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Fathers & Sons…

DHW Portrait

Captain Dave (a.k.a. “dad”) 1940-2014

I’m making this entry from my mom’s house in Florida.  Today’s the first of April 2014, my mom and dad’s 54th wedding anniversary.  Except that this year, dad isn’t here for that occasion.  Dad died a week ago Monday on March 24, sixteen days after his 74th birthday.  We had a very nice memorial service for him yesterday (it was decided by all that having the memorial on their anniversary would not have been a good idea) and his ashes and his favorite “Merchant Marine Veteran” ball cap with the Captain’s insignia went with his brother for safe keeping until later this year when another memorial will be held for family and friends in Maine.

Last week, when I learned of my father’s passing, I penned an e-mail to several of my good friends entitled “The Complex Relationship Between Fathers and Sons”.  In that note, one of the first things I said to my friends was that there were times when my father could be a real sonofabitch.  And he could.  Yes, he was a good father who taught me and my little brother and sister a number of things about life.  He provided for his family.  He enabled us all to have good educations (or as much education as we wanted at least – in my case, I was never really all that much of a “school” kind of guy in my younger years) food in our bellies and a roof over our heads.  He never abused us, beat us or otherwise treated us badly.  Sure, there were some occasional outbursts and that one time when I got chased up the stairs after being told to go to my room without supper and I said “NO!”.  But as far as the kind of men (and women) you sometimes read about in the news who are TRULY cruel, abusive and nasty with their kids, that was never my father.  Was he all huggy and touchy-feely and warm with his kids?  Not even. Was he more comfortable with his peers and colleagues that with his kids?  Yes, I think he was – and some of the stories I heard at his memorial and the reception afterward bore that out, actually.  Did he love my mother more than life itself?  Yes, absolutely.  So much so that he kept from her a TON of what was going on with this health in the last few years.  It turns out that he was much, much sicker than he let anyone know.  But that was him – he was a very, very private and closed-off person in general, at least with family anyway.  He had himself been raised by a strict and authoritarian father, a Lt. Colonel in the US Army Corps of Engineers, who had a serious drinking problem for decades and who his kids got as far away from when they came of age as they could.  Knowing my Grandfather explains a lot about my father ….. and me.

Ours was an odd upbringing and family life.  You see, my father was a Merchant Mariner.  Have you seen Tom Hanks’ movie “Captain Phillips”?  That’s my dad.  In fact, toward the very end of his career, he actually even worked for the Maersk Line, the company that owns the Maersk Alabama in that movie.  And while we’re talking about it, Merchant Mariners have been fending off automatic weapon armed pirates in Boston Whalers propelled by powerful engines for a long, long time.  This recent situation with the Somalis is nothing new – it’s just getting better press nowadays.

So if we go back to the 1960′s, not long after dad had graduated from Maine Maritime Academy with a commission as an Ensign in the US Naval Reserve, his Coast Guard license and his Union papers as a 3rd mate, his work was most often aboard the “Santa” ships of the old Grace Line.  The ships had names like the Santa Isabel, Santa Maria, Santa Inez, Santa Rosa, Santa Paula, etc.  His were combination bulk cargo / passenger ships, carrying between 12 and 30 passengers.  This was in the days long before the containerized cargo of today.  This was the time when if you’d been at the docks in New York City you would have seen rough and tough longshoremen hoisting crates and pallets and barrels individually with ropes and chains and placing them in the holds of the ships by hand.  In this world, when you “pulled a number” as they called it at the Union hall in NYC and got a berth on a ship, you kept it as long as you could.  This meant that you worked aboard that ship in the same kind of way that any person working in a factory or office might work today – your regular job, all year round, was on board that ship, regardless of where in the world it happened to be.  His jobs back then were most often the western South America runs.  That is, coastwise from NYC south, calling on various east coast ports, then through the Caribbean to the Panama Canal then south along the west coast of South America to Valparaiso, Chile and back again.  This voyage usually took just about six weeks on the dot.  When the ship would get back to NYC, if he could get permission from the captain, he’d hop the Eastern Airlines Shuttle back to Logan Airport in Boston and come home for a couple of days.

