I’ve been thinking about choices a lot lately. I’ve made some great choices in my lifetime and some famously disastrous ones. I suppose we all have. The wonderful thing about choices is that in many cases, they can be improved upon or changed by the choices we make down the road.
Our lives are never in a straight line. Rather, life is a long zig zag with plenty of double backs, switches and hairpin turns. At each juncture, we have choices to make. Some good, some bad, some simply don’t matter one way or another.
And yet, we seem to be living in a world in which we falsely believe we don’t have a choice. We are bombarded with noise from 24-hour news channels, binge-worthy TV series and movie franchises. We turn to our new best friend – our smartphone – every couple of minutes to see if someone liked something we said or on the flipside, see if someone said something bad about us.
In short, we are in a continual fight or flight mode. When we were a more primitive species, fight or flight kept us alive. Hear the tiger – fight the tiger or flee from the tiger. Fight or flight was fundamental to our lives and evolution.
It was never meant to be a way of life. It was a survival tool But today, we’re in fight or flight mode all the time. And we wonder why we’re so unhappy, why our hair is falling out, why our doctor wants to write us prescriptions for anxiety or depression and why we all feel so out of control.
It’s because we never get a chance to just sit in our modern caves, far away from any real or perceived danger, free from fight or flight tendencies, where we can just unwind. Instead, we willingly invite all the danger into our homes in the form of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, CNN and Fox News. Our once safe harbor is hit from all sides by the media, politicians, corporations, special interest groups, religious leaders and people with an ax to grind – even people we thought were our good friends.
The truth of the matter is, we made all these choices. We have created the life we choose to live in. We chose to buy the latest smartphone. We ordered up Internet connectivity for our cars so we can be constantly connected there too, added TV to our tablets and Netflix to our computers so we don’t miss a minute of anything. We willingly share the minutiae of our lives with total strangers on Facebook and recoil when others don’t like our revelations within seconds of them being posted. We live in a nonstop panic because we never take the time to find peace in our lives.
It’s easy to get sucked into this vortex. I understand. But what we are missing is the ability to find perspective, to consider at length what is going on, what it means to us, and whether it deserves further consideration. We miss the important process of quiet contemplation where we can re-center ourselves and return to normal. We are in a continual state of chaos that is in part, caused by our own choices about what we want to have in our lives and what we want our lives to look like.
In the old days (pre-Internet, even pre-TV), we read Hemingway, James Joyce and the classics. We tended to prefer education over edutainment. We would have never watched a “reality” show because we would have understood that it’s all staged, heavily edited pablum. And now we have a President who is a “reality” show star himself and that seems normal to us. We’ve come to value pop culture over being educated and have entered the dangerous world of actually demonizing education and worse, science. We are dumbing down, becoming reactive to false stimuli and losing our sense of what is truly important as we submerge ourselves in the faux environment we have created through our limited, head-in-the-sand views, subscriptions and Tweets.
We have created this world and then we complain about it. We act like we are victims when in fact, we are the creators of our own chaos.
Long ago, when television first came out, it would have died within a few years if no one had bought a set or watched a show. But we gravitated to it, first out of curiosity, then out of amusement, and finally out of need.
We are doing the same with Facebook, Fox News, Twitter, Instagram and other mindless distractions.
Don’t get me wrong. I obviously have a Facebook account. I surf the news. I read other’s posts. But I don’t live on it. If I read something I think is questionable, I check the facts. I don’t subscribe to the thoughts of others because I’ve learned to do basic research. I’ve learned to filter what I see, hear and read. And I’ve learned that others, particularly those who are the loudest, tend to have the most to sell.
Today I am learning to filter out the constant clatter and din of 24-hour noise cycles. I am finding peace in playing music, reading some of the classics, limiting my time with acquaintances who don’t add value to my life, and spending more time listening to the quiet that is becoming my life.
Another choice. That’s all it is. Everyone has this same superpower. We can all step away any time we want to and enjoy life in a quieter world, a real world, we choose to live in. We don’t need to panic at the sight of a “Breaking News” flash on TV or sound like Chicken Little every time the guy in the White House Tweets another fantastic claim that is factual nonsense.
We can reject any and all of it if we choose. But sometimes I think we find it easier to just bitch about it all instead. Doing something about it takes a lot of work. And fewer and fewer seem to want to do that work.
In The Emerald City (for now), making better choices (for now),
I went to the Alan Doyle concert Friday nigh. If you don’t know who Alan is, well, how about lead singer of Great Big Sea? Newfie music? Kitchen party?
O.K., so he may not be well known. But he does draw a rabid following of fans who love his songs of the sea and stories about life in Newfoundland. If you haven’t heard him, give him a whirl. You may just find yourself questioning what you’ve been doing all these years without his music, just like I did when Great Big Sea first stepped into my world about 15 years ago.
The fact that Alan isn’t super well known is the reason this story is so fun. The only time I had gone to the Edmonds Performing Art Center was to see Great Big Sea for their 20th year tour. This was in 2013.
It was their last tour before Alan struck out on his own. I had the chance to see his new band at the Triple Door last May and couple of weeks later bought tickets to his May concert in Edmonds.
I am particularly proud of this as: 1) I rarely commit to anything more than two weeks out, let alone a year out and 2) I remembered a year later that I had bought tickets and actually went to the show.
It was at the show that I came upon one of those amazing things that happen in life, one that shows us clearly that we live in a very, very small world.
Let’s step into the Way Back Machine (vague Sherman & Peabody reference) for a moment. Way back in 1994, I had just started my company. We were in between clients at the time (a nice way to say that receivables were not keeping up with expenditures), so I took a temp job, one that required me to drive every day from West Seattle to Everett.
Now, for you geographically challenged, that’s quite a slog. Today you wouldn’t even attempt that kind of commute, given Seattle’s growth and legendary traffic. But back in the 90s, it wasn’t too bad of a drive.
