Monday, August 31, 2009

First Steps

Today was the first day of school. It is that time of year… the first day for most schools is about now, give or take a couple of weeks. For California State University, Sacramento – my current school – today was that day. Although first days of school are vastly different depending upon grade level, all have in common those anxious moments where one doesn’t really know what to expect. Perhaps not as profound as that very first first day of school more than 40 years ago, that newness is still with me. I remember the excitement and the trepidation when I set foot in my kindergarten classroom for the very first time. Some of that is always with me, still, even after the countless first days of school since. I sincerely hope it never fades away.

School, like life, is a series of hierarchies. We enter at the bottom and climb to the top, only to encounter another first rung of yet another ladder. There are certain grades where the first day and all it entails is far more pronounced; kindergarten/first grade, middle school, high school, college and postgraduate study are the major lines of demarcation. However, at the start of any new academic year, there is always the unknown and the anticipation it brings. Although this new school year has those all too familiar elements, this time it is different and for the first time in some time, there is a resurgence of those feelings approaching the magnitude I felt so very many years ago.

As a second year grad student and as an instructor to undergrads, the facets of the first day are multiplied. I have served as graduate assistant (GA) for a year (two semesters and a summer session) and in that capacity I was responsible for most of my students’ grading and some of their instruction, but they were not “my” students. The instructor of record was the professor I was assigned to assist. She bore ultimate responsibility for her class. As a teaching associate (TA), I have my own students and the autonomy that comes with the position. And the responsibility. Being a GA has more than adequately prepared me – I know that I know what I am doing and I know the subject matter inside out, but it is still new. And exciting. And that semiconscious, indefinable and ever present anxiety – that fear – is part of it.

It is good to know that those butterflies are still present. I have not become so jaded that I am no longer taken by the experience… that the newness of the journey can still spawn that sense of wonder that I felt entering kindergarten all those many years ago. It takes me back. From the aspect of a third semester grad student, I have passed the initial wonderment – I am not lost, I am no longer the intrepid explorer. I know the landscape. But from the perspective of an instructor, this is new territory – territory I know from a distance, from viewing the map, as it were, but I have yet to walk it. Today, I took those first tenuous steps. Nothing makes me feel more alive.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Ride to Ride

Many of my regular readers and virtually everyone who knows me at least externally knows that I am a “motorcycle enthusiast.” I have been riding more or less (lately more) for more than 25 years. For the past four years, my steeds have been Harley-Davidsons. Ever since I first became enamored with motorcycles and even before I knew the difference between the brands, it was this iconic American motorcycle that was calling me. Ever since that first bike, my “next" bike was always going to be a Harley. For reasons that are as varied as they are complex, it was not until about four years ago that my next bike finally was a Harley.

And now I ride more than ever. Mostly because I have a motorcycle to ride – indeed those “less” times were actually “not at all” times as I did not have a bike to ride for periods of those many years since my first bike. But I am not a brand elitist – my preference is Harley Davidson, but I still share a bond with anyone who loves the two-wheeled freedom that a motorcycle brings. We pass one another on the road sharing a knowing nod or a wave, acknowledging the freedom we experience through the same psyche. We come from all walks of life and perhaps ride for very different reasons, but at our cores there is a common thread we all share.

It would be more economical than driving if I road my bike everywhere. Based on that factor alone it might seem like the ideal mode of transportation, especially when considering how much I love to ride. Of course, there are many instances where that just isn’t feasible; rain, room for passengers and the ability to transport “stuff” are the most obvious. Still, that leaves many more opportunities to ride than I take advantage of. Why? It is a question I ask myself from time to time and although I can’t say with any degree of certainty, some of the aspects I enjoy most about riding don’t seem to manifest under certain circumstances. That peace and freedom… the clarity I almost always find when on two wheels just doesn’t come when commuting to work.

But that still doesn’t begin to explain why. Part of it, to be sure, has to do with the commute itself. The vast majority takes place on U.S. 50 between Folsom and Sacramento. Even when my commute occurs during non-commute hours (which is not uncommon), it is an altogether less than inspirational ride. This section of U.S. 50 is a multi-lane freeway with little variation from mile to mile. And when the ride occurs during commute hours? I am usually more stressed when I get there than when I left. Driving for everyone else is a necessity when riding a motorcycle – when there are literally hundreds of motorists to look out for it can be downright exhausting.

