When You’re Gone

Recently, I read another fascinating essay online about how to deal with the organizational aspects of one’s passing, death, or demise.

The author’s contention is that we look at our mortality from the wrong perspective. He pointed out that if you are thinking at all about your mortality, you are doing more than many people. His thesis is that you should practice empathy when contemplating the organization of life after you are no longer a part of it.

Instead of focusing your energy in a traditional sense, his idea is to remind us that we should focus on the person we love the most in this world when making plans, organizing and documenting. We should make our plans with our most loved person in mind, under the assumption that this person will have to personally deal with our passing. Our cherished loved one will have to either bear the burden of our lack of planning, or be at ease because we planned our death in such a way as to make it incredibly easy for them.

It sounds like great practice at imagining our lives no longer being filled by us, as well as to refocus our energies on being less selfish in our attitudes about our passing.

A Note About Miley (Not What You’re Expecting) (From Sept 2013)

This post is somewhat about Miley and the Video Music Awards… It’s not a letter “to” her. I wouldn’t presume to think that she would care what 99.99% of us could possibly say and certainly not someone like me.

Miley wasn’t dancing or denigrating herself for people my age. She was doing it for people her age. They will remember her performance, whether good or bad. Condemning her for what she did will not earn your respect from the younger generation – it will only alienate them from any attempt you might make to get through to them. Your chance to reach those kids will be diminished. Those kids don’t notice the content of your words so much as the direction of your wagging finger. In this case, your wagging finger is pointing toward someone entertaining and different, even if we label her as ‘vulgar.’ I guess I’m trying to say that you should teach by being positive about your goals, morals and lifestory, not by being preachy about Miley or even Elvis gyrating around on television. You cannot compete, much less win, a battle against the world’s craziness.
I mention Elvis because Miley isn’t the first and not even the worst in a long line of shock artists.

In our new, fast-paced connected world, none us has much opportunity to filter the world. It comes, unbidden, whether we are prepared or interested in it at all. Our personal opinions and even our greater surrounding societal opinions don’t slow the incoming stimulation. It is 24/7, intense, and takes no prisoners in regards to anyone’s particular personal tastes. It’s a fool’s errand to attempt to blackout much of the illicit or undesirable music, television or behavior in the world.

(I would be much more concerned as a parent about the constant warfare that our county and its allies find justifiable than I would about celebrities acting out for fame and money. My next concern would be explaining to my kids why so many homeless people live in the streets or why so many go to be hungry – in this county of waste and excess. Or why insurance isn’t available to every living person. Or why any adult citizen can’t attend a public university at no cost other than through taxation. We are certainly not living the example we claim we are following. I think my kids would see the hypocrisy more clearly than they would hear my words. My focus would be on the kids I could help shape – not on quixotic efforts to convince anyone in Miley’s shoes to behave differently.)

Shock value has always been an effective method to gather attention. Whether you think this is a good thing or not doesn’t affect the efficiency of being outrageous. Whether Elvis gyrates his hips or Miley grinds her gears for the world, it is ultimately Miley’s decision as an adult to do it. Let’s trust that she has someone in her life who will love her and help guide or even rescue her later if her life spirals out of control. Don’t worry about her legacy. That is hers to shape, independent of whether you or I like any aspect of it. Whether you think it is a good thing or not for Elvis or Miley, the reality is that, in part, you might be trying to impose your standards on other people. It is up to you to figure out a way to be a better and more desirable center of attention than people like Miley.
(Quiet dignity almost always loses out to outlandish excitement as far as the younger crowd is concerned.)

As for the Video Music Awards, how in the world could you expect to watch it and not be shocked? It’s MTV. Appearing at the VMAs has always been an opportunity to dial up the shock value and garner attention. It would never occur to me to let children watch it if I were concerned about their exposure to alleged illicit behavior. I don’t understand how anyone exposed to the entertainment industry could expect anything other than something similar to what Miley did. Just who are these crazy parents who would be so oblivious as to allow it to be watched by their so-called “young children?” Any adult claiming that their young kids shouldn’t watch it should be using their control technology on their cable boxes to block the channels entirely. Isn’t that reasonable? Having MTV available on your televisions at home would be the greater sin, not that the content is undesirable for your kids. As the adult with the issue about exposing your kids to it, it is your job to assume that the world is simply stuffed with things you don’t like – and act accordingly.

