28 December 2009

The Life raft, or, why I'll always be attached to debate

Over the course of the past few weeks, I've had to give the idea of a career change as a possibility (not by force, but as Wu-Tang Clan always says, "Protect Ya Neck!"), which meant (kind of) studying for professional school examinations and going online to find out if i've already missed deadlines for schools I would consider attending. But it also forces me to think of what a life outside of the activity would be like, and it's been so long since I've not been involved in debate that I was actually incapable of recalling a time, and had to flash back to my days at UC Santa Barbara to think of a time of non-involvement (and I wanted to be involved, even tried to start a team, but between the fraternity, the insane partying, wonderful weather and beautiful women, somehow managed to keep my calendar full). It sometimes forces me to think:

"why DO i do this?"

I mean, there are thousands of jobs in the world that would offer comparable compensation, with nowhere near the disadvantages. For example, every real job I've ever had has made at least what I make now, and I had one in the late 80's and a variety in the 90's. this is the end of 2009, if you adjust for inflation, you get an idea of the kind of money i gave up to teach and coach debate. Not to mention that, when you don't do this job, you get this crazy thing that most of us take for granted: free time. I can count the free weekends, i mean truly free weekends, not just when you don't have to travel, a weekend where you could sit around all weekend and eat cereal all weekend and watch cartoons like you were Tiger Woods trying to avoid the media, keep your endorsement empire and make sure that shark of a lawyer doesn't let that cold hearted vixen take more than the proscribed $20 million from the prenuptial agreement. Those kind of weekends never really exist for me, as when i do have a weekend of non-travel, it's almost always greeted with 250-500 papers/tests/quizzes/speeches to grade, so even my moments of uncommitted time are accompanied by a small boot in the junk called work. I find myself more and more frustrated until I remember:

Debate actually saved my life. Not theoretically, as I wouldn't be where I am without it, which is also obviously true, but that's not what I'm saying. I mean, I was killing myself, slowly or quickly, depending on your frame of reference, and the call to debate and the drive to debate stopped me dead in my tracks.

Most of the time, the things in your life that end up being groundbreaking and substantial are things you don't see as that big of a deal. For example, when I was 22, I got a call from a guy i knew (in retrospect, not really much of a friend, kind of a douche-bag of a friend that used me whenever he could). But he was taking a road trip to Reno for the weekend, and he gave me a call to see if I wanted to go (I always had a ton of comps from when we went Reno, and Caesars gave them to me when my dad died, so even in his generosity, he had an angle). I had just gotten out of a shitty relationship, in which i began to re-evaluate how I saw friends and friendship- he just happened to be a casuality of that war against impostor friends. He called, asked me if I wanted to go, I said no, he really tried to persuade me (obviously, I was part of the equation, but not part of the planning or processing of ideas), and once again, I say no. I actually wanted to go, but something said I should stay, so I did. Turns out that he and the other people he went with ended up getting killed (not all died, two lived, both paralyzed from the waist down) in an automobile accident where their car, a Honda Civic , overturned going into a sharp turn. I was supposed to be in that car, and wasn't. There's no way that, if i was in that car, my life wouldn't be 180 degrees different than it is now. Didn't seem like that big a deal at the time...

...this had no such problem of visibility of degrees of perception. I was in going to school in Oklahoma, on a debate scholarship, and, after being there for a couple of weeks, decided to not debate and just try to move on with my life- I had been run to my wits end by the activity, and all I wanted to do was graduate and move the fuck on with my life. The school I was attending was not expensive, so I could just afford to go there out of my pocket when the scholarship (that I tried to repay, but the program would not let me) was expired, and i had found a nice set of people, kind of debate people, but all of them no longer debating, to kind of align myself with. Life was beginning to move in the direction that real people move into, until one day i get a call.

Your mother has passed away.

This was the unraveler of my spirit and, for the most part, my sanity. I went off the deep end instantly. When my father died a few years earlier, I decided to use the wonders of speed to help me through the rough times (something i would not recommend), and so it was the first thing I went looking for. None of my friends did any of that shit, but they did have access to cocaine, and that became my drug of choice/self destruction. For the next few weeks, I did as much coke as I could get my hands on, which was pretty difficult for a variety of reasons (mostly because it was hard to get, it wasn't particularly expensive or very good, but beggars can't be choosy), all while trying to not let anyone know I was doing a ton of coke (more out of being stingy than anything else). At one point, I find myself in my dorm room, around 2:30pm, during one of my sessions (I had gotten quite a routine set up, snort blow, go to class, snort blow, go out drinking, snort blow, drink more, snort blow, go to class) was tearing through what was to be my second 8-ball of the week, when it hit me like a ton of bricks: I was doing it. Again. I was trying to kill myself by just destroying myself from within. I had to stop, but at this point, I wasn't even sure if I could (as Rick James says, cocaine is a powerful drug). I snorted a line, looked to the sky and said these words. "God, if you're there, I need your help, send me something right now to help me, I don't think I can do this myself." Five. Four. Three. Two. One.

Ring. Ring. Ring.

Hey, this is Jackie Massey at ENMU. You want to come here and debate with Glueboy?
In the spring.
Sure. When do you need me there?
Jan 3. Don't fuck me. Whatever you're doing now, stop. Bye.

And, all of a sudden, it seemed I had a purpose again. I had something to do that would get me out of my doldrums, and help me get some focus back in my life again. Something that could infuse me with a driving passion again. I just wouldn't have imagined it being debate. I'm not even sure that, if Jackie Massey had walked up to me in the street, and made me the same proposition, even 30 minutes earlier, I would have probably said no. I couldn't have picked Glueboy out of a lineup (by the way, who the hell is this Glueboy character, I've met these dudes, and nobody ever introduced themselves that way). And Eastern New Mexico? Where in the hell is that (other than the obvious)? Is there anything out there? At all? This team has been historically miserable. What am i fucking getting myself into?!? Then it dawned on me, it's not what I was getting myself into, it's what I was getting myself out of- a self destructive pattern that would have invariably killed me.

Do I think it was debate that uniquely was capable of saving my life? Not at all. Based on where I was, if Juan Valdez had called me to go to Columbia to pick coffee beans with him, or if some redneck with a lab hadn't called and asked me to make drugs for him in a lab, or if Phil Ivey had approached me and told me that he just needed to have a black man standing around him to make him feel better, like a good luck charm, I'd have done any of them at the time. I don't pretend that it was the uniqueness of the activity that saved me. But I do recognize that the chance to debate gave me the life raft i needed to get through one of the rougher times of my life.

And it's the reason that, even if I were to go back to school, why it would be impossible to just walk away from the activity.

I feel I owe it too much. I owe it my life.

25 December 2009

necessary reflections on mortality...

December 25, 2009

It's hard to think about the holidays and not be a little depressed about my parents being deceased. this is not a slight against my girlfriend's parents, who have embraced me as a member of their family, but it's just not the same. it's even a little scary, as their family and my family ate the same breakfast (ham and eggs, with pineapple). that being said, it's still a little difficult to pretend like everything is fine, and the day isn't getting to me. but this isn't the first time I've had the Christmas at The Family, and all things considered, it's a pretty enjoyable time, as I actually like my girlfriends parents (different than my parents obviously, but I enjoy their company, even if I'm not the best at showing that). but today, it's a little different. the death of a member of my debate family has had a larger effect on me than i would have imagined.

The passing of Scott Deatherage, former Director of Forensics at Northwestern University and the Director of the National Association of Urban Debate League has hit me harder than I would have imagined. It's not like I've had a ton of interactions with the man, he never coached me, never led a lab of mine, and as a coach, have never had kids in his lab. In other words, we had no real base of interaction, and combining that with neither of us being particularly social to people we don't know, we never had many chances to interact. this being said, it's still rattling me to my core more than it should. I think it's because death, in general, effects me more than it should. One of the downsides of having numerous people close to you die is that allows, more forces, a mode of empathy in me than I would like to have, as that empathy forces me to address the passing of people important in my life. It means that, when people are experiencing loss, I tend to find myself gravitating to them, to offer help to them in any way i can, and always offer my ear to them, as I know how it feels to want to talk and to not want to over-burden the people you've been relying on. I also know it's complicated to talk to someone who has lost someone important. Most people, with nothing but good intentions in their hearts, have a tendency to say exactly the wrong shit to you, trying to be helpful. There's nothing worse than not being allowed to react when something bad has happened, because you're trying to not hurt the feelings of someone trying to help you, it just makes the whole situation worse. Sometimes it's nice to be able to talk to someone that understands that sometimes, all you really want is a sounding board, someone to talk to, but someone that will just shut the fuck up and let them talk, which you'd only really, really understand are people that have been there before, needed that silence and wasn't able to get it. Just knowing the kind of pain they are going through makes me feel for the people left, and it means that death, collectively and individually permeates my core more than it should or is probably helpful, but i can say that it's the core of the person i have become, and sometimes i think it's the base of the limited forms of compassion and caring I am capable of showing.

So it seems that, as in all things, the process of death is always crucial in the creation of life.

24 December 2009

a different post

I remember a time in my life when I wasn't the ball of joy you all know and love.

