Monday, November 19, 2012

Driving Rant


Every once in a while I find myself ranting about the way other people drive. I've been doing that again of late so it seems like a good time to get a few gripes off my chest.

Today is a prime example: It’s been raining out pretty much since seven this morning. In Ohio it is a law that when windshield wipers are needed, one should also have their head lights on. Also, it is law to have ones lights on between sunrise and sunset. [From the Ohio Digest of Motor Laws, page 64: Lights must be displayed between sunset and sunrise and during any periods of rain, snow, fog or other unfavorable atmospheric conditions regardless of the time of day. Lights also need to be used at any time when natural light conditions do not make it possible to clearly see objects 1,000 feet ahead. Lights must be used 
whenever windshield wipers are used.]

Even though both of these two conditions were in effect I noticed several people with no lights on at all. This seems to happen all the time around here and I always wonder why this is. I will be the first to admit that sometimes headlights really don’t help me to see much better… but there is no doubt that it helps others to see me! And I think that’s the point. Headlights help drivers see other vehicles - plain and simple.
I've heard people make arguments that one can save fuel by not turning on one’s headlights. This is technically true of course, because it takes energy to power lights and we all know that power is not free. However the amount of fuel saved by not running one’s headlights is so small, even over a years’ time, that it is almost immeasurable.  In fact, one jackrabbit start will erase any savings one might have gotten from driving sans lights. It is much more effective to drive smoothly. Do not race from one stoplight or intersection only to stop at the next for example.  Regularly coasting up to a red light or stop sign helps a bunch.

Besides, would you want someone to pull out in front of you because they didn't see you because you were trying to save a buck on gas? Sure, it most likely will still be their fault, failure to yield and all that, but filling out accident reports is not a fun way to spend your commute … and should someone die, that someone’s death will haunt you the rest of your life. If you also happen to be stupid enough to go without wearing your seat belt, the person that dies could be you (or your spouse or your child…)

Another thing I've had to deal with lately is the person – probably a gas saver again – who accelerates so slowly up a freeway on ramp that they are not yet matching the speed of traffic when the merge lane runs out. This will screw people up in two ways. 

First, if you happen to be the unlucky one entering the highway at rush hour behind someone like this you will find yourself on their bumper with no further place to go, and no way to merge correctly into traffic. Now you are stuck trying to find a spot in the right lane that will accommodate two cars, and at that, the traffic in that lane is going to have to adjust their speed or change lanes. 

Of course if you are part of the traffic on the freeway that is the other way you get screwed. You will have to slow down (and hope the person behind you notices) to not hit the driver merging on at a much slower speed. Traffic will pile up in the right lane and due to the slow and go effect this causes, all those people on the freeway will use more gas than if they were able to continue at a steady pace. 

Along the same lines as that is the person who plants themselves in the left freeway lane going the speed limit – if the rest of us are lucky! I don’t know if they think they are “enforcing” the limit, are afraid to go faster themselves, or are merely clueless, but they are causing needless congestion and provoking risky and/or angry behavior from other motorists. The left lane is for passing and is usually traveling above the speed limit. If you need to pass, accelerate to the speed that lane is traveling, and get back over as soon as you are safely able to. When traffic is heavy, drivers may stay in the left lane, as long as they are going with the flow of traffic and not setting a slower pace for themselves and everyone stuck behind them. Law enforcement spokespersons themselves have said they would rather the left lane travel above the limit than have someone blocking the free flow of traffic by planting themselves there. 

So if you are trying to save gas by driving in one or more of the ways I just described, you are effectively causing the rest of us to use a lot more fuel by disrupting the smooth flow of traffic. If your real goal is to help the country use less gas, you are doing it wrong.

Though I suspect the real reason people drive this way is simply to save themselves a buck, the rest of us be damned.

And that is the saddest part of all.

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Year of Milestones

I was thinking the other day that 2013 will be a year of milestones. 2013 will see my son, the older child, graduate from college with a degree in Engineering Management. I am so proud of all that he has accomplished!