There is more to it than that, though. When I embark on a ride such as the one I took this morning, it has a purpose – not necessarily to get anywhere, but rather about going somewhere. My ride this morning was a loop I have ridden many times before and most of the 75 or so miles were not on the freeway. I entered it with a certain mindset with no timeline whatsoever. On this particular ride, I was with many other like-minded souls who gathered for a charity poker run that ran through urban back streets before coming to the rolling Sierra foothills. I knew what to expect from the road and I knew what the ride would give me… it never fails.

To commute on my bike negates what I ride for. Moreover, it can almost counteract the benefits of rides like the one today. Although I have ridden to work and I most definitely will again, it is usually not my preference. My car serves that purpose better most of the time. I typically don’t ride to get anywhere. I ride to ride and when the purpose entails anything more than that, it can only take away from the experience.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Senator Edward Kennedy

The end of an era came with the passing of Senator Edward Kennedy last night. Although no one really talked about it openly, since he was diagnosed with brain cancer more than a year ago his days were numbered. Sad yes, but certainly no surprise. Similarly, the wall-to-wall coverage of his death and his life comes as no surprise either. And it is entirely appropriate. Like him or not, agree or disagree, one cannot discount the sacrifices that he and his family made for this country. This is not a time for politics; it is a time for reflection, for history, for legacy and for gratitude. It seems as though most of the partisans get that, but not all.

As expected, there is a flood of statements, sentiments and remembrances of not only Edward Kennedy, but also of the entire Kennedy clan. Although I am not captivated by the need to know just how everyone feels about this history in the making, I have been exposed to a smattering – a large smattering – of the various and sundry reflections. They are coming from everywhere, all the time, and from virtually every position along the political spectrum. Almost without exception, these post mortems note the large body of service Kennedy was committed to and, friend and foe alike, they tend to stay away from politics – past and present. Friends and political allies speak of his ideals and his work ethic while those on the other side of the aisle speak of his tenacity – and his work ethic.

Kennedy entered the U.S. Senate at a time when reaching across the aisle to work together was considered admirable. Those from the same era remember. Even those newer to the body have commented on his willingness to compromise, an ability to find common ground – even in a day where politics is more about winning and losing than serving the nation. There are a few, however, who have taken his death as an opportunity to spin their agenda, and it comes from both ends of the political spectrum. It is unfortunately predictable that some view politics as the be-all and end-all, as a game in which the rules are made up as we go along. In other words, there are no rules.

From the left, we have Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. In her statement, she said, “Ted Kennedy's dream of quality health care for all Americans will be made real this year because of his leadership and his inspiration." Translation: In order to properly honor Kennedy, we have to pass healthcare reform. This thinly veiled guilt trip is inappropriate at any time, but especially in a statement that should be honoring a longtime public servant. Did Kennedy want healthcare reform? Absolutely, he has for many years. Did he favor this yet to be finalized proposal? It looks like it, but it is not a done deal yet and no one could possibly know if he would have supported the final version. But to use his death to forward it less than 12 hours later is shameful.

On the other side, I offer as an example the one and only Rush Limbaugh. Admittedly, I expected as much from him, but I still held out hope that he would offer some kind of short but sincere acknowledgment of Kennedy’s legacy – and then go about whatever he had on his agenda for the day. I hoped that he would just leave it alone, perhaps save it for another day. I know… I’m a dreamer. Of course his spin was in response to the other pundits and politicians, thus absolving Limbaugh of any blame. It is his all too familiar battle whine, “Well they started it.” His response was, in a nutshell, that honoring Kennedy by passing this legislation would in fact be a dishonor to him. The implication being, of course, that Kennedy would not support such legislation. His evidence, in this case twisting Kennedy's own medical issues into a string of logical fallacies, is the usual myopic hyperbole Limbaugh is so well known for.

