Mid-Term Malaise…or How I Found Courage in the Gallows of Boredom

No, this post isn’t about the midterm elections this week, although I do have a whopper brewing in my head vis-a-vis my utter disappointment with the incumbent president’s performance.

This is about the space I find myself currently in.

Sheer boredom. Malaise. Mind numbing…nothingness.

I’m just slightly halfway through my fall semester at college. I haven’t blogged in quite some time. I’m slogging through core class requirements as I muddle my way towards my final two years at UCLA.

I worked 88 hours the last two weeks while studying for two exams in my Spanish and Algebra class respectively.

I have no life.

I have no time to blog/write anything other than vapid responses into the lamest online Spanish software ever created. Software that the instructor admits is inferior and responds to our concerns with “it’s not my problem, it’s your problem”.

Welcome to junior college.

This sucks…

I had an extraordinarily rare day off today that I spent getting a flat fixed, driving to my old college to begin the academic renewal process for an “F” I received 29 years ago in a Poli Sci class; and riding my bike 20 miles. I then spent well over 5 hours grinding through my Spanish exam and homework.

And it hit me.

Courage isn’t what happens when you are facing an immediate threat. Courage is borne out of the little things.

The willingness to persist when giving up would be so much simpler; when you can find a hundred reasons to rationalize your decision.

Courage is faith. Being willing to put one foot in front of the other when you can’t see the finish line. When you’re not even entirely sure where that finish line is and what it will look like.

I walked into the middle of a physical altercation the other day outside my apartment. A fight was in progress and I was in the midst of it before I was even sure what it was. I responded forcefully and decisively and defused the situation. Not because I have courage, but because it was reflexive, muscle memory gained in a previous lifetime.

Courage is simply not giving up when you’re not entirely sure what the outcome will be. But you know you’re doing the right thing, despite the sheer pedestrian nature of the task. And the long hours. And the absence of a social life.

It’s a quality problem to have. As tough as this road is right now, I know how fortunate I am to be on this path.

So to all those erstwhile meek students out there, grinding out those core classes, quietly tolerating those professors who are phoning it in while they collect their checks…I salute you.

In your own redundant ways, you’re displaying a great deal of courage.


Selfies Are Tough With Tears in Your Eyes…

Sean Newport
A little over two years I birthed this blog while I was on leave from work after hip replacement surgery. My first and second posts concerned the reality that my first-born was off to college. She’s now a successful college junior in D.C. I made sure to memorialize our last moments together with a (sort of) selfie of her and I together. Actually, the man taking the picture was my son.

My son. The man that less than a half an hour ago I kissed and embraced very hard as I said goodbye to him. My youngest begins his collegiate journey tomorrow. I meant to take a selfie to continue the tradition but a couple of things happened.

At some point in the evening after our awesome “guys” dinner at a local steak house and our post-feast visit to Starbucks, I needed him to go. Not because I wanted him to go but because the reality was starting to set in. And so were the tears. And the lump in my throat that is still present.

I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t about me at all…it is. The empty nest just showed up at my door and for the first time in my life, I have no genetic family within driving distance. But it’s so much more…

It’s the sadness of physically parting with my best friend. My son. My little guy who is now bigger than me.

It’s the joy of and excitement shared of watching him embark on what I am absolutely certain will be a wonderful experience at a Division I school and the promise of a bright future as he studies Biology and Pre-Med.

It’s the sadness of seeing the sands of time fall in front of my eyes. Each grain hitting the sand pile like a hammer on marble. It was acutely present tonight.

It’s the joy of accomplishment. My son and daughter are each talented and unique individuals who have set off on their own paths with enthusiasm and discipline. Four eyes on the prize for sure…

It’s the sadness of loss. Of saying goodbye to a man that means more to me than I could ever express in words. To a young man that carries my hopes and dreams for him along with his own.

So…any selfie I took tonight would have been smeared through the eyes of a proud father…

I miss you already buddy. Vaya con dios my son…


How I Spent My Summer Vacation…

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My fourth semester of the “Return to College Tour” starts tomorrow so I thought I’d share a few thoughts regarding the last few months.

When I finished the last semester I posted a blog stating I would use this summer break from school to hone my craft…blog-wise.

