Saturday, December 31, 2011

It begins anew

It is New Year's Eve. Linda and I have spent the morning cooking and cleaning in preparation for hosting a few friends later this evening. It'll be relatively low key, but will still be filled with food, drinks and enough silliness to keep us all occupied.

Right now, Linda is tying up a few loose ends cleaning and I'm on hold with the cooking at the moment. So, I have some down time to think about and reflect on the year that is ending and the one that is beginning. On the eve of a fresh start, either actual or perceived, it's hard to ignore the significance of it all.

Looking back at 2011:
It was neither the most nor least eventful year I've ever had. It did, however, come with its share of trials and tribulations, but there was enough good to more than offset the cost of the negatives. It's nice when life is more positive than zero sum over a measured period. I lost some friends along the way and had some ups and downs with others. Work was work - perpetually challenging, yet overall rewarding so we'll call that a win too. I grew close with some people and reconnected with one in particular in ways that I wouldn't trade for anything. And of course, I met the girl. She is a woman in full - gorgeous, sexy, sweet, caring and yet utterly frustrating and infuriating all at the same time, but I wouldn't trade her for anything.

All in all, I'd say that 2011 had more good than bad and shaped up to be a pretty good year for me.

Looking forward to 2012:
This is the year of possible change for me. I may be getting out of the military. If not, It'll be shortly into 2013, which means that 2012 is still all about preparation and change. I'll be finished with the long awaited, very elusive college degree. My company will continue to build and get off the ground. I'll find out what I'm worth in a professional, civilian job. My relationship with Linda will grow and mature. On a sad note, I'll have to say goodbye (or at least prepare to) some very good friends here in Mississippi.

2011 was good, 2012 will be better. They are both full of change, growth, planning and evolution - more so than an average year. It is very exciting and I can't wait for all of it. This is a New Year's Eve that I am very happy about and I simply cannot wait to see what lies ahead. No matter what the outcome of any of the forthcoming situations, it will be a year of adventure.

It's all about the journey. Let the next chapter begin!

Friday, December 30, 2011

It's all about the toddler

This isn't the first time I've written to you from a plane seat at 36,000 feet in the air while on the way home from visiting the crew in NJ. There's something about recycled air and being on the last row of the plane near the bathroom where you only site if you have diarrhea or are anxious to meet people who do. Be that as it may, I supposed It inspires me. 

I am at the tail end of a Christmas trip to NJ to see a bunch of important people. Not to diminish my excellent friends that have come my way via the military, but they are just not blood relatives and my Jersey friends have been around for 2o+ years so they hold a special place. 

In any event this trip was unique and special. It is conceivably, the last Christmas visit I'll have to make since I could be home permanently, sooner rather than later. Even if that is not the case, next year I'll visit just long enough to see Christmas and then go back to MS to pack and move home within 90 days. In addition to friends and family I got to spend much of the time with a very special lady. And on multiple occasions I got to incorporate her into my circle, which is VERY important to me. I also made a good dent in the job search process as I spoke with friends, reconnected with old colleagues, and made some potential new ones. 

In the 7 days I was there I also got to see a 2 year, 9 month old man named Seany-Pants. He is the son of one of my best friends in the world - Dr. Jim. The life of an orthopedic surgeon generally precludes any visits while I am home let alone 2 lengthy ones like we had this time. Despite our closeness, I first met little Sean when he was already 9 months old. I next saw him just after he turned 2 and then this week. 

I had so much fun watching this pre-pre-schooler spell his name and count to 100 by 10s and recite his entire address. When I first met him, he kinda sat there, smiled and farted in my hand. On round 2, he was talkative and fun but how he is on a whole new level of interaction. After my last visit, he woke up the next day asking "where's Jason?" and that was before he would even refer to me by name when we were face to face. This time, he has affectionately dubbed me "Jase" and insists I go everywhere with him. I haven't had the courage to ask Dr. dad what little Sean-pants did the next morning this time around. Clearly, "Uncle Jason" is remiss in his duties of spoiling and/or corrupting this little buddy of mine. 

