Category Archives: General

The Gypsy Life

I’m back in California now… back in the bay area, a region of the country that I have grown to love. I don’t feel completely reconnected yet, but truthfully I don’t think I’d necessarily feel connected no matter where I was. Part of the things that connect us to an area are missing for me at the moment, and it’s simply a matter of time and effort before I manage to get those things back in my life.

One of the big things that connect us to some place, that makes us feel as if we’re at home and we belong, is a job. Unfortunately, I still don’t have one of those, but I’ve only been back for two weeks or so. I’ve been looking diligently, and have sent out quite a few resumes already. I’ve even managed to have an interview already, something that eluded me for the longest time.

The interview I had was for a company that I’ve always admired. My best friend helped get my resume onto the right desk, in front of the right set of eyeballs, and I took it from there. In actuality, I’m sure I did well in the interview. It was conducted over the phone, so I missed out on the all-important body language and eye contact, but by the end it was less of an interview and more like two friends chatting on the phone. I felt like I connected with the other person and that I had reached through the phone and made an impression. He mentioned that he would be moving forward on the process and sending my resume up to the next guy in the hiring chain. so that’s always a good sign.

After careful consideration, though, I had to email the guy and tell him that I couldn’t in good conscience move forward on the process. Now, for someone who has been out of a job for as long as I have, that’s a pretty difficult thing to do, but I do not regret doing it, nor do I think I made the wrong decision. The job required up to 60% travel time, being on the road both domestically and internationally. The job itself was as a technical instructor, something I would love to do and a job I think I could excel at. However, I have reached a point in my life where I do not relish the thought of half my life being spent in hotels and airports in strange cities. I also have a dog and a cat that wouldn’t react well to traveling that much or being left alone. I absolutely refuse to kennel my dog for half his life, so leaving him behind isn’t an option.

I know some people would say “oh, it’s a dog, it’s not that important and if he gets in the way you need to get rid of him” but those people aren’t dog people. Those people aren’t animal lovers and those people don’t understand nor do they comprehend the commitment you make when you bring an animal into your life. They aren’t just part of your life when it’s convenient. I have never understood people that take a dog to the pound or sell it because “oh, well, we moved and our new place doesn’t allow dogs” or “oh it just wasn’t convenient anymore.”

There is, of course, much more to my decision than just my dog. Part of what I missed about being home is my connection to the community, my feeling of being plugged in and a part of the local scene. I have been to every state in the Union throughout my life, I have been to about a dozen foreign countries, and I have never felt connected and plugged in no matter where I went… until I moved to the bay area. This is the first place I’ve ever felt roots, the first place I’ve ever felt like I truly belonged and I want to keep that in my life. Being on the road, bouncing between Detroit and Toledo and Boston and Denver in an infinite loop of travel takes you completely away from that, prevents you from sinking roots and doesn’t really give you time to settle.

I’m 38 years old now, which admittedly isn’t old but I’m sure not 22 anymore either. I’ve grown to appreciate the comforts of sleeping in my own bed every night, of knowing where everything is around me and drawing comfort from routine. I spent a couple of years as an over-the-road longhaul truckdriver and I am not interested in being a gypsy anymore. I also eventually want a stable committed relationship, and being constantly on the road isn’t exactly confidence-building when it comes time to convince a woman that you’ll be there whenever and wherever she needs you. Lord knows I have enough other baggage to bring to the table when I finally am ready for that commitment, the last thing I need is to add being away from home half my life to the mix. Any sane woman would run away from me waving her arms in the air and screaming if I were to bring all that to the table.

I eventually will find what I want and need. I have to have confidence in that. In the interim, I’m just going to enjoy being back home, in the only place I’ve ever felt like I truly belonged.

Loving Yourself

A friend of mine is going through some difficulties lately, and I have had the opportunity to listen to his thoughts and fears, as well as to offer a small amount of counsel. He is having problems in his relationship; after 14 years of marriage he and his wife have reached a crisis point and he is lost, scared and confused.

Having been through my own set of issues, I hope that I have been (and will continue to be) able to offer him some useful insight, free of the usual “oh yeah, you’re totally right and she’s totally wrong” sort of false advice that so many people fall victim to in this day and age. A friend isn’t someone who simply tells you what you want to hear; a friend is someone who puts your friendship on the line and risks alienating you in order to tell you the hard truth, to tell you what they really think in a loving and caring manner even if it’s something you don’t really want to hear.

In my friend’s case, I really believe that one of the fundamental issues at stake is his intensity. He is an extremely focused and intense man which, in today’s society, normally equates to success and accolades. However, in a relationship such intensity, such single-minded focus can do more harm than good. One thing that I have learned about relationships is that intensity on either part to the point of obsession can drive a stake right through the heart of the relationship.

