All That We Are

The last thing I do each night before I close my eyes, is I give out thanks to whatever gods or universal entities might be listening for the fortunate life I’ve lived and continue to live. A form of thankful prayer for the non-religious.  I am shocked actually that a guy with minimal formal education and no real plans beyond the next month or two, has always managed to find a path forward. To have enough income to live a reasonably decadent lifestyle at times and a comfortable lifestyle nearly all the time. And simultaneously, find time to do lots of other things that are intriguing, interesting, fun, healthy and sometimes unhealthy and even time to help others a bit here and there. If I were to give a speech to a high school graduation class, I would basically say that I did the opposite of what might be considered traditional life planning. But it somehow worked out for me. I dreamed of living and working internationally of course. I mean who doesn’t. But I did absolutely nothing to prepare myself for that. But then it happened. I am almost embarrassingly lazy at times. But somehow I get things done. I put off my education until mid-career and even then it is barely acceptable as formal education. On-line University of Phoenix.

I am reminded of the famous Hunter S. Thompson quote. ‘I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they’ve always worked for me.’. 

But I also take none of my good fortune for granted. Since I do not understand it, I continue to be suspicious that it will always continue. So that anxiety drives me to continue to invest in my own skills and education. I deliberately take on challenges outside my comfort zone because my pride is too great to fail and I know I will do the work to be prepared. 

But that does remind me of a good story. A recent story. I was at dinner and drinks at a friends house a year or so ago. One of the ladies there was in the middle of a divorce and since she was going through a difficult time and was emotional, she was verbally processing. She had two kids and the basic approach her and her husband had taken was that he would work and she would put off her career to raise the kids until they got into school. 

So as she was venting, she was lamenting how hard it was for her to find a job. How she was being penalized for taking time off to raise her kids. Perhaps for a moment forgetting that these were all choices she had made; to get married; to have kids; to quit working. 

Turns out her degree and chosen profession was journalism. And she had gone to Columbia. So in her entitled mentality, and with her Ivy education, she made the comment that ‘I am being passed over for jobs by people who went to University of Phoenix’. As she took a breath to gear up for another round, I said “I went to University of Phoenix”. 

It got real quiet then. People on the peripheral who had only been half-listening were suddenly paying attention. She turned a shade of red that you don’t often see on a human face unless they are having a heart attack or perhaps an Englishman on a Spanish beach. 

I felt bad for the lady. Just a bit, as the realization of what she had just said out loud sunk in. So I quickly let her off the hook with a smile and a comment like ‘I know what you really meant’ or some such nonsense. So the moment passed without further drama.  But her inference was clear—her education was superior and therefore she deserved those job opportunities over lesser individuals. She was entitled to a way out of the circumstances she had put herself in. Not through fairly competing for the roles, but simply because she’d started a step higher up the ladder. 

In fairness, she did get through what was probably a reasonably difficult academic regime. I am fairly certain, given her age and attitude, that she was a full-time student while at college, perhaps with a side job here and there. But I would argue that my getting up every morning at 5:00 am for 2.5 hours of on-line classes every day while working 50+ hours a week to develop a start-up consulting firm with 50 employees added some complexity to my situation. I really had no idea of her background to know if she was merit scholarship or just came from a wealthy and connected family. So no judgment there. But I did take offense at the shotgun approach to disparaging people who take a more tortuous and non-traditional route to check the box on a societally imposed guardrail that is mostly meaningless in a majority of professions. Or said differently, disparaging people who are not born into families who can afford to send their kids off to Columbia—and all of the upstream benefits that come along with being born into that sort of family.

But these perceptions exist of course. We are all judging one another all the time. Her judging me because of my education and me judging her for her apparent entitlement and expectation that the world owes her something.

There is a related conversation. Most people don’t know I was in the Navy for 8 years. As an adult, I do not identify with the US government really but certainly not the military. But there was a time when I felt my options were extremely limited. My family was broke and so it seemed to me at the time that my options were to get a job at the steel mill, hump out a living bartending and pay for college out of pocket for the next 7 or 8 years or join the military and give them my time in return for money for college. And as a bonus, I got to get the hell out of the little burg where I was raised. Miamisburg to be specific. 

So I chose that path. It is popular now, although it was not when I was in military, for people to say ‘thank you for your service’. I am sort of uncomfortable with that sentiment because I did not join out of any sense of nationalism. I don’t even particularly like the United States. I joined 100% for selfish benefits of getting money to pay for school. A good percentage of our population does not want their daughters or sons marrying enlisted military men and women. Thanking them is fashionable, but let’s keep it at an arms length. I am keenly aware of the social differences between being an enlisted man in the military, and that part of society that professes their support but prefers that their sons and daughters go to college instead. Ands so they are happy someone is out there doing those military duties so their sons and daughters don’t have to. 

In truth, I didn’t like a lot of the people in the military. But I was lucky to be in the nuclear engineering part of the navy. Most everyone there was pretty bright as the test to get in was fairly rigid. And Nuclear Power school was tough—all math and physics and thermodynamics and ballistics and chemistry etc. And we wound up with two years of credits in math and sciences so a good jump start.

Mostly the people I served with were like me. They just wanted money for school and then to get out and go do their own thing. And, as these things go, I wound up having a hell of a lot of fun along the way. Living in Seattle and then San Diego and doing a world tour which introduced me to Asia and Europe.

