Sunday, October 24, 2010


Sometimes I’ll write simply because I haven’t written anything in a while. Sometimes that feeling is just that, a feeling. The fact is that I am writing every day and some days I am writing quite a lot, but it is not the sort of writing that I would post here. So that aforementioned feeling probably stems from not doing this kind of writing in a while. I just abandoned a piece of garbage that will languish in my documents folder titled “unfinished stupid shit.” I can’t bring myself to delete it, but it will likely never be re-opened again either. There are not many of these files on my computer, but there are those rare occurrences that I have written myself into a corner with no hope of return. I am trying to redeem myself at this very moment…

When it comes to writing for this blog, I only have to answer to myself. Nothing is ever “due;” I have complete freedom to write or not about anything or nothing. My archives are full of anything and nothing, some of which I am quite proud of, some not so much. But writing for me can serve as a window into my soul, as a way of exploring those areas of my psyche that I am otherwise too preoccupied to pay much attention to. And it always comes back to the words. Words are random; meaning is arbitrary, if we have not agreed to a large extent what words denote, there is no meaning whatsoever. But that is only a start. Our language is in constant evolution and the connotative meanings of words bring life to them – and often become denotative in time. However, language in all its infinite flexibility and variety is still restricted by our ability to come to agreement.

Yet despite all our differences and seeming inability to agree on much, especially in the polarized society in which we currently find ourselves, the ability to come to terms on terms is astounding. Despite the butchering of the English language that is found in the explosion of textual communication in recent years, correct grammar is still the rule – the gold standard – one that is still acknowledge even by those who do not, cannot or choose not to practice its tenets. Changes in the rules of grammar have been few - the structure of our language has remained largely static even if the vernacular evolves daily. Yet the proliferation of willful violations of those rules in places where they are still paramount does not bode well for the continued agreement of this most basic requirement in communication.

But it begs the question: If communication is about the sharing and creation of meaning, does it really matter how that is done? In other words, does the response, “But you knew what I meant” hold any validity. I would argue that in discrete, isolated and informal circumstances, the resultant exchange and negotiation of meaning is sufficient to satisfy that communication did in fact occur. But in a more global context, this is a non-fallacious slippery slope. If the rules of formal communication, mass communication, research and the like are made up as we go along, relying on the sole criteria that “You knew what I meant,” then the already imprecise nature of communication based upon agreed norms becomes nothing more than a crap-shoot. It leaves too much open to interpretation and a return to textbook postmodernism that takes away any universality to what is true, good and beautiful. Furthermore, what if I “don’t know what you mean?” Then what?

My world is self-admittedly about communication. It is what I study, what I practice and what fascinates me every time I stop for just a moment to ponder it. Our ability to communicate has transformed the world, for better and for worse. The power of communication is undeniable. No other species has come close to the accomplishments ours has and the one and only factor that separates us from them is our ability to communicate symbolically. It is more fascinating than our technology, our mobility, our arts and our sciences because communication makes all of that possible. It seems that as a species we disagree on more than we agree on, often violently so, but we could not have become who we are if we were unable to effectively negotiate meaning – to communicate.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Ten Years

A lot can happen in 10 years. Adolescent children pass through their teens and into adulthood in 10 years. Some investment accounts and US Savings Bonds can reach maturity in 10 years. And a 12 year-old Scotch whiskey need only an additional two years to make it so. But in all seriousness, 10 years represents a considerable stretch in the context of one human life. If we lived to be 100 years old, 10 years represents a solid 10 percent of that life – it is not insignificant. Ten years is also a nice round number to do some reflection, perhaps a targeted self-assessment and acknowledge that I am but one man and I cannot do this life thing alone. The last part of the preceding sentence would be the likely answer if one were to ask, “Which one of these things does not belong?” Read on, it more than belongs; it is pivotal.

I wrote a post in January 2006 titled “Five Years.” In October of the same year, a sequel of sorts was written titled “Six Years.” In October of 2007 and 2009, the predictably titled “Seven Years” and “Nine Years,” respectively, graced this space. What happened to “Eight Years?” I am not exactly sure, but despite the absence of a dedicated anniversary installment, the theme was picked up in other posts. I hyperlinked the "n Years" series for a couple of reasons: First, I do not want to rehash what I have already written. Indeed, in rereading those posts, I see that has happened too much already. The details and the “facts” of this particular event have not changed. Second, this anniversary is likely the last in the “n Years” series – not that there is nothing left to write about, but from this time forward this anniversary will be remembered with some quiet reflection and contemplation. Words will flow from that, but not in dedication to the anniversary of my death.

