Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Domestic Tranquility

I have written more blog entries this past year than I have since 2010. It was not an accident, I went into the new year with that goal in mind. It was not, however, a “New Year’s resolution.” My only resolution of that sort for the past many years was a resolution not to make any New Year’s resolutions. I have succeeded. But a goal to write more can be made anytime. Mine was not specific, it had no number attached to it. Just meaning to has accomplished what I meant to do. This will be my 35th entry this year and unless something monumental happens between now and the next few hours, it will be the last.

I am not an ├╝ber-talented individual. I am okay at some things, pretty good at others and I suck at many more. That is probably, in the vastness of humanity, more or less the norm. However, there are some who seem to be very good at just about everything they do. It is difficult to see that and not feel a sense of inadequacy. But as I now have a history of several decades, my perspective has shifted to a more realistic view of the world and, more importantly, my place in it. It has fostered a sense of humility that does not come with any less-than-ness. And, thankfully, I am very good at one thing. I am good at this. I am not the best there ever was, I am not the best of our time and I am seriously in awe of many other writers. I can say that and also know I have at least this one talent.

While I have been paid for my writing, I am not, currently, a professional writer. I could, maybe, make a living at it, but I am not sufficiently motivated to do all the things that are not writing to make writing a viable source of income. The marketing, in general terms, it takes to get and remain in the public eye, to find “customers” for my art is not something I am good at. It takes a mindset that does not fit well with my psyche. Selling anything, and especially selling myself, is not something I desire. I have written before that part of why I write – part of the reason most people write – is to be read. We want others to see a piece of our souls, we have a need to leave part of ourselves behind. This is true of all artists. But where some seek fortune and fame, I seek neither. But I do hope others will read what I have written and get something out of it.

This has been an eventful year, but is difficult to view it in isolation. Time doesn’t recognized the boundaries we place on it. Many of the big things that happened this year had their roots in last year and in years prior to that. My youngest son was in a near fatal motorcycle accident in late 2018. His recovery, while not complete, at least saw him return to work this year. My middle son was married last year, his first son and my fourth grandson arrived this year. My then girlfriend moved in last year, I ended that relationship this year. My annual motorcycle pilgrimage to Sturgis took me though Canada for the first time this year, but that trip (like all Sturgis rides) was planned the year before. And there is more, much more. However, working within these artificial boundaries we seem so compelled to use, 2019 was a good year.

I have been meaning to pour myself out in a much longer work, in a book. Over the past few years, I have started both fiction and non-fiction works – all are languishing in my computer storage as unfinished works. Some have made it several chapters before hitting a wall, others only a page or two. Some will remain forever stuck, others have promise. All of it will remain for my kids, grand-kids and future progeny to do with as they wish – maybe they will pick it up and run with it, maybe just to have a better idea of who this particular ancestor was. Maybe this yet to be written book will see print and actually go somewhere. Maybe I’ll hit the lottery.

In the meantime, a new decade is upon me. I am 57 years old and lucky to have lived this long. That much is never lost on me; several close calls and one direct hit very well could have punched my ticket, yet I am still here. The longer I live, the more each and every individual day means to me. They are not all good, but most are not bad. The coming year comes without a lot of balls in the air, my life is pretty peaceful. At the end of the day, that is what I desire most – peace. On Facebook, I have created a location called “Tranquility Base v2.1.” The “v2.1” part comes from the reestablishment of serenity after a tumultuous part of the summer and because there are already too many locations on Facebook named “Tranquility Base” (if I’m being completely honest, it is more the latter than the former).

There is a fine line between peace and being a doormat. Just letting everything go in the name of peace is not peace. Sometimes radical and uncomfortable things must be done – a stand must be taken – to have peace. I have done that. I will, in all likelihood, have to do it again. But at this point in my life, with – generously – only about 30 years left to live, I will settle for nothing less.


Sunday, December 01, 2019

Facebook Charities

I was just scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed (not really “news;” what it’s actually feeding us is open to debate – some other time) and I was solicited by well-meaning friends and strangers (though, still “friends” in Facebook’s world – again, a debate for some other time) for some worthy cause. No sarcasm, I mean “well-meaning” and “worthy” in their purest sense. Both consist of real, live people who are trying to make the world a better place – the former through solicitation and the latter through organization and activism. There is nothing inherently wrong with either nor is there anything wrong with seizing upon some opportunity, like one’s birthday, to stoke the “giving” fire.

Facebook, however and sadly, has made the act of giving, of altruism itself, a promotional tool. One cannot, apparently, simply ask others to give. Facebook, of course, knows my birthday is coming up. I have been solicited to solicit my “friends” numerous times over the past couple of weeks. Now, less than a week out, those “prompts” are coming daily. It tells me who among my friends have done so, who among my friends have donated and even makes suggestions as to which causes might be worthy of my promotion. It sounds like Facebook is, with our help (like, we’re a team, we are in this together) making the world a better place. But mostly we are making Facebook a bigger place.

Further, and getting beyond, and, in some respects, before Facebook, why do we need a “special occasion” to be altruistic? Why is there such a big push to donate Thanksgiving turkeys and other fixings this time of year when people are hungry all year? Why does it take a celebrity passing from some disease for us to care about everyone else suffering from it? Why does doing charitable acts need promotion and, even more so, why is anyone besides the recipient of the aid benefiting?

Okay, some of the answers are obvious. The “business” of raising money costs money. There are some charities that do a very good job reducing and minimizing those costs, but even they rely on people who do the work for pay so that they, too, will not need the aid of the charity they work for. Get it. There are others on the opposite end of the spectrum that are nothing but scams. Due diligence is important and, to some degree, the advice (or solicitation) of our friends serves that purpose. We trust our friends. They care, so we care. But Facebook has altered what the term “friend” means. I have more than 2,000 Facebook “friends.” I know several people who have hit their 5,000 friend limit. Absolutely no one can maintain that many friends. Period. So let’s just establish that of those friends, many if not most, are not really friends.