I know the adults in my life such as my parents and brother or Jim, Alan, and Linda miss me when I'm gone, but they are adults. They "get it." Little man just knows that his playmate was there one day and gone the next. He can't see the greater good of my disappearance such as professional development or duty to country. 

Maybe I've got it all wrong. Maybe Mr. Pants is over it and didn't notice me missing at all. Maybe it's for me. Maybe I realize, in the sweeping changes of a child's face and interaction that I'm missing important, fleeting moments as I while away the time in the heart of Dixie. As the mender of bones said, I see Sean in snapshot with a lot of important stuff missing in between. I said the last part, not Jim. 

Maybe Sean is vaguely aware that there was another person hanging him upside down while biting his belly just a day ago, but can't quite place the source of the tickling torture. I don't know. 

All I do know is that everyone understands I don't love them any less when I leave; it's just something I have to do. All except one. 

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Release

As everyone knows, I've been counting the days until I get to go home and become a civilian again. I've been getting progressively more excited as the time wears thin. I'm not long for this job. Plus I have so much to get back to and things are looking up in so many parts of life. At the same time, I have always been dedicated to what I do. I'm always one of the first to show up and last to leave. I got forced to take leave in 2011 by a boss because I'm never not there. I don't generally flaunt my military accomplishments because I'm just a guy doing the best I can, but let's clear a couple of things up. In 8 and a half years, I have never been written up or counseled for negative behavior to even the most minute level. I received my first Air Force Achievement Medal with 11 months in service; something generally picked up with an average of 3 years in service. I am the very first Staff Sergeant/E-5 (as far as anyone who's been here 15-20 years can remember) to be an instructor supervisor; this position is usually held by a Master Sergeant/E-7 or, in a pinch, Technical Sergeant/E-6. This time last year I ran the schoolhouse's evening shift which consisted of 25 instructors and 140 students in my care every day. I was recommended for this position by 2 Chief Master Sergeants. I've done more than one trip to the middle east and back. Bottom line, I've done well in my military career and take serious pride in my work.

I did all of that in spite of having a difficult time adapting to military life at some points. I was 6-7 years older than the average enlistee when I arrived. I dumped years of technical experience that I was told "didn't matter, because my job was to just do." I have been battling, for 2 years, a complex muscle problem in my legs and underwent 4 surgeries for a combined 76 staples used to hold me back together. I showed up to this base on crutches, I taught (standing for 10 hours) with the help of a cane.

I always knew the military would be temporary. It was never part of my life's plan. However, I would give 100% every single day until my life changed. I swallowed hard when I didn't agree with decisions or the system and pressed on. The mission was bigger than me. This job was about the nation, our freedom, more locally - my students. I can pass our tests, I'm not here for me. I'm here to train the next generation. My replacements. And I would do so until my last day here, with excitement and pride.

I had a situation yesterday. A minor hiccup in the scheme of things. I maintain that 99.9% of it had nothing to do with me. The details are less than important. The point is that I went to part of my leadership looking for support. The person I spoke with is someone high enough in the chain to make a decision and someone with whom I have a good rapport - a very good rapport. The response I received was not supportive. I don't mean not supportive enough. I mean not at all. I rarely reach out to people that high on the food chain for assistance, but yesterday it was necessary. I have never been so disappointed in the "military family."

But it's not all bad. There is a positive takeaway from it. As I gear up for a life change and separation fro the military and transition to civilian life, I have always felt a hole. I knew there would be loss. Being home with friends and family in an area I love, making tons of money brings so much good into my life, but leaving behind all I've known for a decade would still present a loss. And I didn't know how I would handle that. After what I saw yesterday, that all changed. I've seen the Air Force changing, and not in a way I liked.

Less than 1% of the US population ever puts the uniform on. I did every day for over 8 years so far. I did my part and then some. I've done all I've been asked to do without complaining and with pride. I've done for my country and now I can do for me. I've always known that, but now I fully feel it. I could walk away tomorrow and be comfortable. I don't need to finish every last day of this enlistment to feel a sense of completion. I have been released and set free from this self-imposed sense of obligation. I don't have to do it JUST because I said I would.

