Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Twitter Me This:
Social Media Answers Life’s Questions

I recently posted this piece about communication. While working on it I thought about the fact that word of mouth is still the most trusted recommendation for a business, person, news item and even topic of conversation. I think we are taking the mouth out of the process. Is ‘word of web’ the new ‘word of mouth’? My friends and family are still my most trusted sources of information but there are questions that these people don’t have answers to. That’s when there is a breakdown in the word of mouth; and when I turn to the word of web. Let’s say that I want to buy a netbook but none of my word of mouth friends have any real experience them. A web search about netbooks will turn up a lot of articles and blogs but why should I trust any of the search results? I don’t know anything about the people who are giving their opinion. That’s when these three websites that I’ve recently found can come in handy.


By going to http://topsy.com/ I can search the approximately 2.5 billion Tweets for netbook or even the exact model that I’m thinking of buying. When the results of the search are in I know that what I’ve found is mentions and opinions from real people, most of whom have no agenda aside from sharing opinions. But of all of the opinions that I find which ones should I trust?


Maybe http://tweetlevel.edelman.com/ can help. TweetLevel will let me know a lot about the person who Tweeted “My 4C3R netbook is roxzorz! The best one that I’ve ever had.” by telling me about that Tweeter’s influence. I can see if that person is popular, how much other people trust him based on if a lot of his tweets are retweeted and how much he engages with is followers. – Maybe I don’t trust what a guy with 42 followers and 26 tweets who is following 2,287 people has to say. His opinions, like that salty processed meat, are probably best left in the can until the power’s out.


What if Topsy didn’t turn up any good results, or just not enough? I can go to http://www.twellow.com/ where I can search hashtags by category to find people who Tweet about computers or web books or just about anything else. Then I can do a TweetLevel search of a couple of folks that I find and ask them via @message. I’ll get an answer to my question from someone who I don’t know but I can feel pretty confident that if I did know him (or her) I’d trust the opinion.


Social media answering questions we didn’t even know were being asked. We will always trust our real world friends but we are putting a lot more confidence in what is available online. We can now really have, or at least eavestweet on, a conversation with large groups of people that we may have never truly met; but, for some reason, we trust.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Hunt for Thanksgiving

The leaves rustled around my footsteps as I followed the flags marking the path to my stand. The sun had not yet begun its day and the light from my flashlight could barely pierce the early morning’s darkness. The delicate steps that my brain told my feet to make were translated into raucous stomps through the otherwise silent and sleeping forest. Each step was cautious and deliberate but my feet were cold and no longer part of my body. Silently I damned the seemingly defective hand warmers that were tucked into my gloves and boots. Through several layers of clothing a stocking cap and scarf the breeze created by the pace of my walking was beginning to make my cheeks and chest burn and my nose run.

After several minutes of laborious trudging I made my way to the base of the tree where I would spend the next few hours. Some twenty feet above me, lashed to the tree, was a rickety contraption made of wood and metal. I took off my gloves so that I could tie my rifle to the rope that was hanging from the stand. My cold fingers twitched as I fumbled with the rope. The ladder to the stand was made of staggered pegs on either side of the tree. I hate those kinds of ladders. So much room for error. The cold steel burned my palms and fingertips. I gripped each peg tightly; paranoid that my numbed fingers would lose their grip and I’d fall to the ground, no one to hear my cries as I lay there with broken bones. Once I made it to the stand I sat for a moment to catch my breath and say a quick thank you prayer to God for not letting me fall. I cupped my hands and blew into them in the hopes that feeling would return. Hope failed me.

A few moments later I began pulling my rifle up. The thin rope dug into my hands but I couldn’t feel it. I soon had my rifle in my hands and was ready for my last difficult task before I could begin the hunt. The rifle cartridges felt like icicles in my hands. Each one stung my fingertips as I loaded them into the magazine; scrape, click, ouch. Finally I was prepared. My gloves were so warm when I was able to put them back on. The comfort was short lived.

Cold and miserable I sat there in silence. Within minutes the squirrels and birds realized that I was no threat to them and began their day. The sun had begun to crest the treetops and there was light. As the animals foraged I watched. Before the fog lifts there is a completely different light than that of midday. Colors are crisp and it is like seeing life for the first time, every time. The sounds of nature are so calming and therapeutic when they are all that can be heard. Tweets, grunts and the sound of cracking twigs travel great distances and are clearer than can be understood without firsthand experience. There is nothing more beautiful than nature at sunrise. I had forgotten about how cold and miserable I was. My mind was clear and I was thankful for the beauty that God had created and shared with me.

Friday, November 20, 2009

MoreThan 140 Characters

Twitter is a great social media tool and Follow Friday is great for letting people know who you suggest that others follow. The trouble is, there is no way to let folks know why they should follow someone in 140 characters unless you tweet once for each person on your FF list. With that in mind, I decided to make a short list of people for FF and a brief description of why.

I'll start with the first person I followed and then move forward in time:

@ClaytonMorris - Clayton is co-anchor of the Fox and Friends weekend show. He's very into social media and communication. Clayton rarely has a tweet that I doesn't interest me. His tweets usually center around tech. He does a podcast I suggest you follow as well @todayinsocial. It centers on what's going on in social media.

@RickReichmuth - Rick is the chief meteorologist at Fox News and he does the weather for Fox and Friends weekend. He's a good guy and he interacts with his followers well. His tweets usually center around the weather, photos, family and food.

@TapOutRightNow & @MichaelJStanek - Michael is an actor who lives in Chicago. He's genuine and he will let you know what he thinks about stuff. He usually tweets about politics and the Fox News commentary show Red Eye.

@BarbiSetlock - Barbi is a sweet chick. She tweets about all sorts of things but usually focuses on her love of people. She's a lot of fun and cares about what other people think as she's truly open minded.

@DaveSeow - I can't say enough good about this guy and why you should follow him but I'll try. He's a children's book author living in Singapore. He tweets about all kinds of stuff including customs, books and friends.

@ColleenMcD - Colleen lives in California. She knows how to do a lot of stuff including being an interactive tweeter. She will let you know what's up in Southern CA and she often tweets about tasty recipes.

@WavesOfTech @DaveAndFirefly @MikeeUpdate - these guys do a podcast called Waves of Tech. It's a great cast that keeps folks like me up to date on how technology is changing our world. They tweet about everything from what's going on to tech and funny things that they find on the web. Also, I write for their website so, follow them and their podcast please.

@JWSems - Jason is the real thing. He works with Lean management concepts. His tweets are generally focused on his friends and travels but also include food. Let's face it, who doesn't like food.

@LoveAuto - will keep you up to date on what's going on in the world of cars and car related news. Worth a follow.

@SJSTurkie - His tweets are generally about politics and communication. Very interesting topics and he'll discuss with you, in 140 characters or less.

@MMGood1208 - This person will keep you entertained. She tweets about absolutely everything and she's good at it. She will start and keep a conversation going. She loves life and people.

@JPsCranky - Good conversation about just about anything. She loves people, family and cookies. FUN tweeter.

@ValeriaL - Val is a friend of mine in the real world. She's a great person and when she has time she tweets interesting things that relate to social media. She also tweets for her job as @TheBeachFLA.

@MeigaLN - Meiga is another friend from the real world. She doesn't tweet all that much but when she does it is worth reading.

@NickBelardes - is an author. His tweets are random and interesting. He tweets about things he sees...just observations like you would expect an author to tweet. He also tweets about his travels and writings.

