Friday, May 27, 2016

#209 - In Memoriam

Today marks the start of Memorial Day weekend. It is a day and a weekend that is, in many ways, schizophrenic.

On the one hand, the three-day Memorial Day weekend is seen by many as the unofficial start of summer. It means camping, grilling, and drinking (although it could be asked who needs a holiday weekend for that). For those of us with children still in school, it also means we're just about at the start of summer vacation, and for some, the panic as to how to find their child's time.

On the other hand, the holiday itself is a day for remembering and reflecting on the sacrifice of those who gave their lives in the military service of this nation. I suspect for most of us, while this aspect of the holiday is there on the periphery of our consciousness, the thoughts will be more of getting outside and spending time with family.

Not that there is anything wrong with that. (I know I've often had this mindset.) After all, the freedom to do just that is part of what so many men and women fought and died to protect.

It is also true that most of us have never and will never serve in the military. I have never served, although I came close a couple of times. The draft was eliminated the year before I turned 18, although I did still have to register just in case.

Several years later, I considered enlisting in the Navy because my first go-round in college had not gone so well, and I was interested in a career writing, something I was told I could get training for as part of my service. That flirtation with military service ended when I decided not to sign the enlistment papers after it was suggested I not mention any physical ailments and injuries I had.

As a result, I never served. Nor did my father; he was old enough to serve in World War II, but could not pass the physical. While some other members of my family have served in the military, most of them did so either in times of peace or when I was far away from them and unaware.

Perhaps because of that lack of proximity, I and many others tend to forget or at least not fully grasp the true reason for the holiday. Allow me to remedy that now.

To those of you who have served or currently serve in the military, thank you for your service. To those of you with family members who have served or who currently serve in the military, thank you for sharing them with the nation.

Finally, for those of you with family members who paid the ultimate price for our freedom, thank you for their sacrifice. That gratitude seems a small enough price to pay in return for the price they and you have paid. The nation is in your debt.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

#208 - Trump, No Trump

"Publicity can be terrible. But only if you don't have any." - Jane Russell

"There is no such thing as bad publicity except your own obituary." - Brendan Behan

"I have bought golden opinions from all sorts of people." - William Shakespeare

This is not actually a political post. Okay, it is. A little. This post is about Donald Trump, but it is not about my views on Trump or his politics. What this post is about is some recent experiences having to do with Donald Trump.

Now that Trump is the presumptive Presidential nominee of the Republican party, his campaign is swinging into general election mode. (Is it me or does the word "presumptive" sound like something you might associate with a disease such as tuberculosis?) Of course, we all know what that means - talk about the Democrats (or the Republicans depending on which party you are campaigning for), speeches geared more toward winning an election than toward winning a party's nomination, and the dreaded robo-calls.

One day last week, I received four such calls from the Trump campaign in the course of a few hours. Since I hung up on each call after a few seconds, I can only conclude the call-backs were based on an assumption I was having phone trouble and that the campaign never entertained the possibility I was not interested in the message. (My own assumption is that political campaigns often assume political views based on geographical location.)

I have been called by the Trump campaign (or on behalf of it) close to a dozen times now, and each call has started out the exact same way. My assumption is that they want to make sure I hear and understand the first message before additional messages are sent my way, but who knows?

My other recent experience having to do with Donald Trump is more disconcerting or surreal, depending on how you view such things.

This past Friday, we went out to a local restaurant/bar to have a few drinks and listen to some live local music. Behind the bar, big-screen television was playing with no sound. The channel on display was what I must now refer to as The Network Formerly Known As CNN.

During the three hours we were at this local establishment, every story I happened to see displayed on the television screen had to do with Donald Trump in some way, shape, or form: Trump disavowing controversial comments made by his former butler, Trump stating that his call for a ban on travel by Muslims to the United States was "only a suggestion," Trump denying that he once posed as his own publicist in a series of telephone calls to news outlets in the early 1990s.

Okay, perhaps not every story dealt with Trump - one headline did state that Bill Clinton feels Hillary is facing the same kinds of attacks he faced in 1992, and the news ticker underneath did stream a few non-Trump related headlines at a speed few people would read - but you get the general idea.

It reminds me a little of the old joke, "I went to a fight and a hockey game broke out."

I came away from the evening glad that I no longer work in anything remotely related to journalism and also glad that I am more interested these days in music than in politics. I have a much better grip on my own personal sanity and my blood pressure as a result.

