Monday, October 16, 2017

Top Ten Categories of Facebook Posts

10 - The "actively forcing you to question why we were ever friends."
9 - The "humble brag."
8 - The "I was a comedian in a previous life."
7 - The "blatantly passive-aggressive."
6 - The "someone ask why I'm in the emergency room." (also see #7)
5 - The "cryptic message to someone but you all get to read it." (also see #7)
4 - The "thinning my friend list." (fine they're probably ALL also #7)
3 - The "you probably won't share this."
2 - The "picture of _____, taken in front of something I REALLY wanted you to see."
1 - The "words that take the place of actually doing something meaningful."

A couple of honorable mentions - the oft-times vomit-inducing "look at my feet," the "I'm sharing an IQ test only as an excuse to share MY score," the "look at my injury, no really, LOOK AT IT," and finally, the "I haven't mastered grammar." (which could overlay any of the above)


Monday, August 14, 2017

The Carbondale Enigma

I just discovered that a rare celestial confluence of events (of sorts) is about to happen at a spot on the earth not too far from me. I think I'll dub this event The Carbondale Enigma. (Shout out to my many reader in Carbondale, Illinois)

To be technically correct, I guess I should call it The Cedar Lake Enigma, but I'm not sure anyone has heard of Cedar Lake. In fact, I had never heard of it until tonight as I was clicking around on Google Earth. Honestly, I'm not even sure this discovery qualifies as an enigma, but if not, the word has an awfully high bar.

Also I am not sure I discovered it, but I haven't seen it mentioned anywhere else. This was research I did on my own.

I'll start with an interesting fact: If you're sitting at any given spot on the globe - for instance, your house - and a total solar eclipse happens, the average wait time for the next one is around 400 years. That's a brief tick of the Great Celestial Clock by which things like the sun and moon operate, but it's a fairly long time in human terms. Roughly five lifetimes, in fact.

You'd be born, complete school, get a job, raise 2.1 kids, survive 1.5 divorces, burn through 12 vehicles, retire at 64.7 years old, take up pottery and bingo to show the world you've completely given up, and die at around age 80... five times before the next total solar eclipse happened at your house.

That kind of data intrigues me, but it also motivates me to find the exception. That's how I noticed The Carbondale (OK, Cedar Lake) Enigma.

In this seemingly well-ordered cosmos, even the slightest bit of scrutiny will expose imperfections. For instance, the moon revolves around the earth in an irregular ellipse, not a perfect circle. Its orbit deviates 5 degrees from the solar plane. Earth's axis has something called the Chandler Wobble. The planet's rotation is gradually slowing. The moon is slipping several centimeters further from Earth every year. These imperfections and deviations from 'the norm' can cause odd irregularities through the amplification of an epoch scale. For instance (and no, I don't know this for a fact), there are probably places on Earth that have never experienced a perfect total eclipse, and others that get way more than their share.

I discovered a place like the latter a few miles southwest of Carbondale, Illinois. It's an unassuming spot along the bank of a small inlet on Cedar Lake, and can be reached via short hike from S. Poplar Camp Road. That spot, at 37°38'30"N 89°16'16"W, is in the exact center of the path of the August 21, 2017 North American solar eclipse. Not such a big deal - it's a bi-coastal eclipse with countless similar spots along its path. But as I was scouring maps of future eclipses, I noticed that same lakeside spot is also in the exact center of the path of another eclipse set to occur April 8, 2024, only seven years later.

That may seem like nothing to you, but it's the equivalent of an acid trip for geeks like me. Seven years, not four hundred. Statistically significant. Sure, it's just a coincidence, an artifact of a non-symmetrical universe. However, I'm the kind of guy who appreciates such things. Maybe you are, too.

I'm taking my family to Jefferson City, Missouri, also in the center of the moon's shadow, where we will experience this incredible event together. Most humans never witness a total solar eclipse in person, so I'm excited to share this with my wife and kids. I've heard it's a soul-shifting experience. For a few brief moments, the winds calm, the temperature drops, and shadows sharpen. Then, suddenly, the sky goes dark and the stars come out. Crickets start singing. In every direction, low along the horizon, a 'sunset' appears. Above, as the moon blocks a raging inferno, the whispy, feathery ring of our local star's corona dances silently.

Everything feels calm and peaceful.

Moments later, the moon moves on and the sun comes back. The world returns to normal, as if nothing ever happened. Except, as I understand, those who witness it are changed somehow.

