Tuesday, July 18, 2017

#225 - When The Words All Wash Away

Toward the end of March, I posted the words to a song I had written titled "When The Words." The song was inspired by a Facebook conversation with another musician/songwriter about inspiration and how it often comes at inconvenient times, such as when we are doing dishes or taking a shower.

This post has nothing to do with that song, but the title seemed appropriate. Words are supposed to help us make sense of things good and bad, help us explain things to others, help us to communicate. There are, however, other times when words seem inadequate, even though they are all we have.

This is one of those times.

Earlier today, I got word that my brother-in-law had died suddenly, of an apparent heart attack. When such events occur, I imagine most people go through some series of reactions and emotions. First and foremost is the feeling of sadness for the family, in this case my sister and her children and grandchildren.

Second, perhaps, is a feeling of shock. My brother-in-law was my age, perhaps a year or two younger. Third for many people, though they would not want to admit it and might even be likely to deny it, is a sense of relief that it isn't them. This feeling may be stronger the further removed one is.

Right now, I suppose I am rather numb. I liked my brother-in-law and know he was a good husband to my sister and a good father to his three children, but I can't say we were particularly close. I had only seen him (and my sister) a handful of times in the last ten or 15 years. I don't know that anyone is to blame for that. It's just how things worked out.

I know my sister is hurting right now. I know her children are hurting right now. I'm not quite sure what to say to them. The words have all washed away.

At times like this, words have a tendency to become cliches or platitudes, all uttered by well-meaning well-wishers who, like me, are not sure what to say. Perhaps platitudes and cliches are exactly the things to say. Having never been much good at platitudes and cliches myself, I am left at a loss for words.

Not being a religious man myself (though hopefully a spiritual one), I have no words to offer up on high. I hope that God is watching over the family, but I don't claim to know one way or another.

There is, though, one thing I do believe and have for some time. So long as you keep the memories of a loved one close to you, hold those memories in your heart, the person is never really gone or lost. Perhaps that is the true afterlife.

I think there was a line in a movie or television show to the effect that death is but another step in the journey each of us makes. That notion appeals to me. If that is, in fact, the case, I hope my brother-in-law and I can get together for a conversation and a drink and make up for the time we lost on this side.

Until then, Godspeed, Kenny.

Friday, July 7, 2017

#224 - Where Does The Time Go?

I realized this morning it had been more than three months since my last entry on these pages. Where did the time go?

Perhaps more accurately, I should ask myself where didn't the time go? It seems it went everywhere.

Over the last several months, my wife and I have been busy at various times working to get ready for our son's graduation, preparing and performing musical gigs around town, recording and editing a self-produced CD, get ready for several house projects. Oh, and we managed to get in a couple of excursions in the RV.

I believe Einstein came up with the idea that if one were able to travel at the speed of light, he or she could then basically make time stand still. Lately, it feels as if I have been moving faster than the speed of light, but time still seems to rush past.

I'm no Einstein (and have never played one on television), but I would like to posit my own theory of time and space. It seems to me that the speed at which time passes increases in conjunction with chronological age.

When we are younger, time seems to pass so much more slowly. As a child, how many times did you or a sibling ask your parents, "Are we there yet?" As we age into adulthood, we enter the world of appointments and deadlines and the dreaded "time crunch."

A second facet of the Huntsman theory of time and space could be stated thus: The speed at which time passes increases in direct proportion to the demands placed on said time.

For instance, how many times have you said or wished there were more than 24 hours in the day in order to get everything done that needs doing? Or how many times have you gotten involved in a task you thought might take an hour only to look up at the clock and realize several hours have passed?

I'll wrap this discussion up with a complete statement of my theory of time and space:

1) Advancements in chronological age result in a quickening pace of time passing.

2) Increased demands on one's time result in time passing at a more rapid rate.

