Thursday, April 30, 2009

Acceptance speech

[These words were found hastily scribbled on a napkin from Spago's.]

I can't believe it! I just...I never thought this would happen to me. It is such an honor - even to be nominated alongside these fantastic bloggers: Captain Dumbass (oh, man - you are my hero) and Mama Dawg (she is so fantastic) and Chrisy and Suzanne and LiteralDan! They are all so talented - I hope I'm not leaving anyone out. I didn't write anything down...and I'm so just - speechless.

Of course, I want to say thank you to the Academy and all of the people who made this award possible - you know who you are! And I really just want to share this with all my fellow nominees because they are all just so...

Oh -
you mean, they all got one too? Oh. Well - isn't that nice?

I have so many people to thank - all of people that I've worked with, who've supported me for so many years. Well, to be honest - I've been doing most of this all alone in my basement, late at night. But I've really felt everyone pulling for me, you know.

And I want to thank my agent, who believed in me when nobody else did. And my parents - Mom, Dad? This is for you. And I want to thank all the little people - well, at least my kids, The Girl and The Boy. Actually, The Boy is pretty large these days. But The Girl is relatively small - and her fiancee, Liam, is even smaller. So - Thank You, little people!

But most of all, I want to thank the one person who means most to me in the whole world. The one who's stayed by me through all my fits of artistic temperament, through drug abuse and rehab and more drug abuse; who's forgiven my seemingly endless stream of infidelities; the one who's made my life worth living (oh - promised myself I wouldn't cry!) - the love of my life, my 23-year-old gold-digger girlfriend Bambi darling wife, Snoplum.

I see them telling me my time is up - please don't let the orchestra start! - I just, I have to say that this moment is the perfect moment. And I love you all - I will never forget you. I will never forget that this moment - is THE moment. The most supreme moment of my life. And thank you - I don't deserve this. But I will always cherish this award. And I will cherish zombie chickens...and all my readers. And I will never forget you. And I will never forget me. And you will never forget me. And thank you from the bottom of my tiny heart.

I love you all!

[The remainder of the note is unintelligible.]

Take care.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Work is not a four-letter word

(Oh, you know what I mean...)

It can be distressing to dwell on the fact that, if you are a person with a relatively demanding, full-time job, you probably spend more of your waking hours with co-workers than your family and friends. Well, it is to me anyway.

Don't get me wrong. I generally like my job. And I work with a good group of people - generally. I feel that I am well compensated, so I can't complain (but sometimes I still do). Still - nobody says - "OK, honey, see you later. I'm heading to play." There's a reason they call it "work".

And the past few days have been a reminder why they call it that.

Even at times like these, there are plenty of things about my job that I like. I like to solve problems - and there is plenty of opportunity for that. I like to help people - and every once in a while, I feel I have done so. I like being "the boss" (most of the time) - because I feel I can have a positive influence on my teammates and exert some control in my work life. (Or as my good friend, Chico, has said: "I like to accumulate power - and then not use it.")

Despite the fact that I work hard, sometimes put in long hours and can have a crazy work schedule, I am not a workaholic - and I don't tend to "bring my work home". I'm good at compartmentalizing* the different facets of my life - and I try very hard to keep work in its compartment. At times it has been a source of consternation, I think, to the Middle-Aged Woman. She sometimes feels the need to vent about her job - and she doesn't seem quite sure why I don't feel the same way. I'm not much of a complainer, myself. (If this sounds like the MAW is a complainer, that's not really true.) I've heard complaining can help some people feel better. It does not make me feel better.

I would like to say that I love my job - but I don't. I spend little or no time thinking about retirement - that is so far away, it would be like slow torture. Besides, I have too much to do at work. I don't have any "Take this job and shove it" fantasies. If I were to leave my job, I would want to give the people I work with now every chance to succeed after I leave - not leave a gaping hole behind.

But if I had the means, I would leave my current job and try something else. Probably writing. Maybe go to seminary. I would act in more plays. I might buy a guitar and learn how to play one properly.

One thing is certain: I wouldn't be bored.

Take care.

*I looked it up to be sure it was a word. I've been using it in conversation for a long time - but seeing it written down, I had to double check.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

I should sleep good tonight

There is a part of me that is really lazy - and I have lost touch with that part of myself. I need desperately to rediscover it, to feed and nuture it - so that I can live like other people.

I'm pretty tired right now - so some of the information above is b*llsh*t. The more I think about it, it's almost a perfect continuum - beginning with ideas that are highly true and finishing with stuff that even I don't believe.

The Middle-Aged Woman with whom I live (and move and have my being - and who seems to end up posting about the things I do before I can) has already shared that I worked overnight from Sunday to Monday morning. This was the result of a power outage in our main office and subsequent malfunction of our massive UPS that had me working on the network from about 10:30 PM until a little after 6 AM.

The good news is: staying up late to finish blog posts has screwed up my sleep schedule to the point that I hardly gave it a second thought - until between 4 and 5 AM.

The bad news is: my sleep schedule is likely to be an even worse shambles than normal for the rest of the week.

My advice to myself is: get to bed early tonight. And so, I bid you a fond bonsoir.

Take care.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Prong Buddies

[Pictured in 1981, from l. to r., Paul Joey, Paul Johnny (seated), Jim Charlie, Jim Styro (seated)]

I believe in keeping commitments. And I did promise in my very first post that, over time, I would explain the different monikers I have acquired over the years. Since the only one I have explained so far is Captain Dick, I thought it was about time to do some more divulging.

So today, I will tell you about the origins of that name by which I am most widely known - Styro (or, Jim Styro "if you're not into the whole brevity thing"*). Of course, it's impossible to tell that story without talking about my Prong Buddies - and it's appropriate that I speak of them today, since it's my BFF Jim Charlie's birthday today.**

Before high school, I did not have many friends.*** (I'm not looking for sympathy.) I wasn't a complete outcast - but I was...unpopular amongst my peers. I was tall and uncoordinated and smart and a loner - and I don't think I found other kids my age that interesting anyway. This situation persisted well into my sophomore year of high school****, when I tried out and got a part in the chorus for Bishop Borgess High School's spring musical.

Involvement with the theater crowd at my high school quickly transitioned into involvement with the competitive speech team - and soon I had friends. The core of these friendships was built around the aforementioned Prong Buddies, four guys named Jim and Jim and Paul and Paul. In retrospect, the things that we had in common were few. We were smart, we weren't afraid of public speaking, and we weren't on any sports teams. But if you had tried to find four young guys at BBHS (which, at that time, was the largest Catholic high school in the state of Michigan - with about 3,000 students) with more definite and distinctive personalities, it would have been difficult.

I haven't told you much about the Prong Buddies - but you know enough for me to finish the story. (Don't worry - if I keep this gig, you'll hear more about them. If you're interested...) The practical difficulty presented by four guys hanging out all the time with only two names to share between them is: what to call one another. Just "Jim" and "Paul" aren't enough. But we were smart boys. We decided right away to use first and middle names to provide the desired level of specificity. So...

James Charles... became Jim Charlie, and
Paul John.......... became Paul Johnny, and
Paul Joseph....... became Paul Joey, and
James Stewart... became Jim...Stueyy?

Whether you've never heard this story before - or you've known it for years - isn't it just obvious that something is wrong there? Oh, we tried to make the whole Jim Stueyy thing work. Jim Charlie concocted the whole screwy "EYY" spelling thing (Hey, "Stewie" is just as bad - if not worse) to try to make the whole thing palatable. But I think we all knew that my name was not quite right.

Then one day, we were lunching in the cafeteria when some food service supplies were being delivered - plates, cups, plastic utensils and the like. On the side of a big box of styrofoam cups, Jim Charlie saw the word STYRO emblazoned in huge red letters.

"Hey, you're Jim Styro", he said. And he was right.
I feel very lucky that Jim and Paul and Paul are still among the best friends I have. Or ever expect to have. And that I still get to see them and talk to them frequently (although I really have to stay on Groucho's ass sometimes. Sorry, that's another nickname, another story, and another post.) Not everyone gets to hang on to their friends for so long.

That makes me a lucky Styro. Hope you had a great birthday, Jim Charlie.

Take care.

*in the words of Jeffrey Lebowski.

**First off, I can hardly believe I used the abbreviation BFF (nothing says "I talk like a 15-year-old girl" quite like BFF); second, by the time you read this his birthday will be over - but you can hardly blame me for that.
***Doesn't everyone seem to say that? Aren't there any writers or artists who were extremely popular in their youth?
****By junior year, Mom was concerned enough with my seeming lack of social success to ask me if I was gay. Of course, she was unaware that I had already lost my virginity at the hands of...Damn - no wonder I haven't tried to tell this story yet. It gets complicated. I've got enough material for about 57 posts. (This is my last footnote - the rest I'm just leaving out.)