My friend, let’s call him Bill (not his real name, of course) truly loves his wife. In fact, he’s so in love with his wife that he absolutely cannot accept failure or defeat. He has stated that he will do “whatever it takes” to fix this. On the surface, that sounds exactly like the attitude he needs to adopt, but in reality it’s actually the opposite. Bill needs to accept the fact that sometimes, despite what we may truly want, we’re just not going to get it and focusing so hard on it may in fact push it forever out of our grasp. We have to turn over control and accept that life happens and it is frequently messy and out of control.

When you say you will do “whatever it takes” to fix something, where do you draw the line? Will you lie? Will you cheat and steal? Will you rip away the very bedrock of your own character, that part of you that makes you fundamentally “you” and unique? Will you completely give up every iota of yourself in order to hold on to something or someone? If the answer to that is yes, you need to seriously reconsider your answer. There are limits to our giving, or there should be, and no person should ever give up the absolute bedrock fundamentals that they hold dear. The problem lies in defining what those fundamentals are and knowing when and where to draw the line and say “enough.”

Another telling thing that Bill said to me was that without his wife, he felt like his anchor was ripped out and he was being cast adrift on a storm swept sea. This brings up another fundamental point… you cannot expect someone else to be your Alpha and Omega, your anchor that keeps you firmly grounded and sane. This anchor has to come from within yourself and from God or whatever supreme deity you hold dear. Forcing this responsibility onto another person is unrealistic, unfair, and sets you up for failure when that other person inevitably turns out to be a fallible human instead of perfection. Hinging your entire existence on another person is an unfair burden and is in fact not a sign of love, but a sign of attempting to control them. You should not place that level of responsibility on someone’s shoulders that you truly love.

Finally, and perhaps most important, you have to learn to truly love yourself. You have to embrace yourself, warts and all. You have to be able to look yourself in the eye, honestly and openly accept who you truly are (both good and bad) and love yourself not because of your flaws, not despite your flaws, but with your flaws. If you cannot love yourself unconditionally, you can never love another person that way nor can you truly allow them to love you that way. Once you truly and completely love yourself that love will flow from you to the people around you and will encourage them to do the same. I remember when I was married I used to tell my wife (and myself) that I loved her more than I loved myself. That was oh so wrong, and I’ve grown wiser since then. You should love yourself completely. You should love yourself enough to set boundaries, and once you are comfortable with loving yourself you can then extend that love to the people closest to you.

I don’t know if Bill will be able to work things out with his wife. I hope he does, because a relationship gone bad is a terrible and tragic thing. Most of all, I hope Bill can learn to love himself, whether the relationship ends or not. In the end, that’s what really matters most of all.

The Heart of America

George Will is lamenting the left again. In one of his latest columns he accuses the left of relying solely on materialistic impulses in order to convince the “heart of America” to support them politically. He derides this strategy, using pithy little out-of-context quotes from Thomas Frank’s book “What’s the Matter With Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America” to bolster his claims.

Well, I’m a liberal in the so-called “Heart of America” (for another few days anyway) and while I will agree with his assertion that Kansas is firmly conservative and firmly Republican I will not concede him the field on his terms. Mr. Will does what conservatives do best… he condescends, he simplifies to ridiculousness, he derides and adopts that superior smugness that comes from clothing oneself in false righteousness.

If you read between the lines in Mr. Will’s commentary, you see the derision and the smugness that comes from such an attitude. Even while defending the conservatism in Kansas, he belittles the “Heart of America” in the process. Being a native Kansan, I’m used to being belittled… especially by smarmy conservative politicians that only know Kansas as a locked-in vote and a flyover state.

The people of Kansas are not stupid. Granted, I don’t generally agree with their politics but believe it or not, it’s possible to be intelligent and have a differing opinion at the same time. Liberals are roundly derided for being too “intellectual” and for appealing to sensibility instead of emotion. Part of the reason why we bear that label is because unlike the majority of the conservative movement we do believe other people can be smart too, even if they disagree with us. Derision and ridicule are tools of both sides, unfortunately, but from my experience (and yes, I’ve been on both sides of the fence) my right-leaning counterparts are the ones most apt to heap scorn and ridicule on their opponents.

George Will continues this in his column. First, he derides Mr. Frank’s book, ridiculing him for reducing the issue down to a few key components. He then descends to the same level, refuting each of the claims and trying to turn them around to his advantage. All the while he bolsters the conservative image of sneering and smug condescension. Frankly, I’ve had enough.

