Archives for September 2014

You’re Just A Memory Now

The Lead/Theme Float
My daughter says I look sad but wonders why I am not crying if I really am. I tell her I just found out an old friend died and I am sad but not the kind of sad that makes me cry.

She gives me a hug and I tell her it is ok and it is.

Part of me feels badly that I don’t feel worse but I haven’t seen Lisa since I was in college, or maybe longer. I can’t say I know or knew much about her either.

Her older brother and I were friends. We met in Hebrew school when we were around six or seven, played on the same baseball team a few times and went to each other’s birthday parties.

But we probably stopped hanging out somewhere around the time we turned 14 or so. The last definite memory I have is from my Bar Mitzvah but that is probably because he is in a few pictures.

Still whenever I have thought about Lisa, Sam or their little brother Jim I picture as us being kids because we were.  Those were days when life stretched out in front of us like some golden road with endless possibilities.

“He says, “Son can you play me a memory
I’m not really sure how it goes
But it’s sad and it’s sweet
And I knew it complete
When I wore a younger man’s clothes”
Piano Man- Billy Joel”

It is funny to sit at the computer, headphones on and discover something new in Piano Man. Until this moment it was a song that I enjoyed listening to and had fun singing along with at campfires and parties but not because I related to it.

And then tonight came and I heard the lines above and they got caught in my throat.

I kid around about being an old man but I am not. I don’t feel like it at all.

Sure I don’t look like I once did and I have the mystery aches and pains we all get in our forties but I get outside and live. I am active. I have young kids and plans for a future.

Retirement may be something I think about more seriously now, it may be something I worry about because I wonder if I will ever have enough to do it but it is not retirement based upon an inability to work.

It is not because I am too feeble. The retirement I see is a choice I will make because I am ready for something else.

“Don’t mistake my kindness for weakness. I am kind to everyone, but when someone is unkind to me, weak is not what you are going to remember about me.”― Al Capone

Al doesn’t deserve to be remembered but for better or for worse he made his mark on society and so his name lives on but not for the sort of reasons I would want to be known for.

Sometimes the boys have asked me if I ever think about how I want to be remembered. Sometimes they talk about leaving a legacy and I’ll bust their chops and suggest they try not to make like Ozymandias.

“`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away”.”

Something about the way some people talk about legacy bothers me. It sounds like ego and fear.

That is a combination I am not a fan of.

Do I want to be remembered?

I suppose I do. I suppose I want to make a mark and to do something that makes people remember that once I walked this earth. But I don’t want it to be for the wrong reasons.

Capone’s legacy holds no interest for me.

What I want is for my family to remember me. What I want is for my great-great-great grandchildren to know I was once here and that they remember me because I worked to make the world a better place.

You’re Just A Memory Now

I suppose for many of us if we are lucky that will be part of the evolution. We’ll have done whatever we did here and then we’ll die and move on to whatever comes next.

If we have lived a decent life than some people will remember us. If we have made the kind of mark that goes deeper than they won’t think of us as ‘you’re just a memory now.’

But even if they do, is that a bad thing or is that me feeling guilty that when I think about some of the people I know that have died recently I don’t have many if any recent moments to associate with them.

All I have is the you’re just a memory now and I am not quite sure what to do with it.

Steve Jobs’ Ghost Gave Me A Cellphone

Yellowstone Sunset

This post is going in a different direction than I had intended. I was going to share how much traffic I generated from using a headline about “Spitting and Swallowing” that had nothing to do with sex but something sent me in a different direction.

Hidden Valley, Joshua Tree NP 4-13-13
Don’t know what it was, but I heard something that made me think of An Uncertain Certainty and decided a different direction was important. When changes occur you have to roll with them, do your best to adapt and adjust and move.

Cradle of Stars
That reminded me again about the post I was going to write and how I wanted to talk about the blog as a bully pulpit and how often it is meaningless but I have already done that and at the moment it makes no sense to write about such narishkeit.

Steve Jobs’ Ghost Gave Me A Cellphone

My cellphone is dying. My until recently dependable Samsung Galaxy Note II has decided it is unhappy and is doing its best to leave this plane and move on to wherever it is dead cellphones go.

I had intended on avoiding the iPhone because I am a free thinking rebel who didn’t want to bow down to the ghost of Voldemort and become a Kool-Aid drinking Apple fanatic.

But then something happened.

The Ghost of Steve Jobs came to visit me and he gave me a cellphone.

“Jack, I am the ghost of Steve Jobs and I want you to use this cellphone. Your friends and family will be jealous when they see what beautiful phone you have. This is an electronic wet dream.”

I looked at the specter and shook my head.

“Brother, a beautiful phone is nice but unless you have some sort of app I don’t know that I am unfamiliar with there won’t be any wet dreams here tonight. And if there is, please tell me there is an iClean your Sheets app to go with it.

