Wednesday, December 31, 2014

It's Just Another New Year's Eve; A Personal Reflection

     It's Just Another New Year's Eve, the final day of 2014. In the grand scheme of things, tomorrow is just another day; only the calendar starts over for 2015.  Many of we humans are socially programmed to experience tonight as an ending and tomorrow morning as a new beginning.  The truth is that every night is an ending and every morning is a new beginning, but we just don't tend to look at it that way. No, we trod through life day-to-day often not paying attention enough to our surroundings or the people in our lives. In general, I think we should pay more attention.  I've been making a conscious effort to do this for a few years now and I am so glad to be more aware.  I highly recommend it!
     In the social spirit of the holiday, I find myself reflecting on this past year and it has been full of change, of transition; endings and beginnings.

The hardest endings of 2014 had all to do with the people in my life. One of the hardest was the closing of the pub, not only because it was the end of a job I loved, but more so that it was the end of seeing so many people that I continue to love.  I miss the people I worked for and with; I miss the vendors who would come and go; I miss the musicians and the music with which they filled the space or the patio in the summer; I miss the regulars and I miss the irregulars! 

Six weeks after the pub closed I moved 850 miles away.  Saying good-bye or even so long to so many people turned out to be so difficult that I became completely numb and devoid of emotion for that period of time. I miss my friends from all aspects of my life in Chicagoland. My industry friends, musician friends, Tuck friends,  friendships I maintained from  church, friends from previous employments, friends from classes I took or seminars I attended.  It's crazy how the prospect of leaving causes one to take stock of their friendships.  I get overwhelmed thinking about how utterly grateful I am to have such people in my life (that includes the people here in New Jersey too!) who allow me the honor to care for them so dearly and how fortunate I am that they care for me in return.

Another ending that occurred as a result of my move is that the ending of living alone, on my own. I realize that I moved to be with and take care of my aging mother, and I am glad to do it.  That does not change the fact that I am in some ways now tethered whether real or imagined.  I have different responsibilities and accountabilities which crimp my freedom a bit. Mom became immediately dependent on me and I noticed quickly how she is no longer the woman she once was; slower, forgetful, regimented, easily confused.  On the other hand she remains robust, vital and profoundly competent in so many ways. I am still learning and we are still figuring this whole thing out.

2014 has also been a time of beginnings.  I began taking photography classes so I can begin to understand what the heck I am doing.  I began learning new things in other areas too.  I wanted to understand physics so I listened to the Feynman lectures, twice!  I'll need to do that again in 2015 as well.  I began listening to lectures in other subjects as well in a quest to be more well-rounded in what I know. 

     When I moved back to New Jersey there were lots of beginnings:
     Living with  my mother after 32 years out is a huge beginning; bigger than I ever really imagined.  This one comes with a whole bag of differences.  I went from living in a three bedroom condo in complete privacy to living mostly in one room a two bedroom home.  Other than rearranging some things my bedroom is MY space. The rest is my mother's house.  That feels weird at my age and in some ways it also feels wrong.  I'm still working through those issues.  I am sometimes unsure how to resolve them.  I feel like I don't know what the rules are or if there are rules at all.  After 10 weeks here, I am still figuring it all out. 

Some of the other beginnings:
  • Renewing friendships from years ago and beginning to learn who my childhood friends have become
  • Beginning to live in a culture that seems foreign to me after a 26 year absence
  • Beginning to learn my way around a new geography. I never lived in this part of  the state.  I can get to specific destinations but I haven't mastered knowing my way around quite yet.  Part of the problem is that I spent 26 years in a glorious grid system where north meant north (leaving out Wacker Drive here!). Here the roads are squiggly as hell and often when I'm on a road marked north I'm going east or west or even southwest!  It's frustrating... and confusing!
  • Finding where it is good to eat (It is strange not knowing where to go or having favorite spots close by where I feel comfortable)
  • Birding.  I started birding and that is one of the BEST beginnings of the year for so many reasons but the most wonderful reason is the who.... who I go birding with makes it even more wonderful!
  • There's another beginning tomorrow.  Tomorrow, on the first day of the year, I begin a new job.  After four months of not working I cannot tell you how thrilled I am at the prospect of working again. It is not just for the moneymaking aspect of a job, it's about my sanity and need to feel like I'm contributing to something and my need to contribute here at home.  It's about the prospect of meeting new people and learning their stories.  It's about learning something new or at least a new way to do things. It's about beginning to feel settled because the normalcy that only work can provide will be present in my life again. It's not the perfect job, but I will make it work and at the very least, make money there.

