"I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man."

Thomas Jefferson
Sept. 23, 1800

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Antisocial Media

The lovely Lisa and I were discussing the challenges of public information and publicity a lot this week. She has a role, and an expanding one, in helping with public information duties for our town. She recently oversaw a revamping of the town's website, and it looks GREAT, to let me just brag a bit. Anyhow, she's doing that and I'm the publicity chairman for our local community theatre (who's website I designed in a much less impressive manner than the town's). We talked about the pluses and minuses of the various routes for our purposes and the difficulties involved in getting information into the public's collective head no matter how one goes about doing it. It made me realize, first of all, how much I don't know about social media, but it made me also appreciate how much my attitudes towards what I do know are changing.

I joined Facebook, according to the nifty little slideshow they recently put together for everyone, in 2010. I was a relative latecomer, I guess. I've embraced it since as an easy way to be social without actually having to be social. I'm more than passing misanthropic and due to past experience and my own personality flaws I've never really expected much in the way of relationships with others. Facebook gave me a way to break down some walls, I guess. I post quite a bit. I post pictures a lot, and have found I have a bit of a following of people looking for the next "Where's John" photo. We tend to not sit at home, and apparently others look at our roaming with a mixture of admiration and amusement. I brag on my family and friends, celebrate what makes me happy and sometimes what makes me laugh. I try to keep the politics good-natured , though I'm sure there are those who'd say I fail in that, it's the nature of politcs. But most of all, I've always tried to keep it up-beat and happy as much as I can.

I don't know if it's me or Facebook, but it seems a lot of the happy is being drowned in negativity and snark. There was always that, but either I'm noticing it more now or it's becoming more commonplace. From the get-go I felt that the danger of Facebook was more social/cultural/personal than privacy-oriented. I look at Facebook as a huge, omnipresent billboard that everyone with a computer will see. If you don't want the world to know it, don't put it up there. The whole concept of "the Facebook Stalker" is laughably ridiculous to me. It's akin to walking the Macy's Day Parade naked and then accusing the parade spectators of being voyeurs. Facebook is exhibitionism, pure and simple, you have no right to expect others to ignore you. It's called a Social Network for a reason, neither word there implies privacy.

No, I don't care who reads my posts about our next musical or sees the picture of my sushi, the more the merrier, what I care about is what it's doing to our social culture. I believe Facebook is the most dynamic and effective enabler of passive aggression in history. Completely unintentionally, I think, Facebook is designed in such a way as to make it easier to hurt people by NOT doing something than by actively striking out. Just as an example, we would never acknowledge four out of five friends all standing together in a group and ignore the fifth.  In real life, it would be socially awkward, but online, you can do it largely without social consequence. The cyber-versions of social norms aren't formed yet.

The "rules" of social interaction online are fluid. As a culture, we are grappling with the ways to handle this new world and fit it into a social culture that has taken thousands of years to develop. It's fascinating and scary at once, particularly as it relates to our children. We recently had a police shooting of a young man in our small community that has placed neighbors on different "sides". I was shown a long series of Facebook posts where the children in our local high school were tearing each other apart over the incident. The boy who was shot was a student at the school and the shooter's children also attended. Sides were drawn and an all out war of words ensued on Facebook that would make any parent cringe, if not cry. There was no passive aspect to this, it was complete aggression. And I have to wonder how much of it would have been said face to face, where they could see each other's tears.

Both because I was getting frustrated with Facebook (I even had a post about a cute little children's educational cartoon turn snarky in the comments) and because our theatre's account desperately needed followers, I joined Twitter. Twitter is a much less snarky, negative place than Facebook. It's also a bit lonely. It's not set up, it seems, to encourage interaction so much as announcements. There is a lot of "following" going on, but it looks difficult to get any sort of feedback. I have so far purposely kept from even insinuating looking for a response, my ego just can't handle rejection in a new venue, but I've seen others plainly ask for advice or opinions of followers with whom they have obvious commonalities and get crickets. I don't think it's the same purposeful, passive aggressive cold shoulder as Facebook, I just think Twitter isn't the kind of place where conversations happen. Which isn't a bad thing. I kind of like the freedom of being able to just blurt things out without any expectation of response. It appeals to my inner loner.

Twitter also seems like a more commercial place. This is probably due to the lack of feedback; it's a better, more controllable marketing tool. We've tried to reinvigorate the theater's Twitter account with great success. We think. The number of "Followers" has more than doubled, but without the automatic feedback of Facebook, we can't really say if it's working well getting our message out.

Working on theater publicity has been a learning experience in itself, really. When you look at Facebook or Twitter as a tool rather than a toy, it changes your perspective. You begin to understand the algorithms behind the chatter and it can become frustrating when others don't. Our theater page depends, because it isn't a person, on interactions with an audience to keep it in sight. Encouraging that interaction is a challenge, but so far it's one our Facebook admin has embraced and we as a group are very lucky for that.  I can completely understand why some businesses pay big money to social media gurus. It isn't easy ground to navigate.