Sunday, April 26, 2009

I am gonna be sore tomorrow

If you read the Middle-Aged Woman at Unmitigated, you know how my day started.

If you don't read her, you should - but more importantly, you don't know that I was summoned to our basement around 7:30 this AM to deal with standing water in the basement. I was left in charge of the problem at that early hour (made to seem more so by my late-night -or should I say- early-morning blogging the previous night) because my little Snoplum was going to the dentist with The Girl and The Boy (my 19-year-old daughter and 17-year-old son).

Anyway, I spent most of the first 3 hours of the day sucking up water off the basement floor with a shop vac. That activity is not, in and of itself, very taxing. But lugging a shop vac full of water up the basement stairs every few minutes to dump out the dirty water can really get the old sweat glands pumping. In addtion to sucking and lugging, I contacted our good friend, Handy Jeff, to see if he could provide counsel regarding sanitation considerations during the cleanup.

To top it off, I had volunteered to help our Ministerial Intern at church, Tommy, move. This is a guy who is making great personal sacrifices to attend seminary and, hopefully, become an ordained minister in the United Methodist Church - so I thought it was the least I could do. Let's just say that the basement incident put me off my original schedule. Anyway, I finally got to his house a little before 11 AM - and found that Tommy and I were the only members of the moving team present. (Both Tommy and I were stiffed by the people we had contacted requesting assistance for the move. It didn't help any that the weather today was nearly perfect; at least until mid-afternoon when the storms moved in.)

The bottom line is: I worked with Tommy for 10 hours moving two truckloads of his stuff to a storage facility. Later in the afternoon, we did get some help from Tommy's son, Chris, and his friend, Rebecca. But the first (and fullest) truckload was handled by Tommy and me exclusively.
So - the day didn't turn out quite like I planned. I had visions of buying a Mother's Day gift and, possibly, catching the J. Geils Band show at The Fillmore Detroit tonight. But the water's gone and Tommy is well on the way to being moved out of his house.

Your final score tonight is: Plumber guy - 288 (dollars), Jim Styro - 5 (which represents the number of times I sweated through this T-shirt I'm still wearing today. Look at the salt stains!)

Hey, at least I can take a shower.

(Ooo, I almosts forgot! Happy Birthday, Jim Charlie.)

Take care.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The writer as exhibitionist

[Here it is - the one I've been making you wait you've been waiting for!)

Why a blog? That's really the question, isn't it?

I could have picked almost anything to suck up all the spare time I didn't have (Facebook, Internet porn, rewatching old episodes of The West Wing). But I picked this. Why? Why?!

Well, if you'll hang on for a minute - I'll try to tell ya.

First - I enjoy writing. The first creative writing assignments I remember were in elementary school, fourth or fifth grade. Because I am a pack rat, I still possess some of my earliest efforts.

    The assignment was to take a picture from a newspaper or magazine and write a story based on the picture. (Some of you may remember being asked to do something similar in school.) I had the same teacher for fourth & fifth grade, Mrs. Smith. She liked me - and she liked my stories. She was so proud of my efforts, she had me take my stories to other classes and read them aloud. [Note to self: This may have contributed to your nerdy reputation and isolation from elementary schoolmates.]

    The enjoyment and pleasure I receive from writing has continued on from that time. In my younger days, I wrote poems and songs too (lyrics mostly). After graduating from college and going to work full-time, my creative writing output dwindled to nothing but the occasional letter. But nobody loves to crank out a humdinger of an email more than me!

    Although I work with computers, my current customer is a law firm - and being able communicate effectively in writing is important in that environment. Frequently, when there is a piece of correspondence coming out of our department that will be seen by all our users, I'm asked to do some "wordsmithing".

    Anyway, that's enough d*mn bragging.

    Clearly love of writing on its own does not explain blogging. As a friend of mine, the Phantom, said recently:

    "I can understand a journal or diary. But why would you want the
    whole world to be able to see that sh*t?" (Or words to that effect)

    My answer is pretty simple. I guess I'm egotistical enough to believe that somebody might:

    • Be interested in what I think and say, or
    • Enjoy the way I write, or
    • Be entertained, be moved, be exposed to a new idea (or a different view of an old one)

    Despite the provocative title, I'm not really in it to shock anyone - or to reveal my deepest, darkest secrets to people I don't (and, in some ways, can't possibly) know.* Like most other bloggers, I have a few readers who know me "up close and personal"** (or, as I've put it previously, who "get to see my live show") - but most wouldn't know me from Capt. Dumbass*** if they met me on the street. So, if I can make a few new friends (even if I may never meet them)...well, the world could do with a bit more of that, in any case.

    Mostly, I think I do this because I enjoy it. It stretches me. It makes do something I like to do - and probably wouldn't do otherwise. Maybe I'm just trying to slow down time a little.

    When I was fourteen, I wrote a poem that started with the lines:

    When I was a kid
    the stop at the stoplight
    would take a thousand years.
    And Christmas didn't come
    but once a lifetime.

    Now I have grown
    (not all that much)
    and I'm behind the wheel.
    Now stoplights don't last
    any time at all.

    I'm glad I wrote that down over 31 years ago (WTF!?). I'm glad I wrote this too.

    Take care.

    *I have another whole post (or two) I intend to write on that point - but I have no idea when I'm going to write them.
    **If you knew me, you'd hate me.
    ***a) he's my blogging hero; b) if the Sharks don't get their act together, Vancouver may get a one-series reprieve from getting spanked by the Red Wings

    Friday, April 24, 2009

    "Over the line!"*

    [WARNING: This post contains language which some readers/listeners may find offensive.]

    As anyone refined will tell you, good manners are dictated by the setting in which people interact. What is acceptable at McDonald's may not work at Chez Spendalot; behaviors that blend in at the supermarket may stand out at a funeral. Manners are situational.

    Since this humble post is my first participation with the Greater Blogging Family in a Spin Cycle, I thought I should try to bring something unique to the table. Oh sure, I could ramble on about the importance of "please" and "thank you", holding the door open for ladies and the elderly, chewing with your mouth closed**, or not farting in church - but that's already well-covered ground. What about all the unique bits of etiquette and protocol your Mom never got around to teaching you - 'cause she didn't know the rules?

    That's right - I'm taking about proper behavior in a bowling alley.

    It's only fitting that this first attempt at participating in Spinnerdom should center around my old bowling team, the Spinners. These are the men who taught me everything I know about bowling alley protocols (that and watching Le Grande Lewbowski*** about a hundred and sixty-seven times).**** These sage Lotharios of the Lanes helped me to negotiate the ticklish twists and turns of a night out at the Family Fun Center.

    The bowling alley presents a challenging setting for anyone striving to model appropriate behaviors. And trying to mind your manners after a few cocktails really ups the ante! So without further ado, let's look at few simple do's and don'ts of bowling alley manners.

    1. Jim Styro says: Always be prepared to support your teammates with encouragement.

    Remember - Amateur bowling is a team sport. To foster a healthy sense of competition, to inspire maximum effort in your comrades, and to continually engender a feeling of fellowship and brotherhood amongst the team, one must be prepared to offer words of support and constructive criticism at the appropriate moment.

    For example:

    - "Nice g*dd*mn cover, @$$hole!"
    (Often used when a teammate has failed to convert on a spare)
    - "Next time, pull your d*ck out of the ball."
    (General tip shared after an errant roll)
    - "Nobody misses the five pin!"
    (Self explanatory)
    - "The ball will be right back."
    (Encouragement offered after a poor first ball in the frame)
    - "Take it easy on the equipment!"
    (Gentle reminder not to kick the ball return)

    2. Jim Styro says: Being aware of your surroundings improves the experience for you and those around you.

    A crowded bowling alley can present many different etiquette and safety challenges including:

    - Waiting your turn.

    (If you cut in front of the guy waiting to bowl on the lane to your immediate left or right, the results may include having a bowling ball pushed off the ball return into your path - or even someone's fist being smashed through the protective glass enclosure for a fire extinguisher.)

    - Keeping all walkways clear.

    (In the event a drunken brawl commences on a nearby lane, you should be prepared to use all necessary force in moving a teammate out of harm's way. Any beer bottles to be hurled during such an event -partially empty or otherwise- should have been purchased by the Hurler prior to hurling. Beer bottles of by-standers -innocent or otherwise- should not be used.)

    - Never waving your piece around on the lanes. (Self-explanatory)

    3. Jim Styro says: The bowler must monitor himself and his equipment at all times.

    A bowling alley is an onslaught to the senses; an environment filled with noise, smoke, bodies and alchohol. To keep one's wits involves:

    - Proper monitoring of liquids.

    (This involves both the intake and evacuation of liquids - and their impact on readiness of both the bowler and his equipment. Remember - a wet bowling shoe is a dangerous bowling shoe!)

    - Being prepared.

    (You don't want to be caught at the snack bar, the toilet or putting a couple of bucks in for the Mystery drawing when your turn comes. The more time you spend bowling, the less time is left for the bar.)