There was a block of time, i'm not really sure of the duration, but let's just say the doldrums were longer lived than presidency of either Jimmy Carter or George HW Bush. I had just been through the emotional ringer, having dated a woman who, upon her calling me up to break up with me and telling me, the first word out of my mouth was "sweet," I had been living in Ogden, UT for over a year, and with each day my spirit was being run through a Cuisinart, not to mention the doldrums of dealing with the death of my dad, which, even after over two years, still had me in the midst of a tailspin. In a world of self-loathing, it's really hard to get yourself on the right track. It seems that everything you're doing and/or trying to do leads to either less than optimal results. i was in an overwhelming rut, and needed to do something to get out of it. I decided, relatively impulsively, to transfer schools, from Weber State University to the University of Oregon. But when I say impulsive, I think you may misunderstand or under-represent what I really ended up doing.

On March 2, I was in Eugene, OR, before a debate tournament, debated the weekend, went back to Ogden, UT (which, if i didn't have around $2000 cash in the room, and didn't trust any of the MF's that would have looted my room while i sent people I could trust to get my stuff back to me, i would have just left everything, and I mean everything, to just wipe that part of my life away, and start new), and on March 17th, I was moved to Eugene, and enrolled in classes at the University of Oregon...

...while the move did wonders for my health (moving from a place with some of the nation's worst air quality to Eugene, which I am still convinced has some of the cleanest air you'll find in a population center in the country, will do that to you), the move didn't really do as much for my quality of life in other aspects of my existence. Although I was no longer in Utah, and no longer felt I was at a technical disadvantage (not being Mormon, being black, being bitter and alienated in general), my overall attitude towards life still pretty much made me a douchebag. After a couple of days, I found a bunch of guys from the dorms to hang out, chill, occasionally drink and always hit the tree with. So, all of a sudden, i have a social circle, i'm at a school that is academically superior, and thus more enjoyable, to Weber, the area is beautiful, with trees everywhere, a river that runs right by campus, and beautiful women, but yet I couldn't seem to get myself out of the doldrums (if this word is unfamiliar to you, I highly suggest The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster, an excellent book with a clear description of what i mean when I say it). It was going to take something remarkable to get me out of this, a virtual hurricane to come in and wash all of the shit and allow for a fresh start.


I would have never assumed it was possible for a person to have as much of an influence in the person i am and the person i have become that was not a member of my immediate family, and in the overall time-line of life, our paths crossed for only the blink of an eye. We were friends living in Oregon at one time, and then all of a sudden, i'm living in Missouri and she's moved to Hawaii. Never really mattered, we weren't those people to each other, but we were true confidantes, providing each other sounding boards to help juggle the madness of life.

She offered me one thing that, at the time, didn't seem like that big of a deal, friendship. But Kendra, as a person, was one of the purest people I'd ever met, someone that was genuinely nice. I had not really been around anyone like that before, as most of my friends are a lot like me, they hate. They may not even hate specifically, but will harbor general hate for the average person. Kendra always seemed to have a smile on her face for everyone, all the time. It's the kind of thing I would have assumed wasn't genuine, had I not spent the time with her that I had, thus having a necessary frame of reference to use as a measuring stick. her being really genuine kind of forced me to be more of myself around her, something i had gotten in the habit of not doing, as to not give anyone a snapshot into the soul. I had always been frank, and usually was able to convince the terms were able to be conflated. but the more time i spent around her, the more i figured out it was possible to be frank, but to simultaneously be ingenuine, and once you know it can happen, it's easier to avoid it...

...she also seemed to be willing to call me out about being a douche-bag as a person, and having to answer to someone about it, as opposed to most of my people, who would just let that shit slide, as my general hatred and vitriol almost always provides some modicum of humor. The more we hung out, the more I realized i was being a dick, for really no real reason...

...I think the reason we ended up being friends was because of her patience. At the beginning, I was a real dick, but apparently, she knew there was a (somewhat) decent person inside, who just needed a chance to show themselves. So she just let me be bitter, and just reminded me, constantly, how bitter i sounded, and that i needed to try to make more positive out of the things in life that were happening. In the world of retrospect, i can now realize that having lost someone as important as my dad was to me meant that I was unwilling to let anyone get to know me, at all. I was unwilling to give anyone a chance to get to know me, which means, in my world, they never have the chance to hurt me, either. But that's a miserable existence, with walls erected around you and nobody you can really relate to. The thing Kendra taught me, that I still to this day use, is to be willing to ask for and seek help from friends. One of my biggest weaknesses is a belief that all problems can be resolved, and i can do it with enough brainpower and effort. And a lot of time, this is true. But sometimes, you do need other people, to help you figure out things, to be a sounding board for ideas, or sometimes even a shoulder to cry on, and you need friends to help you through these rough times. Kendra reminded me that we need friends, and more importantly, she reminded me that I had the capacity to be the kind of friend that people deserved, and the kind of friend i could begin to expect, actually demand.

I've been dating my current girlfriend for a long time now, over 4.5 years. I know if my current girlfriend met the jackass i was in what i like to call the former life, there's no way possible she'd still be around. I'm at a really happy place in life right now, and like to sometimes reflect on the things that helped make it happen. I know that Kendra didn't see any of the things she was doing as unique or above and beyond, it was just Kendra being Kendra. And for that, I thank her.

22 September 2009

The calm before the storm

Well, I'm in the process of trying to hold a speech tournament at my high school this weekend, and if there was a way i could guarantee that the year I took off my life was not the immediate year, I would clearly give up a year of my life to have this entire experience be over. I imagine it's a lot like most things you do for the benefit of others, a ton of stress until it begins, and after it begins literally until it ends, and then it's something like euphoria (in a world where euphoria could be truly achieved at school at 7:30am, waiting to teach classes, probably to listen to the remainder of Gettysburg address speeches). And if you think the Gettysburg Address is such a beautiful piece of rhetoric that it can't be ruined, you would be sorely mistaken- listening to it 60 times in a couple of class periods is like being booted in the testicles...

...so today, Plexico Burress begins his jail sentence. He's in the clink for 2 years for a gun charge. Now, Plex's gun charge isn't the pulled over with a gun under the seat kind of deal, nor is it the accidentally shot your limo driver in the face and cover it up kind of gun crime. The actual details of the crime border on comical. Mr. Burris decides he wants to go to a club in the city, and so he puts on a pair of sweat pants (really?!? must be nice to be famous. try getting into a club in a pair of sweats in most places, you're turned away at the door.) to hit the spot. But on the way out, he figures, "hey, I need some protection!" Rather than picking up some Jimmy Hats

he decided to bring the kind of protection that doesn't shit in a den, because as Ice Cube says, "a gat is a man's best friend". He puts the gun in the pocket of his sweats. As anyone that's tried to carry things as non-lethal as a cell phone or a set of keys, knows that a pair of sweats are not optimal insofar as making sure you don't just drop shit. Apparently, Plex missed this day in fashion school, and as he reached down for his gun, falling in his sweats, he accidentally discharged the gun...never mind that there are like five levels where it can be said that Plex engaged in some retarded shit...sweats at the club...gun in sweats...reaching for a falling, loaded gun...the list goes on.

this being said, these are all reasons Plex should 1) be the butt of thousands of jokes, 2) be made fun of in public by all around, 3) have some sort of community service. But putting him in jail for 2 years. Couple of things that should be mitigators...

1) it was his gun, and he shot himself. if he shot someone else, then by all means, throw the book at him. But he shot himself with his gun and paid for the hospital bills with his own money. It seems like this is the definition of a victimless crime. why in the world this justifies going to jail, i'll never know.

2) This is caused by the fucked off mandatory minimum issues we have with guns. Now Plex only chooses to go for two years as a deal. The sentence he would be up for was much longer, and he felt he had little to no chance to serve a much longer sentence, if convicted. Mandatory minimums are at the root of our clearly outdated and largely ineffective War on Drugs (which is probably more descriptive of many of our troops, with the war ON drugs campaign. The underlying warrant of these laws justify a world where Plex can get a 2 year sentence for, being an idiot and rocking a gun in a pair of sweats, and dante stallworth can fucking kill someone in his vehicle under the influence, and gets 30 DAYS, and only serves 24.

Some of our laws: FUBAR. Enough Said.

really, next time, strip clubs...

20 September 2009

winning takes more than skills

It's been way too long since I last wrote, and I have no real excuse, other than I like to describe my life as too busy to actually get this done. However, in the last few days, I've been really ill (that sick in bed kind of ill, not the "you have cancer" kind of ill- at least not yet) and have been in miserable shape. My internal thermometer has been all off, and sometimes i was really hot and sometimes, i was really cold. Never really had anything like that happen to me, to the point where I had some calls to the Holy Man Upstairs, and just begged that whatever was causing the pain would stop, but unfortunately, it was the body destroyer version of the Entergizer Bunny, it just kept going and going and going...but at one point in time, I do remember saying I would write more if I could get out of bed and not feel like dying. Well, today was better than yesterday (which, physically, was one of the 10 worst days of my life), so after I made myself something to eat after a long period of fasting (not religious based or anything, I just couldn't process food), sat down and decided to watch some football, something I don't get a chance to do very often, based on my job, which if we're successful, means I'm usually preoccupied on Sundays...

