Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Spring Reflection

This time of year, historically, has been somewhat eventful for me. I guess I should thank technology, generally, and Facebook, specifically, for connecting the dots necessary to see back so clearly and, eerily, precisely. Indeed, I cannot say whether this time of year held any more or less "profound" memories before the social media boom (which, coincidentally enough, started around the same time I got clean), or whether the memories that are documented are only profound because of that documentation. The profundity could also be a function of the strides I have made in that same period of time.

Regardless, spring, in the recent past and for whatever reason, has been an interesting time of year. It's been a time of new beginnings, new hopes and new dreams and it has been a time of closing chapters, the letting go and the passing on. In the not too distant past, this has been the time of both finishing school and completing goals, one of moving on to new goals and degrees. It has been a time of marriage and divorce. It has been a time of preparing for my permanent relocation and the time of my return. Spring, it would appear, is all that and more.

This is the end of my sixth semester teaching as a full-time gig. I have been working in my career, my fifth or sixth (seventh?) major career change so far, for about three years. It’s actually much longer, but I was doing it as a grad student and only part-time before. I don't know what is normal, but it seems most people stick to one or two, maybe three (probably related) careers in their lifetime. Not my story. Anyway, while perhaps not a major profound milestone in the life of Mike, it is a reasonable time to look at where I am and what could be coming down the pike.

I hope nothing is. I am content. I am not looking for the next place to go, the next job to have, the next anything in the short term. Long term, yes, I am within maybe ten years of retiring and at that point I'll be making new decisions, looking forward to new adventures. But right now, I am good. There is one thing that is coming up this summer which could fall into the major life altering category, but it is also in the "new beginnings" sub-category, and, as such, is one that holds great promise. Some risk? Sure, everything new has some risk, but I’d like to think I have learned a thing or two about such things in recent springs. I am confident that this consolidation of households will be as strong as its components.

And, of course, there are motorcycle treks planned for the summer. But even those, while seriously gratifying, are not "new." Every ride is different and the plan is still largely a non-plan, but I have many, many miles of experience doing just like that. I can’t say that spring is my “favorite” time or year - each season has something special about it - but one characteristic that defines it, that of renewal, certainly applies.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Talk to Me

I have two very different books rolling around in my head. Both have been there for some time, but one is evolving almost daily. The other is a memoir, a real memoir, not an embellished one that shares the so-called “emotional truth” of my life. It didn’t work for James Frey and his epic lie, A Million Little Pieces, and it won’t work for me - probably for very different reasons, however. Whereas his downfall was getting caught in a million little (and not so little) lies, mine would be in writing such fiction as nonfiction in the first place. When I say “real,” it means what I write really happened. I believe what an old mentor of mine told me when he said, “everyone has a book in them.” Everyone has a story and every story is necessarily interesting. I’ve been told more times than I can remember that I should write that book, and I intend to, but except for the new adventures I encounter in real time (some of which are very adventurous), that book is static. It has been, for the most part, written. I just need to write it down.

The other book is fiction. It takes place in the future, but I am not sure yet how far into the future. It is a dystopian future, a post-apocalyptic world in which humans are living in a much different environment. That world will not be one reduced to prehistoric living conditions, it will not be devoid of technology; in fact, some technology would be more advanced than what we have today. Most infrastructure will be gone, but not all of it and governments, countries and the like will be different in significant ways - and they might not exist at all. Our planet will have become a vessel that contains life, much like it does now, but in a much more integral way. How it got that way, what happened to it and us is still a big question mark, the story has not revealed itself in all its detailed nuance just yet.

Lately, on at least a daily basis, a moment of inspiration hits, an element of the story becomes clearer. Like so many puzzle pieces, each new revelation is like another piece of the picture coming together. At present, I have a good idea who the protagonist is and what he is all about, but the antagonist is still in development. I can’t quite see who he or she is yet. Although I am getting very close to visualizing the setting, the plot still has no ending and only a foggy direction. There are some twists, there are some secrets that will be revealed both to the readers and the characters. In some instances, the readers will know what the characters do not and some twists - many, actually - are still a mystery to me. Life, I think, will turn out to be something much different than we think it is, but I can’t say how, yet.

I can’t because I don’t know. When I started blogging and writing regularly, much more regularly than I do now, I met a fellow blogger who was also a published novelist. With a few books to her credit, she would often blog about her current writing process. One of the things that fascinated me was that her characters would tell her how the story would unfold. As she wrote and these characters developed page after page, they would dictate where the story would turn next. It fascinated me that she never knew how the story would turn out, how it would end. I remember her blog posts were, for an extended period of time, about her waiting for a character who was murdered to “tell” her how he was killed. One day it came to her and her character spilled the beans. She moved through that chapter and finished the book.