(And please note, too, that in order to have watched the performance, you would have to be relatively more wealthy than most of the world to have had access to electricity, cable, extra-tier channels, and so on. In a world where many of these things aren’t even available to many, having raised eyebrows over a young woman showing her body on television is almost a hypocritical perversion itself.)

Although it won’t happen this way, Miley has so much attention on her right now that she could almost preach any truth she wants to – and get serious attention from the very people who many think were being subjected to smut by watching Miley’s VMA performance. For those who had nothing but negative criticism for her performance, I would argue that your entire collective life’s words, written or oral, cannot begin to approach the level of POTENTIAL reach that Miley now has. I know we would all like to think that our efforts will bear better fruits – but it isn’t true. Because she received so much attention (however you characterize it), Miley could come out tomorrow and passionately get attention for any idea or cause that she values. Yes, it’s true that her popularity will undoubtedly fade. But if she is smart, she can now ride a wave of fame and money to any destination she chooses. It’s also true that her destination will probably not be one most people would find meaningful – but it might. She might finish her entertainment career with enough money and clout to eradicate homophobia, or to convince the world to stop fighting so many stupid wars. Or, she might convince them to listen to music and tap their toes a little more often.

Between concerning myself with someone like Miley dancing half-naked onstage or thinking about the consequences of explaining justifiable war to the next generation, I would focus on fixing the need for war and greater societal problems. As with warfare, there will always be the “next shock” to come along and take the shock value to even crazier heights.
Miley makes a point. She’s well aware that what she’s doing is controversial and many people hate it. In the scheme of things, though, which of the issues I’ve mentioned rates more attention? But which will you be talking about around the water cooler or in church?


09282013 My Mother Never Had a Birth Certificate

My mother never had a birth certificate. In this age, it sounds impossible, doesn’t it?

She was born in September 1946, in Widener, Arkansas. Although I’m not sure which crops were being picked or harvested, I’m certain that my grandparents were there working the fields of Eastern Arkansas in some capacity. My Aunt Marylou was somewhere around 15 at the time and she still remembers it. (Coincidentally, Marylou had to request a delayed birth certificate many decades after her birth, as she didn’t have one, either.) The family was very poor so anything other than an at-home birth would have been almost impossible for my mom.

Mom is probably one of the last people who will ever be able to get through life in the U.S. without a birth certificate. The rules are so strict now and modern living so complicated that the government has no interest in allowing people to go without distinctive identification. Somehow, mom skated through collecting social security and other bureaucratic complications.

A few years ago, I helped mom do the paperwork for a delayed birth certificate. She got too frustrated, though, and gave up without trying very hard. Part of the reason in her mind was probably that she wasn’t going to live long enough to need it, anyway. She had just started a new job as a janitor at Brinkley public schools and retirement was just a fantasy to her at that point.

I hate to think that mom worked the last 5 or 6 years at such a physical job. She didn’t have to, of course. It would have been comforting to know that she had even a year after working until retirement to enjoy her life, even if it were limited to reading and visiting people. Many of her choices limited her options and that somehow doesn’t mitigate my wish much.

This is a picture of my mom, her brother Harold, my grandma Nellie and my grandpa Cook, in December,1956.

A Rusty Nail Is All I Need

As strange as it sounds, one of my most prized possessions is most of a rusty nail. Seriously.

Years ago, before it was torn down, I visited the last house my maternal grandparents lived in together. I went on the property at great risk, as it looked like it had been abandoned and infiltrated by wasps, weeds, and rain through the old metal roof and tar paper siding. Before moving to this house, they lived to the south, still off highway 39, on the opposite side, near White Cemetery. They had an outhouse at the previous house.

I have an incredible number of memories about that old “house on the hill” as I call it. It was in Rich, Arkansas; not much of a place, really, even its heyday if it ever truly had one.  It was on Highway 39, on the west side of the road. Cook Road was slightly to the south of the old house. Most of the time cotton seemed to be the crop surrounding it in every direction.

