I was going through some photos the other day and came across a couple I wanted to share with my friends on Facebook. I still post quite a bit there and I get a fair amount of feedback, but the one of my girls and me at a Wedding Vows renewal ceremony got 125 likes and a lot of favorable comments, so I decided to share it on Twitter. I don’t have nearly as many “followers” as I have “friends,” mostly because I was a bad boy last year and, after 14 years, Twitter suspended my account. I believe it was because, in an answer to someone else’s tweet, I suggested the former guy might benefit from a heart attack. Oh, well!
Since these are two of my favorite pics of my girls and, since they’re about ten years old, I figured I would memorialize them here. After all, this is probably the most accurate historical record I’m going to leave and these girls are such a huge, profound portion of my life, it’s probably where they belong. So … in addition to continuing to share my Photoshop efforts on occasion, I’m going to put up more pictures of the girls … especially now that they’re both approaching adulthood.
The photo on the right received a nice welcome as well, though not quite like the “dressier” photo. It was taken after we’d eaten dinner at Toluca Lake Bob’s Big Boy. We had finished a long day of entertainment at Griffith Park, including a miniature train ride, horseback riding, a stopover at the Observatory, and a stop at Travel Town on our way out. I really miss these girls. They’re teenagers now (my oldest, Aimee, will be 20 in three months) and you can probably figure out what that means. <Sigh!>
I made two shopping trips yesterday. Well … actually, it was one trip to two places – Trader Joe’s and Vons grocery store. During most of the pandemic I’ve been shopping every Wednesday and Sunday morning, when TJ’s designates the first hour they’re open (0800 – 0900) to us old farts, as well as immunocompromised individuals and pregnant women. It’s a bit of a pain in the ass not to be able to just run out and get something I forgot or just discovered I need for a recipe, but I’ve gotten used to it … and I do run out on occasion.
I bring this up because when I checked out at Vons I was given a handful of these game tickets for their newest gimmick to bring people in. I didn’t buy much there—Trader Joe’s gets the bulk of our business, but they don’t carry lots of things we do fancy—but it was enough for the cashier to hand me about eight of these “tokens.” So … despite my being a bit averse to these side shows, they were offering lots of “free” things, so I downloaded the app and scanned in the bar codes to see if I could win anything. When my wife, Linda, saw what I was doing, she gave me a bunch of tokens she had received when she stopped at Vons the other day.
One of the things I “won” (I’m still not entirely certain how I can claim it without spending more on shipping, handling, etc. than I care to) was a 5 x 8 notebook from Shutterfly. In order to claim it, one must go to Shutterfly’s website and enter the code, etc. Truth to tell, I had forgotten I was a member of Shutterfly, but LastPass (my password memory hole) remembered for me and I soon discovered I had a bunch of pictures uploaded there. When I say forgotten, the last time I uploaded a photo to their site was in late October of 2009, well over 11 years ago; that’s quite a span, IMO.
One of the photos I found I am sharing here, but the thrust of this post (the title might be a bit of a giveaway, but probably not until you’ve read what I’m about to write) has nothing to do specifically with the photo; it merely reminded me of something I’ve noticed over the years and gave me a bit of an “aha!” experience. Let me explain.
This picture was taken sometime around 1980 and, I believe, was at Gulliver’s Restaurant in Marina del Rey, California. My wife at the time was a waitress there. My father’s oldest brother, Sam, was in town from Chicago and we were getting together for the first time in quite a long while.
A little family background from my father’s side: My father is the fourth of five children; the first born in the United States, and the third boy of four. My Aunt Sophie, who was in Chicago, her home, when this happened, was the only girl and the oldest as well. She, Sam, and Al (not pictured here) were all born in the Ukraine. My grandfather who, by the way, I have no recollection of, had come to the U.S. and it took him eight years to save up enough money to send for my bubbie, my aunt, and my two uncles to book passage to the states. They settled in Chicago, where my father was born a bit later.