I'm in the Bay Area, and have been here for the last 5 years, which means I've been in essentailly an NFL Black Hole, with the Raiders and Niners playing the kind of football that makes you really angry because the NFL has that fucked off rule that forces you to watch local games. Enter Tom Cable, an NFL coach that smooth knocked the fuck out of one of his own coaches, and Mike Singletary, an NFL Hall of Famer with a don't-fuck-with-me-or-i'll-fucking-kill-you mindset. Neither of these teams are vastly different insofar as personnel, but they both have instilled a new brand of accountability in their teams that make them believe they can win. They both have a no-nonsense approach to, well, everything, and they firmly believe that the best way to win a football game is tied to one's toughness, and they go out there KNOWING there won't be a team out there more willing to punch someone in the mouth than they will be. And these have been two of the most destitute programs in the NFL for the last 5 years Niners haven't been good since Mariucci, and the Raiders skill's left with Chucky). Talk all you want about skilled position players, but there's just something to be said for a good coach...

...when i first was involved any competitive activity, I was under the impression a good coach was someone with some vast amount of knowledge on the thing I need to learn, and so, naturally, I assumed that was the most important thing. But, as I began to get better at different activities in life, I began to realize the things I found in all good coaches were consistent, and not at all what I expected to be. But when it was all said and done, the overarching theme in all good coaches is twofold:

1) All good coaches understand the success and failure of their competitors is something you can help with, but ultimately is in their hands. This is the cross to bear of many coaches. I know one coach in particular, is a tireless worker, a excellent strategist and understands the ins and outs of the game like no other. However, for reasons I have never figured out, he seems incapable of producing winners- and for a long time, I couldn't figure out why, until recently. His students never figure out how to think on their own. They're really prepared if things proceed exactly as they have planned, but when things go awry, they are never really prepared to react well enough to win. Part of teaching is knowing how to teach people to excel in less than optimal situations, and when we spend too much time trying to catch fish for our kids, we sometimes forget to teach them to fish, which lets them eat for a lifetime.

2) Good coaches know that most of what coaching is pure motivation. Anyone that questions this just needs to look at the University of Washington this weekend. Last season, the University of Washington was one of the worst football teams in the NCAA last season, losing all of their football games last season (I will put this caveat: they quit on Ty Willingham last season, independently of getting really hurt- and the team on the field is who would have played for Willingham is they had been healthy). But when you quit on the coach, you need to bring in some new blood, and that's what they did with Steve Sarkesian, the offensive coordinator for USC, and he brought in a new culture of winning (for Seattle, who hasn't been good for quite some time). Making someone believe they can win is most of the battle. Once people believe they have the chance to win, it can happen. I was thinking back to a team that was debating when I was coaching in the upper midwest, and this small school with no real history of success went to, and cleared at the National Debate Tournament. There are tons of people, whose singular goal is to clear at the NDT and they never get it done. Their coach, who could be seen as a nice guy by some, was a lot of things, but nobody would ever confuse him with an excellent strategist, which is crucial to clearing at the NDT. They had a couple of things they were really good at, but for the most part they went in with the belief they could beat anyone, and with that confidence, they were able to excel. The ability to motivate people to success it actually more important to success than the tangible skills necessary to succeed. It's really hard to do well if you don't believe you can, even with mad skills, and you can succeed in a world where your skills aren't at their best if you have confidence in your ability to succeed.

There are a ton of other characteristics necessary to be a good coach, like the ability to listen, recognizing strengths and weaknesses, strategy, work, etc. But If you can motivate, and realize that, at the end, it's their ability to execute that really matters and to not take that power out of their hands, you'll find yourself doing the things that will facilitate greatness.

The next post is about strip clubs.

19 August 2009

five simple rules...

I know the school year has officially started when I find myself at our before the year inservice, at variant places over the south bay. Usually, these things are not that different than going to the dentist, except the dentist recognizes her activity will cause you pain, and they drug you to make the experience a little better than the beginning days of dentistry, where they just yanked that shit out of your mouth. Inservices are uniquely painful, usually, because it's like a really large, undisciplined classroom in it's preparation, a variety of things that make me wish I was somewhere else. This time however, it worked out a little different.

The president of the school was talking about some reflections on what makes for a happy life, and these really caught my ears. They were very simple things we should be considering everyday, but for some reason, we let the pace of our lives and our own self-interests get in the way of what allows us to truly be happy. I will provide the list of things and a little about how we can access these concepts.

1. Don't forget to stop and smell the roses.

I was watching this new show on ESPN called Homecoming. The show brings heroes of the sports world back "home" to where they grew up and started their climb up the mountain of success. The episode in particular that sticks in my mind was one in San Francisco, CA that brought back Jerry Rice, a man who has affectionately picked the nickname the GOAT- stands for Greatest Of All Time. Rice would openly admit he wasn't the most talented player, he wasn't the fastest, but he did hold one advantage over others, he was just willing to work harder than they were, and figured he'd work so much harder, that it would be hard for them to catch up...and he was right. Rice holds pretty much every major scoring and receiving record in the NFL. When asked what it was that he regretted most, he said, without a hint of hesitation, "I wish I had stopped and smelled the roses. I spent so much time working, I never stopped to appreciate my work."

This makes me think of my life, and the almost entirely singular focus of keeping all the obligations on my plate as their best. It does mean we have success. A lot of success. But sometimes, I have to remind myself to just stop and appreciate what we have while it's happening. An example of this for me was at the State Tournament this year, where we had a team in the quarters and a team in the semifinals. As we were advancing through the tournament, I had to stop and think back to the last year, where I had a team in the final round of the State tournament, but found myself having a hard time enjoying it, as it was frustrating to "get so close and miss the ring." I thought back to how disappointed I felt, even though we had reached a place our school was really happy about, the debaters were dancing on Cloud 9 (literally, after the tournament is the Dance, which they had no problem cutting a rug at), and all should have been well...except that I let my competitive streak get the better of me, and had taken any joy I should have had for the kids, and for the program, reaching unprecedented heights.

2. Relationships with family and friends matter most.

This is something we all tend to forget, or maybe a better word is take for granted. It's not our fault, most everything in our society is meant as an immediate means of self-gratification. Because of this, we are usually pretty protective about keeping our jobs. I have met many a family that, in their quest to make sure they had enough money to make their lives comfortable, they lost touch with each other, and let their relationship go down the drains. It sounds pretty simple, but at the end of all of this, the things don't matter. There's a saying, keep your friends close and your enemies closer. What it should be is keep your friends close and your family closer. It's the relationships in your life that shape you, make you the person you become. The people in our lives, the ones that provide the stability we all need to survive at least, and thrive at most, are the ones we take the most for granted when we're pursuing our goals. We make the assumption they will always be around, and always be there giving us strength. We sometimes forget these people have their own issues...the hip hop band pharcyde says in their song "Runnin"

there comes a time in every mans life/when he's gotta handle shit on his own/you can't depend on friends to help you in a squeeze/they got problems of they own.

There should never come a time in life when you have to handle shit on your own. I will go out on a limb, and say something pretty obnoxious (really, you're gonna be obnoxious, get outta town...). Most of my friends would consider themselves pretty smart people, and for the most part, they are. But one of the curses of smart people is the belief that they need no help, that they are capable of getting it done without help. It has taken me years and years to figure out there are just some things you should not have to handle alone, and that your support group, your family and friends are there, and they want to help. How worthwhile was your life if you die alone, because you've drawn no real connections with anyone? Those relationships are the most important

3. People like and appreciate you more than they'll ever let you know.

I make my students write personal eulogies in my speech class. It allows them to project themselves into the future, and imagine where they will be the day The Man Upstairs (God) calls them home. It also allows them to reflect on what they would like people to think about them when they die, and in that, is the required self-reflection of "do i deserve to be treated the way I would like to be treated? Won't I have to change, be more reflective, more giving and forgiving, to really justify being treated that way. The Golden Rule goes a long way...
..the example given was actually applied to a eulogy. When you go to a funeral (and if you haven't been, be thankful) , a variety of people will go to the podium, to give a eulogy or some reflective words on the kind of person they were. Most of us aren't fortunate enough to hear the wonderful things people think about you, but do get to hear all the gossip and back-biting. I've always thought it was some type of ironic justice that makes it so that, at the time when people are sitting back and reflecting on the kind of person you are, and saying things that if you heard would put a permanent smile on your face, why you have to be dead for that to happen. It's the reason you should never go to bed mad at anyone that matters to you. I can't imagine anything worse than the guilt of unspoken emotions to someone you can no longer see, who is no longer around.