I remember when grandma and grandpa moved in. One of the first things done was to hang a porch swing on the south end of the full-length wooden slat board porch. In that day, one didn’t use complicated screw hooks – a long nail would be hammered in and bent around to hold the chain linked through it. This isn’t the safest of ways to do it, not by today’s standards. Yet I can’t remember seeing one fall when I was young. (The second thing done was to build Grandma Nellie a storm shelter. She was deathly afraid of any weather, having survived the stories of the tornado in 1909 that leveled the town of Brinkley.)

Either Uncle Raymond or Uncle Harold picked me up and held me up high toward the roof of the porch. I held the nail more or less straight while grandpa hammered it in. Once we nailed the two nails, we hung the swing and sat in it, enjoying the simple fun and relaxation of it. I spent a lot of hours on that swing with grandpa. On some level, it is partially to blame for my extreme views on simplicity and comfort. Adding 44 uses and extras to things mostly ruins them.

To this day, when it rains sometimes I can smell the dirt and cotton blowing across the porch toward grandpa and me, sitting on the porch. If weather was coming, we’d usually be listening to grandma cajole grandpa into coming into the house or getting to the storm shelter.

The only thing I was really interested in salvaging that day in the 90s was the swing nail closest to the house, the one I remember “helping” put in. Honestly, I can’t say with 100% certainty that it’s the same nail, although I believe that it is. I’m humbled to think that the first swing installed at that house was balanced there almost 1/2 a century ago. I managed to extract some of the long bent nail from the upper wooden beam above the porch. Everything was caving in as I struggled to use it for footing.

Sidenote: one branch of the Pledger family was the last to live in the house. Their stuff, including pictures, were scattered all around inside. I learned later in life that my grandpa Willie supposedly had an illegitimate child with one of the Pledgers. At the time, he was working for the original Pledger patriarch at a sawmill in Clarendon. My mom didn’t know anything about her half-sister until after the half-sister died. The story is that she and mom looked a lot alike. Although I have delved fairly extensively into the Pledgers, I have avoided any direct linking to their trees or stories.

 

 

This picture is of the old house on the hill. (The aforementioned porch swing is on the left in the background.) Grandpa Willie is seated center. They are sitting on the porch steps, a series of piled railroad logs. I nailed at least 1,000 nails into those logs. These logs were one of the many reasons that I still love the smell of creosote of all kinds.

God and The Weather (Interventionist God…)

‘Belief in a cruel god makes a cruel man’
-Thomas Paine

(I couldn’t get this blog post “right,” not by any measure I could fathom. It’s really 2 distinct concepts slammed together inelegantly. But it’s honest and written with a good intention.)

I don’t believe in an interventionist god…

I know that I am a very small minority. There aren’t many people who purport to believe in god, yet don’t believe in god’s interventions in our affairs – or with nature.

-God does not interfere in the affairs of men.
-God does not control, direct, or mitigate the natural order of the world, including the weather.
-God does not use disease, weather or other things to punish or reward people or countries.
-I distrust people who disagree with my opinion on the 3rd bullet point.

God set it in motion and has given us a large enough brains and toolboxes to work out our own issues. And yet we are not doing what we can to help one another. We have been successful to a point but our own individual and national allegiances stymy our potential. So concentrated we are on smaller issues that we are allowing things to be unfixed that wouldn’t cost us much in time or resources- not really.

I have a huge respect for what we have done as a civilization. Despite crazy nationalism and divergent and bitter religious beliefs, we continue to figure things out and solve complex problems. Our world is improving, becoming smarter, and people in general are suffering less. I think that the world is becoming a better place. As education replaces opinion, I think that our lives will continue to improve.

I look at our brains and our potential and see a positive universe, rather than negative.

This blog is supposed to convey who I am and what I think. I’m not sure what bothers me more: people saying I believe the opposite of what I’ve stated or becoming angry that I disagree with them. I’d hope that recognizing that our opinions diverge is important to everyone. But I’m learning anew with great frequency that the admiration and respect for other people’s opinions tends to shrink dramatically where religion treads. Whereas once I was atheist, I now “believe,” but my belief does not include a clause which allows for a beneficent god to intervene on our individual behalf. I am certain that the cosmos was set into motion by some force, but I don’t believe that the universe can  be made to change course based on human consequences.