Ok, so that didn’t happen. What happened was that I realized life happens. And when life happens, I tend to get sucked into the vortex of drama that daily life can be.  To whit:

I moved back to the City of Los Angeles for the first time in 35 years.

I transferred jobs…to a more high-stress, high-return sales environment. So far so good. The challenge being to not get swept up in the upward shift in income as I will again need to downsize in 2017 when I enroll at UCLA.

And as always, people can be counted on to do the wrong thing. I’m currently mired in a landlord-tenant dispute with my old landlord (I’ll spare you the details, suffice it to say they are sticking me to the tune of several hundred dollars despite the oral assurances of their representative)…so yeah, that’s pretty fun.

And oh yeah, when I moved, as I was pulling in front of my new apartment complex, my nice shiny Penske rental truck saw fit to take the front bumper off a parked car. More fun.

At the end of the day though, I’m loving life. Although the next three semesters of school are core classes for the transfer to UCLA and have nothing to do with writing, I suspect the discipline needed to maintain my GPA will lend itself to actually doing some creative writing, aka my blog. We shall see…

Finally, I’m frankly staying as busy as I can to avoid the sense of impending doom I’m experiencing with the loss of my youngest child to the University of Oregon. My new Duck is also my best friend (he’s the handsome one in the photo above) and I am really sad that I won’t be able to see him as much as I do now. Of course, this is tempered by my immense sense of pride and love I have for him. I am incredibly excited to watch his journey, just as I have marveled at the journey of my now college-junior daughter on the east coast. But there is a special bond between father and son and I’m already hurting…the good kind.

So, much like every other chapter of my life, my best laid plans got waylaid. Life got in the way.

And it’s a good life.

*Note to self: quit making plans. Just do the footwork and let the results take care of themselves…

 


Killing the Disease

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The actor and comedian Robin Williams took his life today. Beyond this, I personally know very little of the details of the death or the events leading to the suicide.

There will be (and already is) prolific speculation regarding his motives in ending his life.

I’ll confine my discussion to what I know and how it may relate to this sad event.

Mr. Williams was a self-identified alcoholic/drug addict. Media reports indicate he had over 20 years sobriety before a relapse in 2006. He reentered rehab this year as a maintenance measure to maintain his sobriety, according to his representatives.

If I was putting money on it…I’m guessing he died sober.

Here’s what I do know. The effect chronic alcohol and drug use, particularly cocaine (a substance Robin admitted abusing), has on the neurochemistry of the brain is devastating. It takes at LEAST 2 years of complete abstinence before the user’s brain chemistry returns to a state of being where the individual is able to experience the same level of “happiness” that they did prior to use. Chronic, long-term use further damages/inhibits these receptors.

I know of many in the recovery community that suffer from profound depression; surprisingly, quite often after several years of sobriety. Unless you have been afflicted with this disease, it’s very hard to impart just how cunning, baffling, and powerful the allure of these legal and illegal chemicals are on the biology and chemistry of the brain.

In short: years of alcohol and drug use will cause changes in the structure and chemistry of the brain…often leading to profound depression.

Here’s what I also know. Robin didn’t need to take his own life. There are a myriad of drugs that combat these chemical imbalances and help maintain the homeostasis of emotion needed to…well…live.

Again, I don’t know the precise circumstances. I’m as heartbroken as anyone over the news of his death. He was a beloved celebrity that brought all of us many hours of joy. But I also lost a brother. A brother in sobriety. We lose brothers and sisters every hour of every day to this disease.

And it is a disease…

When Phillip Seymour Hoffman died, I made the argument for the disease model of alcoholism and drug addiction.

It is a disease. Just like depression. Just like heart disease. Just like cancer.

But nobody seems to care.

As long as it doesn’t happen to you or someone you love, it seems much easier to judge…to question the “will”…the “fortitude” of the sufferer. God forbid one did that for someone with cancer, but we do it with alcoholics and addicts every day.

And they continue to die of the most insidious and hated disease in our culture.

And we lose a lot more folks from this disease then we will from the current hysteria over Ebola.

It makes me sick…

Rest in peace brother. I know you are…I’ve witnessed the aftermath of enough suicides in my professional life to know you didn’t kill yourself Robin…you killed the disease.

If only we, as a society, could have killed it for you.