It seems clear that the transition of this move is not yet complete. The process will continue well into 2015 and that's OK.  I'll figure it out eventually.  I do have one confession to make though: This has been harder on me than I have let on to anyone and harder than I care to admit to myself.  I have beat myself up, isolated myself physically and emotionally for weeks at a time. I vacillate from wanting to cry constantly and then getting numb again, seemingly impervious to these transitional emotions.  I lost my courage for awhile, though it seems to be coming back now as I am venturing out on my own to explore and seek new experiences in my new environs. I lost confidence from sending out hundreds of resumes every single week and mostly hearing crickets through the silence as I awaited a response from any prospective employer. I thought I was competent at such a variety of things that I could have been a great fit with many of the places to which I applied.  I could have helped them grow, be more efficient and profitable. It was, and still is, hard to understand why I did not get responses. Obviously my skills are not as marketable as I believe. 

There is a lot to look forward to in the new year.  More beginnings, more transition and maybe even some unexpected endings.  Time will tell: It always does.  In the mean time, I look forward to:
  • Friendship: Growing the ones I have renewed as well as the ones far away and making new ones too. Supporting my creative friends by attending their performances regularly.
  • Family: Seeing my family more now that I live in proximity.
  • Work:  learning, making money and moving into a position I want over time
  • Adventure: exploring my surroundings, the parks, history and culture that is within my reach
  • Photography: learning and developing greater skill, getting additional equipment, becoming more proficient at editing my images, perhaps even entering a few in some competitions
  • Writing: Continuing my trend of being more diligent and disciplined with my writing by producing more blog posts and perhaps finally finishing that damn book I've been working on for over a decade.  Even if nobody ever reads it in a published format, it needs to be finished.
  • Birding: learning more about our fine feathered friends and combining this knowledge and exploration with my photography.
  • Learning/Reading:  Continuing my trend of reading more educational things rather than spending or wasting time on drivel.

I also have one thing I'd like to add to my life in 2015 and it's the closest thing I have to a resolution: volunteerism.  I want to find a worthy pursuit or two with which to get involved and volunteer some time and talent. 

How about you?  What are your reflections on 2014? What are you looking forward to in 2015?
I wish each and every one of you a year more wonderful than you can ever imagine.  Be well, smile often, love big and choose the attitudes of gratitude and happiness every single day before your feet hit the floor.

My love to all... today and every day.

Friday, December 19, 2014

A Diner Story (Only in New Jersey!)