@GlitzyOrbit - you won't find a cooler grandmother to tweet with. Her tweets are all over the board from Pearl Jam to her kids and family. Fantastic lady for sure.

@ByteMonkey - lives here in Pensacola. His tweets are often hilarious observations of what's going on in his world. Can anybody say VOLTRON?

I'm sure that I'll add to this list but I doubt that anyone will be deleted. Follow these folks. They've all got something good to say.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Danny Fugate Died

I received word on Thursday that Dad, although his health had been improving, was having trouble breathing again. Over the last three months between visiting a sick father and having a new baby I’d used a good bit of my vacation time and couldn’t leave town until the weekend. It was cold that Saturday morning as we loaded up the car. There was nothing exceptional about that particular morning. The previous week of work had been just as nondescript as any other and I trudged through it knowing that, come the weekend, I would be with my family again. My wife, our newborn son and I were about to make the 200 plus mile drive to Meridian, Mississippi so that we could visit my father in the hospital. It was to be the first time that he would see his new grandson, Jonas. This time, there would be two proud fathers in the room.

About half way between Pensacola and Meridian I called my sister, Debbie, to see how Dad was doing. She told me that she wasn’t in the room but everything was okay. She asked how long we’d be and where we were. The conversation was brief and, in retrospect, a bit awkward. We arrived at the hospital at about 11:45am. Two hundred miles north of where our trip had originated and three and a half hours later it was just as cold as when we’d set out that morning.

My wife and I made our way across the parking lot and into the hospital as quickly as we could; both to get out of the cold and so that we could see Dad and he could meet his new grandson. As the sliding doors opened I noticed my sister, brother in law, nieces and nephews and the rest of my family sitting in the lobby of the hospital. The look in Debbie’s eyes told me everything. I froze, inside and out. Terror ripped through my body and I felt my heart and everything else inside me fall to the floor with a thud. The first word out of my mouth was “No”. My sister hugged me and we both began to cry. Then, as if a levee had broken, the rest of my family began to cry. They had tried to remain strong as my wife and I arrived but now that was impossible.

The four of us, my wife, my sister, my son and I boarded the elevator and headed to the fourth floor where my father’s room was. My legs couldn’t carry me fast enough to his room. I felt like thoroughbred running the downs after a flood.
I opened the door to his room and found him lying in the bed. The words to describe how he looked as he lay there come easily but I cannot force my fingers to type them.

Everyone left me alone with him so that I could absorb the situation. As I sat at this bedside I gripped his already cool hand and kissed it. I laid my head on his chest, just as I’d done a hundred times as a child looking for comfort. Tears began to well again in my eyes, just as they are doing right now. I screamed at God and asked him why he’d taken this great man from me. Voice trembling, I begged my father to wake up. “Wake up, wake up, wake up! Please come back. I need you. Jonas needs you.” Somewhere inside me I thought that this would somehow be possible. For just a second I thought that he would grip my hand back and tell me everything was okay.

A few minutes later my mother came back into the room. This was the first time that I’d seen her since before my father had passed. She stepped across the threshold and fell to the floor. I sprinted to her but couldn’t get there in time to keep her from collapsing. It took all the strength that I had not to fall onto the floor right beside her and give up. I was afraid that God would, in one day, take my mother and father. The nurses rushed in and soon my mother was whisked off to the emergency room for testing and observation.

As calmly as I could, I made my way down the hall to an empty room, walked into the bathroom and latched the door behind me. I stood, staring into the mirror, looking at myself and my father in me. Then, I eased backward to the wall and slid to the floor. I had never cried that openly or deeply before. For several minutes I sat until my wife came in and knocked. I gathered myself as best as I could and opened the door. I regret that she saw me that way; sitting in the floor, weak and torn with tears pouring from my eyes. She was worried and I’d only been concerned with my own grief.

We made our way back downstairs to the emergency area to find my mother. She was hysterical and speaking gibberish. In and amongst the nonsense were words that we all could understand. “I die, I die” she repeated over and over. Every time I heard those words I did die. My heart and insides were still on the floor in the lobby. There wasn’t much else to leave there in the room where my mother was.
The next few days were a blur. Mom was in the hospital until the night before Dad’s funeral. Before the service she saw him, in the casket, and collapsed again. I rushed outside to call 911. The paramedic who arrived was a family friend and stayed with her throughout the remainder of the day. We were all grateful for his strength and presence.

On December 13th, 2008 at 9:46am my father, Dan Fugate, died. It was on that same day that his son, Danny, died as well. I can still feel him with me and see him in my son. Sometimes I catch Jonas looking and smiling at a blank space on the wall or just over my shoulder. I know that if I could see through his eyes there wouldn’t be a blank space. There would be a smiling man looking at his son and grandson. He is happy because he can watch Jonas everyday and he can still teach his son everything he needs to know to be a good father. I know this is true because everything that I need to know to be a good father I learned from him while he was being a good father to me.

When, in life and work, someone has grief over the loss of someone special I know that I can speak truthfully when I tell them “I know how you feel.”

For the funeral, I wrote and delivered the eulogy. It was printed on the memorial programs:

A Million Days

In October nineteen forty three
And the wake of the Second World War
A family in Kentucky
Had a sixth boy at their door

Over the next several years
Danny turned into Dan
He’s who would dry my tears
And teach me to be a man

I learned to golf and hunt and fish
All while at your side
If God would grant me just one wish
You’d still be my guide

I know that you’ll still be around
To watch your grandson grow
And I’ll always turn to you
For everything you know

He’ll learn to golf and hunt and fish
All while at my side
But you’ll be the one to comfort him and
Make everything alright

Great men are both born and raised
I know this much is true
And if I live a million days
I’ll know none greater than you

Monday, November 16, 2009

How Web Based Communication is Changing the Way We Do Business

Millions of years ago dinosaurs ruled the earth. Their giant remains can be found on most all of the continents. That was a different time in history; but, like everything that has come and gone, it is history. Suddenly and unexpectedly a great global disaster brought the reign of the dinosaur to an end. Communication as our parents knew it or perhaps as we knew it when we were children is on the verge of a similar, however not quite as drastic or immediate, moment in time. The days of writing letters with pen and paper are coming to an end. Newspapers and to a certain degree magazines are facing a similar fate. They are being replaced by electronic media and email. Communication is no different from any other aspect of civilization. It lives and evolves; ever changing with the demands of society. Velum and papyrus replaced stone tablets. Hand written books met their fate with the invention of the printing press and now, letters and other hard copy media are fading out in favor of email and websites. This has had a drastic effect on the way that people communicate and learn. Written communication has gone the way of the dinosaur.

Social Media


Our communication evolution has spawned new tools such as social media. The term social media refers to a group of tools used and generated primarily by the end user. They offer a way for people to communicate and share information instantly and easily. By definition, one of the primary requirements for a tool to be considered social media is its ease of use. This new form of media is changing culture and, with it creativity and collaboration. There are three things that must occur in order for culture changing creativity to occur. There must be development of a domain which contains a set of understood rules, people bringing novelty to that domain and a group of experts who recognize the merit and validity of the innovation. Social media has all three of these characteristics.

Social media, however, is a relatively new concept. The internet is a living thing and it is in a constant state of change. Today, in 2009, what we think of as the internet is different than what one would have known ten years ago. This first generation of the web is now referred to as Web 1.0. It was made up of a series of static, content based web sites. There was no two way traffic and there was no sharing of information among users. It served merely as a source for businesses and developers to display content. It would be easy to think of it today as a number of billboards, advertisements and pamphlets connected electronically and displayed remotely. It was a true wonder in its day but as we have become desensitized to the technology on which it is based we have come to expect more from our online experiences.