    - Being discrete.

    (You never know when a guy on the opposing team will have his wife show up with their three elementary-school-age children. Hey - maybe they can learn a new word or two at the Family Fun Center? But hopefully not from you, the Well-Mannered Bowler.)

    Following these (relatively) simple guidelines will make your night at the lanes entertaining, safe and (possibly even) genteel.

    Anything's possible.

    Take care.

    *Apologies to everyone expecting a post entitled "Blogging: The writer as exhibitionist". I forgot about my intention to participate in the Spin Cycle today. I swear I'll post it soon.
    **Just because I know the rule doesn't mean I can always follow the rule.
    ***WARNING: This link contains language that some may find offensive.
    ****"And it just keeps gettin' funner - every single time I see it!!"

    Detroit vs. Columbus - Wings won the best of seven series, 4 - 0

    Thursday, April 23, 2009

    Portrait of the blogger as a young man

    (or "Things found looking for other things")

    Tonight, I started a post about my motivations for blogging. That post has no hope of being finished tonight. It has no hope of being finished because, in the process of composing it, I decided to find an example of my earliest creative writing, stories that I wrote in fourth or fifth grade. Now, since this "replacement post" is all about digression, let me digress.

    I'm a packrat. I keep stuff. My wife (the lovely and talented MAW) hates that. But since I keep ( most / a lot / some ) of the stuff well-hidden, I've been able to hang on to most of the important stuff.

    And tonight, I took a trip down memory lane looking for those stories. Oh, you know I found them - but I found some other great stuff in the process. And let me now share just a couple choice bits with you.

    That's right - take a gander at the MAW in 1983!

    (As pictured, I guess she would be the UAW* or something.)

    She's quite the beauty! But what is she doing with that skinny guy with the bad hair?

    Oh - wait. That's me. Well, as you can see, I at least had hair in 1983. A great deal of it in fact - but poorly maintained. On the up side, I only weighed about 175 pounds.

    Now isn't that sweet? I'm attacking her on camera.

    It's kinda hard to tell whether she's smiling or grimacing, isn't it?

    For the sake of (what remains of) my ego, I choose to belive that she was enjoying the whole thing.

    Anyway, that's all I got. Hey, at least the MAW looks great in these pix. You can alway crop me out later.

    Tomorrow, I hope to get with the program and finish a post entitled:
    "Blogging: The writer as exhibitionist"

    If not, I've got a ton of stuff I can scan and turn into "fluff" posts while I'm mentally treading water.

    Take care.

    *Under-Aged Woman? OK, she wasn't strictly a minor. But very young and sweet.

    Wednesday, April 22, 2009

    Guilt is good

    Remember Gordon Gekko?

    He's just a fictional character from the film, Wall Street, so I don't have to feel guilty for very nearly plagiarizing his dialogue for the title of this post. I probably should feel guilty for using a title which directly contradicts a statement I made in yesterday's rant. But it just seemed so attention-getting and punchy; I couldn't resist.

    Anyway, when we last saw Our Hero, he was getting ready to talk about how some emotions seem to fall out of favor amongst the general populace - and to mount his case in defense of guilt. Despite today's title, I stick by my statement yesterday that viewing "emotions as good or bad is almost meaningless." I think many people view emotions as bad if they seem out of control, unjustified or unreasonable. Anger, pride and hatred are sometimes described with those words - but so could grief, love or joy. Is a person consumed with anger that is out of control worse off than the person consumed by grief? If my pride in someone has caused me to lose sight of the real person, would I be better off if I was blinded by love?

    Our feelings should, I think, be a reflection of our reality - not a filter through which we see ourselves and our circumstances. If the things that we have desired and hoped for happen, shouldn't we be happy or content? And if we get sick or hurt, are we wrong to feel sad or frustrated? Clearly, the makeup of our lives and our emotions are far more complex; but the principle remains that our feelings make sense as a reaction to the main action - of what is going on in our lives.

    So - what about guilt?

    Here's an emotion that has been getting a bad rep ever since the rebellion of the Sixties swept away the repression of the Fifties*. Once people, on a large scale, began embracing that idea that they weren't going to go to Hell for wearing a skirt their parent's though was too short, or smoking a joint, or having sex before getting married, or getting divorced - the conclusion was not far behind that previous generations had been using guilt as a tool to manipulate them. And, in so far as that was true, people were right to reject the guilt being imposed upon them externally. But some folks have, I think, taken this idea too far - and taken a stance that all guilt is useless, a waste of time, a trick to hold people back from realizing their full potential.

    But I say: To reject guilt outright, is to reject the conscience. And that would be a monumental mistake. For what is real guilt - not guilt imposed externally, not someone trying to make you feel bad - what is real guilt except your conscience sending an alert that you have violated your own sense of right and wrong?

    Like any other emotion, guilt that is simply dwelt upon or wallowed in serves no particular purpose, brings no benefit, and may be harmful to the overexposed. But when guilt reminds us of the right thing to do, moves us to change our behaviors where they are not in line with our own moral code, and helps us to live in a way that let's us sleep well at night...

    Well, I'm all for that.

    Take care.

    *I know repression goes back before the Fifties - but I'm not that old.

    Detroit vs. Columbus - Wings lead the best of seven series, 3 - 0

    Tuesday, April 21, 2009

    Feelings about feelings

    Do certain emotions seem to go in and out of style? Oh sure, there are perennial favorites like love or courage. And hatred, fear or envy never seem to get good press. But there are other emotions - like pride or devotion or guilt - where our attitudes seem less clear. (Since I'm about to make another - in what has been a series of - sweeping generalization(s) on this blog, I'll stick with what I know.)

    I think attitudes in 21st Century America concerning emotion are generally confused. I think this is a reflection of the individual struggles most people have with their own feelings. There are plenty of opinions out there about dealing with emotion - but many of these views come with an accompanying agenda (men need to get in touch with their emotions; to be successful in business, a woman must hide her emotions; we need to give our children more praise and positive reinforcement to help improve their self-image; we are praising our children too much and devaluing real accomplishment) - an agenda which often has nothing to do with understanding the causes of our emotional responses and using that information to our advantage.

    My underlying premise is this: to think of emotions as good or bad is almost meaningless. Emotions ARE. We must deal with them. Attempts to ignore or suppress feelings, to discount their importance in the hope they will disappear are futile and (in the unlikely event of success in that endeavor) potentially damaging.

    For the sake of time, let's take just one example: fear. If someone or something makes me afraid, what am I to do? Should I deny the feeling (I'm not afraid)? Or ignore it (There's nothing to be afraid of)? Should I label the emotion as "bad" in the hope of squelching it (fear is for wimps - my courage will overcome it)?

    Isn't the first step to try and understand WHY I'm afraid? For if I can determine why, I may find a basis for concluding that there is nothing to be afraid of - or that I'm no longer afraid. And I can come to those conclusions in a lasting way - not by playing a trick on myself.

    But just as importantly: If I had good reason to be afraid (that guy is pointing a weapon at me, Johnny's about to walk out into a busy street), I may be able to use the physical responses associated with fear (adrenaline rush, heightening of senses, (and in extreme cases) increased speed and strength) to meet the challenges of the situation.

    I hope you find this topic interesting - because tomorrow, I'm planning to move on with the post I had originally envisioned for today.

    It's called: "Guilt is good". Until then,

    Take care.

    Detroit vs. Columbus - Wings lead the best of seven series, 2 - 0

    Monday, April 20, 2009

    Still Keeping It Real on Monday Moanin':

    (or Why do people retire - and then get jobs?)

    I found out today that my mom has a job with the Census Bureau. She bought a cell phone and ponied up for the GPS service so that her phone can give her driving directions to the destinations on her appointed rounds. After reaching age 65 and retiring from her job - now she works for the Census Bureau.

    In between church (that is, the Children's Concert held at my church - where I served as Master of Cermonies this afternoon), I showed Mom how to save names and numbers into the new phone, I downloaded and installed the GPS application on it, and walked her through the steps to enter a destination in the phone and get driving directions. She didn't do too badly for a former retiree.

    It didn't really strike me while my Mom was visiting - now I'm wondering why she went back to work. I assume the pressures were financial - but she's only been retired for about six months. I don't believe her financial situation has changed that radically in so short a time (although she probably wouldn't tell me anyway - so that could be a poor assumption). More likely, she disliked her previous job to such an extent that she decided to retire at the first opportunity and deal with the fall-out if or when necessary. She may have even decided to take the job just to do something different.

    My mom likes to dabble. I wonder how long she'll dabble with the Census Bureau.

    I'm not planning on retiring or getting a new job anytime soon (although the MAW did suggest on Saturday that I arrange for our company to provide a full-time support person in the Boca Raton, Florida office - then get myself the job). But I do expect that this week will usher in a new phase of "nose to the grindstone" focus at work. I expect this phase will extend for at least two months - and, perhaps, to the end of summer. I need to get myself and my team to the middle of June intact - and I think things will proceed smoothly from there. The work will be like rolling a huge ball over a hill - we need to get it over the crest of the hill and then follow it down the other side (as it crushes everything in its path).