Although I never heard much detail, I do believe they were escaping the pogroms taking place in Russia targeting Jews and they were lucky to get out intact. My zayde, his name was Max Wladofsky, came here (if my info is correct and I remember it correctly) around 1915, my bubbie and my aunt and uncles came around 1923, and my father was born in 1924.
So, as I’m looking at this picture I’m reminded of how many members of my family are named after English or Anglo-Saxon royalty. My father’s name was Edward, my name is Richard, and my brother’s name is Stephen. My mother’s name was Annette and, although I can find no Annette in a list of English monarchs, there is an Anne. It goes further. Note my one cousin in this photo was named Harold and his father, my uncle, was named Albert (no kings with that name, but there’s a famous Prince Consort named Albert – Prince Albert “in a can”) who was married to Queen Victoria. Harold’s older brother is named William.
Unfortunately, both of my parents are long gone and I can’t ask them about this somewhat strange number of people named after British royalty, but I can speculate it had something to do with a desire to not be discriminated against and to “blend” in to the new country they now called home. Having been born shortly after the end of WWII, I’m well aware of what I refer to as Jewish angst, the feeling that one is waiting for another shoe to drop, another insult or slight based on being Jewish, or that something bad might happen at any moment.
It’s worthwhile to note the two oldest siblings of my father were named Sophie and Samuel (more something like Schusa and Schmuel in Yiddish, which my paternal grandparents spoke fluently, as did my father.) Why the middle child was named Albert, though, I can’t figure; maybe it was in anticipation of their new home, despite the length of time it took to realize that dream. After that, it was Edward and Arthur.
At any rate, I’ve likely spent far too much time blathering on about my family but, hey, this is my blog and I’m allowed to sink or swim … or totally make a fool of myself. I started this blog in part as a way to record my thoughts, regardless of how valuable they might be or whether or not they resonate with anyone else. My interests tend toward the eclectic and I sometimes write as a sort of stream-of-consciousness activity to sort out my thoughts on a given subject. I’ve thought about this subject before; I’ve just never written about it, so here ’tis.
One of the ways I’ve been working on upping my writing game is by paying attention to what people are reading here on my blog so I might get an idea of what moves my readers. I have now posted well over six hundred times and about 90% of these posts are essentially essays regarding my thoughts about various things, e.g. politics, religion, life, the universe, and everything. The other 10% are tests and sharing things I’ve come across but have little to say about. I also occasionally have reason to look back myself, even if no one has recently read a particular post of mine I find interesting.
Because there have been many highly emotional news stories lately, and emotions are high to begin with, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the role of emotions and, especially, how they relate to empathy. Turns out I had written about empathy over eight years ago, long before Donald Trump’s presidency. Since the reality has hit us that he is entirely without empathy, I would like to share a concatenation of the two posts I wrote in late September of 2012. It’s my hope these two are as pertinent today as they were when I wrote them; perhaps more so because I was only writing then about my feelings and now what I wrote seems so pertinent to what we’re all experiencing in the waning days of this disastrous presidency.
The willing suspension of disbelief. What a powerful, magical, and exceedingly frightening thing it can be – at least for me. Not always, though. It’s been quite a while since my last venture into the genre but, a long time ago – in a galaxy far, far away – I read a lot of Science Fiction. Reading it can’t possibly be enjoyable if you aren’t able to suspend your ability to think critically. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the hell out of what many an author hated being called Sci-Fi.
I’m normally somewhat cynical and am a fairly skeptical person, so I’m continuously surprised at how easily I can get sucked into a compelling story, especially if the characters are even moderately complex. I think it actually frightens me to realize how deeply I have disappeared into many a television drama.
This tendency has no doubt been exacerbated by my becoming a father at the ripe old age of 55, when my wife and I culminated a decision we had made a couple of years earlier and traveled to the People’s Republic of China to adopt our first child. We repeated the process four years later and, at the tender age of 59, I once again became a new father.
I now find myself immersed in shows where children are involved (it happens far more often than one might think) and I can’t help but identify with the parents, which sometimes brings me to tears – occasionally racking sobs of grief.