The Internet


What we know as the internet now is commonly referred to as Web 2.0. Unlike its predecessor, Web 2.0 is populated by and large with user created content and the free sharing of information amongst its users. The internet now is a place where the smallest of voice can speak as loudly as one that belongs to the largest of body. This has caused a drastic change in the way that we communicate with one another as well as how businesses communicate with their consumers. It is through the current version of the internet that many people have found their voice. The younger people of the world are using the internet to register to vote, find philanthropic opportunities, communicate with their friends, and express their views on current topics.

Social Media Society


Younger people are bringing the new forms of communication to the forefront globally. Social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook along with blogging are the new ways to communicate. There is a new generation of consumers of media known as Generation Y. This group consists of people born between 1985 and 2003. They have had access to communication with people worldwide via the internet throughout most of their lives and for this reason they are referred to as digital natives. With numbers rivaling the baby boomers; they will certainly shape the new world with new thoughts and innovations. There are approximately 73.5 million Generation Yers as compared to the 76.7 million baby boomers. To help put this into perspective there are approximately 49.1 million members of Generation X.

Businesses and Employees


This is not to say that members of Generation X and the baby boomers are unwilling to embrace the new way of communicating. They are just a bit behind the younger generation; which is understandable. The majority of Fortune 500 companies are led by members of the baby boomer generation and operations are generally handled by younger people who are members of Generation X. The size of a company determines its ranking in the Fortune 500. Of the corporations listed with this group only 12.8% have a presence in what is known as the blogosphere, which is another name for the grouping of social media venues. Conversely, the Inc. 500 lists companies based on their growth. An astonishing difference can be observed here. Of these companies 77% are using social media. Among companies who employ the use of social media the use of these tools is second only to email marketing when it comes to web based communications and internet presence. As a testament to the power of social media, about 90% of all organizations, both big and small, have or plan to have a web presence of some sort.

Work Environment


This boost in web friendly companies and work environments is a welcomed change for employees. Fading away are the days of ‘nose to the grind’ work ethic and they are being replaced with a new concern for employee satisfaction and a reduction in attrition, stress and workload. There is a difference between the ways that different generations view this change. A 2008 study revealed that 39% of 18 to 24 year old employees would consider leaving their employer if they weren’t allowed access to social networking sites like Facebook while at work. An additional 21% stated that they would be annoyed by the restriction but it likely would not lead to a search for alternate employment. There is a sharp difference in these numbers when examining the older generation, employees aged 25 to 65. In this group only 16% would consider leaving and an additional 13% would be bothered by their not having access to social media content.

According to Soren Gornhamer, author of Wisdom 2.03 and columnist for technology website Mashable, companies who don’t allow their employees to have a voice in the online community are doing a disservice to their brand. When a business allows its employees to represent the company online or in the real world they are adding value to the company. It is important for businesses to realize that by stifling their employees’ use of the internet and social media they are causing resentment and eventually mutiny among their workers. It doesn’t matter if a company does or doesn’t want to have a web presence in social networking and media. The fact of the matter is that it already does. The employees are using Facebook and Twitter to talk about their jobs and how they feel about the company.

Scope of Social Media


It’s no secret that people are using the internet to communicate. That is perfectly clear to any and everyone who is breathing. Social media outlets are growing exponentially. In a recent Nielson study it was found that Twitter is the fastest growing among them with a monthly growth of 1382% and the total number of Tweets, the term given to the microblogging messages sent via Twitter, approaching 2.5 billion. The same study revealed that social networking site Facebook has more than 200 million active users. That number does not include members who have inactive or stagnant accounts. When one takes a step back it is difficult to imagine the rate of growth demonstrated by social media. A separate study conducted by Telindus, an information and technology company based in Belgium, found by surveying 1000 Canadians found that nearly every single 18 to 34 year old in that country is a registered Facebook user. Another study conducted by the Traveler’s group found that 33% of all adults are actively using Facebook.

Information Gathering


When one considers these numbers it is clear and undeniable that communication, not only for businesses but also for individuals is changing. We no longer rely solely on print media or even television news for our information. Much the way it was before print and television media, word of mouth is the new king of information. The difference is that this time, in its rebirth, word of mouth is more accurately word of hand. People are beginning to turn to their Twitter followers and Facebook friends for the facts more so than other means of acquiring the information. According to an online usage tracker, MarketingVox, and the Nielson company more than 25% of Google searches for information relating to the top 20 worldwide brands is made up of user generated content including blogs, forums, and Tweets. There is still content created by the producers of goods and services but consumers look to blogs and forums to find out about product reliability and common problems.

Customer Service


A few years ago Dell, a computer manufacturing company, was having technical and customer service related problems. Initially they tried to address these issues by means of telephone customer service lines but long waits and difficult procedures to correct issues caused concern and irritation among consumers. They soon realized that people were talking about their products on forums and blogs. This is when they realized that the best way to reach the customers and deal with their customer service issues was to join in the conversation that was already taking place. They were able, through social media outlets, to speak directly with their consumers. It was only after doing this that they were able to truly comprehend the problems that were troubling their customers and, as a result, impacting their brand image.

Advertising


Social media is impacting the world of advertising as well. It is no longer necessary for a company to spend thousands or even millions of dollars on advertising in order to reach a large audience. This is a definite win for organizations in the nonprofit sector of business. One example of a nonprofit agency that has seized the opportunity to use social media to further their cause is the Americans with disabilities. Their website, disability.gov, formerly known as disabilityinfo.gov, has been redesigned to now include social media tools such as a blog and twitter feed. This has helped to encourage feedback and interaction among visitors. They are only one among myriad organizations who are taking advantage the reach and affordability of social media marketing. According to a recent article in The New York Times “…for many mom-and-pop shops with no ad budget, Twitter has become their sole means of marketing”.

Education


Not to be forgotten, social media and social media marketing are having an impact on schools and universities. Many universities are actively informing their students and interested parties of events via Twitter, blogs and Facebook fan pages. The University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth’s Center for Marketing Research conducted a study of colleges and found that in 2007 29% of admissions offices had a social network presence and 33% maintained blogs. In 2008 there was a drastic increase in these numbers with 61% utilizing social networking and 41% using blogs to inform students and interested parties. The University of California at Berkeley offers a course on virtual communities and social media and in 2008 published an article which stated “The feeling of a citizen who only passively consumes what’s sold to them by broadcast media is very different from someone who has posted a blog item, or who has posted a YouTube video or who has commented on a newspaper article online...In the 21st century civic education is participatory media-literacy education”. Being able to comment on social issues and reply to newspaper articles gives the reader a sense of ownership and contribution to the betterment of the news organization and to society as a whole.

Conclusion


Drawing from this we can determine that communication is definitely changing and the ways in which we communicate will likely continue to change. Word of mouth has always been key in creating a brand and then in creating value in that brand but business went through an era where advertising was more important than product quality. We also know that the advent of social media and the free sharing of information with millions of people across a broad platform has made strides toward making word of mouth advertising the keystone of product brand and value once again. It is often said that history repeats itself. This is true in entertainment, fashion and, as we have learned, communication. Where will communication go next? Will the next step move forward toward some new form of conversation or will it continue even farther into history and a complete abandonment of written word? Will we come to a point in time where there is no hard copy documentation? Perhaps.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Mired in Meterological Media

The rain fell from every direction as residents of the Gulf Coast made their final preparations for the impending storm. People tied down outdoor furniture and installed hurricane shutters over their windows expecting the worst as was reported by many members of the meteorological community. November is technically still within the hurricane season but storms are uncommon and unexpected during this time. Overly cautious families gathered together in their homes and public shelters waiting for the late season doom that was surely lurking out in the gulf.

