Wednesday, December 31, 2008

1962 to 2008

New Years Eve. This would be the obligatory last post of the year… the proverbial “reflection” post. This is the time to take stock of just where my place in the world is. In re-reading similar posts from 2007 and 2006, I am sure that wherever it is I am going, I am on the right track. This does not mean that all of my goals have been achieved, but that does not indicate failure, either. Indeed, many of my goals have been elevated. Once content with completing my Bachelor’s degree, I have now found myself in pursuit of a Master’s. Two years ago it wasn’t even a dream, last year only a possibility. It is now a reality.

I wrote last year and the year before that 2006 and 2007 were among the best years of my life. Now with only hours left in 2008, I can say this year tops even those. It has been quite the "lucky" streak… the kind of sustained good fortune that for more than 40 years always eluded me. But luck has little to do with fortune, another little revelation that continues to prove itself true over and over again. My perspective on life and the attention to it that ensued has been the key. Alas, it always was.

I always felt that if I were a “good” person, fortune would find me. I developed a sense of entitlement that drove me towards apathy. Perhaps I was a little too comfortable, never wanting for much. Maybe the “me decade,” a term that Tom Wolfe coined in 1976, had its influence whilst I was coming of age. Wherever it came from, the preoccupation with doing as little as possible while expecting riches to fall unto me had me chasing my tail for a very long time. It wasn’t until 2000, at the age of 37, that my perspective started to slowly change.

That October, all the money in the world couldn’t change my predicament. Waking up in a hospital five weeks later, I just couldn’t believe how it could happen to me. It went deeper than that. Although I could accept that bad things happen to good people, I just didn’t understand how good things kept happening to bad people. There were, after all, people such as myself that should be winning the lottery, getting the cushy job or any of many good breaks that were going to people far less deserving than me. What did I get? A three-month stay in the hospital with a much longer, frequently painful rehabilitation afterward.

But I was alive, and in time nearly fully rehabilitated. I wasn’t all that grateful early on, but as time inched forward, my perspective changed as well. Eventually, I became clear that there is more to life than money… that life’s most precious gifts come not from the material, but the intangible. Every moment is a gift and life is only occurring now – right now. It was a start.

Fast-forward to December 31, 2008 and my life is full. Sure, I enjoy a number of material things that make life more comfortable, but those things have nothing much to do with the inner peace I feel most of the time. I have many, many true friends who love me for me, not what I have. I have succeeded in endeavors that require long-term commitment and the rewards are mine. There is no amount of money that can buy the satisfaction that success brings. Work rarely feels like work anymore. Confidence and self-worth cannot be bought at any price.

This perspective on life, the way I look at things and, more importantly, how I react to them, is the difference. If I can keep that alive, then 2009 promises to be even better than 2008, no matter what happens. I wish I could package it, not so I could sell it and get rich, I would give it away – but so that everyone could have the kind of peace that makes life worth living… every day. So my place in the world is simple although the path is always unknown. What can I do to make this a better place? It starts with me. Happy New Year.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Time Out

Having absolutely nothing to do is not so bad. Strange, perhaps a little unsettling, but not bad. It has, however, taken some getting used to. I feel as though, on some level, I am wasting time. Isn’t there something that needs to be done? Sure, there are small chores that could be done, perhaps an odd or an end that should be done, but nothing – absolutely nothing will happen if I don’t do them. And as strange as it sounds, I am not bored.

I read somewhere once that we should take time to be bored – to actually practice it. Although I agree that there is some value in being comfortable with nothing to do, I disagree with the terminology. To me, being bored denotes discomfort; it is not the same thing as simply having nothing to do. Boredom is a state of mind, an uncomfortable one. I am gaining the ability to accept my circumstances no matter what they are, and in that acceptance I find comfort.

Whether I am under stress with too much to do or when I have nothing to do, I am usually content. This is not to say I have mastered the art, just the oddity of this revelation proves I am not in complete acceptance. It is not second nature; it is not automatic. Sometimes it is just there, sometimes not and sometimes, like now, I will stop and take note. It was not so long ago that the enormity of the tasks I had to complete was consuming me – a load that historically would have stopped me in my tracks. Although highly stressed, I was not panicked. I knew what I had to do and did it.

So why shouldn’t I enjoy this time off? There is no reason, of course. After briefly struggling with what I thought I should be doing, I have come to accept that there is nothing, and this is as it should be. Life will return with a vengeance soon enough, and that, too, will be okay. It’s part of the ebb and flow. When life is hectic, though, there is little time to reflect… it’s much easier to accept. Indeed, there is little choice. It is during times like this, when life relaxes its grip, that I feel a little guilt. Isn’t there something I should be doing?

No, and I’m okay with it.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Harley and Me

My motorcycle has been sitting in the garage since Thanksgiving weekend. Between the very cold temperatures, the rain and a busy schedule, there has been precious little time to ride. I am feeling it. It is not at all uncommon for motorcyclists and their steeds to take a winter break, but in California we are spoiled and this longish respite is somewhat unusual for me… the road is calling.

For the past two years, I have participated in an informal ride that takes place on New Years Day. Its origin is modest, but over the years it has grown to more than 50 local riders from the Sacramento, Auburn and Grass Valley areas. It consists of an overlapping network of friends that often includes re-located friends who now live outside this area. There is no cause; there is no charity, no flyers… nothing official at all. It’s just a group of riders who gather to ring in the New Year in the most appropriate way we know how.

It’s about freedom and fellowship. It’s about gratitude and memorial. It’s about the wind in our face, ribbons of asphalt passing beneath us, the sound and the feel of our motors rumbling. Although most of us ride Harleys, anyone who answers the guttural call of two wheels and too much power is welcome. Currently, the questions are circulating. Will there be a News Years Day Ride this year? Where, when and who? Like prior years, it will just happen. Or, maybe this year, it will not. It doesn’t much matter, if the weather is clear - no matter how cold – I will ride.

When I am on my Harley, it’s just us. Even when in traffic, even when riding in a pack and even when I have my girlfriend riding with me, the primary connection is between my machine and me. Of course, this makes sense from an operational point of view, but it goes deeper than that. There is a connection that I cannot replicate in my car. My car does not depend on my to keep it upright. My car does not require my immediate and constant attention while driving it. My car does not need me. While operating my car, or while attending to the many other things I do, my mind is free to stray.

Not so with my Harley. The irony, however, is that concentration allows my mind to get quiet for extended periods of time. The minutia that is constantly swirling around in my world is blocked out. Despite the physical realities of the wind, the heat or cold, the noise and other vehicles around me, the quiet I feel is unlike anything else. It is the best form of meditation I know of. Riding does not consume all of my mental faculties, but it does prevent those little distractions from entering into the equation.

And it is perhaps the clarity riding gives me that I miss right now. It is an odd time of year – it always is. We reflect, we resolve and move into yet another unknown year. This year has been a good one and the next promises to be even better. Perhaps I just need a good long ride to put it all into perspective…

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


I thought I would be enjoying it more. Now just a few days into the five-week break between the fall and spring semesters, I am feeling somewhat restless. Although the intense pressure I felt only a week ago has been lifted, and at first it was relief like I had not felt in a very long time, I am now just a little bit… impatient. Very little is required of me right now and as a result, I am doing very little. My head is not buried in some book, I am not actively working on any kind of research, there are no looming due dates – it is an odd feeling. It is not like there is nothing to do; my office looks like a tornado blew through it, I have a number of books that I want to read and I haven’t pulled my out camera in days, but if I don’t do those things the consequences amount to nothing more than mild discomfort, at worst.

The fact that I am driven by deadlines is not news to me. At some level, I have always known that I am not a self-motivator. Unless I am in a position where the consequences are substantial, I am resistant. Some might call it lazy - so be it. But self-motivation is a relative term. There are a number of ways people get motivated. For some, it would appear, simply the need for a task to be completed is motivation enough. Either the discomfort of leaving something undone or, perhaps, the gratification found in completing whatever it is provides the motivation necessary. For others, the potential pain or pleasure must be more pronounced before any action takes place. And, of course, there are a million nuances – it is not a linear progression. More pain than pleasure? What sort of pain? How much pleasure? Money, power, prestige, personal worth?

For those like me, the motivation is not produced from within, although good intentions are. So what about us? Is voluntarily placing myself in a position where success is expected and the standards are high the same as self-motivation? College is definitely such a place – no one is required to go. Grad school is even more so. And failure, if I choose not to meet these self-imposed deadlines, means returning to where ever it was I was before deciding to embark on the path, meaning the negative consequences still leave me with a BA. Does that make me self-motivated? If so, why is my office still a mess?

It is also interesting that what motivates me today did not in years past. There are some things that I loved to do in the past that I couldn’t be bothered with today. For example, the idea of taking my car to the mechanic, not matter what the problem might have been, was laughable. I could fix virtually anything and loved to turn wrenches. Today, I am not motivated in least at the thought of crawling underneath a car. Yet I am motivated to keep my vehicles in good condition – perhaps more so than before because I know that I get nothing out of fixing a car on a moment’s notice. Driving an iffy car used to be an acceptable risk (I could just fix it, anytime), now it is not.

