Oct 312018

Last night in evening stop-and-go traffic, I noticed that the woman behind me was smoking a cigarette—but as stealthily as she could. She would duck down to take a drag and inhale, and only pop back up when she was about halfway through her exhale.

I immediately felt for her. She was 40ish, probably a wife and mom, and probably in the nascent midst of the latest of a long string of failures to quit smoking. Soon she would get home, where she would pretend she hadn’t been smoking and her family would pretend they didn’t smell it. Later, there might be an after-dinner “errand” she had “forgotten” so she could get out and do it again.

And this morning, or tomorrow morning, or the morning after that, she will try again.

And eventually, it will take.

The patch I still keep as a constant reminder that I’m a recovering addict, not “cured.” The addiction is never across the ocean, across the country, or even on the other side of town. It stays about six blocks away. That’s how it works.

If you are that woman or someone like her (as I once was), you have every ounce of sympathy I can possibly muster. If you care for that woman or someone like her, you have my impassioned plea to be patient with her.

Of the things in my life that are completely under my control, I have never done anything more difficult than quitting smoking. Let me say that again so you don’t miss it:  I have never done anything more difficult than quitting smoking. I finally succeeded in the summer of 2011. I don’t know how many times I tried, but 100 is a good guess, and I’m not exaggerating at all. If you’ve never been through it, then I can’t explain it to you in a way that you’ll understand.

Very few people get to be 40 years old with a family and genuinely want to continue smoking. If you love someone who is trying to quit and hasn’t succeeded yet, know that your loved one is feeling crushing guilt every time she fails. As frustrated as you get with it, know that she feels that tenfold. Shaming her won’t help. Always be positive. If you can’t be positive, don’t say anything.

She can’t quit for you. She has to quit for herself. She will get to that place more quickly with an encouraging support system.

Love her. Cheer her on. Pray for her. Never shame her.

 Posted by at 12:32 pm
Oct 272018
  • So the Trash Pandas’ logo unveiling and first official merchandise sale is today. I’ve been ambivalent about getting anything to wear, but now I’m thinking I might have to just to identify myself as the opposite of the tightly wound people who are still all in a twist about the name.
  • It became public knowledge yesterday that as a result of his crash at Pocono, Robert Wickens is a paraplegic. Wow, do I hate that. Keep fighting, man. We’re all pulling for you.
  • Cyn Shea’s is a really cool place that apparently absolutely everyone but me knew about. Ashley and I went for lunch yesterday, and I’ll definitely go back.
  • Alabama is off today, but the Georgia-Florida game couldn’t be a better one to watch for clues about how next week’s game might go.
  • Yes, I’m even digging the chilly rainy days. Part of fall. And fall rocks.
  • I haven’t been working very hard to lose any more weight, and though I’ve mostly held my progress, I’ve given a little bit of it back. Just set an ambitious-but-doable three-month goal to break off some more ground. Prayers appreciated if you are so inclined.
  • Trying a slow-cooker pork tenderloin chili recipe for dinner. It sounds good, but it’s got a jar of salsa in it, and I’m not generally fond of composite ingredients in such things. Call it a proof-of-concept for me to start tinkering on my own.
 Posted by at 11:13 am
Oct 222018

I was honored when my Oxford classmate Mary asked me to come up with a 100-song playlist for Saturday night’s 30-year reunion. (Because, let’s just be blunt:  who could do that better than I could?)

I tried to balance big hits that everyone would want to hear with songs they probably hadn’t heard in a while that would make them say “oh yeah, I remember that one!” Seemed like that was accomplished very well.

For a few tunes I stray as far as 1982 or 1983, but most of them are ’86-’88.