It is amazing to me how so much of the media over sensationalizes things to improve ratings under the guise of public awareness and safety. Al Roker, The Today Show's Sam Champion and The Weather Channel's Jim Cantore among others all came to Pensacola to report on the potentially catastrophic tropical storm.

Winds were moderate, at best. To give the reader an idea; my wife trimmed some palm fronds from a couple of bushes in our front yard a few days ago and piled them in our fire pit in the back yard. After Ida made her way through, they were still stacked just as neatly as they had been before. Sure, there is flooding in some areas as a result of the rain and tide surge but it is minimal.

The media has a penchant for creating a buzz over the mildest of incident while often overlooking the more serious events. Producers of some news and weather shows send their reporters to wherever news may happen in hopes of seeing the train wreck as it is occurring. I don't hold the reporters at fault. They are merely doing what is requested of them by those in charge. The morning after the "storm" family members from across the country were calling their loved ones on the Gulf Coast to see how they weathered the weather only to find that there was nothing significant to report.

Where are Roker, Cantore and Champion when families are displaced because of tornadoes or when rivers rise above flood level? A few months ago in Milton, a town near Pensacola, several city blocks of historic buildings and offices were destroyed by fire. Where was the media then? Please don't take my point incorrectly here. I'm not suggesting that they should have been here. Not at all. What I am suggesting is that it is not necessary for them to be here now, reporting on a tropical storm that would be more accurately described as a quiet evening of wind and rain.

Is it better spend the time and resources to be first on the scene where a storm may happen or to be the first to arrive after a disaster to report on what has actually happened; unembarrassed and timely? Perhaps we should reconsider our sources for weather info? Find an organization that is more concerned with providing information than having a camera on the scene. Think to yourselves; who are the members of the meteorological community who reported the situation without causing a scare? I can think of a few. Maybe we should listen to them next time.

The rain fell as a mist Tuesday morning as residents of the Gulf Coast removed their hurricane shutters; chagrined that they had heeded the warnings of an overzealous media.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Value of Self Actualization

A little boy was sitting in church one Sunday and he began to act up and get a little loud. Without a word his father pinched him on the arm. This was the only reminder of the lesson that he’d been taught about how to act in public that was necessary for the boy to be quiet and sit still. He did, however, need a reminder every couple of weeks or so. That little boy was me.

We often try to think of the things that we are taught and what values we hold true and sacred. Sometimes it is difficult to nail down exactly how we feel about a certain subject and it is even harder to understand why.

Over the last few months I have been put into a position to look more deeply into myself. This has given me a better understanding of who I am but in doing so I’ve been able to have a better understanding of other people as well. I’ve learned that it’s important to learn as much as I can about myself. At first glance everyone would probably say that they know exactly who they are and why they are that person. This self opinion likely isn’t exactly true. It takes some hard thought and courage to really look behind all of the curtains and cobwebs to find who you really are.

One of the values that I hold most closely to my own identity lies in the belief that, as cliché as it sounds, you get what you give. I have tried to live my life to be a good person. I look to as many sides of an issue as possible and form my opinion based on, not only how I initially feel about a subject, but also how the other person feels. Admittedly another cliché holds true as well; you hurt the ones you love the most. Far too often I take for granted the people that I love and don’t show them the way that I truly feel, rather opting for the assumption that it is understood – even when my actions might say something contrary to my heart and thoughts.

There is nothing more important to me than my friends and family. Most people are blessed with a small handful of close friends but I can truly say that there are at least eight people who are not related to me and another dozen who are that would drop anything to come to my aid if I were in a dire situation. I value these people above even myself. They are the inspiration for my day to day actions and they are the reason that I strive to be a better person. It is in them that I can see little bits of myself and also bits of who I’d like to be. If I were to truly let any one of them down I would lose an important part of who I am. My greatest fear is that I will be a disappointment to any of these people. It is for that reason that I try to disappoint myself first so that I can make changes to who I am before I have a chance to fail them.

Often I make the mistake of placing too much emphasis on making a good impression with the people I meet. Once an acquaintance becomes a friend sometimes I assume that they know enough about who I am and how I feel that I don’t need to spend as much time telling them how much I appreciate them. It is an unforgiveable error but somehow when it happens my loved ones do forgive me. They know that it is not with malicious intent that they sometimes seem to be forgotten. It hurts me to feel that way, like I’ve been forgotten, and I’m sure that the pain is similar for them. I believe that, perhaps, it is because I feel that they are so much a part of me that they don’t need as much care and nurturing. I mentally abuse myself but I shouldn’t let that spill over onto the ones I love. I know this.

It is important to me that I am recognized by others for my accomplishments. I spent so many years cast to the side by others for being different that now, when I receive compliments I bask in them as though they were raindrops cooling me from the heat of the summer. I let each word fall on me and am gratified, humbled and ashamed at once. I enjoy receiving positive feedback and accolades to the point that it makes me feel dirty. For every bit that I am built up by others I am busy tearing myself down on the other side.

These views have brought me to where I am today. I have found that, indeed, often times the nice guy does finish last. My hope is that I can continue to grow as a person and possibly reach a point of self actualization. The problem with the theory of self actualization, as I see it however, is that once it is reached the person will, nay, should have no idea that it has been realized. For that matter, anyone who thinks that they have come to that point is farther away from it than when their journey began.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Oh Sweet Irony

Some people, you may be one of them, have a passion for reading and can pour through a book a day. It’s easy for these people to find a page turner and even if a book doesn’t take hold of the reader’s imagination or spark critical thought right away they keep trudging through. Maybe they believe that even if they don’t particularly enjoy the book there will be some self improvement by adding to their own knowledge base or expanding their minds in some way. I’m sure that may be true but to quote Bob Dylan “It ain’t me, babe”.

I can read and have tried to read many, many books but none of them have held me from cover to cover. I’ve forced myself near the end of several books but I’ve only completed a few. Many of you are probably thinking right now something about my not having enough imagination to truly enjoy a good book. Well, at the risk of offending, you’re wrong. When I read I can hear the voices of each character in my head and I can see the scenes but the actual act of reading is just a chore for me. I will read an article in a magazine, a blog or any of a number of things on the web but it is for the information contained within; not necessarily the enjoyment of reading.

A few days ago the university that I attend had a guest speaker, P.J. O’Rourke. He is a political satirist and journalist who has written for Rolling Stone, Playboy and Car and Driver, among others. During his talk he told the small audience that writing should meet at least one of three criteria: to entertain, educate or inform. Ok, I’ll buy that. He went on to add that in order to be a good writer a person must read, a lot. That’s when he lost me. As I listened to the rest of what he had to say I couldn’t help but think that he was wrong. He must be wrong. I mean, several people who like to read enjoy reading what I write so it must be good…at least a little. Once he’d finished there was time for a question and answer session; my chance to pick his brain a bit. One, two, three people asked questions and still he hadn’t acknowledged me so that I could speak. Another couple of people asked and asked again until finally, I was given the chance to ask him a question. The last question of the afternoon.

Me - Mr. O’Rourke, I know that you said that a writer must be a reader, but I don’t enjoy reading. People who do enjoy reading, however, enjoy reading my stuff. The point of my question is this: Is there anything that you would suggest in lieu of reading to make me a better writer?

