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Tag Archives: memories

Ode To A (Writer’s) Blockhead

Here I sit, broken hearted

Tried to blog, but couldn’t get started.

So I sit here in the parking lot, devoid of useful thought. Funny how that works. When my muse chooses to breath some life into my aging brain, I can go on and on. Unfortunately, most times I sit here, incapable of doing more than some light blathering. Maybe tomorrow.

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Sometimes I Wonder Why I Care

Maybe it’s just me, but I find as I get closer to the finish line, many things don’t seem quite as important as they used to. After all, I’m going to be dead for eternity. I won’t even be me. I just. won’t. be. I’ve been contemplating this as long as I can remember, and I still can’t quite wrap my head around it.

So, all these things that seem to matter so much, soon enough won’t matter at all (at least not to me). Yet I continue caring.

‘Tis a bother.


Please Forgive My Selfish Indulgence

I was just going through some of my PowerPoint files, looking for one very specific file in which I’ve gathered many of the great, useful graphics (like this) Dion Hinchcliffe has created over the years. As I was searching I came across a program I put together for my mother’s funeral, which will have been eleven years ago this coming March 5.

Annette Ladd

My mother at about 18 years old. This is one of the pics I used for her funeral program

Maybe I’m just an emotional pushover, but the realization she’s been gone over a decade, that my father has been gone for over thirty years, and lots of people my age are dropping had me feeling pretty melancholy right now. I wept, but I’m not sure why. I don’t generally feel sorry for myself, but I think I was lamenting something we all go through; the loss of our childhood, our innocence, our loved ones.

Actually, the feeling is both bothersome and cathartic. I’ve always felt being in touch with one’s emotions — and giving vent to them on occasion — is both healthy and empowering, but I must confess to feeling a bit guilty expressing them in public like this. Nevertheless, it’s one of the reasons I have this blog. I’ll get over it.


Why Am I Bothering To Learn Anything?

“No one here gets out alive.”
Jim Morrison

We are all the result of a long chain of possibilities that stretch back billions of years. We each are the progeny of a single sperm cell which, out of billions making the effort, fertilized a single egg out of thousands and brought us here; carriers of DNA that has been evolving for eons and eons. Such is life on this planet.

At the other end of the spectrum is death. Do you think about it much? I have thought about it my entire life. Not obsessively, and not morbidly, but I think it would be honest to say I do think about it often. Perhaps it was because a First Cousin of mine committed suicide when I was very young and I saw how devastated my father was at hearing the news. Perhaps it’s because we really are surrounded by it and we learn fairly early that it’s our final destination. Maybe everybody thinks about it frequently. I really don’t know because we don’t talk about it that much, except in literature, song, and the occasional self-help or personal awareness book.

In a previous post I wrote about the concept of an afterlife and my belief there’s no such thing. I’ve tried to imagine what such nothingness might be like and, for the life of me, I can’t. At least not in a way that leaves me satisfied I really understand what the total absence of experience might be like. Actually, that’s not entirely true. Mark Twain’s quote about death hints at what it might be like. He said, “I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.”

After my father’s death in September of 1984, one the many thoughts his absence triggered was the realization virtually all the education, understanding, and wisdom we accumulate over the years almost completely disappears after death. To be sure, there are exceptions; memories, works of art, books and papers, social and philanthropic efforts, etc., but none of these will likely last more than a few millenia. Now, with the benefit of another thirty years of contemplation, I realize there’s a loss that’s at least as profound, and far more personal.

This is the thing that befuddles me the most. As I noted in the previous post I mentioned, above, if I am correct and there’s nothing after death, I have such a hard time contemplating what that means. I agree with Mark Twain’s quote and have used that very same reasoning. Nevertheless, that was before I experienced consciousness and, now that I have, I find it exceedingly difficult to imagine no longer having it. It’s not that I don’t accept it, even gain comfort from the knowledge it really won’t matter to me, as there will be no me to care. It’s just that I find myself trying to imagine that kind of nothingness (or everythingness?) and I fail in the attempt.