It made sense to me. It made sense because even at that time, I was writing with a purpose and that purpose was - still is - discovery. Although these two books are vastly different, each will have elements of identification and where those nuggets occur, the discovery happens. That’s how good stories work, when we can see ourselves in them. Both my memoir and my novel will, hopefully, tell me about me and in doing so, will be of interest to others who see themselves in the pages I write. It is a daunting task. Both books have been started and discarded more than once. They were not telling me what I needed to know. This summer, hopefully, one or more of those characters will start talking. Equally hopefully, when they do, I’ll be writing it down.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Jack's Harley

I bought this motorcycle out of desperation, sort of. My motorcycle got hit and although the damage to it was primarily cosmetic, by midway through last October I knew it was going to be down for a while – months, not weeks. It turned out to be longer than even my worst nightmare due to an all too real nightmare, but that story is over, it has already been told. This bike is one that I have long admired, long thought, “that’s my kind of style,” but when it came time to plunge into a particular line of Harley Davidsons, it would not be the Softails that I ended up falling in love with. Stylistically, yes, the Softails are sexy, but from a purely mechanical, functional point of view, the touring line of bikes became my future steeds.

So, why this 21-year-old Heritage Softail Special, AKA, “Nostalgia?” Serendipity certainly played a role. I know the prior three owners of this bike – its legacy is well documented. It came up for sale right at the same time my bike was down for an extended count. It belonged to a friend who was fighting cancer with everything he had and he didn’t need a bike in his garage he wouldn’t be riding anytime soon. And it was that bike. It was the one whose looks and stance had me right from the beginning. Add that the bike was a limited production model, had only 26,000-plus miles on the odometer and was, for a 21-year-old bike, in very good condition, it was as though the planets were aligned just so. It was, dare I say,  preordained?

Or maybe not.

I put about 1,500 miles on her, but now that my 2017 Street Glide Special is back on the road, the choice about which bike to ride at any given time is clear - and it’s not this old classic to-be. I told Jack when I bought her that I planned to keep her, and I did mean it. But things change and sometimes those starry-eyed promises cannot so easily be kept. If I had more financial freedom (more money) and if I had more space and if I had more time, she would certainly remain part of my stable. Such is not the case and although I have not yet formally listed her for sale, it is known within our circle of circles of friends that I am looking for a buyer.

In the meantime, Jack was battling his last battle. Sadly, his battle is over and he can rest peacefully now. I don’t really know how such things work, but if there is any kind of ethereal essence that can be aware of anything, Jack would be happy to know that the bike is staying in the family, as it were. I will not have to offer her up for public sale. A former owner and friend to us both will be reuniting with what is becoming “our” bike. The price has not changed, it has and will remained profit neutral – nobody is “coming up.” And Jack, in a very real way, will live on through this bike.

I’m really going to miss Jack. He was an early and prominent presence in my recovery. He was opinionated, obstinate, sometimes abrasive, but he was also one of the kindest and big-hearted men I know. He and that old bike had a lot in common. He touched a lot of lives and, hopefully, he knew that he made a difference. I'm sure he must've. He left an indelible mark on my life and thanks to an odd chain of events, that mark is now associated with the unmistakable lope of an 80 cubic-inch, 1996 Harley Davidson Evolution motor.
Rest in peace, Jack.

Friday, January 12, 2018

An "Ah-Ha" Moment

A little more than 13 years ago, I was rebuilding my life, again. It was not the first time I found myself in the throes of a crisis aftermath, but it turned out to be one with a key difference. This time, I addressed the root of all of my problems. That root was, of course, me. Not all of me, but a key characteristic of what drove me. I had a void in my life that would not be filled with the things that satisfy most people. Success didn’t elude me, but every time I started down that path, I’d find some way to chase it away. The core symptom of it was manifested through an insatiable appetite to alter my consciousness through chemistry. Getting “high” was no longer a passing phase of adolescence, it was no longer “recreational,” it was a full-time job. Indeed, the party was over long before the partying was. I just didn’t know it.