But taking a step back, do we really need the push of our friends or family to give? I would hope not and I would further hope that we are not waiting for opportunities to come along, but rather we are  actively seeking out those causes that are important to us. If we happen find out from a friend (a real friend) about some need that appeals to us, so much the better. But you (and I am speaking specifically to my own friends here) don’t need my suggestions or prodding to give. You also don’t need my birthday. You (everyone) can do it every day. It’s not even hard to do.

I am dead set against promoting my charitable acts. The power, for me, comes from my anonymity. I have made rare exceptions when a need is immediate and someone close to me is involved (usually through posting a GoFundMe campaign link – as much as that giving “service” goes against the very idea of charity). Generally, when I give, only I know about it. When possible, not even the recipient will know. Since I can’t give enough to affect my taxes, not even the IRS knows who got how much. And that is just the way I like it.

So, in six days I will turn 57 years old. For my birthday, give something to someone less fortunate. But don’t stop there. Do the same for your birthday. And the other 363 days? If you can, if you could find it in your heart and within your ability, give then, too. Give whenever and where ever you can. Make the world a better place. Don’t do it because I am having another birthday this year, do it because it is needed. You got yours, you worked hard, but you also got some luck. Maybe you can share the luck part, at least, a little. Do it for a birthday. It doesn’t matter whose, anyone’s is fine. Someone is having one today.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Angels, Again

Way back in January of 2014, I wrote an essay to help support my friend whose young son, Zak, suffered a traumatic brain injury in an accident. The essay was intended to offer hope. Unfortunately, in Zak’s case the injury proved to be too severe and after fighting for some time, he passed away. My friend, his mother, suffered the unimaginable agony that only a parent who has lost a child could possibly comprehend. While no one “deserves” such agony, there are some who are so far removed from the “bad” end of the good/bad continuum that it recalls every single one of those cosmic questions of fairness. Kimmie’s light was bright, so bright that everyone who came into contact with her knew they mattered and counted in some significant and unique way.

Was? Yes, past-tense. Not long after Zak passed, Kimmie was diagnosed with breast cancer. She fought it, won some battles, but eventually the disease took her. She passed away last week. Ramp up that unfairness, call back into question those big cosmic truths, wonder why someone so good can be struck with so much hardship and pain – all of that. It makes no sense. Yet it is only those ethereal notions of what comes next, what is after life, that makes any of this even palatable. We can say that she is back with her youngest son who was only allotted such a short time. It helps, but it flies in direct contradiction to any semblance of fairness. It doesn’t address the pain of those left behind to say nothing of the biggest question: What is the fucking point?

I don’t know. Kimmie was special to me. Our relationship began on a certain trajectory that was deflected when Zak’s accident occurred. I remember the exact moment. However, throughout it all, every day she was in my life, I felt as though we shared something special and unique. I have since come to realize that she shared that with everyone in her life. Each of us was unique, each was special to her in our own way – she had that way about her. We were all special - and felt it. Not everyone can give that, indeed, most cannot. We used to talk about a lot of philosophical stuff, about what, as a species, we don’t know and what we, as a species, think we know, but really don’t. I don’t know about the hereafter, I don’t know if there is one and to date, no one has convinced me there is. But that does not mean there is not.

At most points in my life, not believing in the cosmic, in the unproven and, so far, unprovable, serves me just fine. I don’t need to explain anything beyond what science can. Yet, there are times, like now, when it is comforting to imagine that there are angels. I have written about one such angel before, one whom I choose to believe helped guide me. She, too, was taken too soon and for no good reason. She, too, was a very good person. And she, too, died leaving a whole lot of pain behind. I could not understand it then and I really don’t now. If this is the big preordained “plan,” it is a bad plan. However, some iteration of what might lay beyond is comforting, like it was many years ago. And if such an alternate reality does exist, I can take comfort that there is another angel in my life. And I do not have to “know” anything to know that.

Friday, November 15, 2019


The Facebook “Memories” (formerly, “On this day”) tool is one of just a few of Facebook’s redeeming qualities. Ready access to these snapshots of my life, even though they are filtered and skewed through the medium, is beyond interesting. It is cathartic. It is enlightening. It is profound. They are triggers that remind me not only of where I was, but also offer me a definitive retrospective of where I was going. In those moments, of course, anything that was going to happen was only speculative. Looking back at that look forward removes the speculation – I know what would happen, because it happened. One year ago today, for example, I found myself at a crossroads. I was forced to reckon with a reality that would change some of what I thought defined who I am.

A year and two days ago my youngest son, who was 29 at the time, was involved in a serious motorcycle accident. He wasn’t at fault; an inattentive motorist (and that is the absolute kindest description I can offer – everything else is much more, deservedly, derogatory) turned left into my son’s path and his Harley Davidson hit that idiot’s car (okay, I went there, sue me…) at about 50 miles per hour. His injuries were severe and life-threatening, but after weeks in the hospital followed by months of rehabilitation, my kid can walk and function again. He went back to work 10 months and four days after the wreck. In other words, as I write this, he has recently returned to work. He is not 100 percent yet, he might never be, but he has progressed through significant injuries and a bunch of surgeries to get back to self-sufficiency.

But this is not about that. I have written about this over the last year a few times. The anniversary of his wreck did not take me by surprise and I did not need Facebook to remind me. The past year has been one in which we have spent too much time dealing with multiple bureaucracies. I could go on and on about the problems with medical industrial complex, insurance companies, etc., but this is not about that either. Facebook’s “Memories” triggered something else, something I have thought about over the past 12 months, but never really dwelled on. Until now.

My son expressed interest in getting a street motorcycle about three years ago. I have had and/or been around motorcycles most of his life – dirt and street. He rode on the dirt when he was young, but had no real experience on the street. I offered to pay for the California DMV sanctioned motorcycle safety course that would also provide him with half of the testing needed for a motorcycle license. It would also reveal how serious he was. I was and continued to be “worried” (for lack of a better word) when he rode partially because he lacked experience, but mostly because of other drivers not paying attention and not seeing us. I wanted to support him not only because I support my sons in their interests, but also because riding motorcycles is something I am passionate about. Doing it with my kids is, as I’ve written before, real bucket-list shit.

