Monday, January 18, 2016

Another Piece of the Pie


Don McLean's classic, "American Pie," has been the subject of interpretation and reinterpretation since its release almost 45 years ago. Some verses are not very thinly veiled (the "girl who sang the blues" likely refers to Janice Joplin, for example), while others are much more cryptic. McLean himself famously will not reveal what the lyrics meant to him when he wrote them, saying instead that they mean whatever we (the audience) believes they mean. Fair enough, such is art. But the overall theme of the song, especially when taken in context with McLean’s history and other professed beliefs, speaks of a theme we hear a lot of - especially during election time.

The song is a lament, a funeral oration - it is mourning the passing of a happier, purer time. It memorializes the post-war 50s and the "good times" that disappeared in the 60s. The turning point, for McLean, was "the day the music died, but the plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper is simply a place holder. However, if you weren't male, white and Christian, the 50s were not so great for you. The strides made in the 60s and since, although they came with a great deal of upheaval and even though some things - some would argue some good things - were lost along the way, were absolutely necessary for this nation to live by what its founding documents say. However, by 1971 when “American Pie” was released, McLean (and others) had had enough. Some, like Nixon and his "silent majority," tried to regain what was lost. Others, like McLean, were more realistic. McLean's response was his famous funeral oration. For him, the day the music died was the day America died - at least the Utopian America he believed existed in his youth.

Still, the song does what all good art does - it opens a new perspective. It means different things to different people and what those things are depends significantly on what we experienced in the years of our lives. It places a lens on the past and offers a vision to the future. And that interpretation (if it is really good art) is open to multiple reinterpretations. So it has been for me with "American Pie." While I can certainly see how McLean and others feel as though the idealism so often cast into the 50s was lost to the 60s, it is also worth noting that that Utopian idealism is more fabrication than it is reality. If everything was so great for everyone, the 60s would have looked just like the 50s, and, truth be told, rock would be, in fact, quite dead. By the time 1960 rolled around, the dripping sweet, substance free music was already being panned as vacuous and a passing fad. In the meantime, real serious things were going on in the world.

There are numerous accounts in “American Pie” of musicians who have passed – and prophetically, at least one who would be shot down in his prime in the coming years. Some died due to their own excesses, others for other reasons, but none died from old age. None died a “natural” death (as though any death could be anything but natural). With them and the many other artists of all stripes who have passed since, their talent and their continued work necessarily died with them. And, as these early rockers age, they are beginning to succumb to “old age” as well. But there is something in McLean’s masterpiece that he fails to grip, something that is also true of “American Pie.” The art itself lives on. It is true of “American Pie” already. Those who listen today can find much more recent events to link its metaphors to and, likewise, find within its lyrics an entirely different and, hopefully, more optimistic future ahead.
http://www.foxnews.com/entertainment/2016/01/18/american-pie-singer-don-mclean-reportedly-arrested-for-domestic-violence/ 
For Mclean, however, it could be that parts of the 50s (and earlier) are not so easily set aside. Although this recent turn of events does not mean, in and of itself, that misogyny is part of what McLean is mourning, it is true that misogyny was but one of the many paradigms the 60s helped to redefine. No, this recent turn of events might not mean anything at all in terms of life then and life now. It could just mean that McLean is an asshole. I guess that is up to us (the audience) to decide that as well.



Thursday, December 31, 2015

Another Banner Year


I started writing this blog in December 2005. In fact, my “blogoversary” (don’t judge me, I didn’t coin that term) was on December 18th with “My First Blog Entry – Ever!” That post and these past ten years overall are a time capsule of sorts. This was never intended to be that; it was never intended to be anything, at least not anything I could put my finger on. It was just something I decided to do (that happens a lot in my life – it’s not always a good thing). In rereading that first post, all of my naiveté, my enthusiasm, my not-so-youthful exuberance and my inexperience all shine through. I have written more than 550 original posts since that day – hundreds of thousands of words – and all are part of me. I have written the vast majority of my words in the past 12 years, only some of which are posted in my blog. Much of that work can be found in the various newspapers I once worked for, some in the academic papers I’ve written (some of which were accepted for presentation at regional and national academic conferences), some of my words are hand-written and lost forever and, of course, since Facebook has conquered the world, much can be found there as well. In my second post I revealed why I named this blog “The 25 Year Plan” and why I started it in the first place. I also revealed more about myself and in doing so I set one of the more particular, more defined directions this body of work would take. Reflection.