Although it is reassuring to hear the many sincere statements from those who worked with, for and against Kennedy, at the same time it is disheartening to see a few use his death as political opportunity. It comes neither as a shock nor a surprise, however, that some would view it as such no matter how well rationalized. It is at once a glimpse into the nobility that public service on this level can be and the disingenuousness it too often is. The Kennedys, like them or not, served this nation admirably and paid a tragic price. When one takes into consideration that which is most important, their lives were not charmed by any stretch of the imagination; but serve they did. Edward Kennedy is the second to the last of an important generation of Kennedys – we should remember what he did, not what some still want to do.

Friday, August 21, 2009

PhotoSource, Sacramento

I did not plan on writing anything today. Actually, when I write for my blog, it is usually unplanned. However, I did plan to write on this topic sometime in the very near future, but with a decidedly different point of view. What would have been and what is are in some respects two sides of the very same coin. I thought I would be inspired to write about the other side, the much more positive side… and later. But the time is now and the inflection is not my creation; it is what it is, I am merely documenting it.

This weekend, starting tonight, will be one full of “Kodak” moments. My camera and I will be working closely together shooting a concert, an NFL preseason game and a rather large motorcycle rally. Although my equipment is more than adequate, these three days present a golden opportunity to try out a lens that is a notch above the “pro-sumer” lenses I own. These professional Canon “L” series lenses are well beyond my current budget, but can be rented for an affordable sum. Although renting on a regular basis can be an expensive proposition, the planets have aligned this weekend – I would get my money’s worth. If only I could find a local vendor…

There are a number of companies that provide rental equipment via the Internet. If I had planned far enough in advance, this might have been a viable option, though still not my preference. For this sort of transaction, given the choice, I prefer it to be in person. In this case it is the only choice – there simply isn’t time to receive a shipment. I called my local camera store, Action Camera in Roseville, Calif., already knowing they don’t rent equipment. It was both a shot in the dark and a hope that they might know somebody who does. They are uber-helpful like that - and they did not disappoint. (Not this time, not ever. It is the reason I buy everything camera related there). Action Camera directed me to (the terminology here is important, I did not say recommended) PhotoSource in Sacramento.

I called PhotoSource and they do indeed rent lenses and, specifically, the very lens I wanted to try. At $50 per day, it is a bit pricey, but for $75 I could have it for the entire weekend… for all three events. Deal. I told them I’d be there in a couple of hours. When I arrived, I found it to be a large and multi-faceted photographic service center. The building houses not only camera equipment, but also a darkroom, processing services and a host of other products and services. I think to myself that I’ll have to come back when I have more time to explore. After being greeted by the counterperson, I briefly explained my telephone conversation with what turned out to be different employee and got ready to fill out the paperwork to rent a lens.

“She told you about the credit card authorization, didn’t she?”

What credit card authorization?

“We authorize your card for the full price of the lens in case you lose it or break it.”

No, she didn’t mention that. How much is it?

“For that lens, $1,200.”

Well, there isn’t that much on my card.

“Do you want to try it anyway?”

No, I know there isn’t that much, and now I’ve wasted an hour of my time and 35 miles to find out what you should have told me over the phone.

“Oh, I’m sorry, she’s usually pretty good about that.”

Usually? Pretty good?

Now, to be fair, I am not so na├»ve to think that they would just let me walk out with that lens for only $75. I figured they would hit me for all kinds of information and hold my card number just in case. But I did not think that they would actually authorize it for well over $1,000, which, if I were fortunate to have it at my disposal, would have been frozen for more than just the three days of the rental. Furthermore, I rather imagined there would be some sort of insurance I could purchase that would cover both parties – like many of these Internet companies offer. And I don’t have a problem with the policy they put in place - it is their right. But failing to inform me until I walked into the store is inexcusable.

I was looking forward to writing about being able to rent lenses locally. I wanted to write about how I could try before I buy and perhaps buy from where I tried. But PhotoSource committed a cardinal sin in the world of customer service: Never piss off the customer. It is a mistake they won’t have the opportunity to make with this customer again.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Win, Lose or Draw

I used to be an angry man. I used to take things personally. Almost everything. For the most part, the circumstances either had nothing to do with me or were at least partly (if not entirely) my own creation. Although I felt justified and in a few cases might well have been, it never served me. No matter how hard I fought and even in the instances where I actually “won,” I always emerged just as miserable or more than before. In my myopic version of the world, it was always me against it… I never stood a chance.