It has not been an easy road. At 4 years old, I found myself in a shouting match with him that ultimately lead to my losing most of his respect. And as for me, horrified at what had happened, I all but checked out as his dad.

He has always been very bright - From a very early age he was able to hold intelligent conversations with adults. But he also was diagnosed as Oppositional-Defiant with ADD and it was with the behaviors associated with these things that I barely was able to cope. Then he became interested in swimming and it really started to make a difference for all of us. His energies were focused, and the rigorous schedule kept us directed in a (mostly) common direction. As I have written about before, exercise really makes a difference in ones attitude - and he was no exception. I would be remiss not to mention too how his first swim coach taught him about things that I had failed to teach: Positive attitude, good self image, respect for authority, work ethic, responsibility... Things I am grateful for as he helped my boy find the right path when I had failed so miserably. So over time I eventually managed to learn how to be a better father to him,  and things moved on.

By the time he moved away to college I knew that he was mostly ready for this new page in his life and I also knew that I was going to miss him. We had become more like the father and son I thought we should be, but I had hoped for more. With him moving away I worried that the relationship we had so recently been able to build would crumble away. Happily though, and really to my surprise actually, we continued to progress in our relationship. He began to seek my advise, and I showed him the respect he deserved when he made decisions for himself.

All of that adversity and he has managed to turn out to be quite the young man!

Not to be outdone by her big brother, my daughter will also be a graduate this coming Spring! She well on her way into her senior year at high school and I am every bit as proud of the young lady's accomplishments! Perhaps it goes without saying, but she has had some rocky roads to travel too. Being the second child, and having an older brother who was very articulate at an early age, her language skills did not develop "on schedule". By the second grade she was in remedial reading and struggling with school in general. Unfortunately, because of the attention her brother demanded, she often was left to fend for herself and her development faltered. Once we discovered what was going on with her brother though, she benefited from what we learned, and was diagnosed as ADHD at a much earlier age than her brother. We switched schools to one more appropriate for both kids and soon she was devouring books like she was making up for lost time - which I guess she was!

She also embraced physical activity: dance, gymnastics and swimming at first, but settled on dance as her passion. And that passion has lead to some really neat experiences for her. She has trained and progressed to where she can dance En Pointe and has done so in public performances put on by the dance academy where she trains. The academy is associated with a professional ballet company, and as such she has auditioned for and appeared in the annual performance of The Nutcracker each year for the last 8 years. Ballet has taught her a great deal about working with others and also how to be a mentor to those younger and less experienced than herself. To be sure I am very proud of her for her accomplishments.

But she has made me most proud for what she did when she realized that life has dealt her a different hand than what she had hoped.

Her dance schedule - dancing a full 6 days a week (7 when rehearsing for the Nutcracker) should tell you something about her dedication, passion and love for dancing. Indeed her dream is to perform as a classical ballerina with a professional company. But a meeting with the director of her dance academy left her dreams shattered. While she has a shot at becoming a successful dancer, it would be extremely unlikely for her to do so as a classical ballet dancer - she's just not built right for it. Modern ballet or straight modern dance? Probably. Even her choreography shows promise. But the goal she has had for most of her life would be a big financial drain without much hope of a fruitful outcome and so is out of reach and impractical.

So earlier I mentioned the meeting with the director of the academy - It was unbelievable the way she conducted herself during the course of this frank discussion. The director was obviously more nervous than my daughter was, and when the point was made, there was no drama or tears. Just a frank discussion about alternatives and the likely outcomes of each. She took it so well I was taken aback- And proud beyond words.

So when she graduates in the spring there will be a summer job and then college instead of further dance classes and an internship or apprenticeship in dance. Even with all the hours spent in the dance studio, late nite homework sessions, and impossible scheduling conflicts, she has managed to maintain a great grade point average at a challenging school and earned excellent ACT and SAT scores this past spring. I know she is going to do well as she continues her education and that sure makes it easier to be the dad of a teenage girl.

So both of my children are showing themselves to be quite full of potential and promise despite their parents' inability to provide a consistently stable environment in which to grow up.