    New Jersey is known for a lot of things and not all of them are good. One of those things is that there are a crazy number of diners. In fact we have the most diners in the world; real diners, not "family restaurants" that think they are diners.  Jersey diners come in all shapes and sizes, many even resemble the train cars of their distant past. More often than not they are open 24 hours and they all have huge menus, great coffee, weathered servers and decent prices. There are diners in every town - usually more than one - and often one of them is named after the town, which is nice because then you know where you are when you are eating. Some of these diners are owned by Greek families and just like in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, many of the family members work there: This can be a source of dining entertainment. In fact, you never know what might happen at diner in New Jersey.
     Another quality New Jersey is known for is the rudeness of its people, especially the women, and sometimes Jersey girls really can be headstrong, opinionated and very picky. Occasionally one of those Jersey girls (who, by the way, are all ages as long as you have the correct chromosome pair and breathe) goes to a diner and is hell bent on having things her way. What follows is what my mother and I witnessed recently in a strip-mall diner in a retirement community.
     Mom and I decided to go to one of the local diners in her neighborhood; one with the name of the town. It was 6 PM and the place was dead, not because it's a bad diner, but because senior citizens are "early birds" for the most part, but Mom's a rebel and will go out to eat a little later. We were greeted by the owner's wife as always and she walked us over to a 4-top along the back wall. We were the third inhabited table in the place. I think there were more servers on duty than there were customers actually, but they seemed happy regardless as some of them gathered up at the counter and chatted between doing the rounds for side work or to check on their customers if they had any. 
    I put my purse down at the table and pulled my chair out, but when I sat down it felt like something bit my butt.  I popped back up like a piece of bread out of a toaster and ran my palm along the seat cushion. Nothing!  I felt nothing, so I sat back down. Ouch! There it was again so I got back up and this time I pressed on the cushion in the appropriate vicinity and sure enough there was a small nail facing up which my derriere found twice as it pressed down. Up I popped again and began to swap chairs as our energetic young server approached to table and asked me if everything was alright.
    I explained that there was a nail sticking up from the chair and she insisted that rather than swap the chairs, that I give the offending piece of furniture to her so she could remove it from the floor. Smart girl. Right? Being a curious human being, she was most interested in where the nail was so she lightly pressed on the cushion as her hand surveyed its surface. She did not find the culprit with her first pass and the puncture of the pleather was undetectable without the correct amount of pressure.  I encouraged her to press harder and pointed to the area where the sneaky bastard was lurking below the surface. On her second pass she found it, "Shit! That's somethin' huh!?" she said as she then pressed on either side of the nail to get a good look while one of her more curious colleagues approached to learn what all the fuss was about.  Our server then allowed her coworker to find the sharp protrusion the hard way too.  Maybe New Jersey is a little sadistic too?  Nah. 
    With such a dramatic precursor to our dinner, we settled in and placed our order: a burger and coffee for me, a cheesesteak and decaf for Mom. As usual, my mother had to hit the restroom before the food got there so she got up to make her way to the back of the restaurant while I fiddled around with my phone to kill time until she returned. As she was returning to the table, the hostess was seating a tiny woman of about 80. She was perhaps five feet tall and weighed 90 pounds if she was lucky. She was flying solo and had a thick book to read while she was waiting for her food and such. 
    A server went over to her table to take her order, "I'll have a glass of water and a Chicken Parmesan sandwich. Make sure that comes out so that I can cut it and that it's not messy.  I don't want to pick it up and have all the sauce and cheese fall out. I don't like messy sandwiches and I have to be able to cut it.  Make sure you tell them."  The server smiled, promised to let the kitchen know of her requests, did an about face and walked into the kitchen.  I started shaking my head and smirking which got Mom curious to know what was going on.  I told her I have to let her know later. We only a few tables away and I didn't want the little old lady to hear what was going to be a parody of her ordering diatribe. 
    Our food came out fast and hot, another signature of a Jersey diner, and we dug in and made small talk as we ate.  A few minutes later, the server comes out with the picky old woman's plate followed closely by the owner - a 6-foot tall, 300 pound, white-haired, bespectacled man.  In a kind demeanor with a voice incongruently soft and gentle compared with his appearance, he repeated the instructions that were given to the kitchen and explained how they did their best considering the nature of the sandwich she ordered. The woman was openly disappointed with the appearance of her sandwich and informed the man who was trying to help her that it was not the way she wanted it and that she could tell just by looking at it that the sandwich was going to be messy and not easily cut. 
    I stopped eating and cocked my head to tune into the conversation more intently because I could not believe what I was hearing.  The owner remained calm and concerned.  He seemed determined to make his customer happy and was willing to do whatever it took.  I watched as he gently manipulated the sandwich to tuck the cheese in and gently cut through.  He then maneuvered its contents as he explained that "doing it this way it will all stay in the roll."  I was impressed and thought this woman would be thrilled that she received so much attention just to make sure she got what she wanted. I could not have been more wrong.
    After this gentle giant went above and beyond what anyone would expect the woman said, "It doesn't even look like a sandwich anymore. It's all a mish-mosh.  Why do they have to make them so the cheese falls out?  Why do they have to be so messy.  This isn't a sandwich."
    The owner tried a few more minutes to make the sandwich work for this demanding customer before she unceremoniously dismissed him from her presence. He walked away, back into the kitchen, never allowing a grimace or flinch to appear on his face as the woman picked up her sandwich.  She examined it, shook her head, sighed loudly then put it right back down on the plate. Her server went over to the table immediately. She asked the woman if everything was alright and was told in no uncertain terms that it was not.  She demanded in the most sickeningly sweet yet condescending tone for the offensive food to be removed from her table and that a menu be brought. I was shocked, shaking my head and outright staring in disbelief.
    A few minutes passed and the server returned to the battleaxe with a smile on her face and took a new order.  The woman returned to reading her book while she awaited the arrival of her food.  Take 2: a turkey club on whole wheat.  A sandwich which would not be messy, came precut into quarters and only needed a little slathering if mayonnaise to make it edible. I watched as the woman applied her chosen condiment with surgical precision while her server sat at the counter enjoying a hot dog. 
    By the time the smallest, most demanding old biddy took her second bite, Mom and I were finishing up and ready to head off to the cashier to pay the bill.  On the way out, I slowed down at the counter and whispered at the server, "You have the patience of a saint!"
     She turned to me and laughed, "I have a lot of kids." she said, "a lot of kids!"  We laughed together. "Have a merry Christmas ladies," she called out as we walked away.
     "Same to you!" we answered back, and off we went still shaking our heads that a little old lady could behave so badly all by herself at a diner.  Jersey girls!  Gotta love 'em. ;)