    Maybe then I can retire. And, if and when I ever do, there is one thing you can count on.

    I won't be going back to work six months later.

    Take care.

    Sunday, April 19, 2009

    Good advice from an unexpected source

    I have been congested since April 7* - which in and of itself is not news, since I am often congested. One might even say, "most of the time". But I haven't been feeling that poorly - except for the morning of the 7th; yet my energy level has been down. I feel as though my body has been fighting germ warfare - and just barely holding its own.

    So this morning, I got up and did some work on the computer (blog writing and some more checking account data entry), had a cup of hot chocolate and some toast, went to the bedroom to change into my martial arts uniform - and crawled back into bed.

    As you may already be aware (or have guessed), this was not part of my original plan for today. But clearly I needed the additional sleep. And, despite a grumbling somewhere deep within that I am a wimp, I know I did the right thing - because it is what I would have recommended to another person who told me they were in a similar postion (fighting illness for almost two weeks and not getting enough sleep).

    So, if its the right thing for somebody else to do - I should take my own d*mn advice. The other thing I would recommend to a person in my position would be: see a doctor - you're probably not going to get over (whatever it is you need to get over) without some medication that will not be available over-the-counter. You'll be glad to know my appointment is on Monday morning.

    Let's recap: On today's five-item to-do list, I completed items 1, 3 and 5; made good progress on item #4; and am giving myself extra credit for taking care of myself rather than trying to be a Hard Guy. So it was nearly a complete triumph.

    Not to mention:

    • The Wings shut out the Blue Jackets, 4 -0, this evening to take a 2-0 lead in the series.
    • I agreed to MC the kid's concert at church tomorrow afternoon (I don't mind doing things on the spur of the moment - but it's had to understand how whoever was planning that event could let that little detail go until the day before concert.)
    • Baby Elliott was feeling good enough to smile (which sets a good example for all of us)**

    Take care.

    *Those of you who listen to my posts may have noticed that my voice has suffered over the past week or so.
    **"Hey - I've got nothing to do today but smile!"

    Saturday, April 18, 2009

    Not too late

    You might remember that my plan this week was: keep the to-do list short and over-achieve. Unfortunately, on my three-item list, only the equivalent of one and a half items have been done - and nothing has been completed 100%. So much for the joy of keeping expectations low.

    But there's still time. I hope to receive news yet tonight (it's after 11 PM Eastern as I type this; I expect it'll be midnight before I record it) that some of the loose ends from last night's kick-off of the Florida office move are complete. And if I can stay awake, I should be able to make some significant in-roads on balancing the checking account tonight, then finish tomorrow. [I did get the bill paying out of the way earlier in the week.]

    Tomorrow, the plan will be to:
    1. Get an early start on tomorrow's post
    2. Attend martial arts training in the morning
    3. Have lunch with the Wing Chun Do crowd
    4. Finish balancing the checking account
    5. Get downtown for the Wings playoff game at 6 PM

    I expect tomorrow will be busy, yet satisfying. If all goes well, I will finish the week with my to-do list complete, the Wings up by two games in their playoff series, and be ready for some serious napping on Sunday.

    I will also be doing some serious praying for Baby Elliott and the Daytons. That little guy needs to get well and get home soon. 'Cause Jim Styro said so.

    Take care.

    Friday, April 17, 2009

    In defense of neanderthals

    You may have heard this story on NPR Wednesday or maybe you saw it elsewhere on the Web (I picked this link 'cause I love the CBC - and I am trying to ingratiate myself with Capt. Dumbass* so as to bask in his reflected glory). It's a bit like a joke you might hear in a bar - "Did you hear the one about the guys who thought they could pass a law forcing their wives to put out on a regular basis?" According to the reports I have read, the law says that, in a Shiite Muslim household, the husband can demand sex with his wife every four days unless she is ill or would be harmed by intercourse.

    I mean have you ever heard anything more ridiculous! Laughable really...I mean, that is like - well, OK, it's actually not quite twice a week. But still... "demanding sex" in this day and age? It seems so - unromantic. [I guess that would equate to seven times a month - maximum...] Look, how can you even think about quantifying something that is so...that should be built on mutual love, respect and desire - not some sort of unilateral demand by... [Every four days? Unless she's sick.]**

    Look, let's not have a rush to judgement on this thing. Muslim (men) are people too, you know. I'm just saying: maybe we should hear these guys out is all.

    [Maybe there would be a formula allowing for decreased frequency based on years of marriage.]

    Sorry - must of dozed off there for a minute: As I was saying, we should burn these backward-thinking religious zealots at the stake. Or something.

    Take care - of the one(s) you love.

    PS: If you just need general information on getting married in Afghanistan (while you'e there on vacation or something), check this out.
    * Thanks to the MAW for policing my Netiquette. Snoplum's the best.
    ** During this long pause, you may feel things begin to spin out of control.

    Detroit vs. Columbus - Wings lead the best of seven series, 1 - 0

    Thursday, April 16, 2009

    Vicarious victory:
    Expectations of the sports fan

    Tonight, the National Hockey League's 2009 Stanley Cup playoffs begin in Detroit* - and the Red Wings will resume their quest for back-to-back championships. It is a time and place fraught with expectations higher than many of us have ever experienced. Imagine going to work in front of (literally) tens of thousands of people each night - and potentially hundreds of thousands more watching or listening around the country (or the world) - many of whom have piled their own expectations for vicarious victory on top of your own. There are no neutral observers - these people have paid serious money to come and watch you perform. They will cheer your successes - and be quick to jeer your mistakes and misfortunes.

    I'm not asking you to feel sorry for a professional athlete paid millions of dollars to play a game. It's a job we'd all love to have - we say. But would we really find that the financial benefits compensated for the extraordinary pressure, the physical demands, the unrelenting second-guessing of the press and every know-it-all sports talk radio junkie in the city? We might like the paycheck - but I think few of us (and I do not include myself in the number) would thrive under those conditions.

    Anyway, I'm not really that interested in talking about what athletes go through during "crunch time". I think it's way more interesting to think about what fans go through - or put themselves through (to be more precise) in observation and support of their favorite teams. Because - think about it - we have nothing invested in the outcome of these contests; except what we ourselves bring to the proverbial table and freely ante up based on our own unique motivations.

    Those may be: civic pride, fidelity to a particular team or player, a wager, love of the sport, or (simply) habit. But whatever the reason, we offer up our support, our hopes, our expectations freely - with no external motivating factor, other than (maybe) a little peer pressure.**

    I think some of us also use sports as a way to off-load our own hopes and dreams onto someone or something that (we unconsciously hope) will have more success with them than we have. Or at least can bear the burden of those expectations for awhile, so we can have a break. I grew more than a little uncomfortable at the overt display of this phenomena during the waning days of the NCAA tournament - when the Michigan State Spartans were converted by the media (and, of course, by some fans as well) from a basketball team into Detroit's and Michigan's one ray of hope and chance for salvation amongst the despair and poverty of America's economic downturn, blah blah blah blah blah...!

    Hello - McFly?! These are KIDS! Very young men - playing a game. It was nice to watch them play so well - and to see that team reach its full potential. In fact, I think they performed some magic for a few nights and played beyond what most people expected (even their supporters - including me). It's a beautiful thing to see athletes rise to a new level - to go where you didn't expect they could go.***

    Which brings us back to the Red Wings. They don't have that problem. Everybody (around here anyway) expects them to win the Stanley Cup. The guys on the team expect it too. And when your expectation is to be the best in the world, you're in a tight spot. There's little room for failure. It's all or nothing - all the time. The Wings have sustained an extremely high level of performance with that approach. And they have attracted great players who are willing to make LESS MONEY in order to, they hope, have a better shot at ultimate success.

    I guess it all depends on what you want. As yesterday's post tried to illustrate: If happiness is your ultimate goal, be careful what you hope for. But if you want to be the best...

    High expectations could really come in handy.

    Take care.

    *Anyone who wishes to point out that the playoffs actually began last night in Newark, Pittsburgh and Washington DC will be summarily ignored.
    ** This is especially true if you are male and live in a "sports town". I am and this is - but, thankfully, I'm nearly immune to peer pressure. (Years of practice.)
    *** The Spartans overachieved - and got steamrolled by a better team. That's no shame - that's sports. But if you're looking for salvation and rays of hope - get to a church or some other place of worship quick; read a book on Mother Theresa or MLK or Gandhi; take a quiet walk in the forest and meditate. I don't suggest watching basketball.