The motivation that comes with school also straddles the motivation continuum. Although there is not necessarily a serious “real world” negative consequence to failure, there is a very real personal consequence. Nobody wants to fail, even if there is no tangible loss. On the positive side, however, the same is true. The rewards of success are many and multi-faceted. They are realized in the short and long term. They can and often do include monetary gain, but it is much more than that. It is much more personal. It is a battle for not only success in my endeavors, but also against complacency – a battle to overcome laziness. Some don’t need to create challenges in their lives, I do.

Now if I could just get motivated to clean my office.

Thursday, December 18, 2008


It would appear that, on the surface, there is little to link the two main methodologies used in communication studies. On the quantitative side of the continuum, we are interested primarily in numbers. How many, to what extent, under what circumstances and when are all questions that when data is compiled using statistical analysis, we get results that can be replicated. The scientific method is king, rules are rules and there is little room for error. On the qualitative side, we have reason, we have experience, we have discreet moments in time and we have dialog. The “truth” is nebulous, but good reasons can be gleaned from experience to support human perceptions.

Are the two fields so far removed that there is no compromise, no clear path that delivers coherence across the continuum? Is nothing more than political and economic convenience holding these branches together? Such a superficial alliance might be justification enough, but is there more depth to the melding of these two branches than simply that of mutual aid? Indeed, on a global level, everything that sets humans apart from every other life form is communication. To that end, communication studies can be viewed as an umbrella that captures the entire human experience under it.

But that is not coherence, for if it were the classical “liberal arts” curriculum of days gone by would still be the norm. As human knowledge has expanded, so, too, has the need for specialization. There is simply too much for any one person to “know.” As the different branches of academia have blossomed and as new standards of research such as the scientific method have been installed, the tree of education is unified only at its trunk.

The social sciences are referred to as “soft” sciences - a large branch of the academic tree, if you will. For the most part, the degrees granted to social science majors are Associate, Bachelor and Master of Arts in a given discipline. This alone might compel one to lump qualitative and quantitative communications studies camps together. Don’t we all want to know what makes human communication tick? I am not so sure. In fact, I am not so sure the quantitative branch belongs in communication studies at all.

Although the quant people are indeed interested in human communication, there appears to be more interest in the nuts and bolts. The research deals with what is and not why. These are the questions asked by psychologists, social workers, sociologists and economists. They study how to improve communication, how communication can be manipulated, how to reach the most people, who will do better, what makes some people buy product “X” while others buy product “Y.” Although these questions deal with the act of communicating, they never ask why.

Which brings us back to what makes human communication tick? Why do we respond as we do? What intangible, immeasurable communicative qualities exist between humans? What exactly am I trying to say? It feels so very different than what can be gained through quantitative methodology because it is. Qualitative research gives a glimpse inside the human soul. It cares not about inputs and outputs, but reveals universal human emotion that we can identify with. It’s about making judgments as to what is good and what is bad, what is beautiful and what is not, about conviction as opposed to belief. It’s about what’s inside the box, and why.

What do I really think? We are not a coherent field of study. In my so far limited experience and from my individual perspective of a first semester grad student, the two fields are worlds apart. And that perspective is absolutely qualitative. And how else could that question be answered, through a survey? That would only yield a collection of opinions (or, rather, convictions) that could be compiled, analyzed and reported. It would tell us how many, but couldn’t begin to tell us why.

Although I do not believe we have a coherent field of study, I do believe that epistemology cannot exist without ontology and visa versa. They drive each other. For every study that tells me “what is,” a voice inside says, “why.” When human qualities are described in qualitative analyses, the quantitative researcher surely must think, “how many?” But this paradigm exists between any of the areas of higher education and covers every area of research. Cross-pollination does not require living in the same house.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Path

I have written myself out. After just one semester of graduate studies, I am drained. It’s not quite done yet, but after a two-hour plus final exam tomorrow night, it will be over until late January. As an undergraduate, that five week break between semesters seemed entirely too long. I no longer feel that way - it is a much-needed respite from the rigor. Although I am looking forward to next semester and continuing my education in general, I also must admit that I seriously underestimated the effort it would take to succeed.

I will not be so naïve next year.

There will be two more graduate classes and two more major papers due next semester. The time to start working on them is now. Yes, now. True, I do not know yet what the topics will be, but I do know the general areas of study and that anything I can do to prepare over the next few weeks will be that much less I have to do later. This has never been my MO, but circumstances have necessitated a change in behavior. It’s really about survival, and I am a survivor.

After tomorrow night, I will be able to begin that yearly ritual that comes for many at this time of year. It will be a time for reflection, for assessment and to look forward. Despite the stresses of grad school, I am content. My life today is good and there is much to look forward to. The events of the distant past, many of which were not so pleasant, are well behind me and those of the more recent past have propelled me to where I am today. I now know what to expect and, more importantly, I can now say that I have done this before.

It’s about experience.

This post represents the 365th published on the 25 Year Plan. Tomorrow marks this blog’s third anniversary. December 18th is also the six-month mark in a relationship with a very special woman… but that is all I will say about that here. I will say that life is a funny thing sometimes. When all seemed so dark in most every conceivable assessment just eight short years ago, it is barely recognizable today. It’s as though I have traversed into a new dimension - kicking and screaming along the way sometimes, but grateful that I have arrived all the same.

I am 46 years old. I did a little of this and a little of that for a very long time. Today, much of that experience has turned to gold. There is something to be said about living it and then learning it. I wouldn’t recommend it, but there are benefits that are otherwise missed when following tradition. And, it would appear that I had little choice in the matter. Yes, I would always claim that I was in control, these were my decisions and (my personal favorite), I know what’s best for me. But in reflection, the only way for me to have arrived at the place I am was through my (often painful) experience.

And I have arrived.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Armed Forces

It’s no secret that I am against the war in Iraq. I have been since the beginning and my opinion has not changed. It fact, it has been reinforced. It is also no secret that I am, and always have been, an ardent supporter of the brave men and women who serve this country. Contrary to what the neo-cons would have us believe, the two positions are not mutually exclusive. Quite the opposite - it is because I support the members of the Armed Forces that I want them out of Iraq - now. This little pet project of the Bush-Cheney machine (or is it Cheney-Bush?) has proven to be an unmitigated disaster on so many levels, the most profound of which is the senseless loss of so many lives.

In the past year, I have also written about another of Bush’s “accomplishments,” the No Child Left Behind Act. I’m not going to go into all of the intricacies of the Federal government meddling in the states’ affairs again, save one. Part of NCLB requires high schools to provide student information to military recruiters. Well, they don’t actually have to - the Feds cannot force the states to do anything of the kind, but they can withhold NCLB monies (another rant I won’t get into today. Hint: What money? The act is seriously under funded…). Regardless, my problem with the whole idea is that recruiters were given access to my son without my knowledge or prior approval. His options, whether it is to join the military or otherwise, are ours to discuss - I resent my government undercutting my parental influence.

But all that is history now. My (youngest) son has graduated high school; he is a legal adult, making adult decisions. Although Bush, Cheney and the entire neo-con machine had my attention and my ire for some time, that too, is nearly history - I can’t wait to see how historians document these past eight years. The very idea that questioning my country’s leadership makes me less than “a real American” is laughable. Patriotism has nothing to do with blindly following our leaders’ lies and everything to do with speaking out against their follies. I can support our military men and women in Iraq without supporting the idiot who sent them there. Period.

But there is change in the wind. It doesn’t mean the world will be less dangerous overnight and it doesn’t mean fanatics of all sort will not try to kill in the name of whatever the cause of the day is. It just means hope. Hope that we can again establish more than just a military or police authority in the world - Bush didn’t create that, we already had it - but a moral authority as well. It is hope that we will use our might wisely and not needlessly risk the lives of those serving to keep us free. It is hope that the world will become a better place from intelligent, open-minded leadership. I hope that we have turned the corner.

I am glad those recruiters were not able to influence my son to do something we had not discussed. Not because I am fearful for his safety if he enlists - I am. Not because I am against the military - I am not. And not because I somehow believe that I get to dictate this young adult’s direction in life - I don’t. But because we have a relationship today that is based on mutual respect, he seeks my opinion. And he is thinking about enlisting in the Army or Navy. It came from him, not my government and he came to me with it, not the recruiter. We are talking about it - I have no intention of talking him out of it. But we will speak of the reality of what his proposal entails. Not just the bad stuff, but the benefits as well - there are many.

I just don’t want him fighting Bush’s war… and I am hopeful that will soon be over.

Saturday, December 06, 2008


Three hundred and sixty five days ago, I wrote a piece entitled “45.” It was a reflection piece. I was about to receive my BA from California State University, Sacramento and I wrote about not just looking forward, not only looking back, but also something about what it all meant. Meaning. On my 45th birthday last year, I was looking for meaning; I wrote about meaning. I asked the question, in the context of the world and my place in it, “What can I do?” and concluded the answer is, in part, write about it.