For all it's faults, I think Facebook is here to stay, but whether it does or not, it's effects on culture, communication and marketing have already changed our society forever. There are more social media out there -- Instagram, Google +, Linked-In, Snapchat, Pinterest and who knows what else. Wrapping my little brain around just Facebook and Twitter is enough of a challenge, I am almost afraid to delve too deeply into the rest. But you never know what the next great tool will be, or what you as a parent had better understand for the sake of your child, so I'll keep as open a mind as I am able.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Did You Know "Gullible" Isn't In The Dictionary?

I've been amazed at the public reaction to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, lovingly known to all as ObamaCare. Is the fact that it's been a bomb really news to THAT many people? When the news was wall-to-wall coverage of the immediate-upon-release meltdown of the Healthcare.gov website, I had to ask myself if the next story would be that the sun had risen that morning. Who in their right mind expected anything different? Had they never been to the DMV or post office? Had they never had to get a new social security card or find treatment in a VA hospital? Sure, setting up a website for e-commerce isn't rocket science, but did anyone really beleive it was something the US government could handle? The guys who know how to do these things work for Amazon, not the Department of Health and Human Services. And there's a reason for that.

Our federal government is needed to do a few things. Largely these things involve emergencies. Need some bad guys blown up? Send in the Marines. Have an outbreak of a mysterious illness? Send in the CDC. Hurricanes and tornadoes? Send in FEMA. These are things the government can handle with varying degrees of success, but they are things the private sector would have much more trouble with. Getting a mammogram (while important, ladies) is not something that rises to the level of an emergency that requires the mobilization of the most powerful government on Earth.

But the website is the least of the problems with Obamacare. The whole program is a poorly disguised fraud, it could never have done what it promised. Simple mathematics tells you that you can't do all three things the ACA set out to do. No system can reduce the cost of health insurance, cover more people, and make that coverage more medically inclusive. You could make insurance better and cheaper, but you'd have to offer it to much fewer (and healthier) people. You could make insurance cheaper and cover everyone, but you'd end up with crappy coverage and few choices of providers. Or you could do as Obamacare has done and cover more people with more inclusive insurance, but it will cost an arm and a leg, as we've all seen on the exchange -- if we can get to it.

I just can't get over that people are shocked at the cost of health plans under this system, and it seems a whole lot of them are. I wonder if these are the same people who are surprised they have their identities stolen after they send off their Social Security number and bank account info in response to the email telling them they just won the Ugandan lottery. If you have the slightest notion of what medical insurance IS, ObamaCare's promises were no more believable than that Ugandan lottery email. And a majority of the American electorate fell for it.

I think that's the problem, or at least half of it. I think maybe most of America really doesn't know what insurance is. They just think it's a way to pay the doctor. The idea that it's a pool of money coming in smaller amounts from a large number of people and going back out in larger amounts to a small number is lost on them. I think it was lost on everyone working on this law, including the President. It's not stupidity, it's ignorance, all the way to the top. Ignorance we can fix relatively easily. I think we are doing it right now the hard way as we all watch this thing flail about in the light of day. The other half of the problem is much worse, though.

I think that people may not even care to know how insurance works because they have been conditioned to believe that simply because it is a for-profit business, it is evil.  Politicians have done a great job of convincing many Americans that profit is bad and that corporations and businesses are out to steal from, harm or even kill their customers and employees. This is obvious bullshit simply from a common sense logic standpoint, but demagoguery and propaganda are powerful things (just ask an elderly German).  It is in any politician's best interest to focus anger on anything other than himself, and businesses, corporations and even our own bosses are easy targets. It plays to our base emotions of jealousy and even greed to think that we deserve more and the only reason we don't have it is an unfair system run by evil, moneyed interests.

And since those evil dudes are always kind of vague, how are we, the powerless little guys, to fight back? Why, we need a champion, we need selfless, non-greedy, super hero-esque figures to fight for us. We need......politicians? Don't laugh, it's how most of you vote. Dirty secret is that while a business exists to take your money (for which it by definition gives you something of value to you in return), politicians exist to take your freedom. Every second they are in office they are telling you what books are too risque for your child to read, who you can marry, what you can feed your family, what kind of light bulb to use, where you can and can not express your opinions, what words you can use, who you are going to give charity to, and a billion other things. And they do this because YOU tell them to.

So people believed that the reason people with pre-existing conditions had a hard time finding coverage and insurance rates were what they were was because the insurance companies were greedy and evil and wished death and destruction on their customers. They believed that politicians could fix it, that they could have a low-cost policy delivered to every man, woman and child tied to the horn of a unicorn and signed in rainbow ink.