The subtitle for this blog is “Perspectives, Purpose & Opinion.” While it still is certainly that, it was much more so in the earlier years. In more recent years it is more about my life and what it all means than anything else. To be clear, I’ll write about anything and post it here, but I don’t write just for the sake of writing like I used to. I wasn’t exactly young when I started this and I am ten years older now – my idealism is heavily tempered by realism. Furthermore, the blog forum, or what it once was anyway, has been usurped by more sound-bite sized Facebook posts. I am “accused” of writing too much (or using too many words, or taking too much of others’ time, or whatever…) on Facebook often enough to notice it. But it seems that prior to the globalization of the world through Facebook, the “blogosphere” (again, not my term) was the place to get deep and really think about what our positions are… and why. It was the critical thinker’s version of online discussion and, for the most part, is was also civil. However, I have written blog-sized Facebook posts and I do get a fair number of readers who actually do engage with what I write. Civil discussions often ensue. It is good. But returning to what this blog is about in its current manifestation, I’d say it’s that middle term in the subtext, “purpose.”

The term, “blog,” is actually a consolidation of two words, “web” and “log.” A “log” is an accounting, a record of what has transpired; the term can be captured in a line often heard from Captain James T. Kirk in Star Trek – “Captain’s Log, Stardate 93601.3” A blog, therefore, is an online journal. At least that what they started out as. This one still is and, to a certain extent, is even more so today. That purpose written into the subtitle is most often revealed through reflection and, for me, the best way to access that is by writing. Subsequently and instantly sharing my thoughts with the world through the quasi-magic of the Internet doesn’t change the real magic created by the written words. Like Captain Kirk’s log, my blog (and other writing) tells me where I’ve been and helps me understand what it means. It is about discovering that elusive purpose.

As today is the final day of 2015, it is appropriate to look back over the previous year and give it some context. While I haven’t done a year-end reflection faithfully here, I have, in some way and in some place written something about every year for the past several years. Since I really started to write in mid-2003, my life has been pretty amazing – and amazing is not necessarily amazingly good. It was for a while. For a few years in a row I would write that “This past year has been the best year ever, and next year looks even better.” And then the next year was – until it wasn’t. In my reflection last year, I realized I turned a corner that I predicted would happen a year prior, but that prior year and the one or two before were not good years. The details can be gleaned from my past writings, it serves no purpose to go into it here, but it is worth noting that all the turmoil I either created or walked into (some of both) came… and left. And when it left it left me a little beaten, a little bruised, a little stronger and a whole lot wiser. Did I want to be stronger and wiser? To be perfectly honest, I could have done without the pain and what came from it, but since I cannot go back in time and change anything, at least I did gain some more perspective, some more purpose and formed a number of new opinions. This year started off with some challenges and some new hurdles came along as the year progressed – nothing really new under the sun there – but like 2014 was, and faithful to my prediction that 2015 would be, it has come to pass. This has been a very good year and… 2016 looks like it will be even better.

Peace.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Ghost Towns


I’ve been doing some cyber housecleaning lately. That includes moving and reconfiguring various things ranging from the physical hardware components of my electronic “self” to the intangible binary ones and zeroes that combine in infinite combinations to constitute the vastness of my recorded experience. Just as an aside, as vast as that vastness is, it is but a drop in the bucket of my overall life experience. That is, what is held in my physiological, emotional and spiritual databases exceeds by many orders of magnitude my experience stored as electromagnetic ones and zeroes on electronic storage devices. But that’s not what this is about. Despite my cyber-life being a small fraction of my life overall, it is still a huge amount of what we understand to be data in the age of information. Moving it, reorganizing it, and ever so cautiously deleting much of it turned out to be all consuming, not just time consuming. Added to this task one must also consider the various and sundry virtual rabbit holes that demand to be explored… the adventure becomes almost real.