Yes – a couple of days.  Me and my mom basically spent the years from 1961 (when I was born) to 1971 with an occasional father / husband in the house.  His routine was six weeks away, maybe 2-4 days home, six weeks away, maybe 1-2 days home and so on.  It’s no wonder that there’s seven years between me and my sister and nine between me and my brother…   As a little kid, I was confused by families whose dads came home every evening after work and were around on weekends and for holidays and the like.  It’s not like we suffered or anything, even though in the early years, my mom made ends meet on $300 a month.  Partly because we spent those years as caretakers of his parent’s house near Boston, my parents were able to save money, build a little summer place on a pond in Maine and get along pretty well.

But, about the time I was really fully aware of how the family situation worked, around the time I was ten years old, various factors, including the failure of Congress and the Nixon Administration to pass a meaningful Maritime Act that would preserve the vitality of the US Flagged fleet, conspired to create a great contraction in the US shipping industry.  The local effect in our house?  My dad couldn’t get work.  Well, that’s not completely accurate – he COULD have gotten work.  He could have grabbed an occasional 10 day gig to help run a Danish ship back home (then be financially responsible for getting himself back to the states), or the occasional 4-8 day assignment to man a ship being placed in drydock (then have to put himself up at his expense while the work on the ship was taking place) – in other words, the kind of work that costs almost as much in travel time and such as he would make in wages.    So, he took the opportunity to go back to school in Boston, got his MBA and worked in land-based businesses for several years.  These were the miserable years.

For a guy who had gone to the academy right out of high school and worked full time on the sea for ten years, making the adjustment to school, the 9-to-5 grind, commuting, dealing with a home life every day was impossible for him to deal with well.  During these years he was angry, grumpy, mean, cold, distant and obviously stressed.  He got a little better when we moved to Maryland in 1975 and he took up teaching at a maritime school just south of Baltimore, but he wasn’t truly happy again until he was able to secure a berth on board ship again in 1978.  From that point until he retired in 2006, he never looked back.  His “second” career on the oceans was almost exclusively a run from NYC across the Atlantic to ports throughout the Mediterranean.

By the time his “career 2.0″ happened, I was almost ready to graduate high school.  After I did, the whole family moved back up to New England again, this time settling just north of Portland, Maine.  This new version of the US flag shipping business came with more time off for dad.  The new routine was to work for 3-6 months straight, then get roughly 1/2 that time off.  So in my 20′s my dad was around a lot more, but was, essentially, “unemployed” for those stretches at home.  So my little brother and sister had a different experience in their tween and teen years.  By then, I was off on my own and building my own career.

Over the years as I moved through my own life, and dad through his, we drifted apart as sons and fathers sometimes do.  I became interested in technology and went in to broadcasting.  While I find what he did for a living fascinating, I find it fascinating from a “Discovery Channel Special” standpoint – I had no interest in actually working in that business at all.  The closest thing we have in our family to someone who followed in dad’s footsteps is my brother, who is a world-class sailing instructor and coach.  Dad was so private and closed off that it was difficult to divine what he was thinking or what he wanted most of the time.  He was the kind of father that’s impossible to buy Christmas and birthday gifts for – he’d never talk about anything that would give any clue.  99% of the intel we three kids ever gathered about our father came from mom.  Gifts?  Just get him a Lowe’s gift card and he’ll be happy.  And he was.

I’ve been thinking over the past week about why it is that I’ve not shed a tear since learning of my father’s death.  Sure, we weren’t the closest of men, but I loved my father.  He could be distant and very hard to read, but if you actually could get him engaged in a conversation about something that interested him he was a great conversationalist and had terrific information to impart and stories to tell.  It was just that getting him to actually DO any of that was like pulling teeth.  He was much more content to sit in front of the TV and watch Fox News Channel all day long (except for the two hours that Rush Limbaugh was on the radio – Rush was his hero, I think…)  After decades of not being able to connect with him, I basically gave up.  He was never going to be the father that I wanted him to be and there’s probably a reason why all three of us kids moved to Oregon and Alaska while mom and dad continued to do the Maine-Florida snowbird thing.