Been 30 or more years since I had to worry about those things and these days no one is going to associate that kind of thing with puberty. I’d rather not have someone hand me a box of depends and a note suggesting I sit down with my primary care physician.”

The apparition just glared at me and I laughed.

“Ghost CEO, I am not scared of you. You are just a figment of my imagination. I have been stared down by real people, the kind that get semi hysterical about burning rivers and men who make fun of them. But if you’d like I’ll tell you about this great Android app you can use to make your ghost chick wail like a banshee.”

“Beware Jack Steiner, great woe comes to those who fail to heed my call.”

“Sorry ghost dude, I turn off my ringer and notifications because all that commotion is distracting. Next time I’ll make a note to give you a special ring and I’ll pick up. Nobody tells me what to do, when to move on or what phone to use”

Suddenly I realized I  was coated in some sort of slimy substance and I heard a chuckle.

“I told you Jack Steiner and that ugly doppelganger friend of yours that I am not to be played with.”

I shook my head and laughed.

“Ghost dude, I know things. Don’t mess with me. This slimy stuff is nasty but it is nothing a good shower won’t fix.”

There was a loud boom and then the room filled with light as morning broke.

Where Was My Beautiful Cellphone?

It took a moment for me to realize I was lying in my bed and that I wasn’t covered in slime or sweat. I was just another almost middle aged dude trying to figure out what the hell led to such a crazy dream.

I picked up my phone off of the night stand, turned it on and checked out my email. It took longer than normal to boot up and the back felt hot.

“C’mon phone, be like the Little Engine That Could and climb the hill, turn on buddy.”

While I waited for the phone to come to life I thought about what I want in my next phone. The newest iPhone, the one they call the 6 Plus appears to meet most of those needs.

In some ways it might be a better match than my Samsung. My kids would be happy to be able to Facetime with me as would niece and nephews. Though the Android market is growing the music and movies still seem to have a better ecosystem through Apple and their iTunes marketplace.

But I don’t like not being able to add memory, to swap out cards the way I have as well as change batteries.

“What about that ghost of Jobs, what do you have to say?”

The words hung in the air and the only response I received was a quizzical look from the dog.

“You know what I don’t like hearing about, how ‘beautiful’ the phone is. I am not buying art. I want functionality. I want something that works. That beauty line irks me.”

The dog wagged his tail at me and I thanked him for being true and loyal.

“You my furry friend are among my most trusted confidants. Remember one day I may come to you and ask for a special favor, but until that day you may live your life as you will.”

The Phone As Camera

As I rolled out of bed and shuffled over the shower I thought about the changes I have made here at the blog and my desire to tell a better story. Part of that tale is wrapped up in photos.

While the water pounded down upon my back I thought about my desire to become a better photographer and my preference not to have to carry my gear.

Would the tales I have heard about the iPhone camera compared to a Droid be enough to push me into the Apple camp. Or would I find that the only way I could obtain the type of photos I want to take be through a real camera.

If the ghost of Steve Jobs had appeared in the shower I would have asked but he didn’t so instead I settled for seeking out other means to answer the question.

And now my friends you know about one part of my current quest, the need to answer the question of whether I can get by with the camera on my phone or not.

I need to figure that out so I can serve the master that desires to become a better storyteller using images in addition to words.

What Happens When Bloggers Bully

Cochrane bridge on a very cold Alberta Day

I can neither confirm nor deny that some bullies have been made to jump off of bridges.

Editor’s Note: The first time I ran this post was here. I almost didn’t use  the word bully again because people have begun to abuse it as they have other words such as epic and amazing. It shouldn’t be misused because when you do that words lose their power but recent circumstances made it clear it is appropriate.

When you use post pictures of individuals online for the purpose of denigrating them and pepper the post around such pictures with prose that is designed to hurt them and make them feel badly you are engaging in bullying. It is made even more cowardly when done so from behind a keyboard.

I have seen this happen for as long as I have been blogging and I don’t expect it to stop. That is a sad comment about people, but I am not the guy who believes that awareness cures all ills. It may cause some people to think twice and or reconsider but others will keep on keeping on.

But I would rather mention it and slow down or prevent what I can than ignore it.

The fastest way to make friends and enemies in blogging is remarkably simple. All you need to do is create and publish a list called “Best” or “Most Popular” and you are guaranteed to be praised and criticized for your wisdom and or tunnel vision. The interesting thing about it is that it doesn’tmatter whether you are an expert in a particular field or the most popular blogger in your niche because you will make waves.

You can blame it on human nature or spin it any way you want to because the truth is that with few exceptions most bloggers want to be praised for their work. Most want to have millions of readers and comment sections that are overflowing with discussions about the most recent posts.