For the last couple of hours I have been in one such rabbit hole. It used to have a name – it was once called the “Blogosphere.” Not unlike Alice’s Wonderland, this blog-world has many curious things in it. It is an old world, almost ancient when placed into its Internet evolutionary place. It is also an eerie, odd place. It is a place I once new very well, but like so much else of late, the Blogosphere is barely recognizable to me anymore. It is evolving and its ancient remnants are disappearing, disintegrating, decomposing. Even the name, “Blogosphere,” no longer means anything to those who were not there. And like it, we are disappearing, too. No, we are not generally so old yet to be physically dying off like the civilizations of antiquity, but with the new, we are abandoning - we have abandoned - the old. And all that data… That indestructible data that was supposed to be immune to the deterioration of time – no pages to rot, no ink to fade, instant, error free and precise replication. We created a form of data storage and transmission that would never fade away. And yet, the Blogosphere, like Myspace, Tripod, Compuserve, AOL, and the computer bulletin boards of the early Internet are not just fading from memory; they are fading completely, physically.

That’s where this particular rabbit hole led me today. I was walking through the blog wasteland, pouring through old bookmarks – some almost ten years old now, and finding too much death, too much desertion, too much decay. The Blogosphere as I once knew it is all but dead, replaced now by “blogs” that are nothing more than any other website. I remember seeing it coming. I remember when adding links, pictures, sound, and other now very elementary objects to blogs took a considerable amount of know-how and effort. And I remember when progress came. It came slowly at first; we could “drag and drop” a photo into our text. Hyperlinks, imbedded video and advertisements came along and, like a snowball barreling down a mountainside, the “progress” could not be stopped. Soon, other platforms entirely replaced blogs and even mainstay blogs like Blogger and Wordpress became yet another “user-friendly” platform to build a website. And, let us not forget the ultimate in efficiency and utility, Facebook. Now anything longer than a one-minute video, a collection of any more than four of five pictures and certainly anything more than 20 words is too much to be bothered with, especially when the next item in the “newsfeed” will take only 3.4 seconds to consume.

I have a list of links to blogs I used to frequent on a regular basis. The authors of those blogs would visit mine regularly as well. The Blogosphere was more of a Blogoverse with various discrete communities, or Blogospheres, populating it. Every different community had its own character and not unlike the real world, there was plenty of intersection amongst various different communities. After just now visiting those in my community, I have found that most have moved away - and many without a trace. A handful still have a presence on the Internet, their sites are still there, but they were left abandoned with no new activity for the past three, four, five or more years. Some left a “farewell” post with a forwarding address consisting of their Facebook profiles. Others indicate they have created new blogs, the links to which are equally dead. Some URLs are “for sale” and some forward to non-existent places or, weirder still, foreign language sites that have seemingly nothing to do with the URL or the name of the site. Squatters have taken over, or, perhaps it is the cyber equivalent of overgrown foliage taking over a once thriving homestead. For the most part, my old neighborhood is a ghost town.

This is progress. I am as much a part of this mass migration away from this pivotal Internet building block as I was a contributor to its creation. My last post in this blog, The 25 Year Plan (now just shy of its 10th anniversary), was last June. Prior to that, I was more prolific than in recent years, but of the 550+ posts written since this blog’s inception, the vast majority were written in the first five years. I have not visited another blog on my “blogroll” (my “neighbors”) in many, many months, probably some years. And I cannot remember the last time I read a post or left a comment on someone else’s blog. Progress. For my part, I do not limit my Facebook presence to sound-bite sized posts, although many are. I remember where I came from, I value the power of the written word. In owe much to the Blogosphere and my neighbors there. Some moved to Facebook, too, and we are “friends” there. But I bet they would tell you it’s not the same.