I think that I came to terms with his death long before he died.  He had been in poor health for a while (we heard this all from mom, of course, never from him directly) with Diabetes, heart disease, and a number of issues brought on by the vast quantity of meds he was taking.  You couldn’t get him to go for a walk, you could barely get him to get out of his chair, and when he did go out (at least up until about a year ago) by himself, he could pretty much be guaranteed to come home with an empty McDonald’s bag and drink cup in his hands.  I think I gave up on him when he made a McDonald’s stop for a Big Mac, fries and a Diet Coke on his way back from his cardiologist’s office a few months after his triple bypass.  Sheesh, pop.

I’m no medical expert, but when I saw him last summer while on a short vacation trip back to Maine, it was pretty obvious to me that he didn’t have much time left.  Maybe the realization of his situation sank in to my mind slowly and allowed me to come to terms with it.  Maybe it was just that he was so disengaged from all of us that it made it easier to let him go.  Maybe, in the end, in his own way, that was his final act of loving fatherhood to us.

The complex relationships of fathers and sons … indeed.

Motorcycle Training

As many folks know, I’m a part time instructor with the TEAM Oregon Motorcycle Safety Program.  It’s one of my favorite things to do, actually.  I love helping people to discover motorcycling.

One of the perks of being an instructor with our program is having access to some kinds of advanced training that’s usually reserved for folks like Motor Officers.  I took advantage of one of those opportunities recently at the Woodburn Drag Strip in Woodburn, Oregon.

Our high speed braking clinic represents a small piece of the curriculum that Motor Officers go through in our AMT (Advanced Motors Training.)  For us, it’s a little over two hours of high speed straight-line braking practice, high speed swerving and combined swerve/brake … brake/swerve maneuvers.

Braking starts out at 45 MPH, moves to 60, then on to 70.  Until this clinic, I’d actually never had any reason to apply my motorcycle brakes to their maximum from 70 MPH before.  In fact, in periodic practice that I do from time to time, I rarely get much above 30 or so for braking practice.  So you may be able to understand that I went in to this with more than a little trepidation.

I did fine, but as I mentioned to another instructor after we got done – a few quick stops from 70 in about 140 feet and I no longer needed any coffee to “wake up.”

After high speed braking, we move on to swerving and brake/swerve combos.  In the video below, the first part is a 45 MPH brake/swerve and the second pass is a 60 MPH swerve/brake.  The key in these maneuvers, of course, is to absolutely and completely separate swerving and braking – there isn’t enough traction reserve to do both at the same time.

I did this class on my 2003 BMW R1150RT-P police bike.  You can see from the start of the video that I don’t have the most solid of mounting locations for the GoPro camera, so when that good ol’ boxer engine torques up as power is applied to the rear wheel, there’s a bit of shake, rattle and roll.

It was a fun day all around.  Big thanks to our fellow instructors who take time out to come help coach their colleagues and make us both better riders and better instructors.

Visit TEAM Oregon for more information about training courses offered and even information about how to come work with us and become and instructor!

Star Trek; The Wrath of Kha- um … Me.

cineI don’t do movie reviews.  I needed to say that because if I hadn’t made that clear, this might be misconstrued as something it’s not.

I decided that I wanted to go see the new JJ Abrams lens flare epic, Star Trek Into Darkness.  I decided I’d try it out in 3D as well.  It’s been a long time since I went to a 3D movie – normally all the 3D thing does is give me a headache, but I figured I’d give it a go.

So, on a rainy Tuesday evening the day after Memorial Day, I bought a ticket for the last 3D showing of the day over at the Progress Ridge Cinetopia near my place.  For those who don’t live around here and don’t have Cinetopia to go to, I’m sorry for your loss.  I basically don’t go to movies anymore at “standard” theaters.  To quote the youngsters, it’s pretty dope.