“99 Luftballons,” Nena
“Alone,” Heart
“Always,” Atlantic Starr
“At This Moment,” Billy Vera and the Beaters
“Big Time,” Peter Gabriel
“Billie Jean,” Michael Jackson
“Boys of Summer,” Don Henley
“Brand New Lover,” Dead or Alive
“Breakout,” Swing Out Sister
“Burning Like a Flame,” Dokken
“C’est La Vie,” Robbie Nevil
“Catch Me I’m Falling,” Pretty Poison
“Come Dancing,” The Kinks
“Control,” Janet Jackson
“Crazy Crazy Nights,” Kiss
“Crush On You,” The Jets
“Dancing on the Ceiling,” Lionel Richie
“Danger Zone,” Kenny Loggins
“Destination Unknown,” Missing Persons
“Diamonds,” Herb Alpert
“Don’t Disturb This Groove,” The System
“Don’t Forget Me When I’m Gone,” Glass Tiger
“Don’t Shed a Tear,” Paul Carrack
“Don’t You Forget About Me,” Simple Minds
“Don’t You Want Me,” The Human League
“Dreams,” Van Halen
“Electric Avenue,” Eddy Grant
“Electric Blue,” Icehouse
“Every Rose Has Its Thorn,” Poison
“Every Time You Go Away,” Paul Young
“Everybody Have Fun Tonight,” Wang Chung
“Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” Tears From Fears
“Faith,” George Michael
“Fight for Your Right to Party,” Beastie Boys
“Freak-a-Zoid,” Midnight Star
“Head to Toe,” Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam
“Heart and Soul,” T’Pau
“Heaven Is a Place On Earth,” Belinda Carlisle
“Here I Go Again,” Whitesnake
“Higher Love,” Steve Winwood
“Hold On To the Nights,” Richard Marx
“Holding Back The Years,” Simply Red
“Home Sweet Home,” Motley Crue
“Hungry Eyes,” Eric Carmen
“Hungry Like the Wolf,” Duran Duran
“Hysteria,” Def Leppard
“I Can’t Wait,” Stevie Nicks
“I Just Called To Say I Love You,” Stevie Wonder
“I Knew You Were Waiting for Me,” Aretha Franklin and George Michael
“I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” Whitney Houston
“I’ve Had The Time of My Life,” Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes
“Into the Groove,” Madonna
“Invisible Touch,” Genesis
“It’s the End of the World As We Know it (And I Feel Fine),” REM
“Keep Your Hands To Yourself,” The Georgia Satellites
“Lay Your Hands On Me,” Bon Jovi
“Let’s Dance,” David Bowie
“Let’s Go All The Way,” Sly Fox
“Let’s Go Crazy,” Prince
“Life in a Northern Town,” Dream Academy
“Looking for a New Love,” Jody Watley
“Love Removal Machine,” The Cult
“Love Shack,” The B-52s
“Midnight Blue,” Lou Gramm
“Money for Nothing,” Dire Straits
“Mony Mony,” Billy Idol
“Need You Tonight,” INXS
“Never Gonna Give You Up,” Rick Astley
“Next Time I Fall,” Peter Cetera and Amy Grant
“Nobody’s Fool,” Cinderella
“Nothing’s Gonna Change My Love For You,” Glenn Medeiros
“Oh Sheila,” Ready for the World
“Only In My Dreams,” Debbie Gibson
“Our Lips are Sealed,” The Go-Gos
“Out of Mind Out of Sight,” The Models
“Perfect Way,” Scritti Politti
“Power of Love,” Huey Lewis and the News
“Pretty In Pink,” The Psychedelic Furs
“Push It,” Salt-n-Pepa
“Rhythm of the Night,” DeBarge
“Rock Me Amadeus,” Falco
“Small Town,” John Mellencamp
“Something About You,” Level 42
“Something So Strong,” Crowded House
“Sunglasses At Night,” Corey Hart
“Sweet Child O’Mine,” Guns N Roses
“Take It Easy,” Andy Taylor
“Take On Me,” a-ha
“Tarzan Boy,” Baltimora
“The Honeythief,” Hipsway
“The Promise,” When In Rome
“The Rain,” Oran “Juice” Jones
“The Way It Is,” Bruce Hornsby and the Range
“Thunderstruck,” AC/DC
“True Colors,” Cyndi Lauper
“Two of Hearts,” Stacey Q
“Under the Milky Way,” The Church
“Venus,” Bananarama
“Walk Like an Egyptian,” The Bangles
“Walk This Way,” Run-DMC with Aerosmith
“We Don’t Have To Take Our Clothes Off,” Jermaine Stewart
“Weird Science,” Oingo Boingo
“West End Girls,” Pet Shop Boys
“When Smokey Sings,” ABC
“Wishing Well,” Terence Trent d’Arby
“With or Without You,” U2
“You’re the Inspiration,” Chicago
“Your Love,” The Outfield

 Posted by at 12:08 pm
Oct 192018

Lea is my first wife, but she was my second fiancée.

Beyond a passing mention, I’ve never written here about that first serious relationship I had. But I thought of her and that time in my life again recently, in a context of trying to remember who I was then and gleaning my impressions for possible parenting insights.

