Thursday, February 26, 2009

Pieces to the Puzzle

It’s time to put up something new; more than a week has passed since this space has received any of my attention. It’s not as though my pen (or its cyber-equivalent) has been silent. I have been busy with much and although some of my musings have been transformed to the written word, they were for projects separate from this blog. Oddly enough, however, these and other moments of inspiration are profoundly connected to many of the discoveries I’ve made here over the last three-plus years. The many aspects of my life that have so neatly dove-tailed makes me wonder anew…

What’s it all mean?

The answer is, of course, everything and nothing… everywhere and nowhere… always and never. That ethereal “something” is ever elusive but at moments will appear for just a split-second - and then always just out of reach. And I know that the eternal truth, the absolute essence of what is, what was and what will be can never be captured. But striving after it never grows old and these glimpses of the totality of the human experience are enough to propel me with renewed enthusiasm to seek what is possible, to unravel what we have already witnessed and to welcome what lies ahead.

Everyone is unique, although no one’s discrete experience, single characteristic or specific position is. It is the infinite combinations of these shared entities that make each one of us an individual. Although statistical information as it applies to groups of individuals can give us an overview of who we are, none of that is relevant when it comes to who I am… each of us has an identity that is wholly and uniquely our own. The human experience is infinite because it has been composed of so many individuals, past and present, whose perception has been formed by the components, no matter how universally experienced, that individually make up each one of us.

For a communication scholar, the possibilities are endless. Does one focus on demographic data, on statistical analysis and surveys that give us a macro sense of what our society is? Or do I concentrate my attention on the individual, trying to understand how just one person views the world, and why? Are we identified by our similarities or our differences? How do I view myself? This is a question that many struggle with at some point or another. This is, in part, a quest to discover just who I am.

And it is also an exercise in becoming who I am. As each day passes, new experiences enter my world that will alter, usually quietly, that which makes me who I am. The more in tune I am with that process, the more I notice and the more I notice, the greater the amazement becomes. Perhaps it is that wonder that I am chasing - the excitement of what lies just beyond the next turn. It is a never-ending process of discovery, of invention and of re-invention and the more that falls into place, the bigger the puzzle gets.

And then it’s a hunt to find more pieces.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


It’s very quiet here this morning. The rain has been falling on and off; the din of the TV is in the background and the refrigerator is humming; a frog emits its plaintive croak; and from time to time a car will drive by, it’s sound amplified by the wet road. Yet with all these background noises, the ever-present static sounds that are common in suburban life, this morning is quiet like none other. There is a void in my home, a space that has not been left unfilled for any sustained period in many years. It is the sound of life moving forward… and away.

My youngest son enlisted in the United States Army. He decided that, at 19 years old, it was time to make his first real adult decision in his life, to do something big, something significant… something different, and this is the course he has chosen. He approached me about this decision weeks ago and the wheels have been slowly rolling toward this day ever since. I am very proud of him, he did not make his decision recklessly and he solicited my input at every juncture, but it is his decision and one I support as any father would. It is therefore neither a surprise nor is it a shock that he is gone for at least the next 10 weeks, but how does one prepare for the quiet that is left behind?

I suppose this could be called “empty nest” syndrome. My eldest son, although he lived with his mother for many of his teen years, moved to Southern California about two years ago. Prior to that he was always close and always had a home here. Now almost 25, he is well on his way to beginning his own family as he and his lady are expecting a son in May (which brings up an entirely different set of new insights). My middle son, 21, still lives with me, but he is at school all day every day and soon he, too, will be starting a life on his own.

I have been a single parent for many years. It has not always been an easy road. Teenagers present any number of challenges in the best of circumstances and ours were not the best. But we stuck together and came through… for the past several years our lives together have been characterized by respect and harmony. All three have grown into fine young men and I am equally proud of each of them - all the time. It would appear that, on a day-to-day level at least, my job is all but done. Fatherhood never ends; my own father is (as well as my mother) an integral part of my life, but not my daily life. And so it has become with my own sons.

I will see my son at his induction ceremony today, but the Army had him stay with the other new recruits in a hotel last night. For all intents and purposes, he is already gone. By the end of the day he will be thousands of miles away. In all likelihood, this will never be his home again. But it always will be. He has left too much of himself here and taken too much of here with him, he can never truly be gone. The memories will live on and the days, weeks, months and years ahead will bring with them new experiences for us all – and new memories to add to those we already lived.