Anyway, on this rainy Tuesday evening, at 10:20 PM, the day after Memorial Day, I was one of 9 total people in the auditorium for this screening.  Just the way I like it – no people, no crowds, quiet, plenty of room to stretch out with my cup of coffee (oh come on, I’m 52 years old and the movie ran past midnight, I needed a little caffeine enhancement)

First, the 3D – yes, it did what it usually does.  About half way through the movie I started getting a headache and started closing one eye from time to time to get rid of the highly distracting foreground elements that are WAY too prominent and, frankly, take away from the scenes they’re in.  I don’t know why me and 3D don’t really get along – I guess I’m one of the small number of people in the population whose brains just don’t process it the right way through glasses or whatever, I dunno.  What I do know is that it always, without exception, looks extremely fake and forced to me.  Elements in the picture look like they’re 50 feet apart, even when the actors are just doing a face to face medium close up over-the-shoulder shot.  There were some shots in this film where I was able to forget that I had on the 3D glasses and just get in to the story, but they were frankly few and far between.  For me, the 3D thing just wrecks the picture.

OK, so much for the 3D critique.  The next time I go to see this one (and I will) it’ll be in regular, normal, traditional 2D.

The movie is awesome.  To a point.  I won’t give away the point or put in any spoilers here, but when they got to that point, near the end of the thing, in THE hero moment, I just rolled my eyes behind my 3D glasses and muttered a quiet, “Really? REALLY??  You’re going THERE?” to myself.  For those who have seen the movie, and are fans of the franchise, you know what I’m talking about.  Wrath of Khan, indeed…

But overall, it’s a blast of a movie – big, loud, exciting, vast, epic and so very Star Trek.  I’m really becoming a fan of Zachary Quinto’s Spock.  I’m still not a huge fan of Simon Pegg’s Scotty.  Chris Pine as Kirk?  Yeah, OK I guess.

Not much more to say.  This is not a movie review.  Starfleet out.

Making Pictures – Again.

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Long long time ago, I had a thing in my house called a “darkroom.”  In it, one performed chemical processes on long, thin strips of narrow polyester coated with light sensitive emulsions.  Film, in other words.

In my case, I did a lot of B&W work, almost always on Kodak Tri-X 200 or 400 – mostly because it was very easy to work with in a basic bathroom-style home darkroom.  It was very forgiving of differences in temperature, developer mix and so forth.

I also dropped of a lot of 35mm color film canisters off at the local photo developer to have made in to an envelope full of big, fancy, glossy 5×7 prints.  I never tried doing color film processing on my own – honestly, the chemistry just kind of scared me.  I always found it too complicated and it just seemed like I’d end up ruining every roll of film I attempted to do.  Plus, frankly, the color chemicals and such where just a lot more expensive than the simple developers, washes and fixers used for B&W.

Then somewhere along the way, I picked up my first digital camera.  I don’t even remember what it was or where I got it.  I seem to recall that I bought it at a box store of some kind – one that isn’t in business anymore – and that it used internal, non-removable memory and could only hold maybe 50-80 pictures maximum.  Of course, if you were used to conserving shutter openings on a 36 exposure roll of film, having 50 pictures available that could be downloaded on to a computer was actually pretty cool.  I kept shooting film for quite a while, though, carting that darkroom gear with me through several household moves.

I don’t really recall why, but I eventually quit taking pictures for the sake of it.  I think like many hobbies many of us pursue over time, I simply lost interest in it or found newer and more interesting things to play with or something.  Mostly, I let life and work and such get in the way.  Oh, sure, I’d keep a small point ‘n shoot with me on vacations and such and it’s not like I completely stopped making photographs entirely, but the only time I did was for work or on vacations.  After one move, the darkroom gear ended up staying packed up and eventually found it’s way in to the landfill.  After all, Photoshop doesn’t care how warm the water is coming out of the tap or how long you agitate a container and doesn’t require a dim red light to work by.  My old hobby of going out for a day or a weekend just for the express purpose of making pictures faded away.  When the now ubiquitous camera phone came along, eventually I even ditched the old point ‘n shoots and just took an occasional picture on my phone.