 

 


There is a Solution…

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I heartily profess to be no expert on middle eastern affairs, Judaism, Islam, Palestine, or the history of any of these regions/religions.

I am however a human being with empathy and an opinion. And a sense of fair play. Some call it common sense.

28 Palestinian children…children…have been killed in the last 24 hours. 27 Israeli soldiers have died since Operation Protective Edge has begun. Young men defending their country against an onslaught of rocket fire from the terrorist organization Hamas. They didn’t need to die.

This is the broad outline. The justifications are spewed by both sides. “They don’t recognize our right to exist…they are terrorists bent on genocide…we have a right to defend our citizens”. Hyperbolic statements are the order of the generation. And the truth lies in all corners.

The Jews have indeed suffered since the times of Ramses II. They are the so-called “chosen people” and have suffered a millenia of genocide and displacement. They are the proverbial abused child.

But study after study shows that the child who is abused, quite often becomes the abuser. And institutionally, I believe this is the case with the state of Israel.

Don’t get me wrong. They have terrorists at the door step (and tunnels) and they certainly have a responsibility to defend their state. But how much is too much?

I’m reminded of the legal concept of self-defense. An individual is allowed to use the same measure of force when repelling an assault.

Can the state of Israel claim this moral high ground? Of course not; and therein lies the fundamental problem and the solution to this conflict.

We, the United States, have wisely invested in the security of Israel for generations. However, the politicians who have been the beneficiary of this military aid…this state of the art weaponry, have been irresponsible in their deployment.

And I, as a tax paying American citizen, demand that my government take immediate action to stop the killing. We have the ability to be a game changer in this centuries old conflict, but we lack the moral courage to do it. It simply doesn’t poll well.

I see a glimmer of hope when the moderates in Israel are finally speaking out against their grossly aggressive government policies. For too long Israel has received a pass, largely as the result of empathy with their historic plight.

That ends now…at least as far as I’m concerned. It’s time for those moderates in Israel to demand restraint. To demand that their government take the moral high ground and rely on their superior defensive technologies. Put the onus of blame on the extremist in Hamas and garner the support of the region and the world.

Stop being the bully, protect your citizens through restraint. Stop the campaign to eliminate your neighbors and just take a deep breath and realize…children are dying. Innocent little boys and girls.

A paradigm shift is all that will end this endless loop of blood.

The killing must stop…

 


The Sport that Cried Wolf…

screen shot 2014-06-29 at 2.04.07 pm

I, along with millions of other erstwhile Soccer/Futbol enthusiasts, dutifully tuned in…or at least collegially kept up with, the World Cup tournament in Brasil. We were treated to a relatively deep run by the Team USA and some extraordinary individual performances by athletes from around the world.

We were also treated to a professional “sport” devolving ever closer to professional wrestling.

Yes, I’m referring to the staged “performance art” called WWE or WWF or whatever iteration it has taken on these days.

FIFA…I’m lookin’ at you. Square in the eyes in fact.

Your “brand”…your sport is becoming ever more increasingly difficult to watch, much less enjoy. Aside from the spectacular performances of some, the overall tone of this Cup has been flooded with flops. Oh, did I forget to mention borderline conspiratorial officiating.

I guess I should lower my expectations. After all, the World Cup is run by an organization rife with documented corruption and profound human rights abuses. The 2018 games hosted by the Russian Federation and their charismatic dictato…er…leader, Vlad Putin should be a real hoot.

The 2022 games in Qatar have set the bar below the horizon for widespread bribery and immigrant worker deaths in preparation for the games.

http://espn.go.com/video/clip?id=11019010

So it is against this bleak backdrop that I appeal to these neer-do-wells to clean up their sport.

Stop the flop.

My primary sport of choice…NHL Ice Hockey, is the antithesis of this widespread sissification. Hockey players play with broken bones, bloody stitches, and this year, Dallas Star player Rich Peverley died…yes DIED on the bench. After he was revived and on the way to the ER, his first words were “Can I go back in”.

That my friends…is what sport is all about. Competition. Guts. Honesty. Integrity.

Everything this World Cup has lacked.