Here’s a somewhat silly thought experiment. Let’s assume, for argument’s sake, there is such a thing as life after death. Let’s also say it’s possible to come up with a reasonably useful timeframe for the ultimate heat death (thermodynamic equilibrium) of the universe. Some suggest it will be in 10^100 years. That’s an awfully long time. Now, the following may seem a bit trivial, but please bear with me. In my mind, it points out the absurdity of the concept of an afterlife; at least anything that resembles the life we’re living here, on this planet Earth. Assume that, during this time period, I exist corporeally and continue shaving because I don’t care for beards, and once every trillion (that’s 1,000,000,000,000 or 10^12) years — because, although I’m bound to improve with time and practice, we all still lose focus now and again — I cut myself and, as a result, develop a tiny bit of scar tissue with each cut. By the demise of the universe I would have cut myself 10^88 times. I would think the resulting scar tissue would eventually make me unrecognizable.

Alan Watts suggested that belief is stagnant and unyielding to change, whereas faith is open and accepting of what is. I often say I have faith the universe is unfolding just fine no matter what any of us believe. We are such insignificant little tubes of matter, constantly ingesting, inhaling, and absorbing stuff that isn’t us, then exhaling, excreting, and sloughing off that which once was us but is now something else. We exist for a moment so brief as to be virtually non-existent to anything but our pitiful little selves. Calm down and enjoy the ride.


Thirty Years Gone – My Old Man

Eddie Ladd with his bestie, Fred DiBiase

Eddie Ladd with his bestie, Fred DiBiase

Thirty years ago today my father suffered his fourth, and final, heart attack. It happened while he was undergoing the insertion of a Swan-Ganz catheter to monitor the functioning of his heart subsequent to his third heart attack. He did not survive the procedure. While I don’t have a truly eidetic memory, I am cursed with a reasonably healthy ability to picture things in my head. My memory of that night haunts me to this day.

The last time I saw him, he was being wheeled out of his hospital room toward the catheterization laboratory at the Kaiser Permanente Hospital in Panorama City, CA. The man who had brought me into the world, who had carried me in his arms into my bed when I’d fallen asleep in the car,  who protected me, and who had — despite his disappointment and distress over many a choice I made in my crazy-ass life — stood beside me and sacrificed much for me, was scared. I didn’t like seeing it then and I don’t like remembering him that way now.

My old man was old school. Born in 1924, he would have been ninety on November 7th of this year.  He was the fourth child in his family; the first born in the United States after his mother and three older siblings were finally able to flee from the Ukraine and join my zeyda (grandfather in Yiddish), who had emigrated eight years earlier and finally saved enough money to bring them to Chicago. His name at birth was Isadore Edward Wladovsky and he was raised on the South side of Chicago, where he attended Washington High School.

He did not graduate, choosing instead to join the U.S. Navy when he was in his senior year. He had turned seventeen on November 7, 1941, one month before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. He completed boot camp at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center. I don’t know a lot about his service, other than he was on at least one Murmansk run; a very dangerous voyage through the North Atlantic bringing supplies to the Russians via the port of Murmansk. He also wrote and drew cartoons for the ship’s news bulletin. I used to have faded, crumbling copies of some of them, but they have either disappeared or are in a box somewhere in my garage. The highest rank he achieved was Radioman 3rd Class. I remember a short vacation in San Diego when I was in my early teens and we went down to the docks to view one of the ships where they were providing tours. We were standing alongside the ship and he was able to use his knowledge of Morse Code to read what one of the Naval vessels was signaling to another.

Arctic Circle Crossing Certificate

This certificate was given to each man aboard the William H. Webb upon crossing the Arctic Circle

Every father has a chance to be a superhero for a while and mine was no exception. When he carried me in his arms as a toddler, I was invincible, and when he tucked me into bed I was safe and secure. He was the strongest man alive as far as I was concerned and he could do just about anything. Once he even convinced me, after demonstrating the fine art of blowing smoke rings (he was a Pall Mall man at the time), that he could create a smoke piano. To this day I swear I saw all 88 keys on that grand piano!

Unfortunately, time burnishes off the luster of perfection and, more likely than not, children realize their parents are — much to their horror and consternation — merely human beings; flawed, imperfect, and capable of making mistakes.

