Monday, May 8, 2017

Ready to Launch

My firstborn will graduate from the University of Virginia  in less than two weeks.  His four years there–really good years, I believe–passed in a nanosecond.  In metaphorical terms, he is perched at the edge of the nest, about to take flight.  He has been testing his wings for quite a while now, however.  He went away to camp.  He roadtripped to Bonnaroo.  He's an avid camper. Last summer he worked and studied for two months in Ireland.
Crowdsurfing at Bonnaroo? Check.
Petting a fox in Ireland? Check.
Three days after he graduates on May 20th, he's flying to Quito, Ecuador to explore South America with a group of friends.  His plan is to travel up and down the west coast to see what he sees and do what he does. Machu Picchu.  The Galapagos Islands.  Maybe even Patagonia. He hopes to spend a few weeks working at a farm that practices sustainable agriculture while he's down there. 
After that, he'll move to Austin, Texas to start a job at Oracle.  He's ready.  We've done our job.  He's thoughtful, intelligent, and positive. He's self aware and empathetic. He is full of youthful world-changing optimism. He'll graduate from a great school with an Economics degree and he has friends with whom he will remain close for a lifetime. We are of course extremely proud of what he already has achieved and the person he has become. We know he's ready. 
But are we? 
This is the crossroads that we parents reach eventually.  The moment we know has to come  The fact that it isn't a surprise doesn't make it any easier. We pour our love, time, energy, and money into raising our children in the hope that they will become better versions of ourselves, that they will go on to have opportunities and successes that may have eluded us. We raise our children so that we can let go.  Not completely of course, but enough.  There are thresholds to cross and facts to face.
The separation process began when we dropped him off in Charlottesville four years ago. College is the test run.  Can he take care of himself? Can we handle not being involved every day? In this time of helicoptering and overprotection, it's easy to be fooled into thinking that your child needs you for even life's basic things. Does he know how to write a check? (No one his age writes checks anymore.)  Can he do laundry? What will he do when he gets sick?  Thankfully, Jack didn't need us for any of these things.  As most parents eventually discover, our child was much more capable than perhaps we originally gave him credit for.   There is a point at which the artist has to step back from a work and say, "Enough.  It is done." So it is with parenting. We are never completely finished, but the majority of the work is now done. 
He'll move out of our house in early August to begin his professional life in Austin, TX. The room that has been his since he was a boy will ostensibly still be "his" room, but in reality it will become the guest room that we have never before had.  Will we keep the giant Carson Palmer Fathead sticker on his wall?  I doubt we will do anything initially, but eventually Carson will come down, which probably should have happened when he was traded to the Cardinals from the Bengals. Jack is a Bengals fan, not a Cardinals fan.
Austin will be a great place to visit.  It's first on my list of cities I most want to see.  I can't wait. Texas.  Yee Haw!  I don't suppose our initial introduction will be all that pleasant since I hear that Austin in August is absolutely not the place to be. Austin, however, is a vibrant city bursting at the seams with energy, music, entrepreneurship, and outdoor activities.  This college town seems like the perfect place for our son to start his post-collegiate life. 
For perhaps two hundred years my family stayed close to its roots in southeastern Virginia.  Generations and generations of my family lived and died in those counties that comprise southside Virginia. My generation has changed all of that. I have cousins and nieces now in Vermont, Florida, New Hampshire, California, Illinois, and Alabama as well as in Virginia. We are about to add Texas to the list.
My sister, who has been down this parenting road already, has advised me not to get too hung up on this.  There's nothing to fear, she tells me. Your children will always be part of your life.  With texting and free long distance and video chatting there are multiple methods of instant communication.  Besides, she says, if they live in a great city we will enjoy going to visit.  There's no finality to any of this. Austin is just the beginning.  Enjoy the ride with him!  I do have to admit that she is walking the talk.  They visit their daughters frequently.  They have the annual family vacation that now includes three grandchildren. The adult stage of their children's lives appears to have had little effect on the family dynamic.
We raise them in order to let them go.  Their success is our success.  I imagine we will find lots of reasons to visit Austin.  The Derailers playing at the Broken Spoke?  Yes. SXSW? Absolutely! BBQ festival?  Hang on, I'll be right there. And of course when Jack wants to come back to Charlottesville for a football game, we'll be there to meet him at Bunny and Joel's tailgate. We will even keep the too-short bed in "his" room for when he comes home to visit.
Good luck my boy!  I hope you always walk on the sunny side of the street!