I worked at Providence Hospital in their Communications department. They needed someone to handle their employee communications and I took the job. They ended up liking me so much there that they offered me the job fulltime. But I was already my own boss and there was no way I was going to be chained down to a desk again, working for The Man. That would have to wait until 2012.
I worked with some really wonderful people. Dava, the boss, wasn’t such a charmer but I worked mostly with Lori and Linda.
I hadn’t seen any of the old gang in 25 years. Notice this is past tense, for as I was waiting for Alan to come on, a woman behind me said, “Robb?”
It was Lori.
Talk about a small world. We hadn’t crossed paths for nearly a quarter century and there she was in the seat right behind me. Not at a James Taylor concert or some other ‘star”, but at the largest kitchen party in the world featuring Alan Doyle.
These moments always amaze me, largely because they are pretty rare in life.
The first time it happened to me was on Moorea, one of the islands in French Polynesia. I had driven my rental car up to Belvedere, a scenic viewpoint that overlooks the bays where Mutiny on the Bounty was filmed.
As I enjoyed the breathtaking splendor, I heard, “Robb?”
I turned and there was Janice Gaub, who was an advertising account representative when I worked at Associated Grocers. We didn’t exactly move in the same circles back then, but there we were, 10 years later, standing on the top of a mountain in the middle of nowhere, she on a cruise and me just hanging out at Club Med on the island.
Several years later, I was vacationing in New Orleans. I was outside the aquarium along the Mississippi taking pictures. “Robb?” I heard someone say. “Is that you?”
It wasn’t Janice. It was Jerry. He and I had been Seafair Pirates together. I hadn’t seen him in years. But there we were, Jerry, I and our respective wives at the time.
I’m not sure how this exactly happens. In all three cases, I hadn’t seen these people for years, even decades. But there they were. Bigger than life.
Jerry may be the oddest of these happenstances. We both lived in West Seattle. Not exactly a big place at the time, he on the south side of California and I on the north. Never once did we run into each other while I lived there even though we frequented the same restaurants and bars.
Which makes these moments so amazing. And so telling.
The reason I say telling is because though rare, it seems to happen when you’re the farthest from home. I mean, Moorea is 4,800 miles from Seattle, a 12-hour flight. And there was Janice. About 2,5800 miles, and there’s Jerry.
Yet, in Florida, I never ran into anyone I knew from Seattle in those, not even at the world’s most popular and frequented theme parks.
I came to this sad “fish out of water” conclusion one day. I came to finally realize how truly alone I was there, largely because I had been there eight years and never ran into anyone I knew. I had been in the middle of the Pacific. I had on the riverfront of The Big Easy. But never in Florida.
Back in Seattle, the same amount of time passes that I had been in Florida and I run into Lori. In the seat behind me. At a concert showcasing the talent of one of Newfoundland’s biggest stars, whose virtually unknown in the states, let alone Edmonds, Washington.
It makes me really wonder about this world of ours and how small it really is. We like to think that we’re being swallowed up by urban sprawl and our own self-absorption, but these blast from the past encounters prove to me that we indeed live in a pretty small world, if we just take the time to look around us and see this place for the miracle it is.
It certainly makes you wonder if we’re just a stupid accident of primordial ooze or all interconnected some way in ways we can never truly understand.
In the Emerald City, wondering who I’ll run into next. Or not.
A side story. I hadn’t seen Lori since two ex-wives ago. So I needed to introduce the lovely Kat. I did the usual “Kat this is Lori” and “Lori this is Kat” thing. Kat looked at me quizzically and I simply said, “Remember that Christmas where I ended up at the wrong holiday party?” and Kat instantly knew how Lori fit into my world. You mean you haven’t heard the Wrong Christmas Party story? It’s right here.
As Superman, I have been able to skirt most conditions mere mortals endure. As we all know, Superman’s only weakness is kryptonite, and in his mild-mannered form, Lois Lane.
You never see Superman taken away in an aid car, rushed to ER, connected to a slew of machines and run back and forth through an MRI. It just isn’t very Supermanny.
Well, this Superman, this man of steel and mirth, got taken for a ride this weekend.
No, I didn’t go faster than a speeding bullet. Instead, I lost my mind.
Everything seemed normal for much of Sunday. I puttered around the house, took a nap, watched some TV, shot at the woodpecker that keeps making love to my house. Nothing out of the ordinary.
At some point, I went upstairs to check on Kat, and that’s when everything apparently went haywire. I couldn’t remember the morning, who was president (I think that’s a trick question as I am usually in denial about that anyway right now), and I kept asking why the furniture was in different places in the living room.
That shouldn’t have been a difficult one to answer since we spent the better part of Saturday moving everything around the room to make it more feng shui. O.K., truth be told, we were making room for a bar.
However, this was all something of a mystery to me around 1 in the afternoon.
I vaguely remember Kat on the phone. Insert some fogginess here. Later she told me that when I heard the sirens I said, “Those aren’t for me, are they?”
They were. The medics poured into the house and started assessing me. I failed the “What year is it test?” but nailed the “What is your name?”
So far, so good. I got one out of two right. As we rode in the ambulance my memory started to return. I saw my son driving in his car behind me. Kat was nowhere to be found, but only momentarily.
Before I knew it I was in a hospital gown laid out on a bed in Room 11 of Swedish-Edmonds. Everybody seemed to be in a rush, connecting me up to a plethora of beeping machines. They took blood, stuck a needle in my arm in case they wanted to shoot me up with something exotic down the road and ran a bunch of basic tests.
Then it was off to the MRI. As a writer, I’ve written about every aspect of an MRI, except what it’s like to be put in one. Well, it was a no-brainer (sorry, couldn’t resist). I wasn’t claustrophobic. I just closed my eyes, went to my happy place and relaxed. If it weren’t so noisy I probably would have just fallen asleep. Midpoint, the technician pulled me out and shot some dye into me so he could look at all that blood pumping through my noggin.
And then it was done. I was wheeled back unceremoniously to emergency.