It has always been this way. I’ve been told the men in my family – many of them – were blubberers. Though I couldn’t have been older than five or six at the time, I recall the first time I saw my father cry. He had just received news that my Bubbie Jennie, his mother, had died. He hadn’t seen much of her since moving to Southern California. She had remained in Chicago, where both my parents were born. It was eerie, and not a little unsettling to see my father, a young boy’s tower of strength and resolve, break down like that.
It was made more difficult because I had only met her once, when she came to visit for a week, and she was unfamiliar to me. On the other hand, my maternal grandparents lived with us and I felt a strong emotional tie to them I could not summon up for her. She was by Bubbie, though. My mother’s mother was just Grandma.
I frequently ask myself, however, why I am so deeply and painfully drawn into these stories. I’m not entirely certain I have the answer, but I’m pretty sure it’s not so much the story itself as it is the relationship those stories bear to my own life.
Dictionary.com defines empathy as follows: the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another. That seems pretty straight-forward, yes? I am a fairly empathetic person and I tend toward the second part of that definition, i.e. I feel the pain of others vicariously. However, I don’t think this captures the essence of what is happening when I am fully immersed in a story.
Perhaps it’s too fine a point and the distinction isn’t all that great, but it seems to me what’s really happening is I’m overlaying the experience in the story onto my own life. I’m not so much experiencing the feelings of another as I’m experiencing the feelings I would have were I to be in that situation. I don’t think they’re the same. Then again, maybe that’s the mechanism that actually facilitates empathy.
This is a minor conundrum that comes to me most every time it happens and, usually, I forget about it within a minute or two. Lately I decided to try and get a descriptive handle on it and this is my first attempt.
Empathy is a valuable and deeply human trait. It is one of the five traits listed as characteristic of emotional intelligence which, in turn, is seen by many as a valuable business and leadership skill. It’s important to understand and to cultivate in order that we may better understand the people in our lives, whether at work, play, or home.
I want to understand what is moving me when this happens. On some levels it seems patently ridiculous to get so emotionally involved in a fiction story. On the other hand, perhaps it is really what makes us human. I’m wondering if someone with a more classical education than I have knows more of the thinking humans have brought to the subject. I’m sure some in the Arts (especially the Theater Arts) have tackled it. I’ll have to do more research. In the meantime, I’m glad there’s plenty of tissue in the house.
As it turns out, thanks to a friend I discovered an interesting answer through a wonderful TED talk by VS Ramachandran, a Neuroscientist who has studied the functions of mirror neurons. It would seem there is overwhelming evidence we humans are more closely connected than I was hinting at.
In his talk he says, “There is no real independent self, aloof from other human beings, inspecting the world, inspecting other people. You are, in fact, connected not just via Facebook and Internet, you’re actually quite literally connected by your neurons.” I find this resonates in many ways with my understanding of Systems Dynamics, Quantum Theory, and Zen and goes a long way toward answering my question. Frankly I find it a meaningful addition to my understanding, but still find myself wondering why it manifests itself so powerfully in some . . . and not at all in others. After all, the world is filled with people who are anti-social in varying degrees of severity from mild conduct disorders to outright sociopathy or APSD.
Regardless, there is much value in this talk. He speaks of the wonders of the human brain and, with respect to the issues I raised yesterday, uses words like imitation and emulation, ultimately winding his way to empathy. Rather than repeat any of his talk, I urge you to listen to it. There’s at least one very cool surprise a little more than halfway through. At less than eight minutes, it’s really engaging. Here’s the video. I’d love to hear what others think of this:
I have to share these few paragraphs written by Dan Rather. They mirror my feelings well. I would like to add that staying home during this time has exacerbated the difficulties we’re experiencing with (mostly) our younger daughter. Things were tough enough when she was actually attending school. Now that she’s home all the time, it’s increased the friction and made my life far more stressful than, perhaps, it’s every been. Now for some Dan:
I sit locked in a self-imposed isolation as a deadly virus surges outside. Time frames for returning to any hope of a faint echo of normalcy stretch into the many months or years. This distant horizon strikes particularly deep for those of us at a certain age and stage of life. Our nation is adrift amidst rocky shoals with cruel incompetence as our captain and enabling cravenness as the first mate.