And so I have, but not in terms I could have imagined even a year ago. Today, on the 46th anniversary of my birth, I am writing, but not just here and not anymore for a newspaper. Graduate school is stretching the limits of my quest to know not what, but why. And although writing is a huge part of that quest, it is not all there is to it. In less than a week I will have completed the first of two 25 to 35-page research papers; one week later, the other is due. Although both are fascinating in their own way, they both represent so much more than just writing.

I wrote about knowing how to do some things well. Writing and being a good student were counted among them. I know how to write and I know what’s it takes to succeed as a student - an undergraduate student, anyway. In my egocentric view, however, I had not allowed for the possibility that there were dynamics that had to be experienced before they can be known - not just in terms of being a grad student - all experiences can only truly be known by experience. It is not as though I felt it would be a cakewalk, but there was no way I could have anticipated the intensity of the experience until now - and it is intense.

Though similar in many respects, the human experience is uniquely individual. Included in my 16,802 days, there were many good days and many that were less so - some much less. It is a wonder that I have survived, never mind that I have achieved the success I have over the past five or so years. Plans have a funny way of changing, however, and although completing my BA at 45 appeared to be a culmination of sorts, it was really just the beginning of a journey I could not foresee. For a student who has historically found school less than rewarding, my path is now taking me straight into academia.

There is a need. The perennial question remains, “How can I change the world?” The answer, for me, is one person at a time - one student at a time. My studies will ultimately lead me to a teaching position at a local community college, maybe even at the university level. After nearly one full semester as a graduate assistant working under a professor, I have experienced in a small way what it is like to be a teacher. It is an experience that has parallels to many other life experiences - we are all teachers (and students) in some way - but academia is unique in its setting and structure. My students, most of them, are on a quest similar to my own. Theirs is an experience I am very familiar with.

My first journalism professor, who is also a working journalist, used his blog to “warm up” prior to writing his “real” stories (the ones he got paid for). I am quite sure, however, that his blog posts often serve far more meaning to than just that. Like most everything else, the purpose for writing, the why, is much more complicated and much deeper than some discrete exercise to warm up, despite the fact that this post serves that purpose as well. Just minutes from now, the “real” writing will begin. But it, too, has much greater meaning than just the fulfillment of a requirement. It has meaning beyond the classroom and that is, abstractly anyway, why I do it.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Contentment & Motivation

It has been a relaxing few days. The storm that has consumed my time for the past few weeks will again come with full force tomorrow. Tonight I am enjoying an all too brief calm, sitting on my sofa with my girlfriend’s legs on my lap, my laptop on top of them. I am content. This is today - tomorrow will be different. Much different.

My responsibilities as an instructor are complete. There are still a handful of assignments due, but the 60 plus semester end papers have been graded. At three to four double spaced pages each, it was a labor-intensive task, but also a labor of love. I was surprised, actually… pleasantly so. Although the over-use of semicolons and other basic grammar issues were common, the thought and the insight that went into their work was obvious. The majority of my students took the assignment seriously and it showed.

With my role as employee for the university fulfilled for now, I must concentrate on my role as a student. There is so very much left to do and little time to complete it. I have to view this seemingly insurmountable mountain of work in manageable chunks. Viewed as a whole, it is much too overwhelming. Viewed one day at a time, it is doable. But it will require sustained effort for the next two or three weeks.

But right now, I have a sense of completion. I have served my students and served them well. Tonight I will take solace that I am on the right track – I am in training to serve and if nothing else, that is motivation enough.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


This place is clearing out fast. One day before Thanksgiving and the students here at Sac State are scattering off to home - where ever that may be this year. Primarily a commuter campus, many do not have far to go, but virtually all will be somewhere other than here. Most, undergraduate and graduate alike, are feeling the semester-end crunch. And most, like myself, will soon be enjoying one last day of freedom before school, with all its various and sundry deadlines, demands our full attention. This is the calm before the storm.

As the homestretch rapidly approaches, there are now a few moments to reflect. This has been an interesting, frustrating, stimulating, eye-opening and exciting semester. It has been nothing like anything I have experienced before. It’s not just the rigors of being a student, college or otherwise. I have had that experience in spades, although grad school is like college on steroids. And it’s not the semester end crunch or the mind-expanding experience that education brings (again, super-sized, but the same). It’s a cultural difference. The relationship with my professors is far different than any I’ve had at any other level of education.

Although we are not exactly peers, the student/professor dynamic feels more like that of indoctrination. They are preparing us. The time available for students and the interest they show in our progress is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. We are attempting to do what they have done and they are sincerely interested in our success. I have been told that our application process was rigorous; we were carefully vetted based upon our qualifications, yes, but also our desire, our aspirations and other perhaps intangible elements that led them to believe that we will make it. We have been adopted.

Not exactly peers - not yet anyway…

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Just Breathe

It has been a productive day. Now 11:51 p.m., I am exhausted. There will be many more days like this in my immediate future. In fact, with the (possible) exception of Thanksgiving, every day for the next three weeks will be a struggle to keep my head above water. Yet the fight is not over and with each passing day, I am just a little bit closer to the end - as distant as it seems. I don’t want to keep saying the same thing day after day and I sure don’t want to appear as though I’m complaining, but nothing could have prepared me for what is currently expected of me.

Except experience. After my first graduate semester is completed (and assuming I am invited back for another) I will have the needed experience to prepare me for what is to come, which is of course, more of the same. It will not be as daunting; I will have picked up some practice and knowledge along the way that will make the workload for the next and subsequent semesters feel much more manageable. Still overwhelming perhaps, but manageable. I know this, but it is of little comfort tonight. I still have a long way to go and little time to get there.

I expect when it comes time to write my thesis in a couple of years (although the prep work will begin much sooner), I will again find myself in a similar position - wondering what I have gotten myself into. And again I will keep moving forward, sometimes blindly, until I reach an end - hopefully a Master of Arts degree. I am not sure I have ever dedicated so much of myself to a single purpose - certainly not where my education is concerned. Up until now, I didn’t have to - and that is not necessarily a good thing.

Being “smart,” as I have been accused of more than once, is not enough to make it. Lots of smart people are working dead-end jobs, doing only what it takes to get by. I am not by nature a “go-getter.” I would much prefer to take the easier, softer way. Being able to apply minimal effort and excel can have a negative effect, one that makes taking shortcuts a way of life. For most of my undergraduate term papers, I could and usually did wait until a week or so before they were due before I'd start writing. It is certainly not the recommended way to approach these types of tasks, but I was always able to get away with it. Procrastination and I go way back.

Although I knew that would not fly in grad school, I still put off some of the preliminary work, when I had the time, until now when I really don’t. I didn’t wait until the last minute, it was apparent early on that would not work, but I did not use good time management when I had the time to manage. Now, my time is being managed for me - it is virtually all dedicated to school. I have become painfully aware that it’s as it should be - I am not special. In fact, I have some catching up to do… I am not feeling particularly smart right now. The humility in that statement is palpable.

I waffle between feeling like there is no possible way to make it to just seeing a glimmer of hope that I can. Today, when I finished reading, documenting, citing, reading some more and then writing a little, I realized I am a long way from home. A very long way. But it is calling me, as impossible as it all feels right now, tomorrow is a new day and with it brings new opportunity. A friend told me earlier this evening to just breathe… It’s probably the best advice I’ve heard in a week.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


This is, apparently, my place. It is a wide aisle between the bound periodicals and the Masters theses, lower level, CSUS library. Amongst the pillars holding up this five-story (six if counting this basement) bastion of higher education are several “institutional” tables surrounded by equally institutional chairs. About midway is my place; a little island of quasi-comfort with a small square coffee table surrounded on opposite sides by four indestructible armchairs with an almost matching love seat between them. On the pillar to my left is an outlet to plug in my MacBook Pro for, even with a freshly charged battery good for upwards of three hours, I will outlast it.

I grew up with some notions… about what this is and what that is, about what things are and are not. By the time I entered junior high school, I had been introduced to “social science.” As my education advanced into high school, the social science courses narrowed in scope going from simply “Social Studies” to more specific areas within the discipline. Concurrently, courses in other sciences were also required. Mathematics, chemistry, biology, physics and the like were what I came to believe science was really all about. Eventually I became aware that there is a continuum; on one end are the “hard” sciences like physics and on the other were the “soft” sciences… the social sciences.

I grew up in a world that was dominated by numbers. My father has a Ph.D. in chemistry from Stanford University - among the hardest of the hard sciences and from one of the most prestigious schools in the world. Logic and numbers reigned king; any science worthy of wearing the badge had to have some form of measurement that produced empirical data. It had to be quantifiable. Something had to be counted. It’s not as though I was beat over the head with this pedagogy, it’s just the world that made sense to me. And I took to it. I was a whiz at math and excelled in other science courses as well - all while carrying a distinct disdain for school and education in general.

My baseless dislike for social science continued for many years. It’s not that it dominated my every waking moment, but the backdrop always remained - how could it be science if there isn’t an answer. Sure, hard sciences are driven by hypothesis and theory (a theory, in scientific terms, is supported by enough evidence that it is considered a fact until disproved), but even when the “answer” is unknown - it is knowable. That is, with the proper data, it is possible to know the answer empirically. There is no way to ever know for sure why people behave the way they do, what “love” is or the existence of God, for example.