    Wednesday, April 15, 2009

    Burdened by expectation

    I've heard that this country is in decline because we keep lowering our standards. I hear we've grown accustomed to mediocrity - and have begun to accept it, even expect it - not only in those around us, but in ourselves. I can't even say that I disagree entirely with these sentiments (although any generalizations as sweeping as these are difficult to establish with facts and measurable data) - But...

    Even if I might tend to agree with these ideas, there is another aspect of any discussion on standards and expectation that I think must be considered; another perspective that I know absolutely - without need of statistics or expert testimony - to be true. I know it's true because I have experienced it myself time and again - and have seen it played out in the lives of those around me.

    The road to unhappiness is paved with unmet expectations.

    Now don't go jumping to conclusions on me - because, due to the folly of human nature, the reverse is NOT true: Meeting all expectations will not necessarily make you happy. Being happy is a whole different discussion (or, possibly, post) - which I don't intend to address here. For today, let's stick with considering the relationship between expectations and happiness.

    In simplest terms*, I would express the relationship in this way:

    The expectation of a good thing happening to me - has a direct relationship to my unhappiness (if the expectation is not met) and an inverse relationship to my happiness (if the expectation is met).
    Let's say that again in a different way:

    The more I expect a good thing to happen to me, the more unhappiness I will experience if that thing does not happen.
    And likewise -

    The more I expect a good thing to happen to me, the less happiness I will experience if that thing does happen (after all, I was expecting it to happen).
    Or, to put it one more way -

    The more unexpected a good thing is, the happier I will be if
    it occurs. (Who doesn't like a pleasant surprise?)
    If you agree with the basic premise, you can see that greater expectations have the overall impact of increasing unhappiness and decreasing happiness. On the street, we call that a lose-lose situation.

    I know I haven't discussed the impact of bad things happening - either expected or unexpected - but I think our reaction to those incidents is more complicated than I'll have time for in this post. Besides, the starting point for this rant was examining how the establishment of standards and expectations affects our happiness. That is, does setting goals and making plans for the future tend to make us happy or unhappy? Within that framework, addressing the impact of bad things happening doesn't seem relevant. I mean - who makes plans for bad things to happen? [Today, I will drive the car into a tree.] Or who sets a goal of breaking their leg in three places? [Broken in merely two places will not suffice, dammit!]

    So - does all this mean that I think people should avoid having goals, setting standards, and making plans? No way.

    But I do think we need to keep those things in perspective. And realize that they may be driving us crazy instead of enriching our lives.

    I expect that I may have more to say on the topic of expectations. (DOH!)
    Don't know whether you should expect it tomorrow though. I might have to post about hockey. Playoff hockey. In Detroit.

    What am I saying: Of course, I'll be posting more about expectations tomorrow. Who could be more burdened with expectations than a Detroit hockey fan in April?

    Take care.

    *It actually sounds like a damn logic text book - but it was the best I could do.

    Tuesday, April 14, 2009

    Steve Jobs is going to be p*ssed

    The Wells Fargo Wagon rolled into town today with my brand-new digital voice recorder.

    It's an Impecca MP-1845 Digital Media Player. And to commemorate this passing of an era, I submit for your consideration the photo at right showing my original PC microphone which I have been using to record my posts.* (I think that bad boy came with my very first PC - a Gateway G6-200 with a 200MHz Pentium Pro processor)

    Notice the cool windscreen that I selected for the mic. So sleek, so aerodynamic! And - that's right - it doubles as ammo for one of The Boy's foam rocket launchers! Haven't you always wanted to dictate into a foam rocket...ladies?

    And - what's this?! - is that an iPod being lovingly encircled by the (quaint) cord of the PC mic? (Come on - nobody uses a wired microphone anymore! Where's the Brittany Spears wireless headset?)

    No way - that's an ...

    Impecca MP-1845 Digital Media Player

    [I'm crapping you negative.]

    Clearly, the Chinese manufacturers of this device are not intimidated by the litigeous nature of US corporations. Otherwise, they might have done something to make it look less like an iPod. In any case, it is a 4GB digital media player that will play songs, store photos, function as a 4 GB USB hard drive, tune in FM radio, and make voice recordings - all for $29.99!

    And now - for the true test - I will record the audio for this blog post and see how The Blue Beast performs...

    [What for you is a few brief seconds will take me a few nail-biting minutes.]

    OK, I'll admit it - I'm underwhelmed. But it beats the alternatives (lugging a laptop around, hours spent troubleshooting the hum on my PC sound card). Anyway, we'll try this for a while, see how it goes.

    I don't know - maybe I'm still in the market for voice recorder.

    Take care.

    * all but two, I think; one from my BlackBerry and one done over the phone (today).

    Monday, April 13, 2009

    Keeping It Real on Monday Moanin'
    (or I plagiarized Bob Talbert)

    I had most of the day yesterday to work on a post but - frittered the time away watching the Masters, making and responding to blog comments, and sleeping. It was pretty cool.

    After last week, I am trying to set less lofty goals in the hope that I can exceed expectations (I'll have to dedicate a post or two to that whole idea). Anyway, the three things I really need to get done this week are:
    • Pay bills/balance the checking account
    • Provide remote support for the office move in Florida
    • Spend more time exercising / Wing Chun Do training
    I better get back to work.

    Take care.

    Sunday, April 12, 2009

    Easter Sunday
    (or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Resurrection)

    [ALERT: This post will make overt references to religious/spiritual subject matter. If that is of no interest or will offend you, hit the Back button on your browser while you still can. If I haven't scared you off yet, let me just say: This post is not an attempt to save your soul.]

    I know why religious people get such a bad rep - we earn it.

    If you're not into the whole God thing - and looking at people who are - it's got to seem pretty messed up at times. It seems that way to us (the God Squad) too sometimes. I think being a person of good conscience who tries to live by some sort of moral / ethical code is just difficult - period. And having two billion people* around the world who may believe (vaguely) the same things as you doesn't make it any easier. Those other one billion, nine hundred and ninety-nine million, nine hundred and ninety-nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine people aren't around when I have to face myself in the mirror each morning. And they're not going to be around when I take my last breath either. I like Sting's line from All This Time:

    Men go crazy in congregations - They only get better one by one**
    I don't expect that any of this is much consolation to a person that doesn't believe - and feels themselves bombarded by the ideas and opinions of those other two billion people. What's worse is when some segment of that large group feels they can look down upon the people who don't share their particular belief - seemingly unaware that, by thinking so highly of themselves and passing judgement on the others, they have abandoned the essence of what they say they believe in.

    In defense of those believers who strive to be more thoughtful, I will only repeat that - having faith is not easy. And there's no Cliff Notes version of the Bible available to help out either. (Although I have done some studying on world religions, I don't consider myself all that knowledgeable - so I'll try to speak about what I know.) The Bible and Christian theology contain plenty of (seemingly) contradictory ideas. Before I close, I'll offer just one example.

    Compare this:

    Luke 9:23-24

    Then he said to them all: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it."

    With this:

    Matthew 11:28-30

    "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

    I don't know about you - but based on those two passages, I don't find it easy to figure out whether this whole Christianity thing is supposed to be difficult or no sweat. So it doesn't surprise me that some believers can't figure out whether they're supposed to be hard-*sses - or begin passing out flowers and tie-dye shirts on street corners. I figure the percentage of stupid and/or lazy people is proportionally the same amongst those professing to be Christian as any other segment of the population. So I'm not shocked that there are people who, in their "easy faith", conduct themselves in a manner which does not reflect the spirit of the one they call Savior and Lord.

    Maybe this last bit will clarify the whole thing. Although there are contradictions, Jesus always seems to speak quite clearly in addressing the subject of self-righteousness; like in Luke 6:42, a particular favorite of mine:

    How can you say to your brother, 'Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,' when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.

    It's a full-time job just trying to keep my own eyes clear. I figure if my brother asks for a hand getting something out of his eye, I want to be ready.

    Take care.
    And for those of you so inclined - Happy Easter.

    * I don't see how anybody can know a precise figure for the number of Christians on the planet - but that's one I've seen at various places on the Internet that appeared reputable.
    **Congregations have their place IMO - but the "getting better" part is definitely a singular affair.

    Saturday, April 11, 2009

    Day off (or off day)

    Where I work, the office closes down on the afternoon of Good Friday. I haven't exactly been feeling 100% since about Tuesday morning, so I arranged with my boss to take off the entire day and get some extra rest. I did sleep in and loaf around a good portion of the day - but taking the day off doesn't necessarily have the result you might expect when you're a supervisor. That, combined with my damnable inclination toward productivity, combined to wreak havok on a day that should been filled with sleep and devoid of expectation.