It took me a long time to discover that drugs were the problem. Once there, it took less time to understand that drugs were only a symptom of an underlying condition known as addiction. People view those who cannot “control” their drug use (and in most cases - historically, for sure, but also due to its social acceptance, today as well - the most common drug is alcohol) in different ways. Addiction and its special case, alcoholism, is now considered a disease and while there are those who still view it as a moral failing, an inability to control oneself, the idea that I do not have the power to stop once I start is a good starting place to address this characteristic that has caused me so much trouble. And it comforts me that I am not only not alone, but also that there are means available to treat this disease. That holds true whether or not others believe it to be a disease. It doesn’t matter.

There is a lot of science behind what different substances do to the brain and the nervous system, but that science is not as important as the reality of what my story tells. That story, to those like me, holds numerous familiar themes. The common denominator is an inability to deal with life without resorting to self-medication. As I mentioned, there are a number of treatments, or therapies, that have proven successful, but for anything to work I first had to accept that what I was dealing with was not drug use, but that underlying condition that compelled me to use drugs, often against my own will and counter to my best interests. Getting to that place almost killed me. I am not here to recommend any particular path, and I am not here to say that the way that worked for me is the best way for everyone. I am here to say that if I didn’t do something, I would not be experiencing the success I am today.

I shot this picture just a little while ago. I was in my garage brainstorming what the next steps would be in putting the motorcycle in the middle (the white one) back together. It’s a long story as to why any reassembly of a 2017 Harley Davidson is even necessary, but suffice it to say that the experience has taught me much about how far I’ve come. The fact that not only it, but also my 1996 Harley as well as a 2009 Harley, my youngest son’s, are all parked in my garage just on the other side of the wall from my office, are all things that I came to gradually, things that I can sometimes take for granted. But other times, like just a few minutes ago, it strikes me: My Harleys, my garage, my son riding alongside me, my office… my house. All of these things and so much more - being present for my boys and family, being a productive member of society, not being a sheep - I managed to put together in a relatively short period of time and, truth be told, all are things that I have desired, consciously and not, for a very long time. While it is true that brief periods of success have seen me with some of this stuff, it was always fleeting. This time it’s different.

But the stuff is more than just stuff - it’s more than just my stuff. It is representative of what I am capable of when I stopped chasing that which drove me to have nothing. What came along with that stuff was responsibility, integrity, deep, meaningful relationships, a career that I never dreamed possible, and respect. The really cool part about it is that I am still me. I am still a “non-conformists.” I still take chances. I still travel the path least followed. I am an explorer, a traveler and a seeker, but I do it without the need to alter my consciousness through any artificial means. I took this picture because I was experiencing an “ah-ha” moment, a wave of pure gratitude and the ability to recognize it as such is special. Really special.

I try not to put too much importance on material things - they come and they go. Success is not determined by the stuff I acquire, it is much deeper than that. But there are times when I think of the things I’ve wanted in life, the things I’d do “anything” for and found that I could not do anything to achieve them. When the focus became internal, when the things I strove for were not immediate or tangible, the rest fell into place. I even have an 18-month romantic relationship with a beautiful woman, and we have had exactly zero fights - none, not even a disagreement or cross words. I have always believed that I, like most people, can achieve virtually anything I put my mind to. When I couldn’t, it was always because of someone or something else. As it turns out, it was, but that someone was me and that something else was part of who I am. And it was true, I could achieve virtually anything I put my mind to, but now I have a mind that is clean and clear. It seems to make a big difference.

Sunday, December 31, 2017


Before Facebook added its “On This Day” feature, indeed, before Facebook was even a thing, I established an online presence through what has become known as the “blogosphere.” A little more than 12 years ago, I created a blog I titled “The 25 Year Plan.” Although this thing called a “blog” (a hybridized word crafted from “web log”) had been around for a few years prior, the blogosphere concept came about while I was actively blogging. It denotes the idea that blogging was a community. It was actually a community of communities, almost like different circles of friends, each with intersections into other circles of friends, but in virtual space.  Through it I established relationships with people, most of whom, to this day, I have never met in person. It was social media, but it had far more depth than the status updates that are the norm for Facebook. My community consisted primarily of people who wrote, at length, about the things that were going on in their real worlds. It was intimate and it was personal.

I started the blog at the suggestion of one of my journalism professors. He used it to keep his writing “fresh” during the breaks in school, between freelance assignments and to be able to say things that would normally not have any other “public” presence. I was writing quite a lot in those days and the idea that staying with it even when I had no deadline, no requirement to fulfill, no other reason to write than the writing itself was appealing to me. On December 18th, 2005, I published my first blog post. It was aptly titled, “My First Blog Entry - Ever!” complete with an unnecessary exclamation point. That month saw three more blog posts and in the following two years I posted well in excess of 100 posts each. I slowed down somewhat for the next three years (80, 75 and 54, respectively) before dropping down to just a handful each year from then until now. There are a number of reasons why, not the least of which is Facebook’s world domination, but I was also writing for newspapers, for my undergrad classes and, when it came to grad school, much longer and far more complex papers, some of which were published at various academic conferences in my discipline, communication studies.