For many, it is difficult, perhaps even inconceivable to imagine that a platform such as Facebook will ever be relegated to an Internet ghost town. And maybe, just maybe Mark Zuckerberg found that perfect formula that will stand the test of time. I wouldn’t bet on it, though. Something different, probably even easier and faster than Facebook will come down the pike. It will probably, with the speed of technology today, happen even faster than anyone can predict. It will blindside us. Many will find themselves wandering around the Facebook ghost town, much like the Myspace ghost towns today, wondering what happened. It’s progress.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Jack of all Trades, Master of Some


This LinkedIn update is intended for potential employers. Since I am currently seeking employment, it is reasonable to expect potential employers to look here and other places in which I have an online presence. While much of my writing, research, interests and perhaps a little too much of my personal life over the last ten years can be found by a simple search of my name (the top three hits in a recent Google search return my LinkedIn profile, my blog site and my Facebook profile), there is much more to my story than what can be found by clicking those links. LinkedIn reveals my basic biographical information, my blog showcases a specific style of my writing (but requires much more time to digest than a busy hiring manager has), and my Facebook profile is largely private unless one is in my “friends” list. But even if it was all was public, my story, as depicted online, is fragmented, disjointed and incomplete. This essay cannot even begin to fill in the gaps, but it can offer some context, it can help put a frame around what many consider to be an “interesting life;” it is designed to both mitigate any negative preconceptions as well as promote myself as a hard-working, creative, intelligent, compassionate and driven asset to any employer.

On October 17th, 2000, I was involved in a violent head-on collision that nearly took my life. I not only could have died, according to many, I should have. While I have no clear memory of that incident almost 15 years ago, I clearly remember regaining consciousness in the hospital five weeks later. Up until that time, my employment history entailed several jobs that spanned everything from manual labor to upper management in a Silicon Valley tech firm. I fixed cars, worked sheet metal, tuned microwave electronics, developed new products for that tech firm before moving into the marketing manager position for that same company, built and configured personal computers, worked as a machinist/model maker and, at the time of my accident, I was running a cellular phone store when digital cellular was still relatively new. Experience and specific vocational educational targets, along with learning my craft as I worked was sufficient to not only secure employment, but also excel at everything I undertook. My brush with death stopped me in my tracks and it would be almost three years before I was rehabilitated enough to begin my life again. I was 40 years old.

I discovered the job market changed in ways that were completely unfamiliar to me in just three years. For the first time in my life I was not able to secure employment easily, at will. Indeed, I was not able to secure it at all. The economy, a three-year gap in my employment history and the lack of a college degree compelled me to return to college in the fall of 2003. I have been there ever since. In the winter of 2007 I was awarded a BA in government-journalism from California State University, Sacramento (magna cum laude) and during that time, in a way that paralleled my former employment opportunities, turned a journalism internship into a part-time job. While that job was amongst the most personally rewarding I have ever had, it was not sufficiently financially rewarding. I decided to go back to school to earn a master’s degree in communication studies. My plan upon graduation was to secure full-time employment as a professor while still writing news part-time. I taught at CSUS while working on my MA, but instead of entering the “real world” upon completion of my MA, I applied for doctoral programs at several universities. I accepted an offer from Louisiana State University in the fall of 2011. Until last June, I was living in Baton Rouge, LA while teaching and studying at LSU.

After four years at LSU, my doctoral coursework is complete. I plan to have a dissertation ready to defend at some point in 2016. I have taught hundreds of students at both LSU and CSUS in many of the various arts and sciences found under the umbrella of “communication studies.” My students found in me what any potential employer will also find – an individual who brings a breadth of experience into everything he does. I am equally comfortable in the classroom, the boardroom and the garage. My forté is not just the ability to communicate effectively, but to do so with an ethos my target audience can identify with. Furthermore, through my research – not specifically what I have researched, but rather the fact that I have extensive experience with research - I am able to learn and understand complex ideas quickly and, most importantly, analyze, synthesize and present those ideas coherently in terms that others can easily understand.

Finally, it is important to say a few words about not my words found on the Internet, but my pictures. My profile picture for LinkedIn is a “head shot” taken by a photographer for Prosper Magazine when I was one of several student bloggers chosen to cover the Perspectives 2006 event in Sacramento, CA. While I am dressed professionally, and although I was working in a professional, albeit unpaid, capacity, some might view my hair style as anything but professional. It should come as no surprise that I respectfully disagree; however, I am not blind to the realities of the world. A potential employer might find this essay compelling, could see my experience – educational, professional and personal – as a valuable asset to his or her organization, but might also feel that my appearance is not in line with what that organization is trying to portray. I’ll be perfectly honest here. I have had long hair most of my life. I don’t know why, but it seems to be an extension of my creativity. Having said that, I am not Samson. Cutting my hair does not in any way diminish who I am, what I can do or my value. If offered a job, my hair is on the table, so to speak.