Fast-forward to a year and two days ago and my worst fear was realized. Everyone I know who rides regularly has had an incident or two and some have been serious. I’ve had friends who were killed on their bikes. It is a risk we all take and accept. Lots of things – hobbies, jobs, other activities – are dangerous, motorcycle riding is one of them. I’ve wrecked, too. I could not help but feel some guilt in my kid being laid up in the hospital in so much pain. A year ago today it was still early and it was still really bad. While fault for the accident was absolutely on the moron driving the car, I wondered if, with my years of experience, I would have foreseen the potential ahead. Of course there is no way of knowing, and the only way to get experience is by experience, so the question is somewhat irrelevant. Except that it is not.

I have been riding street bikes since I was 18. For most of the ensuing almost 40 years I have owned and ridden motorcycles on the street. For the past 10 or so years, my riding has escalated quite a lot. Until this time last year, I was logging around 20,000 motorcycle miles per year. Most motorcyclists log 5,000 or fewer miles. In my much younger years, that was probably where I was, too. My current motorcycle, a 2017 Harley Davidson Street Glide Special, has 47,000 miles. She turned three years-old just a couple of months ago. So why not 60,000 miles? There are two good reasons. The first is simple enough – she was involved in a wreck that put her on the sideline for about three months a couple of years ago. It was not that serious and should not have taken that long, but the miles that would have gone on that bike were put on a 1996 Harley that I bought to ride while I waited. It’s a long(ish) story and not pertinent to this conversation.

The second reason is really where all this is going. My kid was taken out by a car being driven by someone who had no business behind the wheel, but fully one third of drivers have no business driving. That is no exaggeration. We who ride sit above you who drive. When we go by you, we can see into your car. We can see what you’re doing. Too many of you are not doing what you are supposed to be doing – driving. In fact, it is the only thing you are supposed to be doing. Some of you are eating, some of you are fiddling with the radio, some of you are doing your fucking makeup, some of you are “sight-seeing” and way too many of you are on your fucking phones. Yes, one third of you – one out of every three are distracted by something – you are not paying attention, you are not driving.

I ride hard, sometimes I ride fast and I take chances, when appropriate. What is appropriate? Things like how fast can I attack that turn, how much throttle before the rear wheel breaks loose, how quickly can I slow down before cranking back up on the throttle? All these things involve me, my machine and my abilities, they don’t involve or endanger anyone else. And, I don’t consider that kind of riding dangerous anyway. I am well within my abilities and my bike’s capabilities. Some disagree, so be it. However, I don’t like having to drive for you and when I am in traffic, around a lot of other cars (like when I am commuting to work), that is exactly what I have to do. I have to anticipate every idiotic thing every driver might do because I don’t know if you are the one out of three until it is too late. Doing that has saved my ass more times than I can count.

But it is exhausting and no matter how good I am, and even if my experience might have prevented my son’s wreck, eventually someone is going to surprise me. My vigilance will crack ever so slightly and in that split-second one of the one third will take me out. It is just a matter of time. Two days after my son’s wreck, as he was screaming out in pain, I considered, seriously, selling my motorcycles; I was, for only the second time in my life, thinking about hanging my helmet up for good. I had three bikes at the time and I was ready to get rid of them all. It was just a matter of time. Someone was going to get me. I was almost done.

It is still true. It is just a matter of time. Someone is going to get me. But there are some things I can do short of selling my bikes and quitting. And that is the other reason my high-mileage 2017 Harley doesn’t have more miles. I still logged around 10,000 miles in the last year, but most of them came in relatively short periods of time. Where most of my rides used to be short, commuter rides and my daily average was 30-50 miles, last year most of my daily totals were in the hundreds of miles and one was almost 1,000 miles. My motorcycle is no longer my “daily driver,” she is not my commute vehicle (my Lexus GS350 has “softened” that blow). I have limited my exposure to the one third significantly. I can’t eliminate it, but I sure don’t have to invite it. My motorcycle is now, 90 percent of the time, a recreational vehicle.

So have I done enough to protect myself? Definitely not, there is no “enough.” But under the circumstances, I have likely extended the time it will take before someone gets me, statistically, anyway. Statistics are not facts, they are just likelihoods – the chances are statistically remote that I will be struck by lightning or win the lottery, but both happen to people regularly. Motorcycles are still dangerous and we all need to take whatever lever of caution or precaution we feel is warranted. My greatest risk involves people driving cars. By taking myself out of that world, to the extent I can, minimizes that risk, but risk still exits. And you don’t have to ride a motorcycle to be exposed to risk. It is part of life and although I have changed some of how I express it, I still embrace risk.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Deal With It

It’s early. I am not now and have never been a “morning person,” yet there are occasions when I must get up before the sun. My schedule this semester has me teaching on Mondays and Wednesdays at 7:30 a.m. On those days my alarm goes off at 4:30 and I am out of bed by 5:00. Today is Wednesday. It is 4:00 a.m. and I have been up for an hour. I don’t know why I awoke so early and so completely, but after about a half hour of trying to go back to sleep, I gave up. I am awake and that is that. Now what?

Coffee? For sure – I am on my second cup. Prepare for class? Sometimes I will get up earlier than usual to do that, but today I am already ready. Think too much? That’s a given – at 4:00 a.m. or 4:00 p.m. – it doesn’t matter, if I am awake I am thinking too much. But that should not necessarily be taken as a negative connotation, despite the “too much” qualification (or would that be a quantification? I digress). While I cannot say with any specificity what woke me up or why I am awake this early on this day, it is also true that today is one of those days that holds some significance. It didn’t happen yet, it would not until later in the afternoon, but one year ago today I got one of “those” calls every parent dreads.