And it is quiet. Despite the everyday noises still present, I cannot hear him silently sleeping in his room – I know he is not there. He has moved on with his life. But his presence is always in my heart and I know that this boy has become a man. The silence, however, will take some getting used to. And I am sure it will never completely go away.

Saturday, February 14, 2009


18 November 2006

Funny… Here I am, 12:37 a.m. and very tired. I’m sitting in front of my computer reading blog posts – my own. Going back through my archives from time to time always proves to be inspirational - and frustrating. I like much of what I have written – but none of it is perfect. And I’ll grant that it never can be. Written language has far too much variety in definition and interpretation for perfection to be, at best, anything more than a fleeting reality. What means one thing today might mean something totally different tomorrow.

Today, no matter how happy I am, I am never “gay.” So much for supporting evidence.

But this is not really the sort of perfection I’m speaking of. Yes, the way the words are orchestrated is important and as much as I am usually satisfied with how they fall, I’ll be the first to admit it could be better. If I can’t get to good enough at some point, the job would never be finished. Then there are the typos that I find in posted material perhaps weeks old; that drives me crazy… but it’s still not where I’m going with this.

It’s about taking it to the next level. Finding a groove, the sweet spot. It’s more than just the idea, more than the organization and the corroboration. It goes beyond a varied vocabulary and an attractive style, or not too much and not too little anything. It’s what I strive for in the writings of others, the George Wills and Joan Dideons, Anna Quindlens and George Orwells. Dare I say it? The Martin Luther Kings. There is an impact, an urgency, a poignancy and a purpose.

And, as I re-read what I just wrote, it’s not that either. Well, it might be, but I’m not absolutely sure… I have those traits, too, at least sometimes. Perhaps it’s a higher quality of these characteristics. Maybe it’s a deeper consistency of these attributes. Could it be something else altogether?

And I wonder, do these and other greats ever second-guess their work? Could it be that the next level is always out there, and when reached another appears on the horizon? I think perhaps – yes, I think so. It has been so for me, although only recently have I noticed any advancement in my thoughts and writing – and my thoughts of writing. Evolution is occurring and as is its nature – at a pace too slow to notice until enough time has passed.

For most of my life, even with the passing of time, I didn’t notice – writing was not my focus. Nothing was, really. Patience and practice are the keys to realize where this trek will lead me. I hit plateaus from time to time, and I think it may be that I am about to embark on another period of rapid ascent. The stagnation and complacency that has been my silent companion of late are giving way to motivation and inspiration once again. One chapter has ended and the next is well under way.

14 February 2009

This saga of identification is as frustrating as it is exhilarating. Except for minor edits in the preceding prose and the composition of this entire last paragraph, this piece was written and posted on Been Some Places, Seen Some Things more than two years ago. Yet the feelings I identified then are just as valid today - perhaps even more so. Such is the nature of evolution. Two years ago I had no idea I would be at this juncture in my life, re-living these very thoughts, and yet here I am. In two years hence, I wonder if I will still be wondering what I wonder now... and then. Chances are good, albeit in an evolved state.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Here's a little secret...

Quite some time ago I wrote a post entitled “Magic Words.” It was about the power of language, specifically, the written word. In it, I attempted to portray both the power and the beauty, the mystery and the logic… indeed, the profound as well as the mundane nature of the art. It is the art of the wordsmith. It was one of my deeper pieces and one that I still like – unusual for me, my worse critic.

The point of all this is another interpretation of the phrase. Magic words… I alluded to the supernatural parallels between words and hocus pocus, insinuating that the power might be alternate manifestations of the same perception. But I didn’t go that way, really. More accurately, it didn’t go that way – my influence on these things – in this type of writing is more that of the caretaker. But I digress…

I have always looked for the secret formula, the one special phrase, those magic words that would snap my life to attention. It didn’t have to be in the form of the ever-popular “self-help” book, but that was, for a long time, where I sought them. It didn’t even have to be in the form of motivational or inspirational prose. If a special arch support or some B vitamin complex that had somehow eluded me was the answer, then I was all in. Oh yes, believe it, my head went there.