4. Life isn't easy.

It isn't. So much of what we do in life, we do because it's easy. I'm really not one to talk, as I have a degree in a field many people find particularly difficult- Chemistry. For some strange reason, it always came pretty easy to me, so I decided to major in the field, after much encouragement from every person who knew I had this skill. Get your degree and get paid was the general reasoning behind it, and there were almost no minorities in the hard sciences at that school (or, really any non HBCU's) and they offered me a ton of scholarship money to get my science degree. That being said, my undergraduate experience was a relative blur, where I spent almost no time in classes doing things I enjoyed (one of the benefits of college, I've been told) and instead spent a fair amount of time in labs and doing write-ups for things I couldn't have cared less if you'd actually paid me to care less. After I graduated from college, it occured to me I had wasted a ton of my time, doing things I didn't enjoy to take the easy route (which, I ain't gonna lie, makes me seem smarter than I actually am), rather than sucking it up and studying how government and philosophy...
...in the same way, we all do things every day to make our lives easier, at the expense of a concerted effort. I coach debate, and one of the things that has stunned me over the last 10-15 years is the overall skill sets of high school students. The top of the HS circuit is making as nuanced and advanced arguments as at least half of the college community. That being said, the increased skill sets of the kids have made them, for lack of a better word, scared to get into actual, back and forth discussions. Many kids will go as far as thinking of an answer to an argument they would make and then choosing to not make the answer, not because the answer is unbeatable, but because there is an answer, and they want to argue things their opponents don't have anything to say. This is actually, ironically, not a debate, as it requires a two parties engaging in a dialogue.

Mom always said being an adult was "being forced to choose between two shitty options, and choosing one." This is because life ain't easy.

5. You make your lot in life.

I know I have a hard time with this. Sometimes, I find myself being down on how life has gone for me. I recognize that, in the finer scheme of things, my life is pretty phat. I'm employed, I have a significant other that loves me, and it's definitely reciprocated, i live in a safe place, I like my job, etc. But when the little things go wrong in life, it's these times when I wonder why every bad thing in life happens to me. In the game of poker, there are a number of times when the cards will be flipped over, and you'll find yourself way behind. What do you say? One time, just one time!! And sometimes, that "one time" actually happens, you get the last 9 in the deck to have your 9's over Q's full house beats my nut flush. But most of the time, as the math would seem to indicate, you'll lose that hand. But, because the game is a game of chance, it's possible to be on the top end of the hand, have a player in a two-outer (only 2 cards in the deck will let him/her win the hand), and they can catch their hand...all day...and there's nothing you can do about it. You can get mad about it, and complain constantly about how unfair life is for you, or you could look at the other side of it...1) you are playing a game, which you can stop, 2) you have enough disposable income to spend it on a game of chance and 3) by the math, this should work out in your favor over a large enough cross-section of the game.

I couldn't have imagined I would have found myself reflecting and writing on the inservice theme...who knew?

13 August 2009

it's the end of the summer as we know it...

...and I ain't fine about it. I have no idea where the time all went....it seemed like just yesterday that I got back from Alabama in as positive a fashion as one could return from Alabama, leading into the beginning of my summer. All in all, it was a pretty eventful time, with the biggest event this activity called: nothing. This summer, I took the advice of my man, Ron Livingston in one of DD's classics, Office Space. When asked what he would do if he had a million dollars, he said he would "do nothing." this was the first summer I did nothing since I was 11 or 12 years old.

There was always something to be done in the summer- the mandatory SAT preparation class, the debate camps, the math camps, the summer accelerated programs, sometimes just being sent to camp while my parents traversed the world- it was always something. I really envied a lot of my friends growing up, as they got to do whatever they wanted to do with their summers. One of my friends had parents that would leave the minute the summer started to go on some sort of semi-world tour, Asia one summer, Africa another, the "Cradle of Civilization" another summer. This left my friend, at 13, 14, 15, alone in his home, no parents in the country, much less the house. It was absolute freedom, and I loved, loved, LOVED going over to his house. The first, and most obvious reason, is because my parents had NO IDEA his parents were gone for the summer, which meant I could stay the night (or two, or three) and there was no checks, at all. Even if you're a pretty good kid, that's the kind of shit that can get you in trouble. Most of the major parties held in the town, at all, were held at this kids house, and the police department was a frequent visitor at the house. There was more than one occasion where me, as the sober one of the group (contrary to popular belief, my drinking problem didn't start until i was actually 21- don't get me wrong, we all just had different preferences, and I could cope better when I was "not right" than most of the other foolios I hung out with.

There was even the summer of the Boy Scout Jamboree- the decision my mother called "the dumbest shit i've ever heard." You see, my mom was against the Boy Scouts. Not for the clearly PC reasons that many have turned their collective backs on the organization- but because "the Boy Scouts taught you shit that didn't help you live in the world you live in- it's for some world of fucked up kids much whiter than you." She never pulled punches, and thus neither do I, so if you need someone to cast blame on, well, here you go, although me being an asshole makes it easy to just blame me. Well, the Boy Scout Jamboree, apparently, is relatively stringent with regards to the consumption of illgeal, illicit, smokable products, and so when they discovered that I had, in what was one of my dumber moments (in my defense, I did take the fall for a friend, who, in no uncertain terms, would have been sent to military school had he been discovered to have been smoking in general, and they already thought I was a bad influence, and I, to this day, am not sure of the reason). Long story short, there are Department of Forestry sheriffs, the head of Boy Scouts of America, me and my parents having a LONG conversation of the dangers of smoking in the woods (never mind I wasn't 18, or the potent smokable wasn't legal, or that we actually started a fire when my compadre thought we were were lost (paranoia) and said we needed to start a fire (it was 88 degrees) and he didn't want to freeze (it was 4:10pm). Ironically, or maybe justly, it was the fire that got us caught, as that was when the Department of Forestry was called.

Maybe it was because of these things, or maybe because I'm teaching now and feel I deserve the time off, driving my desire to do nothing. I did have a summer gig lined up, and when it fell through, I made the decision to not look for another gig, and to enjoy the summer for what it was. a ton of free time with limited obligations that I put off like pretty girls put off dorky guys. I had all summer to blog and I think I had less than 10 entries all summer.

I did, however, tighten up my poker, get much better at NCAA 10 and Fight Night 4, and do a ton of nothing. It. Was. Awesome.

Not looking at going back to work...

02 August 2009

The trade-off...

It occured to me, one of the things I enjoyed most this summer, was not writing in my blog. I was under the impression that, during the summer, when I had copious amounts of time to do, well, whatever with, I assumed all of this free time would allow me to write to my heart's content. However, what I figured out about myself this summer was, as much as I sometimes enjoy writing, I gained an almost sick satisfaction out of not writing, to the point that sometimes, I would be sitting around, with what I thought would be an excellent blog topic, but instead turned on the XBox or the DVD, and decided to do something considerably less productive, albeit more entertaining for me (at least in the short term). Now that the school year is rapidly approaching, and I have a list of things to do on the never-ending "to do" list, it seems that writing in this will be easier. Who would have ever imagined it would be easier to manage your time when you have actual events you can't just blow off becasue you don't feel like doing so (for example, I think I've needed a haircut for the last week, and I live within a quarter of a mile of the place that cuts my hair (I believe people call them "barbers"), but yet, have found neither the motivation and/or the need to get it done.

I decided to go up to a debate camp I used to work at, to visit some friends (this may speak of the hum-drum that is my life, that I go to visit a debate camp, and would consider it "fun"), and a couple of us decide to go out to dinner (this was more complicated than we would have imagined, as the place we went to eat was closed. As in, not open for business, no menus, gutted kitchen closed. Apparently, the establishement had gone out of business on Thursday (this is on a Saturday) and would be re-opening on Monday, with different food, but open nonetheless. So we decided to go to another location...but while at the table, waiting for food, my friends seemed to really be enjoying not being on the campus, working with the kids, and that any time they could get away would be greatly appreciated. And it's not as if they don't enjoy working with the kids. Actually, I think it's quite the contrary. They really do enjoy what they do, and do it with a high sense of pride in their work/obligation to their craft. I think this applies to all teachers. Anyone can show someone how to do something, but the act of teaching is more than that. It requires giving part, sometimes more parts than anticipated/expected, of yourself to insure that the students are the recipients of all they deserve, and that they, as teachers, have done all they can to improve the education of even one student....I sometimes forget of the trials and tribulations of working at a debate camp...working with high school kids for between 12-16 hours in a day can really wear you down. I really like doing it, but it really is like performing, all day long. As a teacher, you really don't get to wear your emotions on your sleeves, and when you're having a bad day, you've pretty much have to botle it all in. It's the reason why, after numerous days on the staff, I would walk the mile and a half to get to the closest bar. At the beginning, I justified it to myself as i just needed to have a beer, and drinking in public wasn't a legitimate option for me, as I wasn't in New Orleans or Las Vegas. But afetr awhile, I noticed I began looking forward to the almost 45 minute walk to the bar, as it offered me some solitude, which was hard to come by in a common living situation. Once I arrived at the bar, I was in the normal world. Nobody would ask me any questions about the affirmative. Nobody would ask me if I had given the debate on substantial any real thought, or if I thought the states counterplan would devistate this domestic topic. In fact, nobody would ask me anything. This. Was. Awesome. It meant, for an hour a day, I was allowed to be anonymous, and I really enjoyed it. I was allowed to have a beer and chat up the Giants with some random guy sitting next to me (and state my allegiance for my Twins). I was allowed to eat peanuts and throw them on the floor. I was allowed to play as much Outkast on the jukebok as I cared to, knowing it made some of the white women uncomfortable. But more importantly, I was allowed to be human, if only for an hour.