Monday, March 13, 2017


I have written previously about synchronicity, the relationship between things and events that have no obvious link.  But what about serendipity?   Our daily lives are filled with the unlooked-for but "fortunate discoveries" that  define the term. However, the nature of those discoveries becomes serendipitous only when it leads to something else. Something good.

I may have had such an incident last Saturday.

I was sitting in an incredibly crowded airport terminal, having lucked into the seat when it was vacated just as I walked past.  After first making sure that there were no women or disabled veterans  or aged people in the immediate vicinity who might have made better use of the seat than I, I settled in to await the boarding call some 90 minutes hence. 

As flights departed more seats freed up, including the one next to me. I was scanning my phone and deleting emails that had built up during the week while I was away from the office when I looked up and saw a woman motioning to the vacant seat.  My return glance let her know that the seat was free.  She took it. I smiled and went back to my emails.

The fractious nature of flying makes it such an unpleasant experience that most people just want to be left alone to suffer the indignity in silence. Your seat neighbor–whether in the terminal or in row 14–probably isn't looking to make small talk and likely isn't interested in you or your story, even if you are the "most interesting man in the world" and have won the same lifetime achievement award–twice. Sorry, but it's true. The serendipity would be in discovering that you are indeed sitting next to the world's most interesting man, but most people do not allow themselves that opportunity these days.  

She pulled out her laptop and went to work.  As is often the case when  circumstances place us in such close proximity to one another, I couldn't help but notice that she was writing.  Not an email or a memo or a legal brief, but actual dialogue.  She was writing a story. She's an author, I thought to myself.  How interesting. As a person who has always enjoyed writing and been told that I do it well, I was intrigued. I've been working on a story idea off and on for perhaps 20 years now, but for reasons that are entirely my fault–mostly ignorance of the process–I have never reached the critical mass that would allow me to finish what I have started so that I could enjoy all the publishing house rejection letters. 

When I have an blog idea or when I am writing an article for the sports website to which I occasionally contribute, the words spill out and I finish in a span of time that any deadline-challenged writer would find impressive.  With regard to my book however, I'm stuck.  If every journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, before I took that first step I bent down to tie my shoe, then I took a phone call, then I decided I needed more hydration and stretching and another look at the map, and before I knew it here I am twenty years later still wondering if my premise  is workable. I don't know if a writer can have writer's block before actually writing anything, but that's what I call it anyway.

Airports hardly seem like an environment conducive to creativity, but here she was churning out dialogue.    If she can write here amid this chaos, I thought, then writer's block certainly isn't an issue for her.  She's probably a female Stephen King, the author who has made a career of turning the most insane ideas into bestsellers.  Man, I'd love to talk to her. But alas, she was a stranger and we were in an airport and she was working and the rules of  society dictated that I not be profoundly nosy and butt in.  Remember the fraternity rush scene in "Animal House" when Flounder asks the guys playing cards if they are playing cards? 

Hey, whatcha writing?" Nope, I wasn't going to be Flounder.

But then, serendipity.
Her children appeared.  Her son was wearing a UVA sweatshirt. That changed everything.  Wahoos,  (or Hoos) as students and alumni of the University of Virginia are known,  always exchange  greetings when away from the mothership.  I'm sure that this ritual applies to alumni of every school, but UVA is something of a cult and we take especial delight in making our affiliation known.   My non-UVA friends generally are sickened by the over-the-top affinity we have for our school, but like I said, it's a cult.