Such was my experience. I’m not sure when it happened, and I’m reasonably certain it had as much to do with my rebelliousness as anything else, but the day inevitably came when I suddenly realized how “stupid” he had grown. After that, we didn’t get along all that well for a long time. Part of the problem, no doubt, was my father’s very conservative upbringing and his propensity to criticize and seldom praise. I was expected to excel and when I didn’t, there was hell to pay.

He had a quick temper and, in today’s world, I’m reasonably certain he would be, at best, a candidate for anger management. He was quick to strike and, when he did, it was frequently with the back of his hand. If I fell to the ground to avoid the blows he wouldn’t actually kick me, but he’d push me around on the floor in frustration. To be fair, it didn’t happen often and I never suffered more than bright red hand marks on my back or – sometimes – my face. My mother often came to my rescue, screaming at him to leave me alone. He once took a swing at by brother, who ducked, and ended up hitting the youngest son of a neighbor of ours. That didn’t go over too well and I think he was so mortified he decided it was time to stop with the corporal punishment.

I also think he was haunted by the many fitful nights he spent aboard ship in the North Atlantic, knowing they were being shadowed by a German Wolf Pack and could be torpedoed and sunk at any time, a fact made evident by the ships around his that suffered such a fate. Survival in those waters was very unlikely and I can’t imagine it was easy to get any real deep sleep. On those occasions my mother would ask me to wake him, I learned very quickly not to be within striking distance, as he came out of his sleep as though General Quarters was sounding.

Despite our troubled, angry, and frustrating relationship we loved each other and, thankfully, in the two or three years prior to his death we were enjoying a growing closeness — even a budding friendship. We had worked together in the business he started, which transformed from Ladd Meats to Edward Ladd & Sons, my brother having joined it years earlier.

He took up golf late in life and became a scratch golfer. He wanted me to golf as well, but the grief he gave me over being left-handed (I tried to learn right-handed, but just couldn’t get comfortable with it) and the proximity of the ocean, where I had learned to surf, doomed that venture to failure. I didn’t come back to golf until I was 46, nearly a decade after his death. I have few regrets in my life, but one of them is never having played a round of golf with the old man. I drove him around in a golf cart many times, but never played back then. Shortly after I started playing, I went to Porter Valley Country Club, where he had been President of the Men’s Club one year, and had played there a couple times a week for many years. They still had his picture on the wall and gave me a cart to drive around the course, which I did, trying to imagine him playing each hole.

We buried him in his favorite golf clothes, clutching his favorite putter, which we believe he would have liked. I’ve been told the groundskeeper at Porter Valley lowered the flag at the Club to half staff when he learned my father  had died. I think it choked me up more than any reaction I heard about.

Eddie Ladd

The Old Man at About 50

After he died, I can’t recall how many times something good would happen to me and I wanted to let him know, sure he would be proud or excited for me. Anyone who has smoked and quit knows the feeling of absentmindedly reaching in one’s pocket for a pack of cigarettes, only to discover there’s nothing there; then remembering you’d stopped smoking. That’s how it felt – only worse – when I wanted to share something with my dad, and the realization he was gone would hit me. The hole in my heart dropped down to my stomach and it took a few minutes to shake off the hollow feeling it brought.

About two or three years after his death, I dreamed I ran into him on a cliff overlooking a beach. I don’t know where the beach was, but in the dream we spent the entire day together, exploring caves, sharing a meal, and talking. We talked about my life and he assured me he was fine and happy to see I was doing well. I don’t believe in an afterlife, so I don’t believe I was really talking to my father. However, I do believe I was putting a few “ghosts” to rest by dealing with some of the unfinished business from my perspective; some of the things we never got to do together. It was the best dream I’ve ever had and I remember it to this day. Not in great detail, but definitely in terms of how it made me feel.

He left little of material value, save a moderate life insurance payment that went to sustain the family business, which provided for our mother and our sister who was, I believe, just entering her last year of High School or who had just graduated and was still living at home. I got a piece of jewelry and some clothing, some of which I kept for many years afterward. I still have the pendant, which was custom made for him by an old friend of mine. One of the non-material things he left me was an ability to recognize absurdity and the willingness to comment on or satirize it. He also had lots of silly sayings the family still refers to as “Eddieisms”.