So what are numbers anyway? They are nothing unless associated with a thing. They represent only quantity and say nothing about quality. If I have two things and put them together with two more things, I’ll have four things. True yesterday, true today and true tomorrow. Two plus two always equals four. But what if I have two apples and put them together with two oranges? I still have four things, but the number itself says nothing about those things… for that we need more than just numbers - we need words.

Communication studies are absolutely toward the soft side of the science continuum. Indeed, the degrees offered in Communication Studies at CSUS, BA and MA, lack the trailing “S” denoting “science.” I am working on a Master of Arts degree - and I never even gave any thought to the fact that I am studying to be a social scientist. But it’s even more ironic than that; I am leaning toward the qualitative end of the segment of the spectrum that is already on the “soft” side of the science continuum. I have turned a complete 180 and never even saw it coming. I gravitated towards qualitative reasoning over quantitative counting despite thinking I was built to think otherwise. Communication studies employ a number of quantitative methods and processes, research that requires statistical manipulation of empirical data. But on the qualitative side there is observation, reporting and an attempt to draw parallels to universal understanding.

So today, while working on this quantitative research paper, I am ever observant - from my little island in the basement of the CSUS library. It seems to be what I do.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Getting Started

I have barely moved for more than six hours. From this “institutional” couch in the basement of the CSUS library, to the printer and back again, it has been my entire existence from late morning, all afternoon and now into the early evening. I am taking a break. The reading, the culling, the discarding, the organizing and even a little bit of the writing that will comprise one of two papers has moved significantly forward and yet the cold reality is there remains far more to do than has been done. Nevertheless, it has been a very productive day. Tomorrow promises more of the same.

Actually, tonight does as well; it will just be in the more comfortable (and distracting) environment that is my home. Soon I’ll be on my way to a little food, a little rest and not enough relaxation. After socializing briefly with a few friends later on, it’s back home and back to the grind. It will be a long two or three weeks, but at least I have moved large mountains of research today. The light, though still dim, is getting brighter. I doubt very much anyone will hear me complaining about the lengthy break between semesters this year.

When I got to the library this morning, I had little to no motivation. I didn’t want to read (not the stuff I have to anyway) and I didn’t want to write (again, not the stuff I have to). I opened my MacBook Pro and went to my blog, checked in on my bank account and… stalled. Finally I decided to write what I would advise someone else who was having trouble getting started, something I have recently advised a friend going through what I am now. The words rolled around in my head, they began to take their places on the unwritten page... They started to talk to me.

The format I would have used was clear and direct. The theme of the piece started to haunt me. I heard what I was writing and it applied directly to me:

Just start writing…

Just like that? Well, yes and no. For some, for myself many times, "just start writing" means start writing something, anything. But not this time - that old familiar mantra wasn’t prodding me to write just anything and it wasn’t prodding me to write this stuff, as much as I tried to spin it that way. This time, there was something specific and I knew it. I just didn’t know where to start.

Just start writing…

There it was again, as clear as ever. I closed FireFox, closed my email and opened up a Word document and I just started to write. It was not flowing well at all, but I kept writing. I wasn’t sure where I was going, but I kept writing. After a potential abstract was cobbled together, I was granted a little bit of clarity and the next several hours were not spent writing at all. Ok, that’s not exactly true, but I don’t exactly count documenting my references in APA format writing. But it is a key and integral part of the process, a time-consuming but necessary component that is no more inclined to write itself than anything else is.

My reward is now this. Writing the stuff I like to write. Learning, sometimes lessons over again, from being a self-aware being. Language separates us from every other known living thing. Words are ours and ours alone. Putting them together in an order that makes any sense at all is not only not easy, it is virtually impossible. Yet we, as a species, do it in our sleep. And then sometimes the words just won’t come.

Just start writing…

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Can of Words

I am... wasting time.

I have, however, justified it. Rather than open up the can of words that is either of the two term papers I have to do (due less than a month from now), I have convinced myself that there isn’t sufficient time left tonight to set up, make any significant progress toward an end I cannot yet visualize and come to some logical stopping point, only to put it all away. No, far easier to create straight from my skull than to assemble the thoughts, research and conclusions of others. Of course there is a creative element in this work as well, but only after extensively examining what others have done first. It is a daunting task, but there is yet time and tomorrow I have nothing scheduled except research.

It was a gloriously warm and sunny autumn day in Sacramento today, much too nice to get inside a car. I logged many miles on my Harley, going some places I had to go and a few that I didn’t. When riding, be it solo, with friends or in a pack, there is a certain solitude that frees my soul. My mind is unbounded; it is able to discover and rediscover. I am able to find clarity in my challenges and conflicts, academic or otherwise. Although my rationalization to put aside the necessary work I must do is based on insufficient time, that deficiency is artificial. The time was always there, but I wasn’t. I was riding my motorcycle.

And maybe that makes the justification justifiable. Perhaps these are among the necessary steps I must take to release myself from the daily grind. Not that my days are routine or monotonous by any means, but more in terms of the physical sensation of living life at the speed limit - and I’m not referring to miles per hour. Rather, it is the conformity, the rigor and the norm that sometimes leaves everyday life feeling like just that.

As day turned to dusk and dusk turned to night, the temperature dropped rapidly. First in just my shirt and jeans, then came my jacket, chaps to cover my pants and eventually I broke out my face mask. As the temperature decreased, clarity increased… mind, body and spirit slowly became one. By the time I arrived home, I felt it.

I had planned tonight to do some of the work still pending for the completion of my first graduate semester. This is not it, but in a sense - it is. At least the ride that led up to these words was. Meditation can mean many things and come in many forms; sitting atop 750 pounds of steel, chrome and rubber… controlling where it goes and how fast it gets there does it for me. It is the freedom that creates the words. These words, those words… any words. Tomorrow I will most likely drive my car. I will be in the library early and stay there most of the day. Today the words rolled through my head as I rode - tomorrow the road will inspire the words I write.

Maybe I am not so much wasting time as I am biding it. To some this will sound like nothing more than an overwhelmed grad student making excuses to avoid the inevitable. But to those who ride, you know. To those who can find solitude by simply putting two wheels and a motor between their legs, clarity comes in a brisk evening ride. Peace comes one mile at a time. Tomorrow it's back to the grind...

Tonight, we ride.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Growing Up

I have been here before. In a physical sense, on this couch and in front of this iBook G4, many times - often, regularly and recently. Wanting to… no, needing to write something and not just anything. Oh, yes… again often, regularly and recently. And of course, at the same time, not wanting to do the kind of writing I must complete before this semester ends. This is nothing new. Even that acute sense of urgency that is growing by the day is a re-run of sorts. And although my immediate (not long-term) emotional status has taken a turn for the worse, it, too, is not unfamiliar ground. But at least in this last respect, the often, regular and recent qualifiers can be dropped.

The nearly five-month relationship I have been involved in has come to an end. I don’t want to get into the “he said/she said” of it all, but I was the one who broke it off. I don’t want to write about it; I was trying not to, but this is where the words are leading me. It had to do with a difference of perception and it has become abundantly apparent to me that the chasm is too wide and too deep to be bridged. It has been an underlying issue from the beginning and although successfully ignored for periods of time, it never went away. Love might make the world go around, but it is not enough to maintain a successful relationship.

I have been here before, but this time it’s different. Time has passed, experience has been acquired, wisdom has been gained. The right way is often not the easy way while the easy way becomes so much harder – eventually. I am almost 46 – maybe I have finally started to grow up. Perhaps this is one of those lessons in life that has eluded me all of these years. Is it possible that I have finally learned to sacrifice instant gratification for a long-term serenity? I don’t presume to know the answer, but I can say that in the moment, this very moment, it is not easy.

But lots of things aren’t easy. In fact, I have spent the last five years doing things that are not easy. True, the emotional element might not have been as pronounced, but the resolve to do what is right in the face of what is easy has become the norm rather than the exception. I am now at a crossroads in my education. Getting accepted to grad school was hard, being a grad student is even harder. With just about four weeks to go and two very large research papers still to write, it is more than crunch-time; it is life or death scholastically. There are no second chances - failure will be a permanent condition; grad school was “Plan B,” I don’t have a “Plan C.”

Will I make it? My network of friends and my family are convinced I will. I wish I were as confident. I have become accustomed to doing what it takes for long-term results, sacrificing instant gratification for the lasting rewards of persistent effort. Although it might seem odd to apply the same paradigm to interpersonal relationships, the parallels are there and moreover, the different facets of life - of my life – are inseparable. It took a long time to learn one of life's basic lessons - not only is it not easy, it’s not supposed to be.

And right now it's not easy, but I’ve been here before. This time I have the fortitude it takes to let go, move on and be grateful for all that was and all that will be.

To paraphrase William Shakespeare:

Discretion is the better part of valor.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

If you have to ask, you wouldn't understand...