Mr. O’Rourke – (paraphrased) Find something that you enjoy reading…There is a very small percentage of people who can be good writers without a lot of reading. (At this point I told him about the magazine articles and news etc.) You may just be a 2 or 3 thousand word guy. I’ve heard it said that one out of every one child has ADD. (Was this some kind of underhanded slap in my face?) He went on to talk about how sometimes he doesn’t enjoy what he’s reading and recommended that I look into short stories and he talked about how they were in vogue in the 18th century. He then thanked the school and the audience for having him.


I let what he’d said sink in a bit more but it still didn’t sit well with me. I’ve thought about how odd it is that I enjoy writing so much but lack a writer’s love for reading. The only way that I can make sense of it is to think of the things that I do enjoy; movies, television, music, conversation and observing nature and people. There is much enjoyment to be found in an understanding of how things and people interact. There is as much truth and provocative though in the songwriting of Robert Hunter as there is in a novel or essay. I guess you could say that I read sounds and images rather than words.

What is certain is that I won’t be actively looking for things that I do enjoy reading so that I can fit someone else’s idea of what makes a good writer. Instead I will continue along the same path that I’ve been traveling. I’m sure that I’ll grow as a writer but I doubt that it will be because of something that I’ve read, rather it will be because of something that I’ve seen or heard that made me think in a different way.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Health Don't Care

Healthcare and insurance reform is a hot topic these days. It seems as though everyone has a different take on how the issue should be handled in the United States. Some people want a socialized plan much like in the United Kingdom or Canada and others like the system the way that it is. If I were a gambling man, and I am, I’d wager that the lines are split based mostly on who does and doesn’t currently have adequate care.

In April of 2005 I had a surgery that changed and saved my life. I had battled with my weight for my entire life and on the day that I went to the hospital for gastric bypass surgery I weighed 362 pounds. Nothing that I’d done to get the weight off had worked and this was a last ditch effort to, hopefully, ensure that I’d be able to live a long life and watch my still unborn children grow. The cost of the surgery was right around $35,000. Fortunately I had health insurance through my work at the time. That isn’t to say that the road from idea to operating table was smooth and downhill. When I applied for the surgery it was a covered preventive surgery. Before they made their decision, however, it was not. I had to write several appeal letters and my friends and coworkers did the same on my behalf. Finally, after months I was approved and on my way to a happier and healthier life.

Less than six months later I was unemployed and without health insurance. I should have been visiting my doctor for follow up visits but I couldn’t afford to pay the fees. When I finally did find a new job the pay was terrible but there was good health coverage for me and my wife. We were able to go to the doctor, get new glasses and have dental work done. A couple of years went by and then suddenly we found ourselves unemployed and uninsured again; victims of the new economy. But this time we had a little boy to take care of too.

My dad was never the one to go to the doctor unless he felt like he really was ill. Just a few months before he died he went to a doctor in my hometown who told him that he had bronchitis. After a while he hadn’t gotten better and knew that there was something more sinister than bronchitis eating away inside his chest but he didn’t have health insurance either. He knew that he would soon be 65 and eligible for Medicare. So he waited.

In October he was approved for Medicare and went to see a different doctor. That is when he found out that he had lung cancer. It happened fast. He was admitted to the hospital and had a lung removed but Medicare would only pay for him to stay at the hospital for a certain amount of time based on the surgery. He was sent home a short time after he was deemed stable. His time at home was short lived and he returned to the hospital where he would draw his last breath.

God has blessed me with a wonderful wife and a perfect son. We own a home, two cars and a dog. When we were working life was pretty good. It is hard to appreciate the good unless you’ve lived in the bad and we’ve had our share of that as well. I’m no longer overweight, at least not excessively, but that is not to say that I’m without health issues. I have scleroderma and a beautifully acute case of depression. There is no cure for the scleroderma and, fortunately, when I did have insurance my doctor wrote a long prescription for anti depressants which I can have filled with an inexpensive generic form of Prozac every month. There is no cure for the depression either but the drugs can help to alleviate the symptoms.

Now that I am back in school and accumulating more student debt I have access to the clinic on campus which, while it’s no substitution for health insurance, does afford me the opportunity to see a doctor. I took advantage of this last week because I’d noticed that I have an odd bulge in my abdomen. As it turns out I have a hernia. I had to do a bit of research on exactly what a hernia is. What I found is that it is when your internal organs, from stress and strain, find their way through your muscles to the outside of the cavity where they should live and lie just beneath the skin. Every strain from that point forward pushes the organs, in my case my intestine, out a bit and then when the strain is gone they retract to their new home outside the muscle. The only way to repair this is through surgery. I’ve looked but I can’t find the surgical center on campus. Must be that there isn’t one. So, here I am, thirty three years old, unemployed with a hernia and no insurance.

The doctor that gave me this wonderful news said that I shouldn’t over exert myself. I asked her what, specifically, qualified as overexertion and she told me that any lifting of over 10 to 15 pounds could cause me to have what is called a strangulated hernia. This is when the organ pushes through and doesn’t retract at all causing excruciating pain and the immediate need for surgical intervention. Great. My son weighs 20 pounds. I am the proud parent of a child that I am not supposed to pick up from the floor or his crib because doing so may land me in the hospital with a bill for a surgery that I can’t afford.

This brings me back to healthcare reform. I have stood on both sides of the proverbial fence when it comes to insurance and healthcare. As a gainfully employed member of the proletariat I thought that each person capable of work should be responsible for themselves and their own health coverage. Unemployed and unhealthy I wonder how that is possible. I am capable of work and I would greatly prefer having a job and an income to the state in which I find myself right now. That’s not to say that with insurance everything is sunshine and roses. In America we have some of the best healthcare available in the world but it is only within reach of the wealthiest and well insured among us.

So, you may be asking yourself “Where does he stand on socialized healthcare?” To tell the truth I’m asking myself the same question. I think that we should all have access to all of the medical advances and treatments that are available but then, who’s to pay for it. If everyone had open access to the same quality of care then my father wouldn’t have had to wait until he had Medicare and he may still be alive. I wouldn’t have to worry that a case of constipation would put me in the hospital with a strangulated hernia. This is a slippery and dangerous debate though. What of hypochondriacs? What about people who, inevitably, would find a way to subvert the system? There are a lot of questions that need to be addressed before any kind of “National” healthcare program can be a viable solution. What if there were less government spending on foreign matters and the military? This would, in turn, allow for lower taxes and, as a result, more of our own money in our pockets; money that would allow us to buy our own health insurance. But wait, the cost of healthcare is constantly on the rise and it still costs thousands of dollars to spend a night in the hospital. Thousands of dollars that move the insured toward his annual coverage limit or the possibility of having his coverage dropped or denied by the insurance company.

There is no clear solution and we, as a society, are in a catch 22. We can watch out for one another but we’re too busy trying to watch out for ourselves. If I look inward long enough maybe eventually I’ll be able to see behind myself. Then I can watch my own back.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Naturalistic Inquiry: Tech in your step

The Surreal Reality of Human Interaction

When I was younger, before everyone had cell phones, my dad had a Motorola two way radio in his truck that could call telephones. The conversation only worked one way at a time but it worked. Then, in the 1990s cell phones began to become widespread. These days nearly everyone has a phone with them at all times. People are more easily connected now but this has brought on a new set of problems. Nearly everywhere you go you can see people walking around with a mobile device in their hands either talking to someone or texting or playing games. This brought a question to my mind. Actually, a two part question; What percentage of people are disconnected from where they are because they are using a mobile device and are males or females more likely to do so?