While Facebook, and its more recent feature, “On This Day,” gives us a snapshot at activity years back, it does not provide the same depth that my blog posts do. Even with my abbreviated blog activity (and I used to maintain a few blogs, only “The 25 Year Plan” is still active), I still find myself inspired to write and post my musings here. Of course, I link them to my Facebook “timeline,” and those links also show up in my yearly archives, but the response I receive from them is seriously limited. Facebook is not the place for longer, detailed posts. It could be, perhaps should be, but it is not. The corner of the blogosphere I lived in has largely been abandoned. Most of those I regularly followed are now abandoned or simply no longer there. My blog “community” is a ghost town. Regardless, and even though I am like most writers in that we write to be read, what drives me to write is not the feedback I might or might not receive. It is nice, but not necessary.

Even with my sparse writing for this blog, I usually do manage to write some sort of year-end reflection. Sometimes it falls at or very near year-end, others it occurs near the beginning of the month on or around my birthday. In 2006, I titled that reflection, “The Year in Review.” In just that one year of writing regularly, I was fully involved in a thriving community of writers - not only was I writing and posting, but I was also reading and commenting on many others’ posts. That entry had 24 comments, most of which were also longer than a standard Facebook post. The next year, “Ringing out the old…” I reflected on another good year. On New Year’s Eve, 2008, I wrote a post titled, “1962 to 2008,” in which I attempted to bring my entire existence into some sort of perspective. In 2009, my year-end post, “Still a Seeker,” spoke to the journey I was, by then, well on my way to. Interestingly enough, I never dreamed it would lead me to where I am now. On December 20th, 2010, I was back visiting Truckee, CA, a small mountain town I once lived in for about five years. That post, “Mountain Song,” opened with a decidedly more poetic paragraph that spoke to the nostalgia I was feeling. For some reason, in 2011, I did not write any sort of personal reflection, but I did write about some things going on in the world that directly related to academia, a world that I was very much part of. The next year, 2012, was a strange one, one in which I had way too much personal shit going on in. I must have shut down, as far as writing here goes; it was a year in which this blog saw just six entries. I got married that year and by the time it was over, for all intents and purposes, that marriage was, too.

My post in 2013, “Don’t Let the Door Hit You on the Way Out,” was bitter. It was the year of the fallout. It was not a good year, and I documented what it meant to me. The title of that post was in reference to 2013 - good riddance. In 2014, my post, “Home Again,” was written from a coffee shop near my house. Although it was (and is) still my house, it was not my home. I was living full-time in Baton Rouge trying to finish a PhD at LSU, my house was rented to people I never met. The title was ironic, it was not home anymore. My entry two years ago, “Another Banner Year,” is similar in nature to this one. However, it was the first good year after two exceedingly bad ones (spoiler alert - the years since have also been very good). The last sentence, “This has been a very good year and… 2016 looks like it will be even better,” turned out to be true. Last year, written on the winter solstice was titled, “Winter Solstice.” That post was also a selective chronology of how I got to where I was and the nature of the first word in my blog’s subtitle, “purpose.” It was also the first time I revealed in a very public space that I have been clean from drugs and alcohol for 12 years - I am happy to say that number is now 13 years.

This past year? It was very good. I am in a space now where I feel like I am making a real difference in the world. I am going into the second half of my third year as an adjunct professor of communication studies at California State University, Sacramento - my alma mater. What I did for a part-time job as a graduate student is now what I do all the time. And, once again, I am on winter break. I got past that ill-advised marriage and subsequent divorce and have found a relationship with a girl who is more than I could have hoped for. My immediate family, all things considered, is hanging in there and while there are some things to deal with in the coming months, we will deal with them. The coming year will be filled with challenges, however, there is every reason to be optimistic and, a year from now I hope to be writing, once again, that it was another great year.