Blog author's note: This post was written and posted in October 2006 to what has since become my photoblog, "FOTOMike." In its early days, however, it was yet another outlet for my writing. This post still means what it says and says what I mean...

This slogan is most often associated with motorcycles - Harley Davidsons to be specific. The enamel pin on the right is a Wm Spear Designs take-off of another popular motorcycle phrase, "Ride hard, die free." Both have had an eerie resonance with me for most of my life – certainly all of my adult life.

Am I naturally rebellious? Perhaps I possess some kind of “pioneer” spirit. Whatever the case, it would appear that I have come across a socially acceptable, productive and harmless yet still exciting and risky outlet for this maverick streak I have been blessed (or cursed) with. It is embodied in William Spear’s adaptation of the motorcyclist’s manifesto, “Write hard, die free.”

Are the two sides of the equation related? Does riding or writing hard equate freedom? Does doing anything with conviction, commitment or enthusiasm garner one some sense of freedom? Has it got anything to do with work; with sacrifice; with blood, sweat and tears? Indeed, freedom of any approximation seems to require some scale upon which its value can be measured – work.

And perhaps that is part of the problem in our nation today. Too many are out for the quick fix, the fast buck… for instant gratification. The paradox of instant gratification is that it only lasts for an instant. The rewards of hard work are lasting, they’re deep and they are mine.

I no longer desire instant riches – hitting the lottery appeals to me only inasmuch as how much more I could do with that kind of money – how much more work I could produce. And that’s what it’s really all about. I mean, what else are we here for? To only consume? To just take and take and take?

I have found through the trials of life, by the good, the bad and the ugly, that freedom cannot be given away, sold or purchased. It is not a birthright - here or anywhere else. It is gained only through work – hard work. It could result in something tangible, but often it is the unspoken, unwritten and the indescribable that means more than anything that could be held in one's hand. It could be expressed by riding or writing, but one way or another, freedom is earned and should never be taken for granted.

Monday, November 10, 2008

National Holiday Day

Written in October 2007, this post from "Home of the Free" is just as relevant in 2008.

Christmas is nearly upon us once again. Many would call it the undisputed heavyweight champion of all contemporary holidays. It has it all - decorations, presents, a grand meal, family tradition, a religious origin, symbolic icons, parades, music and extreme commercialism. And like only a handful of other holidays, it has an “-eve” to welcome its arrival. It even has its very own season with its very own greeting... "Season's Greetings." Yes, Christmas might just represent the pinnacle of what every holiday aspires to be.

Which means that all other holidays are lacking by comparison. Where’s the justice? Why should some holidays receive all the glory while others deserve only a footnote on the calendar?

There are other holidays that have religious overtones, perhaps even more so than Christmas. Take Easter, for instance. Not just one day, but actually three starting on Thursday night, through Good Friday (aren't all Fridays good?) and ending on the evening of Easter Sunday. Talk about holiday potential! Instead of one day, there are three solid days for gift giving, parties and festivities. Imagine the commercial build-up. Imagine the spectacle. Throw in a Monday and it can't lose.

But no, all we get is a cheesy bunny. He somehow lays multi-colored eggs and then cleverly hides them. If we’re lucky, he pushes out - I don’t want to know from where - some that are made of chocolate and puts them and other candy in a basket with plastic grass that gets everywhere.

And speaking of candy, what about Halloween? Here’s a holiday that’s not a holiday. There are the parties, sure… and decorations galore, but there has never been a day off. An included day off really is a must for any self-respecting holiday.

There are holidays better known by the dates they fall on like the Fourth of July or, hijacked from our neighbors to the south, Cinco de Mayo.

Then there are the “Monday” holidays. These are the holidays that are on one day, but “observed” on another. In 1971, the Uniform Monday Holiday Act moved Veterans Day, Memorial Day and George Washington’s Birthday (before it was given an identity crisis by combining it with Lincoln’s Birthday into “Presidents Day”) from their original date to a convenient Monday so federal employees would have more three-day weekends.

The act also created Columbus Day, the dumbest holiday of all time - glorifying a wayward sailor who got lost and discovered… India. No. America. No - India. No, ok, America, but let’s call the people there Indians. Oddly enough, there is no Indian or Native American Day. It wasn’t a “new” world to them, they knew it was here all along.

After protests by veterans groups, in 1978 Veteran’s Day was moved back to its original November 11th date. The vets felt it had lost its importance and had become nothing more than just another three-day weekend.

Lost its importance?

Well then, let’s move on to some of the more innocuous holidays. In no particular order and with no particular importance, some of the most pointless are: Groundhog Day, Flag Day, the afore mentioned Presidents Day, Pioneer Day, Patriot’s Day, Valentine’s Day, Saint Patrick’s Day, and the ever-popular Grandparent’s Day.

And just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, here are some of the “unofficial” holidays created to commemorate God knows what: Bloomsday, Buy Nothing Day, Friendship Day, Husband Appreciation Day, Wife Appreciation Day, International Talk Like a Pirate Day, International Kitchen Garden Day, Mole Day, Monkey Day, National Gorilla Day and a day that needs no description - No Pants Day.

Yes, seemingly there is a holiday for every occasion. Not yet mentioned - Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. I have one of each and I am a father - these are among my favorite holidays. It was not always the case - when I was young, there was the perennial question children always ask, “How come there’s no Kids’ Day?” The reply, always the same, “Every day is kids’ day.”

And so it is.

That must be why adults need so many damned holidays.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

One Giant Step...

It's a good day to be an American.

There has been much said and there is so much more to say, but for now that is enough.

We are, today, a more perfect Union...

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Taking Time

I started to write a piece a couple of weeks ago that was never finished. In fact, I didn’t even complete one paragraph. I have a penchant for titling my posts with elements of time… “Five Years,” “Sixteen Days,” etc. and that post was going to be titled “30 Minutes.” It was to be a reflection upon my busy life punctuated by an unexpected 30-minute window of free time. Although the time was there - the space was not. I was in our tiny Graduate Assistant office at school amongst four or five other GAs…

I cannot talk and write at the same time.

Nevertheless, the point of the piece is still relevant. Furthermore, with the passing of several days, the premise has had time to evolve. At this time on Tuesday morning, I am usually getting ready to go to school. I have office hours beginning at 12:30 and lecture at 1:30 - I don’t usually have to be out of bed before 10 a.m. Brutal, I know, but it does underscore one way in which I choose to spend at least some of my free time - sleeping. My hours are not regular and I am often up late… I sleep when I can. Today, however, is not a normal day (actually, no day ever really is; a post for another time, perhaps). It is Election Day.

And not just any Election Day, but a presidential Election Day. And… not just any presidential Election Day, but probably the most important presidential election in a generation - maybe ever. New voter registrations are breaking records everywhere - there will be no reports documenting voter apathy - low voter turnout will not dominate the headlines. It is always important to vote, but the current multifaceted crises have made it even more so. So much so, in fact, that the people have decided to take charge. A sea change? Perhaps. That remains to be seen, but it is more than obvious the status quo is not “well enough” and we are not going to “let it alone.”

My two youngest sons registered and are voting in their first elections ever. They have not been oblivious to what has been going on in the world around them. Their awareness of the political landscape has surprised and amazed me. I am, of course, extremely proud. At 21 and 19 years old, the current administration has been in power for much of their young lives and long enough that they likely have no real contextual recollection of any other. It is time for that to change - the past eight years have been a good example of a bad example and for having little to compare it to - my boys recognize that things could be better - much better.

This time, it’s about so much more than exercising one’s right to vote. This time it really does matter. This time, the regular and peaceful change of leadership is a silent revolution. The good ole boys have led us down a perilous path and it’s time for someone to set us straight. It’s time for someone to say enough is enough. It’s good to know that Americans will not be pushed around - obviously not by terrorists or by other countries, but especially not by those elected to serve us. For this, I’ll take the time - anytime.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Time and Change

Blog author's note:
The following was originally posted on "Been Some Places, Seen Some Things," one of my alternative blogs, on November12, 2006 - nearly two years ago. This time of year brings back many memories and as I am not averse to plagiarizing myself, here it is again - as profound as ever.

Another day just came to an end. It was a good day. Most are lately. Yesterday I visited a friend who is currently residing in the same hospital that I called home for several weeks six years ago. Although my experience there was miraculous, insightful, enlightening, transforming and a host of other equally profound adjectives, there were no good days. Not a single one, not even the day I left. It took some time and a lot of pain before the days got to be even close to good, but here I am today nonetheless better – a lot better than I’ve ever been.

In many respects, my friend is in the same boat I was in. The specific nature of the medical condition that led to her hospitalization is different; so too is the magnitude of her condition. However, the fear, the uncertainty and the helplessness are no different. I’ve been there. It was hard for me to walk back into that institution. It always is. I never particularly took to hospitals in the first place and my extended stay in one sure didn’t change that. Much had changed in just the 18 months or so since I had last been there. I was visiting a different friend.