“Those” calls come in different levels of severity, this one was up there, but it was not the worst case scenario. It is not the first such call I have received, either. This one involved my youngest son who was 29. The call came from an off-duty first responder who happened to be “first responding” when my son was cut off by some moron in a car turning left in front of him. Had my son been driving his Jeep, there would be very little to write about. He was not in his Jeep, he was on his Harley. The impact was violent and my son suffered major and potentially life-threatening injuries. Exactly one year ago from right now, no one had any idea that this day would be so pivotal.

When I got the call, I was driving my then girlfriend’s daughter home from school. I was told enough to realize the severity, but while the guy who called was honest enough, he did not indicate the actual extent of my kid’s injuries. He said something like, “He’s got a broken leg and a broken arm.” It turns out that my son’s broken leg was an open left femur fracture and an open tib/fib fracture, both likely occurred on impact. His broken arm was a nasty longitudinal fracture of his right humerus, likely occurring when he landed 25 or more feet from his bike. All required surgery and weeks of hospitalization followed by months of rehabilitation. But he did survive.

Ten months and a few days later, he was cleared to go back to work. He was not and is not 100 percent, but he is walking and able to care for himself completely. It was a long road back, but I never doubted his resolve. More importantly, he never did either. It is somewhat ironic that after I got the call and got home, I jumped on my bike to get to the hospital. I did not do that to make some sort of “motorcycle loyalty” statement. It was not in defiance towards every idiot, inattentive, cell phone using driver out there (and easily one third of y’all fit into that category – we who ride can see you, we can see into your cars as we ride by you – we can see what you’re doing and too often it ain’t driving). I rode because it was the fastest way to get through the traffic that the afternoon commute placed between me and my kid.

The nature of this day, a before and after kind of day, is probably not why I am awake so early. It’s not like it has been weighing on me; it’s not like I have seen this day coming and was tripping over its significance. Lots of things changed in my life and in his life since that day, some are a direct result of one moron who should not be driving and some are not. One of the few constants in life is change. If there is even a point to all this (and a point is certainly not a requirement), it is that no one is exempt from the inequities of living. My son was simply coming home from work. That’s it. He did not “have it coming,” he did not “deserve it,” it was not some kind of karmic retribution, it just happened. Furthermore, that idiot driving only had the legal minimum insurance coverage – nowhere near enough to compensate for his actions.

And life goes on. I am less than a month away from the completion of my 57th trip around the sun. That I have survived to see this day is amazing, maybe even unlikely, yet here I am. Shit happens, sometimes because of what we do or what we don’t do, and sometimes it just happens. It isn’t always “fair,” sometimes it is abjectly unfair, but it is upon us to deal with whatever it happens to be. I am still here. And so is he. His brothers, too, have had their share of incidents – defining moments, before and after moments – and they are still here. Life is not only not fair, it never has been and it isn’t supposed be. We will deal with it, how we deal with it is up to us.

Friday, October 11, 2019

The Key to Success

Every semester I have a handful of students who are like I was when I was an undergrad at San Diego State University in the early 80s. They come to class anywhere from irregularly to rarely, often show up late and are not too concerned about turning in assignments on time, or at all. Some of them simply disappear before the semester is over. I was that student and my success, or, rather, lack thereof, reflected my level of commitment. Why I was so nonchalant about school is a question I have asked myself many times over the ensuing years, but for many and related reasons, I did not place my education as a top priority. I was unmotivated to succeed. There are students who enter the semester with sufficient motivation and then become distracted by events outside their control, but for me and for the majority of students who do poorly, those unforeseen outside events are not the problem. We are.

Since finding the necessary motivation and returning to school many years later, I am acutely aware of not only what it takes to succeed, but also what it takes to fail. My grade point average after two years at SDSU was 0.7 – a low F+ to a high F, depending on where the line is drawn. Either way, it was not because I was not smart enough and it was not because my best was not good enough and it was not because I intended to fail – quite the opposite. I was always, perpetually, going to “get my shit together,” right up until the end. I did everything I could to fail, my GPA was, in fact, earned, despite the many excuses I formulated in my head. I did not purposefully fail, but I failed because I did not purposefully succeed. My experience with failure is extensive.

But so is my experience with success. After returning to school many years later, I found the motivation I lacked when I was in my early 20s. I did the things necessary to succeed. I went to class every day. I paid attention and took notes. I read the required material, did the required assignments and turned them in on time. Because my education was a top priority, I succeeded. On purpose. The action I took when I finally earned my BA and both of my MAs was the key to succeeding. It’s not rocket science. I now get to see my much younger self in some of my own students and it is painful. I do what I can to stoke the fire, but I cannot give them the motivation to succeed any more than anyone could give it to me.

I could list a number of factors that contributed to my early failures. The social and fraternity life at SDSU was certainly a distraction. My inherent introversion and inflated sense of pride prevented me from asking for help or even acknowledging that there might be a problem. I was, in fact, in denial that I was actually failing school. I was always going to straighten out and get it together next semester. Finally, in the spring of 1985, I was informed by the powers that be that there would be no next semester at SDSU. While it might have been possible to petition for another chance – claiming some real or perceived hardship – I did not even try. College wasn’t for me; I threw in the towel.

The circumstances that led me back to college in the early 2000s are many and varied, but suffice it to say that I had run into a dead-end, a veritable brick wall. It wasn’t as though I really wanted to become an “academic” (a label I accept but don’t particularly like the flavor of), but going back to school did serve, at first, as a refuge. It was the giant reset button my life required at the time and it gave me something worthwhile to do. Because it felt like something of a last resort (it wasn’t, but it was the path of least resistance), I poured myself into it. But I was not convinced that anything would change. I was not convinced that I had changed – yet.

After my first semester at a local junior college, my entire outlook on not only school, but also on myself radically changed. It actually started happening a few weeks into the semester. I went to class every day, I did the work assigned and turned in my assignments on time. I was participating in my education… in my life. I was getting good grades, mostly As, for the first time in my life. I didn’t feel any smarter (and today, I know I am not any smarter), but I did begin to see what most people (and most of my current students) see much sooner in life – doing the work precedes success. Those early successes were my motivation. The better I did, the more motivated I was to continue doing well.