So while I spent most of yesterday upset and disheartened and disappointed; I chose to look at positively. I'm free to walk away guilt free, when the time comes.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

TWOC

We go through this every year and, unfortunately, it gets worse every year. The War on Christmas (and more generally, any religion's affiliation to wintery holidays) is pandemic. I personally think it's disgusting. Naturally, I plan to tell you all the reasons why the loony, lefty, liberals are ruining the good natured, spirit of giving in the United States.

But first... some facts. Rhode Island Governor, Lincoln Chafee, an independent, is spewing his non-denominational feces by calling the tree in the front of the state house a "holiday tree." He says that it goes back to the state's roots in 1636 as a haven for tolerance. It seems pretty intolerant to me to not allow Christians to declare their love publicly. Does having a "Christmas tree" mean that Jewish people cannot put up a menorah? If that is the case, then we have a clear case of partiality and the tree should disappear. However, if Jews are free to put up their religious candelabra than I see no conflict. Besides, does any other religion use a tree as a symbol of religious celebration? A tree ONLY belongs to Christmas, just as a menorah ONLY belong to Judaism. There is no overlap. Holiday tree attributes the use of a conifer to multiple religions, which is untrue and waters down the meaning for Christians. How is that tolerant? Tolerance, to me, means that everyone gets a chance to practice how they see fit. A tree is, and has been, a widely accepted practice for many years. What if my tree is placed in a traditional spot in front a window where it can readily be seen by passers-by? Will that be considered a public place and offensive to some even though it is in my home?

How about upstate New York that banned both Christmas and Hanukkah? This is not in an effort to diminish favor for one or the other. This just cancels all holiday spirit. In the same area, teachers are discouraged from saying Merry Christmas. What if the student is Christian? Then they can wish that student well on his or her chosen holiday and Happy Hanukkah to the Jewish students. In order to reach a true level of equality shouldn't we be teaching, and moreover breeding, tolerance for all types of celebrations rather than ignoring their very existence?

I don't understand why we can't embrace all of them. Share the love of your particular holiday while learning about someone else's. I'm all for sending Christmas tree sugar cookies to my Jewish friends in exchange for some macaroons. I once got a Hanukkah card for a friend that had some Matzah and Manischewitz wine on a table with a card that said "For Santa" and inside it said "Just because the guy got the wrong house, doesn't mean he should starve." I thought that was funny. So did he. The point is that I have trees, he has candles. I believe it was Jesus' birthday and so does he - we just see Jesus' role in the world differently, but the Jews don't deny his existence as a person. We all get along. We all have fun. My friend Alan would typically come to my house on Christmas Eve and I'd be at his house for one night of Hanukkah.

Let's also not forget that government regulation and religious infringement by the left aside, Christmas very often has little to do with its namesake, Christ. Santa is not regarding as St. Nick in most circles. Toys r' Us and Hallmark have a majority share in the holiday at this point. It's about cheer and joy and sharing and gratitude and... honestly, shopping. It's commercialized and consumer-centric more than anything. Watering down the holidays by removing the names will make it more about the greeting card than the message it contains. We absolutely CANNOT say Christmas and ignore other holidays. I've focused on the Christmas and Hanukkah here, but I know there are others. Give everyone an equal share and move on. Getting rid of the source of all holidays does nothing but cannibalize their true meanings and further distance us from history, culture and a deeper sense of giving and joy. It makes it more about commercialism than it already is.

I believe that separation of Church and state means that the state will not endorse any one religion over another nor will it use any religious dogma as its guiding principles for law or judgment of the people over which it presides and governs. It doesn't mean that we cannot publicly embrace all religions and celebrate, as a means to love our neighbors, any religion that they may subscribe to. Anyone who sees religious symbols during a holiday time as blurring the line of the separation is mutating the intent of it to suit their needs. It's a disgusting molestation of celebrators during an important time of the year and needs to be completely suspended.