The real world just bitch slapped the American public. Let's hope it wakes them up.

Friday, November 22, 2013

No Answers

So my son came home from school today in tears. Seems a couple of boys on the bus have been making fun of him and it finally got, as he said, to be "too much." He said he didn't know what to do.

This is where your dad genes are supposed to kick in and you have the answer, or at least words to make it better, right? Nope. Didn't happen. I had hugs and assurances that he is perfect just as he is and the feeble advice to launch back at them next time, but that's it.

What do you say? I mean, the temptation is to tell him it's just a kid thing and if he toughs it out, he'll pull through and it'll stop. But that's a lie and I don't want to lie to the boy.

I feel like I should, after 43 years, have something constructive to offer, but I don't. I have been there at his age and know that while it gets better, it doesn't stop. Adults are less blatant, but just as cruel. And often it turns out worse because as we grow it isn't strangers making fun of or trying to hurt us, it's people close to us. It's our co-workers or friends or associates. In the worst cases it's our family or spouse.

How do we, as adults, deal? We ignore it, we pretend it's a joke, we convince ourselves we misunderstood. We think of a thousand ways that next time we will come back, next time we will stand up for ourselves. We know exactly what we should have said. But when the next time comes around, it isn't really any different. And there's always a next time because we don't really know what to do.

Truth is, the truth is too hard.  What we do is scab over, emotionally. We take the bad and hide it from ourselves. We have to, as social animals. If we didn't believe that this time it would be different, we'd stop making new social contacts and all become hermits and society would collapse. But how do you tell a child that all you can do is learn to put up with it? That's no comfort.

The closest I can come to making it better is to explain how important it is to not turn a blind eye when you see others being hurt. There's really no good way I have found to defend yourself, but it helps tremendously to stand up for a friend or even a stranger who is being treated poorly or made fun or insulted or belittled. Maybe it's a bit Pollyanna of me, but I still believe in treat others as you would wish to be treated by them. If you stand up to the asshole attacking another, then maybe someday when you need it, someone will be there for you. It isn't a guarantee by any means, John had a friend remain silent on the bus but you can try. Standing up to bad behavior is hard, it leads often to the defender becoming the target, but I try to teach John, and show him by example, that it's always worth it.

That's how we win.

Monday, November 4, 2013

A Student's View of the Great NC Teacher "Walk-In"

So today North Carolina teachers were organized, I think by the rather despicable NCAE, to walk-out in protest of the education policies contained in this year's budget. Our local teachers, to their credit, thought a "walk-in" would be more wise. They planned to wear red, maybe walk into the school together and I think they held some sort of meeting after school. Whatever, right?

So, of course, I ask John during dinner what became of this whole thing. Did any of his teachers walk out? Or in? Or wear red? Or teach on the value of public education? Or anything out of the ordinary?

The boy looked at me like I was crazy.

"The GOOD teachers didn't do any of that," he said with a look of disgust. Then, with distinct pride, "We have almost all good teachers at South. I think we're the best school. They probably did that stuff at West or something."

I love that kid.

And his teachers. Thank you to them.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Here There Be Monsters

I LOVE maps, especially old maps, and most especially old maps used by sailors. One of the best features of such maps are the monsters. Monsters populated the spots where sailors hadn't tread, or in some cases, places the map maker hoped others wouldn't tread (like really good fishing grounds.) I wish today's map-makers would include a few monsters, you know, like maybe in Camden. Or Varnumtown. Maybe every now and then a winged dragon could swoop down and eat your car on the dashboard GPS screen, just for funnsies. We take ourselves much too seriously nowadays, I think a little "Here There Be Monsters" would help.

I suppose that's a pipe dream, so in the meantime there's this cool book all about those monsters on old maps. Seems they can tell us a lot about history, zoology, politics, economics, psychology and religion. Yeah. Maybe. Read the review and decide for yourself. But I'm getting the book, because monsters are cool.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A Man's Reach Should Exceed His Grasp

Or what's a Heaven for?

That's a quote from Robert Browning, apparently. I had to look it up. I've been trying to live that. I've been trying to accept new challenges that lie outside my comfort zone. I figure that's a good way to grow even after hitting this middle age thing, follow my hero Walt Disney's advice and open door news and do new things. This fall, I'm awash in open doors and new things in the form of involvement with our local community theatre and our church, and while it is truly fun, sometimes I'm reminded just how far from my grasp my reach tends to be.

