Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Petty Crimes

I live in a pretty nice neighborhood. It is in an unincorporated suburb in Sacramento County, Calif. known as Fair Oaks. The subdivision I live in is a relatively new development (late 70s) called Rollingwood. Although we are certainly not crime-free, the level of criminal activity here is low and for the most part petty. Of course, there are exceptions, but all in all, this is a very quiet neighborhood. One of my neighbors across the street started a neighborhood watch email list so that the residents are kept up to date on what is going on around here. The following letter is to alert my neighbors of a petty crime that occurred in my driveway last night or early this morning…

Dear Rollingwood residents,

Last night I failed to roll up my windows in my car. Although it was parked in my driveway on Long Canyon Dr., and my outdoor lights were on, someone decided it was worth entering my car to see what could be had. Fortunately there was not much there, but some items in the tray of my center console were taken – and the tray was taken as well. There was a small pocketknife, a silver ring and broken silver rope chain necklace… maybe a couple of other items as well. All tolled, these items were not worth much and with the exception of the tray itself, nothing that I will really miss. But the value of these items and whether I will miss them or not is obviously not the point. The sanctity and security of my home was violated and this would (or should) piss anyone off. The crime did not go totally undetected - there are always clues. The following is what I believe to be a probable scenario:

Although I do not know for sure when it occurred, my kids’ dogs were barking at about 5 a.m. this morning. They will bark whenever they sense someone outside my house, but usually it is nothing. This time we should have listened and let them out for if I had, I would be writing a much different story. It is also probable that the dogs scared off the punk(s) before they had a chance to search in any depth – much more was left than was taken. This was a crime of opportunity; there was no need to check to see if the car was open, it clearly was. I have not checked my security cameras yet, but due to where the car was parked and the pre-dawn darkness, I don’t expect they will reveal much. But here is the sad truth; the criminal(s) involved are most likely living among us.

This is a crime a kid would commit – one or more of your kids (not necessarily your kid, but very likely one of our neighbors’) and/or one or more of their associates. It is highly unlikely that someone would be casing this neighborhood in search of a car with its windows open to see what kind of score could be made. These are not professionals, but they are absolutely criminals in training. So here is the $64,000 question: Do you know where your kids were early this morning? Are any of them sporting a slick little pocketknife (it’s red and about an inch and a half to two inches long when folded), or a silver rope necklace or a silver ring? You might ask them how they came up with these things, because they among the things that were lifted from my car. I sure don’t want anyone to take this personally and I am by no means accusing every kid in this neighborhood of being a thief, but the evidence is pretty clear that at least one is. There is an opportunity here for a proactive, alert parent to stop a lifetime of bad choices in its tracks.

Me? I just want my center console tray back.


Michael K. Althouse

Monday, July 18, 2011

Still New

I have not done much writing here for the past several months. According to the archives section on this blog, I wrote 55 entries in 2010 and so far this year I have written only nine. And it is now halfway through July. I’m not sure why this is. I wrote quite a lot in 2007 and 2008, logging 160 and 134 entries, respectively. While it is true that some of those entries were not written compositions and a few were not even my own work (always properly cited, however), the need or desire to publicly air my thoughts appears to have been greater when this journey was new. It was almost as if the worldwide access to my words lent some reality or permanence to what can arguably be described as a living dream. Or beyond one…

But it can just as easily be argued that the novelty has not worn off. Each new chapter brings new amazement and the start of the next leg is only three short weeks away. It is still staggering to think about where I was just seven years ago compared to where I am today. And where I am going, though just as unknown as where I am viewed from where I was, is nothing I was even capable of dreaming of. This is not a dream, but I did not plan any of this. I did not plan to graduate with a BA at 45 years old, did not plan to have an MA at 48 and I had no idea I would be moving to a new city 2,200 miles away to begin work on my Ph.D. this same year. I simply did what was in front of me and availed myself of the opportunities that came along the way, not knowing whether I would or could succeed. I took chances, but without doing the work, the chances of success were zero. This I know only too well from experience.

This is not some sort of mid-life crisis; the crises I have faced were recurring and of my own doing well prior to some arbitrary ‘mid-life’ mark. It wasn’t until mid-life (I hate that term, it feels as though I have some sort of expiration date, but I digress…) that I was finally able to extract myself from crisis mode. Indeed, these things that I am now doing should have been done years ago, but I had neither the capacity nor the discipline to achieve anything for any sustained period of time. Success was always tentative and fleeting. As soon as I arrived at good enough I stopped doing the work and, truth be told, the work I did to get to good enough was only good enough anyway. I always wanted to be happy, satisfied, content, at peace, serene… supply your own utopian adjective, but I never imagined that those things required work. As a result, nothing was ever enough, but if there was such a thing, it could be had at a price. Or... perhaps I was simply deficient or cursed; accepting that was easier and in a strange twist of irony, opened the door that led me here.

Because I found peace only externally, even when I had small windfalls (which did not seem all that small at the time), it only bought some degree of comfort. And although comfort can make one comfortable, it cannot create happiness. Some may disagree, but I can cite example after example of those who have extraordinary wealth and equally extraordinary misery. While I agree that the opportunities to manifest happiness might be enhanced with monetary resources, it still takes effort to achieve that elusive element of quality in one’s life. Once I accepted that I could never afford the kind of happiness I thought I deserved and, even if there was a dollar figure, it was beyond my reach – ever – I was able to stop pursuing it. I gave up; I surrendered that my life was what it was and there was little I could do about it.

But that is not entirely true. While it is true that my life was what it was; it is also true that it is what it is. The world has not changed all that much. The injustices (perceived and real) that plagued not only my life, but many others’ and in far greater measure, are still there. My luck has not changed either as my infrequent visits to gaming establishments prove. But (and this is a key ‘but’), my happiness is not contingent on the outcomes of those excursions. Win or (usually) lose, I remain at peace. This example might appear to have little to do with anything, but the fact is that life is never going to provide me with a windfall of happiness, I have to create that myself. It has to do with perception and for me, once I accepted that this peace I longed for was not going to just land in my lap, I stopped seeking it. Once I quit fighting, I had an abundance of time and a bit of clarity… and I started to have moments of peace. I was experiencing happiness and found that it was not based on what I had (which was not much), but what I did.

And today I am doing quite a lot. My happiness ‘lucky streak’ has lasted almost seven years now and promises to endure as long as I stay committed to building on what I already have. In other words, I have not yet nor do I ever believe that I will have attained good enough. I know the effort it takes to create and maintain happiness is worth it, but old habits and ideals die hard. For me, it is always a battle to stay on top of what I have in front of me, for the idea that I have arrived manifests itself most often in procrastination… I can always do it tomorrow. But if I said that all those yesterdays ago, would I be happy today? Of course, the work involved in being content involves much more than just career-oriented work. That ‘more’ can be captured in a word: Integrity. Being part of humanity and being content with my contribution to it requires this. I don’t know about anyone else, but for me that takes some conscious effort as well. It requires work. And that makes me happy.