    It started this wasy: Sometime during the last 24 hours, I learned that Jackson Browne would be performing at a local venue on July 27th - and that tickets would go on-sale at 10 am this morning. So, right away, I start formulating goals and expectations. I'm gonna coordinate with friends who I think will want to see the show and get us some good seats. It took three phone calls, three emails, one Internet snafu, plus one hundred and eighty-five American dollars to get me four tickets to the show. I normally would be pleased with such an industrious start to the day - but the bitter taste of "coulda-shoulda" was in my mouth. The aforementioned "Internet snafu" left me with four seats in Row W - instead of the ones in Row K that I was intially offered by Mr. TicketMaster. I got over it - but, in some ways, the theme for the day was set:
    It's not going to be everything you hoped for.

    I started to make some updates in my accounting software and paid some bills on-line (I'm two months behind in balancing accounts and I need to get caught up this weekend). After a while, I was thinking that I should stop fooling around on the computer and get in some quality time on the tread mill. Then I started to get hungry. I decided I didn't want to eat until after 3 pm - and I didn't want to work out on an empty stomach when I wasn't feeling my best - so I took a shower.*

    When I got out of the shower, The Boy (often referred to as 17-year-old Boy by MAW) asked if I would give him money to go golfing with his BFF this afternoon. Having seen his latest report card earlier in the day, I was not so inclined** (although later I did spring for him to have a late lunch/early dinner with his bud). And a few minutes later I started getting pages on my BlackBerry which, eventually, metamorphasized into phone calls regarding a network outage affecting our company's spam filtering service. That outage had cut off our flow of email to and from the Internet. (Good Lord! Is anyone still reading or listening to this drivel?! I'm not sure I'm even interested - and I lived it!)

    OK - so here's the point: I took the day off work - but didn't escape work. Both my "real job" (the stuff I get paid to do) and my self-imposed to-do list (balance the check book, exercise, work on my blog, etc) were nagging at me most of the day.

    The moral to the story?
    It wasn't my boss I needed to ask for time off -
    I needed to give myself permission.
    As Ron White would say:
    "That's a handy piece of information to have, right there."

    Take care.

    *Which may end up being the highlight of my day.
    **The most disappointing thing is: I know he's just not trying very hard in some classes.

    Friday, April 10, 2009

    Last supper

    [ALERT: This post will make overt references to religious/spiritual subject matter. If that is of no interest or will offend you, hit the Back button on your browser while you still can. If I haven't scared you off yet, let me offer a few words of reassurance: Don't worry - I'm not going to go all born-again Bob Dylan on you.]

    Well, aside from having a runny nose for the past few days, the week has gone - if not according to plan - at least, pretty much as expected. I went straight from work to the Maundy Thursday communion service tonight. It's a more intimate worship service than most. We sit at tables, sing bits of hymns a capella, and have a meal commemorating the Last Supper - not just bread (or wafers) and grape juice, like usual. There are raw vegetables (celery, carrots, sliced radish), fruit (grapes, dates, a strawberry), some parsley, a wheat cracker or bit of pita bread - foods to offer a range of tastes and textures: from sweet to bitter, soft to crunchy. The idea is to eat everything on your plate (I always do) - and I had a lot of parsley this year.

    In an earlier post, I pled guilty to not only participating in - but being enriched by - the competitive speech program at my high school. That, combined with my being an active member of my church since a young age (my mom was an inspiration in this area), gave me a unique appreciation for scripture as literature. I often considered fashioning a dramatic reading or a poetry script from the Bible. Reading scripture aloud is a great pleasure for me; and when I read it, I try tell it as a story, to adopt the persona of the characters in the narrative or the persons speaking. People have often told me that hearing the stories and the words of the Bible presented in that way help them to hear and (perhaps) understand it in a new way.

    Anyway, I hope you will forgive me if I read a few lines from the United Methodist liturgy that are running through my mind tonight.

    On the night in which he gave himself up for us
    he took bread, gave thanks,
    broke the bread
    gave it to his disciples and said:
    "Take, eat; this is
    my body which is given for you.
    Do this in remembrance of me."

    When the supper was over, he took the cup,
    gave thanks, gave it to his disciples
    and said:
    "Drink from this, all of you;
    this is my blood of the new
    poured out for you and for many
    for the forgiveness of sins.
    Do this, as often as you drink it,
    in remembrance of me."

    Thank you for your kind indulgence. Hope everyone has a wonderful weekend and - for those of you so inclined - a Happy Easter.

    Take care.

    Thursday, April 9, 2009

    Rampant consumerism

    I'm not proud to say it - but I have a lot of stuff. I have a lot more stuff than some of my friends - but not nearly as much as others. As I grow older, I try very hard to avoid buying more of it. I know I don't need more stuff - and I remind myself of that fact, in the hope that it will help me not to want more stuff. But I know I will buy some more stuff - and soon.

    The things I want right now are:
    a digital voice recorder and a big-screen TV.

    So the digital voice recorder thing is not so hard to justify. I almost need it. If I'm going to continue try to post in both written and spoken versions, I have got to find a more straight-forward way to get some decent-quality sound files to upload. I'm spending too much time doing tech-geek stuff - and not enough time writing.

    Don't get me wrong: I enjoy the tech-geek stuff. In fact, I love it! And therein lay the problem. I'm perfectly willing to spend a bunch of time doing that instead of generating new material - which is a bad trade. The end result is I'm staying up too late writing and recording blog posts and missing out on my beauty sleep (which, believe me, I need desperately just to maintain my current mediocrity of appearance). So I gotta pull the trigger this week and order a digital voice recorder that will save WAV files and connect via USB 2.0. The devices aren't that expensive - so I don't have to agonize too much over the decision. Recommendations welcome.

    The TV is a more delicate matter. I could never say (with a straight face) that I need a new TV. I currently own a 55" Toshiba that has served me well and faithfully for over 9 years now. But I have wanted a wide-screen TV since the time I bought the Toshiba. Wide-screen models were much more expensive than standard 4:3 sets when I made that purchase. HDMI wasn't around then - nor 1080p format TVs. I can get a HUGE wide-screen 1080p TV (anywhere from 61 - 73") for less money than I spent on my current set. I am leaning towards a DLP screen (a bit bulkier than plasma or LCD sets) due to the lower price point for large screen sizes and potential for a significantly longer lifespan. I really like some of the Samsung models I have seen on-line - but have been unable to view one at a local retailer.

    So I may buy a TV this week too. I don't know. I want to do my part to support the economic recovery. But I know I don't need more stuff.

    I just want more stuff. As Pooh would say: O bother!

    Take care.

    Wednesday, April 8, 2009

    By request: Oscar Meme

    OK, I'm not sure I can live up to the hype - but here's my list of Best Picture nominated viewings:

    1928- The Racket, 7th Heaven, Wings

    1929- Alibi, In Old Arizona, The Broadway Melody, Hollywood Revue, The Patriot

    1930- All Quiet on the Western Front, The Big House, Disraeli, The Divorcee, The Love Parade

    1931- Cimarron, East Lynne, The Front Page, Skippy, Trader Horn

    1932- Arrowsmith, Bad Girl, The Champ, Five Star Final, Grand Hotel, One Hour with You, Shanghai Express, The Smiling Lieutenant

    1933- Cavalcade, A Farewell to Arms, 42nd Street, I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang, Lady for a Day, Little Women, The Private Life of Henry VIII, She Done Him Wrong, Smilin' Through, State Fair

    1934- The Barretts of Wimpole Street, Cleopatra, Flirtation Walk, The Gay Divorcee, Here Comes the Navy, The House of Rothschild, Imitation of Life, It Happened One Night, One Night of Love, The Thin Man, Viva Villa!, The White Parade

    1935- Alice Adams, Broadway Melody of 1936, Captain Blood, David Copperfield, The Informer, Les Miserables, The Lives of a Bengal Lancer, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Mutiny on the Bounty, Naughty Marietta, Ruggles of Red Gap, Top Hat

    1936- Anthony Adverse, Dodsworth, The Great Ziegfeld, Libeled Lady, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Romeo and Juliet, San Francisco, The Story of Louis Pasteur, A Tale of Two Cities, Three Smart Girls

    1937- The Awful Truth, Captains Courageous, Dead End, The Good Earth, In Old Chicago, The Life of Emile Zola, Lost Horizon, One Hundred Men and a Girl, Stage Door, A Star Is Born

    1938- The Adventures of Robin Hood, Alexander's Ragtime Band, Boys Town, The Citadel, Four Daughters, Grand Illusion, Jezebel, Pygmalion, Test Pilot, You Can't Take It with You

    1939- Gone With The Wind, Dark Victory, Goodbye, Mr. Chips, Love Affair, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Ninotchka, Of Mice and Men, Stagecoach, The Wizard of Oz, Wuthering Heights

    1940- Rebecca, All This and Heaven Too, The Foreign Correspondent, The Grapes of Wrath, The Great Dictator, Kitty Foyle, The Letter, The Long Voyage Home, Our Town, The Philadelphia Story

    1941- How Green Was My Valley, Blossom in the Dust, Citizen Kane, Here Comes Mr. Jordan, Hold Back the Dawn, The Little Foxes, The Maltese Falcon, One Foot in Heaven, Sergeant York, Suspicion