I also find it amusing that many people would tell me “You can’t believe that!” As if any religious argument can be presented as a logical buttress for any such proclamation. There are a lot of religions in the world, many practiced by those would insist that their flavor is the only one possible. I don’t tolerate that type of religious exclusion well. The joy of religion is that we can and do select what works for us. Even casual observation of religion at work demonstrates the striking diversity and difference of religious opinion.

Someone once said that you can choose your own opinion, but not your own facts. Our development as a civilization is full of instances where “everyone knew” something that turned out to be false. Experts were put in the spotlight to placate people- right up until they were no longer right.

Never Ask For Lost Phone Numbers Again

For whatever reason, I was around several people this week who lost their phones, had to reset them, or otherwise suffered from a lost of data with their phone.

While sometimes surprises happen, there is no great reason to ever be left without all your contact phone numbers, pictures, or videos from your phone. I can throw my phone into the lake without worrying about “losing” my important information. I might lose a very few recent pictures, but anytime I take a “keeper,” I back it up at the next opportunity.

If you use Gmail and input your contact info through gmail contacts, then link them on your phone, everything will always be updated, available from anywhere, and never lost. It will even load the picture you put into gmail into your phone. If you have a couple of hundred contacts, you shouldn’t use the excuse of “it takes too long” to input them into gmail, as you won’t notice you’ve lost all that time later when you must attempt to beg, scrounge and find your treasured contacts once you have lost your phone or data.

I didn’t include a long, complicated explanation of how to do it in this post, as I’ve found that the best way to learn is to google it yourself. Even better – take advantage of someone smart at your particular phone store and ask them to walk you through it.  Using gmail for your contacts is such a time-saving, effective way to ensure you have your contact information backed up and always at hand. If you so choose, you can also input ALL of each person’s information, including addresses, birthdays, notes, etc.

I try to keep an excel file updated, too, with at least the important names, addresses, and phone numbers of the people in my life. The file can be accessed from anywhere with internet access. It is surprising how often I am out and about and someone asks for a mutual friend of family member’s information. It is at hand no matter what the circumstances. An excel file is ‘old school’ without a doubt, but I can’t convince myself to stop doing the extra step yet.

As for pictures or videos on your phone, each of us should be connecting our phone manually to a computer at regular intervals and using the drag-and-drop method to copy what is one our phone. There are also great tools to automate this for you, too. But for them to work, you have to use them.

I’ve written several times in the past about the need to backup our stuff. I know my advice is mostly forgotten or ignored.

 

Backup Commentary (Technology)

(Update 22 Oct 2013)

Don’t like to backup your computer or phone?


The good news is that you don’t have to. No one will come to your house and point a pistol at your head for choosing to not do it. (Although such a business would be an interesting one to pitch to investors!)

On the other hand, please don’t cry in anguish when your computer or phone crashes and you suddenly have lost all the pictures of your favorite cat wearing a kimono.

You should assume that your computer will crash. It’s mechanical and uses moving parts. It is going to crash if you use it long enough. The longer you use it without it failing sadly means that it is MORE likely to crash and burn without notice.

Assuming you have internet…. If you don’t have internet, stop reading now. Everyone has access to free email and backup services. Did you write an important paper? Send it to yourself as an attachment, archiving it in a folder to maximize your organization and minimize distractions and terrible loss later. Synchronize your browser bookmarks or back them up to your computer. Don’t have time to do this? Where will those 10 seconds be when you’ve lost the only copy?

There are TONS of free services on the internet for backup. Sure, you can pay for them, too. OneDrive, Dropbox, etc. You can save all your pictures, even if you have 5,000 of them. All in the cloud. Since you will be also making a local backup on another hard drive, on DVD, or flash drive, too, you aren’t tied to worrying about all the servers at Microsoft melting, nor are you concerned about your house catching fire and eating your computer and DVD backups.You can also arrange with a friend to copy all your cherished stuff and send it to his/her house and he or she can send their cherished stuff home with you, if you don’t want your stuff on the cloud, too. 

Even if you promise yourself to connect your phone once YEARLY and copy your pictures and music, this is better than losing all of your content. You can surely promise to copy it once a year, if not more often.