After about 45 minutes, I took them back to the campus, where they both jumped back in, head first, to an almost insane amount of work, refreshed, and feeling like they didn't miss a stride. As I drove home, I remembered how much I loved throwing myself into the job, but I also remember how much I hated not getting time to "stop and smell the roses", which is the very point of theses highly intensive, work driven, results oriented summer camps. And I realized, I didn't miss it. The part I missed, I can do, on my own, and it's more effective (the research part). And the rest of the good just doesn't seem to outweigh the bad, which is just losing your life for the exact block of time you're commited to filling. It's 6:45, and if I was there, I'd be working right now. But instead, as soon as I finsih this sentence, I intend on watching the Simpsons....

22 July 2009

Baseball Tour, Part One

Note: The pictures from the blog: SF and Oakland are from our seats, Petco is from the hotel room.

I am in San Diego right now, and this is one of the most amazing towns in America. It reminds me a fair amount of San Francisco, with all the b
ridges, the Bay and the rolling fog in the mornings, but the fog burns off faster and it' s warmer. I'm staying in a part of town called the Gaslamp District, and apparently, this is where the movers and shakers come to fully enjoy San Diego. All of this is interesting to me, but not as interesting as getting to go to Petco Park tomorrow with my girlfriend. The baseball park tour was her idea, which is only a small snapshot why she's the best. And to think she was concerned it wouldn't be appreciated as a gift, she really wasn't sure how I would receive it.

This is the best gift ever.

The tour starts in San Francisco on the 4th of July, where we get to sit in a box at AT&T Park, which is an experience in and of itself. The parts of the ballpark the average guy can't get into, well, all I can say is, they're really nice. The guy on the Miller High Life commercials makes fun of the people in the Box, insinuating they don't follow the game, and it would be really possible to do so. But every real fan should, once in their lives, pool some loot together with some friends (i think it takes about 12) and get a box at the game. I got to see Tim Lincecum, the All-Star game starter, the reigning Cy Young award winner, pitch a gem of a baseball game against the Houston Astros. For those of you that have not had a chance to see a game at AT&T anywhere in the park (don't get it twisted, I've watched games from the nosebleed seats, from the field level, as well as been a bleacher bum, so i don't discriminate, it's all baseball, so it's all good), you definitely should do so. I've been to a few of the new stadiums, and AT&T rivals any of them, with the backdrop against the bay, as opposed to a downtown setting.

The next ballpark we went to was the Oakland Colis
eum, a place I have seen probably 40-50 games over the course of my life, but this was particularly special, as I got to watch my favorite team play, the Minnesota Twins. Our seats were amazing, first row along the first base (my visiting Twins) side. I got to take some cool pictures of some of the players, and I got a chance to see the best hitter in the American League, the 1997 American League MVP, and a game with 39 hits, two grand slams, and a play at the plate to decide the game that may be the spur to get instant replay for plays on the bases in addition to home runs. My team lost, playing one of the worst games I'd seen them play in almost a decade, giving up a 12-2 lead from the 3rd inning to the 7th inning, made three fielding mistakes that couldn't be classified as errors, and even though he was safe at the plate, there's no reason to send Cuddyar to the plate from second on a passed ball- maybe you send Gomez (who was on first, pinch running, so we had speed for the winning run but not for the lead runner), maybe you send Denard Span, if you send anyone at all (I probably make Young succeed or fail, and I think it's easier for that run to score with runners on 2nd and 3rd with two outs, but that may be why I was watching in the park) . Even with my team trying to punch my experience in the junk, it was still an incredible experience, the tickets were amazing, and even though my team lost, I don't dislike the A's, and would root for them if they weren't playing us.

Next, we left from the Bay Area to come down to San Di
ego, relax a little and see the San Diego Padres play on Wednesday at Petco Park. I've never been inside the park, and I imagine I will have more to say about the park after I've been inside. But I can speak about the park a little now, as I am looking into the park as I type this, as our hotel room is overlooking the park and has a waterfront view of San Diego Bay. The ballpark, from the outside and from the air (the bar at the hotel allows you to watch the games in a Wrigley Field roof type of thing) is amazing, in line with many of the new stadiums. More importantly to me, it's just another ballpark I can check off of the new baseball tour (I started one with my dad, and he died before we could get to all the parks, so when I started the new tour, I decided to start the slate clean, and start at zero ballparks). This just means I have to go to the new ballpark they'll build in Minnesota because I won't have the chance to see a game there before they close the Metrodome, as well as old Shea and old Yankee Stadiums don't count, which is awesome, as I'll get to see the new spots, even if it takes awhile. Once again, I digress...

...once we are done in San Diego, we will drive up to Los Angeles, and have a relaxing day in LA. On Friday, we go to Chavez Ravine to Dodgers Stadium, to watch the hated Dodgers play at home against the Florida Marlins. This also gives me a chance to see one of the best young players in the majors, Marlin shortstop Hanley Ramirez, and this kid is amazing. A true 5 skill athelete, and I have been to Chavez before, and if you can forget that it used to be a predominately minority neighborhood before they tore it down for a baseball stadium, it's an insanely nice place to watch a game. Getting to hear Vin Scully call a baseball game is one of the best things in the world, and I'm even considering picking up an AM radio so I can listen to Vin. It was one of the pleasures of living in Santa Barbara for college was getting to pick up Dodger games on the radio, and this is from someone that doesn't even like the Dodgers, but does appreciate a great play-by-play guy...

...on Saturday, it's Anaheim to watch the California Angels, um the Anaheim Angels, um, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim play against my Minnesota Twins. In Oakland, it's a little different- there's no real animosity between the teams. In fact, the Twins-A's thing is much more of a love fest, with both teams seeing a little of themselves in the other team. Both teams have had to sell off mad talent to stay afloat, both team have made excellent decisions in the front office, being on the winning side of a variety of deals (the A's traded away Mulder, and I don't think Mulder has five wins since the deal, where Danny Haren (the main component in the deal) won a substantial amount for the A's and was traded for a truckload of Arizona Diamondback talent, and we all know of the fleecing of the century, the Giants traded Boof Bonser, Francisco Liriano, and Joe Nathan for a catcher we had no need for, as we had Joe Mauer in the wings), and both teams are consider small market teams, even though Oakland is in the 4th largest market in America. This is not a concern with the Angels, who have in the last few years with Arte Moreno as the GM, have moved into the Red Sox-Yankee area for free agency spending, and if you're from a small market team, there's nothing you hate more than those free spending MF's that just try to buy a World Series. So I'll be in my Twins Road Pinstripes, rooting for my team more vigerously than in Monday's game. After four games in 6 days, it'll be homeward bound, knowing that baseball will be in my dreams and in my heart, and that my girlfriend had the idea and wanted to make it happen, so he did.

This is the best gift ever.

21 July 2009

Why I write...

Once again, it's been a couple of days since I've sat down at the computer to write. I have been a little busy, as I have started the baseball tour that is the gift of my girlfriend, and a better gift, i couldn't imagine. Baseball was something that I did with my dad growing up, so it's something that is dear to my heart. It's the reason I haven't gone to baseball games with most of my friends, because even though they are friends, baseball games are a little different, and they hold a little weight. It's not that I couldn't enjoy a Giants game with my peeps, but I would be carrying a little extra baggage, baggage that may affect how I veiw the game and the experience surrounding it, possibly making an uncomfortable situation for all involved. Going to baseball games with my girlfriend is going to baseball games with family, and that makes me happy. It means something I enjoy that I assumed would die with my dad gets to live on, and I get to share it with the person I love most in the world.

However, this has nothing to do with why I didn't write.

I'm pretty sure the reason I haven't been writing has little to nothing to do with my activity, as there have been times, especially during the year, when I have five burners going and I still find slivers of time to write (i know it's not an issue, because I seem to be able to find to play poker, follow random websites, play video games, etc.). When I started writing this blog, I imagined it would be a place for me to tell some of the random stories I've heard or have happened to me over the course of my life, a place for me to rant about sports, and some discussions of politics and race, the things it seems encompass my life.

It did start that way, and at some point, it became more cathartic, more of a place for reflection and confession than I ever assumed it was, as I'm pretty much a close to the vest kind of guy- even people that I would consider my friends don't know very much about me (if I didn't think this kind of shit was retarded, I would create a "how well do you know Doug Dennis?" quiz on Facebook, but then all of my "friends" would make fun of me, and I would be the fodder for a toxicculture.com Facebook blasting post), so when I go back and read some of these posts (I don't read them as I write them, which is why the spelling is sometime suspect), I find myself in utter disbelief sometimes, asking myself first, if I actually wrote some of these things, and secondly, why i would think anyone reading this would care either way about the stuff I care about writing about. More importantly, I wondered why I was writing about the things I was writing about, what was leading me to expose parts of myself I was unwilling to expose before...