So, to the Christians I saw Merry Christmas. To the Jews I say Happy Hanukkah. To everyone else, insert religion specific greeting on your special day, whatever that may be. Feel free to let your flags fly and represent yourselves and your beliefs and escape religious persecution and diminution this holiday season. Let's take this country back to its real roots of freedom of expression and religion they way it was designed.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Let's NOT be friends and the FBO mentality

Some time ago, I wrote about everyone friend requesting everyone (Let's be friends). Whether you know that person or not, and I mean really know the person, you have to friend request them. This is why I love the unsubscribe feature on Facebook. I can be friends with you and interact, but I don't need to see you cluttering up my feed the with things that aren't important to me - like how many hours you spent in labor or the fact that your kid hasn't had a solid shit in 2 weeks. If my closest friends in the world told me these things, they'd be somewhat important because they are real friends in the inner sanctum of my life. If I haven't seen you in 15 years, I'm not going to be sympathetic to the long retail shifts you work. It's not me being an asshole. It's the fact that we are just not close. However, if I delete you, then we will never BE close. So there's something to be said for remaining friends without populating each other's timelines with every piece of useless, inane minutia in our lives. Additionally, the subscribe function is amazing, although few people turned it on. If you kind of know me or know of me or simply want to know what I have to say, then you can subscribe to me without being friends. Anything I mark public, you'll see. If I mark it for friends only, then you won't. It's a happy middle ground. I'm getting a little off track here. The point is that Facebook statuses have become the mark of what is real and what is not. Want to know where you stand with someone? Check Facebook. There's even the phrase for relationships, "It ain't official until it's Facebook official" or simply, FBO.

What people fail to realize is that it's not about Facebook. Friending or unfriending someone on Facebook is not the be all, end all to relationships, but it does mean something. 15 years ago we'd tell the world when we had a break up or a falling out or even on the good side of things and we'd do it with 900 phone calls. Now we have a new vehicle. It's mass marketing. Hey, for anyone interested, I'm in a relationship/my cat died/I dropped a 9 inch turd/I'm moving to Bolivia/etc. Saves time in our transient lives. It's also a voice for the voiceless. For people who have less interaction and don't hold the attention of others, it's a way to make a statement. Facebook aggregates the lives of so many people. The status isn't what's important. The action someone takes to change it, is.

I had 2 different FBO changes over the past couple of days. They are most certainly related and they are in opposite directions. Apparently, one begets the other. Here's the story. For many, many years I've known someone. We were never particularly close, but always friendly. Truthfully, this person was friends with my brother and since we knew each other we were Facebook friends. Back in September or early October, I guess, we got to chatting via some iPhone help and then continued chatting from there. There was a minor amount of flirting and a tentative plan to have a drink when I visit around Christmas. Not long after we began chatting there was a miscommunication and TWO very LOOOOONG conversations via text message about communication and feelings in depth about what was to come. That was, for me, insanity and way too deep for 2 people who only ever spoke when they happened to be in the same room, had recently started to speak independently and had nothing beyond tentative plans to have a drink, which could have just as easily been a session of catching up since I'm never in town. Things basically died on the vine right then and there.

Then I met Linda. Things have been great. We've been getting to know each other by talking nonstop. Lots in common. Lots of interest. Lots of fun. I saw her this past weekend and we had an amazing time. We had been waffling on the whole relationship title thing. Were we together before we met. We felt it and acted it, but the world wouldn't understand. Could we even say it on the first weekend or should we wait? It all revolved around what other people would think, which I rarely give a shit about, but going through the story over and over again seemed like a hassle so maybe we should play the game of society and say nothing for a while. By the end of the weekend, that wasn't an option. We were clearly an item, forsaken all others, and wanted the world to know all about it - more importantly, there was no sense in keeping quiet. So, we changed the Facebook status and began calling ourselves a couple and went FBO. Woohoo! I say that with partial sarcasm because it annoys me a little bit that Facebook has become the grand delineator for what qualifies as a relationship, yet it is what it is and I'm happy to be at that point with her.

Back to the first situation. She sells some costume type jewelry and I thought my mom may like some for Christmas, so I went to her page to check it out. To my surprise, I had been unfriended. I asked if there was a mistake and I was told that there was not and it was a purposeful action because of my new relationship. Apparently, my actions being told on Facebook were being thrown in the Face of the scorned and that led to the deletion. So that's what I meant when I said that one FBO action begot another. It happens from time to time. People are so very invested in relationships via Facebook that the actions they take speak loudly. It's not about the status, as I mentioned earlier. It's about that someone is using the current vehicle (Facebook) to deliver a message. Rather than ignoring, it becomes about screaming to the world that this person no longer qualifies to be in your circle.