If you don’t know how to make cd/dvd/flash drive backups of your pictures, music, documents, and bookmarks – you are ALREADY DOOMED! Seriously. You don’t have to know how to change a tire to own a car, but you need to know how to deal with it in an emergency. Making backup copies of your data is considered to be the most basic, absolutely essential computer task.
The technology we use on smartphones and computers is ALWAYS going to be changing. You will learn one thing today and will never be able to relax. The way you do things will constantly change. There’s only 1 rational choice: learn as it changes. If you can’t or won’t, be prepared to not only pay other people for the service of maintenance or repair, but also steel yourself against the inevitable total loss of everything you have stored on your electronic devices.

Want to be self-sufficient? Learn to Google. Learn and study which sites give the best advice. Compare site’s instructions. Experiment with it. It’s how I learned. Waiting until you know how to do something is a waste of time. Figure it out when there’s no pressure. I’m not smarter – just more persistent.

If you are too busy to learn computer basics, then you can and should expect to pay for other people to bail you out of your troubles. If your car breaks down, you call a tow truck and mechanic – and you pay them. If you want to save $, you either buy a reliable car, maintain it better or accept the need to be severely inconvenienced when your car breaks down. Your computer is the same.The difference is that a tire is just a tire, whereas a computer or phone might contain priceless or one-of-a-kind memories. I can easily think of a dozen people who have lost everything on their phones or computers. Several of them were quite literally ill thinking about what they had lost.

If you CHOOSE to NOT learn certain computer skills and how to backup data, please make arrangements for the time when your machine fails and/or you have lost the term paper that is due tomorrow. It is going to happen to everyone eventually. 

Best Buy taught me this harsh lesson, after I thought I already knew it. They “fixed” me out of a ton of music and pictures. I had to pay them for the privilege of breaking my computer. Even though the issue went all the way to the manager and then to corporate, I was put on the “hell list” of customers. Honestly, though, I cost Best buy way more business than they caused me in anguish. I got a valuable lesson out of it and I made it my mission to ensure that they lost a lot of business for a couple of years.


Examples:
If I take pictures I wish to keep, I transfer them from the camera card to my computer. I then transfer the exact same copy to my wife’s computer. Then, I upload full-sized copies to my OneDrive account, automatically. (I don’t have to do anything – they copy without any other effort on my part.) At the end of each year, I make a new archive onto a usb stick. Even though I preach this constantly, even I have been known to delay uploading or backing up – and twice it has cost me considerable effort to attempt to reconstruct that which I’ve lost or misplaced.

Once weekly, I do an automatic 100% backup of my entire C drive to another drive. If the drive fails, I can have it restored in 20 minutes – entirely. I could do it daily, but I found it to be too redundant and beyond what I need.

I use dropbox as well, which is a nice redundant way to ensure I’m not peeling an empty banana. My important stuff is being saved somewhere, without my needing to manually find it, copy it, store it, etc. (The banana quote comes courtesy of Steve Martin.)

As for my music, I keep most of it archives on dual-layer DVDs. I’m not as concerned about it, as it is replaceable. My wife has an exact copy on her hard drive. If the house burns, I am screwed, as all my backups are local. I could keep a backup at someone else’s house, but I have weighed the cons and decided it’s not a priority. I can replace it all. It’s my personal selection of the ‘best’ music, but it’s not something that can’t be 100% replaced.

This is not the case with pictures, documents, and personalized stuff.

Regarding smartphones and regular dumbdialers (like I have): I get annoyed when I see or hear people say ‘my phone broke’ or ‘I lost my phone/sim card.’  Even if all you do is go to your favorite phone store and ask someone how to keep everything protected for the day when you either lose your phone or it breaks. It is going to happen to everyone.


Backup your data. It’s a learned habit.

In case I wasn’t specific enough: if you have data on a computer or smartphone, it will eventually get lost when the device fails, breaks, gets lost, stolen, drowned in water, etc.

Have a plan and least try to stick with it. 

11052013 #Hashtag – Just Another Evolution in Language

 Fallon and Timberlake’s Infamous Hashtag Skit
The link above is for the viral take on hashtag usage invading spoken language. 