I can remember all this quite well. As usual, I was making jokes throughout the whole process, entertaining the staff. Kat, the poor girl, was worried sick since she thought it might have been a stroke. Bless her heart. While waiting for the paramedics she ran all sorts of tests on me. I don’t remember a single one but she told me I had a nice smile.
Finally, after about 45 minutes the doctor came back into my room. The MRI showed nothing atypical, which was a great disappointment to me since I thought my brain was extraordinary in both form and function. Sorry, science, I’m no longer donating it to you for further study.
Today, I am home. With good reason. They want to make sure this was an isolated incident and nothing would be worse than being downtown in a skyscraper and wondering how in the hell I got there.
Oh, I almost forgot the verdict. It seems I had what is called Transient Global Amnesia. With TGA, you can’t remember where you are or how you got there and you may not understand what’s happening at the moment. You remember who you and the people closest to you are, but that’s about it. It happens to people as they grow older. It’s not serious, nor does it have any long-term effects. It just scares the living crap out of you and everyone else around you.
Anything can set it off: stress, strenuous physical activity, crazy good sex (I’m going with the latter since it’s my story I’m telling). You usually never get it more than twice in your life.
Over the years I’ve told others about the day about a decade ago when I was in the shower in Florida and suddenly panicked. I couldn’t remember what I did that morning or what I was doing in the shower.
At the time, I attributed the episode to withdrawals from Lexapro. I went cold turkey in that regard, so I just thought my brain was short-circuiting as the drug left my system.
But now that I look back, the situation was almost identical. The only thing different 10 years ago was that my flatmate didn’t call 911. Since we were in the throes of a divorce, I think she was hoping that I would just stroke out.
Looking back, I think I had my first episode of Transient Global Amnesia. Hopefully, the one yesterday was my last.
Why weren’t there photos of me on Facebook in a hospital gown, wearing a backless house dress? Superman would never do that and my family is under strict orders to never take one, even for family entertainment.
But I decided that this story was important to share with my audience. As you get older, this can happen to you. Hence, the decision to write this RobZerrvation.
If it does happen to you, get someone to call 911 immediately! This is no joking matter. Without hooking you up to some machines or running a CT scan or MRI, there’s no way to know if it’s a stroke or TGA. This is something you can’t self-diagnose.
I was lucky. I had a momentary brain fart (my new name for TGA). In the end, it was no big deal. But it could have been.
And for all those doubters out there, I finally have proof positive that I do have a brain. And from what I was told, it’s running on all eight cylinders right now. Except for two epic backfires.
In the Emerald City, still wondering why I rearranged the furniture,
I was watching a great show about the space program the other day. It was a bit surprising since I can rarely find a show I haven’t seen at least once. Even the crappiest documentary or movie will get my attention.
In this case, the documentary was In the Shadow of the Moon and was filled with interviews of the astronauts that went to the moon along with some footage I had never seen before.
There were some great stories in it. I’ll share two of my favorites. The first was about the unflappable Neil Armstrong. Al Bean told the story about how he went into the astronaut office shortly after Neil barely escaped with his life after the lunar lander simulator went out of control and he ejected while it was flying sideways at about 150 feet.
Neil was sitting at his desk making doing some slide-rule calculations. Al couldn’t believe he had actually ejected a few hours earlier. When Al asked him if it was true, Neil simply said, “Yup.” Nothing about almost dying. No details about the event. Wow!
The second was told by Buzz Aldrin. He noted that the astronauts were required to pause at the last step of the ladder before jumping onto the landing pad. He used this time to fill his urine bag. He said every astronaut has his own first on the surface of the moon. Being the first to pee on the moon was his.
The stories are simply amazing. These guys really do have The Right Stuff. I admit to being a bit envious when it came to how they are able to control their emotions in the toughest situations and I tend to fall apart in the simplest ones, or worse, ones that have never come to pass.
I blame my overly fertile imagination for this. I mean, I can conjure up the wildest scenarios when it comes to things that could happen. During our recent record snow, I was sure that every crack and creak of the house was a warning sign that the roof was about to collapse. I even spent a sleepless night waiting for it to happen.
It didn’t. Very few things that I come up with like this ever happen. Many years ago, I was sure that my Grand Am, affectionately known as the Crap Am, was going to die on us. It did eventually. It wasn’t that I had some power of prognostication. Cars break and even if the thing had a dead battery one wintery morning I would have claimed some victory that yes, I was right.
I’m not, of course. I spend a lot of time worrying about things that will never happen. And that is what sets me apart from the astronauts.
They don’t think like I do. Michael Collins said it best. He said there’s a million things that could have gone wrong at any minute on a moon mission. One tiny malfunction could set off a string of events that could kill them or leave them circling the moon for eternity.
We saw this happen, of course, with Apollo 13. Tom Hanks handled the whole explosion with aplomb in the movie. Jim Lovell did him one better when it actually happened to him. When he said, “Houston, we have a problem” his voice is so calm in the actual recording it was as if he were giving a weather report on a sunny day.
The reason is simple and it’s not all the training they do. No amount of training can take every possibility into account. It’s the fact that they never took the time to think about the .001% of things that could go wrong, only the 99.999% that was going right at the time.
It was a real moment of clarity for me. We spend so much of our lives worrying about what might happen that we miss what is happening all around us at this very moment.
Instead of being present in the moment, we’re worrying about the bills that are overdue or the noise coming from our engine. In my case, the roof collapsing. Millions of things that can go wrong but might and probably won’t ever happen, causing us to miss living in the moment and enjoying this amazing miracle called life.
Now that’s The Right Stuff! For decades I’ve spent a lot of valuable time worrying about what might happen. And yet, it was those things I didn’t know was about to go wrong that I’ve handled the best. From the end of a relationship to driving like a bat out of hell to the hospital so my son wouldn’t be born in the town of Gorst and spend the rest of his life working at a Radio Shack because of it.