I've written of my involvement in a production of The 39 Steps, a really cool play we are putting on in a really cool theater here and here. That's going to be taking up a good deal of my time this fall, and it's going to lead me down some new paths and provide some new challenges, but I feel very confident in my ability to play my part well enough to help make our show a success. That's not where my grasp vs. reach thing comes into play. What has been worrying me more lately is my service as a member of the theatre group's board of directors. I was asked to join the board by my best friend's mom and agreed because I trust her judgement, and because telling her "no" is pretty much unthinkable. You'd have to meet her to understand. Up til now, the board work has been largely within my grasp, but here lately maybe not so much. We are heading into a new season and beginning the process of figuring out what it will look like. I'm reminded how ignorant I am of all things theatrical.  I don't know shows. I haven't heard of many, let alone have any sort of familiarity with them. I don't know the process by which the board has set up a season in the past, and they are acting like they don't either. That's the infuriating part. And it's not enough that I agreed to be ON the governing board of a theatre company with zero experience in anything theatrical, I let myself be elected president-elect of the damned thing. Again, Miss Anne, my pal's mom, thought it was a good idea and I went along. No one else wanted to do it and I do truly care about this organization, so I'm not complaining, but it's starting to worry me. The one person I thought would be happy about my taking over the reigns is ambivalent at best, and I must say that troubles me. And that leads to the other problem I have with being president of this outfit. There are a few people involved who aren't very nice, who have hurt my pal and who generally lack the social skills to successfully interact with the rest of the human race. I hoped that taking the presidency of this group would allow me to stop the nastiness and drama (yeah, I wanted to stop the drama in a theater group. I'm a fool, I know) and let the truly good things the group does in the community lead the way. I still hope I can do that, but I am wondering if I can. I don't feel much in the way of confidence from myself or anyone else. But I'll try.

Then there's the church thing. Yeah. So I agreed after Pastor Fred asked me to join the Staff Parish Committee about a year ago. It's exactly like the Miss Anne thing, Fred asks and I am NOT going to say "no." That went well, it played to my strength and experience. But I always had, and continue to have, this nagging feeling that I'm a fraud. The folks on church committees tend to be a bit more, let's just say "pious" than I am. I was just recently asked to join a new committee, one tasked with determining the direction of the church as it heads into the future. The man organizing the committee said he wanted people "representing all facets of the church." I suppose he wanted the almost-heathens represented when he thought of my name. No one there can think I'm one of the more religious ones. Most know I'm a beer salesman. I don't ever profess to be particularly religious. I don't get why my name keeps coming up. I feel like I've fooled someone somewhere, but I haven't tried to at all, I swear. I can fool people into thinking I like them, I am happy when I'm not, I agree with them when I don't or pretty much anything else I set my mind to, but in this case I haven't. I just don't get it. We had a meeting of what is nominally called the "Vision Team" on Saturday and I was so far out of my element, I felt really uncomfortable. We did exercises concerning bible stories and our favorite hymns. I can't remember hardly any bible stories and I don't like hymns. At all. I  muddled through, but  it was strange. What was really strange was that the group took my muddlings as the representative voice of the whole committee. No. Please don't do that. I mean, don't you know that I have no idea what I'm talking about? That I am a salesman and a nerd and the odd one out who has learned to fake it as best he can? You really want to listen to me? Well, I'm not sure I want them to listen me. I'm only there as an experiment, can't they see that? It kills me. It makes me feel like a lie.

I think that's why I can't feel good about doing what I did with Gina last week. It was a lie. She will be no better off after that than she was before. I'm a fixer by nature and I couldn't fix Gina, not even a little. I did the surface kindness, but I know it is meaningless in the grand scheme.

I know I'm right to try to reach, but it's that grasp thing......

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Needle And The Damage Done

I ran into an old acquaintance today. Gina used to be bartender/front end manager at a long defunct Long Beach restaurant called Bogey's. I always liked Gina. She was easy to like, funny, smart, hard working, responsible and drop dead gorgeous. When Bogey's closed she moved around from place to place, but never as far as I know left the Southport/Oak Island area. I would go months without seeing her, then she'd pop up in another place or we'd run into each other at a grocery store or something. We never were close, never really anything like friends, heck, we had trouble remembering each other's names, but we always said "hi" and exchanged pleasantries at least. Gina got a job at Food Lion here on the island I guess last year sometime and we saw more of each other. She had started looking older, losing some of that energy that made her attractive. She was on a different track then me, that was clear, and sad. But I never realised  how different until today.

This morning I ran across Gina sitting on a bench outside the front door to Food Lion. I noticed a cast on her arm and asked what happened. She turned and looked up at me and I saw the cast was the least of her worries. She looked terrible, and in tears. She said, "When you are done working in there, on your way out, can you talk to me? I really need to talk to someone and I just don't know what to do." I'm going to be honest here, my first thought was to avoid her. I said "sure" and walked into the store planning to leave another way and avoid whatever drama she had going. She had trouble simply written all over her. I wasn't in the mood for trouble, she wasn't a friend and she wasn't my problem at all. I'm not a humanitarian. Not at all. I'm a misanthrope and generally believe people live the lives they make for themselves.