The floppers are hurting themselves as well as the sport. Brazil star Neymar catches a knee in the back and goes down screaming…LIKE A HUNDRED PLAYERS BEFORE HIM…and the medical staff, with a liberal wink and nudge, casually toss him on a litter. Never mind the fact that he ACTUALLY broke his back. This is where a player will get hurt and where their histrionics will damage other players. Stop crying wolf lads…

Enough. My son’s girlfriend is an accomplished high school (now collegiate) Soccer player. She’s disgusted by this effeminate display of sportsmanship.

You’re losing me guys…the casual fan. But more importantly, your losing the millions of AYSO players that live for this sport.

Time to clean it up.


Coming Up for Air

Phew. That was tough. Tougher than I thought.

I work full-time and go to community college carrying just under a full-time unit load. I’m currently in the Honors Transfer Program with an eye towards enrolling at UCLA in the Fall of 2017 as an English Major (an admission I realize is suicide on a blog).

The Spring Semester ended yesterday and I got my ass handed to me. It wasn’t unmanageable but it seriously kicked my butt. 9 units, three core UC/CSU classes.

Poli Sci was the easiest of the three. I’ve been a political wonk/news junkie my entire life so a lot of the material was intuitive. Pretty sure I aced this class. The irony here is that in a former life I was a radio reporter and interviewed my professor 35 years ago when he sat on the local Board of Supervisors. Pretty sure this guy is at least 83 and still pretty darn sharp. Very inspiring.

Intro to Western Civilization was brutal but ultimately, fascinating. I had no idea I would have an interest in Ancient Civilizations, but now I’m hooked. That the teacher was rated on RateMyProfessor.com as one of the hardest history profs was something that eluded me prior to enrolling. She was extremely difficult. Her tests (minus the Final) were all essay. She required a 10 page research paper with 3 original sources. Suffice it to say Rate My Professor is now my first stop before I enroll. I did learn quite a bit in her class but ultimately was frustrated by her lectures. They were schizophrenic and didn’t seem to follow any form of structure that I (or my classmate) could discern. But at the end of the day, she had a passion for history and knew the material. I got an A.

Finally (and here’s the tricky part as this professor follows this blog and I’ve yet to receive my grade), despite the fact that I didn’t use Rate My Professor the last two semesters, I’ve scored big-time in my choice of instructors. My English 101 professor was fantastic and superb at the art of creating cogent research papers.

But this semester, serendipity caught up with me in my choice of English 102 instructors. Dr. Gino Pellegrini received his doctorate in English Lit from Purdue and specializes in multicultural studies. He is brilliant and personally inspiring. He is “that” teacher. The inspirational one. I have had only one other; Mrs. Doi in high school developed a love for English in me that continues today. Dr. Pellegrini nurtured that. His teaching style was engaging and the 3 hour class flew by. And did I mention he was incredibly hard? Early on in the semester I had a come-to-Jesus moment where I realized I was in way over my head and had no business being in his class…I was caught for the fraud that I am. But I persisted and worked hard. He made us write our asses off in class. Although I despised the handwriting, I loved the pressure, the immediacy of collating ideas and doing my best to make sense of them. It was a lot like blogging. For his final, he required a rewritten portfolio of our work and a research paper on an author. I chose my literary inspiration, John le Carre and had a literal blast writing it. I know he’s considered a genre writer, but I hope my paper changed that image. The Final was a 3+ page hand-written essay on Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye. I had prepared an outline in my head prior and felt pretty good about what I wrote. What I didn’t expect was the emotion that welled up within me as I wrote the paper. This is an extremely bleak work and as I wrote I suffered for the characters. It was emotionally draining. When was the last time your professor pulled that out of you?

Dr. Pellegrini demanded the best of me and I can’t thank him enough. I needed that. It has given me the inspiration I need to continue on the path I’m on and face even greater literary challenges.

You can check out his blog here.

So for better or worse, I have more time to blog. And I intend to, as the next 3 semesters will be void of any English classes. Maybe it’s time to get rolling on my novel too.

Either way…I hope you all had “that” teacher that inspired you. I’ve been lucky enough to have two in my life…

 

 


There is a Time for Censorship…

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This was too close to home. Both literally and figuratively.

The murders at UCSB were committed by a deranged man that went to High School next door to mine. His crime was committed in the campus community of a university that is well known to our area. One of the victims was from one of our local high schools.