It is the way of the world for new things to be despised. New words and ways of communicating are often the most hated. It’s always been that way and probably likely will continue to annoy people. Most of the changes are driven by younger people, regardless of how older people or entrenched concerns react to them.

As for the ” # ” or hashtag symbol, it is a very useful communication tool when used properly. The hipsters and octogenarians of our world would have us believe that any usage of the hashtag is dumb and that it doesn’t add any meaningful content to our language.

And they are quite wrong. Like any meme or idea tool, the hashtag is only as good as the people using it. It would be a better tool if people would stop parroting the same tired “it’s stupid” mantra before learning how it is supposed to work. If you are on the “I hate hashtag” bandwagon, you are going to be seriously tested – as the hashtag is a part of our culture now and likely will not disappear from usage, at least for a long time.

As someone getting older, these new means of writing and communicating can be confusing and hard to adjust to. I can either choose to attempt the transition or be left behind. As an amateur linguist, it is my obligation to stop trying to keep language static and uninteresting.

Hashtag Wikipedia Page

I don’t expect the haters to google the usage and etiquette of hastags – but they should. You can’t creatively criticize something if you don’t understand it. I know that we often do – but we look foolish when we do. 

Before being crucified, I’d like to mention that I don’t appreciate people who are misusing the hashtag symbol. It’s just another way to communicate poorly when over-used or used improperly.

Like everything about our inefficient language, though, the # is an evolution of content and context. Our language in every sense has been nothing short of a long revolution and evolution of usage.

08222012 Pranked And Fired at Work (From 2012)

One of my co-workers, Alex, had his last day of work. He had often told me that he was going to ‘get me’ one way or another. Little did I know that he was capable of pulling off the best work prank in a long time. He even managed to get the head of Human Resources involved.

My supervisor called me up to go with him to H.R. We sat down and the head of H.R. told me that I was being suspended and/or fired depending on his investigation and that I had been accused of fostering a hostile work environment.

If you’ve ever been fired or been in the room when it has happened to anyone else, you can imagine how horrible the experience was for everyone else (not just me.) Both my supervisor and the head of H.R. had perfectly inscrutable expressions and delivery the entire time. We talked for a few minutes. As I was leaving and just about the shut the door, the head of H.R. stood up and said, “Wait a minute, X, I’ll let you go ahead and read the file.” He had handed me a blue folder with my name on it. It had been laying in plain sight during the firing meeting.

When I opened it, what I was saw inside was a single sheet of paper, the paper pictured below. Even looking at the paper, it took a few seconds for the realization to sink in that not only was I not fired, but that Alex had finally punk’d me, all with the incredible performances of my supervisor and H.R. head. I had to sit down.

When I returned to the storeroom, everyone was at the front area, awaiting to see how it had went and to get a good laugh.

It was an exceptional experience and I’m glad they ‘got me,’ so to speak. Alex was as happy as the king of the world knowing that he had pulled off the prank. I think everyone was surprised that I had no inkling about it happening. I’d like to say I suspected, but I was totally ignorant of what was going on. Even when inside the H.R. office I still had no clue or even a suspicious thought in my head. They had me perfectly fooled.

I learned a lot from the prank. The first thoughts in my head were of my wife and how she’d be affected and also of my supervisor and how much I’d let him down. I also realized that it was true how much I liked my job. I’ve always said it and even preached it – but being ‘fired’ focused that idea into certainty. I’ll never look at Steve, the H.R. director the same way again, either. His performance was Oscar-worthy.

I guess it’s a good thing I didn’t start screaming and throwing things when I was told I was fired? : )

10102013 Senti-Minimalist

Today, I saw one of the words I thought I invented a few years ago used on a blog: Maxi-malist.
Here’s the Reference (Great blog, by the way…)

It was used in the way that I had thought of, too, involving the idea of too much stuff, in comparison to minimalism.

I also had thought of another word back in the day: Senti-minimalist. For the way I meant it, it describes a minimalist whose main focus is on concerning himself with items of sentimental value first and foremost. It’s obviously a mashup of both “sentimental” and “minimalist.” For example, if I were to be tasked with an impossible hoard, I would start with identifying and extracting items of strong sentimental value first, even ahead of alleged valuables.

Either a lot of people share many ideas in common, or sometimes I actually come up with good ideas.