I am also forced to conclude that we have helped to create the ineffectual government we complain about by allowing the creation of Super PACs where donors can hide behind a cloak of anonymity; by allowing unlimited spending on political campaigns, thereby forcing our elected officials to spend a disproportionate amount of their time on raising money toward and campaigning for re-election; by replacing true debate on issues with 30-second soundbites and Facebook memes; and by the 24-hour news cycle and the desire to be first.

I decided to close with a quote from Edward R. Murrow, still seen by some in the industry as the patron saint of broadcast journalism. I had a plethora of quotes to choose from, but I'll close with these:

"The speed of communications is wondrous to behold. It is also true that speed can multiply the distribution of information that we know to be untrue."

"We are in the same tent as the clowns and the freaks — that's show business."

Saturday, May 7, 2016

#207 - Another Year Older, Not Deeper In Debt

I'm resisting the temptation to quote from "Sixteen Tons" by Tennessee Ernie Ford, not because I have a remarkable sense of restraint, but because I think I did that very thing in a blog post made in a galaxy far, far away.

My posting frequency to this blog has dropped dramatically in recent months. In part, that's because I have been writing and posting with some frequency to my music/poetry blog, My Wordsmithing. The other reason has been nearly everything I feel compelled to write about is either political or religious, and a part of me thinks there is already too much political and religious noise cluttering up the bandwidth.

Thankfully, in this post I don't have to. You see, yesterday marked the 20th birthday of our son. They have been the most challenging, exasperating, and rewarding years of my life. I'm sure there are some other adjectives I could throw out there, not all of them suitable for family consumption.

These 20 years have been challenging because there have been many times when we have wondered what exactly our autistic son is and will be capable of doing for himself as he transitions into adulthood. The answer, as I have learned, is - more than we think.

As parents of a special needs child, I think the tendency is even greater to want to try and protect them from the outside world. The danger in doing so is that we and they never learn what they are truly capable of doing for themselves. As our son has grown into a young man, I have tried to restrain that urge to overprotect. As a father whose own mother worked a lot of nights and whose father was not around while I was growing up, turning that urge off has been even harder.

These 20 years have been exasperating in part because I have realized I am not that great as a father. I suppose I can blame a large part of that on not having good role models while I was growing up, but the fact remains that I am still learning.

The last seven of those 20 years have been particularly exasperating because our son has been, well, a teenager. Although there are some things other teens can do that our son cannot (such as drive), in many ways, our son has been a typical teenager, often not wanting to do the same things as his parents and often spending large chunks of his time in his bedroom with the door closed. I was prepared to say "doing God knows what," and to anticipate the likely response from readers. In this case, though, I know what he is usually doing - playing video games or watching YouTube videos about playing video games.

I suppose these past 20 years have also been exasperating in that our son often will express an interest in this or that and then do nothing to pursue said interest. I have certainly tried to nudge him in the direction of those interests, but I realize I cannot push too hard because in this respect he is a good deal like me. (For many years, I told anyone who would listen that I one day wanted to write a novel. While I have made a few starts, I realized I don't have the patience or the discipline to sit down and do that.)

These 20 years have also been rewarding. One selfish reason for that is that, unlike my own father, I stuck around. That alone likely moves me near the middle of the pack when it comes to fatherhood rankings.

These past two decades have also be rewarding as we have watched our son continually confound, surprise, and exceed the expectations of the so-called experts on autism. He has long been what I term a square peg trying to fit into a round hole kind of world.

I think, though, perhaps the opposite is true and that he is the round peg trying to fit into the world's square hole. Teachers and other experts have always had a hard time trying to get a handle on our son's interests, capabilities, triggers, and the like.

We have long suspected he was capable of much more than the system asked of him, and the last few years have proven us right. The challenge, however, remains finding the proper outlets and channels for those capabilities and the right people to guide him.

While there will always be some things our son will not be able to do, there are, I suspect, things he will be able to do that others cannot. He just needs a little help, a bit of support, and a gentle nudge now and again.

In a little while, we will sit down to cake and presents and celebrate the fact that our son is now 20. The first 20 years have been a remarkable ride. I suspect the next 20 years will be even more remarkable, and I can't wait to find out what great things we will see along the way. Happy birthday, Christopher!