    1942- Mrs. Miniver , 49th Parallel, Kings Row, The Magnificent Ambersons, The Pied Piper, The Pride of the Yankees, Random Harvest, The Talk of the Town, Wake Island, Yankee Doodle Dandy

    1943- Casablanca, For Whom the Bell Tolls, Heaven Can Wait, The Human Comedy, In Which We Serve, Madame Curie, The More the Merrier, The Ox-Bow Incident, The Song of Bernadette, Watch on the Rhine

    1944- Going My Way, Double Indemnity, Gaslight, Since You Went Away, Wilson

    1945- The Lost Weekend, Anchors Aweigh, The Bells of St. Mary's, Mildred Pierce, Spellbound

    1946- The Best Years of Our Lives, The Chronicle History of King Henry the Fift with His Battell Fought at Agincourt in France (Henry V), It's a Wonderful Life, The Razor's Edge, The Yearling

    1947- Gentleman's Agreement, The Bishop's Wife, Crossfire, Great Expectations, Miracle on 34th Street

    1948- Hamlet, Johnny Belinda, The Red Shoes, The Snake Pit, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

    1949- All the King's Men, Battleground, The Heiress, A Letter to Three Wives, Twelve O'Clock High

    1950- All About Eve, Born Yesterday, Father of the Bride, King Solomon's Mines,
    Sunset Blvd

    1951- An American in Paris, Decision Before Dawn, A Place in the Sun*, Quo Vadis, A Streetcar Named Desire

    1952- The Greatest Show on Earth, High Noon, Ivanhoe, Moulin Rouge, The Quiet Man

    1953- From Here to Eternity, Julius Caesar, The Robe, Roman Holiday, Shane

    1954- On the Waterfront, The Caine Mutiny, The Country Girl, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Three Coins in the Fountain

    1955- Marty, Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing, Mister Roberts, Picnic, The Rose Tattoo

    1956- Around the World in Eighty Days, Friendly Persuasion, Giant, The King and I, The Ten Commandments

    1957- The Bridge on the River Kwai, 12 Angry Men, Peyton Place, Sayonara, Witness for the Prosecution

    1958- Gigi, Auntie Mame, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Defiant Ones, Separate Tables

    1959- Ben-Hur, Anatomy of a Murder, The Diary of Anne Frank, The Nun's Story, Room at the Top

    1960- The Apartment, The Alamo, Elmer Gantry, Sons and Lovers, The Sundowners

    1961- West Side Story, Fanny, The Guns of Navarone, The Hustler, Judgment at Nuremberg

    1962- Lawrence of Arabia, The Longest Day, The Music Man, Mutiny on the Bounty, To Kill a Mockingbird

    1963- Tom Jones, America, America, Cleopatra, How the West Was Won, Lilies of the Field

    1964- My Fair Lady, Alexis Zorbas, Becket, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, Mary Poppins

    1965- The Sound of Music, Darling, Doctor Zhivago , Ship of Fools, A Thousand Clowns

    1966- A Man for All Seasons, Alfie, The Russians Are Coming the Russians Are Coming, The Sand Pebbles, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

    1967- In the Heat of the Night, Bonnie and Clyde, Doctor Dolittle, The Graduate, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner

    1968- Oliver!, Funny Girl, The Lion in Winter, Rachel, Rachel, Romeo and Juliet

    1969- Midnight Cowboy, Anne of the Thousand Days, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Hello, Dolly! , Z

    1970- Patton, Airport, Five Easy Pieces, Love Story, MASH

    1971- The French Connection, A Clockwork Orange, Fiddler on the Roof, The Last Picture Show, Nicholas and Alexandra

    1972- The Godfather, Cabaret, Deliverance, Sounder, The Emigrants

    1973- The Sting, American Graffiti, The Exorcist, A Touch of Class, Cries and Whispers

    1974- The Godfather: Part II, Chinatown, The Conversation, Lenny, The Towering Inferno

    1975- One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Barry Lyndon, Dog Day Afternoon, Jaws, Nashville

    1976- Rocky, All The President's Men, Bound for Glory, Network, Taxi Driver

    1977- Annie Hall, The Goodbye Girl, Julia, Star Wars, The Turning Point

    1978- The Deer Hunter, Coming Home, Heaven Can Wait, Midnight, An Unmarried Woman

    1979- Kramer vs. Kramer, All That Jazz, Apocalypse Now, Breaking Away, Norma Rae

    1980. Ordinary People, Coal Miner’s Daughter, The Elephant Man, Raging Bull, Tess

    1981. Chariots of Fire, Reds, Atlantic City, On Golden Pond, Raiders of the Lost Ark

    1982. Gandhi, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Missing, Tootsie, The Verdict

    1983. Terms of Endearment, The Big Chill, The Dresser, The Right Stuff, Tender Mercies

    1984. Amadeus, The Killing Fields, A Passage to India, Places in the Heart, A Soldier’s Story

    1985. Out of Africa, The Color Purple, Kiss of the Spider Woman, Prizzi’s Honor, Witness

    1986. Platoon, Children of a Lesser God, Hannah and Her Sisters, The Mission, A Room with a View

    1987. The Last Emperor, Broadcast News, Fatal Attraction, Hope and Glory, Moonstruck

    1988. Rain Man, The Accidental Tourist, Dangerous Liaisons, Mississippi Burning, Working Girl

    1989. Driving Miss Daisy, Born on the Fourth of July, Dead Poets Society, Field of Dreams, My Left Foot

    1990. Dances with Wolves, Awakenings, Ghost, The Godfather Part III, Goodfellas

    1991. The Silence of the Lambs, Beauty and the Beast, Bugsy, JFK, The Prince of Tides

    1992. Unforgiven, The Crying Game, A Few Good Men, Howards End, Scent of a Woman

    1993. Schindler’s List, The Fugitive, In the Name of the Father, The Piano, The Remains of the Day

    1994. Forrest Gump, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Pulp Fiction, Quiz Show, The Shawshank Redemption

    1995. Braveheart, Apollo 13, Babe, Il Postino (The Postman), Sense and Sensibility

    1996. The English Patient, Fargo, Jerry Maguire, Secrets & Lies, Shine

    1997. Titanic, As Good as It Gets, The Full Monty, Good Will Hunting, L.A. Confidential

    1998. Shakespeare in Love, Elizabeth, Life Is Beautiful (La vita รจ bella), Saving Private Ryan, The Thin Red Line

    1999. American Beauty, The Cider House Rules, The Green Mile, The Insider, The Sixth Sense

    2000. Gladiator, Chocolat, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Erin Brockovich, Traffic

    2001. A Beautiful Mind, Gosford Park, In the Bedroom, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Moulin Rouge!

    2002. Chicago, Gangs of New York, The Hours, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, The Pianist

    2003. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Lost in Translation, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, Mystic River, Seabiscuit

    2004. Million Dollar Baby, The Aviator, Finding Neverland, Ray, Sideways

    2005. Crash, Brokeback Mountain, Capote, Good Night and Good Luck, Munich

    2006. The Departed, Babel, Letters from Iwo Jima, Little Miss Sunshine, The Queen

    2007. No Country for Old Men, Atonement, Juno, Michael Clayton, There Will Be Blood

    2008. Slumdog Millionaire, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon, Milk, The Reader

    Haven't been feeling good today - so no audio accompaniment. I'll try to record a director's commentary for this post once I'm feeling better.

    Take care.

    *currently on loan from Netflix for imminent viewing

    Tuesday, April 7, 2009

    The perils of multi-tasking

    The other day while I was browsing the web, dialed in to a conference call, watching the hockey game and cleaning my oven, I had this thought: I wondered if I'd be deriving a greater benefit from some (if not all) of these experiences, if I was doing fewer things all at once. Now I know you're saying to yourself: This guy doesn't have a self-cleaning oven? But let's not miss the point here - people these days are just trying to do too many things at once (particularly while they're operating a motor vehicle).

    A large portion of the populace seems convinced that multi-tasking is, by definition, a good thing. But I am not convinced. Although my schedule is (totally) out of control, I do not plan to do multiple things at once. I may be forced to that extreme on occasion - and I like listening to a sporting event while I eat or do some work on my PC as much as anybody - but there are many activities that I feel should receive a person's undivided attention.

    For example:

    1. Driving is an endeavor that should never be paired with any other activity that requires the use of body parts other than the mouth or ears. There are rare exceptions (I will occasionally eat in the car on a long road trip) - but the application of makeup, composition of text messages and dialing of a phone (without benefit of hands-free technology) are all serious violations of this rule.

    2. While reading or watching a movie can (generally) be paired with other activities without presenting any significant safety hazard (unless paired with operation of a motor vehicle or heavy machinery; see Rule #1 above) - why would you want to do such a thing? To really savor a book or film, I think you need to immerse yourself in it - and that's tough to do while you're talking on the phone, paying the bills or even doing the laundry. [Note: If you are re-reading a story or watching a movie you've seen many times, these rules may not necessarily apply.]