I try to motivate all of my students. I share my extensive failures with them in the hopes that those who are walking the same path will see where they are going and change course. At the very least I hope that if they do end up failing, that they do not berate themselves for it. While it is true that not everyone is “college material,” it is also true that virtually everyone can be. It has very little to do with intelligence and for those who truly are not a good match for college, these same lesson regarding motivation and putting in the work apply to all things and all success. Putting in the work, whether that work creates the motivation or the motivation creates the work, is the key to success. It is the only key necessary.

Do I regret my failure at SDSU? Yes and no. If I found the motivation and did the work, I would have graduated with a BS in computer science (my major at the time, my degrees today are only tangentially related) in the mid to late 80s. That degree at that time could have made me a very wealthy man today. I could have been successful. But that not only did not happen, it could not have happened. What I have instead is a great deal of experience, some of it unpleasant and painful, that helped form me into who I am. I do not recommend taking the path I took, even though I eventually prevailed. However, I am grateful that my experience might help someone else see that oncoming train and take appropriate evasive action. My inaction guaranteed my failure. Action always precedes success.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

On Quality and the War on "Not Good Enough"

To be perfectly honest (if there even is such a thing), I have no idea what I am about to write. I know why I am writing, but I don’t know what. I guess that’s a good place to start, however. I am writing because that is a big part of who I am – I am a writer. Writers write and we don’t always have a plan. Art is often like that. There are infinite inspirations, some stronger than others, but inspiration is not always required – or, maybe more accurately, it can manifest as part of the creative process. I don’t paint, but I would bet that painters often stare at a blank canvas with no idea what they are about to paint. How many musicians have sat down with their instruments just noodling around when a song emerges? We are driven to create and I firmly believe that everyone has a capacity for creative works.

But… not everyone trusts his or her instincts, believes he or she is creative or, worse, that his or her talent is worthy of expression. I fight that demon on a regular basis. That is another reason why I am writing. The internal battle that tells me “I am not good enough” is an ongoing struggle, but I have been doing this long enough to know that if I don’t fight it, I lose. I write, therefore I am, yes, but when I write I also matter, even if no one ever reads this. I means something to me.

It took a long time to embrace this particular creative expression. I knew I could communicate using symbols arranged in some specific order to create meaning long before I appreciated that ability. I wished I had talent is some other art, I wished I could play the guitar or piano or that I could draw or sculpt or otherwise create beauty that was visual or aural or tactile. Maybe with sufficient training and practice I might have been able to develop one, but it is clear my where natural talent, my propensity to create, is: Words.

I am not the best writer I know of, not even close. There are many whom I admire and who can write in ways I can’t. Poets and lyricists are among them, but there are prose writers, too, living and dead, whom I admire as icons, their writing lives on some lofty plane that I strive to reach. That, too, is why I write. No amount of talent or drive is enough, art, like anything else, improves with practice. Since about maybe 15 years ago, I have had the drive that compels me to improve. Raw talent alone, for me, will not win the “I’m not good enough” battle, even though most of us are, objectively, good enough just as we are. It a two-edged sword. One the one hand, there is an external measure of “quality” that I have accepted as a defining part of who I am, and on the other hand, I produce something by which that quality can be judged.

Beauty, it has been said, is in the eye of the beholder. While that is certainly true to an extent, there is also a timeless, consistent and universal essence of what is and is not beautiful. Quality, is another form of beauty and quality, like beauty, is uniquely difficult to define. We know it when we see it, hear it, touch it, smell it, taste it, read it...  experience it in some way. Is quality, then, also in the eye of the beholder? That is a damned good question, but I think, intuitively, it exists outside of us. I strive for quality in my writing, I want it to be beautiful and… I know it when I see it. Could this be better, more “beautiful?” Undoubtedly. But it is good and it is certainly “good enough.”

One final thought on why I write is one that I am hesitant to admit, even to myself. It is certainly not the only reason and absolutely not the primary reason (that being a drive to create), but it is a factor, nonetheless. While my primary target audience consists of just myself, I do enjoy knowing that others have read and appreciated my work as well. It comes from a deeper place than the appreciation being represented by dollar signs. In the past I wrote for a living, but the acknowledgement that my pay provided paled in significance to the real words others expressed about mine. Whether the feedback had to do with the content, the style or some combination of both, the external validation gave me ammunition in the “I’m not good enough” war. Therefore, as much as I try to keep my ego in check, I would be lying if I said what others thought did not matter.

Now, several hundred words later, what I would write about is clear. It turns out that the “what” is the “why.” I did not know it going in and it is not the first time I have reflected my thoughts on what I do in what I do. My primary audience is satisfied. If that is all I get from this then that, too, is enough. Peace.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Love, Argumentation and Rhetoric

I have not written much of substance in some time. Additionally, with the exception of way too many Facebook/Instagram updates that were spawned from my most recent motorcycle pilgrimage, I have, mostly, maintained “radio silence.” It is not easy to keep my (virtual) mouth shut in the face of so much misinformation, half-baked truth and justifying interpretation, but I am, for the most part, succeeding. And I am for a couple of relatively simple and related reasons. Before I get to that, I should clarify that this has nothing to do with political or public goings-on. It is far more local than that. This has to do with the fallout from my decision to end a three year relationship, a decision that was somewhat complicated because we were living together for the last year of it.

Whereas I have spoken about the situation privately with friends, I have refrained, except in the most general and nondescript way, from making any public statements about it. That has not been true of the “other side” (which is who my once lover, soulmate, partner and best friend has devolved into). She has made certain claims regarding me and the situation that I will neither repeat or respond to, correct or otherwise mount a defense against here or anywhere else. At all. I ended the relationship for what I am even more convinced were very good reasons, not because there was no love. While those reasons are still present, it seems the love is not. It begs the question, but that’s not what this is about.