Now more than 1,000 words into this work, I would hope that any potential employer who has read thus far is interested in what I could bring to any organization. It is perhaps serendipitous that George Anders’ article in Forbes Magazine, “That 'Useless' Liberal Arts Degree Has Become Tech's Hottest Ticket,” ran yesterday. I am looking for work; I look forward to the opportunity to apply my “interesting life” in a meaningful way.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

When Things are Cool


I have been back home in California for about two weeks now. I retook possession of my house in the unincorporated Sacramento suburb of Fair Oaks a about a week ago. Although I have been home for some time now, the moving-in process has taken - and will take  - a while. This is a luxury – most moves have a finite window where all stuff must be packed, transferred and unpacked within a certain (usually short) time frame. I have time. Time to resettle. Time to reestablish connections. Time relearn the lay of the land. Time to assess to the various and sundry interpersonal dynamics that I am connected with. Time to observe those I am not connected to. Time. For the time being, lots of it.

This time, however, does not come without its costs. It feels like an undeserved vacation in some ways. And, as far as vacations are concerned, this would be a “working vacation,” except that I do not have a job. I have work to do, plenty of it, but it is not work in the traditional sense – traditional meaning that I get paid for it. I am unemployed by design (in part), but uncomfortably so. It’s been a while since I have been so gainfully unemployed and I didn’t think it would feel like this. And “this” is, at best, uncomfortable.

But it is temporary. Soon enough I’ll be working full-time in some as yet unknown capacity while working on completing my dissertation. For those who have been following along – yep, it’s not done yet. It’s really hardly even started. I’ve gone from being excited about doing it to not even wanting to do it to where I am right now - needing to know if it’s even in me. For better or for worse, the only way to know that is to do it. But there is more to it than that. Completing a PhD is, for someone like me, a veritable miracle. It wasn’t supposed to happen. It was not not in the cards, the deck didn’t even exist. It is my personal holy grail – and I can almost touch it.

I spent the entire last year not writing my dissertation. It’s not entirely unheard of, but the odds are that those who do not finish while they are at school (as opposed to those who go elsewhere or home to “finish”) are much less likely to ever complete. I don’t have those stats handy, I cannot offhand cite any studies, but they do exist and, moreover, it makes sense. But there are those who do finish despite the odds. My guess is that they are the ones who have been regularly defying the odds their entire lives. I know I have. We are the ones who are forever presenting researchers with those pesky “outliers;” we are the ones who prevent them from saying things like “all,” “always,” “none” or “never.”

So, as I reflect on what I just wrote, I wonder what it is all about. I mean, I am the author – I should know, right? I don’t. I am trying to get a grip on life, a life that at present is unusually calm, drama-free and serene. I don’t expect it to last (we odds-beaters tend to do everything the hard way), but for now things are cool. Maybe that’s all this is about.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Blind


Words, for me, are powerful. They are not just powerful in what they do, have done and are capable of doing, but they are also my power. Putting words together with punctuation in a way that makes sense is art. There is beauty in writing such that words can be assembled in near infinite ways that mean essentially the same thing, but those that are beautifully arranged carry much greater impact. And in the big picture of writing, while this craft is the one that picked me, the one I hold some talent for, my ability falls woefully short when compared to the great writers of our time and throughout history. However, I read recently that it does not do to aspire to be the next great Hemmingway, or Maugham, or even Shakespeare, but rather I should aspire to be the first great me. Of course, actions still speak louder than words and what people do say more about their character than what they say, but history shows in ways both great and small that it is often words that inspire people to act – and they often inspire them to greater versions of themselves than they thought possible. I know from personal experience it is true for me. I have been inspired into action by the words of others.