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Sony & The Hermits

     On Christmas Day, Sony Pictures was planning to release a film called The Interview, a dark comedy about a plot to assassinate the narcissistic "Supreme Leader" with short man over compensation syndrome, Kim Jong-Un starring James Franco and Seth Rogen. In the lead-up to the release date, cyber terrorists backed by North Korea attacked Sony Pictures compromising and exposing email, sensitive information and the movie Annie among other things. Sony Pictures stood strong and proceeded with the scheduled release date; that was until yesterday. New threats, this time against theaters showing the film emerged urging movie-goers to stay home and even suggesting that people living close to those theaters to get away. In response, Sony halted the Christmas release date and further announced that it had "no further release plans for The Intervew which includes digital on-demand services and DVD.
     Really? SHAME ON YOU, Sony Pictures! What kind of precedent are you setting here? Are you just going to bend over and allow a tiny hermit nation to thwart your plans to exercise free speech to point out the ridiculousness of their regime and cruel treatment of their people ? Are you going to allow empty threats to dictate your actions, to stop you in your tracks, to cause you to willingly lose revenue? Are you going to lay down and surrender to the ravings of a lunatic when you could have artistically squashed him like the little bug he is?  Why?  Why would you do this?  
     Sony Pictures is an American subsidiary of  the larger Japanese company Sony Corporation and one can't help but wonder if there is pressure from the parent here due to some sort of unwritten Asian code of protection even for the most debauched ideologies of their region. Regardless, Sony Pictures sits on American soil and operates in our marketplace and should not for one instant consider any pressure that would infringe on or coerce against the exercise of free speech. This is America! We don't give in to terrorism!
    Wait! What? We don't give in to terrorism?  
    No!  We do not!  We would never give in to terrorism.  We would never allow our freedoms to be denigrated. We would never give in to fear! Lawmakers would never attempt to pass laws that would cause us be considered criminals first!  We would never allow ourselves to be searched in order to board a plane just because a bunch of idiots used planes as weapons one day.  We would never become complacent should surveillance become widespread and increasingly encroaching, completely destroying our right to privacy. We would never put up with having to show identification just to by a nasal decongestant or chemicals to unclog our kitchen drains. We would never give in to the terrorist antics of bully theocratic nations!  If we give in to fear tactics then the terrorists win.  We would NEVER allow that.  Would we?
    Oops. My bad. As speculated in the past, we would, and we have done. The biggest fear we should have had after September 11, 2001 was not jihad, but the opportunistic power-hungry government under which we live. In fact those in power will use this and any crisis, large or small, to encroach further on our freedoms, our privacy, our very lives. Don't allow it. Stop it now.They were then and are now the greatest threat to our freedom, the most basic of which is freedom of speech in all its forms and genres. 
     Freedom of speech includes satire, ridicule, parody, etc., and comes with the right to offend: all great tools to get information across and cause thought and discourse. Sony Pictures, you should not be dissuaded but rather ramp up! Increase promotion of this movie. Expand its release. Give it away for free! Ridicule the hermit country and its regime of oppression. Ridicule religion. Ridicule politics. Ridicule ignorance. Ridicule yourselves. Stand up, Sony! Do not shrivel in the face of terror. Instead, release the movie in which you invested time and resources!  Laugh in the face of this empty threat and more importantly laugh loudly in the face of one itty bitty bully named Kim Jong-Un.