Although a dietary supplement or some organic soap was within the realm of possible hiding places, I suspected the answer to my motivational deficiency was in the written word. I searched and I read. “Life 101” and “Do It” by Peter McWilliams were among the first I stumbled across in the early 90s. I read Dr. Wayne Dyer and Dr. Phil. Even the classic self-help book by Dale Carnegie, “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” followed by “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living,” had some powerful advice for those in search of “it,” whatever it is.

My quest took me though a variety of manuals and rendered unto me some of the wisest advice of our time - all valid, all reasonable and all completely useless. Well, not quite useless, but nothing made any difference, save increasing my vocabulary, until I realized there is no magic. However, sinking those words into my brain – adding more tools to an unused toolbox was not helping. In fact, it made my dilemma, my dearth of motivational energy, seem all the more hopeless.

But it all made so much sense. Action/reaction. Effort/reward. Foul/consequence. What else could I possibly need to get that fire lit? I couldn’t follow through on anything. I knew I was smart enough. I had the capability. The knowledge that I could “do anything if I just set my mind to it” was real. I just could never set my mind to it for any significant length of time – I just didn’t get it.

I have turned that tide today. I’ll reveal how I did it in just three little words. But not just yet... Oh, and guess what? There's nothing magic about them.

It seems to me that there are an awful lot of different kinds of people in the world. I want to focus for a moment on a particular segment. It is a much smaller slice than I imagined, but for me it was a visible one. They are the achievers. Those that are at the top of their fields – the ones who always are working on something and are always busy. They are the ones who get things done and it has become my opinion that there are only a few who fit that mold.

I don’t know if the characteristic is taught, passed down genetically or is an environmental phenomenon. I guess it doesn’t much matter. It’s easy to identify them, however. They work until the job is done. They only know one speed – all out. They get to work early and never pad their time. They don’t complain, don’t pass the buck and will always volunteer for the tough job. And they succeed not because of some monetary reward, but one that pays in much more valuable currency.

Those three words? Do the work. There is nothing magic about the words themselves. The magic comes from the work. Do the work. That’s how I did it. I did the work. I’m doing the work. I continue to do the work. If I don’t want to, I do the work anyway. That is how it works. That is where the magic is. That is why successful people are. Those that are like I used to be and aren’t anymore did what I did – the work.

Simple, no?

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Written Words

I woke this morning to the sound of children playing football in the street in front of my house. It took me back. I grew up in one of those neighborhoods where almost all of the families had kids within just a few years of each other. We all played together all the time… it was idyllic, but there was no way we could have known that at the time. Many of those families still live there, but the children are now grown and gone. There is a new group of youngsters in my parent’s neighborhood, but I am just not sure it's any different from where I live now.

Although my home is idyllic in other ways, the activity and innocence that comes from neighborhood kids gathering together for no particular reason is not the norm. The sound of children playing in my neighborhood is unusual. And I don’t know if it’s the dynamics of this neighborhood or that neighborhood… if there was a perfect storm of factors that went into what became my childhood home, but it seems that those unplanned close-knit communities of days gone have been replaced by… progress.

We did not have cable TV. No video games. No Internet, no computers. There were no cell phones to stay in constant contact with our parents or each other. We had bicycles, roller skates, balls of all sorts and our imaginations. Yet we made do. We were not driven to school unless it was raining – hard; we walked and then (when we got a little older) we rode our bikes – usually together. Up until about the seventh grade, this core group of kids who had grown up on the same street lived a much simpler life together. Or, maybe, life is much more simple today?

I’m not one to turn my nose up at technology and the convenience that springs from it. I am in contact with vast numbers of past friends and acquaintances that, if it were not for the communicative technology we now have, would be lost forever. But that fact does illustrate the premise that maintaining relationships takes work and the truth is that for many of us, myself included, the effort required often proves to be of a lower priority than what lies directly ahead. Indeed, it should not be surprising – this phenomenon is nothing new. Even before much of this modern technology came along, the art of letter writing was all but lost to the telephone.

And in some respects, technology has taken us back to that. Although few actual personal letters are ever written anymore, communication via the written word has enjoyed a resurgence with the advent of these modern wonders of communication. Email, texting and the many forms of social networking have made writing important again. True, it has evolved (especially where texting is concerned) into an abbreviated, some might say bastardized form, but it is today (and again) relevant. But it wasn’t always that way.