I have always made it a point to visit the ER/ICU when I’m there. Although my memory is fuzzy, there are a few nurses there that I remember and they remember me. They see a lot of patients come and go and many that go… well they go permanently. It’s the nature of a trauma center; you don’t end up there if you’re not in pretty bad shape. I was expected to be one of those that left in a permanent fashion. That I didn’t, and have since been back, willingly and under my own power, is (or was 18 months ago) still a source of amazement to my caregivers.

Like many hospitals, Washoe Medical Center, in Reno, is expanding. Indeed it seems it always is. There has been construction going on every time I’ve been there, whether my stay was a few hours or a few weeks. The floor my friend is on is the same floor I was on after they moved me out of ICU. It’s also where my other friend was 18 months ago. It used to be called the “step-down” unit and it was on the third floor. Now that ward – with my old room - is the oncology unit. I’m not quite sure why my friend is in that unit, she hasn’t got cancer – my other friend did, and he has since passed.

This time, however, there has been much more extensive activity than just the rearrangement of furniture. Everything is different, including the ER/ICU. They even changed the name of the whole hospital. New graphics, slogans, color scheme… and, it would appear, new personnel. At least that is what I was told by the administrator behind the “admitting” desk in what used to be an old, “throw-back” style ER waiting room. There used to be a door under the TV with a phone hanging next to it. In the past I would simply pick up the receiver and wait for an answer.

“ER, can I help you?”

“Yes,” I would say. “My name is Mike Althouse and I was a patient here for a few weeks back in October of 2000.”

“What can I do for you?” the friendly voice on the other side would ask.

“I was just wondering if there is anyone working today that was here during that period of time?” was my typical response.

Usually I wouldn’t even get put on hold, “Hang on just a sec… Peggy? You were here at the end of 2000, weren’t you? Do you remember a Mike… what was your last name?"


"Mike Althouse?”

By this time there is some kind of surprised exclamation followed by the door being buzzed open.

“Come on back!” And I hang up the phone and push the door open.

That door is no longer there. And according to the sentinel guarding the gateway from behind her desk, all dressed in her hospital garb, “Oh, there wouldn’t be anyone working here from that long ago.”

“Really?” But 18 months ago there would be - was. I suppose she was just doing her job. I asked if I could just walk back and see if I recognized any of the nurses. She asked me if I had a name of someone– I didn’t, and no she wasn’t going to just let me walk back there. There was not much else I could do. I am relatively sure there were some still there from when I was, but the admitting “nurse” (she isn’t a nurse, but they all dress like one), was equally sure there weren’t. It was a losing battle and perhaps the finality I needed.

That place was special. My stay was short, but in terms of hospitalizations, pretty lengthy. Considering my days there were 24 hours long, it felt much longer. I have made this informal and irregular pilgrimage since I left the mountains four years ago. I can’t really explain any better than to say that it was a part of me. I wanted to express my gratitude again and tell those who took care of me that their efforts were not in vain – that it was worth it and that I care a great deal.

Maybe that administrative assistant was right. Maybe all from that era are gone. Perhaps it’s time now to close that chapter in my book. Time and change are constant. Thanks in large part to the efforts of those kind and caring professionals, I am living proof.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

A Good Thesis...

Knifong, Donna. (2000). An Interpretive Journey of Maya Angelou’s Poem "On the Pulse of Morning." Unpublished master's thesis. California State University, Sacramento.

Knifong’s rhetorical criticism of Angelou’s poem, “On the Pulse of Morning,” comes from a self-admitted place of deep admiration for the poet and her work, especially for the poem in question. Written for the 1993 inauguration of President Clinton, Knifong relates how she was “absolutely spellbound … and left irrevocably affected” upon hearing Angelou’s recital. This adulation might lead one to expect nothing more than glowing accolades of the brilliance of this acclaimed poet. Although this assumption would not leave the reader disappointed, Knifong’s analysis goes well beyond just a positive literary review. In fact, she actually writes it twice - first for the masses in a way that could be appreciated by those outside the realm of academia and once with an extensive literature review and scholarly citations.

But Knifong’s break with traditional scholarly writing goes much deeper than the inclusion of a popular interpretation. Although meeting the definition of rhetorical criticism, as cited in her thesis, Knifong places herself into her writing - and Angelou’s. Throughout her thesis are personal reflections of where she was, what was going on in the world around her and how the words made her feel. In a very real sense, this criticism is part ethnography and as such, Knifong has taken the literary liberties this method enjoys. This freedom of organization is perhaps most apparent in the first section where her analysis is primarily an exploration of the poem by verse, by line and sometimes focused on just a single word. Although Knifong’s observations are often backed by attribution, it is not scholarly citation, but rather blended into the prose so the flow of her interpretation is not interrupted.

Even her second section, written under the constrictions that scholarly work demands, takes on a much more personal touch. Written almost entirely in the first person, Knifong’s work takes the reader on a journey, citing what many others have written along the way. This is not a re-written first section with citations thrown in as appropriate, but rather an expansion of her insights and an exploration through the eyes of other scholars. Her last section invites the reader into the process that developed the final work and the revelations that emanated from it. It, too, adds to the overall robustness of this work.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

These Words - part deux

I’m afraid I have waited much too long. It’s never going to be just perfect; it’s never going to come to me all at once. The words, like any other work of art, must still be blended, contrasted and arranged. The inspiration is never accompanied by composition. I have confused profundity and inspiration with creation… I have been waiting for something that will never arrive. It can’t be delivered or received - it is not yet created.

It would be nothing to take a thought, an idea, or a truth of universal proportions and simply transpose. If the answers to all the big questions of mankind were delivered directly into my skull, would I be any the wiser? Of what value would that be? No toil, no struggle, no questioning the clarity and rhythm of the words… just a simple recording of something in my head? Worthless. The process, stoked by inspired madness gives birth to the words that must then be nurtured to maturity.

The library is not a quiet place. There are sounds everywhere. Hushed whispers, the shuffling of feet, the rustling pages filled with words written and the ever-present droning of the escalator on its endless journey - all provide texture to what the words will become. It is Saturday, just before closing. Rain has been falling for most of the day. Inside the library a cool, moist freshness permeates the nearly abandoned building. And the escalator never stops.

Life is a constant journey of discovery and rediscovery. Learning from words past and experiences present. Like the escalator, often it drones on and on. People get on, people get off and the escalator keeps climbing, sometimes for hours in solitude, just waiting. Another experience, another piece of a never ending puzzle… a picture never fully formed and never completely finished, the words are kept here. My experiences reflected in words will form the experience of others and they, too, will contribute their words to the mosaic that will never be complete.

The messages come from nowhere and everywhere, from no one and everyone. They come to me and they come for me, beckoning me to create. Yet I resist, waiting for more, waiting for the framework or, better yet, the completed. It will not; it cannot. It can only be formed here, right now. These words are created within this library, on this rainy day, amongst these books and next to this escalator. There could be no other way.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Comment and Response

In my last post, I received a comment from "anonymous." Now, I don't have any hard and fast rules regarding anonymous comments. Sometimes I know who they are and it is nothing more than an attempt to comment without having to jump over Blogger's hurdles. Other times the purpose is to protect one's identity for legitimate reasons and still others are out to do nothing more than cause trouble. Those I will usually just delete without comment. Then there are those that don't fall easily into any category... they are simply cyber-diarrhea. The following is such a comment followed by my response.

Anonymous said...

Well, I will be one that can say I did not vote for Obama when all comes crashing down. He has no experience to speak of, has been in the Senate for 2 years of which 95% of that time he has spent campaigning. He votes "present" 95% of the time because he has no backbone to make a decision. This way he cannot be called upon later on to defend his vote. Voting "present" means absolutely nothing.

8:47 AM, October 25, 2008

To which, I responded:

Mr. Althouse said...

Mr. (or is it Mrs?) Anonymous,

It is interesting that you chose this post to regale me with your juvenile political rhetoric. Actually, the term rhetoric is much too generous... let's just call it what it is - drivel. Although I have written much about this presidential race and the candidates in it, this post only threw a glancing blow at the Republican vice presidential nominee regarding a particularly glaring inconsistency between her ideology and her circumstances.

I won't again repeat what has already been said save this: Palin might be qualified to govern over a few hundred thousand Alaskans, but is abjectly unqualified to be a heartbeat away from being the leader of the free world. End of story.

I will leave you with a final question, however: Can you say you are one who did vote for this current president? You do realize that it is all coming crashing down... right here and right now.

Finally, I usually just delete anonymous comments with no intelligence to speak of, but in your case I have made an exception. Now, tell me again about that "backbone"...

Appropriate, no?

1:57 PM, October 27, 2008

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Back to Basics

This blog has hosted a great variety of thinking in its short history. Although this has been by far my least prolific year of writing for the 25 Year Plan, I have still managed to publish 55 (now 56) posts to this blog so far this year. The Plan’s lifetime total is more than 350 posts and untold thousands of words (the vast majority of which are my own), that reflect how I see the world and my place in it. Much has been reaction to that world (opinion), but there have also been numerous reflections (perspectives) and insights… thoughts about what drives me (purpose). Hence the subtext of what the 25 Year Plan is all about - “Perspectives, Purpose and Opinion.”