Recently, maybe because I have a fair amount of time on my hands right now, maybe for other reasons, I started looking at cameras again.  Back in the day, I was the very proud owner of a gorgeous Canon A1 35mm SLR (well, actually I still am – it’s packed in a moving box around here somewhere.)  That thing cost me something close to a month’s pay when I bought it at a pro camera shop.  Over time, I had acquired a motor drive, multiple flash heads and 6 or 8 lenses for it.  My camera bag traveled with me everywhere – mini tripod strapped to the top, 10-15 rolls of film packed in to the pockets in the top cover.  Camel hair puffer brush for the lenses.  Filters, lens hoods, cable releases and other bits and pieces stuffed in to any space I could find once the bag’s pockets got filled up.

So, after thinking about it for a good month or so, and arguing with myself over whether I should really spend the money right now, I finally decided to click “order” on Amazon.com for a new Canon EOS T4i DSLR.  They had the camera / lens package (bundled with an EF-S 18-135mm 1:3.5-5.6 IS STM zoom lens) for a reasonable price, a fair bit below what I was able to find at the local big box electronics retailer, so I didn’t break the bank.  Since I want to experiment with doing some HD timelapse stuff as well, I also picked up a cheap remote controller / timer as well.

The day after the cam arrived at my doorstep, I headed out early in the morning with a tripod and a coffee and with the intent of spending 20-30 minutes just doing some test shots and such to get used to the camera.  Six hours later, I arrived back at my place with several hundred shots on a memory card.  Many of those were part of timelapse sequences.

Now sure, part of my extended playtime was because I was playing with a new toy.  It wasn’t a totally unpleasant morning to be out and about and I was reading the manual for the camera as much as pressing the shutter button.  But something started to happen while I was out playing that I hadn’t expected – I started noticing that I was having fun.  I started noticing that I was spending time seeking out “just the right angle” for the next round of shots.  I started getting that old feeling back again that I recognized from a long, long time ago – the simple joy of just walking around and making pictures just for the sake of it, wondering how long you can stand in the middle of a busy street to get the right shot before getting run over by a city bus, figuring out how to get “over there” from “over here”.  I went out again that evening, then again the next morning, then again the next morning and so on.

I’ve always been a person that takes a lot longer to “get it” than some of my friends.  This period of time I have right now without a M-F full time job is actually becoming valuable to me.  I think I may finally be “getting it” with regard to work-life balance.  For way too long, my “balance” has been nearly 100% work and almost no life.  The life part is worth fighting for and this is the first time in almost 30 years that I’ve had a chance to explore it.

There’s a chance I may become somewhat enlightened sometime before I leave this plane of existence.  Maybe.

YIKES! That got big fast …

blurry meterAs many folks in my life know, I’m currently without a full time 40 hour a week job, having lost my last one in a “downsizing” or “restructuring” or “realignment” or whatever the current in-vogue phrase is nowadays.  But, as a friend of mine said recently, “when God closes a door, he opens a window” and while I may not agree with the spiritual nature of that sentiment, it’s basically worked out that way for me recently.  Since being let go from my last gig, I’ve been busier than I have in a while.  I’m currently working on a web video project that’ll pay for at least the next couple of months.

Which brings me to the title of this post.  Even though the end content on the subject website for this project will be optimized in HTML5 for a fast loading standard def in-browser video player (it’s an educational project, so we need to keep it accessible to the largest number of folks with the widest range of home computer technology) we’re actually shooting and editing everything in HD so that there’ll be an archive for future use in other projects.

Since everything is being shot to various digital storage cards in standard still cameras, pro video cams and GoPro devices, we’ve got a lot of large files to deal with, store, convert and back up.  All but a couple of shoots are taking place outside the studio out in the world, away from “conveniences” and such and so we’re trying to be clever about how we’re handling the media.  Basically, I’m out on all the shoots and as the camera guys finish a scene, I get the memory cards and offload the content on to a portable hard drive and covert what needs to be converted on my MacBook so I can edit the content in Final Cut Pro X.