3) The speed at which time passes increases or decreases in opposition to one's physical and mental state of being. When in a place and state of relaxation and well-being, time passes more quickly. ("Where did the weekend go?") When in a place and state of agitation, anxiety, and/or stress and pressure, time slows. ("Isn't this day over yet?" "Today just seemed to drag on.")

4) Time, when viewed in retrospect, is more often than not seen as wasted or misused. ("I should have done X." or "I could have been doing Y.") This is especially true when one's use or spending of time is reviewed by another. ("What did you do with your time?")

As for the last three months without an entry on these pages, the time just got away from me.

Monday, March 6, 2017

#223 - Anti-Social Aspects of Social Media

For several years, some have asked whether social media actually makes people antisocial. The New York Times first explored this question in 2010, visiting it again two years later.

The question of whether social media is making us more antisocial has been raised in places as diverse as car discussion forums and IBM. One informal poll on Debate.org shows 77-percent of respondents believe social media makes us more antisocial.

Most of these responses and articles focus on the always-connected nature of modern society. They contend that even when people get together they often spend more time looking at and interacting with their phones than they do with one another.

In the informal poll on Debate.org, some of the 23-percent who contend social media does not make us antisocial say social media "gives you a kind of boldness which is really helpful." They also cite the usefulness of social media in keeping track of distant friends and family members.

I can personally attest to both of these things. I have stayed connected and reconnected with family and friends through social media. However, I can also attest to the negative flip side of the "kind of boldness," which I don't see as being "really helpful."

My own belief, based on my own experience and anecdotal evidence from simply reading comments of others on Facebook, is that there is a sense in which social media makes us antisocial. I am not speaking of people always staring at their phones or their computers or their tablets.

The antisocial aspect of social media I refer to is the freedom it gives to people to say things to one another they would not say to another person's face. While there is a positive aspect to this freedom in that it allows everyone a voice, there are some downsides to this freedom as well.

For one thing, I personally believe social media has given rise to more questionable media/news sites, sites whose stories get more attention and are believed by more people simply because they get spread and shared on social media. As a result, trust in more conventional and mainstream sources becomes diminished.

Perhaps worse, is that people feel more free to ridicule others, call names, shame people, and even accuse them of being anti-American, anti-God, etc. simply because they see things differently. Since the election, I have been called any number of things I have never been called to my face.

Even when you know the person doing the name-calling, I think there is still a sense of anonymity (you see just the name, not their face), an electronic barrier between you and them that emboldens them (or you) to say things you likely would not say if you were in the same room together.

I recently unfriended someone on Facebook (for the first time) as a result of this sort of antisocial behavior. It was not because I disagreed with his views, although I do. It was because I was ridiculed for my beliefs and called things like "libtard," "crybaby," and "liar."

Social media makes it all too easy to get wrapped up in our emotions without the normal filters we use to keep from crossing that invisible line from passionate arguing to flat-out rudeness and disrespect. Most of us have either stepped on that line or stepped over it. I'm sure I have, although I try not to.

It is this aspect of social media that I worry about more than the image many conjure up of people always staring at their phones so as to not miss a tweet, a Facebook post, an Instagram message, or a Snapchat video. Perhaps this is a reflection of the society in which we live.

On the other hand, perhaps society has become more divided as a result of our reduced ability or willingness to filter what we say thanks to the power of social media to allow us to say whatever we want whenever we want to say it. I am beginning to lean in this direction.

For those of you who disagree and with whom I am still connected through social media, you are welcome to your opinions. Please just try to keep them civil.

Oh, and I'd appreciate it if you didn't always feel the need to scream out your opinions (through the use of ALL CAPS). Conversations are usually more fulfilling and more useful when they are two-way, and that cannot happen if one side is always yelling. My virtual ears thank you.

Monday, February 27, 2017

#222 - Time Keeps On Slipping, Slipping, Slipping

"I felt the beat of my mind go drifting into time passages, years go falling in the fading light" - Al Stewart "Time Passages"

In December, I marked a milestone birthday. For those unaware, a milestone birthday is one of those occasions you are mostly happy to have reached. At the same time, a part of you laments that another such day has come and gone, leaving you to contemplate the fact of aging and, if you are morbidly inclined, think about your own mortality.