And that is a huge relief for this father.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Roadside Rest

No one would be surprised by the fact that the events of the last few years of my life have changed me. Being laid off was more than enough impetus for me to engage in some serious soul searching; add a divorce to the mix and it's a small miracle that I even recognize myself!

Recently though I have really taken a look at the way things are now. I'd like to say that this introspective was a carefully planned and perfectly timed checkpoint I had the forethought to lay out for myself some time ago. But that would be a bald faced lie! The fact of the matter is that there have been a couple incidents very recently that pretty much forced me to abandon my course and pull off to the side of the road for a much needed peek at the map. 

The biggest kick in the pants came as I found myself in my boss's office having to answer some pretty pointed and difficult questions. The details are not important but the gist of the meeting is that I had not been the leader that he had expected of me. As the veteran tester on the team I was expected to  maintain open communications with the project manager so that she could make decisions about release dates and other major milestones. The current project is one that was started over two years ago and unfortunately was shelved before it could be completed. On this second go round there is a definite concern that the same thing could happen again so the pressure is on to meet the scheduled delivery. Anyway, because of the scope of the testing needed, our other tester was brought on to assist. Somehow, during a team meeting I found myself a passenger rather than the driver or at least in the shotgun seat where I aught to be. Some expectations were mentioned that I had not planned on, and the other tester spoke up and predicted that testing would take two weeks longer than planned. The project manager, though concerned stated that she would push the date. I said nothing. Soon after that I was asking those difficult and pointed questions. 

Very shortly after that my daughter and I were discussing our weekend plans. I suddenly remembered that we had tickets to a special ballet performance that night and went to pull them from the drawer where I had stashed them. As I was checking the performance time I made the disappointing discovery that the show had in fact been the weekend before! We had missed the event an I hadn't had even the slightest clue that I had messed up the schedule that badly. 

I hate disappointing people and in the period of a few days I had managed to really let down two of the most important people in my life - my boss and my daughter. Fortunately I managed some reasonable level of damage control and things will be OK, but there really was something that needed addressed, and soon. 

It was not difficult to see what was going on, actually. I had become as a passenger in my own life rather than the driver. I was sightseeing, just watching the world go by... When the scenery was nice I enjoyed the view. But when the view out the window became unpleasant - like the run down section of town, or the drought stricken countryside - I didn't change course to find a better path but rather just went along for the ride expecting things to change on their own. 

This, I think, is a sign that I have succeeded in relaxing and am getting comfortable with this particular phase of my life. Right from the start of my single again life I was hyper vigilant about everything - My calendar, my daughter's schedule, the bills, the budget, my work schedule, even my free time was carefully scheduled and planned out. I checked and rechecked the calendar. I ran simulations of cash flow scenarios. I kept multiple calendars in case something was lost or erased by mistake. It was a full time job. But it fulfilled a purpose too. It helped me keep my mind off the mind numbing pain my heart was in at having my world so radically changed.

That's how it started anyway, but the pain is over now. And do you know what? I miss it! 

Well, not the pain exactly, but the fact that I felt something. Now there is just an empty place where my relationship used to be - It's a yawning void that was once filled with love for the woman I always thought I would spend the rest of my life with. It's now a vast emptiness that very recently overflowed with heartbreak, anguish, and regret. All of that is gone: No more love. No more anguish. It's just nothingness now. Some would argue that this is worse than the pain and heartbreak and I think I would agree. In fact I think the fear of that nothingness is part of what kept us together for so long.

So it turns out that just like a pendulum I had swung away from the extreme of hyper vigilance and was very uncomfortably swinging toward the extreme of not giving a shit. It makes sense. Being hyper vigilant takes too much energy and therefore I couldn't keep it up. But without that level of effort comes down time. Too much down time means there is not enough busy work to push away the loneliness... too much time to dwell on the void where love used to be... 

Ah, but not giving a shit is not only effective in forgetting one's loneliness, it is so much easier and more fun! I started to push responsibilities to the extremes of my day. Getting up and going to work remained fairly normal. After work? Just TV, Movies, and video games - no seriousness except almost as an afterthought. Bills and stuff like that were dealt with, but even that was starting to slip. And it turns out so was work. The swing of the pendulum was affecting that as well. 