So great, the workflow works out fine.  I’ve got all the footage and stills we’ve shot and I’ve been editing like a motherf– for the last couple of weeks.  When I started the project, I went out and got myself a nice, big, 1 TB Passport drive to hook up to my laptop to use for backup and edit source storage.

We’ve only gathered about 1/2 the footage that we need so far and I’m about 1/3 of the way through editing all the scenes I need to work on and that “big” 1 TB drive … filled up last night.  Wow.

Yeah, yeah, I know, HD video files are good sized, even when you convert to H.264.  Do I know this from my work in the broadcasting world?  Yes.  Do I realize that in the plants I’ve built recently we’ve installed hundreds of Terabytes of storage media?  Yes.  But in a “semi-pro” single project environment, working with short clips and minimal effects and graphics, the file size creep really snuck up on me.  I’d been glancing at disc usage off and on just to basically keep track, but when FCPX warned me last night “your disc is out of space, please force quit and delete files to make more room” I was a little taken aback.

So, a quick trip to Best Buy to pick up a new 2 TB Passport drive and what turned in to an overnight process to move all my files through FCPX from one to the other and I’m back in business full speed this morning.

Lesson learned.  The good part is that storage media is so cheap now that it’s almost invisible to a project, though at $149.95 per 2 TB, it’s not completely insignificant.  But (and now I’m gonna sound like an “old guy”) when I think back even just 5-6 years ago at what storage cost, and how many budget approvals I would have had to get to buy 2 TB of spinning disc storage … well, it is pretty amazing where we are now.

Back to the project now …

Happy PI Day!

3/14 … Happy PI day to all!

I’ll spend approximately 3.14159265358979323846 minutes celebrating this morning.

Y’all have a good one. I’ll be back with more on this very neglected blog shortly.

Ahhh … election day is finally here.

Drawing of a ballotI’m sure that I’m not the only person who, by this day, this First Tuesday (following the first Sunday) in November, has had it “up to here” with the process, the ads, the shouting, the shenanigans, the NOISE of yet another closely contested United States Presidential and Congressional election campaign.

There’s certainly plenty to talk about, that’s for sure.  The folks in my industry (broadcast television) certainly have plenty to say during these events.  Sales departments at commercial broadcast outlets all over the country are happy right now – certainly even more so in those “battleground” states that the campaigns have decided are key to them winning – or the other guys losing.  There’s certainly sentiment out there that our system of voting could be improved, especially given all the silliness and hoo-ha that goes on with Gerrymandering, voter ID laws, early voting laws and on and on.

But then I wake up this morning and I see something amazing.  I see long lines of people standing and waiting to vote.  In New Jersey.  In a precinct where there has been no power or heat for tens of thousands of people since Hurricane Sandy pounded the area.  People who currently barely have a pot to piss in are standing in line at polling places running on generators to cast their vote.  In New York, polling officials are taking ballots around to storm shelters to make sure people can exercise their right – and responsibility – to vote.

There’s a lot of discussion about how this is an important election.  Aren’t they all though?  I hear people who say things like, “meh, it’s all just so much noise – why bother?” or “vote?  What, are you nuts?  What’s the point?  It doesn’t make any difference.”

But go back to November/December 2000, Florida USA – 537 votes ultimately determined the outcome of an election where tens of millions had cast ballots.  Regardless of what you may think  of WHAT happened in Florida in 2000 and WHY it went the way it did, ultimately, it came down to 537 votes.  537 people that went to the polls and cast a ballot.  What if an additional 1000 had? Another 1500?

Your vote doesn’t count?  Your vote doesn’t matter?  I’ve never believed it and I sure as hell don’t now.