But then I stopped, about twenty steps inside the door of Food Lion, and turned around. I still don't know why. I didn't want to, so I am not claiming to be a good person here. I just felt like I needed to. Pastor Fred at our church has been talking a lot lately about looking for the opportunities to do good for others and I have been thinking a lot about how lucky I am and wondering how I can express how thankful I am. I don't know if it was guilt or fear of future guilt or what, but I turned around and went back outside and sat next to Gina. She looked surprised. I asked her what was wrong.

She claimed to have been "slipped a mickey" the night before. This isn't impossible to believe, this town is full of dirtbags and while Gina wasn't the beauty she used to be, judged on the scale of the Brunswick County bar scene, she would rate right up there on the attractiveness scale. She said she didn't know where her car was. More than that, she didn't know where she'd been the night before or who's shirt she was wearing. She claimed to have a memory blackout of some kind.

As she spoke, her story got worse. She was homeless and living in her car. She had $20 to her name and it was in her car, along with her ID and glasses. She had broken her arm a few days before and had been taken to Dosher Hospital, or maybe she drove herself, she couldn't remember. She repeated herself a lot. Details changed and times were pretty fluid. She cried; not sobbing crying, but just tears running down her face as she retold parts of her story. She was a mess.

I have very little experience with drugs, and none personally (I've never even smoked a cigarette). All I know is from watching others, but unfortunately I've seen a few people succumb to addiction, so I knew enough to see she was pretty well "strung out" on something. But what am I to do about it? Who do you call? I didn't trust the police to react with any sort of compassion. She wanted to go to see a man I'm pretty sure is the source of whatever she was taking, so that was out. I thought about my church, but couldn't imagine what they'd do. I figured the ER was the best bet, largely because she clearly needed medical care and I hoped a hospital would have connections with social services, but also because my friend Kelly works at the hospital and I trust her implicitly to know what to do in pretty much any situation.

I told Gina I thought her car must be at Dosher, so I would drive her over there to look for it. She said, "But I don't want to go in, they won't let me out and then how will I find my car?" I just told her it was a good place to start and led her to my car and helped her inside and off we went. It was a horrifying ride. The shirt she was wearing was a men's tank top with the arm holes cut to the waist and she had no bra, which meant her boobs were all over the place. She was snotty and crying. She had a little box of wine she sipped now and again as she was telling me about her life now and it was sad. She was just coherent enough to be depressing. She KNEW how screwed up she was. She knew I knew her before she was like this and tried to put the best face on a horrible situation. She lied, showing me a bunch of needle holes on her arms and blaming them on the IVs at the hospital. Even my naive self finally got it after seeing those. Heroin. I'd seen that before on an ex-coworker.

We got to Dosher and I made a show of driving her around to look for her car. I didn't know what she'd do when I told her we were going to get her inside. I spotted an open spot and pulled in. She didn't say anything. I said, "Look, Gina. You need a doctor. I'll go inside with you and we'll talk to someone. They can help." She argued a bit and I told her she wasn't getting a choice, we were going to the ER. She said, "But I'm scared." I told her it was some scary shit she was experiencing, so it was ok to be scared, but that we were going to find some help anyhow. She insisted on holding my hand on the way in. Whatever, she went.

As we walked up to the nurse's desk in the ER, I was trying to figure out how I could be helpful but make plain Gina wasn't MY problem. Yep, I'm a selfish asshole like that. I flashed back to the play we were reading through a couple weeks ago. Annabelle Schmidt says to Richard Hannay, "If I tell you, you will be INVOLVED. Do you want to be...INVOLVED?" Well, no, frankly, I really, really don't thank you very much. I hate hospitals, I am uncomfortable asking for help, I have no experience with strung out, half naked, half starved amnesiac women and I just want to be about anywhere else. The nurse asks Gina for a date of birth but not a name. She doesn't seem to think anything about our story odd. She tells her to sit down and wait for the triage nurse.

I find Kelly and she says that yes, they do have a person who can help with the social services aspect, that I've done the right thing and taken Gina to the right place. The nurse comes for Gina who refuses to go with her unless I come too, so someone tracks me and Kelly down and I go back and take Gina to the triage nurse. She is NOT amused. Seems Gina is a bit of a regular lately, the stuff she told me happened a few days ago really happened yesterday. I REALLY don't want to be there now. Gina is in good hands and I don't want to insinuate any real connection. God knows what the nurse thinks I'm doing with her. I tell the nurse I'm leaving, she doesn't even acknowledge I am there in the first place, which suits me fine. I tell Gina. She wants to know if I can at least promise her that she will get a blanket and some food at the hospital. I tell her I do promise, she will have a blanket and food. She wants to give me a hug so we hug. I walk out, leave the building and get in my car and go back to work. I don't know what happened to Gina and I find I really don't care to know. I did what I could and that's enough.