The simple and related reasons I alluded to earlier, the reasons why I will not rebut the claims made are not because they are not refutable. They are, and easily. If I wanted to “win” the argument, on technical grounds, I could, and not just because I am good at it. But, as should come as no surprise to anyone who has experienced these “matters of the heart,” logic, reason and winning mean very little. I have an overarching goal in life, one that is always achievable but often elusive. It is usually within my power to create… or at the very least, foster a climate for it to flourish. That goal is peace. Drama-freedom. Mounting a defense, or worse, a counter-offensive will not bring me towards that goal. It would do just the opposite. Reason number one – it cannot get me where I want to be, “winning” this argument will not get me peace. 

Related to that is reason number two. It is also simple but is grounded in the very essence of what I teach and study - rhetoric. Aristotle’s definition is still the most widely cited, perhaps due to its beauty and simplicity. He wrote, “Rhetoric is the faculty of discovering in any particular case all of the available means of persuasion.” While its simplicity opens this definition to many interpretations, from the wholesome to the nefarious, Aristotle framed his treatise as an indispensable tool for democratic society. As such, rhetoric, used appropriately and ethically, is a means to achieve the common good, justice and cooperation. Persuasion, then, is part of the democratic decision making process, whether it’s a group of friends deciding what movie to see or the US Senate deciding what is the best course for the nation. Both decision processes involve people attempting to convince – to persuade – each other what would be best, what is right, how we should proceed. Each presents his or her reasons why we should go see the latest blockbuster or the tiny, sub-titled indie film from Greece (keeping with the Aristotle theme)... or even whether we should go to the movies at all. The hope is that all involved are persuaded because the reasons are good, that the little indie film is, indeed, a better choice and all will benefit from it. Unlike an argument, rhetoric is not about winners and losers. Ideally, everyone wins.

Lloyd Bitzer
For my current situation, there is no decision to be made. There is no way to proceed and as far as what is right, those who are important to me already know. I do not need to persuade anyone of anything and even if I could, to what end? While there is certainly a series of claims and counter claims – the makings of an argument - there is not a tenable rhetorical situation. In 1968, Lloyd Bitzer wrote that a rhetorical situation is an “exigence” (a concern, problem, or emergency) that could be remedied by the collective action of an “audience.” The rhetor would have to overcome any "constraints," or obstacles, that would prevent his or her persuasion from being effective. In public relations, the art of damage control in the face of a PR disaster is an exigence that can often be mitigated with effective rhetoric. While the “common good” is sometimes a limited group of people, it  might also be the public at large, especially when the charges are unfounded.

I am not experiencing a rhetorical situation. While the misinformation, half-baked truth and justifying interpretations are bothersome, even irritating, the only audience is one that does not have any direct effect on my life and is one that cannot be convinced anyway. There are constraints in place that prevent any rhetoric from being effective. What that leaves me is an argument that I can win, but will gain me nothing. My ego wants to mount a defense, but my soul desires only peace. In this battle, the soul has convinced - persuaded, for good reasons - the ego to let it go. There is nothing to be gained and only peace to be lost.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Artists, Bikers and Pendulums

It has been long enough and regular enough. It has become a tradition for me. This time of year, for seven of the past nine and again this year, I have been in the midst of a multi-state, several thousand mile motorcycle ride. And for the sixth year in a row (leaving in less than two weeks)  that ride coincides with the Mecca of motorcycle rallies, Sturgis. Riding to Sturgis was not my first extended motorcycle ride, and riding 500 miles or more in a single day now feels like a walk in the park, but there was a time when that sort of adventure was intimidating as hell.

I’ve been riding street motorcycles since I turned 18 years old. But for much more than the 38 years since, the allure of riding on top of two wheels attached to a motor has been irresistible. Although my active participation in that life has ebbed and flowed with the realities and responsibilities of life, at this point in my life and for the past decade-plus, I have owned at least one Harley and ridden as much as I could. That changed somewhat when my son had a serious motorcycle wreck late last year (I no longer commute on my bike), but I still ride – a lot.

A huge part of the allure is an image burned into my memory from some time in the mid to late 60s. My family was traveling from our home in the Santa Clara Valley (now more infamously known as “Silicon Valley”) to Southern California in our 1966 Chevy Impala station wagon. Somewhere on CA-99 (before I-5 was built) a pack of black leather clad, long-haired bikers came roaring by us. The details of who they were and what they were riding were more than I could absorb at that age, but looking back it isn’t too difficult to put the pieces together. It was the “Easy Riders” era, they were likely Harleys and it was likely some club ride.

I didn’t see any of what so many attribute to “one percenters” or “outlaw” motorcycle clubs. And I am not here to defend them or slam them. I know enough to say that we don’t know everything, it is not like “Sons of Anarchy” and, that like all other stuff of legend, there is some truth in it. It would turn out that what I was attracted to had nothing to do with the “pack,” it had to do with the machine itself. It was and is both a tangible and intangible representation of freedom. The actual tactility of being one with the machine, directly encountering the elements and the flooding of all the senses are the physical manifestations of freedom; but the attraction of non-conformity, the personal and varied expressions in terms of appearance and the pride that comes from the confidence of giving the middle finger to “middle America” who so often condemn such expressions is equally compelling. That moment left an indelible impression on my psyche, but it did not create it. I was, shall we say, predisposed to rebellion.

There are some people, probably a majority, who are okay with following establishment. There is nothing inherently wrong with “establishment” in the abstract – indeed, it is, by definition, established. However, simply because something is established, it does not necessarily follow that it is “good.” The truth of the goodness of most things established lies somewhere in the middle. The pendulum swings, slowly, back and forth along infinite planes – societal, social, fiscal, fashion, expression… ad nauseum – but it is the fringes that push it. We, the “bikers” (and artists, and adventurers, and other contextually, socially defined “extremists”) represent what is possible, what can be, because we live it.