"Wahoowa," I offered. (This is the UVA call sign. The University community is divided on the correct spelling of this term and some spell it "Wahoowah."  Not me.  Not ever. I suppose that since it's a made-up word it shouldn't matter.  But it does.)

"Wahoowa," she replied.  And as simply as that we became acquaintances.  In the matter of a few short minutes I discovered that her husband and I had overlapped in Charlottesville, that I remembered him as an athlete even though we hadn't actually known each other, and that she was herself a UVA law school graduate. And yes, she was an author. And in literary circles outside of  mine, a well-known one. Famous even. New York Times bestseller list famous. Numerous times.

Besides UVA, we discovered additional common ground. We talked politics and sports and her writing.  She professed an interest in this blog. She was engaging and friendly. Feeling more at ease than I probably should have, I asked the big question. 

"Where do you find your ideas?" 

I worried about my temerity. Is this an appropriate question for an author or is it akin to asking the Coca-Cola CEO to show you the Coke recipe?
"From life. From everywhere," she replied.

Not exactly the revelation I was hoping for, but given the circumstances it was enough of an answer to get me thinking.  What I determined was that if you are attuned to your surroundings and locked in, there are ideas everywhere.  So what if there already are fifty books exploring vigilante justice or unrequited love.  No matter.  Your approach and tone will be unique.  Ideas are everywhere.  Look at Larry David.  He made "Seinfeld," the greatest television show in history, a "show about nothing."  Lunch at the diner?  That's a show. Waiting for a table at a Chinese restaurant?  Another show. He even made a show about pitching to NBC a show about nothing.

Over the span of that visit I remembered my love for writing and for this blog.  My output has tailed off these past few years as I have been distracted by life's more immediate responsibilities but thanks to her I plan to rededicate myself.  Sometimes we all need a nudge.  A serendipitous nudge.

I'll start with this entry. 

Wonder if she will see it. I hope she does because I want her to know that I'm thankful for the gift of her serendipity.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Trump. Literally.

"Voters take Donald Trump literally but not seriously.  Reporters take him seriously but not literally."

Republican strategist Brad Todd uttered this now-famous phrase last August during an appearance on MSNBC's "Meet the Press Daily."  It was an attempt to explain the disconnect between Trump's media coverage, which regularly lampooned him, and the fact that he was, despite media scorn, the Republican candidate for president. While his supporters believed that his campaign promise of a border wall meant just that–an actual, physical wall–the press apparently took a more metaphorical view. The "wall" wasn't actually going to be a wall, it was going to be some method by which he made our borders more secure.  Building a 2000-mile long wall and declaring that Mexico would pay for it seemed ludicrous and the press couldn't take him seriously. Big mistake.

One week into this new administration it now appears obvious that our president doesn't think metaphorically. He literally is doing as president everything he said he would do as candidate. And boy is this making citizens uncomfortable. Citizen activism has to be at generational highs. Marches, lawsuits, protests, petitions and outright defiance are the means by which Americans are standing up to the new administration and its–to put it politely–unconventional governance methods.  Donald Trump continues to defy any attempt to rein in his maverick behavior.

Again, he gave us no reason to believe that his presidential demeanor would differ markedly from his candidate behavior, but perhaps we expected it. The Oval Office historically has demanded that of its occupants. Our leaders usually lead with messages of inclusion and optimism, speaking of our country's ability to come together to meet the challenges confronting it.   In March 1865, on the occasion of his second inaugural address and just a month before the Confederate army surrendered at Appomattox, Abraham Lincoln, whose legacy depended on the war's successful outcome, magnanimously extended this olive branch to the estranged southern states:

"With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."

Safe to say that, despite using Lincoln's bible at his swearing in, Trump is no Lincoln.