None of this should be seen as being exceptionally profound or insightful because it doesn’t take a P.H.D. to point out that politics, popularity contests and jealousy rear their heads in the blogosphere with the same frequency as they do everywhere else in life.

However, the thing that is different about the blogosphere is that the lack of face-to-face contact provides a fertile ground for bad behavior. When you don’t have to look someone in the eye it is really easy to write a post or posts in which you lambaste them. When you don’t worry about seeing someone at the office, grocery store or school yard it can feel like you have a license to impugn their character and make nasty comments about their person, looks, blog and or integrity.

Still, that is just a prelude to one of the more significant issues that comes along with blogging…bullies. Yes, the scourge of the schoolyard has somehow managed to find his/her way into the blogosphere. It is a sad but true story about how sometimes a lack of accountability morphs into a very ugly atmosphere.

It really shouldn’t be surprising to learn that there are bloggers who engage in bullying because the sad reality is that bullying is a trait/characteristic that is all too human in nature.

But what distinguishes the bloggers who bully from the kid on the schoolyard is their reach. A popular blogger has a reach that the schoolyard bully can only dream of.

A popular blogger can literally unleash a horde of angry people upon your and or your business.

If you are a comic book geek like me you have heard the expression that with great power comes great responsibility more times than you can count. That has never been truer than in regard to the popularbloggers. It is not just because of the number of people that they influence but because what is published online lives on in perpetuity.

Spend a little time reading parenting blogs and you will find numerous posts that discuss educating our children about this topic and why it is so very important to be careful about what we publish. It is because the Internet is unforgiving. If you find a way to act like fool or an ignorant jackass you might be privileged to share the moment again with your great grandchildren.

Another danger that stems from the popular bloggers influence is that their bullying isn’t always seen for what it is. The written word is very different from the spoken. Without verbal clues it becomes harder to discern sarcasm or attempts at humor. It is also different because those who are less technologically savvy may not always recognize just how many people are participating in the free for all.

In person it is much easier to gauge how many people are participating in a particular activity. On the school yard you can see when it is one versus many- but that same clarity isn’t so obvious online.

But that doesn’t lessen the sting of the words or the bite of the consequences.There is no mitigating factor here. You don’t get to say that you didn’t know or you didn’t mean it. That assumes that one day you feel badly about your actions and decide that you wish to apologize for them.

The best advice that I can provide for any blogger is the same thing that I tell my children. Do your best to treat others the way that you want to be treated and try to remember that good intentions can sometimes go bad. Sometimes the best thing you can do is say you are sorry and move on. Because when the lights go out and you are left alone with your thoughts your conscience will always let you know whether you did right or wrong.

My Laughing Place

Hidden Valley, Joshua Tree NP 4-13-13

Hidden Valley, Joshua Tree

Been 11 months since I came home but it hasn’t been an easy time.

That is because my return wasn’t the choice I wanted to make, it was the one I had to make. I remember thinking about what to do and realizing that if I sent want, need and had to into a room there wasn’t room for all of them to come out.

It wasn’t much of a fight. Want fought hard but need and had to beat the snot of out want and I left knowing that I would pay a price for my choices.

Wasn’t a surprise or a question just a matter of how long it would take for me to pay back whatever it was I borrowed from the bank of life.

Joshua Tree National Park

The drive out to Texas took three days but that was because I wasn’t in a rush but the way back was different.

I pushed hard to get back and drove close to 1,5oo miles in two days.

Did it because I knew that the faster I got back the sooner I could start putting the pieces together so that I could get life back on track. Pushed hard enough that two hours after I arrived I threw up.

Wiped my lips, washed my face and thought about how I had almost taken a detour to Joshua Tree National Park.

NPS Photo by Robb Hannawacker

Queen Valley sunset NPS Photo by Robb Hannawacker

Been a long time since I had visited Joshua Tree and part of me thought it would be a good rest stop. There is something about the park that catches my breath and quiets my mind.

Maybe it is the stark beauty of the desert and the endless miles of empty that make that possible, not really sure.

Was part way there when Sunday Morning Coming Down played on my radio and I had this feeling that if I went it was going to turn into a much longer detour than I anticipated.

So I kept driving and figured that somewhere along the way I’d find a place to visit and time to quiet my head but I never did get to that place.

Maybe it was because I knew that I couldn’t really relax until I took care of the things that were waiting.

Months later I look back and think about all of the battles that have taken place between now and then. Think about how some of them involved family and people I never expected to do as they did and wonder what if anything I am supposed to take from it all.

Was already independent and willing to do what I needed to do but maybe I required another lesson or maybe it was all just random coincidence.

Doesn’t really matter because the end result was I walked away feeling like I still had relatively few people if any to rely upon.

My Laughing Place

Might be anger and frustration talking, that happens when a man doesn’t get a chance to visit his laughing place.