Yeah, our system is a mess.  I agree with the folks that are calling for a standardized federal election system run by an independent agency.  We’ll never fix all the issues, but we can sure fix more.  But regardless of that, it is still a citizen’s responsibility to vote, dammit.  This country asks SO little of us as citizens.  We’re asked to serve on juries, we’re asked to pay taxes and we’re asked to vote.  Unlike many countries around the world, we aren’t required to serve compulsory military service.  We aren’t placed in to careers by the government.  We aren’t required to attend certain schools or colleges.  We have the right to vote.  We have the freedom to vote.  And yes, in my mind, this is one civic responsibility that we must exercise.  We must exercise it no matter who tries to stop us, slow us down, put hurdles in our path or make it difficult.  Voting is the easiest damned thing to do.  Yes, lately you may have to meet some additional regulations in some states.  Yes, you may have to stand in a long line.  Yes, in some cases it may be a bit more inconvenient than you’d like it to be.  Geez – whiners.  The same people who are camping out for three days to see the latest big movie or buy the latest hot electronic gadget can’t stand in line for an hour in order to do the one most important thing that a citizen can do?  Puh-LEEZE.

Hell, even here in Oregon, where they mail a ballot to every single solitary registered voter in the state, requiring only a single first class stamp to send back, our turnout is often less than 55%.

So to any of my Oregon friends who haven’t voted yet, fill in the damned ballot and get it to a drop off point today!  For those in other states where you actually have to get off your ass and go to a polling place, GET OFF YOUR ASS.  GO VOTE.  I truly and absolutely don’t care who you vote for – that’s your own business – but for the love of Mike, would’ja go fill in a ballot fer cryin’ out loud?

This is one of the only times that a US citizen has a quick and easy way to make their voice heard.  Go punch a card, pull a lever, check a box, punch a touchscreen, whatever – go vote.  You don’t? Then please don’t EVEN come cryin’ to me about how bad the “system” is if you’re not willing to try to help change it in even the simplest way.

Coming out … of the OTHER closet.

I’m a man.  As a man, society tells me that I should behave a certain way.  Society tells me that I must be strong.  Society tells me that I must never show the cracks and crevices that creep in to one’s personality over time.  Society and family tell me that I must be an upstanding, successful, driven and high achieving individual.  Society also tells me that as a man, I should be athletic and slim and confident and a perfect role model for everyone all the time.  The perfect friend, the perfect lover, the perfect boss, the perfect employee, the perfect son or brother.  Society frowns on a man who shows weakness or has bad days or treats people poorly.  A man who shows the cracks and rough edges and fragility is looked upon as less of a man.

We see it all the time.  We see it in politicians, professional athletes, movie stars, rock icons and in people in our daily lives.  A man in this society is expected to be a certain way.  Period.

Worst of all, given all these things that a man is expected to do and be and exemplify, sometimes, a man treats himself worst of all.  He tells himself, surprisingly constantly, how much of a failure he is.  He criticizes himself so much internally that he never gives himself a break.  He strives for goals that are just plain impossible and tells himself that he’s a poor excuse for a man for not achieving the goal.  Over time, this becomes such a constant inner monologue that it just seems like part of the normal day to day noise inside his head.

And he wonders why he can’t sleep.  Why he’s irritable all the time.  Why he snaps at people and behaves like a complete dick a good deal of the time.  He (and others) wonder why he seems angry all the time and why he’s just plain mean sometimes.  He wonders, he worries, and he piles even more stuff on to the bonfire of unattainable perfection.

Then one day, something clicks.  Addicts and alcoholics call it hitting rock bottom.  Substance counselors talk about the first step being to admit that you have a problem.  All of that has to come along with a real desire to change, or nothing that’s about to come will work.

So why do I write this now, here in public, for the world (or at least the 4 or 5 reliable readers I’ve learned about) to see?  I write this now because it’s time for me to admit something that I couldn’t even admit to myself for years.  Something that until recently I thought of as so wrong, so embarrassing, so unlike something that a true man should be that I hid it from everyone including myself.  I was perfectly comfortable talking to people about the fact that I’m a gay man, but not this.  Not this one deep, dark horrible secret.  I could admit anything but this.