I’ve have had that Stuff momentarily when I was in the middle of a crisis, which thinking back, was often. I’m actually pretty good at working the problem when there is a problem. The decisions come easily and I have amazing clarity.
All that stuff I could worry about that could go wrong? A bunch of mental masturbation that leads absolutely nowhere.
Case in point. Finding that your car won’t start in the driveway offers a very different set of decisions than if your car is in a bar parking lot in a seedy part of town and it’s two in the morning. You can worry day and night that your car may not start. But until it does, you can’t assess the situation as there’s no context, only a fertile imagination running amock with all the possibilities.
That’s how these maintain-an-even-strain astronauts handle life. In the moment. Avoiding problems as best they can and working the problem when one does come up. The alternative – considering everything that could ever happen – is not an option because it will only be a distraction, making you crazy with the endless possibilities.
I’ve wasted enough of my life worrying about all that stuff that never seems to happen. I think I’m going to try harder to live in that magical moment of now and stop worrying. Maybe it’s not too late to have The Right Stuff after all.
In the Emerald City, looking at the stars without wondering which one was going to fall from the sky and kill me,
The end of the year is upon us. In contrast to my younger days, when years plodded along at a snail’s pace, they seem to fly by these days. I have no idea where 2018 went. If it weren’t for my iPhone’s photo organizational skills, I couldn’t sort one day or one week from another one.
Such is life, I guess. Just when you start to figure it all out, there never seems to be enough time to do everything you still want to do. You come up with all these great plans for the year then whoosh! – it’s time to ring in another New Year.
For me, the whole thing is a bit anti-climatic. Facebook’s ruined New Years for me. Well, technically Dick Clark ruined it with his rockin’ New Year’s Eve party years ago. I knew deep down that Dick had rung in the New Year three hours earlier, but with tape delay, the illusion could be kept intact that we were all counting down at the same time.
Not with Facebook. We have friends all over the world now. As I write this, I see photos of 2019 from Australia. Thanks to this cruel world of ours, I will be one of the last to greet 2019. I’d have to go to Hawaii to be any later to the party.
Thankfully, ringing in the New Year crap rings hollow for me. I mean, it’s just the difference of one minute to the next. One minute it’s 11:59 p.m. and then it’s midnight. It’s all a bit random for me. I mean, the Earth just happens to rotate at the speed it does. Every 24 hours (give or take), it takes a full turn around its axis and the sun comes up. Every 365 days (give or take), it’s a full turn around the sun and we call it another year.
If we were on Mars, we’d be celebrating New Years every 1.88 Earth years. If the Earth was on the same orbit, tomorrow would be the start of 1074, not 2019.
I’m not even going to introduce the fact that time is all made up anyway. We live our entire lives letting the clock rule us. We freak out if we’re late or whine if we’re early. We struggle with an extra second or two on our stopwatch and fret about the fact that we wasted another day.
Days. Now there’s a funny one. Did you know that in the colonies, loyal subjects went to bed on Sept. 2 in 1752 and woke up on Sept. 14? During the night, 11 days simply disappeared.
The reason, of course, was that their calendar had gotten so far out of whack that it could no longer be compensated for. Britain had held out against adopting the Gregorian calendar since the Catholics came up with it. They were still using the Julian calendar, which by then, was way out of sync with the rest of the world.
To their credit, they weren’t the last holdouts. That honor goes to Greece, which finally switched their calendar in 1923, having to remove 13 days to catch up with the rest of the world.
Now, imagine if you were a colonial born on Sept. 3, 1750. Two years pass. It’s Sept. 2. Tomorrow’s your birthday. You wake up to find out it’s Sept. 14, not Sept. 3. You missed your birthday because of some wig-headed bigwigs in London.
Confusing enough, right? But how do you go about celebrating the next year? If you wait another 365 days for your birthday to roll around, then you’ll celebrate again on the 14th. But if you go by the date not the year, you’re eating cake and opening presents 11 days earlier.
Stay with me here. Now, let’s all go with the fact that 11 days were just magically wiped out in 1752 to synchronize calendars and let’s all pretend that this time and date thing is as finite as we all think it is.
Is Jan. 1 really tomorrow, or is it 11 days from then (the pre 1752 date).
I’m just having a little sport here. But you can see why the click of a clock from one tick to the next tock doesn’t really do much for me. Time is actually very relative, based on the planet we live on and where we live on this particular planet.
In Sydney, Australia, where my friend is, it’s now 2:15 a.m. It’s 7:15 here. But she’s already on Jan. 1 and I am still on Dec. 31, thanks to the differentiation of time zones (which, is another Earthling made up thing).
Which brings me to this. I used to make New Year’s Resolutions, truly believing that the new year could hold some magical properties. I would resolve to lose weight, be kinder to others, get a better job, be a better whatever… all sorts of things.
These are all good things. But I came to realize that waiting until midnight to strike on an arbitrary day to make changes in my life was really pretty stupid. First, I could make any and all of these changes on any day I really wanted to. Second, well, just read the above because I can’t guarantee that today really is the end of a year and tomorrow is the start of another.
If you still need convincing, remember back to the turn of the 21st century? Exciting stuff! We all gathered to welcome in the year 2000. There was only one problem. the century didn’t actually begin until Jan. 1, 2001. Jan. 1, 2000 was still the 20th century, not the 21st century.
I didn’t fall for the hype back then either. I know when centuries start. But I’m still not sure when a year really starts, outside of our own made up rules based on the arbitrary spin of the Earth and revolution around the sun.
And I won’t even mention the whole conundrum created by the moon and its influences on the tides. Scientists say that our day now is 1.7 milliseconds longer a day a hundred years ago. So when the clock strikes midnight, wait a millisecond or so you don’t look silly.
Me? I am making only two resolutions this year. The first is to stop letting time rule my life. Who cares if I am a couple minutes early or late? It’s all made up anyway. The second is to officially adopt my age on Mars. As of midnight New Years, I am officially 32, thank you!