It is a double-edged sword, however. This “gift,” this super-power, my very strength can also be my downfall, my greatest weakness. Some of that is a necessary evil, a curse, if you will, that with art there will be some who view those versed in that art with disdain. That exists, and it might even be truer of the “academic” arts, but it’s not the norm. The larger problem comes from within; it comes from me. It is also a problem that mirrors denial – part of the problem is a blindness that says there isn’t a problem. And it’s not that my writing isn’t thoughtful, it’s not that there is not an inherent truth in everything I write, but like any other art, it is very reflective of where my mind is at the time the work is produced, and depending on the type of writing it is, the oversight process varies from extensive to none at all. My Facebook posts tend to be extremely temporal, they are produced on the fly with not a lot of scrutiny – in a way they are the most truthful in terms of my psyche in the given moment. The essays I write for The 25 Year Plan are, by their very nature, more scrutinized; they are intended to be more detailed and as such I review them and edit them and, often, soften them – to a point. But, like my Facebook posts, they are more reflective of my internal state than the professional or academic work I produce. I believe that, by and large, the best art is spawned from trouble, it reflects the universals of the human condition as portrayed in specific and individual life experiences. I have had some of those, and I have written about them.

Up to about three or four years ago, the general theme in my personal essays (most of which can be found in my archives here), was positive. While they document certain life experiences I’ve had, for the most part those experiences are of a redemptive nature. Even when I’ve struggled, I found a way through it and came away with some nugget, something that added to my life in a meaningful way. Beginning sometime in late 2011 or early 2012 that optimism started to fade. Although I held onto it for most of 2012, by early 2013 I had life experiences I wouldn’t wish on anyone. My writing started to take a darker turn. It wasn’t any less artistic, and what I wrote about was absolutely real, truthful and as universally indicative of the human condition as can be, but that darkness enveloped all areas of my life to one degree or another. The one that came home to roost is this apparent need to condemn not only those who crossed me, but also others who, in my view, acted in certain ways that were less than honorable. I transferred my indignation for a very limited few onto many others – usually namelessly and in abstraction, but nonetheless I entered a period of justification and condemnation.

Perhaps if I call it what most others do, it would make more sense. I tend to stay away from the word “judgment” because it is more ambiguous than condemnation. But for the purposes of this, and very much in keeping with one of the more common connotations of the word, “judgment” is appropriate. And even in making this qualification, it could be viewed as arrogance that, up until very recently, I did not feel I deserved. But I’ll just go on the record and call it what it is – judgment. And through my justification I was blind to it. I can be assertive, I can even be direct and sometimes I can be an asshole, but when I am those things as a result of looking down on another person because of that person’s behavior, I am in judgment. While I never claimed to be perfect, I would insinuate that because I never did “that” or because I have “progressed” beyond doing it anymore, I am better. I don’t consciously believe I am better than anyone else, but for certain “anyone elses,” because they did certain things to me I that I felt I would never do... yes, I went there. The problem is that, while I have a right to hold certain opinions about those who did directly and intentionally harm me, I expanded that to those who did not. And while it is obvious in hindsight, I didn’t know I was doing it at the time.

And here is the really fucked up part. I do not truly believe that I am a better human being than anyone else. While I do certain things better than others and others do certain things better than me, and I have behaviors that could be viewed as more honorable and some that can be viewed as less so, too often I still come up short by my own assessment. And I am certainly as subject to being (and have been) judged as anyone else. It does not mean I have to appreciate those who entered my world and fucked it up, it does not mean I have to trust them, but it also does not mean that those things done - be it to me or anyone else - make anyone necessarily a “bad” person. Bad to me? Sure. But just bad? That’s not for me to decide. Really. If others were to apply the same standards to me as I have to others, even though they would have to pick a different poison because my terms do not apply to me (that’s what makes judgment possible), there are terms available that do apply. And, truth be told, I often judge myself negatively against those applicable standards, too.

This entire revelation has been as enlightening as it has been painful. With the clarity of hindsight, I can see the effects. I have pushed some people away. Also, because of this ability to use words so effectively, I might have made it extremely difficult for anyone to approach me and say anything about it. I’d surely have a well-articulated justification for my view. While my self-righteousness might have been a defense mechanism (and, in certain isolated cases, justified), it is no longer serving me. Although I do not excuse the indiscretions done to me, I am in a place where those acts can no longer justify my arrogance. They say “hurt people hurt people,” but I didn’t see what I was doing as that. I see it now and, fortunately, this curse I have been gifted with works equally well to make me a better person today – compared only to who I was yesterday.