If you’ve known me since college or earlier, then you know who she was, so it’s not really a secret. Even so, I’ll call her Cora for the post.

Cora and I met in Russian classes at UAH. We were cordial acquaintances for a little while, but once we got together we got serious pretty quickly. Cora was smart, kind-hearted, and pretty. She laughed at my jokes. We had a lot of fun together. We were good. I think we were a lot of people’s favorite couple.

We were engaged when Cora got an opportunity to study overseas. She would leave Labor Day weekend and would not return until the following June, putting our separation at a little more than nine months. Our plan was to stay engaged and pick back up where we left off when she returned.

I was all of 21 years old when we made these plans. She wasn’t much older. Our plans were unsound, constructed with generous amounts of naiveté and immaturity.

And—spoiler alert—they didn’t work out.

Really, we were doomed from the start and didn’t realize it. Cora wanted to travel the world, and she was willing to be a lot less comfortable than I was to do it. You can have all the love, common values, and whatever else in the world, but if your basic life plans don’t align to some significant degree, it’s not going to work.

Catalyzed by continual sensory overload and aggravated by spotty communications home—she was in a former Soviet republic to and from which phone calls were erratic and hideously expensive, and this was all just before email was ubiquitous—this came into sharp focus for her. She broke our engagement around Christmas. In February, I got a letter in which she said she didn’t want to see me again. And when Cora did come back to the United States in June, she was married to a man she had met over there.

I was shattered.

For a long moment—maybe two weeks—I was nearly paralyzed by misery. Then, I was socially and emotionally dysfunctional for a lot longer. It took me six months to get any mojo back, and another six months before I was even remotely equipped to try again with anyone. I clumsily fumbled away promising interactions and even a start or two with several good women during that time. Even though it all worked out, I can still cringe rather readily remembering some of those moments.

There was nothing inherently notable about what happened. It was the story of a broken heart. (In case you haven’t noticed, there are more than a few of those out there.) But it was my broken heart—the only one I ever had.

Now. I told you that story to tell you this one.

Until that moment in my life, my approach had been to do “the next thing.” I had never really tried to sit down and map out my plans. There were always forces out there to which I could hitch, so I did. I knew I didn’t want to be an engineer, because I didn’t enjoy higher math. What are you going to do? I don’t know, but I’m going to communicate. Major in Communication Arts. Technical writing internship? Yeah, I’ll try that. OK, that was fun. Now I’m going to be a technical writer.

I tell you, it was almost that low-key. I was just checking boxes.

The “next thing” for me at that moment, besides that Cora and I would get married upon her return, was that she was going to graduate school out of state. So I would find work there while she pursued her master’s. No thought required.

But then, suddenly, Cora was Mrs. Someone Else. Then I didn’t have a next thing.

I had moved out of Dad’s house. There was that. But I was still making $6 an hour at the bookstore at which I had worked all the way through college, and while I dearly loved being on my own, I didn’t have a lot of money at all. So I started selling cars. My standard of living improved. Then an old bookstore colleague who had landed at Intergraph called me to interview for an opening in her department. I got that job in January 1994. I met Lea in July, and we started dating in October.

And my actual adulthood started. I was 23.

Now, 24 years after that October, our older son is getting close to adulthood. Let’s say he’s not yet on final approach, but he’s talking to the tower. And I think several factors are contributing to him and his peers perhaps feeling considerably more pressure than I did to have a Life Plan.

You know what? Mostly, I think they ought to relax.

I think sometimes, people make such plans and it works out fabulously. They write down all of the bullets. Then they check all of the boxes in order. And finally, they live happily ever after.

And I think other times it’s a fast track to misery, riddled with the guilt of unmet expectations, perceived wasted time, possibly large amounts of squandered money, and such.

I think those who are able to make detailed plans in which they feel confident, and then execute them, are doing great things. But I think perceived pressure to make such a detailed plan is actually a compelling reason not to charge into one.

There is plenty to be said for young people trying to make some choices, where said young people can see them, that are consistent with adulthood, independence, and the lives they think they want to have. But—whether they are planned or unexpected—TBDs aren’t automatically the devil. I suspect that path to that Grown-Up Place is often shorter with a squishy step or two than it is setting them all in concrete and then having to dig some of them up later.

After all, I had a plan too.

 Posted by at 3:02 pm
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