In fact, he is unlike any other president we have ever had.  That much is clear. What isn't yet clear are his ultimate objectives. The flurry of last week's executive orders lends an air of "rule by decree" to his still-developing governing style, as does the personnel shuffling. The reaction to all of this has been fear that we don't know what he is doing, but even more than that, fear that he doesn't know what he is doing.

Concomitant with this fear has been the rise of conspiracy theories and comparisons to history's "bad hombres." As it just so happens I currently am reading In the Garden of Beasts, a non-fiction account of William E. Dodd's experiences and observations from 1933 to 1938 as the United States' first ambassador to Nazi Germany. I didn't choose this book in response to the current political climate but given the persistent comparisons of Trump to Hitler, I may find this read useful.

I read yesterday that all of these executive actions are but feints designed to test the limits of opposition to his moves, that all of this is a pre-cursor to a power grab, a coup d'état.  That the immigration order was designed to direct attention away from the far more nefarious reshuffling of the National Security Council.  I don't buy it.

I understand that people are uneasy with this guy and his seemingly whacko demeanor and governing style, but it stretches credibility, I think, to believe that he is the second coming of Adolph Hitler and that his intentions are equally sinister. Believing thus gives him way, way too much credit, in my opinion.   I mean, how smart can he be if he thinks his hairstyle flatters him? He sees things differently than most people, certainly. He does things in a way that violates social norms. There is probably something to the belief that he suffers from some sort of megalomania or narcissistic personality disorder.  Whatever the case may be, what absolutely is true is that winning the election did nothing to soften his sharp edges.  He is a pugilistic, crass, micro-managing, spontaneous insulter of everyone, yet he believes that he knows how best to make America great again.
The fear of a coup d'état or martial law comes from the uncertainty accompanied by his ascendancy. In such times it is natural to assume the worst case scenario is the likely one.  It's a self-preservation move. Prepare for the worst, hope for the best. However, to believe that Trump and his cabal are going to lock down this country, send off to labor camps those who oppose him, and limit the freedoms of those who don't, is to believe that the army will be a willing accomplice, that the government won't work as it is supposed to, that Republicans will fall into a goosestepping line behind him.

 Donald Trump may have run as as a Republican but he is no Republican.  He said so himself.  He's a capitalist, but he most surely is an Independent who utilized the structure of the Republican party simply because an Independent cannot be elected president in this country. The two-party system is too ingrained here. Because Trump isn't really a Republican and is waging war on government in general, Republican lawmakers should be as free as their Democratic counterparts to vote as they see fit. Voter backlash should be minimal and probably would be very favorable. There are certain elements of his campaign platform that adhere to Republican ideology so the party that reluctantly adopted him cannot abandon him altogether, but they don't have to be his toadies either.

I don't fear a coup as much as I fear clumsiness, and I suspect that's what all this is. Building walls and enacting tariffs and angering our allies and trade partners–not to mention those who he singled out in his immigration order–in an attempt to restore manufacturing to its once prominent position in our economy while trying not to alienate us from the rest of the world is an extremely iffy proposition, but that's what he was elected to do and, by God, he's going to try to do it.

Donald Trump is attempting to steer the ship of state as though it were one of his business entities.  Again, this is exactly what he said he would do. He is accustomed to making his own decisions, handing down edicts, and having them carried out. If he hasn't already realized it after just one week, our system of government doesn't allow the president rule by fiat. That isn't how it works. An activated citizenry is reminding him of that and I suspect it won't be much longer before his Congress does too.

Disclaimer: I voted for Donald Trump, not because of any love for the man but because certain fiscal elements of his platform were in alignment with my own beliefs.  I want lower taxes, I want a repeal of the estate tax and the Alternative Minimum Tax, I want energy independence for reasons of national security. I also listened to the Supreme Court argument, but think it preposterous that Republicans might take offense at attempts to block the appointment of Neil Gorsuch when they did exactly that to Merrick Garland, Obama's nominee.