...the only answer I can come up with is pretty straight forward, and it seems to jive pretty well with my personality, generally. I write what I write because, I feel like it. It is a blog, and in general, people can make their choices on what pages they read (it's the reason NAMBLA has a website, if you don't know what NAMBLA stands for, it's probably for the better, but you should Google it, but not from your own computer), and if people read my blog and aren't feeling my discussion of the Holy Cross mission and faith, or discussions about me missing my mother, hell, if you're not feeling R to the MF H, then feel free to surf other blogs and websites. I'm not really writing this for anyone else. I'm writing it becasue I feel like writing it, and that means sometimes, there will be topics you're not feeling. on those days, feel free to not read it. It occured to me that I enjoy writing this most when I don't even think about what someone would think if i wrote that, or why would anyone care about that, a but instead just sit down, look at the blank screen, and just write...

...but that does mean sometimes I write about things that are draining to me, reflecting on my mother is helpful, as I feel better at the end, but it's more disclosure than is the norm for me, which means it's much harder for me to pick up and write the next day, because for me, the discloure is exhausting, and sometimes I just don't have the energy to get it done, so I instead sit around and watch TV and/or play video games, essentially replenishing myself....so if there happens to be some lag between posts, just assume I'm refueling from something draining. But if it makes you feel better to assume I was just watching NCIS, then so be it....

18 July 2009

It doesn't have to be Mothers Day to miss your mom...

I miss my mom. Not for any particular reason- it's not her birthday, or Mother's Day. It's just Saturday morning, close to 1:30am, and I miss my mother. This is one of those things in life that just sucks, as there is no way, no real means of resolution. It's not the first time it's happened, I mean, she's been dead for some time now, but it is the first time I've ever really written about it. And the spur seems to me to be kind of random- my dad's mother just had double bypass surgery, and made it through the surgery with flying colors (I should preface this with my belief that if there's any type of heart surgery that you're not dead at the end, you've made it through with flying colors), only to die of pneumonia a couple of moments ago, and her death got me thinking about death, and about life. But her death caused me to start thinking about my own mother (i guess it's wierd for me to think about, as my mother and my dad's mother, hated each other- in that Minnesota/Green Bay, SF Giants/LA Dodgers, Dallas Cowboys/Washington Redskins kind of way). But when I start thinking about my mother, it makes me feel the need to let people get to know a little about the woman that helped make me the man I am today...

...my mother was the person that got me into Speech and Debate. I tell my students this the first day of class, and I think it helps them understand a little about me, but more about the act of talking in public. My parents thought, in my youth, that I didn't talk enough. Apparently, the reports from school indicated that I was pretty bright, but I had what my teachers called "an irrational fear" of talking in front of people. It still exists today, as anyone that has seen me in a large group of people I don't know- I do a pretty good Ralph Ellison. That being said, my parents knew that doing speech would require me to have to stand up in front of people and speak, which would obviously resolve my fear (to me, this seems like finding out your kid is afraid of heights, taking him some place really high and leaving them there to find their own way down- effective until someone falls to their injury and/or death). They asked me if I wanted to join Speech, and I said no....and we continued this for about three weeks, until my mother just asked:

"what's it going to take to get you to join? We think you'll like it, but we know you need it. How about I give you $1000 if you join the team, compete and stay all year. At the end of the year, if you don't like it, feel free to quit. This is a no-lose situation for you..."

she was right, this was the definition of a no-lose situation for me. All I had to do was go to a couple of meetings, attend a couple of tournaments, and at the end of the year, $1000 of cold, hard cash would be mine. This would be a good deal now, but in 1984, when I was a freshman, this was an enormous amount of money, large enough to get me to do something I would not have had the courage and/or desire to do. In short, my mother bribed me to join Speech and Debate. Inevitably, it worked. When my mother was on her death bed, and I had just made the decision to stay in debate after I graduated from college, I asked why she essentially bribed me to join. Her answer was simple- you needed it, you'd like it, and I knew you'd never do it if I didn't offer an incentive. She then went on to remind me of a story when I was little in a restaurant someplace in New England, and I was really skeptical on this white soup she was asking me to eat (up to this time, the only soups I'd ever eaten were clear broth soups, and I didn't have any idea what a chowder was, and i knew I wouldn't like clams). That bribe apparently only cost her a quarter, but I can say that Clam Chowder (pronounced chow-dah!) is one of my favorite foods in the world, one I'm willing to just fight through a lactose intolerance issue. When I was younger, I just thought it was cool my mother was willing to give me access to that large a sum of money. As I got older, it became more apparent that these "bribes" were just offerings for me to step out of my comfort zone, and to explore other things.

My mother is the base of my spirituality, taught me about The Bible, and taught me to have Faith. My Faith is something I haven't always felt very comfortable speaking about and/or expressing.I clearly don't live my life like Jewish Rabbi, a Southern Baptist Pastor or a Catholic Priest, so it's obviously not something I advertise. Even thought a major facet of Christianity (or, really any religion) is the idea of spreading the word, or witnessing. The combination of not wanting to be "that guy," the guy that makes his friends listen to a bunch of stuff they don't care about and/or are not interested in. For as long back as I can remember, I had been going to Church- it was something we did every Sunday, and there was no excuse (if you can go out with your friends on Saturday night, you can get up and give thanks to the Lord on Sunday morning, man, I can still actually hear her say it). I can say, with some degree of guilt now, I made my mom's life a living hell about "the Church thing," and being a debater, learning base argumentation and the power of the concession made every Sunday morning like round 8 of the NDT for me, and like "getting a root canal" for her. I would ask, every week, for like 10 years, why I had to go, and she'd always say the same thing.

"My mother made me go to Church, said she didn't want to be responsible for me not knowing the word of God, and me spending life in Eternal Damnation. Once you're an adult, you can make your own decisions, stay home, not believe and burn in hell. But until then, you'll be going to Church."

This was true, even when I went away to college, and would just be coming home for the weekend. There were no choices, no options. You went to Church or you didn't stay in the house. This Gestapo-type means of indoctrination was one I held in much disdain, and for years, I took out my distaste for not having a choice into a pretty healthy hatred for Religion, across the board. It took quite a twist for me to accept religion back in my life, a decision to work for a Catholic school. I had worked for a Catholic school before (actually, a Catholic Military School, because Catholic or Military alone wouldn't provide sufficient discipline), so it's not the idea of being around religion that made me re-think my stance (that school, ironically, felt entirely like a Military school, and it seemed the facets of Catholicism that were present either escaped my line of sight through cognitive dissonance). I think I could even pin-point when I saw myself differently, not by a time, but by a recognition. I realized, while I was working for my current institution, that there was one over-arching thing that seemed to tie the students together, and it was just a feeling that almost all the students I encountered had something not found in a lot of people, but harder to find that clean diamonds among high school students. They all seemed to have something that I assumed was a debate word until I saw it in action, an ethic of care, a true compassion about them, and it was something they all seemed to have, from the kids that had clearly grown up in the Catholic church, to the kids that openly call themselves agnostic or atheist, but it was something I recognized from my days in the Church, and it provided me something it hadn't done in the past, it offered me comfort. It just seemed right.

I have an issue with change and a problem with inertia, so much so, sometimes I think I should be a Republican. This combination sometimes means that things I know I will enjoy doing once I get out there and just start doing, sometimes never get off the ground, as I come up with reasons why I shouldn't bother. I have some good friends that live not very far from here, and I don't see them enough. It's not because my girlfriend won't let me out of the house, as I am sure sometimes she wishes I was gone more than I am. It's not that I won't have an excellent time with them if I were to go, as I always have a good time with them. It's not even that gas is teetering around $3 a gallon in the East Bay (it cost money to live in paradise). It's just that, when I am trying to mobilize to act, sometimes I just find myself convincing myself to stay home. I used to think it was just laziness, but it seems like it's more than that, because laziness seems like it's not pro-active. Laziness seems to be a reaction to some action you didn't feel like doing (you're supposed to be doing homework, you react by not acting, i.e., being lazy). This issue I seem to be having is much more proactive, in the same way that someone in your head tells you to not get out of bed, it's Saturday, and you can stay here all day long, with no ramifications. So, since I have that guy among the voices in my head, it sometimes means that things that aren't required don't ever get accomplished...

...This is why my mother was awesome (well, one of many). She seemed to know about my own specific, personal demons, no matter how large or small, and knew the way to make me get beyond those demons. When she died, I was concerned I would not be able to handle these kinds of things, because my mother was the person I would talk to about this kind of stuff. But somehow, in all those random discussions on thousand mile road trips, and all the little tidbits of information she would give me all the time, and the dressing downs in public and in private for not holding up my end of the bargain, somehow all filtered through my brain and it seems to be sufficient to aid me in making these decisions.

I guess this is what she meant when she said that, even when she was gone, she'd still be here, because she'd always be here.

17 July 2009

Health and responsibility

I'm a guy that loves a soda. There's something about the carbonation and the high fructose corn syrup that just makes me really crave them. And I recognize they aren't good for you, and they're probably the largest repository for under the radar calories you can imagine (for example, the 20 ounce Sprite has 240 calories, which is approximately 12% of the 2000 calorie intake target people in the know say we should be aiming for. However, after I open the soda, and have the first couple of ounces, I am reminded these aren't very refershing, they never seem to resolve the issue I have with thirst. So recently, I have decided to make an effort to drink more water...and am finding out that bottled water costs more than Coke. At some point, I see myself having the uncensored rant about water, bottled water and what that really says about us, but as I said, that's for later.