This is not to say I will no longer fight for what I believe to be right. My last entry in this journal is evidence that even when the payoff is nothing more than a moral victory, the fight is sometimes still worth it. But the personal element no longer exists. It is not me against the world or, in this case some faceless institution. Indeed, one cannot win when the opponent has no soul; it can feel no shame; it knows no right or wrong; it possesses no morals; it does not care. Although comprised of people, there is no person accountable - the buck just gets passed into obscurity. The collective conscious leads to no conscience, it can never be personal.

If I am vested emotionally then I can only lose, even if I win. The institution expends no emotional energy, it will not remember. The fight today does not involve the sort of emotional investment it used to have. I have learned that this is not personal and though the fight still needs to be fought, there is no scorecard. The institution does not care, and now, I don’t either. For the most part I am not angry, my pulse does not race, and I do not raise my voice. None of that serves me, yet I still must pick my way through the bureaucratic morasses from time to time. Victory, however satisfying, is always temporary. The institution cannot lose. It doesn’t care.

When it comes to personal relationships, where no institution exists, it might appear as though a conflict is necessarily personal. I guess that, by definition, this must be so, but that does not mean that I need to take personal affronts personally. It is not necessary, often counterproductive and, like the fight against an institution, does not serve me. In both cases, this is far easier said than done, however, after more than 40 years of battle scars I have found it essential not only to my peace and serenity, but survival itself. And let me be clear, I am not by any means perfect – I still lose it, albeit very rarely. I am not some Gandhian image of peace – in a sense perhaps, but not with anything remotely resembling consistency.

But I try to remain detached as much as possible. Not because it makes the world a better place but because it makes my world a better place. The fight, when engaged on a personal level, never ends when it ends. There are always scars left behind… always “the past.” Forgiving is one thing, forgetting another entirely. As long as I know who I am, as long as I know the truth about what I’m all about, nothing needs to be taken personally. If I can stay with the issue at hand (personal or institutional), know when to step away and remember that it is only personal if I allow it to be, then I get to come out the other side with peace in my heart.

Win, lose or draw.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Microsoft Xbox Live

17 August 2009

Attn.: Renee/A15609

RE: C0906xxxxxxxx, C0906xxxxxxxx, C0906xxxxxxxx

Dear Renee,

I am writing to re-dispute the charges of $7.99 in each of these three cases. The charges were made by Microsoft’s * Xbox Live service without my authorization. The details are as follows:

My son, Matthew Althouse, had a Microsoft Xbox game console. This console has the capability to operate through the Internet to facilitate gaming with others around the world, for a fee. That fee is collected and the service is administered through Xbox Live. Prior to March 2009, I authorized my son to provide Xbox Live with my Orchard Bank Mastercard information to pay for this service. In late February 2009, my son entered the U.S. Army’s basic training and is now serving our nation’s armed forces protecting our freedom (yours, mine and Microsoft’s). Upon his entrance into the Army, he sold his game console to an unknown third party and I canceled his membership with Xbox Live. I thought nothing more about it until June when I noticed that a monthly charge for Xbox live was still appearing on my Mastercard bill.

I called Microsoft Xbox Live to get my money credited back. I confirmed that his account was indeed canceled per my instructions, but it was reopened shortly thereafter. Neither my son nor I authorized Microsoft to reopen this account – he was (and is) in the Army and I do not have the required equipment to create such an account, i.e. a Microsoft Xbox game console. I was informed by Microsoft Xbox Live that when I canceled the account, they retained my credit card information – information that was linked to the serial number of that specific game console and that if I wanted that information to be prevented from being used in the future, I was to inform them at the time of cancellation. However, at the time of cancellation, I was not given this information. Microsoft Xbox Live refused to issue a credit for the fraudulent charges, but did assure me that my credit card information would not be used in the future. That assurance is not very reassuring.

