. In fairness, I am, to others, both. I will drop everything for some and would not for others. Does reciprocity play a role? I'd be lying if I said it didn't, but it's not everything. I'd be there for some who I know would not be for me; I don't know why.

It seems that certain aspects of human interaction, and human connection, and human relations, and relationships, have been diluted with the advent of social media. We are - in what amounts to a nanosecond compared to the whole of human history - all of a sudden provided with the tools to connect with everyone, everywhere, all the time. Not every connection is equal, not all are special, not all need to be "nurtured" and, certainly, not all need to be cherished. And all those "social media influencers" who are "interacting" with you do not have a relationship with you - you are their markets.

This hyper-connectivity is not sustainable. The cracks are already showing, the bottom will, eventually, fall out. Only AI can maintain the number of relationships that the "age of information" has made possible. Those who try to keep up will spend all their time doing only that - they will always be left trying to catch their breath. I was onboard with all of it once, I thought it was cool, it would make the world a better place and bring us all closer. But all of it, even something as innocuous as text messages, has left me rethinking what all this "bringing the world closer" has really done.

Exactly the opposite.

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Eighteen Years of Perspectives, Purpose & Opinion

In the fall of 2005, I was a junior at California State University, Sacramento. I was also 42 years-old and just one-year sober. My life up to that point was full of twists and turns, starts and stops, life and death, but at the time, I was full of hope - and I was excited. I was finally good at something; my mind was clear, and I was moving towards a goal I thought was forever beyond my reach. I entered with a hybrid dual major of political science-journalism, but my focus was journalism. Thanks to an English writing general education course and one magical professor, I discovered while in community college (and one failed attempt at sobriety) that I could write.

That failed attempt at sobriety turned out to be serendipitous as it changed not only my academic trajectory, but also my entire career path. However, that is a different story for another time. This is the story of The 25 Year Plan – the story of the blog that is now more than 18 years-old and holds more than 650 separate entries. One of those entries, early on, explains where the name came from, but there is no need to dig for it, I will recount it here. It is a short story.

When I went to San Diego State University back in the early 80s (when I was of “college age”), there was a euphemism for students who would take longer than the typical fours years to complete a college education. Today, a fifth year (or more) senior is called a “super-senior,” but back then, when asked about one’s projected graduation date, a response from one of “those” students might be, “I’m on the five-year plan.” It was as common as “super-senior” is today. In fact, the problem of students not graduating in four years is one that has been recognized by many universities, and measures to mitigate the problem are equally common. Because I would be much closer to 25 years from high school to college graduation, I decided that my plan would be called, ├╝ber-euphemistically, “the 25-year plan.” When it came time to name my blog, it seemed obvious.

That explains the name, but not how it came into existence. Blogging 20 years ago is not what it is now. Today, virtually anything is and can be called a “blog,” and virtually anyone who publishes anything on the web can be called a “blogger.” Technically, a Facebook post is a blog post. The term comes from the words “web log,” and, at their inception, these online logs were primarily written and much longer than a Facebook status update. Indeed, Facebook was just in its infancy at the time, not yet available to the masses. Myspace was the de facto social media platform. One of the main blogging platforms was called “Blogger,” (purchased by Google in 2003) and it was free, robust and it was just beginning to expand beyond simple text-based posting.

But in December of 2005, I wasn’t looking for any of that. There were no real smart phones (no iPhones, I don’t even know if I had a Blackberry yet), social media was only Myspace and the internet was still painfully slow. I was looking at a five-week winter break and I was not exactly looking forward to it. I was on fire; I had one of the best semesters ever in school (3.94 GPA) and I was leery of too much free time. Two years early that free time, in part, derailed me, ending nine months of sobriety. One of my journalism professors was (still is) a prolific writer and used this new(ish) blogging platform to publish stuff he wrote for himself. He suggested opening an account and using it to “keep your writing fresh” over the winter break.

I took that advice and never looked back. Eventually I attracted other bloggers who read my posts regularly and I became a frequent visitor to their blogs. The community I ended up building (which sounds more purposeful than it was – it was much more organic than it was my doing) was robust, and deep, and anything but superficial. Unlike Facebook, or Myspace at the time, the things we wrote about, most of the time, had substance, they had texture – we pushed each other and learned from each other. The comments were, sometimes, mini blog posts all their own. In the early years, I wrote and posted several times per week. I wrote for the sake of writing. And, while not all of it was good (despite the overall positive feedback), much of it still holds “ah-ha” moments when I reread it all these years later.