This sounds like a perfect opportunity to use some naturalistic inquiry. In order to tackle this topic I decided to act as an observer-participant at the mall on a Sunday afternoon. At that time the mall is bustling with activity and there are plenty of people to observe.

I went to the most active place in the mall, the center court where I sat and observed. I watched people and made a mark on my pad for every male and female who were using their cell phones while walking around the mall. I also made a mark for every five people that I saw. What I found in my three hours of observation was that 2,205 people walked through the center court of the mall. Of those people a total of 209 were walking with their friends while either playing games, talking on the phone or texting. A couple of different schools of thought would lend to two different preconceptions of whether males or females would be more likely to be disconnected from where they are because of their use of modern technology. One way of thinking, based on the assumption that women enjoy talking on the phone, would make the observer believe that more women would be guilty of using their phones while out in public. Another, based on the fact that men are obsessed with technology and portable devices, would make the observer think that he would see more men texting and talking on the phone. What I actually found was that it was nearly split down the middle. There were 107 men and 102 women. Based on this data, I found that approximately 10 percent of people are not actually where it would seem that they are.

Some interesting observations were that many of the women were mothers who were pushing strollers. I saw several groups of people where more than one person was using a device while walking around with friends. One particularly interesting grouping was three men, all of whom were texting and talking on the phone. Who says you can’t be in two places at once? I do. One gentleman was so engrossed in what he was doing that he actually walked into my foot. He didn’t even take the few seconds that were required to say excuse me.

This is interesting information that anyone who is fascinated with technology and how it is changing our lives would find intriguing. In the early 70s Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft, believed that a day would come when there would be a computer on every office desk and in every home. He was right. We’re nearly there now. In fact, there is a computer in nearly every pocket or purse. So, where are we going? Well, the technologies are changing and we are changing right along with them. Those 209 men and women at the mall all had at least one thing in common: they were all only half where they were. That is to say, because of the technology in their hands each person’s attention was split between the group of people that they were with and the group of people with whom they were talking remotely. As technology continues to change we will evolve with it and we’ll get better at using it while staying connected with where we are.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Textual Analysis: CNN vs. Fox News


Is cable news enough?

The purpose of this analysis is to quantify the number and types of news articles shown on the two top television news networks, CNN and Fox News.  The news articles are broken down into five different categories: political, entertainment, financial, war and other.  The time frame of this study is from 1:00 to 4:00 pm CST on October 15th 2009.  During this time the news is dominated by three themes; America is at war in the Middle East, Barack Obama makes his first appearance in New Orleans as president to assess the progress rebuilding the city after hurricane Katrina and a six year old boy is believed to be trapped in a weather balloon floating across the Colorado sky.


Each of the networks begins the one o’clock hour with short discussion and stories covering mixed topics.  The President is expected to begin his speech in New Orleans at 1:15. 


The Fox News Channel touches on ten stories in the 15 minutes before the President’s speech begins with topics ranging from the President’s sinking approval rating to a story of a pregnant teen model on the cover of Teen Vogue magazine.  Other stories in this time frame include talk of the DOW Jones Industrial Average being on the rise, oil prices are at a one year high, prisoners in the Guantanamo Bay prison may be allowed to come to the United States for trial.  By and large the stories revolve around the President.


At 1:15 the focus is on the President as he gives his speech to a town hall meeting in New Orleans.  There are no interruptions.  Once the President has completed his speech the Fox News Channel breaks back to the studio for commentary.  They begin by talking about the health care reform but are soon interrupted by a breaking story of a six year old boy who is believed to be trapped inside a homemade weather balloon that has taken flight in Colorado.


The remainder of the time studied is dominated by this story completely and without commercial with the exception of a brief mention of the stock market at 3:11 pm.  By 4:00 the balloon is on the ground and there is verification that the boy is not inside and there is a strong sense that he never occupied the balloon at all.


CNN manages to cover two more stories in the 15 minutes leading up to the President’s speech bringing their total to 12.  Topics include hate crimes in New York city, prisoners in a Massachusetts jail getting H1N1 vaccine before residents of that state, foreclosure woes, no increase in Social Security payments in 2010 and a mention of the group of hikers who’ve been imprisoned in Iran.  There is also mention of the President but not nearly as much political talk as Fox News.


Just as with Fox News the programming turns to the President at 1:15.  Unlike Fox News, however, CNN interrupts the President’s speech at 1:42 with breaking news of the six year old boy and his balloon.  Coverage of the story is similar to that on Fox with the exception of the fact that CNN has more “experts” to express their opinion on the situation.  Focus doesn’t stray from the story of the boy in peril until it is confirmed that he is not aboard the balloon at 2:41.  Once this is known they discuss the possibility that he’d fallen out of the balloon but while there is no factual news to report on the balloon story they turn their focus to commentary of the President’s speech in New Orleans.  In the remaining time before 4:00 they cover many of the same topics as before the speech and breaking news and finish the time talking about the boy and his family.


Both networks covered similar topics and they both covered the two major stories in a similar fashion.  CNN did have more articles covered 20 versus Fox’s 16 but they were mostly reprisals of articles from before the two bigger news stories.  Coverage did, however, tackle a somewhat different set of themes. They each covered a similar number of political stories but aside from that Fox’s focus was on stories that pertained to America directly while CNN covered many stories that related mostly to foreign affairs.


So, according to their taglines, “More Americans get their news from CNN than from any other source” and Fox news is “Fair and balanced”.  Both of these statements may be true but, just to be safe, it’s a good idea to get some news from other outlets as well as these two seem to focus on what’s important to their viewers…not necessarily the average American.





Content analysis of three hours on the two major TV news channels.













Purpose:











To quantify the number of news articles covered by each network during a three hour period.













Unit of analysis:










Each individual news story is a unit of analysis.













Categories:










News articles are either political, entertainment, financial, war or other including stories of people and events.












Political Article - reports on any political story

Fox
7
CNN
8








Entertainment Article - reports on entertainment industry news
Fox
1
CNN
0








Financial Article - reports on stock market and oher financial news





Fox
3
CNN
1








War Article - reports on the war in the middle east







Fox
2
CNN
2








Other Articles - report on current events excluding politics and entertainment
Fox
1
CNN
9




















Total Articles - Fox 16 CNN 20












Wednesday, October 7, 2009

NONFICTION: The Truth and What's Right

Less than an hour ago I was standing, naked, in my bathroom about to get a shower. I looked into the mirror and noticed that my bottom jaw was trembling. Tears began to well in my eyes. As I stared into the brown of my iris I wondered exactly who I was looking at and if he was embarrassed to be looking back at me. I am a good person. At least I think I am.

In 1976 America was celebrating its bicentennial. The year saw two presidents, the Reds won the World Series, and the Dodge Aspen was Motor Trend’s car of the year. It was on a February day in that year that I was born in Cincinnati, Ohio to Dan and Deloris Fugate.

Both of my parents grew up in northern Kentucky and they each had led difficult lives. As one of several in either family they sometimes had to go without. It was for that reason that they made sure I felt secure in the fact that all of my needs were being met; even if it meant that they, again, would have to go without. They taught me about Jesus and love, right and wrong, consequence and discipline, and sacrifice. From the smallest molecule of myself I believe in the right and wrong that my parents worked so hard to instill. But there are things that happen that never came up in conversation before. Questions that my parents’ teachings don’t have answers for. These are tests of how well I truly understand what they taught me.