What a perilous time to live.
I know I am extremely fortunate. Neither the roof over my head nor the food on my table are in doubt. I have the privilege of protecting myself and my loved ones more than many. We don’t work in meat processing plants, or distribution warehouses, or even in hospitals. I strive to keep habits and schedules, but hours bleed and to-do lists go unchecked. What a moment to contemplate the future.
The basic tenets of decency, truthfulness, and compassion are torn across our political divide. We see scientists denigrated and charlatans exalted. We see the rule of law and the norms of our democracy debased for personal gain. We see our allies bullied and our adversaries coddled.
What a time to be an American.
But that’s just it. It is a time to be an American, to contemplate our future, and to live. We have had very dark days in the past. We have had deep, systemic injustices. We have faced daunting odds. And women and men of courage, of ingenuity, of resolve have stood up time and time again. They have said some version of, “we will not abide.” It is our duty to not abide either.
From the streets, to newsrooms, to online social and political activism, I see countless millions of Americans who are not abiding. We are living through damage, loss, and sadness that could have been avoided. Much trauma lies ahead. But I know most of my fellow citizens agree that this shall not be us.
I desperately wished this was not our lot. I wish so many things. I wish the hospital wards were empty. I wish kids were having a summer and could go to school safely. I wish small businesses weren’t closing. Heck, I wish I was at a baseball game trying to not have the mustard drip on my pants. That’s not where we are.
We must be true to ourselves to recognize that much of what we are seeing now was not only the product of the last few months or even the last three-plus years. We have big problems, wherever we look. But we see them now. And we must do the hard work to fix them, not only through the ballot box but through the energy of our hearts and power of our imaginations. Whatever despair I might feel is tempered with a hope that is growing within me. I will not abide, and I believe most Americans will not abide either. Courage.
I didn’t really realize until Linda pointed it out, but helping my youngest with her classes is forcing me to relive High School . . . and I hated it! I cut so frequently, it took me an extra semester and two excruciating terms of Summer school to graduate. And she’s only a sophomore!
Concurrently, time is beginning to exert itself. I had no trouble keeping up with my kids through my sixties, but my energy level is waning, probably exacerbated by the need to stay put, which results in lack of exercise and eating a little too much . . . of some of the “wrong” things.
Oh, well. It’s raining (actually, mostly drizzling) outside, so gloomy seems to fit the moment.
I’ve never understood how people who once loved and cared about each other can not merely drift apart (which is far more normal than we think) but who end up hating each other. In my early twenties, somewhere around 1969 (I think) I had been living in Berzerkely and wasn’t taking very good care of myself. I became very ill with a form of asthma. I ultimately decided—thanks to the I Ching; the Chinese Book of Changes—to return to Los Angeles and get medical help. I don’t quite remember how I met Susan, but we ended up living together and she literally nursed me back to health. Our relationship didn’t last that long, mostly due to my being an asshole, but we’ve remained friends over the years; perhaps because we shared a lot of the same friends. Susan Marlow is her name, and she sent me this short essay, which I want to share. Self-isolation, social-distancing, shelter-in-place, whatever we’re calling it . . . seems to be fueling some interesting creativity and innovation. I’m happy to share it.
PS – Thank you, Sue . . . for this and, especially, for taking care of me way back in the wayback machine. I’ve long regretted how I acted back then, but I’m pleased we both went on to have wonderful, interesting, and fulfilling lives and that we remained friends. Hopefully, we’ve got another decade or two to enjoy . . . once this is behind us.
by Susan Marlow – 26 March 2020
I am finding this Covid-19 isolation, while mostly strange, not entirely unpleasant. The disease has me frightened. It is such an unknown and one that I want to keep that way. Yet clouds can be fluffy and white and pretty or dark and sullen. They bring us rain which cleans and they filter and cool the heat. So too has this isolation that we are living through brought some very interesting and beneficial changes for us all.