In the Emerald City, like Cher, turning back time,
(If I could turn back time, If I could find a way… – earworm!!!!)
As I’ve been doing research as of late on Ancestry.com, I can’t help but think we’re a bunch of pansies. My relatives marched across hostile country to establish farms in the Midwest, fought the British toe to toe at places like Yorktown and marched almost a thousand miles in the dead of night trying to find a better life in Russia.
These days, people bitch about their Internet connection not being fast enough. Hardship is Starbucks not getting your latte order correct (Soy! I said Soy, dammit!). We wander around this world of ours staring at a small screen like it’s the Magic Eight Ball of our youth, thinking the glowing rectangle will somehow give us the divine answers that we seek, or at least that someone liked our last selfie.
Worse, we’ve raised a generation of germaphobes who are afraid of their own shadow. Rather than being strong and more resilient than our own generation or those that have come before us, we’ve turned our children into a bunch of sniffling crybabies who are afraid of the world around us.
For example, we all grew up without the supposed benefits of bike helmets. What’s more, we did some really reckless things on our bikes, things that should have killed us. And yet, we survived.
We played in the dirt all the time. We’d come in to eat and spend a little extra time in the bathroom running the water to let mom think that we washed out hands. We drank a big glass of whole milk with our peanut butter sandwich because peanut and milk allergies were virtually unheard of.
Even with all this, we were a bunch of namby-pambies compared to our grandparents or great-grandparents. As they made their way west, they would just bury their loved ones along the side of the trail and move on. Life was tough, it was short and only the lucky and courageous survived. They didn’t build memorials along the side of the road to their loved ones or bring flowers every day. They moved on, as hard as it was because there was their only choice.
Now, I certainly am educated enough to know that the generations younger than I face some different obstacles today than we did. There is cyberbullying, but to be fair, we had playground bullying. They have school shooting drills, but again, to be fair, we did duck and cover drills to prepare for an inevitable nuclear attack.
But here’s a telling statistic here. There are 55 million schoolchildren in this country. They attend 130,000 K-12 schools. About 10 of those kids are killed each year by gunfire. According to criminologists James Alan Fox and Emma Fridel, that number hasn’t increased since the 1990s.
The media and social media would have you believe that the numbers are soaring, but they are about the same as they’ve been for almost three decades. Now, even one kid being shot to death is an unfathomable tragedy and this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be trying to figure out how to keep our kids safe. It just means that things aren’t getting worse, but we tend to think they are because of the constant barrage of news stories and social media posts.
Statistically, a child is more likely to die in a car accident than at school. Yet, we spend little to no time teaching kids defensive driving skills in schools and spend an inordinate amount of time doing active-shooter drills.
No wonder the generations to come are so freaked out.
It doesn’t help that we’ve taken all the fun out of these kids’ lives. Look at the average playground. No merry-go-round, no teeter-toters, no monster slides and certainly no Red Rover or Tag. Too dangerous or too aggressive! We certainly can’t let our kids go the park because a stranger may steal them, even though the data shows that there’s a one in one million chance your kid will be snatched by a stranger at a park.
So, let’s check the scoreboard here. We’ve made our kids afraid of germs, peanuts, milk, abduction, getting shot, talking to strangers, wearing certain shoes or apparel in the wrong places, the list goes on and on. No wonder they’re so depressed, detached and freaked out. They don’t have any time to think about the opposite sex, which consumed almost every minute of my own teenage years.
As parents, we really need to take a breath here and chill out. Remember, we’re the ones who had rooms covered with lead paint, didn’t use seatbelts, rode our bikes, tote-goats and go-carts helmetless, used dangerous glues and airplane dopes without wearing a mask and drove our souped-up cars way too fast for our skill levels. We snuck out of our houses at night, went to keggers, tried all sorts of new drugs that weren’t even illegal yet and tested every limit put in front of us.
We survived a pretty dangerous time. And yet, we allow our society to make our kids feel more unsafe today than we were back then. Let’s face it, an abduction or a shooting is easy news. It gets lots of ratings. It’s the low hanging fruit of journalism and best of all, it sells more spots to advertisers.
A kid going to the playground around the corner and returning home or the millions of students who go to school each day and come home safely isn’t newsworthy, but it is the reality.
We can’t control the media, Twitter or Facebook. But we can control what we tell our kids about the world and teach them the skills they need to navigate it.
The world has always been and will always be a scary place. The sooner we prepare our kids to be a bit tougher, more mindful, and more resilient, the better. Being afraid of the world is not the solution. Preparing them for the road ahead, as unpredictable as it can be, and letting them know that we’ve already done most of the really scary stuff, can help them not only succeed in the future, but help them stop freaking out about tomorrow or being afraid of their own shadows.
In the Emerald City, getting my parental Zen on once again,
Like most professionals, I have a LinkedIn account. It’s Facebook for the working class, a chance to network, share insights, and perhaps even find new work if you’re in the market.
For some, it’s also a place to strut like a peacock. This seems to be the way of life for anyone under 35 on LinkedIn. Yes, there are those who are actually trying to post content that’s actually useful – links to trends, news articles and other content that others may be interested in. But there are a ton of these young peacocks who falsely believe they are so self-important that they drone on endlessly in a video, telling me something I figured out when I was, oh, I don’t know, 10 or 11.
A great example that popped up this morning:
Maybe people are just dumber than they used to be. Obviously, these self-proclaimed masters of the universe seem to be all too willing to share their tidbits with the masses as they walk along a lake, look like their still fighting the after-effects of an all-night bender, or worse, sit in their car like they’re waiting for their fast food order.
My own reaction is either a sign of my age or my IQ. I believe it to the be latter. If Al Gore had invented the Internet when I was in my 20s my eyes would still roll up into the back of my head if I saw this drivel back in the day.
I readily admit that I thought I knew it all when I was their age too. It’s that strange gift (curse?) we are blessed with in our teens when we think our parents are complete idiots whenever they impart a little wisdom upon us. We nod impatiently, falsely believing that their mistakes and roadblocks have nothing to do with us in this day and age.