To mark the occasion, I wrote a song I simply titled "Time." (You can view the lyrics here.) It addresses and references, I think, the typical things one thinks about as one ages - lost opportunities, wasted time, life sort of sneaking up on you and then past - you know, cheerful stuff like that.

I don't know whether it has or can be scientifically proven, but anecdotal evidence, along with my own personal observation, suggests that it is in fact true that time passes more quickly as one ages.

It is as if, rather than proceeding along a straight line, time follows an arc. It seems to climb uphill (and thus pass more slowly) when one is younger. How many of us when we were young would blurt out to our parents or some other adult "I can't wait until I'm old enough to move out and live on my own" or words to that effect?

When we are young, time seems to drag in a sense. It is as if some unseen hand is holding the reins, slowing us down to keep us from rushing too fast into our future.

As we enter adulthood, time's arc seems to level out a bit. There is still a slight uphill climb as we establish our careers, perhaps marry and begin a family. We hit a sort of pinnacle where we are somewhat established professionally and personally while still young enough to pursue new goals and dreams.

Then we hit middle-age. The downhill portion of the arc begins. Our children, if we have them, seem to grow up overnight. Our careers, perhaps, no longer hold the allure they once did. Or other thoughts begin to compete for space - travel, retirement, grandchildren. We begin to lose friends and family to illness or age at a greater rate.

This is not to say that we all take to our rocking chairs and simply wait for the end to come. It does mean that we begin to recognize that there is an end point. Perhaps we try to cram in things we thought of doing when we were younger but never got around to for one reason or another.

In my case, that thing has been music. I've always enjoyed singing, and when I was younger, I thought I had a decent voice. So, I began taking voice lessons. For the last few years, with the help of my wife, I have been regularly singing around town.

For years, I wrote song lyrics as a way to express my emotions and dreams. As I've gotten older, those efforts have improved to the point that I wanted to share them with others. Again with my wife's help, I have been able to set a number of those lyrics to music. In December of 2015, we put some of those songs on a CD for friends and family. This summer, we hope to put out another CD.

Last fall, I also began taking guitar lessons. At this stage in life, I have no illusion or aspiration of becoming the next Chet Atkins, Mark Knoffler, or Carlos Santana. However, I hope to learn enough to be able to arrange some of my own songs and perhaps even accompany myself on occasion.

I do not know exactly where on time's arc I currently reside. I know I am on the downhill portion of the arc (unless our average lifespan suddenly increases to 150 years or more). I also know there is still plenty I want to do, some of it an attempt to make up for lost and wasted time.

Some people say it is never too late to pursue your dreams. Well, technically, at some point it is too late. (Death comes to mind.) However, I have not yet reached that point. So, I keep on dreaming, and I keep on chasing.

"Buy me a ticket on the last train home tonight." - Al Stewart

Friday, February 10, 2017

#221 - Done Trying To Understand

"You are about to enter another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land of imagination. Next stop, the Twilight Zone!" - Rod Serling's opening narration

I have felt as if I were living in the Twilight Zone since January 20, and it has only become more surreal in the three weeks since The Donald took the oath of office and became our 45th President.

I have to wonder, though, whether the man (or his wife or any of his advisors) actually listened to the words of that oath as he repeated them. Because since that day, it seems as if Trump has spent more time tweeting in response to things said about him than he has actually governing.

Trump has railed against a retailer for making a business decision to no longer carry his daughter's line of products due to poor sales. The fact that he doesn't seem to recognize the need to cut your losses by dropping product lines that aren't selling might help to explain his four bankruptcies and the fact that he owes hundreds of millions of dollars to his creditors. (If he were a nation, he would almost make the United States look solvent.)