I would say that today many of my acquaintances, not my true friends, are to some degree invested in social positioning based on these types of false markers. Mostly money of course; but also other false social constructs like which university did you attend, what neighborhood were you raised in and all that other nonsense. How much they and their spouses make compared to their other friends or family members. Waiting to hit that elusive perfect number of dollars so they can finally retire and start living. What’s the old Thoreau saying ‘the mass of men live lives of quiet desperation’.

I am aware of the hypocrisy of my criticizing/judging others while admonishing people who criticize/judge. But my blog; my rules. Anyway, people move through our lives and the quality and depth of the friendship/relationship may evolve over time.

Others, my true friends, see past all that nonsense and sum up the essence of a person and form their opinions. My rugby friends and a couple of people I am still in touch with from the military. I was semi-adopted in Idaho by a couple of families that both had strong background in good formal educations. University professors for parents. Those families took me in when I needed it most and treated me like their own. Judging me by my merits and holding me accountable to a human standard independently of how much money I made, or how I was raised, or what school I went to if any at all. 

We would sit around the Sunday breakfast table and talk politics and money and social issues and cultural matters and even climate change before anyone know for sure that it was real. I was measured on the strength and quality of my debate and my passion for humanity and empathy. It was a grand time and taught me a lot about what is important and what is not. One thing you did not do in these households, as you do not do in my mom’s house, is put on airs. You don’t pretend to be more than what you are or more than the next person. There was no racism or sexism in these households. Maybe sometimes you might take a swipe at the Republicans but nothing wrong with that.  In these households it was known and understood that some people may have challenges or circumstances that we do not know or understand. And you do not disparage people because of these circumstances.

Anyone who spends time with me or reads my writing knows that I do not like bullies or arrogance. I don’t accept mean-spiritedness in any form. And as I get older, I find l am less tolerant than ever. I don’t care if you are a fool, as long as you are a harmless fool. But if your brand of foolishness somehow involves making life more inconvenient or difficult for others, then we are likely to have a problem. I just don’t need that sort of negativity or bullshit in my life. I find violence or mental or physical abuse on vulnerable beings to be abhorrent and it really is the only thing that truly angers me.

I do tend to give the benefit of the doubt to people who truly are intellectually challenged and perhaps are misled or misinformed or otherwise not able to connect the dots. But mostly I find that people who are dicks are not misinformed, they are just really dicks. 

New administration and now I have to learn all the names of the new Cabinet secretaries and senior officials. But it comes organically with reading the papers–which I am doing now with less veracity than before. Not exactly throwing in the towel, but definitely scaling back on how much time I dedicate to things I can’t control. I did take note of the Republican senators who are not going to confirm one or two of Biden’s cabinet picks because they said some mean things on twitter to one or more Republicans over the years. Seriously. Literally one or two quotes that might have crossed a line. But those same Republicans publicly and enthusiastically support Trump even while his Tweets were by the thousands extremely bigoted and racist and mean as hell to hundreds of people.

Oh, the hypocrisy of it all.

Bike racing season has begun. Early days, but I was able to watch some clips on YouTube. It is just such a beautiful and pure sport. Outside, mostly in the mountains or beautiful countryside, and mano-y-mano on the bike. And it is also international rugby season—so again, more clips on the weekends to watch the best of the best in the worlds greatest team sport. I even managed to dip into Fado’s at Easton yesterday to watch Wales put a beat-down on England in the 6 Nations. What a delight to sit in a bar full of rugby people and have a couple of Guinness’s and watch a match. It’s the little things.

So for someone who is not into sports really, I do pass a few hours each weekend at this time of year to watch and dream a little when I am able.

I leave NPR on when I need to leave the house, and of course I listen mornings and after work. So Pops is well aware of national and world events. This morning he was listening closely to the continuing rhetorical nonsense coming from Texas as those politicians try to spin their way out of their disastrous energy policy. Pops clearly finds them foolish. He was visibly disgusted and finally just left the room. Smart dog.

We need to read and re-learn the lessons from Gandhi, Mandela and MLK Jr. regarding non-violent protest. As we watch the $15 minimum wage being stripped from legislation, we should mobilize a massive national effort to bring this important matter to every Congressperson in a way that truly gets their attention And we should do this through controlled shutdown of services.

We should have a day every two weeks where every service provider who works for minimum wage or something close to it calls in sick. This means on certain days there will be no restaurant servers or busboys or dishwashers working that day. No hotel concierges, or check in clerks or cleaning maids. And no fast food workers. And no one to pick the crops. And, to offset the loss in revenue, those of us who are fortunate enough to have a good job, pay in to a Go Fund Me campaign to compensate those workers for missing the day of work. The lost revenue to these large corporations and their shareholders would have them calling their senators and congresspersons to get that legislation passed.

Capitalist ultimately only respond to matters that impact their bottom line. And politicians only respond to those who contribute to their campaigns. Massive disruption of services will send a strong and clear message. The economic chaos that we the people could inflict is a powerful tool if we could ever get aligned. This is the revolution we need and the tools to implement are within our grasp. Not the armed insurrectionist bullshit of those fucking Trump morons.

We just need a leader.

I made it down to visit the folks and sibs this weekend. Big Sunday dinner today and then I’ll hit the road. Mom and I smoked a turkey yesterday so that will be dinner. And it will be good.

No other news of note.

Humbly submitted.

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