Okay, I do not live it every day. In terms of attitude, my appearance, my transparency, sure, I live a non-conforming life. I, refreshingly these days, say what I mean and mean what I say. Interestingly, 25 years ago I would be viewed as even more extreme, based upon the “establishment” of the time. Such is the nature of pendulums. But I am also not some mid-life crisis “Wild Hog” or a “weekend warrior.” I still log around 20,000 motorcycle miles per year. That might sound like a lot, but it is on the low end for most “hard core” motorcyclists. I log most of my miles in the summer and most of those come in a relatively short period of time – my one long summer ride. However, in the interest of full-disclosure, my first trip to Sturgis in 2014 was not a ride. It was a drive and my motorcycle was on a trailer. While there are legitimate reasons why I could not ride, and although I thoroughly enjoyed myself anyway, I could not help but feel I had somehow betrayed myself. And I knew more than half of the experience is in the ride there – it’s the journey.

However, my street cred is not only solid, it doesn’t matter. We – all of us who push the edge, exist on the fringe and otherwise thumb our collective nose at convention are not doing it for recognition. We do it because we have to, it is who we are. Whether a “biker” (an establishment label that still does not sit well with me) or anyone else who is attracted to not just the edge, but what’s on the other side of it, we are the energy that moves that pendulum. We keep it interesting, stagnation fears us. That attraction I felt at five, six, seven years old? It was real and I never forgot it.

My university professors would be asking, “so what?” Where is the “so what?” I agree, it is time to get to the ultimate point in all this. I’ll do it with an example:

My first long ride on a motorcycle was planned for July of 2010. While I had several overnight - maybe two or three night – rides under my belt, this was the first really long one. There were many friends who were “going to go.” All but two of us dropped out for various reasons (maybe excuses). We were now looking at a daunting trip without the strength of numbers or any experience among us – neither if us had attempted anything like it before. The questions washed over me: What if I can’t handle it? What if my bike breaks down? What if it rains or even snows? What if I crash? It was almost enough to stop us. We both had sons in the Army fighting in Afghanistan at the time. We pushed past our fear (because that’s what it was) by comparing our journey to theirs. When put in those terms, we could not not go.

It was magical. We were gone 11 days, rode seven or eight of them, covered six states and almost 4,000 miles. I was finally living an extended version of the freedom I witnessed so many years before. It was eye-opening. Despite my non-conformity in many areas of my life, I was still unwittingly stifling myself, almost buckling under the crippling fear of “what if?” Since that trip, I’ve made many much longer rides – in terms of both distance and time – and although I have experienced my share of “what ifs,” they did not stop me. Ultimately only one “what if” ends it all, and it is the same for all of us. As far as we known, we only get one shot at this… why limit myself?

Monday, July 15, 2019

Real Reality

I opened my Facebook account in May 2006. It was not yet available to the masses, but at the time, many college students were able to create an account. The social media powerhouse then was My Space. I was active there briefly, active enough to not use Facebook at all until my first post in April 2008. I was again Facebook silent until October that year. With the exception of a couple of brief hiatuses, I have maintained a presence on Facebook ever since.

However, my Internet presence predates the World Wide Web (before the “www” prefix was part of any URL). I was active “online” in the early 80s with my Commodore 64 connected to a telephone line via a VICMODEM that transferred data at a screaming 1,200 bits per second (Bps) – today data transmission is measured in thousands of bps (Mbps) or even millions. A recent speed test on my home internet just returned a download speed of about 300 Mbps – that is 300,000,000 bits per second, versus 1,200 in the early 80s. Technology is a wondrous thing.

But even at those, by today’s standards, unacceptably slow speeds, the early Internet brought the world into our homes. I had an account with Compuserve which allowed me to communicate through my modem with other computers. Often they were campus mainframes, but more often it was one of a few “Bulletin Board Services” (BBS). Those virtual bulletin boards, I believe, formed the foundation for what we call “social networking” today. By the time closed networks like America On Line (AOL), the larger World Wide Web and browsers came around, the future was becoming clear. And it would be vast.

Fast forward to today, midway through 2019. I still have some old ties to those early days, though some time ago I dissolved one of my first. I had an early email account through Earthlink that still carried “.ix” in the suffix. That now obsolete designation stood for “Internet Exchange.” It was a designation that meant “email” before email was called email. It was costing me $10 per month to keep it and for simple nostalgia, it was not worth it. My associations with what would become a juggernaut, a little start-up in Mountain View, CA called “Google,” predates most everything since the fall of AOL. My gmail and Blogger accounts are the oldest, but YouTube is likely not far behind. In fact, both my Blogger and YouTube accounts might predate Google’s acquisition of them.

So what? Nice little slice of recent history, but so what? My journalism and English professors would be cringing – “You took how long to get to the point?” Yes, well… call it artistic liberty. The point of all this is not so much our history, but rather, my history, as preserved in these digital archives. For the past 10-plus years, much of what I’ve been up to, what I have done, things I have seen through pictures and videos, and, although some might see it as a lost art, my writing about what it all means, is all still there. Facebook, through its “Memories” tool has capitalized on this fascination with retrospection. Never before have I been able to garner such a clear picture of where I was one, two, five, eight, etc. up to a little more than 10 years ago.

Of course what is there, what has been preserved, is not all of the reality. It is the reality I have chosen to archive. But even with the actual digital record only reflecting what I want it to, the detail that is there is so fine that I can still almost feel what I was feeling then. Again, when these are good things, that is good, but even the bad memories I chose not to archive, or the ones that even at some later date I choose to delete, are triggered by the detail of what is there.

For example, I was married to the mother of my children on Feb. 7th, 1987. I was there, I remember when it was, where it was and much about it. I even have a photo album and a VHS video of it around somewhere. However, I don’t remember it every time Feb. 7th rolls around. There is no reason to relive it, nothing anywhere outside my own thoughts triggers that memory. The same cannot be said of July 15th, 2012 – the date of my second wedding. That was a disaster and among the dumbest things I’ve ever done. It, like so much else documented in my Facebook archives, remains as a very prominent part of my digital record – even though I have gone through great pains to eliminate key elements of it. Deleting it all is not so easy, however. Real friends and family gathered in numbers that had never happened before and probably will never happen again. The pictures and memories of the party (which is what I prefer to call that wedding and reception) are important to me. I can and did delete her, but the occasion remains. And it will come back next year, the year after that and as long as this digital archive survives. Indeed, the memories will outlive me.