He was a hard worker who was able to move from behind the counter of a small deli in the Grand Central Market, to owning a small truck with which he would purchase and transport distressed merchandise to some of the poorer markets and butcher shops in and around L.A. He was a peddler, once the “broken hot dog king” of the City. He had a wonderful singing voice and many times, during the shows our temple, Valley Beth Israel, would put on for the congregation, people swore he was lip-syncing to Sinatra. He wasn’t. Most everybody he knew loved him and, true to the stormy nature of our relationship, I many times referred to hm as a “lovable asshole”.

To say I miss him would be both an exaggeration and an understatement. I don’t think about him every day. It serves no good purpose and I have a life, a wife, and two young children who still depend on me being with them every day in many ways. Nevertheless, he will always be a part of my life and there are numerous times when I think of him. I would give anything to be able to tell him how much I love him and how much he remains a big part of my life and who I’ve become.


A Generation Gone

Eddie Ladd with his bestie, Fred DiBiase

Eddie Ladd with his bestie, Fred DiBiase

Tomorrow would have been my father’s 89th birthday. It’s also a couple of months into the 30th year since he’s been gone. Over a generation has passed since he died a couple of months shy of his 60th birthday. I don’t think of him that much anymore, but when I do I miss him; sometimes terribly. Like so many men of my generation, I had a very stormy relationship with my father. He was a veteran of the U.S. Navy and had served during World War II, and survived the deadly Murmansk runs through the North Atlantic. I know his time aboard ship affected him deeply. I made the mistake – though not very often – of waking him when I was standing too close to his hands and arms. He did not wake well, especially when I was young. I learned to stand back and gently touch his foot or call out to him.

He was raised by a very stern Russian-Polish immigrant who I never got to meet. Assuming my father learned much of how to be who he was from his father, I figure Max Wladofsky was a stern and difficult man to please. My old man really wasn’t capable of showing too much affection, nor was he capable of much in the way of praise. For years after his death, I found myself thinking (after something special had happened to, or because of, me) “I can’t wait to tell Dad.” Of course, that was followed immediately by the recollection he was gone and would never know of it, or have the opportunity to be proud of me. I wanted desperately to please him. Fortunately, in the final years of his life he and I settled our differences somewhat, and finally began building what I’d like to think would have been a wonderful friendship . . . had he not died so very young.

He really was a loving man, but I believe circumstances conspired to make it difficult for him to show affection and acceptance. He was a member of what we now refer to as “The Greatest Generation”, a generation of hard, stoic men who “saved us from Fascism” and, after the war was won, brought home the bacon. When he left the service, he was able to purchase a modest, new home in Panorama City, a suburb in the San Fernando Valley, just north of Los Angeles. I grew up in the 50s and 60s, and have to say much of my life was pretty idyllic by most standards, thanks to his dedication to his family and his hard work.

He was, I believe, scarred forever by his experiences during the war as well. He never saw combat as a soldier, but he spent weeks aboard ship, in convoys being hunted by German U-Boats and sailing through waters in which hypothermia would have killed survivors of a torpedoed ship within minutes. I doubt many on those ships slept very soundly. I’m sure he didn’t.

I hardly ever saw him when I was a young boy, as he worked six days a week at the Grand Central Market, in downtown Los Angeles. He left the house before I arose and frequently didn’t get home until after I was in bed, asleep. Sundays were usually spent with other members of our extended family and, if memory serves, the adults kept mostly to themselves and the kids played together. I got to know my cousins pretty well, but I didn’t get to know my father until much later.

Because I had been told most of my life that I was exactly like my father, I spent quite a few years after his death thinking 59 would likely be the end of the road for me. Since I’m now 66, I’m thankful that didn’t turn out to be the case. Still, I think I would gladly give up a few years if I could have had a few more to enjoy with my father. I wish he were here so I could wish him one more happy birthday tomorrow. I guess I’ll have to content myself with spending a few minutes writing this post and thinking about him . . . and how much I really do miss him.