Furthermore, it is reasonable to assume the opposite condition – that the default position would be in the interest of protecting the customer’s credit card information. I had every reason to believe that Microsoft would delete this information – especially considering that ownership of any electronic equipment is not a life-long commitment. These units are commonly bought and sold… and stolen. To keep my account information at all, let alone to keep it linked to a specific game console, is irresponsible bordering on fraudulent and to fail to inform me about this upon cancellation should be criminal. Maybe it is; it is an avenue I have yet to pursue, though I remain open to the possibility.

We are talking about a total charge of less than $24.00. I have already expended more time than it is worth to recover these charges. I am fighting this multi-billion dollar behemoth on principle alone and I would not be surprised if there are many, many other instances where Microsoft Xbox Live charged their former customers for services that were not authorized. The fact that they would stand by these obviously dubious charges is arrogant beyond belief. I trust that my credit card provider does not share in that arrogance. Hopefully this will be the end of my fight, but if I have any influence with Orchard Bank and credit card issuers in general, I hope it is not the end of yours.

Michael K. Althouse

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Just Another Game

In the very early years of the current millennium, I had what I imagined to be an adequate health insurance plan. It was not a “healthcare” plan necessarily, but rather one designed to protect my ass(ets) in case of some sort of catastrophic illness or injury. The $1,500 yearly deductible virtually guaranteed that, baring such a catastrophe, all expenses would come out of my pocket, and indeed prior to late October 2000, my insurance provider rarely ever paid anything on my behalf. On the morning of October 17, 2000, all that changed in an instant. Catastrophe struck in a big way.
I have written about that transformative event on several occasions. It was much more than life altering; it completely tilted the axis upon which my life rotated. I woke up in a Reno hospital five weeks later not knowing much, but soon found out. It would be an educational experience that was heavy on experience. The various aspects of how that cool October morning touched my life are numerous and when multiplied by nuance, infinite. One of the tiny threads in this complex fabric, however, has current relevance; it has to do with a debate that has turned away from what it is all about to everything it’s not: healthcare reform.
I’ll not rehash here the need for some kind of healthcare reform. Conservatives and liberals alike largely accept the idea that our current system is seriously dysfunctional. Almost everyone agrees that we need to do something. I was lucky; I had insurance, but that $1,500 deductible is a myth – one that is well hidden in the techno-legal mumbo-jumbo that I could not decipher on my best day. And those in late 2000 and most of 2001 were not my best. In simple but decidedly accurate terms, there are three players in the game: The patient, the doctors (collectively, and the hospitals and the clinicians and the x-ray techs and the anesthesiologists, and, and, and) and the insurance company. Of those three players, two are seasoned professionals; they know the lingo and the bureaucracy… it is their game. The amateur is the patient, but only the patient can lose the game. Only the patient bears the legal responsibility for the cost of his or her care – a cost ultimately determined by the pros.
Suffice it to say that my cost far exceeded my deductible, and for reasons that have not yet, still, been adequately explained. I’m not even sure they know themselves and there is no one person accountable. Except me, by law. And if I can’t pay, we all do. But I cite this only to personify what healthcare (or lack thereof) has become in the greatest and most prosperous country in the world. What gives? Why can’t we fix it? We have identified many of the problems as well as possible solutions many, many times and over many, many years. What could possibly be standing in the way? This should be a rhetorical question, but it is becoming increasingly obvious that it is not, so I’ll answer it: Partisan politics.
And in today’s culture, that really means dirty politics. This is not about helping the people of this nation get covered or reforming what has been for far too long a broken system, it’s about winners and losers. Many of the arguments presented – and accepted – are so ridiculous that reasoned, valid and legitimate debate is no longer taking place. Although it is not at all surprising that the extreme right-wing demagogues would perpetuate these fallacies (death panels? Please…), it is somewhat surprising that so many otherwise rational Republicans (or conservatives) do. Their not so thinly veiled goal is to beat Obama and the Democrats and it has become so pronounced that the concept of reforming healthcare has fallen off the agenda entirely. It is just another game, but the losers remain the same.
If something isn’t done soon the opportunity will be gone. The Republicans are so bent on seeing the “other side” fail that serving this country and the best interests of all of her people comes secondarily, if at all. Can we afford to wait another 20 or more years for another window to open up? If this reform effort fails, what does the right have to offer other than the status quo? Our elected representatives have long forgotten for whom they work – this is not news, but when it comes to something that is so pivotal and fundamental, wouldn’t you think they could pull their collective heads out of their ass(ets) and put this pettiness aside?
Maybe I expect too much.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Postmodern Words