I don’t remember if I was three or four. The numeric and factual details have left me but the important ones, the emotions and the lesson learned, are well intact. My parents took me with them to visit a friend. The driveway was bumpy and the windshield wipers could barely keep up with the rain as it fell onto the windshield of my father’s truck. While my parents were visiting with their friends I played with their son and his toys. After some time my parents and I left. I pulled the faded red plastic airplane from beneath my hat and began flying it around the back seat of the truck. Mom realized that I was playing with a toy that wasn’t mine and asked me where I’d gotten it. I didn’t want to tell her but I did. As I stood back at my parents’ friends’ house telling them and their son that I’d taken his toy I learned that it is wrong to take something that doesn’t belong to you. I am sure that I’d been told more than once before but now, when I was faced with it, it made sense.

Twenty seven or so years later I was turning thirty. In those 30 years I had been the baby, the good boy, the high school graduate, the only college graduate, fat, thin, a fiancé and a husband but I’d never been a risk taker.

We were camping at a state park to celebrate my 30th birthday. The cold had saturated our bodies and everyone went for a walk to warm up; everyone but me. I stayed behind to stoke up the fire. I don’t know if it was the stress of turning 30 or the beginning of a long mid-life crisis. Maybe it was a combination of both coupled with the dirty thoughts that I needed to take some chances in my life but it was definitely a bad idea. While my wife and friends were walking and after I had stoked the fire I went to a different campsite and took a fire ring. It was a rusty steel hoop about three feet across. I knew that in one action I could take a chance and have a nice enclosure for the fires in my back yard. But I’m not a thief and I’m no good at being sneaky. Under the clear winter sun someone saw me loading that bulky thing into the back seat of the car. As we were leaving the campground I saw the park police waiting. The feeling started deep within my stomach. It was kind of like the excited butterfly feeling that I get before going on stage but instead of feeling good it felt more like someone had grabbed my insides and was shaking them. I knew why he was there and I was afraid. He stopped our car and I got out to speak with him. I didn’t want to but I told him what had happened and took full responsibility for my actions. I had been so straight laced and cautious in the years since the airplane incident and the event came to mind as I stood talking with this man.

As I spoke with the judge, recalling the incident, I still couldn’t nail down my reasoning. In one action responsibility turned to stupidity and the judge could sense my remorse. I entered a pre trial diversion program and requested that my community service be done at the state park that I had wronged. After I had completed my service to the park I wrote an apology letter to the ranger. He accepted and let the judge know. My record was no longer tarnished and I received a strong reminder of the lesson that I’d learned all those years ago.

This is only one of the myriad reasons that my jaw was trembling. I’m overly insecure and it doesn’t take much to make me question who I am. Did the event at the park make me a bad person? Was I already a bad person before this? I think that since I knew that I’d done wrong and I was basically doing it for that purpose the answer to both of those questions is no. Life is full of choices and the decisions that we make demonstrate the truth of who we are. Sure, I’d tried to take something that wasn’t mine but I immediately admitted my wrongdoing. I believe that if I’d gotten home with that fire ring I would have felt guilty and paranoid that one day I’d come home and find the police waiting for me.

This brings me to another question. Do we try to do good because it makes us feel good or because we are afraid of the repercussions? Perhaps it is a combination of both. We make decisions about right and wrong constantly. Laws are black and white, right and wrong, but the real situations that we find ourselves confronted with are more complicated than that. It is illegal to steal but not to commit adultery. By the rules of the law it seems to stand to reason that it is okay to do one but not the other then. I would assume, however, that we all know that either is wrong and laws aren’t all right or well thought out. If someone has to steal to provide for his family he has broken the law but he is doing what is best for his family. That is, assuming that stealing isn’t his career but rather a choice that he was forced into…a temporary solution to an ongoing problem.

We have to think about all aspects and consequences of what we do. In my case, I did fall into the burning ring of fire and perhaps it is a metaphor for a decline into sin and toward Hell. Before and since that event I have been an honest person. Shame can serve as a valuable reminder of what we are made of and why we do and don’t do things. I’ve made poor decisions but they’ve usually been made with the best of intentions. I am a good person.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Poetry: In No Particular Order

1:

does anything exist
beyond my eyes
did god really paint
the purple skies
do people believe
in greener grass
like everything else
this too will pass
is it possible to be
surrounded and known
while at the same time
completely alone

2:

cry
crawl
talk
walk
learn
drive
love
die

3:

angels
perched on clouds
spread wings of silk
as they prepare to guard
the beauty
inside you

4:

everything you desire
believe to be true
want from life
i cannot be
i have failed you
accept me as i am
take what i give
or nothing at all

5:

i love my car
i wax it every day
so it can shine
even though i don't

6:

I got up this morning
though I knew you were gone
and all those times
I told myself I couldn't go on
somehow the pain
though buried so deep
wasn't enough to let me
die in my sleep
now I'm alone
it doesn't seem so bad
maybe you weren't
the best I could have had
pictures painted
within my mind
constantly reminding of
what's left behind

7:

paper rock scissors
determining fate
while onlookers
patiently wait

overlapping moments
frozen in time
suspended eternally
in each of their minds

poised on the edge
and baited breath
paper rock scissors
determining death

apathy reigning
in a world fulled with shit
slowly dying
while silently we sit

paper rock scissors
destroying the earth
mothers and fathers
happily giving birth

8:

Once was beautiful
now am dead
can't keep the vermin
out of my head

lying silently
deep in the ground
not much room here
to move around

please don't ask
why I'm here
else you'll think
your time is near

just live your life
day to day
and thank God
He made it that way

9:

four A.M.
mouth is dry
can't believe
i'm still this high
legs are numb
eyes are red
where's the volume
for my head

10:

Roadhouse Love Song

I like the way you look
And you have a certain smile
I was wondering if you
Would be with me a while
I spend all my days
And nights here on the road
I need your loving to
Help me Loosen my load
I won't ask questions or
Take up all your time
I just wanna love you
And pretend that you are mine

I was driving down the road
In the hot part of the year
I got a little thirsty
So I stopped to get a beer
'Bout two hours later
I was three sheets to the wind
But I had to drop off my load
And so I climbed on in
Once again I'm drivin'
'Bout 80 miles an hour
Then I see the blue lights
And the boss says "son you're fired"

that brings me back to now
And this is where we are
can't you see I need you
We don't have to go too far
The seasons they are movin'
I can feel a change down south
You don't have to say a word
Just open up your mouth
I'll tell you that I love you
If it will help at all
But you know I need you 'cause
I'm not that flexible

Thursday, September 24, 2009

NON FICTION: My Locus of Authority

The glowing light of my laptop has been staring me in the face for hours and, until just now, the page was still blank. I’ve been toiling with myself and trying to figure out how and what to write. It is far more difficult to reach into one’s self for a topic than it is to, say, create a work of short fiction.

I have, for some years now, been using the internet for social media and networking. It began with a website called MySpace. I found the site to be a great way to connect with people from my past. Also, being that I live hours away from my family it was a good tool to allow me to be in touch with my siblings, cousins and my dad.

Most everything that my father knew about the internet and computers I had taught him. He had become active in social networking as well and was a user of MySpace. In late October of 2008 Dad found out that he had lung cancer and then on December the 13th he died. It happened so fast. My world crumbled. After his passing I stopped using the site completely. His photo held a prominent position on my home screen and I couldn’t visit the site without seeing his face and thinking of all of the times that we wouldn’t have. Since then I’ve been keeping in touch with friends and family via facebook and, more recently, Twitter.