There’s a time and a place for conservative politics in America. There’s also a time and a place for liberal politics. Ideally, we can and should adopt a little of both. We need the appeal to sensibility offered by many portions of the conservative mindset, heavily tempered by the compassion and approach to reason and humanity offered by the liberals. Both sides have good ideas and a lot to offer to America, but as with most things in our country we end up treating it as a competitive “win-lose” situation where one side has to destroy the other.

Danger exists when either side is left unchecked. A heavily liberal state leads to idealism divorced from reality. Compassion unchecked by common sense can bankrupt us quickly. It can lead us to eschew action when it’s needed and can stay our hand when firm discipline is called for. Liberal politics left unfettered can quickly bloat government and can lead to far too much “compassionate meddling.” Unchecked compassion doesn’t make us weak, but it does make us a ripe target.

On the other hand, unbridled conservatism can quickly devolve into dispassionate disregard for other people. It can shrink government, but at the cost of programs meant to catch the people who invariably fall through the cracks. Too much conservatism can quickly devolve into a “might makes right” stance in domestic and foreign politics, loss of civil rights and a police state. Like liberalism, it can also make us a ripe target but as a bully to be brought down.

The optimum mix is a little of both, a healthy dollop of compassion mixed with a shot of realism. Both sides need to operate under the assumption that the public is neither stupid nor misinformed and, as a matter of course, they are far more intelligent than the politicians who seek to lead them. They are far smarter because they let neither side hold too much sway and keep the reigns of power firmly where they belong… in the grasp of the public. I’m sick and tired of smarmy politicians assuming they know what’s best for America while they are too busy sucking on the teat of America to even know what’s going on in the constituencies they seek to represent.

What this country needs is a real American holding the tiller. We need a common person, a real person who knows what’s really going on in the grocery stores, the coffee shops and the video stores of this nation. We need someone who uses common sense to solve problems, who understands the value in loyalty and friendship, the necessity of listening more than you talk and thinking before you act… a person who can restore dignity and honor to our country, who speaks from the heart and can show the world what the face of America truly looks like.

Unfortunately, those kind of people aren’t the types who actively seek the limelight. They aren’t the type of person who would leap at the chance to subject themselves to the circus that our politics have become. Finally, they aren’t the type of person who would stand up well to the crushing weight of scrutiny, ridicule and strain that we heap on our so-called leaders. Instead, we are left with the Bush dynasty, the Kerry’s, the Deans, the Cheneys and the Edwards. We are left with smiling men with good teeth and great hair and we debate the eternal question “boxers or briefs” as if it matters more than whether we should torture our political prisoners or not and how much of our civil rights we are willing to sign away in the name of “security.” We’ve gotten what we deserve. It’s time for us to demand and expect better of ourselves, our leaders and our country.

The Truth is the Perfect Defense

I’ve had a fascinating conversation with a quite intelligent man today, and I owe today’s column topic to him. He’s a Bush supporter, a conservative psuedo-pundit, and although he differs in political viewpoints with me I have to give him props for his well thought out and cogent way of expressing them.

I actually shouldn’t call him a Bush supporter. He’s no more a Bush supporter than I am a Kerry supporter. We both are more aptly described as anti’s. He is anti-Kerry and I am anti-Bush, and in today’s political scene it seems like that’s the way most elections turn out… you don’t end up voting for a man so much as you end up voting against his opponent. It’s a crying shame that today’s political scene doesn’t really offer us a viable person to vote for instead of forcing us to vote against what we think the most repugnant choice is.

Anyway, back to the subject of what I want to write today. One of the things we talked about was some of the more nefarious details of the past lives of political figures. We bantered back and forth about whether Bush really was AWOL during his stint in the National Guard, why Kerry has hidden details of his past involvement with anti-war groups, etc. My response to all of this is the fact that, in my mind, the truth is always the perfect defense.

Just about any of these situations could be easily averted by the simple expediency of the truth. If more people would just come out and tell the truth, tell us what is really going on and give us the real story we wouldn’t have any sort of ammunition to fashion weapons against them. We could spend less of our time and energy making up or imagining all sorts of nefarious schemes and instead just say “oh, this is what happened”, deal with it and move on. The best shield you can ever have is the truth. The truth is in scant supply in our society, though. We hide things, we pretend things didn’t happen in our past and we allow other people to build on that. When we don’t tell people the truth we allow them the freedom to make up any sort of implausible situation, to imagine things happened that never really did and to blow the whole thing out of proportion. Nobody can ever really compete with the powers of human imagination, except with the simple expediency of the truth.

One benefit of coming out with the truth in any situation is it opens us up to forgiveness. We can never truly seek nor receive forgiveness without copping to the truth. The whole concept of penance and forgiveness falls flat on its face without the truth (and it’s sharp-edged twin of responsibility) behind it. If you did something, tell me the truth. Tell me what you did, truly be sorry, truly seek to move beyond it and I’ll see what I can do.