Yes, death. Those that know the story and/or hit those aforementioned links before reading this already know the details. For those that don’t know, I was involved (okay, I caused) a head-on collision with a logging truck on October 17, 2000… at about 9:00 a.m. Or so I’m told by very reliable sources – I have no recollection whatsoever. I fell asleep at the wheel of a Jeep Cherokee while driving my then 13 year-old son to school near Squaw Valley, Calif. My son and the truck driver suffered relatively minor injuries – mine killed me. And then I stopped being dead. Repeat. I don’t know how many times. The records are a little unclear – not surprising considering the nature of the emergency medical attention I required. I guess they did not spend a lot of time writing things down in those early moments. For the details on my injuries and what some of that surreal “near death experience” (I hate that term) was like, hit the above links (and this link). This is not about that.

In less than 12 hours, it will have been 10 years since I should have died. Whether or not one believes in being at death's door, or crossing over and coming back, or the ubiquitous “near death experience,” one fact is indisputable: Based upon the nature and extent of my injuries, I should have died – but I didn’t. I am not only still here, but by a sizable margin – 10 percent if I live to be 100, a higher percentage if I miss that mark. In the context of one human life this is a considerable length of time; in the context of my life it is virtually an eternity. It should be quite obvious that without the help of many, many others I could not have survived or recovered. And many of those who helped I’ll never know.

But that whole idea of not being able to walk this life alone has become so much more prescient as I have navigated these last 10 years. It’s way more than thanking all those who stood by me (especially my family), and it is way more than being grateful for every single day since waking up in the hospital some time just prior to Thanksgiving, 2000; it has become apparent to me that constantly pulling away from and creating barriers between myself and humanity (as impossible as totally succeeding at such a plan is) had become my life’s perspective. I was becoming socially antisocial. And the crazy thing is that getting into that wreck and even recovering (mostly) from my injuries was not enough to make me grateful for the people around me, to say nothing about having my life spared. I was alive, but not all that happy about it.

That attitude began to change – slowly – when I finally came to the realization that life is a team sport… and I was not a team player. I’d like to say it hit me like a bolt of lightning, but I’m not so sure my psyche could have handled that much truth that fast. It happened over days, weeks, months and, in some respects, years - since the day I was born. I guess I had to come around to it on my own – maybe it had to be my discovery, who knows? But I finally figured that if I went along, followed some rules and became a team player, I would be, at the very least, less agitated (read "angry") all the time. I found not too much later that the team I joined was the winning team. Together it appears that we cannot lose. By this time I was around 40 years old and losing was a living place for me. Now almost 48, I have not had a losing day in many years.

I can’t begin to relate or recall all of the people who have come into my life and touched it in some way. The relationships I have even with strangers have an authenticity I could never fathom, and the relationships with those close to me? Absolutely priceless. Friends, colleagues, professors, family (not exclusively, some fill more than one category) all play a pivotal role in shaping who I am and what my life is. And life is good. All I had to do was join the winning team… and participate. Perception is everything.

Queue the music…

We are the champions, my friends
And we'll keep on fighting - till the end
We are the champions
We are the champions
No time for losers
Cause we are the champions - of the world*

*Freddie Mercury, 1977

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Apples and Trees

Tomorrow my youngest son turns 21. Actually by his clock, in the time zone he is currently stuck in, he is already 21, but in Afghanistan it means far less than it does in most of these United States. He will not go barhopping with friends; he will not go out for a nice steak dinner; he will continue to protect this nation because the employer he chose is the United States Army. And I could not be more proud of him. It was not an easy decision to make, he knew the odds were very good that he would end up on a combat mission and that it would not be pleasant. He accepted the risks and the discomfort for a number of reasons – some included the opportunity that comes with military enlistment, but he also felt a sense of duty and patriotism such that the sacrifices he makes and the inherent danger he faces on a daily basis are worth it.

I can’t help but remember him as a small boy. These milestones permit a window into the past - more than an opportunity to reflect, it is an obligation. It has been 21 years since Matthew came into this world and much has happened in that time. For him personally, he has moved from an adventuresome, highly independent boy to a young man who carries those qualities into adulthood. These are absolutely factors that influenced his current career choice. Whether he decides to reenlist or not, it is safe to assume that he will remain on a quest for adventure. Matthew’s older brothers posses strikingly similar characteristics, though they are manifested in other ways. And that old saying regarding apples and trees? There appears to be some truth in it. But this is not about Matthew’s brothers or me – it is his birthday and for reasons that have been instilled through our cultural history, it is a big one.

Even if those reasons are not recognized in the hellhole he is currently residing in. Matthew will be done with his yearlong deployment in just about a month and I can’t think of a better birthday present. He will return to Germany where he can properly celebrate his birthday, abusing his new freedom in the traditional manner. Although there are risks involved with that, too, at least there will be no one shooting at him. And no one is happier about that than I am. He will have some time to collect his thoughts, relax and determine how the next chapter will be written and where it will take place. Although the options available at this point are almost limitless, it is virtually guaranteed that he will surprise me with the next turn – he seems to have a knack for that.

Apples never fall far from their trees.