    3. Televisions do not deserve the same amount of attention as people. So if you are entertaining (or even have unexpected guests) and you have not gathered for the expressed purpose of watching TV - turn off the tube. Unless I'm eating by myself (or am in the presence of others who desire to watch with me), I would never turn on a television during a meal. I get frustrated with myself when I am in a restaurant that has lots of TVs - and can't stop myself from getting distracted by a program (sports mostly - or one of those swimsuit model specials) instead of having some conversation with my companions. It's just a bad habit - and poor manners, as well.

    Don't worry - I feel this rant coming to a close. I hope I haven't done a disservice to this topic in my (hopefully) humorous approach. I do think that we have "over-valued" multi-tasking - taking a concept that may work well for machines and attempting to apply it to human endeavors, where it can be poorly suited. Do we see the repercussions in different ways - shortening attention spans, emphasis on speed and quantity over precision and quality, the overthrow of small Latin American countries by the foot-soldiers of a clandestine shadow government? (Just wanted to see if anyone was still paying attention.)

    Ask yourself one last question: If you want to improve - if you want to get really good at doing something - do you focus on that one thing and expend your energy and attention in that pursuit? Or do you try to do several things all at once?

    Me? I'll put it this way.
    I don't think those Cosmo cover girls are putting their makeup on in the car.

    Take care.

    Hey Spartans - thanks for the ride. It was fun. Congratulations on a fantastic season.

    Monday, April 6, 2009

    How the mighty have fallen behind

    Saturday morning, I was riding high. My post for Sunday was nearly complete and I was planning to get a day ahead on my composition before the weekend was out. But since then, I've spent too much time watching basketball, looking at big-screen TVs, doing my Mom's tax return and remoting my PC at the office - and no time writing.

    So this is the sort of post you get from a man who has fallen behind - part excuse, part to-do list. Here's what the week ahead looks like for me:
    • Board meeting at the Youth Theater Monday night. I'm an amatuer actor pretending to be a Board president - or I'm a Board president pretending to be an actor. (I'm getting sleepy, so it's a little confusing.) Need to make sure the meeting doesn't run too long so I can get home to watch the NCAA basketball championship game. Go Spartans!
    • Martial arts training Tuesday night (if I don't work to late). I'm trying hard to train twice a week.
    • Wednesday: Martial arts training (if I miss on Tuesday). Otherwise, I'm planning to relax a bit - watch a movie and/or read - and write a post or two.
    • Thursday night - Communion service at church. Meeting the Spinners afterward for some male-bonding.
    • Friday: Half-day at work (may take the whole day off if I can). Singing with the Gospel Choir at Good Friday service in the evening. Hope to get in some extended time writing blog posts and/or relaxing.
    • Saturday: Martial arts training in the morning. Lunch with the kung fu crowd. Choir practice at 2 PM. Video editing with Sibok Roc in the later afternoon.
    • Sunday: Easter!

    I'm planning to purchase a digital voice recorder* and/or big-screen TV to celebrate. The purchases are in no way related, so don't hurt yourself trying to find a common thread.

    Anyway, it promises to be a busy week (as usual). Wish me luck. Here's hoping that this week, we can all get done the things that really need to get done - and not get overly excited about items of little consequence.

    Take care.

    *Experimented with recording today's post on my BlackBerry with a piece of software called VR+. Based on the results, I will need to purchase the digital voice recorder sooner rather than later.

    Sunday, April 5, 2009

    Time: the Trade-Off

    Some people who have seen my live show* are already familiar with (ah hem!) my theory (which is mine) on the compression of time. I was expounding on it to our friends, Leslie and Larry, during the drive down to Florida in February (readers of the Middle-Aged Woman already know a bit about this trip) and our conversation turned to this question:

    If that is how Time works (or, If that is how we experience Time), what can a person do savor time? (How) can you slow Time down a little - at least the good parts?

    One strategy is to seek out new and/or intense experiences. I think some people approach their lives in this way - whether or not they do so deliberately. Don't you know someone (or are you yourself the type of person) who always wants to do something they have never done before - or tries to "push the envelope" in the routine experiences of life (driving faster, drinking more, eating exotic meals)? While this behavior may be motivated by other agendas, I think one effect is to help slow down time.

    But for lots of people, dealing with change is more a love-hate relationship. We may like the idea of doing new and (what we hope to be) interesting new things - but uncertainty and, perhaps, even fear creep in to stifle our sense of adventure. Some of us are just more comfortable sticking with what we know; we relax into our "comfort zone" - and the idea of trying something new is not more attractive than the lure of the people, places and things to which we have grown accustomed.** I don't see anything wrong with that - but I do think it's important to have a sense of your own preferences - so you can make wise choices in how to spend your time.

    The other end of the spectrum is a lifestyle where change is sought out for its own sake - doing different things simply because they are different. My personal preferences toward sticking with established routine probably show through in this post. But I truly believe that either extreme (comfort zone vs. rolling stone) has the potential pitfall of missing out on some aspect of life's richness.

    Those who constantly seek out change must, it seems to me, regularly change their surroundings (move to new cities, change jobs, breakup with old partners and find new ones) to furnish themselves with unique experiences. But this ignores the fact that some experiences can only be shared by people who have a long-term relationship. You can't manufacture a history. You can't conjure up a shared past (with its joys, sorrows and dreams) in a few days or weeks. It takes...time.

    But one thing we can all do is: strive to see the people, places and things around us with fresh eyes. I think living in a place where the four seasons bring themselves to bear each year helps me to do that. And Spring is a good time to remember to look at things closely again - and try to see them the way you did the first time you looked. It may not be easy to do - but I think its worth the effort.

    And, who knows? It may even slow the clock down a little.

    Take care. ***

    *That is, my friends - the people see me in the flesh on a regular basis (God help 'em).
    **I really wanted to dangle a participle there - you can scarcely imagine how much I wanted to.

    *** Go Green. Go White. Go Spartans!

    Saturday, April 4, 2009

    Time the Compressor*

    "Time isn't holding us, Time isn't after us"

    Do you ever feel that, as you grow older, time is accelerating? Consider the way we frequently talk about the passage of time. "I can't believe it's April already!" "The year just flew by." "Was it that long ago? It seems like it happened just last week." (You get the idea.) It's very common for folks to comment on the speedy passage of time, wondering "where the time has gone" and such.

    Well, friends - I've got that all figured out. And I'm willing to share the secret with you.

    My theory (which, as Ann Elk pointed out, is mine) is that our minds compress - not time itself, of course** - but how we experience the passage of time. Since I'm a computer geek, my illustration uses the example of how data is compressed when creating a ZIP file (to store multiple and/or large data files) or an MP3 audio file. The compression software takes the original data, removes the "empty" spaces. and finds certain bits of the data or sounds in the music that are (almost) exactly alike. It retains all of the unique bits of data in the file and only stores pointers to the other parts that are repeated in the original file - so that when the file is decompressed, all the data can be placed back in its original sequence.

    [Note: For all you readers who know more about data compression than I do - my intention in the paragraph above is merely to provide a frame of reference for my theory (which, as I pointed out previously, is mine) - not to completely or with great precision describe how data compression works. If you interested in critiquing the theory as a whole - cool; but don't bother pointing out how I really don't understand data compression - 'cause I don't care.]

    [For all the rest of you: Sorry for the digression.]

    I believe our minds compress time in a similar fashion - by eliminating the parts where "nothing is happening" and where the same thing happens repeatedly.

    Consider the repetitious nature of nearly everyone's normal routine. You eat, you sleep, you work, you brush your teeth (regularly, I hope) - for better or worse, these activities fill a good portion of our days. They may even be enjoyable - but often they tend to blend together from one day to the next. Sure - you may have a great meal, a productive day at work or a particularly satisfying bowel movement - but how much different is the experience from the one last week or last year?

    I submit that our minds, in effect, lump these similar experiences together - so that as we grow older, we feel a sense that time has passed more quickly.

    Before I close for today, consider one more idea: What things do you tend to remember vividly? The first time you did something, the last time you did that same thing, an intense experience you had, the unique or extreme experiences of your life. And for many of us, I think the initial impressions of an experience are the most intense and long-lasting (your first kiss, your first date, your first breakup). These things all happen when we are relatively young - and so time may not seem to pass as quickly - for there are fewer experiences that can be compressed. When you're a kid, it takes FOREVER for Christmas to get here.

    But not anymore.

    To some of you my theory may seem to be pretty depressing. But if I'm right - and we now understand how this whole "experiencing time" thing works - we may be able to do something about it.

    I plan to talk about that tomorrow.

    Take care.

    *apologies to Chrissy Hynde

    ** I think individual experiences may seem to slow down or speed up time in a different way and for different reasons. But that's another post entirely.