Why I Love Facebook’s Timeline

A Pic From My FB Timeline

How My Friends Can Share With Me

Change is Good

Every time Facebook changes something on their (not sure whether to call it a platform, app, or service) offering, people seem to get all freaked out and complain because they have to learn something new or change the way they were doing things. I understand and appreciate change can be a bit disconcerting, but I’m one of those people who not only accepts change; I actually seek it out. So when Facebook adds or rearranges things I immediately start looking for how I can take advantage of it.

Just so I’m clear, I am not referring to the issues of privacy and information security that arise now and again. That’s an entirely different story and, while I am clearly not as protective as many, I am always concerned about the security of my truly private information and that of my family. Changes in functionality are an entirely different animal and that’s what I’m concerned with here.

Embracing Timeline

When Facebook first introduced Timeline and made it available as a developer version, I was all over it. I was anxious to try it out, primarily because I was building a business that was based in large part on my understand of and familiarity with Facebook. I was anxious to see what they were doing, even though at the time it was not available to fan pages, which is the part of FB my business is involved with. I went through the necessary steps and got myself going. Much like my introduction to Twitter well over four years ago, I really wasn’t sure how I was going to use or benefit from it, but I was sure I wanted to figure it out.

Now that it’s a part of fan pages and I’ve grown increasingly familiar with it, I’ve finally figured out how to use it for myself. Not my fan page, but my personal Timeline. I came into this world about the time personal photography was starting to take off. As a firstborn son, my parents took lots of pictures of me. They also took lots of pictures of family and, over the years, many of them have come into my possession. It wasn’t until Facebook made it possible for posts to be scheduled, i.e. given a Timeline date in the future and held in a queue until that time, when they would then appear, that I made the connection to the past.

Yes, It’s About Me

Up until very recently I have shared some old pictures, but I have dated them on my Timeline on the date I posted them. I have since come to realize I can create somewhat of an autobiography by posting items (pictures, scanned documents, etc.) and dating them appropriately. I can even add in locations and people I was with, provided they are current Facebook friends. This is no small thing for me, as I have two fairly young (11 and 8) children to whom I want to leave a record of my life. Using Timeline to do so seems so much easier than writing a book. It also is far more graphic and, because many of my friends (including those who were present when some of the pictures were taken) can post comments to them, they become even richer and more engaging. Furthermore, as evidenced by the picture above, my friends can share pictures they have, which become part of my Timeline as well.

Interestingly, this picture was posted last November and I only just tried to change the date to the year and approximate month in which it was taken. I wasn’t able to do it, but I requested my friend who posted it to make the change and he did. Actually, he told me he didn’t know how to do it (people my age seldom do), but he had someone take care of it. I also realized there was a friend in the pic who has since become a Facebook friend as well and I was able to tag him. He chimed in within less than a day.

I could never recreate my past in this way by myself. First of all, I don’t know any other tool that provides the combination of functionality that Facebook does. Surely there’s nothing that would allow me to slowly record a retrospective with input from many people who were there at the time or who experienced similar episodes and milestones. I believe I have a lot more to learn about doing this, but I’m enjoying discovering new ways in which to create the virtual experience I want to leave for my kids. Maybe it won’t work the way I am envisioning. Maybe my kids won’t care when it comes down to it. I don’t much care at this point. It’s a great learning experience and – so far – it’s a lot of fun because I almost always get feedback from others when I do post something. After all, it may be dated long ago on my Timeline, but it’s something new and it shows up in my friends’ news feed when I post it.

Anybody out there have stories about their use of timeline, or have you discovered a bit of functionality you really like that you think others might want to know about . . . or that I might want to know about? Please be so kind as to share. Thanks.


Dream On!

I posted the other day about my vision getting to the point where it seems everything I look at has a drop shadow and one of my friends tweeted me the following:

This got me to thinking about dreaming in general. I don’t know about others, but I hardly ever remember my dreams nowadays. I assume I dream because I’ve read we all do and, sometimes, I have somewhat of a recollection of having dreamed. I just can’t seem to recall what it was I dreamed about. I think that’s likely a good thing, as I interpret it to mean I’m not terribly troubled.