This may not be a surprise to many of you all, as you may have been buying bottled water and getting beaten for years. But for me, this is new. I've bought many a bottle of water, but I guess I never really noticed- actually more likely is that bottled water has increased in price more recently, which seems to make sense in the supply and demand world. But I guess for me, it just seems water is just another thing being made close to inaccessible to the poor...

I went to visit my uncle a couple of weeks ago, and he lives in an area affectionately called "the hood." This is a part of town where one's safety can't be guaranteed, where crime is an everyday part of life and an area most people make an effort to avoid (my uncle, a man of sufficient means, chooses to live in the hood, speaking of the people as more genuine. "These people may try to steal from me, but more likely they will just ask for something of they need it. When I lived "on the hill," I always felt people were waiting for me to leave, but smiling and being considerate to me to my face. Better to be comfortable in "mi barrio" than to walk on eggshells to live where you live." But I digress...when I left his spot, I wanted to find a grocery store to pick up some things before I went home. I got my first lesson in city planning when it concerns the poor. There was no grocery store in the area, it required one to travel 3.3 miles to the city center, which is where the closest store happened to be. I decided to instead go into a local store, one of the corner markets. The place I walked into was just a racket disguised as a store. Everything in the store was more expensive, and there were just less options. Not very many name brands, which is neither here nor there, but the store was charging name brand prices for generic brands, and there weren't very many options. For example, the store I'm referring to didn't have any wheat bread. 100 different blunt wraps, but no wheat bread.There was no milk. There was an extensive fortified wine section, but no milk. No eggs. No butter. A ton of candy and sweets- Little Debbie snack cakes everywhere. I just assumed it was a shitty store, and that these things could be gotten at another store in the area. The next time I talked to my uncle and told him about my store experience, he told me that was "Standard Operating Procedure" and that even the grocery stores in the area were terrible. He said if he needed anything, he had no problem getting in the car and going "up the hill" to go shopping for the things he can't get in the area (Sunday Paper, Vitamins, Fresh Fruits and Vegetables and Juices, Meats) but that still didn't resolve the issue for his neighbors. He then asked a question that I know he knew the answer to. Why is it harder for people in my neighborhood to get the things necessary to be healthy?

Because, in a nutshell, people for whom the acquisition of money is their main objective, tend to not give a fuck about people that can't help them in those endeavors.

This rings true at the political level, and I had always known that. I just assumed, for what appears to be no reason at all, that it would manifest itself in other ways, or not at all. The corner store has no need to make sure you get access to all four food groups, it is an individual responsibility. But if you're blocked access from these things, if the stores you use sell Orange Drink and not Orange Juice, if you only have access to unhealthy foods, how would one meet their personal responsibility? You can't, which just means you can't get healthy.

No wonder 25% of the population is obese...

16 July 2009

There are Facebook friends, and then there are real friends...

"I wish Phil Ivey was on Facebook so I could be his friend"- Actually said at a poker table June 30, 2009 at the Golden Nugget Poker room.

I have a Facebook account. There's a fair amount of shame affiliated with my initial decision to jump into the fray, and the shame magnifies itself each day i don't just un-register myself from that God-forsaken site. One of the funny things I find about the website is that it allows you to create a list of "friends". I looked at my "friend list" and realized that I had over 300 friends. I find an enormous amount of humor in this, purley by the numbers alone, so i decided to look at my "friend list" and see who these people were...most of them are people I wouldn't consider not friends, which to me has a very specific definition, they aren't really even acquaintances, they're just people who were recognized as pieces of my past and thus, listed as "friends" i feel a little badly, since the first day I signed up for FB, there were like four or five people that wanted to friend me, and i turned them down because, well, i didn't know them very well, and didn't really think of them as friends. As part of my list of "facebook friends" are:

1. A girl I purposely left at a frat party in college, as leaving her there meant I didn't have to deal with her (friend requested me and I accepted without even knowing who it was)
2. A kid I got in a fight with in 7th grade because I asked if his sister was "actually" retarded or just "functionally" retarded
3. over 100 people i've never had a full conversation with
4. friends of friends of friends who post funny stuff
5. 43 people I can honestly say I never really liked in any other capacity than the one FB allows me to have...

And I think that's OK, and for people like me, FB seems to serve my needs very well. There are people I can honestly say I could get a fuck less about that I have listed as FB friends, and in the series of months I've been on the site, I've found out all the necessary information about them I needed- I know that one of my peeps from high school, you know, one of those friends you say you'll never lose touch with that I haven't seen and/or heard from since Graduation, is married and has a kid, which is descriptive of most of the people I went to High School with. But these people, most of them anyway, are best held at the lenght FB allows you to keep people at- the occasional comment on some random post that ends up on your home page (for some reason, someone at FB assumed you'd want to see everyone's comments on your home page, and I can't imagine why I'd care about most of the totally assanine things I see on the home page. I will give you a small snapshot of the stupid things posted...i'll take off the names, but if it's one of yours, well, that's too bad, stop posting stupid shit, I clearly post about 50% of the things I post for only my benefit, and if it bothers you, just HIDE me, as I have hidden over 125 people because reading their shit just KILLS ME- it's how I resolve the not just un-friending that annoying girl that talked too much in HS and posts too much on FB now, just reliving a former experience in a different format. But anyway...here is but a snapshot of stupid shit...

1. Why do I have Barry White on my iPod? Oh, that's right...I own a Barry White album. Huh?
2. ...is about to watch "so you think you can dance."
3. What Calvin alter ego are you?
4. What badass animal are you?

This was actually a random snapshot of the stupid stuff, I initially was going to do a hour-by-hour walk through the wall of shame, but I actually may use this as the base for many, many things I write about. These are things from people that I haven't just taken off my basic feed. here's a snapshot of some of the things I just hide so I don't have to read this...this will be a surprise to me as well...once again, i will remove names to protect the not-so-innocent...

1. i don't know where that Debbie Allen has been on SYTYCD (So You Think You Can Dance), but I could watch her every night!
2. winding down with a laptop and TV. Plan to post my thoughts on Tweetdeck soon to Audioboo.fm
3. I love Utah fry sauce.
4. Why do I tweet and heart PDX?

These people are clearly not people I talk to very much, now or at any other point in my life. They are, for the most part, people that either annoyed me or I thought were stupid and/or useless, and for some reason, I have them as "facebook friends." I have a couple of FB friends that I only friended because I wanted to find out how possible common friends are doing...but now that we've talked a little about FB friends...I talk to my classes about friendship, and i usually start the conversation by asking how many friends the kids in class have, and we generally start off with a number like 20, and usually go up from there.

The last class I did this in, there were over 15 kids that claimed to have over 300 friends. I had to ask, because I didn't even think I knew 300 peoples names, less had 300 friends, and they all used FB as their measuring stick. They then asked me how many friends I had, and my answer was between six and nine, all depending on how stringent a definition you were using. My definition of a friend is someone, when standing at the crossroads of need, will choose to do what they can to help the person in need at the time (usually me, sometimes determined on how they treat people I happen to care about). This seems like a relatively simple standard, yet I have a limited amount of friends. I think it has something to do with this statement: "

it's really easy to be a friend if you never have to give up anything. The moment it becomes a me vs. you trade-off, it's really easy for you to rationalize and justify acting in your own self interest. it's that moment when you find out who your friends are not, and consequently, who your friends are, as well." It's one of those things my mother told me when i was like nine or ten years old, and had no idea what she meant, because i was friends with my whole school, which in retrospect was a ludicrous claim. Now that I'm "grown" it all seems to make more sense to me.

There are two refelctive quick statements about friendship, one comes from my boy, Steve (you all should jump over to his blog, 2oldformaxim.wordpress.com), who believes he's met his friends. "I'm not trying to meet new friends. If my boy or my girl has a friend, I'll be open to them, and that's probably the only way I'm picking up new friends." This is pretty much how I roll these days, although not really open to those groups, either.

The other is a condenced story of a friend of mine, who had an out of town guest that, in a nutshell, didn't really appreciate the efforts being made to keep them entertained and happy, and it's something that had happend on more than one occasion. It reminded me of a joke my dad told me...

"What do you call a friend that takes and never gives and is acts entitled rather than appreciataive?"
"Not a friend, an asshole."

15 July 2009

The All Star Game- I'm a fan

I watched the 2009 Major League Baseball All Star Game last night. It was awesome. There are a thousand reasons someone could have agreed with me, from the new, vastly improved Busch Stadium, which has some of the more breathtaking views of downtown as any stadium could offer, to the Albert Pujols Show, to getting (or having, if you're a true baseball fan) to listen to President Obama talk over the bottom of the second inning of the game, an inning where the National League scored their only three runs. How much would that suck for you, you make it to the game, you're playing, and you get a hit, and there's no reference to your hit, at all, in the television broadcast? Maybe I'm a glory hog, but...come on! Give the players their moment, as well. But all things considered, if I had to come up with a reason I really enjoyed the game is because it was actually a baseball game...baseball has figured out that placing some real meaning on the game by making the winning team of the game the league that gets the right to home field advantage, the right to have Game 7 in your home ball park. This means the managers, who were in the World Series the previous season, have added incentive to win the game...this being said, the American League won, again. They haven't lost an All Star Game since 1996. A list of things going on in 1996...