Two thousand years ago, literacy was rare. Communication was an oral and aural art. Texts were difficult to produce and impossible to mass-produce. Gutenberg’s movable type and other factors helped to bring us to an age of literacy. Some would argue that we are less literate today than we were when I was a kid playing with my friends in our neighborhood. Perhaps, but technology today is conducive to written communication and, like Gutenberg’s press did, has shown it is still important. Indeed, not only is it is still important, it always was.

Now, if only there was some kind of technology that would bring the kids out of their homes and into the street to play football…

Wednesday, February 04, 2009


I had some profound thoughts last night – actually early this morning. And as usual, I didn’t want to get out of bed to get them out of my head… and also as usual, now they’re gone. The essence still remains, but that essence can only be defined as a feeling – nebulous, indescribable and just out of reach. Although the presence of serenity, of wholeness and purpose has left an indelible mark, the words that produced it are lost. And this is, perhaps, as it should be, for today is a good day and new words are flowing from it.

For the past few days, I have engaged in some deep reflection; of my late teens, my high school days and what it all meant framed by my experience since that time. Although I believe I was happy, probably most of the time, I was still without direction. I set myself adrift on the sea of life with no heading and no power. I thought I was in control of my own destiny, but the reality is that my “control” was manifested in a lack of control. I went where the wind blew me – chasing short-term gratification never knowing I was sacrificing long-term serenity. What is it they say about hindsight?

Although that old adage contains a great deal of wisdom, it is not, in and of itself, enough for me to even begin to “figure it out.” It took so much more – the benefit of hindsight didn’t materialize until my life was smashing on the rocks. I needed to slow down and it has since become apparent that not only did I have no direction or initiative, my brakes were shot, too. I could not make any kind of reasonable assessment of my life until it nearly ended… and even then, it was a slow and painful process.

There are some who would account for what follows as delusional, unreasonable or just plain folly. Until October 17, 2000, I was among them. I had what I can only explain as a “spiritual experience.” There are other entries in this blog that go into much more detail regarding that near-death experience; I will not recount them here. But I will attempt to recount what that experience was. However, like the words that formed in my head last night – those that I lost to the universe – the words that could be used to describe that experience are long-gone, if they ever really existed in the first place.

As a result of the injuries I sustained in a wreck that cool October morning, I was heavily sedated for about five weeks. In the hours and days immediately following the accident (probably not the best choice of words), it was doubtful that I would survive. I really can’t say how close I was, but I do recall two different types of memories. Many were my perception of reality through the haze of the opiates they were pumping through my veins and the shock my body was in. I can, in retrospect, place some of the weird experiences and recollections with the actual reality I have learned about since.

But then there are the “others.” The specifics are foggy at best, but the overwhelming feeling that I was not only not alone, but also cared for… maybe guided, is undeniable. Again there are those, some of whom I love and deeply respect that would scoff and I understand; I was once one of them. When I came to, I told of wild tales and had too many questions. Most looked at me as though I was crazy and after a while, once my head had cleared somewhat, I stopped asking and I stopped telling. I knew these were my experiences and started to come to the conclusion that they were meant for me. I should have died and I didn’t – why?

I used to believe that spirituality was for the weak, for those who needed a crutch to explain their existence. But I was in control of my destiny - remember? I had no need for such foolishness; I was the master of my universe. However, that three-month hospitalization, if nothing else, showed me that for at least the immediate future, I was completely powerless. It was a profound moment, but it didn’t really hit me until much later, after I had again resumed control of my life - without direction and at full speed.

I woke up during a time when Tesla's cover of the song, Signs, originally released by the Five Man Electrical Band in 1970, was receiving a lot of airplay - an odd coincidence considering the song was then 30 years old and even Tesla's cover of it was 10 years old...

And the sign said everybody welcome, come in, kneel down and pray
But when they passed around the plate at the end of it all,
I didn't have a penny to pay, so I got me a pen and a paper and I made up my own little sign
I said thank you Lord for thinking about me, I'm alive and doing fine

It was that last line that became my mantra. It not only epitomized my resentment with organized religion, but gave me a way to connect without someone else telling me how to do it. The irony was this: Although I was indeed alive, I certainly was not doing fine. I had a long way to go before I was anything close to doing fine, but it gave me hope. And perhaps even more importantly, it gave me the faith I desperately needed. That faith was inspired by an experience that I related to a friend yesterday as one that I cannot put into words. I know what it was, I can feel it like it was yesterday, but I cannot describe it.

But it changed my life, and even for those who may scoff, that much at least is real.