I started writing about my area of study, but left it as a one-paragraph start to yet another unfinished work. Experience tells me that it will likely remain just that – I usually don’t come back and finish these things. However, it may well prove to be the inspiration behind something else and it is equally possible that some of what I just wrote will find its way into that piece. Or not. But it started the flow of words and whether it only served to motivate these words or goes on to become something more doesn’t much matter. Even this is of little importance unless it becomes so, right now these are only words.

Blended together, they paint a picture. These individual and widely scattered brush strokes do not yet form anything. Which color to use next, where to place it on the canvas and myriad other small and not so small details left to decide bring forth what is as yet a murky image in my mind. These thoughts are never born of words, those must be composed to reflect what my mind sees, and it will never be a perfect representation to anyone but me. I can fill in the blanks – the picture before my eyes is only complete because I know what goes in the spaces… those places where no words exist, but something still does.

Postmodernists will tell us there is no absolute truth. Nothing is certain; reality is subjective and even if there was some kind of universal truth, it is beyond human capability to know it. We do not have the capability to experience anything directly. Everything is mediated by our senses at least, and usually filtered through much more. When it comes to exchanging our ideas and experiences of reality, they too are mediated by our system of signs. Words, yes, but other means of communication are also never absolute. I know exactly what I mean with these symbols I am creating, but no one can ever know with the same precision, no matter how precise I am. Ever.

And perhaps it is human nature that we, the only animal that uses abstract representations of what we know, think and feel, are always on a quest towards precision. Even if one accepts the premise that reality is, at its core, a personal construction, our efforts to share meaning through art and science never cease. In our relatively short and inconclusive history (also not possible to know entirely or even close to it) our collective perceived reality appears to be striving toward getting ever closer to that ultimate, absolute truth. But we will never get there. We can’t. Reality cannot be directly experienced or shared, but it doesn’t seem to matter. These words mean something, but only in a contextual relationship with other words.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Catharsis

It has been some time since I have written anything simply for the sake of writing. Although it is true that I have been relatively busy, compared to the not so distant past and what the short-term future holds, I am certainly not overwhelmed. That is, I still have an abundance of free time to relax and, for the most part, I have done just that. And it’s not as though the urge to commit my thoughts to this ongoing record is lacking; indeed, just the opposite is true. But it is always initially frustrating when I contemplate just what I want to say… just prior to the writing process. I know that once I initiate the flow of words, they will flow. Starting, however, is always the hard part and I never really know where it will take me.

I write about writing often. It is far more than just taking the thoughts in my head and converting them into symbols. For me it is cathartic; it does more than just solidify and clarify what my ideas are – it discovers them. It is, in a way, a process of self-examination and assessment… part of the ongoing process that helps me define just who I am. I guess some inherently know and perhaps some others don’t care, but I am not one of those people. I am not content unless I open the hood and take a peak inside on a regular basis, a tune-up, as it were, and I do it by expressing my creativity through writing.

It was not always this way. Recently I celebrated a milestone that marked the beginning of a transformational period in my life. Five years and two days ago, my life was a shambles and did not even remotely resemble what it is today. The beginning of the process was actually almost nine years ago, but I was trying to hold onto my own ideas of what I was entitled to for some time. That day in October 2000, however, is equally significant and one that affords me equally profound reflection. It always surprises me not that I discover new insights every time, but rather the nature of what those insights are. This time is no different. Within the past few words, it occurs to me that the sporadic writing I have created throughout my life has provided me with a degree of clarity; I just didn’t realize it.

But I do now and I am able to see some of those long lost creations in a different light. I don’t recall the exact words I used in the hand-written letters I wrote about five years ago, but I do recall that they were nothing nice. They were attacks that blamed my problems on others, primarily my father. I could not or would not take responsibility for my predicament and I misdirected the anger and hatred I had for myself at those who cared about me the most. It is not anything I am proud of, but it was part of my path toward acceptance. It was a monumental struggle… I was at war with my own head. By the time the worst was over, my perspective started to change and as a result, I have found peace in my world and in my head. I don’t have to fight anymore.