Saturday, December 23, 2017


On September 29th - almost three months ago, I was rear-ended by a moron riding a 2002 Honda VTX1800. The impact on my right saddle bag and exhaust was strong enough to shatter my right saddle bag, lid and shove my exhaust forward about a quarter inch, breaking its mounting point. It also propelled me into my son riding his new 2016 Sportster Roadster. His bike had a little more than 3,000 miles on it, my (almost to the day) one-year old 2017 had about 21,000 miles on it (yes, his 2016 was newer than my 2017). The impact of my front wheel/fender/crash bar/fairing/turn signal (they all had damage) was enough to put him into a slide which high-sided him when it instantaneously corrected. He went left, the Sportster went down on its right side. I managed to keep my bike upright, but dropped it as soon as I stopped (maybe not quite stopped) because I saw my son go down and things like kick stands don't seem too important in those few seconds of not knowing if he was hurt or not.

He was fine. He had minor road rash, but otherwise no injuries. I was fine, too, no injuries at all. The other guy was not fine, he had non-life-threatening injuries (busted shoulder? collarbone? something like that). At the time I had some empathy for him, but now, almost three months later with every new headache and delay - some his fault due to not only his negligence, but also his minimal insurance coverage, and some not his direct responsibility except that he caused it all in the first place - the more time that has passed and with every new twist... I hope it still hurts. I hope it cost him his bike. I hope he never rides again - for his safety as well as ours.

But I digress. Since my son and I both have full coverage that greatly exceeds the state mandatory minimums, we were covered. The estimate on my bike was right about $10,000. The estimate on my son's bike was almost $7,000. Both bikes could have been fixed and looking good for less because not every little thing had to be restored to new condition. The money saved on, say, a minor scratch on the fork tube (replacement = hundreds of dollars, a back Sharpie costs much less) could be used for something else. Our local dealer won't do that, but the independents will; my friend owned a shop that could do both bikes the way we wanted them done. However, my son’s insurance company decided that $6,900 was too much to spend on an $11,500 bike and, after fighting them for two or three weeks, they totaled it. They ended up paying the shop more than $1,000 in estimate and storage fees and took the bike away. It was not cost-neutral for my son, but in retrospect, it wasn’t the worst outcome.

Because my bike cost almost three times as much, it was not totaled. The insurance company had a $9,978 check made out to me and the shop about a month after the wreck. Then we ordered parts, the first were the custom rear fender, saddle bags and one lid, painted to match, from Bad Dad. The lead-time on those parts, because we were having them do the paint, was about a month. Other parts would be ordered as needed because the lead-time was shorter, but the new two-into-one exhaust and front fender were supposed to have been on order as well. Just about a month later, I got word that the owner had committed suicide. No one, at least no one I knew, saw it coming. It’s sad. While not among his closest friends, Dennis was my friend and it saddens me that he would choose a permanent solution to a temporary problem. But it also left me in a very precarious position and the end result, while not absolute yet, looks like I will have lost more than half that nearly $10,000 check.

It also meant that I would have to finish acquiring parts and complete the build myself. I needed a front fender, exhaust and some minor body work done on the outer fairing. Then both the fairing and front fender had to be painted. I also had to get my garage squared away - it has been a very long time since I have done anything remotely resembling major work in there. It was a long overdue project that is now done. In the end, putting my bike together cost me about 15 hours of labor, much of that is longer than normal due to a learning curve for certain tasks I was not familiar with - others I have done before, but they are just time consuming. It also cost me around $2,500 out of pocket to cover what was not ordered, but already paid for. I had to wait a couple of weeks for the paint to get in before the painter could shoot the outer fairing and front fender. And during the two-day reassembly process, I was frustrated to the point of trading her in more than once - of just saying, “fuck this!”

But she ultimately came together beautifully. There are only a couple of things I’d like to revisit, but they are not critical and, more importantly, they are not preventing me from riding this gorgeous Street Glide (very) Special. The name of the shop was (because it no longer “is,” it died with Dennis) V Dawg Cycles. Dennis was in business for more than seven years and worked on all of my bikes at one point or another. This one was going to be different, this one was going to be a V Dawg build. I guess in a way, it still is. It is, in a way, a tribute to a man I had a lot of respect for, even if the end was more than a little off-putting. Suicide is generally a tough thing for those left to deal with and in this case, it left me with that and a large sum of money that disappeared into thin air.

I haven’t ridden much or far since finishing her up yesterday, but I can say that it was just like old-times, but better. She runs better, looks way better and now, there is not another Street Glide anywhere that is just like this one. We ride Harleys and other similar bikes for a lot of reasons, among them is that they are an extension of our creativity, our individuality, and, in part, of our identities. A Harley commercial a few years ago finished with, “What you ride says a lot about who you are.” Who I am is not easy to nail down - just like this build. It was messy. It was complicated. It was frustrating. And it still all came together. Just like me.