1. Derek Jeter wins Rookie of the Year
2. Milwaukee Brewers still in the American League
3. The Mariners have Randy Johnson, Ken Griffey Jr. and Ichiro is still balling in Japan.
4. I was still debating.

...the game having meaning makes it a much better watch than most of the other All Star exhibitions. The game starts off with the American League scoring two runs in the first inning when starter Tim Lincecum generates a typical 3-6-1 double play when Albert Pujols (pronounced poo-holes, which means he's got to be the truth for nobody to make the thousands of shit jokes) boots it, which opens the door for the first two runs...the best example of this competitive framing of the game comes in the top of the 8th inning, when Detroit Tiger Curtis Granderson drives a ball over the head of baseball's newest 5 tool player, Justin Upton, and legs out one of baseballs most exciting hit, the three bagger of the San Diego Padre closer, Heath Bell (who apparently Charlie Manuel had faith in, but somehow had played his entire career and never made an all-star team of any kind, not American Legion, not Little League, not the minors. He currently leads the league in saves for a team that's numerous games under .500, which means he's not saving any games of value. Why would you assume he'd thrive in the biggest situation of his life- the 8th inning of the All-Star Game? I wouldn't have, but that's probably why I'm miserable at Fantasty Baseball, much less the real game)...but anyway, with a man on 3rd and one out, a situation that would normally involve bringing the infield in, which increases a batters average by over 100 points. Rather than do that, they intentionally walked a batter, to create a possible force play, and create a double play possibility, which would have gotten them out of the inning without sacrificing any runs. The strategy failed, as the next batter flied out deep to right, allowing Granderson to score the go-ahead (and winning) run. The strategy didn't work (Adam Jones deep fly out to right field allows Granderson to tag up and score on the sacrifice fly) but the fact they even used strategy made it seem like it was just a baseball game with really good players, rather than an exhibition game of a bunch of primadonnas. and since the All-Star game is the only thing in town when it's on (really, how'd you get that lock down- no other major sports yesterday), it should at least be entertaining and strategic, you know, like baseball.

10 July 2009

Another different post...

I haven't written because i have been attending a Holy Cross Mission Seminar. Initially, I went to fulfill a requirement, hopefully get some Salt Lick BBQ, a Freebird's burrito, hopefully see a friend or two and get out of town. I was pretty sure the conference was going to be a boot to the junk, and that I would be the non-catholic guy here, wishing I was somewhere else.

The Lord works in mysterious ways.

At the beginning of the conference, I can honestly say I had no idea why I was asked to come here, and was pretty sure it would be a little awkward, not being Catholic and being still relatively new to the school. I tried to come in with an open mind, but for the first day and a half of the conference, I did feel a little out of place, a little out of my element, my comfort zone. And, as with so many of us are apt to do when not in optimal situations, I put my nose to the grindstone, and had just made the determination to just take my notes, absorb what I could, and board the plane on Friday, knowing someone else at my school could have gained much more than I.

The Lord has a way of making you realize things you’d be to blind to notice yourself.

I found out on Thursday that my grandmother had a heart attack, and needed to have double-bypass surgery to have any chance at living. It should be noted my grandmother is 94 years old, and although she’s a healthy 94, the chances of survival through the surgery were grim to say the least, and it forced me to think of a scenario where I would have to make the call to terminate someone’s life. This was much more than I could have imagined I could handle, and was in the throws of a mini panic attack when Laura Sanders approached me in the hallway, and asked me what was wrong (to give a snapshot of where I was mentally, I thought I had walked to a separate part of the building, to avoid being around people). I explained the situation to her, and she immediately reached out the hand of compassion, the hand of Holy Cross. The response of the entire conference community was so genuinely helpful, asking me what I needed from them. What I needed was space to make the arrangements I needed to make, and to think and to pray. In that thought, and through that prayer, it occurred to me that this was the lesson I was here to learn. I had listened to everyone explain how their school was like a family. And I know that’s the thing about St. Francis that I most appreciated. But it never really occurred to me that this concept of family would extend to me, in my time of need. I have no problem extending my hand to help someone in need, but it has always, always been hard for me to take the extended hand, always afraid the hand I reach for will be rescinded in my time of most dire need. But the hand reaching out to me at this time was genuine, and it wasn’t going anywhere.

If this hand can be extended to some guy that works for a school under the same umbrella, some guy you all don’t know, and one that for awhile was pretty ambivalent to being here with your unwavering compassion, then it will be easy for me to reach out to the kid in class that may have been slipping- it should be easy for me to go above and beyond one’s typical call of duty, as there should be no call that is typical, and even thinking so does everyone a disservice, not just the person in need, but yourself as well.

Whereas 48 hours ago, I had no idea how I would convey the message of the conference, that’s no longer an issue.

06 July 2009

poker, the evil temptress...

Some days, I wonder why I don’t just play poker for a living. I mean, I really enjoy the game, and it seems, when allowed to just focus and grind it out, it seems that, empirically, I’ve had more success at the tables than failures. And it seems, when I’m playing, I really enjoy what I’m doing. And after a good run, I think to myself, “I’m better than most of these ass clowns, and if I wasn’t so scared, I’d just sack up, take a bankroll and either go to Las Vegas or just put it all online, and just start the process. I think that’s a good idea, until I lose one of these hands, and remember that, with a real job, there’s no possibility of going broke while at work. Let me describe what happened, and if you’re not into poker or have no understanding of the game, you’d be just as well to find another website, at least for the day…

…so I’m playing in the Deep Stack tournament at the Golden Nugget, and I’m moving up, building a modest chip stack until finally I find myself 3rd in the tournament, until I find myself card-dead (where you want to play, but have no cards worth playing, or at least not in the right position to play these cards I would normally think of playing). By the time I’m ready to act, the antes are 200 and the blinds are 1500/3000, and my chip stack is 122K in chips. I then find myself on the button (the last person to act, which allows you to see what everyone would do, which makes it the preferred place to act), with an Ace and a King of clubs (from now out, referred to as AKc). The action folds all the way around to me, and so I raise the blind to 6000 (I don’t want to raise the action too much, and get a set of folds and get no action, but I need to represent some form of strength). The small blind folds, and the big blind calls, throwing in the extra 3000 (plus the 3000 he’s already committed for being in the big blind). The flop comes down:

2c 7c 8c

The player sees the flop and gets a small smile, which to me, indicates he’s hit something, which is cool with me, because I just hit the nut flush. I forgot to mention, my opponent the top chip stack, a relatively loose player, willing to make moves with AX, which means he’s probably sitting there, with his A2, maybe he’s even got the A8 offsuit, which means he thinks he’s way ahead. He makes a move, betting 15K. This is a sizeable bet, about the size of the pot, but I’m in a pretty dominant position, so I re-raise to 50K, putting a little pressure. He makes the immediate re-raise, going all-in. I’ve been waiting for this situation all tournament. There aren’t many situations that will make me call an all-in, especially in tournament format, as I don’t really like going out in tournaments (no re-buy option, so every implication is magnified). But this is a no-brainer. I make the call and we flip over the cards. He flips over As5c against my AKc…I’m holding the nut flush, and his odds of winning this hand at this time are about as likely as flipping 1000 coins and having them all end up heads. I’m envisioning what all those chips in the middle of the table will look like in my stack, thinking about being able to win this tournament, and just being generally pretty giddy. The turn comes down, and a 9c. This makes the board:

2c 7c 8c 9c

This gives him exactly one out, which is a much better position than I imagined him being in when I made the call, and it was at that time I began to get that sinking feeling, that feeling you get when bad shit is about to happen. It was as if my entire poker life flashed before my eyes- every time when I was learning the game and would find myself in the 2-outer position, and would catch my cards to the absolute horror and dismay of my opponents, those times when I would bluff with absolutely nothing, like moving all-in with a 54 offsuit, and catch a 545 flop to catch the full boat on the flop and knock out someone’s pocket A’s, and every time I backdoor four-flushed someone, it flashed as well. With all of this happening, it wasn’t as devastating to have the 6c on the river. This makes the board

2c 7c 8c 9c 5c

That sorry, so and so moved all in with on a four-flush, 5 high. He’s supposed to lose his loot, and I’m supposed to collect the money, smile arrogantly and keep on grindin’. But instead, he catches the straight flush, by hitting the gutshot to hit the straight flush. I see him scream in elation, call me a “donk” for making the call, and said he knew he was going to win. In retrospect, I think I handled it like a man should, I collected my phone, my glasses and headed to the bar, because after a bad beat like that, you need, need to have an adult beverage. As I sat at the bar, thinking about how lucky I was-if that was a cash game, I can easily see myself losing all my money, maybe my house and probably my car in that scenario. Then I find myself being that guy, the guy that says “Oh shit, how can I go home? I can’t tell my wife/girlfriend/boyfriend/husband about this, they’ll kill me.”

And that, is why I don't play professionally.