So here it is.  And now, now that I’m feeling better and have been getting help, it seems so simple and plain.  For the last several years, I’ve been suffering from depression.  Yes.  That’s the deep, dark secret.  I’ve been depressed.  Depressed and angry.  It’s been affecting everything about my life over roughly the last decade.  It’s affected friendships and caused me to make rash career and financial decisions and push people far, far away.  It’s caused me to shut down, pull back and hide.  It’s caused me to eat like a pig, to never want to do anything much, to largely stop taking care of myself and to, as was mentioned in one article I’ve read recently, make me wonder if I was attempting very slow motion suicide.

But I am getting help.  I’ve been seeing a psychologist once a week for the last couple of months and working on basic cognitive / behavioral therapy.  Staying away from anti-depressants.  The result?  Well, a couple of months in isn’t “done” for sure, but I feel better.  I’ve joined the gym again and have been going regularly.  I’m actually sleeping every night, all through the night (well, except when that “being over 50″ symptom of having to get up and pee at 3 am kicks in …) I’m much more careful about what I eat, and most importantly, I’ve learned how to quiet that nasty, ever present internal critic that has the capability to harangue me damn near to the point of tears.

Now that I’m past the admitting part and can legitimately say that I’m in therapy (oh how trendy I feel!!) I’m starting to look back and realize how unfounded all of my fears were.  I never wanted to admit that I was depressed because I viewed it as an embarrassing thing.  I viewed people who were depressed as somehow damaged or “wrong” or whatever.  I fell right in to all the societal landmines that a lot of folks fall in to – thinking that mental or emotional problems make a person less of a person, less of a man.

What I’ve been learning as I learn about my situation is that being depressed is no different than having any other illness.  It’s truly not something that a person can “just snap out of.”  It’s truly not something that can just be covered up by smiling.  It’s not “just the blues” and it’s not often something that someone can fix by themselves or by reading a self-help book.

I admit that when I first started therapy, I initially looked at it like the old Al Franken character from Saturday Night Live, Stuart Smalley.  I initially figured all it would amount to is me putting on a comfy sweater, standing in front of a mirror and intoning that famous line of his, “I’m good enough.  I’m smart enough.  And doggone it, people like me.”  And sure, while there is some self-affirmation work that takes place in this process, it’s no joke.  It’s real, it works, and it’s valuable.

So there we are.  I’ve taken a step.  In case you’re wondering, this posting isn’t part of my therapy.  There’s nothing about my process that requires any kind of public disclosure.  I write this, honestly, because I know that there are others out there – many, many others – that are like I was back a few months ago.  Feeling like dirt, not able to cope and not able to admit that there might actually be something wrong inside.

I now know that my worth as a human being is not governed by the house that I own or the car that I drive or the job that I hold or the people I know.  Depression or any other mental or emotional illness does not make you less of a man, less of a person or anything of the sort.  But if it remains untreated, the consequences to yourself and others can be very bad indeed.  Help IS out there and it’s easy to obtain.  Don’t let it go.  Get help.

1300 miles of rain…

A rainy day in the heartland

I live in the Pacific Northwest, so I’m used to rainy days.  Rainy weeks.  Rainy months…..

This morning, though, the national radar shows a nearly solid line of rain storms stretching literally from the Canadian border to the Gulf of Mexico.  Not something one sees every day.  Pretty impressive, actually.

NOAA National Radar Loop at weather.gov

Artists and Mr. Jobs

Anyone who knows me knows that I’ve not really been a “Mac Guy” … at least until recently.  But I am somewhat of an artist, or at least try to be, and I’ve been fascinated over the last couple of days at the variety of artwork that’s coming out in response to the death of Steve Jobs this week.  The following is a selection of a few of the ones that have struck me in one way or the other – all happen to be from Deviantart.com of which I’m a member.  Pics all link to the original user pages at Deviantart.com

Deviant Art user viruskuman

Deviant Art user BK1LL3R

Deviant Art user daggerpoint

Deviant Art user sideshowsito

Deviant Art user Materialize127

Devian Art user ArtBIT

Deviant Art user BigA-nt

Deviant Art user Wretneck

There are hundreds more showing up all over the web.  It really is a pretty incredible response to the death of a very interesting person and pioneer.