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.