“This too shall pass” and “That which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” are my favorite quotes. And perhaps that is what is happening. I actually do not mind being home I am not bored. I have oodles of half baked ideas and partially concocted schemes that I can pick up and play with. Who knows I might finish the knitting project, or begin my composting and renewed vegetable and flower garden. The composter has been ordered through amazon prime. I have learned to order household items to avoid shopping. My pointer finger is getting stronger, as I push those order buttons. With each boxed item it’s a bit like Christmas.
I have gone into the garden to collect worms for the composter. They are busy I hope eating what is in their temporary home. Now I’ve read that there are specific worms that are better than the garden variety. Wouldn’t you know it there are designer worms available on line 1000 per pack.
I am not much of a cook and my husband (the cook) has grown tired. His meals are not so exciting after 37 years. So we joined a meal delivery service. The food comes fresh and ready to prepare with complete instructions. Surprisingly it is a lot of work but very tasty. My back aches as I stand by the sink cutting chopping and stirring. So I prep the meal early allowing myself time to rest. Then maybe 2 hours later together we finish. It’s become a very nice, even anticipated activity for the two of us. Time is not of the essence anymore or maybe it is but there is a lot of it to spread about. We don’t have anything to argue about and we are able to laugh at ourselves quite a bit. I like that part the best.
I should tell you that I have actually been in semi isolation since 2/27 so I consider myself the expert. I love the quiet streets which remind me of my childhood where a kid could safely ride a bicycle at break neck speed down a hill across a residential street without much chance of getting creamed unless you hit a pothole and there were fewer potholes back then as there was less slurry, trees were younger and their roots had not yet begun to encroach. People are out walking cranky children or happy dogs. We are walking Peanuts twice a day and he is now a very happy doggy. We waive at our neighbors most of whom we have never even met. Hundreds of bees are darting to and fro through rain soaked flower beds.
Maybe people will once again remember how nice this all is and make the necessary changes to keep it that way once this crisis passes.
The amount of world nastiness seems to be reduced. Everyone seems to be getting the message that we are all in this together. Borders, walls, languages will not protect us. Jobs have changed and are still changing. Many types of employment never to be seen again or never seen before. Creativity is running high. California needs ventilators and someone is crafting them on 3D printers.
My husband and I seem to be getting along better than ever which amazes me. We treasure humor and stuff that makes us giggle a bit. I am checking on friends whom I rarely see. Despite our limits we are finding common concerns. People are caring for each other even at a distance which I find nothing short of magical. The meanness that Trump fostered has finally been challenged by something far bigger than that “Stable genius.” He can not buy it, sell it, hide from it, or manipulate it. Nevertheless, I know he tries.
I am learning more about myself. I’ve been sequestered for a month now. I can withstand a fair amount of isolation from others. But I can not stand our 24 hour news cycle. Our TV isn’t going on until 5:00.
I am finding that when I casually throw out “I love you,” I really do. I mean it. Likewise, the kiss throwing emojis have sincere meaning to me now.
This poem was written by a Facebook friend who I’ve never actually met and who lives on the other side of the continent, as do many of my FB friends. It’s haunting, poignant, beautiful, and not a little sad. I feel the same for my daughters, though my youngest is so troubled and needy, I can’t seem to do anything for her.
I’m trying to stay inside for the duration, but grocery deliveries are either delayed because of the demand or horrendously expensive. I will probably go through the weekend, but will venture out to Trader Joe’s on Monday, as I did this past Monday. Wish me luck . . . but please read the poem. It’s really a tear jerker (though, as a man, one of my superpowers is to choke ’em down.)
For Micaiah 3/26/2020 You probably don’t remember this: One day we were joking in the car after school. You said something about being a mistake. I corrected you. “I got pregnant by a…
This pic was taken in about 1972 or 1973. I lived for about two or three years with these guys in two three-bedroom homes, side-by-side in North Hollywood, CA. Two sets of brothers and two close friends. In the background, at one time or another, those two tanks held a couple of snakes. One of them was named “Ellis A. Piary” (because that’s where he/she was rudely captured by one of our number) and the other, naturally, was named “Lefty.” Two of the people in this photo are not on Facebook, but everyone’s still alive!! — with Rick London, Loren Goetz, Stephen Ladd, Tom Shannon and Mark London.