Why am I writing about this? I don't really know. It's not to say I'm any sort of great guy do-gooder. I'm not. I didn't want to do any of this one little bit. It shook me up. I glimpsed a world that is frightening to me. I would much rather pretend it doesn't exist. But that is exactly what Fred was talking about NOT doing. But it's hard and I don't like it. I did my good deed and now I want to forget it, so I'm putting it on here. Maybe I can come back and read it later and know better how to react, but for now I just want to forget. Doing good is supposed to make you feel good, right? Well, it didn't. And I don't know what to think about that.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Z Is For........Zero

We were sitting on the back porch the other night and my son was telling us middle school stories while we shared some of our recollections about those years with him. The subject of social groups came up, you know, the jocks and nerds and preppie kids, and John said he was most likely considered one of "the losers." He wasn't upset by this. Much. He isn't one to put much stock in others' opinions of him, which is something I'm proud of, but no one can ignore it totally. He's brought this up before and told us that in reality, the kids the others call "losers" are the ones who actually have plans to make something of their lives. John is pretty secure, as much as any 13 year old can be I think, and knows he isn't a loser. He has friends, though not a huge gang of them, and is a generally very happy kid. He is a very strange combination of both Lisa and I. He rests right in between where we were at that age. He worries about others' opinions much less than Lisa did but more than I did. He doesn't have the drive that Lisa had but he has more than I did. He has the same sarcastic attitudes and views on the actions of his classmates that I had, but he shares them with us, which is all his mom and something I never would have done. I love watching him grow up, I love talking to him about his day or even current events. I wonder what kind of person he will be when he is my age? Will he remember that he was considered a "Zero"? Will it matter?

This last few weeks saw a lot of talk that brought me back to Middle School/Junior High/High School days and made me think about how much of that stuff we carry around with us into adulthood -- standardized tests, what "level" of classes we took, the school bus and who sat with whom, what friends we pick and why, The Breakfast Club even got brought up. Who didn't see a part of themselves in The Breakfast Club? I wonder, though, if we see ourselves in the same character as others see us? I wonder if we still see ourselves as that strange chick with the cereal sandwich while others think we are Molly Ringwold's little miss perfect? We tend to let other's opinions of us shape too much of what we do and how we act, but what is much worse is how much we let our perceptions of what others think affect us. I think this begins in middle school, but it certainly doesn't end when we have middle schoolers of our own.

The easiest target here is physical appearance. Lisa showed me a video of a forensic artist drawing women's images as described by them and then as described by another person instructed to study their face. The women all made themselves out to be much less attractive than them as seen by others. No man who has a wife or any female friends or siblings can be surprised by this. I know women won't be shocked. I know it rang completely true to me. I've seen women very close to me become nervous or even dread social situations because they were sure others would see them as unattractive or unworthy to be where they wanted, or were expected, to go. They went anyhow because they are strong, but how many people aren't that strong or lack any sort of support? And I wonder if they know how sad it makes us, their husbands and children and brothers and friends, to see them unable to see the same person in the mirror we see standing in front of us. Because we know, ladies. Even your kids. We know. And it hurts. A bad self-image starts when we are kids and we grow into it rather than out of it too much of the time. We tend to carry the labels of childhood around like luggage.

I'm no different. I don't have attractiveness issues not because I'm a good looking guy but because I'm a guy and it doesn't matter what I look like, really. Sure I got picked on for zits and greasy hair and thick glasses, but it never bothered me because society doesn't judge a guy that way. I just never fit in. I am average-looking at best so never attracted friends that way; I am a complete klutz who can't throw, run or catch; I have no musical talent so never ended up in the band or chorus crowd; I'm smart enough to stick out from the average but not smart enough to be one of the "gifted" kids; and I wasn't quirky or cool enough to fit in with the crowd that walked around all dressed in the same black clothes listening to the same music by The Cure and The Smiths all the time (all while calling themselves "non-conformists," which was kind of funny). I had friends, but they tended to be others on the fringes of school society. I wasn't unhappy, quite the contrary, I rather enjoyed high school. I eventually ended up on the high school newspaper and for the first time had a group. It was small, but there were pretty girls and they talked to me and that was nice. I married one of them. But I never lost that feeling of being an outsider. I always wondered if, no, really assumed that, people kept me around out of obligation. I was enthusiastic and nice and you just can't kick a puppy can you? Aside from my wife and son, I still feel that way all too often. I'm incredibly insecure in friendships. I've been burned, sometimes badly, but no more than anyone else I don't think. I think it's a hold over from school days, from always hoping at least ONE PERSON got picked for the team after me. I guess in a lot of ways it's worse than thinking strangers will see me as fat or ugly. I have a hard time believing my friends really like me. It makes me a hard person to be friends with. The fact that mine stick around should be proof enough, but like telling your wife/friend/sister she's beautiful a thousand times, it doesn't work that way. Middle school still haunts us.