Like so much else that has to do with “progress,” there is both good and bad. While I learned quite a lot from that fiasco seven years ago, I can internalize those lessons without rehashing them every year. Some things were meant to be forgotten, others benefit from the permanence of digital storage. The last three years are filled with wonderful memories with my now ex-girlfriend. There is nothing about her or them that in anyway “taints” those memories. There were absolutely genuinely good times I do not want to forget. I looked back on today’s with fondness, disappointed, perhaps, that things couldn’t be different, but grateful for the time we had.

Finally, the line between virtual reality and real reality is further blurred by how we remember. Like the public portrayal of ourselves in the present, the archival portrayal is not entirely real either. It is partially so, but it doesn’t ever tell the whole story. But that doesn’t mean no one knows what that story is. When I access my archives – even though I leave things out, I know and remember what those things are. I’d venture to guess that I am not in the minority – I’d bet that most people have that awareness. But it is wholly personal – no one else can really know the real story – in real time or by looking to the past. That burden and/or privilege is personal; it is ours and ours alone.

Coming full circle, the only real differences between what is recorded reality (history) and real reality (news) before and after the age of information are quantity and access. The sheer volume of information flooding our senses combined with the availability of access to anyone has changed the game. And it is a game. And games have winners and loser. More days than not, I am choosing not to play. Because better than a notch in my win column is peace. Peace is the ultimate victory. When I reflect back on this day a year from now, whatever I might be going through then, I will know and remember the peace I have today.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Self-promotion, Ego and the Interwebs

This essay will probably go largely unnoticed, unread and will ultimately be forgotten. It will fade into obscurity not because it is poorly written, not because it is not relevant, and not because it is not insightful; I’ve been doing this a long time, that combined with perhaps more than my share of experience packed into my 56-plus years gives me the confidence that this essay is all of those things. While there are a number of reasons why good writing, relevant thoughts and insightful prose slip through the cracks, one of the more prominent is dilution. The Internet has provided, but it has provided way too much.

Through technology generally and the Internet specifically, now all people can be all things. Photographers used to have to know a little something about how exposure and shutter speed and many other factors including how different film made different images – and that’s to say nothing of the magic that happens in the darkroom. Filmmakers – same thing. And writers, too. All of the arts have been enhanced by technology to the point that the artists need not be talented. The means to produce it and consume it is, literally, at our fingertips. Fifteen minutes of fame? Warhol had no idea… It used to require more than just “followers” to get exposure, an artist had to have actual customers of some sort. And to get there, it took a little luck, a lot of dedication and it took skill.

Kenneth Webber Jr. - 2012
There’s a lot of really good art floating around on the interwebs. We have access to more truly good art than we ever have. Ever. In the entire history of humans, our collective creative output has never been greater or more available. There is no filter, however, and a lot of shit comes with the gold. True, there are some places where we can count on a certain level of quality – we still have legitimate publications that do not publish bullshit, but there are enough either look-alike “quasi-legitimate” publications and/or a general lack of discernment regarding what is real and what is not that even those once clear waters are now muddy.

This essay will appear on “The 25 Year Plan,” a blog I created way back in late 2005. I don’t have many “subscribers” or regular readers. I have never been “popular” in Internet terms. Even on Facebook, I only have just north of 2,000 “friends.” I will also publish this on an online publication called “The Medium.” I found it when Jeff Bezos published his confessional in response to the attempted blackmailing by David Pecker and The National Enquirer. As fascinating as all that story was (and, forgetting the infidelity that got him into that pickle, can I just say how much I admire Bezos for firing back as he did?), when I dug just a little deeper, I found gold. A lot of it. Maybe too much.

To that, I am adding this. It will likely not receive even the very modest attention I sometimes get for one reason: I will not link this to Facebook. Facebook and I have been having issues for quite some time now. I even canned it for a few weeks recently. I brought it back for reasons which I’ve already hashed and rehashed, but the bottom line is that Facebook has made itself necessary. It is not life-and-death necessary, but there are connections that I value housed within the platform that are either impossible or not easily replicated elsewhere. For the past few days, I have gone on a “post strike.” It was not intentional at first, but it is now. This might be that happy medium I was looking for.

Copyright:©tashatuvango - stock.adobe.com
Of course there is a downside. Since my Facebook profile has more “followers” (euphemistically, “friends”) than I have anywhere else, I will lose that exposure. Why not just post links to my writing and forget the rest? Because it feels dirty. Not in a dishonest or cheating way, but in a “like” groveling way. Self-promotion always runs the risk as coming across as pandering, and often it is. I don’t want “clicks” just because a friend sees that I published something and thinks, “That’s my friend, Mike. I’m going to click ‘like’ to show my support.” Even if that friend actually reads it, I’m not doing it to collect “likes.” Or am I? And maybe that’s where all this is going. Maybe the war I am fighting is against an enemy as old as we are. That enemy is ego.

I write for a number of reasons, one of which is simple enough – I am good at it. I, like anyone else who practices his or her craft, get pleasure from the production of that craft. But I would be disingenuous if I said I don’t care if anyone else finds it as compelling, as beautiful, as thought-provoking, as interesting as I do. I do care. I want others to read what I write and find something in it that is at least worth the time spent engaging with it. Like any other artist does. But that isn’t the be-all, end-all. It can’t be. If it was, I would have quit a long time ago. Something else calls me to it and whether or not anyone else ever sees it, it is worth my time. My ego tells me to promote the hell out of it, but something else is fighting that.

Maybe it’s a sense of confidence. Maybe I have been around long enough, been through enough shit, hit the restart button so many times that I do not need or crave external validation. And I think “need” is the key word here. I don’t need it, although it “feels good” when I get it. I do want it, but I want it organically. I don’t like where the social media and virtual reality is going. It’s a place where being famous is reason enough to be famous. I don’t want fame, I want to understand and be understood. To that end, I write. Even if no one ever reads anything ever again, I would continue to write. At the very least, it interests me.