As the internet matured and as social media like Twitter (now X) and Facebook took off, blogging, at least as it originally was, has fallen off. However, other writing platforms with a quasi-professional angle are beginning to emerge. I am present on one, The Medium and there is also Substack, and others. That community I built on Blogger is long gone, although a few of those I engaged with are my “friends” on other platforms. My writing for The 25 Year Plan has slowed to a mere trickle, my readership, while never very big, is almost nonexistent now.  However, every now and then, I will break out this old-school keyboard with the purpose of writing for the sake of writing.

And if no one reads it, that’s okay.

Sunday, January 28, 2024

Celebration of life

Yesterday we celebrated my little brother's life. It wasn't a "memorial service," it wasn't a "funeral," and "celebration of life," like it is used so much, in this case, was not a euphemism. It was exactly that - a celebration. But there were some other things it was not, and should not be confused with. It was not a party. It was not anything anyone was exactly looking forward to. It was not intended to provide any kind of closure, but it probably did do that for some. The word, "celebration," has many connotations, but in this case, we did celebrate.

There were a few tears, but more laughs. There were lots of stories, most I've heard, but a few I
have not, and some managed to surprise me. It was an occasion that was as unique as the person it honored. It kind of had to be. Anyone who knew Dave, knows me and my father, likely was not surprised by the nature of the occasion. Many learned a lot about who he was from a much more intimate perspective - that was by design, but regarding what was included, and, more specifically, what was not, no one should have been at all surprised.

We are not religious people. Not remotely. Speaking for myself, it goes well beyond that, but let's just say the apple, in that respect, did not fall far from the tree. My point here is not a treatise into pro or anti religion. I don't care what anyone believes so long as it doesn't harm anyone else. Period. My brother's service did not have any trappings of any religion - it wasn't "non-denominational" or "multi-denomination" or even "all-inclusive" in that all beliefs were somehow written in. None were. No, they were not denounced, either. It wasn't an "atheistic" celebration, it was just a celebration that did not "go there." Not there, and not over there, either. All of "all that," all of it, was left out. In fact, it was never let in to be left out.

And it didn't need to be there. It was perfect just the way it was. We celebrated my brother and his life, and it was him - only him - that was the focus of our attention. Beliefs or lack thereof were never mentioned, never part of it, never necessary, never given a thought... never missed. And when it's my time, those in charge of whatever y'all decide to do, here are my official wishes: First, I officially don't care, I'll be dead. Second, if you do do something, do it just like David's was yesterday; I'll be cool with it.

Tuesday, January 02, 2024

David Craig Althouse

David Craig Althouse was born on November 17, 1964, at Sequoia Hospital in Redwood City and passed quietly in his sleep at Sonora Community Hospital on December 26, 2023. He grew up in Los Altos, CA and spent the final 20+ years of his life living unencumbered by the trappings of the modern world on the shores of Lake Tulloch in Copperopolis, CA.


At just 59 years old, David lived a storied life. While still just 17 years old, he secured a job on the Mississippi River working the river barges up and down the river. Although he suffered an injury that resulted in the amputation of his left leg below the knee, it did not slow him down. He was most at home near a body of water, on a boat and, often, with a fishing pole in his hand.


His passion for critters was also well known. While he had many dogs over his life, he also cared for various other exotic animals and it was not uncommon to see him with a python draped around his neck, or, when he was a boy, a blue belly or alligator lizard he found in the neighborhood or at Adobe Creek, tucked away in his pocket.


David, in a bygone time, would have been a true frontiersman, a trailblazer, an explorer, a discoverer and an inventor. He would make use of anything, repurpose everything; nothing, and, perhaps most importantly, no one was worthless to him. For those he loved and cared for, his loyalty was unmatched, and he was generous to a fault.


He loved the Grateful Dead, Mardi Gras and, in addition to his time working on the Mississippi River, spent much of his time in Louisiana and Mississippi on the Gulf Coast – fishing, crabbing, and exploring.

David is survived by a large loving family, including his parents, siblings, children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, cousins, friends, neighbors, many pets over the years, and most recently by his beloved rescue dog, Benji.


A celebration of life will be held in the Garden House at Shoup Park in Los Altos on January 27, 2024 at 4:30 p.m. – all are welcome. In lieu of flowers, David would appreciate that donations at a local animal rescue of your choice are made in his honor.