Thanks to LinkedIn we’re now rewarded with endless videos of these pseudo-sages sharing their wisdom about the world. I’m not their target. I get that. They are talking to other know-nothings in their generation, hoping that they will all start bobbing their heads in unison like a row of Funko collectibles in an earthquake.
Maybe they will. Maybe they won’t. What I do know is that eventually, these pseudo-sages will look back at their endless video collection and either think 1) I really didn’t know shit back then or… sorry, there is no number 2).
The reason for this is age-old. It comes with the passage of time. Somewhere along the way we earn degrees and certifications that make us think we are smarter than we really are. It’s all Wizard of Oz, behind the curtain humbug. You don’t gain smarts from attending class, writing term papers or getting a piece of paper at the end that was bought on ill-advised student loans.
What you do learn is that you don’t really know anything. You certainly come to realize that you don’t know it all. Eventually, you hit a point where you look in the mirror of life and wonder why you were ever so full of yourself to even think this way for a minute.
When I was 22, I got my B.A. degree in journalism. After spending a couple years in the mailroom, I got my big break and entered my career in communications and marketing in 1985. I have been at it since. I have worked in corporate and government realms. I ran my own shop for two decades. I have worked with huge clients all over the world. I have dabbled in every possible aspect, from social media (long before it was supposedly the be-all, do-all of branding) to websites, ones so cutting edge they hadn’t even invented a code for a background color yet.
And what have I learned after nearly 35 years in the profession? Well, I certainly wouldn’t waste any of your time with a LinkedIn video telling you how smart I am. Unlike these 20 and 30 somethings, I am hardly a master of my domain.
What, you say? How can that be? “Why Robb,” you could teach this stuff in your sleep and save everyone just starting out years of mistakes and errors.”
Maybe. But over these many years, I’ve learned something important about life. You can’t be a master of anything when you’re still a student. The truth is, I’m still learning. That’s what has kept me in this profession all these years. I still love what I do and have come far enough in life to know that I know very little about anything.
I guess that would be one hell of a LinkedIn video. “Hello everyone. Know that when you get to be my age, you’ll come to realize that you’re not as smart as you thought you were at yours and come to find out that you really don’t know shit. But the good news is that means that you can be a great student because you’re not pretending to be something you’re not.”
Sorry, folks. All those awards the industry gives you, the plaudits from your clients, the big raise and corner office won’t make you smarter and it won’t make you wiser.
What does make you smarter and wiser is having the humility and courage to drop the facade and live your life as a lifelong student. That means learning from others as much as sharing your own insights. It means opening your mind and your heart, it means checking your ego at the door and it means holding your tongue while others share their hard-earned lessons.
It also means that you won’t be making silly videos to post on LinkedIn, especially when you’re still wet behind the ears. Maybe you can when you’ve finally gotten to that point in your career when you become comfortable with the little you know and the lot you still need to learn, but that may not be until you’re on your death bed, and really, who wants to watch that.
I would say trust me, but you already know it all. Suffice it to say that if we run into one another somewhere, the big smile isn’t because I’m glad to see you. It’s because I’m doing my darndest not to laugh at your latest pseudo-sage rambling on LinkedIn because it was complete nonsense.
In the Emerald City, watching a 20-something tell me how to build brand value by becoming a Social Media Influencer. Hilarious!!!!!!
It’s done. The elections are over (except in Florida). We survived another test of our democracy and it’s a new day. Some people are jumping for joy. Others are angry.
Now we move forward/backward as a country.
That / is where I live. Call it what you will, a slant, a solidus, a stroke, or a virgule – I just call it home. This is where the Independents in this country live. We don’t see the world or every political shift as being automatically good or evil. Sometimes it’s one, sometimes it’s the other.
In a world increasingly under the spell of tribalism, there is now a staunch left that matches the staunch right. Neither side agrees with or even listens to the other side. It’s all their way or the highway and in this highway world of theirs, someone must lose.
Me, I’m in the middle somewhere. On some issues, I am very conservative. On others, very liberal. I don’t see the world or issues in terms of black and white. It’s all a lovely shade, or should I say shades, of gray. Best of all, I never let myself become consumed by politics and I never have to shun someone who doesn’t see the world the way I do.
I didn’t start out this way. I was pretty conservative as a young man. I voted for Ford and Reagan. I was on Rep. Jack Cunnigham’s Citizen Advisory Board. I still have the certificate.
As I finished college, I became more liberal, but only liberal enough to move me to the center, where I have been since. For example, in presidential elections, I have voted Republican four times, Democrat five, and Independent, once.
When I returned to Washington State, the Driver’s License agent asked me how I wanted to register. She said, “Democrat or Republican?” I said, “Is there another choice?” She then told me I could register as an Independent but I couldn’t vote in the Presidential Primary. I can live with that. So I am officially an Independent.
Does that mean I don’t stand for anything? No.
I will stand for the American flag unless something tells me I have to if I’m a real American. I put Freedom of Speech above all, but warn others that free price comes at a price. I support the Second Amendment but think good sense means we should place some limitations on the right to own a weapon. I don’t think we need to be selling assault rifles. But I don’t think it should be illegal to own existing ones as long as you aren’t a felon, mentally ill or a child.
I am pro-choice or pro-life. I really can’t remember which is which, frankly. All I know is that I don’t have the right to tell a woman what to do with her body. That said, I am not a huge fan of abortion, but I have never had to make that difficult choice, so who knows what my answer would be. I believe most men have assaulted a woman sexually at some point in their lives. A “no” has never been a “yes.”
I am for a strong military. I think veterans who serve overseas should get free education and medical care for life. I’m glad they are out there keeping us free. Career desk jockeys at the Pentagon? You shouldn’t get the same goody bag as those who put their lives at risk when they’re deployed.
I don’t get the wall. With modern technology, we could do it with lasers, sensors and drones if we wanted to keep the border safe. That said, we fear all immigrants unnecessarily these days and unfairly demonize them, even when they’re legal.