Recent posts have dealt with politics (one of my passions), revelations regarding distractions and personal interaction via social networks like My Space and an unplanned hiatus from blogging. All easily fall within the wide net that defines this blog. Perhaps more revealing to me is what has not appeared here. The inspiration to write profoundly has come and gone numerous times in the past several weeks. Experience confirms what I already know but often neglect to acknowledge in the moment: If I don’t strike when the iron is hot, the moment will pass. And the idea? Lost to the labyrinth of time past.

I am determined not to let another slip into the abyss. The urge has built up to critical mass and though I cannot recall with any specificity the insights from days past, the factors influencing them are omnipresent. The underlying pressures and pleasures, the victories and the defeats, the triumph and tragedy that are always more or less pronounced continue to drive the energy turned thought, and now thought transformed… finally released as words. They still feel inadequate; yet they hold promise to, with great care in their arrangement, reveal the wisdom of the ages. It is again just out of reach.

Meanwhile, real life continues. The struggles of post-graduate study are nothing like that of my undergraduate career - one that spanned, on and off, more than 25 years. I am (currently) hopeful that I will make it through my first semester thus earning me the confidence that I have what it takes. At the moment my eggs are all in this basket. In this economy, however, I am fortunate that they are not scrambled like so many others’ dreams have been. On the plus side, I am learning perhaps more than ever, faster than ever. The down side, of course, is the ebb and flow but never absent feeling of being overwhelmed. Comfort of late has come in discrete moments, not long periods of time.

Outside from school, life is good… and never dull. My eldest has informed me that I will be a grandfather in the coming months. I am told a wedding will be in the near future as well. Evidence of a modern day paradigm shift to be sure, but not nearly as profound as the situation regarding the Republican Vice Presidential nominee and her 17 year-old daughter. What? Oh yes, I know. We’re not supposed to talk about that lest we cast judgment. For the record, my eldest is 24 and his girlfriend is 27… draw your own conclusion. Mine is a mixture of apprehension and joy.

My younger sons are each voting for the first time this November. At 19 and 21, their first direct experience with democracy will be in a presidential election. I didn’t think they had any interest politics - and maybe they don’t, but they do appear to care about what is happening in our country and the world and they have a clear idea who they think can get us back on track. Color me surprised… and extremely proud.

There it is… not as profound as I wanted, more left unwritten than written. Words are often so inadequate. Perspectives, purpose and opinion… it’s all about life and this is mine today.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

My Friends...

Now that the second of three presidential debates is history, the mud slinging can resume. It’s true, debate mud slinging was nowhere to be found. Despite what many have called a “heated” debate in which the candidates called attention to each other’s respective records as well as the liberal interpretations of each one’s positions, this is not mud-slinging in a presidential debate. It is, in fact, fair game.

The rhetoric coming from the two campaigns of late, however, is a much different story. From the obliteration of facts to the exploitation of past associations on both sides, there is nothing cordial about the race’s recent past. It is unfortunate, but certainly not unexpected. McCain is losing ground and it has little to do with what he says at this point… with every downturn in the economy, be it record unemployment or a tanking stock market, McCain’s numbers go down. Maverick or not, he is a Republican - the same party that has control of the executive and until the 2006 midterms, both houses of congress.

There are not enough “my friend’s” in the world to stave off disaster in November. Compounding McCain’s problem is an acute lack of understanding of what is really going on with the economy, though to his credit he’s an expert next to his running mate. Although he might have a slight edge where it comes to foreign policy, the world has changed so much in the last 20 years that only current knowledge and expertise has any real meaning. Add Obama's youth and intelligence to the equation and it reduces McCain’s odds even more.

Look, we all know John McCain is a war hero. He has served his country admirably all of his adult life. He climbed the ladder by staying in the game and never giving up. Given all of that, isn’t it his turn? Shouldn’t he have his chance? Hasn’t he earned it? Um, no. He deserves to be first runner up, maybe some lovely parting gifts… and he gets to keep his cushy seat in the U.S. Senate. He will make the history books. He will be looked upon as a good senator and an American hero. That should be enough for anyone and it will have to do. This job is not about rewarding heroism, it’s about steering a nation of more than 300 million citizens; it's about keeping our best interests at heart.

It’s not about winning at any cost - even if, paraphrasing a McCain official, if the we don’t move off the economy, we will lose. This country needs more than an overly experienced senator in the White House. We need a visionary. We need a president who will move the people, instill confidence and re-energize us. Sometimes it is about speeches and well-spoken words. It’s time for some new blood… and his name is Barack Obama.

As much maverick as McCain claims to be, he still represents the old guard and where it applies to foreign policy, he might as well be Bush. Although McCain can rightly claim ignorance regarding the financial meltdown, his party had a major hand in it. Yes, the Republicans and McCain’s people say the Democrats, under Clinton, put the disaster in motion. But it is difficult to explain away more ten years of Republican congressional control, six of those with a Republican in the White House. McCain’s biggest albatross is his own party - the one he ironically enough claims to have stood up to time and time again.

What’s that old saying about payback?

It's a pitbull with lipstick.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Bye bye, Myspace

My little experiment with Myspace - and Internet-based “social networking” generally - has come to an end. Although it has some positive aspects to it, I have come to the conclusion that as a surrogate for personal human communication, it is a dismal failure. I am not interested in going into the how’s and why’s, nor am I interested in taking a trip down memory lane. The novelty is gone and that really was its only saving grace. I have a two phone numbers, this blog (and others) and several email addresses. I can be contacted directly quite easily - the shotgun approach that is Myspace has worn quite thin.

There are aspects of my dislike with the cyber-social network that can hardly be blamed on the medium. Indeed, Myspace like all other forms of computer software is just a tool. It can be used and abused as the operator sees fit. In this respect, I am fully responsible for the time it consumed and the disconnection it fostered. It is not alive. It doesn’t care. It didn’t feel a thing when I unplugged myself from it. Yet I feel as though I have severed contact with my approximately 195 “friends.” Ok, so they were not all friends, but many were and most I at least know on a personal level one way or another. I would venture to guess, however, that although I will not have a daily connection via log in with most of them - my real friends still are friends, and that includes those I met through another cyber tool - the blog.

Speaking of blogging…

I am not done yet - not even close. In fact, I would say that - at nearly three years old - the 25 Year Plan (and its offspring, present and future) will be around for a long, long time. There are significant differences between blogging and social networking, although they can play similar roles. And it’s more than just the interface. The connection between a blogger and his or her commenter is personal. It’s not just about “Hey, how ya doin’,” but rather framed by the context created by the blogger. It might be about trivial personal salutations, but more often there is substance inspired by whatever the author wrote about. It could be societal, it could be political, it could be financial… or it could be about the evils of social networking.

Now that Myspace no longer commands a slice of my time, it might be that this space will get some more attention. Moreover, it is my sincere desire to start visiting the many blogs I have come to respect so much as well as some I have yet to discover. I am at a point where the trivial and the petty have no place in my life. And that includes Internet junk food like Myspace.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

16 Days

It has been 16 days; more than two weeks of long, mildly stressful but altogether intriguing days since anything has graced this blog. Although it is still relatively early in my first semester of post-graduate study, it is abundantly obvious that the nature of the game is much, much different than that of my recently completed undergraduate coursework. That the level of intensity would be turned up a notch or several is not in and of itself surprising, but the process of getting acclimated has been. But I don’t really want to get into the trials and tribulations of all that - I refuse to risk sounding ungrateful. The point is that in all this dizzying wonderment, my time for activities such as writing these blog posts has become scarce indeed.

Part of my curriculum involves not only my role as a student, but also that of an instructor. I hold the paid (barely) position of Graduate Assistant; I am a “GA.” I am employed by, and a student in the same institution. Teaching isn’t a required part of my curriculum, but it is highly recommended since my concentration is organizational and instructional communications. I teach the discussion portion of an upper-division communications studies class - COMS 103. I work under a professor who teaches the lecture portion and guides a team of GAs in the several discussion sections. It is a speech class oriented towards business students and, as one would expect, it is populated primarily by business majors.

After two semesters as a GA, I can apply for a much better paying Teaching Associate (“TA”) position. In addition to a pay level that has a little substance to it, a TA is the teacher of record for his or her class - two per semester for up to two years, or four semesters. It is experience that will be invaluable to my marketability after graduation. But my first semester as a TA is still a long way away. First I have to get through my first two semesters of grad school - a task that will test me like never before.

It is interesting, however, that looking at this seemingly insurmountable goal is not an unfamiliar position for me. Indeed, I have been here before, recently and repeatedly. And after looking back just briefly, I come away with an unavoidable epiphany. Every goal completed along the way - as hard and unrealistic as it appeared at the time - would be easily accomplished today. In other words, to go back and complete my bachelor’s degree again, or another one for that matter, would elicit only complete confidence in my ability to do it and do it well. Experience, it would appear, has provided me with all the confidence I need.