While I see a lot of me in John, both good things and some things that worry me, he is different in some important ways. He has talent, musically. He is in the band and intends to stay there and join the marching band in high school. That will give him a "group." He made the golf team last year. He wasn't very good, but he tried out and made it, something I never would have done. And while he isn't golfing for the school this year, he stays on me wanting to practice, another thing I never would have done at his age. He's learning a real adult skill as well by helping out with tech on theatre productions. He's proven himself to some experienced and talented people and takes great (and well-deserved) pride in his sound board skills. And he came to us wanting to take Honors English next year because he really thought he wasn't being challenged enough in his English class this year. I NEVER would have done that, didn't actually. I knew I could have done well in the advanced classes, but that would have required work. I happily took my A's in "Dumb English" (as one of my more self-motivated friends calls it). John is different, and better, than me. I know he will carry SOMETHING from middle school around and it will affect him in some way, but I hold out hope he will turn out to be a more secure and confident man than his father.

I just wish I knew better how to help.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Y Is For......Yay Me

My last two posts were a birthday post celebrating my great friend and an open love letter to my most awesome wife. I love pointing out the awesomeness of all the people I'm so incredibly lucky to have in my life, it makes me feel happy and rich in the things that really matter. But lately a number of things, mostly work-related, have had me down and I need a pick-me-up, too. So this one is about me. I'm not going to talk about what an unusually gifted and giving and selfless person I am because I'm not. I'm not going to talk about how wonderful a life filled with me is to live because I think I probably require an unusual amount of patience to put up with. But I recently took on a new challenge and I'm pretty happy about the result, so I'm going to toot my horn about that.

This year I became one of the new members of the Brunswick Little Theatre board of directors. Having a huge mouth with no filter, I volunteered myself to take over upkeep of the group's web site before I was even officially seated on the board. I had no idea how to do this, which is part of the reason I volunteered, strangely enough. My family's involvement with the theater has led to all of us opening new doors and experiencing and learning new things, and we've really quite enjoyed that. I figured why not take on one more new thing, learn another skill. How hard could it be? It turned out I needed to do more than upkeep. Because we were going to be attempting to add a Pay Pal link to the web site and because I was going to be using a PC rather than a Mac to update it, it meant I had to completely dump the old web site and star over fresh. I would have to create a new site completely from scratch. Who likes to half-ass anyway, right?

So I researched several web design programs and ended up buying one with a ton of bad Amazon reviews because it was the best of some very limited options given budget and time and the things I needed to be able to do. The program came with a wide variety of templates, all completely useless. Again, no half-assing here, I was really starting completely from scratch. That was ok, the website we had sucked. Bad. It was so bad, our Facebook page keeper refused to link to it. She said it was an embarrassment. Ok, Jen, tell us how you really feel. No pressure, there. Heh. I suppose mine would have to be better. She said it couldn't possibly be worse.

The problem with the old page was primarily that it was meant to be more an artistic statement and an expression of the designer's cutsie sense of humor than a source of information. Mine wouldn't be like that as I have a journalist's style and zero, and I mean ZERO artistic sense. My site may be ugly (it kinda is) but it would be useful goddammit!

It took me a few weeks to teach myself  how to use the web design software, but it came to me eventually. I had a few scary moments trying to upload to Go Daddy, but it worked out. What I came up with is pretty good, if I do say so myself, and I do. It has it's faults, the most glaring being that it is not centered on your screen. It stays on the left hand side for some reason and I can't change it. It isn't really pretty, the colors probably drive an artist's eye bonkers and I am entirely too fascinated by the great variety of fonts available, but I am not a looks-based kind of guy. I am impressed by content, and this site is coming along better than I had hoped.

Here is the home page, if you want to go see for yourself. I feel it's easy to navigate and has lots of info without being confusing. Anyone coming here will see what BLT is doing right now and in the near future. I created "show pages" to highlight each project we are working on. Some are nice, some are ok and some suck. They are pretty much up to the directors in terms of content and if they don't help, it isn't much of a page. But I'm proud of the idea and I hope to slowly introduce the BLT theatre world to the idea that maybe no one has come to their shows in the past because they are the worst salesmen in the world. Once they understand that selling a show is part of the process, I expect these pages will look really good and be a really fun place to visit.

I turned what had been the most confusing part of the old web site, the Get Involved page, into what I think is a great introduction to what we as a community theatre do, and how everyone can and should help us out. It features slideshows and some pithy writing. Go look :)

I also had the bright idea to create a place where anyone who desires can download and print out their own show posters. Show posters are a bone of contention around BLT. The board decided a few years ago that posters don't do a good job of advertising a show. See, I told you they were the worst salesmen in the world. So, we don't print posters to hang around town anymore. And the shows since have almost all lost money, with the exception of last year's Wizard of Oz for which the lovely Lisa and I took over publicity, and imagine this, I PRINTED POSTERS. Anyhow, now there is a place for the cast and crew and friends to make their own posters to hang up around town. I just need to find a way to let people know it's there. Facebook, here I come....