Weather permitting, August 21, 2017 will be that kind of event. Still, part of me wants to be at that spot near Carbondale, Illinois on the bank of Cedar Lake, to take it all in from that unique place. Then, to return in seven years and watch it all happen again. To stack some stones on that spot near the water as the sun disappears - a sort of makeshift monument to the rarity of the experience and the special perspective - in hopes that sometime in the distant future, say in 400 years, someone will find my monument and understand.

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

The Things We've Handed Down

Since the death of my parents, I've been on a mission to find my roots. This song by Marc Cohn has been a catalyst, lyrics dancing in the background like Trevor tugging on my shirt sleeve. I'd be hard pressed to find more poignant words to describe to my children who and why and how they are.
___________

Don't know much about you
Don't know who you are
We've been doing fine without you
But, we could only go so far
Don't know why you chose us
Were you watching from above
Is there someone there that knows us
Said we'd give you all our love

Will you laugh just like your mother
Will you sigh like your old man
Will some things skip a generation
Like I've heard they often can
Are you a poet or a dancer
A devil or a clown
Or a strange new combination of
The things we've handed down

I wonder who you'll look like
Will your hair fall down and curl
Will you be a mama's boy
Or daddy's little girl
Will you be a sad reminder
Of what's been lost along the way
Maybe you can help me find her
In the things you do and say

And these things that we have given you
They are not so easily found
But you can thank us later
For the things we've handed down

You may not always be so grateful
For the way that you were made
Some feature of your father's
That you'd gladly sell or trade
And one day you may look at us
And say that you were cursed
But over time that line has been
Extremely well rehearsed
By our fathers, and their fathers
In some old and distant town
From places no one here remembers
Come the things we've handed down



Sunday, May 21, 2017

Uncle Ronnie

In 1974, my uncle, Ronald James Dickson (His stage name was Jim Dickson, but friends called him Jamie), was part of the cast of a TV documentary called "Primal Man." On March 13, 1974, the cast and film crew had finished shooting at Mammoth Mountain Resort near Bishop CA, and boarded a Sierra Pacific Airlines Convair 440 aircraft for the flight back to Burbank. Seven minutes later, without warning or signs of trouble, the aircraft slammed into the side of a nearby mountain, killing all passengers and crew.

This makeshift memorial, made from actual wreckage, is near the crash site, on top of the mountain, with the airport in the background. The crash is one of only three which remain unsolved in the forty-year history of the NTSB.

I was living with uncle Ronnie and aunt Laura near Hollywood CA when it happened. I remember waking on a rainy Thursday morning to the sound of her crying in the living room after having seen news of the crash on television.

Aunt Laura, if you Google yourself and see this, email me. I would love to see you and catch up.


Thursday, May 11, 2017

The CliffsNotes version of my relationship with Barry Morris (an adventure in self-therapy)

A search of the phrase 'unconventional parental relationships' might return a link to this blog. I've always marveled at (and been envious of) healthy, normal, consistent familial relationships.

My father died this week. My mother passed two years ago, so Dad was my last direct mooring to this planet, and my last-best-hope to truly understanding why I'm here. The unconventional aspect of our relationship stems from the fact I met him for the first time at age 31. The past 20+ years have literally been an attempt to catch up.

Absent the day-to-day mental history most people co-author with their parents (as divergent from reality as they often are), I've managed to learn in bursts everything I know about my Dad and family. We exchanged letters at first, in which I described the first three decades of my life, and he gave me a peek into his world. He also described the circumstances which influenced decisions my parents made about their relationship and its fate.

I was heartened by the similarities in my parents' stories. Both admitted to playing a part, and accepted their roles in their relationship's demise.

Upon our first face-to-face meeting I witnessed the profound impact of genetics. As much stock as we place in the formative influence of environment, I am convinced more than ever our primary constitution is based on DNA. Facial expressions, body motions, stride, all were uncannily similar. If there was any reason to be suspicious of our genetic commonality, our matching smiles removed all doubt.

My new connection to Dad also came with bonus connections to other family members. I have a half-sister and step-brother, both of whom have children and families who are now part of my life. I have a great uncle who is quite an extraordinary and even historic figure, who has also been very kind and welcoming. Dad's wife, who had every right to treat me with skepticism, has done the opposite. I consider her a great blessing, and look forward to maintaining a relationship with her as long as she'll have me.