Most chillingly for me however, the Facebook post of the older brother of my son’s best friends, and a friend of mine: “IV deli got shot up. People taking cover in Blaze. Stay inside and stay away.”

My friend was working at Blaze (a well-known Pizza place on the loop) when he heard the gunshots and saw the terrified bystanders take cover in his place of business.

I’ve had enough.

We’ve dissected Sandy Hook. We’ve examined the effects of the Reagan era mental health funding cuts.

We’ve talked gun control ad nauseum.

Now misogyny is being introduced into the debate of yet another tragic mass murder.

When. Does. It. Stop?

Here’s a humble suggestion: STOP publishing the names, details, videos, manifesto’s, and psychotic rants of these killers.

STOP IT NOW.

My son asked if I watched this clown’s YouTube video. Of course I didn’t. Why in the hell would I want to watch the pathetic lamentations of a killer. Apparently I’m in the minority though.

If the media would self-censor everything but the basic details of the killers (ie. age, location, occupation) perhaps these individuals wouldn’t develop such a sense of final self-aggrandizement.

They KNOW they are going down in a blaze of glory. Their pathetic lives will be celebrated by the TMZ’s of the world. Their meaningless existences will be broadcast and examined by every voyeuristic media outlet.

They will be famous. Their lives will finally have meaning.

Stop it. Just stop.

Let’s celebrate the lives of the victims. The innocent lives snuffed out by this nameless/faceless madman or woman.

Let’s not give these losers any more type, air-time, exposure.

Let’s leave them under the rock.

If we do this, maybe they won’t crawl out into the pale light any longer.

I’m not looking.

I encourage each and every one of you to do the same.


Seeking Meaning at the Tip of a Spear

One of the most fascinating byproducts of my return to college is studying history. I’m currently enrolled in a class named Introduction to Western Civilizations. The course begins with the Ancient Babylonians and Sumerians and the wonder of the Fertile Crescent. Yesterday we were introduced to Henry VIII. I recently finished our semester project, an exhaustive research paper that was to be heavily sourced and presented to an instructor quite familiar with the material. This was one I couldn’t fudge. I trudged through and received a much better grade than I had expected.

The subject of my paper was Alexander the Great and his impact on current military strategy and tactics.

We have been exposed to a wealth of material about wars through the ages. Prior to the Common Era, or the existence of Christ and the acceptance of monotheism, most, if not all of the conflicts revolved around land or access to natural resources.

But the common theme of warfare since the emergence of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, et al, has been the persecution of those individuals whose views did not comport with their own. In other words, if you don’t worship my idol, the value of your life is nothing and you have become a threat to my belief system. Therefore, I will kill you.

Clearly outrageous behavior back in those dark days before science enlightened us and allowed us to think critically and resolve many of the mysteries that were deified in ancient times.

I truly believe that deep within each man and woman, there is an unexplained (as of yet) hunger for meaning in our lives. Why are we here? What is our purpose? Compelling questions that have endured through the ages…along with the accompanying fear that if thy neighbor doesn’t share our conception of our god, it’s okay, if not encouraged…to kill them.

I am a spiritual man. I am not an atheist. I pray daily. I pray to an unseen spirit or energy. I don’t know what form my God takes. I deeply respect the freedom all mankind shares in worshiping whatever God they choose. I do not respect their ancient need to kill each other over these beliefs.

The inherent value of studying history is that we are not doomed to repeat the mistakes of our ancestors.

For those of you who hold a certainty about the form and existence of your God, I applaud you. I also ask that you put the spear down and let the rest of us worship our own God.

After all, don’t you think that’s the answer to the question: WWJD?

 


Cleopatra, 2014 AD

In the den of schizophrenia, I simply sought knowledge.

My purpose was simple.

Nothing more. Nothing less.

A grade. A pass. A complete.

You found your way to my side and I admit I was happy.

I had seen you to the north, and had discreetly hoped you’d make the journey.

And we shared notes, and knowledge, and even some of our detours.

Your blush

The richness of your lips…how can I turn aside?

We are all slaves to time…to the preordained timing of our circumstances.

Close your eyes and imagine…

Feel the comfort you see in my gaze and know

The heart is the mirror of the soul

And the heart doesn’t lie.

 

 


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