I believe the government should be there for those who fall through the cracks. My father died when he was 56, leaving my mother destitute. Without Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and Food Stamps, she wouldn’t have made it to the ripe old age of 88. Alternately, I don’t think you should be able to suck off the system for life if you are able to work. Welfare should be for a limited time while you get the training and help you need to enter the workforce, but the government needs to provide that training.
That said, I don’t believe anyone is entitled to a free ride. I pay taxes. I have been unemployed for a total of three months out of a career that has spanned 36 years. I have worked hard to get where I am today. Don’t sell me a pity party because something bad happened in your life. I am the poster child of bad things happening.
I think women should be paid the same as men and they should have equal access to the executive suite. I’m not sure they should be able to use the same bathroom I am using as the same time. Even Kat and I don’t use the bathroom at the same time, except when in teeth brushing mode.
I don’t judge people by the color of their skin or their sexual choices, but I understand there is still racism and discrimination in this country. There is also white privilege. For me, there are only two kinds of people in my world: assholes and non-assholes. If you are an asshole, I won’t give you the time of day. Otherwise, we’re good.
I always believe that better days are still ahead of us. I don’t live in the “sky is falling neighborhood on Facebook. I don’t Tweet, largely because 144 or 288 characters aren’t enough to say anything worth sharing. Just look at the guy in the White House. ‘Nough said.
I don’t think the government needs to be involved be telling you what you can do within the confines of your own home. If you are doing no harm to another person in your house or anyone outside of it, go for it. Enjoy life. If that means building a trapeze over your bed, lighting up or sleeping with your pet goat, Peppy, have at it!
Finally, I think we have raised a bunch of weak-minded kids who don’t have the tools they need to succeed in this world. We have all rewarded participation over actual achievement, we coddle kids when we should be stern, and we spoil the child because we’re afraid DSHS is going to take away our rod.
So there you go, life in the middle of the road. It’s a pretty nice place to be. Except when two cars are coming toward you from either direction and there’s a Democrat in one and a Republican in the other.
In the Emerald City, stuck in the middle with deux,
As you probably know, I have a dysfunctional family. My brothers and I haven’t talked since 1982, I haven’t seen my nieces and nephews since they were little boys and girls. My parents are both dead, and I only have a couple aunts and uncles left in this world.
As I often say, I am really an orphan. Don’t get me wrong. I’m pretty good with it. I even had a half-brother in Nevada at one point, but he turned out to be something of a half-ass. He made the mistake of thinking that nature was equal to nurture. One day he decided to lecture me on how I should conduct my life. This from a one-time drug runner who turned state’s evidence and did some brief jail time. Uh-huh! Suffice it to say, we don’t talk anymore.
This hasn’t stopped me from exploring my roots, however. Yes, I’ve given up on most of the ones still breathing but I have become fascinated with the dead ones.
This all came about after I got my DNA tested several years back. It has changed a couple times since then since they continue to get more samples and more precise results. As of today, I’m roughly two-thirds English/Welsh, a quarter Germanic, specifically Alsace-Lorraine, 6% Irish/Scottish and 2% Norwegian.
It turns out I have a lot of relatives. And they fascinate me.
Case in point. I have one relative who received a series of stern letters from General Washington in the French-Indian Wars. Yes, George. It seems his my ancestor’s wife was sowing seeds of discontent, bordering on treason. And she was also selling booze to the troops. At one point Washington threatened to throw her out of the camp himself. The letters are freakin’ hilarious.
I always knew that my family had played some part in the Revolutionary War. It turns out several relatives were in the heat of battle. I was so excited to see one James A. Bartlett. I found his war records. He was a private in the 15th Virginia Regiment. He was also a deserter. Strangely, he returned to fight again in the War of 1812. He seems to have stuck that one out until its logical conclusion.
His father was also in the Revolutionary War. He signed up in 1777. He died in 1778. I guess he forgot to duck.
Going farther back in time, it turns out I have some Sheriffs in my family. Not the Robin Hood, Nottingham ones, unfortunately. Sir William Skipwith was the Sheriff of Lincolnshire. His father was also Sheriff there. A family business, so to speak.
That starts a whole line of privileged class on my mother’s side, dukes and duchesses, knights and such. Eventually, it goes back to Henry III from what I can tell. I don’t have a lot to say about this side of the family, except to say that my ancestors once owned Quenby Castle, and you can thank them for Stilton Cheese. Someday I’ll show up at the castle and see if I can get a spare set of keys.
My father’s side of the family is full of more colorful characters and mystery. My grandfather was a rum runner for Big Red, Al Capone’s brother, I am told. He immigrated (legally) from Odessa, Russia. He met my grandmother there.
It looks like their parents and grandparents were part of a huge emigration from the Alsace-Lorraine region of France or Germany, depending upon who won the latest war. Napoleon had seized all the lands and homes owned by the Germanic people in the region. At this same time, Catherine II offered land to them in the Black Sea region of Russia.
They didn’t exactly have trains back then. These people had to sneak out of France in the dead of night and travel by cart, foot and barge to their new homeland. That’s a trek of about 1,200 miles as the crow flies, far longer if you want to avoid the mountains.
I can’t imagine what that journey was like for my great-great-great-grandparents. These days we gripe if it takes more than an hour to make it home after work. I feel like such a weeny.
On this land, my ancestors grew wine grapes. I even found a bill of sale for 400 acres of vineyards. It’s not like they wanted to sell it. They had no choice. When the balance of power in Russia shifted, so did the political winds. The Germans were no longer welcomed and they were forced to flee, in many cases, for their lives. Think Fiddler on the Roof, but with Germans.
That’s when my grandfather came to America. Others from this region went to the Dakotas and Saskatchewan. Many of their descendants are still there. After a brief stop in Chicago, where I imagine he met Big Red, he headed to South Dakota with my grandmother.