So now that I have taken stock of the situation I know what I must do. I have to remain in the driver's seat of my life. I have to get back on the road to healing and that includes dealing with the void that's been left in my heart. As I see it, there are many people and things in this world worth caring about, and they can take up some of that room for now. But I will always reserve space for someone special. Someone that I may not have even met yet, but someone that I believe is meant to fill my heart with the love and companionship that I so dearly miss. 

So I think I'll pull out the GPS, put a damper on the pendulum and forge ahead with a more tempered and healthy level of attention to the details of life. For there is something else I have re-found within myself - Faith. And because I have faith, there's Hope. 

And that's enough to keep me going.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Another Milestone That Wasn't - But Then Was

Most of today I've been aware of a sort of far off unsettled feeling - It's really hard to articulate... Some folks might say they felt a little "off", like being slightly out of time with the world. But that doesn't seem to fit what I am feeling because this is more subtle than that. Others might talk about a "nagging feeling", something they can't quite put their finger on yet real enough to make itself known. This is different than that too somehow. I guess you could say it's a fairly clear thought, even if it is almost imperceptible. Unlike something that only nags but never materializes, this is more real. I can put my finger on it, but if that's it, it's totally irrelevant now - but the fact remains:

Today would have been my 25th wedding anniversary.

It's not what you think though. I know that because it's not what I would have thought even! Of all the things that someone in this circumstance might be troubled by - Shattered dreams, regrets, longing for what once was, wanting a second chance - none of them are in my thoughts today. No, I've put that stuff in the past for the most part.  But yet something in me keeps faintly, nearly imperceptibly, unsettling me. So I had to stop and really dwell on it for a moment. And then I understood. My little "far off unsettled feeling" is caused by a call to do something that I have no intention of doing. It's not expected, it's not appropriate; It should totally be a non-issue. After 23 years of anniversaries, and this only the second year since divorcing, I just discovered that somewhere deep in the recesses of who I am, there is still that "husband coding" that is trying to be heard, trying to remind me that I have to get something for our anniversary!

Wow! Really? Seriously?

Well, yeah. It's part of who I am after all. For me, being a loving husband (and caring father) is the greatest thing a man can be. I really had no idea what this meant for many, many years, but eventually after 23 years of working at marriage, I think I figured it out and started to make great progress. In any case, I do know that at least a bit of my heart was in the right place from the very beginning because, as naive and arrogant as I was, I got some important things right. One of those things was that I knew that dates were very important. - Birthdays, Anniversaries, milestones of one kind or another - and I never forgot one.

Having figured that out today though was not much of a relief. Because along with discovering the source of that unsettled feeling, I uncovered a deep sense of sadness that I was not able to shake. And taking another few minutes to understand the source of that sadness - that I missed having a partner to love - lead finally to the heart of the matter.

I'm lonely.

But that's OK. I needed to work through a lot to get to this point. I had to shake off all the stuff that was, and embrace all that is. I had to come to terms with the fact that I had been in a bad marriage and heal all the wounds that cut so deeply... and to forgive the ones who inflicted them.

I feel better knowing that I have made it to this place.

Maybe, could it be... perhaps... it's time to get on with my life?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Inspiration

Wait, something must be askew here! Another post within hours of my last post? After months and months of nothing from me? What gives?

In a word, Inspiration!

I just finished reading all of the posts in my sister-in-law's blog. Well that's what she used to be, but I guess now that I'm no longer married to her husband's sister, she's not an in-law anymore. But she is still special to me. Actually, both she and her husband, my former brother-in-law, are very special to me, and I admire them greatly.

While there are many reasons for my admiration, the primary reason is for how they are raising their two children. Their examples as parents is exemplary and I admire them because I know how difficult being a parent is. Frankly, I was not very good at being a dad. I don't mean to give the impression that reading the blog tonight made me realize that fact. To the contrary, I already knew that I was not that great of a father, and I am ashamed at having been only fractionally as good a parent to my two kids as they are to their amazing two children. 