Was Bush really AWOL, or did he just spend too much time partying with his friends an missed a few patrol flights? Did he really serve and does he have the records to back it up? Cough it up, tell me the truth about what really happened. Was Kerry really wounded in combat like he said he was or did he actually shoot himself while cleaning his M-16? I’ll never know until you cough up the truth, show me the records and let me move on. Hiding the truth is a waste of energy on both our parts and I’d rather spend my time dealing with today’s situations and the lessons we’ve all learned from our past. Stop making me waste my time trying to really find out what happened and instead just tell me the truth.

Responsibility goes hand in hand with truth, though. Unfortunately, responsibility is in just as short supply as the truth, and is often as hard to find. We like to dodge responsibility just like we dodge the truth, and this aversion aggravates small problems into huge ones. So many situations could be averted by simply taking personal responsibility for our actions, telling people the truth about issues, talking about why we did or did not doe something and being open, honest and aboveboard. Open… honest… aboveboard… those should be the watchwords of a new political regime. Show me a politician that adheres to those principles, who honestly and openly tells me what he’s thinking, why he’s thinking it and takes responsibility for not only his successes but also his failures and I’ll show you a politician worthy of my vote.

The Nature of Friendship

One of the ways I spend some of my free time is in online games. I normally gravitate to the online role-playing games, the MMORPG’s as they are called in the industry slang. These games usually involve a couple of thousand people all sharing a virtual life in some virtual universe, striving together towards common goals, sometimes fighting against each other, and constantly developing their online personas. Many different people play these types of games. Common wisdom dictates that only younger people play them but I personally have met thousands of housewives, retired couples, thirty-something married couples, 13 year old adults and 50 year old children. The sheer breadth of human experience is exhilarating and bewildering and I love it.

I honestly don’t spend a great deal of my life playing these games, unlike what some of the stories in the popular media like to portray. I do lead a guild, a coalition of like-minded players all striving for a common goal, and have lead this guild for a number of years. For good or bad, I’ve managed to stamp my own brand of ethics, morality, and sense of fair play on the people who have shared guild membership with me. I’ve had the honor and the pleasure of serving as the head of a large, unruly and sometimes combative family and I’d like to think I’ve taught them a few things as well as learned a bit.

One of the things that I’ve learned is that family is who you make it. You have your biological family, of course, and they are vitally important. You can also have an extended family, and yes you can form very deep bonds of friendship with someone who you’ve never met face to face. Situations that arise in these games allow you to learn what you and the people around you are truly made of. Do you nobly stand your ground in a hopeless situation, sacrificing your own virtual life so that your team can make it to safety? Do you instead turn and run at the first hint of trouble, leaving everyone else to fend for themselves? Can you trust someone to truly do what they say, to watch your back, and to put your interests if not above their own at least on an equal level? Many of you might scoff at this, thinking to yourselves “oh, it’s only a game, it’s only fantasy, what a loser” I’m sure. That’s sad, in my opinion. Sad, because it’s generally spouted by people who don’t really understand what it is they are condemning, people who have no real handle on the true nature of human psychology or nature. Most people who condemn this sort of thing don’t really understand the true nature of friendship and can’t possibly imagine being fast friends with someone without actually ever seeing their face. One of the benefits to these types of friendships is that you actually spend more time with these people than most friends spend together. In addition, the time you spend with them is high quality time for the most part, times when you are displaying your true character. You get to see how your friends handle anger, victory, defeat, frustration, happiness, luck, virtue and all the other myriad emotions that we encounter throughout a lifetime. You get to form a real picture of the true nature of the other person unencumbered by social filters, stereotypes or preconceived notions. It would be interesting indeed to put engaged people together in this type of milieu for six months prior to their wedding, allowing them to get a real look at the person they were pledging to spend the rest of their lives with. I have an idea it would be a real eye-opener for some. I do not believe that these games serve as a substitute for real life, nor do I think that all friendships should be virtual. I value and treasure the times I spend with my RL (real life) friends and wouldn’t give up that personal contact for anything in the world. There is nothing quite like face to face contact with your best friend, sipping beers and bullshitting while you watch the pretty girls stream past your table but there’s also a place for the online, the virtual friends. Everyone needs a family, everyone needs friends, and we should never turn away from them no matter where we find them. As with all things in this life, balance is the key. Remember to open yourself to new experiences, new surroundings and new experiences. People are important and you could do worse than reaching out, through the screen, and touching the lives of other people and allowing them to touch yours in return. You’ll be all the richer for it, I promise.