There’s not much more to tell about that side. Their history peters out in Russia, largely because the Russians made sure to wipe the place clean, including destroying the headstones of most of the Zerrs buried there.
Back in Alsace-Lorraine, there are Zerrs that go back 400 years or more in a town called Neewiller. If I ever get there, I’m sure I will get a big kick out of meeting Zerrs everywhere I go.
I’m sure there’s lots more to discover. In some ways, it’s sad that I can’t share this with any family that is still alive, at least my sibling lines. My son is not old enough to really care, except to nod now and then when I tell him a funny story about his ancestors.
But I must say that it’s all been worth it. I’ve learned that a lot of my family’s stories about where we came from are either true or pretty accurate. I’ve found new relatives who share DNA and ancestors. I’ve even heard from one or two that are definitely part of this new family of mine.
I just hope they don’t expect me to buy them Christmas presents. I’ve saved thousands of dollars over the years with my current dysfunctional family. Not sure I want to open that can of worms. Or do I?
In the Emerald City, enjoying a big glass of wine, knowing that it’s a legitimate part of who I am,
I came across a great quote the other day. It was by Heraclitus of Ephesus, an early Greek philosopher.
He said: “You can’t step into the same river twice.”
This took a while to sink in. And then I realized its profound meaning, that is so simple, yet so lastingly true. Change, whether we like it or not, is constant and inevitable in our lives.
While we’d like to think that change is happening at a breakneck pace in these times, it’s really been happening at a fairly constant pace through time. Changes only appear to be coming faster because 1) we’re in the middle of it, and 2) we now have instant communications to keep us abreast of all the changes as they happen.
As of late, there has a been a huge outcry about the growth of Seattle. There have been as many as 100 cranes in the sky at the same time, reinventing and reshaping a town that except for eight years, I’ve been a part of. I have seen it through its good times and bad. Through boom and bust. It has changed continually and unerringly, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse.
While I admit that all the faceless glass skyscrapers aren’t my cup of tea, they are a sign of success as a city. Seattle and its surrounding communities have grown up. The city is at the big boy table when it comes to being an economic force. It dominates the aerospace sector and is knocking on the door of the Bay Area to be #1 in technology.
Downtown, a place you never wanted to be in after 5 p.m. in the 1980s, is now alive nearly around the clock. Step out of a theater or restaurant and the sidewalks are crowded well after 10 o’clock, something that would have been unfathomable 20 or so years ago.
For the most part, we’re good with change as long as it agrees with us. Yes, some once great institutions and certainly some quirky and uniquely Seattle businesses are gone. But change is indeed inevitable, and the demise of a beloved institution is often because they have become unfashionable or unprofitable, not because gentrification or progress forced them out.
The most recent brouhaha is over the Showbox Theater. Other theaters have come and gone in Seattle over the last century. There was the famous outcry over the Music Hall many years ago, but it is all but forgotten now. Others, like the 5th Avenue, Triple Door and Paramount soldier on just fine, reinventing themselves and staying relevant.
And then there’s the Showbox, a relic of the past that rightfully has some relevance even today, except for it is also standing in the way of progress.
Now, I certainly don’t treasure the idea of another glass box being built on First Avenue, especially one filled with condos and the now famous and faceless street-level retail shops.
But we do need more housing. People want to live downtown these days and while it’s not something I would ever want to do, there is unprecedented demand, so much so that the Seattle School District is thinking about putting an elementary school somewhere downtown to handle all the families there.
At this point, I should remind you that I work in economic development. My job is to promote the state to bring businesses here. Companies create jobs. Jobs create paychecks for residents and paychecks generate spending which, in turn, spurs economic growth. It’s one big happy circle, and believe me, you want to be on the side of growth, not on the side of collapsing economy. For those here in the 1970s when Boeing crashed and burned, I don’t have to explain this.
It’s often been said that this is Seattle’s third gold rush. First, there was the real gold rush, then the post-WWII rush, and now this techno-driven third rush. It won’t last forever. It never does.
This is just the way the world works. As some long-dead Greek philosopher said it way, way back, “You can’t step in the same river twice.”
Now, I get all the nostalgia for days gone by. I still miss the Doghouse and Chubby and Tubby’s $5 Christmas trees. But there’s still plenty of old Seattle left. The Ye Olde Curiosity Shop, Pioneer Square, Pike Place Market, the Seattle Center, the Monorail, and Ivar’s on the waterfront instantly come to mind.
But time does march on. If it never did, the Smith Tower would still be the tallest building in the city, we’d be crossing muddy roads downtown and the Denny Mill would be the city’s biggest employer. If you wanted to get from Puget Sound to Lake Washington you’d have to carry the boat and traveling from Everett to Tacoma would take hours because Highway 99 would be the only thoroughfare north and south.
It’s noble that we do try to save the past. Sometimes we get it right, like saving the Pike Place Market or the International District. Sometimes we get it wrong, such as when we carved up the Wawona up into toothpicks rather than restore her like the C.A. Thayer in San Francisco.
There are even times when we seem to have an uncanny knack for picking the wrong side. In the 1990s, Seattleites had the chance to create a 61-acre world park that would have connected South Lake Union to downtown. It would have cost taxpayers about $300 million to build an equivalent to New York’s Central Park. Paul Allen even loaned $20 million initially to buy up the property.
When the initiative failed, Paul decided to develop the land instead, and we now see how that turned out. I am certainly not about to blame him for Amazon’s sprawling campus and view-stealing skyscrapers. Real estate is, after all, a business, and we turned our backs on the idea of a new park, a park he wanted to help finance.
Seattle voters and residents have been fickle like this since the Denny party landed on Alki. We all say we want to cherish the past, but our history has shown a quirky desire to put the past asunder, build anew and then be wistful about the way things used to be.
It seems to be the Seattle way, to make way for the future while wishing things could just always stay the same. Unfortunately, you can’t step in the same river twice.
In the Emerald City, living in the present before I too become a recycled relic,