Unfortunately, the act of building a bridge to my father also served to build a wall between my mother and me. Her life was very difficult and the work of raising a child alone was often more than she could handle. She had a very tumultuous childhood which ill-prepared her for challenges ahead. She did the best she could and was lucky to have a father she could depend on for help. I spent about half of my childhood with my grandparents, who I credit greatly with my personal balance. (Many would say the word 'balance' is a gross mischaracterization.)

On the other hand, my father's life was more traditional and comfortable. He had the benefit of both parents, was involved with their family business, and had a healthy childhood and head start. My mother couldn't help feeling bitter about that. Despite my attempts to balance my attention, the more time I spent with Dad, the more she pulled away from me. When she died we hadn't spoken for several months. Needless to say, I was devastated.

My mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer a short time before her death. She made the decision that she lacked the will to fight the disease, and took her own life. She consulted no one, she allowed no attempts at dissuasion.

Dad had always considered suicide an act of cowardice and an affront to god, and when I told him of Mom's death he made no effort to conceal those feelings. Although he had softened his stance recently, his original reaction made a mark on me that would never fully heal.

Similar marks exist in every relationship. We had less of a foundation than most, but over time we managed to work through it. In the end, things were better. Over the past 20 years we had both invested much time and effort in building family bonds. Given another 20 years, who knows...

I do know this. I'm thankful for the family I inherited through meeting my father. I'm thankful for my wife's extraordinary family, which has become a loving and important part of my life. But yesterday I opened my phone and saw Dad on my 'frequent calls' list, and the thought of not having him, and those calls, made me feel profoundly lonely.


Saturday, November 12, 2016

President-Elect Trump: The Complicit Press

For the purpose of this piece, I will allow the press this caveat: I think their slack-jawed acquiescence to position-driven journalism was propelled by the rise of a very unusual candidate. He said things nobody who hoped to grace the most powerful office on earth had ever said, about the very people he hoped to lead.

I have no idea how to even begin defending the press. In their zeal to focus on the (truly offensive) things this candidate has said, and in an admitted vacuum of an actual plan or position on many of the issues with which voters were concerned, the press tried to fulfill their quota of clicks, and provide
24-hour-a-day coverage, with conjecture, outrage, and their own vacuum of quality journalism.

I will cut them some slack because there aren't many outlets providing a budget for deep journalism. The kind of reporting we saw during Watergate was expensive, and today's business model for most newsrooms has changed greatly. Most truly motivated journalists today are forced to use their own time and money to chase a story. Been there, done that.

I also think the press rightly assigned a certain weight to a fact not in dispute: a US president has the unique position of being the sole arbiter of the most dangerous weaponry on the planet, a fraction of which could eliminate all life.

The landscape is different today in the news business. With lowered budgets and raised expectations, they aren't able to deliver the same journalistic integrity required of a diligent, responsible press. You might construe this as another feeble attempt at a defense. I watched hours of coverage featuring an anchor allowing a pundit to lie provably and extensively. It wouldn’t cost a dime for the anchor to drill deeper for the truth. Unfortunately the two are bedfellows, as the anchor needed the pundit to be back next hour, and the next day, and next week.

The press might also be somewhat forgiven if, in fact, they were determined to add a counterbalance to the criminal theft and release of one of the major campaign's planning and strategy emails. That seems to run counter to reality, as they aided and abetted that very act of international espionage by self-servingly propagating it, with no concern for fact-checking and no ability to validate authenticity. Hey, why not, it's news, right? Then came the alligator tears as they lamented a political system that had been hacked by a foreign government. Journalistic principles? None.

No doubt, Trump is his own worst enemy. He gave the press plenty of fodder for bad journalism. Garbage in, garbage out. Even the press’ portrayal of some sort of major groundswell is false, Trump’s popular vote count totaled barely 25% of the voting population, well short of Obama’s totals and nothing even close to the level required to condemn the entire United States as a nativist, racist country.

But I’m convinced the press’ obsession with Trump’s personal shortcomings, the failure to push him on real policy positions, and their abject failure to dig deeper into why Americans were willing to vote for him, caused those voters to be re-entrenched. They had reasons for their votes, but the press took the easy route and assigned simple labels instead of doing their job.

The Unbearable Smugness of the Press - from CBS News

Monday, June 13, 2016

Orlando


The social media meme of the day is in full force. Being respectful to the dead means you can't discuss preventing future mass killings. 'Thoughts and prayers' or quiet introspection are the only appropriate responses. Anything else is disrespectful.

Yes, it is comforting when we all come together for a moment, set aside our differences, and feel the camaraderie of shared pain. We post rainbows and hashtags. Sing Kumbaya. But don't you get a little tired of THIS kind of camaraderie?