Rather than just knowing that Linda and I are a happy couple, we proclaim it to the world for everyone's approval. We wonder why more people haven't "liked" it yet. There is no more activity that you know someone, you like them, you give them a call to say hello and grab a drink. Everything is so clearly defined all the time. The edges of relationships are hard lines, not shading and blending. You're friends or you're not. You're in a relationship or your not and it's all defined not only by how you feel, but also by whether or not you're Facebook official about it. This goes on with business associates on LinkedIn as well. "Ehh, yeah I worked with the guy, but I'm not sure I want to accept his request."

It's an interesting dynamic that has been added into relationships (of all types) in the social age. This is the first time that one FBO action created another FBO action for me though. It's interesting to me.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Nice Rug

I've been out of New Jersey for 8 and a half years and some things have changed. The big one that applies to this week is the NJ bear hunt. I have to say that I don't know much about the reasoning behind it beyond the little bit I see here and there. First things first, I have absolutely ZERO issue with it. I'm not moved in the least.

Growing up, I never saw a bear. Hearing about bears in our part of NJ never happened. To my knowledge there was no bear hunt at that time either. If there was, it wasn't well publicized like it is today. I tend to think it didn't even happen, but I could be wrong. Bears were not part of our life back then. Since that time, the numbers of their population have, obviously, been on the rise. I remember the first time a bear got stuck in a tree in Powder Mill (the neighborhood my parents live in, for those not from the area). It was big news. People were taking pictures, folks from all over came to see a bear in a tree in a residential area, and it took the police/forestry/whoever several days to get it down. By now, bears in the area aren't something people even bat an eye at. That, to me, means there are too many of them. When it happens so much that you inure yourself to the event, you become complacent. Maybe bears are naturally peaceful, but any animal, when provoked, will defend itself. Provocation can be anything. I don't know how a bear's mind works. Given the people, houses, cars, noises, etc, it's safe to say that NJ neighborhoods are not the natural habitat for bears. And let's face facts, even when provoked and angered, a squirrel will not eat your face. Maybe a bear will, maybe it won't; but it has the ability to.

Should we be decimating forests and creating living environments where bears once roamed freely? I don't know, probably not, but we're people. There's a hierarchy and a food chain here. We are above bears and other quadrupeds on that food chain. So if we need a place to live, then so be it. The anti-bear hunt movement people are certainly complaining from their homes, not a hut in the woods where they peacefully coexist with nature.

Bears pose a risk to people, end of story. Whether they are an actual risk at every moment is not the point. They are big and heavy with the capability to do damage to a person or a vehicle. They are not evolved and cannot communicate with us. We can't sit and come to a peaceful resolution with a bear. We have to protect ourselves and our children. It's a pretty simple equation.

The fact that there is a bear hunt week shows good planning. It is not open season all year round. You can't just run around town shooting every black, furry creature you find. It is right before hibernation season, which, I believe, is also gestation season for the females. In the spring there are hungry, sleepy-eyed bears looking for food. Let's make sure your 5-year old is not the nearest snack.

If having a week out of the year where we can hold a managed, planned event that helps thin the population of a potentially dangerous animal and protects our own species, then why not? Let's not also forget the one fact that the "save Yogi-ists" seem to overlook. We build. More buildings, concrete, roads, cars, etc. Less trees, bushes, berries, etc. Put those together and it's less food and living spaces for the bears. Then add in the fact that when a mama bear and a papa bear love each other very much they make little bears. More bears, less food. That means they're looking for YOUR porridge, even if it's in the cupboard. We are all aware that bears have a keen sense of smell, yes? Thinning the bear population not only protects people, but also allows the ones that live to have more at their disposal.