Although the path I am now traveling is significantly different from any I’ve followed before, the déjà vu-like feelings directly parallel those I have experienced in other situations - both of my choosing and not. Experience tells me that the path will indeed be long and arduous. But it also tells me that nothing is insurmountable and that taken a day at a time, it is not at all overwhelming. True, some things will have to change and my commitment will have to be strong, but it is also true that it is within my power to do this.

Or not.

Blog author’s note: The following has nothing to do with the preceding, I just need to get it out there.

In the last two or so weeks, much has happened nationally on Wall Street, in Washington D.C. and in this historic race to the Whitehouse. Although I would like nothing more than take the time to write an analysis of what I think has happened, I can’t and won’t. Can’t because I simply don’t have the time to absorb it all, do the research and put together the words necessary to convey my opinion in a clear and concise manner. Won’t because I can’t and because there is already so much commentary available - much of which reflects my own views.

I will say this: It is important that we as Americans and world citizens pay attention. Close attention. Read beyond the rhetoric, listen to the liberal media; listen to the conservative media… there is no “unbiased” media. If you want to know the truth, you’ll have to decipher it yourself - and that takes Maureen Dowd and George Will. Listen to Rush Limbaugh, watch MSNBC, take what you believe to be unbiased and pick a source that you believe to be slanted and pay attention to them both. Here is a little hint: if you can’t think of a news organization that you think is left of where you are, you need to consider those to the right. And if all you can think of are organizations that are to the left of Fox News, then you should listen to them.

It is not an attempt to convert one side to the other; it is to try to understand where the other side is coming from. Look at it this way - it can’t hurt and it might give you insight to be open to compromise or at least to be able to create a more effective battle plan. If you don't know their arguments, how can you effectively argue against them? If we only listen to who we agree with, we get the kind of extreme partisanship that has contributed to or created so many of the problems we are now faced with.


Sunday, September 14, 2008


I have been under attack. Not a personal attack (although others might view the same circumstances that way), not a physical attack, but rather I have been experiencing information overload. It’s just coming so fast and so heavy that this busy post-graduate student hardly has time to write about one epiphany before the next comes along. And of course by that time - poof - it’s gone. And make no mistake, not only is there news aplenty to write about in this presidential election, it also has the distinction of being new news.

In January, history of unprecedented proportions will be made; either way, there will not be two white males serving as president and vice president. Can’t happen. Sometimes in the heat of the rapidly escalating battle, this little historical footnote is lost in the noise. And although it represents the bridging of a huge gap in racial and gender equality, it is equally important that we keep our eye on the ball. This country, despite denials from the current administration, is a mess.

It just is. The responsibility appropriately falls squarely upon the shoulders of the administration - and party - in power. Ok, I know, I know, the Democrats are the majority in both houses, but not in large enough numbers to affect any real change. You know, the kind of change the Republicans perpetuated from 2000 up until the 2006 midterms. That kind of change is not what we need any more of. It is, in large part, why this country is a mess.

Allow me to enumerate. First and foremost… the granddaddy of all blunders, a fiasco that captures all the insidious elements of deceit, huge amounts of wasted (and as yet unfunded) taxpayer dollars and last, but absolutely not least, the needless deaths of more than 4,000 US service men and women. Never mind the civilian casualties (Iraqi and American) and all those untold thousands of life-altering injuries that will remain to cause this administration recurring embarrassment on how these brave souls are treated when they return home. In case you’ve been living under a rock, I am speaking about the war in Iraq.

It is a war that one party and its ticket still supports. The war has not been as much a page one event as it once was, but it is still going on. It appears to be going better, but nowhere close to good. People are still dying at an alarming rate, money we don’t have is still being spent so fast it boggles the mind and Bin Laden (who had absolutely nothing to do with Iraq), is still on the loose. We need to get out and one party’s ticket has pledged to do just that.

But that’s not all. The Republican Party has become increasingly elitist, and I don’t mean in the academic sense. The cronyism, which has done far more than dance on the line with corruption, is rampant. These are not scandals of impropriety (read sex scandals), they are real crimes with real victims. Valerie Plame, Joseph Wilson, Scooter Libby, Doolittle, Abramoff, Cheney, Rove… perhaps Reagan left some of that Teflon for ole’ W, but it all smells the same. There are so many more names that space simply does not permit... And that old song and dance is being revived in a ticket called McCain-Palin.

New York Times Columnist Paul Krugman recently wrote how the McCain-Palin campaign has a teensy little problem with the truth. After citing several fallacies iterated and reiterated from the campaign, Krugman sets the record straight, but more importantly, he lends insight into what this pattern of factual impairment might mean. He contrasts the comparative complexities of the Bush-Cheney deception with the ease of seeing through McCain-Palin lies. “How a politician campaigns tells you a lot about how he or she would govern,” he said.

Since both Obama and McCain are campaigning on a "change" platform, let us take a look at what that change would mean. Granted, McCain appropriated the change message late in the game, but it is fair to say that change would occur in his administration despite Obama’s claim that it would just be four more years of the last eight. I agree with Krugman, “I’d argue that Obama is wrong to suggest that a McCain-Palin administration would be just a continuation of Bush-Cheney. If the way John McCain and Sarah Palin are campaigning is any indication, it would be much, much worse.”

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Experts

Blog author's note: This post was originally published Oct. 21, 2006 on "Been Some Places, Seen Some Things." In an ongoing effort to consolidate relevant posts and because I am much too busy reading to do any recreational writing, I offer you this, a little gem from my archives...

I must admit, I didn’t know - much. Apparently I am not alone and I am in good company. Last Tuesday, the New York Times ran an op-ed piece by Jeff Stein, national security editor for the Congressional Quarterly entitled, “Can You Tell a Sunni From a Shiite?” Like I said, I didn’t know. And although the article doesn’t really explain the difference (I will, my curiosity was piqued), he is surprised, as am I, that those in the highest levels of government don’t have a clue.

I am majoring in government-journalism at Sacramento State. That could mean several different career paths. As much as I have any influence over it (not much I’ve learned, but that’s another story), my path is heading towards journalism (as opposed to government or PR) with a specialty in government reporting. Within that area, foreign policy interests me the most. Therefore, I should have known the difference as well. The key difference between my ignorance and say, oh… FBI National Security Branch Bureau Chief Willie Hulon’s is not a matter of trivia – it’s life and death.

The following is taken directly from Stein’s column:

Take Representative Terry Everett, a seven-term Alabama Republican who is vice chairman of the House intelligence subcommittee on technical and tactical intelligence.

“Do you know the difference between a Sunni and a Shiite?” I asked him a few weeks ago.

Mr. Everett responded with a low chuckle. He thought for a moment: “One’s in one location, another’s in another location. No, to be honest with you, I don’t know. I thought it was differences in their religion, different families or something.”

To his credit, he asked me to explain the differences. I told him briefly about the schism that developed after the death of the Prophet Muhammad, and how Iraq and Iran are majority Shiite nations while the rest of the Muslim world is mostly Sunni. “Now that you’ve explained it to me,” he replied, “what occurs to me is that it makes what we’re doing over there extremely difficult, not only in Iraq but that whole area.”

I couldn’t paraphrase it any better. It is that last quote that is particularly telling.

Perhaps Hulon and Everett (and others - some very highly placed) should pay attention now as I will briefly explain the difference not only between these two religious sects, but also a little about the ethnicities involved.

Although I still don’t have great deal of detailed knowledge of Islam, or for that matter any religion, I will try to explain why these two branches of Islam differ. According to a variety of sources, it has to do with the lineage of the prophet Mohammed. It is somewhat complex, but there is some dispute about which of the descendants should be followed. It could be likened to the various different branches of Christianity or perhaps a better analogy is the split between Judaism and Christianity.

Not to muddy the waters even further, but within the Sunnis and the Shiites, there are further divisions and factions, which probably lends a little more accuracy to the Jewish/Christian paradigm. The issue is complex indeed, but there are those whose job it is to understand our enemy and I’m afraid, as Stein so aptly points out, that this very basic crash course is more than many of them know. But wait, it gets even more complex; again, I will distill it down to my level of understanding.

In the region, there are several different ethnic groups as well. For instance, the Iranians are not Arabs, but Persians – and mostly Shiite. The Iraqi’s are mostly Arab, except for the Kurds. Most of the Arabs in Iraq are Shiite like the Iranians, but not Persian. Most of the rest of the Arab world is Sunni, as are the Kurds, but the Kurds are not Arab. Are you taking notes?

For those that have a hard time understanding how Muslims can kill each other so persistently, ruthlessly and unconscionably, perhaps remembering the slaughter among those of differing sects of the Christian faith will help put it into perspective. Maybe historical accounts of Christians killing Jews will lend a better understanding. Realizing that all three major religious divisions have a common root probably won’t help much, but it is true enough that all three are “Abrahmic” spin-offs.

So perhaps our “leaders” don’t understand that we’ve inserted ourselves smack-dab into the middle of a religious-ethnic-territorial war that is hundreds of years old. Maybe they underestimated the complexity of the demographic makeup of the region. Perhaps if they had done their homework, we wouldn’t be in this mess. Maybe it’s not too late to find a solution. It’s time to cram – finals are coming.