September 22nd marks the beginning of fall. Rick Reichmuth, from Fox and Friends, posed the question on Twitter “What are your fall rituals?” Immediately I thought of candy corn and dry roasted peanuts and responded. Then, the he wrote me back that he loves the smell of decay in the woods. This got me thinking about my dad.

From the time that I could go with him, my father had taken me hunting and taught me about the woods and nature. As we sat on the ground being silent and waiting for whatever game we were hunting I would turn the leaves and dirt to combat my boredom; the smell of rotting leaves and wood and nature filling my nose. Such a rich and distinct scent cannot be mistaken and the memories and images that it brings cannot be forgotten.

As a child at my father’s side I learned about safety and how to shoot a gun. I learned what sounds different animals make. A squirrel sounds like a combination of a small dog’s bark and the chirp of a bird. A deer will blow air quickly to advise other deer in the area to be on the alert if she senses danger. Dad taught me how to grip a golf club and swing slowly and smoothly and let the club do the work. He taught me that you “look up and see a bad shot.” It was because of him that I knew that, in baseball, the swing is equally important as it is in golf but you’ve got to give it all you’ve got; and, with all sports, keep your eye on the ball. Bass, bream, crappie, and catfish; how to bait a hook with worms, crickets and artificial lures were all things that a boy can’t learn in a classroom. These are things that a father teaches his son and my father taught them to me. As I grew older he taught me different things and helped nurture my love for cars and working on them. I know the difference between a socket and a ratchet and I can look at a bolt head and, within a size or two, know what wrench I’ll need to grab from the tool box.

Then, gradually and all at once at the same time, I began asking him for more and more advice. Suddenly he wasn’t volunteering his wisdom as much. Rather, he was letting me ask questions and find out some answers for myself.

I called my father all the time to ask for advice and get his input on some of the most menial of decisions. I looked to him for advice and information but most of all for approval. He was my locus of authority. Even now, I turn to him but his responses are much harder to hear and understand. I feel like he is right here with me though I can’t see or touch him; I can feel him, sometimes more than others. He supported me, even though he was afraid of my feelings being crushed if I failed, when I began acting. He was proud to call me Son and I was even more proud to call him Dad.

I grew up in a very small town in Alabama called Livingston. It has a population of about 3,000 and a privacy factor of zero. I went to a small private school and was an outcast from day one. Children are so cruel. I was fat and my family didn’t have as much money as the other kids’ families. Being picked on for my weight was an every day occurrence. Fatty, fatty two by four was written for me…or at least that’s how it seemed. One particular instance that comes to mind happened during the summer between my third and fourth grade years. I got a call from some of the girls who were in my class and they were asking me if I would be their boyfriend once school started back. I was thrilled. Later in the conversation I learned that it was a big joke and then I was crestfallen. My dad knew what had happened and he let me know that if the girls were being like that then I didn’t want to hang out with them anyway. It was a cruel joke and 25 plus years later it still leaves a mark. I never dated anyone from my school and I’m sure that “joke” had something to do with it.

I was Fanny Fumigate. This wasn’t just the moniker used by my peers. My little league baseball coach called me Fumigate until Dad put an end to his shenanigans. My formative years were filled with disappointment and embarrassment. Dad was able to help me over the humps and through the down times. Often it wasn’t anything that he said. It was a gesture. It was a facial expression. His smile and eyes could convey more meaningful messages than many people are able to do with words. At times it was even a lack of response that led me to the right decision or conclusion.

Being forced to look at myself more deeply I’ve realized that I rely on the opinions of others a lot more than I’d like to admit. I would like to say that I am a free spirit and I do what pleases me but the truth is I am more concerned that the people I love are happy than I am for my own happiness. The whole truth, however, is that it makes me happy to know that those I love are happy and approve of my actions.

I don’t think that I have to wonder too much about why I seek approval. I’m pretty sure that it probably stems back to the teasing and taunting in elementary and high school. But then, I could be wrong.

FICTION: The Soundtrack of Suburbia

one

The amber glow of the instrument cluster in my dad’s 1984 Camaro cast enough light that my tired eyes could see his face. Calm and relaxed, it reassured me whenever a bump or rattle would disturb my sleep. To me, he was the canon of fatherhood; the person against whom all other parents would, and should, be measured. We were inseparable.

The cool October air seemed to amplify the squeaks and knocks of that old car. Sixteen years ago it was a delicious, shiny, red-apple taste of the American dream but it had become a dull orange symbol for the American day. It had nearly a quarter of a million miles on it and it smelled of burning antifreeze and, on this particular occasion, pepperoni, mushroom, and onion pizza. The father son evening that we were completing had taken me from exhilarated to exhausted. Skating, the movie and dinner had held my attention without exception but the 45 minute drive home had left my dad, for all intents and purposes, on his own.

“How am I supposed to find my way home when my navigator’s sleepin’ on the job?” he blurted while jerking the steering wheel sharply to wake me.

The smirk that he wore was as important a part of the uniform that made my father as are boots and the rifle of a soldier in a foxhole. It was the first thing that I saw when I opened my eyes. “I’m not sleeping. I’m watching the future so that I can let you know before we have an accident.”

His smirk had grown into a smile. “Please, dear oracle, for our safety, continue. And, if you can see far enough into the future can you tell me what this Wednesday’s lotto numbers are?” I smiled and resumed my research of the future.

Dad woke me up at 10:12 as we were pulling into the drive at home. The garage door moaned its welcome and again as it closed and hugged us with safety. “Go tell your mother how much fun you had today. Don’t forget to tell her what a great skater I am.” With a smile. “I’ve got to take the garbage to the curb and then I’ll be in.”

I rushed inside with all the excitement of an eleven year old boy to find my mother and tell her about the great time that I had had and how Dad had fallen down somewhere near 100 times at the skating rink. “Mom, we’re home!” The house was quiet and the dimmers that Dad was so proud of having installed were set nearly at their lowest setting. The air smelled like rust. I saw a reflection in an unfamiliar spot on the floor and reached for the light switch. I wished that I had been looking into the future earlier in the night. I wished that I hadn’t turned up the lights.

My mother was a beautiful woman. Her flowing red hair shone as though it were its own light source gently illuminating the pale canvas that was her skin. But that’s not the same red that I saw there in the floor. It was like a pool of spilled red enamel paint redecorating the living room and, lying face down near the middle, was my beautiful mother.

I clenched my eyes tight as I knelt down at her side not yet able to comprehend the situation. The mind is a wonderful thing and can help you to process things at whatever rate it feels is necessary for maximum comfort and comprehension. When presented with the sight of my mother’s cooling body in the floor my mind felt it was best to completely remove me from the situation.

“Rise and shine, sunshine.” It was my birthday and as I lay in bed my mother came in to my room to bring pecan waffles, orange juice and milk. The warm sweet scent brought a smile to my face and dampness to my mouth. My mother could create things in the kitchen that would rival any restaurant but the simple stuff was always my favorite. Saturday’s sunshine lit the day and the sounds of suburbia were its soundtrack. She sat at my side, beaming, as I enjoyed the representation of her love that was breakfast in bed.

I don’t know how long it was before my father came in and got me. He took me to my bedroom where we called the police. The house was filled with dancing red and blue lights and the smell of rust. The policeman said that they had already caught the man responsible. He had been breaking into homes in the area. Apparently Mom had startled him and a kitchen knife seemed like the best thing to calm his nerves.