I think it is about time for me to visit mine, might not be the Oasis of Mara and that is ok because I have a few. Just need a hint of a moment to catch my breath and then quick as a wink I’ll slip away and be there.

And after that visit we’ll bring back  want, need and had to for a second visit and we’ll see if this time there isn’t a different outcome than last.

Oasis of Mara  NPS Photo by Robb Hannawacker

Oasis of Mara
NPS Photo by Robb Hannawacker

How Much Time Does It Take To Be A Good Father?

Star Walkers

Ask me to share memories of things I did as a kid with my father and I’ll tell stories about fixing things around the house, family vacations with dad driving our station wagon while my sisters and I stared out the window and watched America roll by and moments in time where dad wasn’t there but I was because of the things he did to make sure I was.

That is a convoluted way of saying he paid for camp, youth programs and or helped make sure I had enough cash to go to Israel when I was 16. It wouldn’t be fair not to mention mom because she was a part of all these moments and memories too but she didn’t teach me how to be a father.

Not saying that she had no influence because she did but you can only learn so much about being a father from your mother. Don’t mistake that for a lack of gratitude because it is not.

How Much Time Does It Take To Be A Good Father?

I can’t tell you the name of the guy who voiced the question nor can I provide any context for it but when I heard it I shook my head.

Shook it because I have never viewed parenting as being similar to a job where you can say you spend 50% of your time on XYZ, 20% on PDQ and the rest on miscellaneous.

Being a good father takes time but how much time that is varies from man to man and situation to situation.

I don’t spend much time thinking about how I compare to my father or grandfathers. We are different men facing different situations in different times and places.

Part of that is because I was taught by them to pay attention to the present and work on maintaining and or improving things. If I asked for advice they would give it but it always came with the caveat that I had to make the best choice for me.

“I am not living your life. You are. Do the thing that makes you comfortable and enables you to sleep at night.”

That has always made sense to me so I have done my best to follow it. Doesn’t mean that I haven’t had moments of doubt or question. Doesn’t mean there haven’t been times where I wondered what the older generations would have done because I have.

Twenty years later I wonder what sort of conversations we would have now and how different some things would be. There wouldn’t be that memory of telling my grandfather that his son had died and the guilt I felt for making grandpa cry.

I think my uncle would have enjoyed Texas and encouraged me to do so many things.

Twenty years later the conversations about what makes you a man would have been far different. There is much more to this story but the time for telling it has ended…for now. What Makes You A Man?

Be Your Own Man

I loved playing baseball and had dreams that one day I would play for the Dodgers. I could play the game for hours and never get bored but when my son was young he never took to it.

Sometimes I would push him to play catch with me but he didn’t like it much so I decided I didn’t want to turn baseball into something he hated and stopped pushing.

I figured he might come around later and it was better to give him room to come to the game.

Last week he told me he wants to buy a new glove and play catch with me. I said of course and he told me he is thinking about playing now. I told him I would help him and reminded him that if he is really interested he is going to have to make a commitment.

That is because when you are five years-old you play with kids who aren’t very good. Maybe there are a few who show some athletic promise but not many.

And when you are 6,7,8,9 and 10 you don’t run into very many kids who can throw real heat. Sure there are some outliers who are pretty good but not many.

Little Jack is going to turn 14 in December.

If the kid goes through with his plan to play he is going to face an uphill battle. Some of these boys are going to throw pitches that will be virtually unhittable for a while.

I told him that. I told him that I thought if he committed himself there wouldn’t be a reason why he couldn’t start hitting them and I believe that.

“You might run into some weaker pitchers out there too. Might be some that can’t throw so well , those guys can be good for your ego. But you have to be prepared to deal with some rough moments. Comes with the game.”

He nodded his head and I smiled, thought back a few years when I tried to get him to play basketball and he told me he was his own man and that he didn’t have to play the games I liked.

Did I Help Him?

Went to bed the other night and stared at the ceiling while I wondered if I helped him by not pushing him earlier.

Kids forget how much time parents spend watching them grow up. We often know more about them than they realize. I wasn’t surprised to hear that baseball caught his eye and I won’t be surprised if he says the same thing about basketball.

But basketball is a different animal to me because there are similarities between it and soccer that I can leverage to help him. It is a game where force of will and effort can go a lot further in terms of making a difference in the game.

We’ll have to see how things play out because the ridiculous amounts of homework he gets will influence what he does with his free time but if you ask me I’d be happy to play catch or shoot some hoops with him.

That would be enough because the most important part of being a father isn’t tied into how much time but the quality of the time you spend with your kids.

P.S.

If you are among the long time readers you’ll notice some noise and dust around here. That is because we are mixing things up here to try and provide a better experience for all of us.

The goal is create a better space for storytelling and story reading. Please bear with me as I try to things sorted out, I’ll do my best to minimize the chaos and clutter.