A key Trump advisor, Kellyanne Conway, also spoke to the decision by Nordstrom to discontinue the Ivanka Trump line in a clear violation of law. (Not to mention her repeated mention of a terrorist attack that never took place. #rememberBowlingGreen)

Trump's wife is suing a British newspaper, claiming among other things that its stories have harmed her ability to profit from the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that comes with being First Lady. Are we next to see the Trump Hotel brand proudly brandished above the portico to the White House?

None of Trump' supporters seem concerned by these blatant conflicts of interest. They continue to delude themselves into thinking that Trump is going to "drain the swamp" when, in fact, Trump is himself a swamp creature. Instead, they shout "Benghazi" and complain about protesters not giving Trump a chance, all the while failing to accept or acknowledge that millions of Americans are concerned about and opposed to the actions of this President.

I have friends and family who say they don't care how another person chooses to live his or her life. In the next breath, however, they voice their opposition to gay marriage or abortion. So, they actually do care; why don't they admit it?

They talk about turning this nation "back to God" (i.e., a return to Christianity) and have no problem in banning a different faith. They conveniently forget the fact that the Constitution prohibits establishment of a national religion or of laws regulating the practice of religion (or non-practice).

They then turn on those of us opposed to Trump's immigration ban, wondering how we can support a religion that marginalizes women while forgetting that there are Jewish sects in this country where women do not have equal standing with men. They also seem to forget that not all Muslims share the antiquated views of some more radical members with regard to women, just as most Christians no longer support slavery or stoning for eating shellfish, both of which were accepted in the Bible.

Regardless of where you stand on gay marriage or abortion, the fact is that legalizing both does not force you to do either. Whereas criminalizing both forces people to live their lives in secret and/or resort to desperate measures. It's the old "out of sight, out of mind" approach.

These same friends and family argue that they are not racist, yet they have no problem with Steve Bannon being the key advisor to Trump or with Jeff Sessions being Attorney General. Both men would be right at home in a Ku Klux Klan meeting. Instead, they point out that Democrat Robert Byrd was a Klan member for a short time in the 1940s, as if that justifies the views of these two men. Last time I looked, two wrongs did not make a right.

Do I believe everyone who supported and voted for Trump is a racist? No, not yet, but I do believe Trump is at the very least a closet racist. He is definitely a bully. He is definitely mean-spirited, and he is certainly thin-skinned.

For eight years, I watched as friends and family ranted about the lack of experience of Barack Obama before he became President. Yet these same people have no problem with Trump's lack of experience in government. Nor are they concerned that Betsy DeVos' only qualification to be Secretary of Education is the fact that she and her family donated millions to Republican political campaigns.

I admit to having a hard time understanding how supporters believe Trump gives a damn about middle-class Americans. He has never been middle-class in his life, and his Cabinet is made up primarily of rich white men.

I am convinced that if Obama had said or done half the things that Trump has said or done so far, conservatives would be screaming for his head on a platter. For some reason I can't (or maybe don't want to) comprehend, they are okay with Trump doing and saying these things and can't seem to understand why some of us are not okay with that.

Since these people can't seem to understand or seem unwilling to try to understand, I've decided I'm done trying to understand their views. I accept that there are serious problems in this country. I do not accept that they were all the result of one man's actions (Obama). Nor do I accept that hatred, fear, isolationism, dismantling of environmental protections, or daily tweets on Twitter are the path to a solution for any of these problems.

With each passing day, I grow angrier at having my patriotism questioned because I disagree with Trump's actions and his supporters. Dissent is, perhaps, one of the most patriotic acts a person can engage in. In fact, this nation was born out of dissent. Slavery was eliminated because of dissent. Women gained the right to vote because of dissent. Workers gained better wages and safer working conditions because of dissent.

Now, however, Trump supporters simply want me to shut up while it remains okay for them to belittle me because I disagree. Well, this "snowflake" does not plan to comply with their wishes. Just remember, with enough snowflakes, you get a blizzard, and I suspect it's coming.