Sometime after this picture was taken, I traveled to Cuba with the sixth contingent of the Venceremos Brigade and, shortly after my return in the Summer of ’73, I began attending law school. There have been some changes over the years, and a couple of us don’t talk much with each other, but for the most part we’ve all remained friends.
I believe I wrote this poem in the early nineties. It was, at least obliquely, addressed to a woman I had fallen desperately in love with (this would be the last time in my life I fell that stupidly, at least until we adopted and I became a father.) The love of one’s child—especially the first—is far more powerful and nuanced than any other type of love I’ve ever experienced.
This poem, however, speaks to my desire to see this woman* open up and face some of what I thought were self-destructive fears that were keeping her from enjoying her life. It was complicated, as was she . . . and it just wasn’t to be. I have little doubt the somewhat crazy depth of my desire was just too overwhelming for her. Hey! I was just a kid . . . in my late forties.
There exists in all things A strength and beauty Unappreciated by those of us Who have suffered the constraints of narrow education Yet . . . it exists In repose Silently waiting for the moment of discovery In many of us it is doomed To remain unannounced unapprehended and, yet Undeniably It is there And there are those of us Who by some mad twist of fate Crush the beauty in ourselves Divert the strength And smother the fragile wonder of our lives Beneath pain and isolation Which we call self-protection
* I will not use her name in deference to my wife and children. She is a part of my history, but only relevant today to explain the motivation behind this particular bit of communication.
I spend a lot of time on Facebook and, once in awhile, I write posts that are a bit longer than a paragraph or two. I seldom cross post here, but it’s a habit I’d like to get into. This was originally posted Sunday morning, June 18, 2017 and I’m memorializing it the following day. Better late than never, eh?
My father died nearly 33 years ago; my maternal grandfather passed earlier that same year. I never knew my paternal grandfather. For nearly two decades, Father’s Day meant precious little to me.
Nearly 15 years ago, despite my having concluded for over a decade fatherhood would not be something I would ever experience, 14.5 month-old Aimee Lian (Cen Fuxing) was placed in my willing arms, and I became an adoptive father. I repeated the exercise when 33 month-old Alyssa Bai Yuan (Guang Bai Yuan) joined our family a few months after my 59th birthday.
At times I still marvel at the reality I am a father, and have been one for quite some time now. Today, I give thanks for the tremendous responsibility this has placed on me, which I have happily embraced and thoroughly enjoy. I have no idea how I’m doing or, more precisely, how I’ve done so far. Both my girls are now teenagers, who are notoriously difficult to read beyond the rolled eyeballs, the “I know”s, and the wholesale dismissal of virtually anything I say or do.
Yet, I take comfort in knowing I have done all I am capable of. Being a father at my age has been the most challenging and, definitely, the most satisfying thing I have done in my life. Today I am grateful for my wife’s desire to have a family and for our two girls, all three of whom have caused me to become the man, the father, I am. That thought, on this day, gives me the chills and fills me with gratitude and humility.
Happy Father’s Day . . . Today and every day, to all the men who struggle to be the fathers they believe their families deserve.
Since my retirement from Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne in 2010, I have spent quite a bit of energy on developing work as a social media marketer for small business, a business manager for an AI software development firm, and as an editor/proofreader for a number of business books and a couple of novels, as well as a two-year return engagement at Rocketdyne from 2015 to 2017.
I have decided to stop actively pursuing business in these fields and am now positioning myself to be a writer. I have done quite a bit of writing over the years, but I’ve never really attempted to make any money at it; at least not specifically. I’m starting out with a couple of memoirs and, currently, I’m studying the craft, creating a detailed outline and timeline, and honing my skills as a storyteller. Pretty sure I’ll be writing some fiction as well.
The views expressed herein are those of the author. Any opinions regarding the value or worth of particular business processes, tools, or procedures, whether at his former place of employment, at a current client's enterprise, or in general, are his responsibility alone.