But those words committed to paper helped me see what I felt. It slowed my head down just enough to process the conflict between my reality and real reality. As the days and weeks passed, clarity started to replace chaos and although I didn’t know it at the time, the writing, as nasty as it was, was cathartic. Those letters I wrote to my father were designed to make him feel just as much pain as I was. It was all I had the capacity to do. He sent every one of them back to me in one large envelope and I had the opportunity to read what I had written. I didn’t like what I saw. It was as though I was reading it for the first time and… it wasn’t me. What my dad did was brilliant and probably the best thing he could have done for me.

Five years and two days later, writing is my job, my passion and my savior. Writing keeps me centered and all this reflection produces the kind of gratitude that I was never able to attain before. Ever. I know how quickly life can turn and in recent weeks it has thrown me some unexpected challenges, yet I am still grateful. Furthermore, I am meeting those challenges without spinning into a chaotic frenzy, and I don’t have to do it alone. My life is my responsibility and with regular (written) maintenance, it can remain peaceful and serene… even when it’s not.

Monday, August 03, 2009

The Book of the Blog

At my father’s suggestion, I have begun the arduous task of archiving my blog posts into a single document. All were originally written and saved in Microsoft Word, but by the time they are posted (and often after), many edits have taken place outside of Word. I can either copy them from my blog or go back to the original documents and re-edit them. Although I have chosen the former, more editing is still needed. In addition to correcting the typos and ambiguities that I always find, there are stylistic elements that can improve the form while leaving the substance intact. My goal is to compile many of my musings over the past almost four years into one coherent manuscript; one that might find it’s way to publication at some future date. The more immediate goal is simply to collect these many posts into a package that makes some sense. Whether or not this project will be worthy of submission is a decision that is still a long way out.

So far I have actually converted my first three months of posts (December 2005 to February 2006). I have also included the comments left from others. My original intent was to include everything - every post, every comment. After re-reading not only those I have converted, but also most of the entries from 2006, my plan has changed. For a variety of reasons, there are many posts that are not going to be included and I am thinking I will leave out the comments as well, although neither decision is set in stone. The comments, though public, are personal and many of the posts are no longer (and maybe never were) relevant. Again, this project is nowhere close to being finished and everything is subject to change, but to simply reproduce a “blog” in print seems rather pointless. It is, after all, already right here.

Since starting this blog in December 2005, much has happened in my life and a great deal of it is represented in my writing, some of it in great detail and some in more abstract terms. In every case, I have tried to honestly translate into words and punctuation (and sometimes pictures) the lessons I have learned, the trials, the tribulations, the successes and the not so successful. Early on I was more prolific and more idealistic while my more recent work has appeared less frequently, irregularly and, although still laced with idealism, it is decidedly less so. As I re-remember the circumstances surrounding those older pieces, I see the thoughts I recorded in the moment with a different perspective. It serves to remind me just how far I’ve come… and how far there is left to go.

Some of my work I read with a tinge of embarrassment, wondering what I was thinking when I posted it. Other pieces I am extremely proud of, even with the passage of time. And none of it is “perfect.” But all of it - the good, the bad and the ugly - remains in my archives, though much of it will be left out of anything I submit to a publisher - if and when that day comes. Also, I have been tempted (but so far resisted) to add commentary to many of the pieces written so long ago, but additional reflection will be a likely addition to any “book of the blog” that might spring from this. Mostly I am struck with the contradiction in what I thought would be a relatively easy task and a reality that is much different. I mean… it’s already written, right? True, but it is not complete in its current form – there is much more to do, more editing to be sure, but also much more writing.

At the very least, this will be a compilation of a transformational part of my life that I can leave for my children, their children and the many generations to come. And that alone is enough to motivate me. If it appeals to a larger audience, so be it, but the benefit is not necessarily one of monetary gain, but one that pays far greater dividends. Although mine is a story of tragedy and triumph, I am not unique – many have overcome much more and everyone in his or her own way has had demons to face. This is simply the documentation of my experience, if it helps just one other person through to the other side, it has served its purpose.