No, reading the blog helped me realize that I have actually been doing a much better job at being a father of late, especially to my daughter, and that made me feel good.


Anyway, the blog very beautifully relates many milestones in my niece and nephew's lives through anecdotes and stories told in a warm and loving style that warms the heart and cheers the soul. It was like I was there visiting for a while! I was surprised at how much I miss them all and, frankly astonished at how much the two kids have grown!

I was compelled to write.

So these folks who I have known for so long, who are no longer related to me but are so important to me and who I still consider family - What do I call them? I think Brother and Sister will do. (I hope they agree!)


My parents didn't have a daughter, so in many ways Happy Blogger, you have been like the sister I never had - So thank you, Sister, for sharing your thoughts and stories for they reminded me of how special your family is, especially your two precious little ones. 
And thank you, Happy Blogger's Husband, Brother, for setting such a great example for all the fathers out there; For being a much better father to your children than your father was to you. The world would be a much better place if all fathers followed in even a few of your formidable footsteps.
And thank you Niece and Nephew for being a most excellent example of the potential that the next generation has to offer. I hope we who have come before you haven't totally messed it up before you get a chance at the world.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Moving forward, looking back

Blogger's note: This post has taken several months to write with countless starts, stops, edits and revisions. You'll probably understand why it was so difficult once you read it. Even though I feel that it is not as cohesive as I'd like, it's going to be posted as is.  So bear with me if you find it difficult to read.

There are many things to think about and an ocean of extreme emotions to deal with when one is preparing to be "single again", and without a doubt each persons experience is unique to them. For me, there were two very distinct and competing emotions with which to deal with.

Fortunately, early on, I was actually pretty excited about living on my own. After 23 years of living with someone who really wasn't fully invested in my emotional well being, and indeed in the later years actually tended to suck much of the life out of life for me, the prospect of being rid of that burden was extremely attractive. I would be able to pass my time doing what I loved to do but had given up for one reason or another over the years - bicycling, watching movies, playing video games, reading and ... well, you get the idea. Before any of that could occur though, I would have to find a place to live.

I started looking at apartments and soon noticed that there were a handful of places along the same street as my daughter's school. I called a couple of the posted numbers and lined up a couple showings. Now my daughter's school is also my Alma mater, and is located in my old neighborhood. When I made arrangements with one landlord she immediately recognized my name - she had known my mother and we soon worked out that her daughter and I were classmates! Small world story, yes, but their apartment was the best one available in the area, the price was right, and my daughter would be able to get herself to and from school as it was literally right across the street. I found it comforting to live in my old neighborhood and be renting from people that new my mother and who would occasionally stop by and chat about how things were when she was alive.

It was soon after securing my apartment that I stumbled upon another very unexpected source of excitement and distraction - shopping! I hadn't expected it at all, and actually had assumed I would hate having to do it. But I found I really enjoyed picking out new things for my new place. Perhaps it was the spending of a bunch of money, knowing that my soon to be Ex was essentially paying for half of everything, or perhaps it was being totally free to get what I wanted without having to answer to anyone else. Whatever the reason, I got through many of what otherwise would surely have been very tough days by shopping. It's not like I was buying crazy stuff either - dishes, glasses, silverware, sheets, food - pretty normal stuff actually. But each purchase was mine to make and only had to please me. It helped me move closer to being me again.

Earlier I mentioned several pastimes that I was eager to get back into now that I would have the chance, but there was one in particular I was really anticipating:  Bicycling! Now that I think about it, having stopped in 1991 I had forgone it for the longest time. That was the year we had our house built and our son was born - As I recall, it just seemed like there wasn't enough time for riding anymore. Anyway, my new apartment was within a short ride of my favorite bike trail - another huge benefit of the place cause I would not have to pack up the bike and drive to a place I felt safe riding, being unsure how steady I would be in the cleats after almost twenty years - but as fate would have it I would have to wait even more to find out. I moved in January and since I am not a year round cyclist, biking would have to wait longer yet! So I found my old gear packed up in a box, got my old bike tuned up, and bought a new helmet. Everything was made ready for the spring and I couldn't wait!