So, how long shall we wait? What is the magic moment when it's OK to discuss curbing the slaughter of fellow humans? After the pain of the moment has faded? After Trump, Clinton, Wayne LaPierre and others have made political hay and further entrenched their followers?

The 'heat of the moment' is a poor time to make decisions, that's true. But is this really the heat of the moment? We've had plenty of time to collect evidence from the last 1,000 mass shootings, and still have not had meaningful discussions. Americans have very short memories.

Those who insist "this isn't the time" should carefully consider my question: When IS the time? Don't give me some generic schtick that intelligent people can see through, don't defend faith, don't defend guns, don't defend blind allegiance. Just tell me when we should begin.

Because we still haven't begun from the last time.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Mom

It's been over a year since my mother left the world on her own terms. I found a piece this morning, written by Rev. Safire Rose, and was very moved. I wanted to share it here so I can find it later, and in case it might help someone else cope or understand.

She Let Go

She let go. Without a thought or a word, she let go.
She let go of the fear.
She let go of the judgments.
She let go of the confluence of opinions swarming around her head.
She let go of the committee of indecision within her.
She let go of all the ‘right’ reasons.
Wholly and completely, without hesitation or worry, she just let go.
She didn’t ask anyone for advice.
She didn’t read a book on how to let go.
She didn’t search the scriptures.
She just let go.
She let go of all of the memories that held her back.
She let go of all of the anxiety that kept her from moving forward.
She let go of the planning and all of the calculations about how to do it just right.
She didn’t promise to let go.
She didn’t journal about it.
She didn’t write the projected date in her Day-Timer.
She made no public announcement and put no ad in the paper.
She didn’t check the weather report or read her daily horoscope.
She just let go.
She didn’t analyze whether she should let go.
She didn’t call her friends to discuss the matter.
She didn’t do a five-step Spiritual Mind Treatment.
She didn’t call the prayer line.
She didn’t utter one word.
She just let go.
No one was around when it happened.
There was no applause or congratulations.
No one thanked her or praised her.
No one noticed a thing.
Like a leaf falling from a tree, she just let go.
There was no effort.
There was no struggle.
It wasn’t good and it wasn’t bad.
It was what it was, and it is just that.
In the space of letting go, she let it all be.
A small smile came over her face.
A light breeze blew through her. And the sun and the moon shone forevermore…

~ Rev. Safire Rose

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Flurries

After an early morning flurry of activity, the kids are out the door to a summer camp.

Flurry is hardly appropriate. For my family, it's a squall. Some mornings, a raging storm or a high pressure dome. Yesterday was a level 3 typhoon. (It had a distinctly Asian, almost Samurai feel.) Almost never a flurry.

I am a gentle waker. I am the type who lingers in bed, and might be awake 10 minutes before I open my eyes. I'm usually awakened by a thought, or a dream's plot twist that seems a little too unlikely. These days, maybe a pain somewhere.

I like for the kids to sneak in and slip beneath the covers with my wife and me. In fact, that is the one thing I really want for Father's Day-an early morning, peaceful, easy kid nap. That's some of the best sleep.

I'd like a coffee bar in our bedroom. I can hardly accomplish a thing 'BC.' I've lived most of my life addicted to a substance, utterly incapable of productivity without it, yet haven't been carted off to a clinic. Isn't one debilitating addiction as harmful as the next? (I know, I know. No emails, please.)

My wife is an up-and-at-'em type. For wake up music, she likes jams, I like jazz. We compromise with something I call jamzz. (a weird mix ranging from Jay Z to Phoebe Snow) She's also a morning gym person. That's something I'll never understand. I mean, what the fuck? And, she does it all sans coffee. I find that abhorrent and reckless.

If every day started like this one, I'd be fine. The squall happened, but it ended and I'm on the deck with a cup of Mama Carmen's Guatamalan reason-to-live. Clients are nipping at my heels, so I'll head down to my recording studio in a few minutes. At the moment, a nice breeze is blowing, and if it weren't for the trash truck down the street, it would be completely peaceful.

That driver could probably use a kid nap and cup of coffee.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Have a catch

I watched the Cardinals drop one to Cleveland yesterday and it was disappointing, but the Indians' Corey Kluber was throwing a no-hitter against us until the 8th. As much as I wanted the win, it was still a thrill to enjoy the pitching performance. That's baseball.

I love to "have a catch" with Grayson.