Which brings me to nightmares. I suspect if I had a nightmare I would remember it. My eight-year-old has them occasionally and she seems to be able to remember them pretty vividly. On the other hand, my 10-year-old has them but refuses to tell me anything about what they are. Drives me crazy! I want to be able to comfort her, but she’s having nothing of it.

I’ve also come to the conclusion not having nightmares is an indication that I’m pretty well grounded and don’t harbor any unreasonable fears about the unknown or . . . even the known. The closest I come to a nightmare is worrying about having enough money to take care of our bills, maintain our current lifestyle, and have enough left over to send my kids to a reasonably decent institution of higher learning. Trouble with those nightmares is they keep me awake, so they aren’t really nightmares I guess.

Speaking of dreams, the last one I recall vividly happened many, many years ago. It was a couple of years after my father died in 1984, shortly before his 60th birthday. One night I dreamt I was on the beach (I had been living a couple of blocks from the ocean in Playa del Rey, CA for some time) and I ran into him. Now my father and I did not get along all that well for most of my adolescence and a substantial portion of my adulthood. However, we had begun to get to know each other better and were growing quite close when he died. Though I missed him terribly, I was happy we had left none of the really difficult issues unresolved before he was gone.

In my dream, I approached him and asked (somewhat incongruously), “Where have you been?” to which he responded . . . actually, I don’t recall what he said. What I do recall is the dream seemed to last an entire day, during which time I was able to share with him how my life was going and enjoy what was a real deep sense of peace and contentment. We joked, relived some old times, and generally just basked in each others’ glow.

I haven’t dreamed about him since, though I do miss him sometimes. I think the quality of that dream allowed me to move on a little more comfortably with my life. I know it left me with a sense of accomplishment that I still feel the residue of, nearly a quarter century later.

So here’s some unsolicited advice. If you have a parent you are a bit estranged from, make an effort to resolve whatever issues remain. Don’t take a chance of having nightmares after they’ve gone and you no longer have the chance to bury the hatchet. That is all.


New Book (Posthumously Published) by Russ Ackoff

Russ was such a good storyteller, this book has got to be a great read.`

Amplify’d from www.triarchypress.com

a triarchy press publication

Cover of 'Memories' by Russell L. Ackoff

Memories
by Russell L. Ackoff

Foreword by Peter Senge
Publication Date: 21 October 2010
No of pages: 120

Book type: Paperback
Print ISBN: 978-0-9565379-7-3
List Price: £16 (approx. $20)

Russ was an incisive, lifelong critic of the modern organizational form. He saw its limitations and argued for radical redesign. He was an advocate for major re-visioning and processes of change that started with helping people see what they truly valued and where they truly wanted to get – and then working backwards to see what it would take to get there.

Peter Senge, from his Foreword to Memories

Russel L. AckoffWhen he died late in 2009, Russ Ackoff left two unpublished manuscripts. Memories is the first of these – a collection of stories drawn from his life experience, selected by Russ because they stood out in his memory as instances where he learned something. As he says in his Preface, “Life is a series of relationships formed and dissolved”. For Russ, the important principles and qualities around which his work was centred – clear-sightedness, looking at the bigger picture, working backwards towards solutions, radicalism – crossed over into most, if not all, other aspects of his extraordinary life. The stories in Memories focus on the human side of life and, in so doing, they demonstrate how many of the skills and attributes that are fundamental to professional success are found in personal experience.

In this book, Russ draws from his experiences of serving in the US army during World War II; of bringing up a young family; of encountering different cultures whilst working abroad. From analyzing birth rates in India, to a fireside chat with the Queen of Iran, to introducing theme parks to the US, the stories collected in Memories lay bare the workings of a number of well-known businesses and other organizations – and the people who run them. They describe common attitudes, behaviours and assumptions, which, if left unchallenged, can destabilize or even destroy an organization.

The book shows how thinking systemically leads to real organizational improvements in a variety of academic and workplace settings and – just as important – how failure to do so can be both personally embarrassing and damaging to the organization. Each story is used to illustrate a belief, principle or conclusion central to Russ’s theories of Systems Thinking and Design Thinking. And each of them is told with his customary generosity, wit and wisdom.

Memories is available in paperback or in a hardcover Collector’s Edition.

Read more at www.triarchypress.com

 


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