I'm not a hunter. I can't shoot and butcher a bear. I don't have the intestinal fortitude to do so. I am emotionally and morally equipped, just not digestively. If I had it in me to disembowel Winnie the Pooh, then I would. I'd certainly do that before I let him eat my trash, my flowers, my food, and my head. Plus, bear rugs are comfy.

Monday, December 05, 2011

See you soon

It's such a short and sweet saying. One filled with short term disappointment, but long term hope and something to look forward to. It's better than goodbye. When soon is defined (in my case 16 days), it should be easy. Knowing I'll see her soon, makes it bearable to een let her leave. Knowing that I have a mere 2 weeks of work before I'm home to my friends, my family and my Linda for Christmas is so much easier to swallow than 2 months, for example.

However, this morning I took her to the airport after a long weekend that was one of the best I can ever remember. We had so much fun, we're identical and, quite simply, perfect for each other. Whether we were people watching in New Orleans, drinking beer while watching the Jets game, curled up watching (and falling asleep to) a movie or having a spontaneous, pretend boxing match in the living room, it was all smiles and laughs. At one point, she caught a giggle fit that seems nearly uncontrollable and persisted for several minutes (spurred on by nothing, I might add).

Two weeks may not be a lot of time and it'll fly by. It's a blink in the scheme of things and will ne a non-entity in retrospect. My logic tells me to not really care about something so short. Plus any negativity associated with saying "see you soon" is simply because the weekend was so positive and awesome. That should be the focus. It should anyway.

But this morning when I hugged and kissed Linda goodbye and told her I'd see her soon, it felt awful. I wanted soon to mean "after work." I wanted soon to mean when she got home from shopping. I didn't want soon to be a euphemism for goodbye. And it's not goodbye, we know that. It's see you soon, but after the last few days I spent with her, soon is not soon enough. We spent every minute of the weekend together, excepting bathroom breaks, and it didn't feel like enough.

I've had other relationships. My friends have made it abundantly clear we all know I've even had other Lindas. It's always exciting and fun in the beginning. For me though, it's NEVER been so effortless and frictionless. It's never been without a little hiccup. It's never been impossible to find something we don't have in common. It's never been so perfect.

So, this time, saying see you soon, feels like an eternity. I know I'll be criticized by some and there's a contingent of people that look for opportunities to use my words to emasculate me. I've had my ups and downs and we all wait for that opportunity to arrive where soon is never soon enough. Mine is about to land in Houston airport, headed away from me and all I can do is convince myself that 16 days is soon.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

There's more than one level of government

Saw the following comment on Facebook yesterday. It was from a friend of a friend.

Okay, President OBama was here in Scranton.. Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!! Let's see... What did that visit do for me??? Nothing.. Let's see, my county taxes are still going to go up, my City taxes are still going to go up, my salary/wages will remain right around the same, my utility bills are all going up, I still have friends and family who are unemployed and struggling.... Well, is his visit historical??? YES! Is his visit going to impact me or the people I love in any way, shape or form? NO!! So, do I care? NO!! I'd rather meet Robert DeNiro. :)))..

Another case of ignorance. In what world the President of the United States of America deal with municipal or county issues such as taxes or even at all? City taxes? I'm sure the president is going to work his way across every city in America helping plan for city and county taxes. As far as her salary remaining the same... of course it is. The president cycling through town isn't going to bring wages up or hand out promotions. Did you do anything to get promoted? Did you perform better, learn more, work harder, gain any additional capabilities or otherwise earn more money? Utility bills are going up because there's a nationwide, nay a worldwide, energy crisis as we use more and more without making more resources and, subsequently deplete the source of all of this. Supply and demand.

Friends and family are struggling and unemployed? Isn't this something that he's tried to address? I don't like the guy, we all know this, but I can't believe that you think after one visit to a town, he's going to fix it all, and you condemn him for not making sweeping changes to your sleepy little Pennsylvania town. And by making this ignorant comment you are certainly not making it better. His visit COULD impact your town, but it's not going to all by itself. Should you care? Yes. He's the most important man in the world, by virtue of his title.

Sitting around posting on Facebook about all the reasons why it was worthless and how you don't care will breed nothing but more negativity and ignorance. This is the shit I've been talking about with everyone lately.