This kind of brings me to the reason I decided to write this increasingly way too long post in the first place. If the site isn't seen, it is useless, no matter how great it is. So I installed a site meter to track views. I expected to be depressed. But, hooray me, I was happily surprised. Thanks to the wonders of the Google search, lots of people are coming to the site. Well, by lots I mean maybe a dozen or two dozen a day, but that is WAY more than I expected. I found one guy this week who came by way of Google search and stayed for almost 5 minutes looking at quite a few pages. He then left by clicking on a link to our Facebook page (which is awesome, by the way.) That is the synergy Jen and I were hoping to create. She has begun linking to the web page, I am proud to say, so at least she is happy with my work. Today I found something even better during my obsessive checking of the site meter. Someone came upon the site while searching for something else, in this case movie theaters in Brunswick County. He didn't mean to look for us, but he came and he stayed for almost five minutes and read from three different pages. I am so happy. In my fevered imagination, this person saw an alternative to movies at our site and was intrigued enough to investigate. I am going to believe he will come to our next show, Dixie Swim Club at Playhouse 211 beginning a week from Friday. I'm even going to pick out a person in the audience and pretend that he or she was that random web searcher.

It will amuse me. And make me feel good. And I deserve that.

Monday, February 25, 2013

X Is For........XOXOXO

Kisses and hugs, baby. Love. Real love. That's what this one is about.

My lovely wife Lisa and I spent a weekend away together recently and it really made me realize how lucky I am to have the relationship with her that I do.  We have been "together" as a couple for 24 years and were bestest buds for a couple years before that. You'd think she'd be sick of me by now, but it seems not. Rather, we are a closer and happier couple than ever before, and even as our lives change and our circumstances change, we just keep growing more and more in love. It's cool.

Our weekend away was originally going to be a family thing, we were going to go with our son to Durham to see the Broadway musical version of Mary Poppins. Then our son's church youth group changed the weekend of their annual winter retreat to the same weekend as the show and he decided he would rather go to the mountains with them. It turned out well, he left on a Friday morning and didn't get back until the following Monday afternoon, leaving us time to make an impromptu romantic getaway out of the show trip. As it turned out, the experience really showed us something we weren't expecting.

Since John wasn't around anyhow, we took Friday evening to go see Safe Haven (ok, but a really good starring role for our little slice of Heaven where we live) and even went out to a bar afterwards! You have no idea how long it had been since we went out to a bar just the two of us for drinks. I didn't want to go, actually, but ended up talking myself into it because it was Great Guinness Toast night and I sort of had a professional responsibility.  Man, am I glad we went. Slainte is our local Irish pub and is about the most perfect drinking place you'll find around here. It has a cozy feel, friendly bartenders and Guinness on tap. It is also free of drunken rednecks trying to smash beer bottles over each other's heads, something that is a real problem in these parts. We ended up thoroughly enjoying ourselves, and more importantly, each other. It felt just like all those times we were out to bars in college, only we talked about work and parenting and friends and our community activities instead of.....well, instead of whatever we used to talk about then, I find I can't remember. It's just so nice to be with someone with whom there are no questions, no worries about where you stand. I needed that, and once again, it was Lisa who delivered.

Our weekend away without John brought a revelation of sorts. We didn't miss him this time. Not that we didn't think about him, we did. We talked a few times and texted a lot with John while he shared his adventures with us and us with him, but we didn't ever wish he was with us instead of with his friends out in the mountains. We are growing up, all of us. We are crossing that border where we are seeing that he is becoming his own person, and rather than fighting it, we are celebrating it. I think a lot of that comes from the strength of our love for each other, Lisa and I, I mean. Empty nest syndrome is very real. Who hasn't seen couples go into a sort of vapor lock when they no longer have raising the children in common. Too many couples, I think, develop a relationship over the years of parenting that is so child-based that they wind up with nothing else tying them to their spouse when the kids grow up and leave home (or even before). They find that whether it was conscious or not, they were staying together "for the kids." While we are a very tight family, I was glad to see that Lisa and I are still very much in love as a couple, not instead of the family dynamic, but in addition to it. I think it makes the whole unit stronger. I think it provides a more stable and healthy environment for our son. I think it is part of the reason he isn't shy about doing things on his own. He will take flight when it's time and he will soar to heights undreamed of by Lisa and I. He will leave us with an empty nest, yes, but it won't be lonely, it will be a chance to begin a new chapter together.

Together. That's what I am talking about. Without even consciously trying, we will always have together with each other. It's easy. And natural. And I am very, very lucky to be able to say that.