On my first ride, everything was perfect! The weather was beautiful - just a little bit on the cool side, but sunny with no wind. My bike was tuned up, the tires were at full pressure and all my gear was ready to go. Eagerly I donned the full bike garb and stepped into the cleats - I was off! Oh, I was a little unsteady at first, but I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly my confidence grew. Soon I was cruising down the trail, reveling in the sense of freedom and enjoying the weather just like I remembered from so long ago. But as is often the case, reality quickly proved to be much different than the expectation. It had been a loooong time since I had last been on a bike, and even longer since I had set out on the bike trail. My enjoyment had turned to pain! My legs hurt, my arms hurt, my neck hurt, and I was sucking wind like one might high in the mountains. It about killed me, and I don't mean in the physical sense but more in the emotional sense. I was devastated. I was sure this activity would be my salvation but the awful reality of the moment was that I was hating every crank of the pedals, and cursed every gentle slope.  Like an idiot I pressed onward as I always went the end of the trail before turning back.  Of course the trail had gotten longer in the intervening years, but that didn't matter at the time, I had set out to make it, and I was determined to do it.

By the time I had turned around and headed back, every sort of rider, from the youngest to the oldest were blowing by me like I was standing still... and I had to stop several times to stretch, catch my breath and get a drink... not at all like what I imagined. But the worst was looming at the very end of my ride: The last mile - the mile from the trail to my place - was up a very steep, relentlessly long hill...

I walked it.

That night I was in tears. I was disappointed, I had embarrassed myself, I hurt, and I was alone...I hated my favorite pastime. I swore I would never do it again.

But I realized the day after that first ride, even though my sore muscles wouldn't let me forget the ordeal they had endured, that I was not a quitter. This was not going to turn out to be just another bad thing that was happening to me. This was a challenge, sure, but one that I could overcome. It was something that I could do to work out the frustrations of dealing with divorce in a constructive manner. Something that would improve my health, raise my spirits, and occupy my time.  


Somehow I forced myself to go out again. Then again.


And steadily I got better.


I got better at riding - improving my speed and endurance - but even more importantly, got better emotionally as well. And that is no small thing.

Bicycling saved me.

And I mean that more literally than perhaps is comfortable to admit. Remember that other emotion I alluded to way up at the top of this post? The excitement of being single again very, very often let down directly into a deep, soul crushing depression the likes of which I never could have imagined.

It nearly killed me.

And not in the figurative sense like overdoing a bike ride nearly killed me. This was more sinister, and really could have resulted in my early demise...

One day I came home from work totally spent. It had been a difficult day - work was frustrating and I was depressed about it because I had no one to talk to about it. So I got depressed about why I had no one to talk to, and that depressed me more, and there was no one to talk to about that either and... well, that's the vicious death spiral of depression.

So I arrived at my apartment, pulled into the garage, closed the door, leaned my head back in my seat and let out a huge sigh. It was a moment of resignation, of giving up trying to deal with everything, of succumbing to the weighty burdens that had overwhelmed me. It was a moment of realization that I had somehow made it through the roughest day thus far, but I was still faced with a long evening alone with my thoughts. I took a deep breath and as I let it slowly out again, I sort of shut down. My eyes closed....

I have no memories of what I thought about or even how long I was there, but there I was, in a closed garage, sitting in my car

...with the engine running...

What is that sound? What do I smell?

F#$K!

I was furious! What the hell was I doing!

I turned off the car and got out of that garage as fast as I could. Once inside I got a drink of cold water and calmed my nerves. Then I grinned! I think I laughed a little actually - cause I knew then and there that I was not about to give up on myself. I had to much to look forward to! And one of those things was riding. I quickly changed into my riding gear and set off on one of the best rides ever. I had reserves of strength and endurance that made me feel 20 again! I worked out my frustrations, leaving everything on the trail.

I arrived back home totally spent, but totally content as well. I understood then that, because I had been going through a tough stretch at work I had not bothered to go out riding in the past couple weeks. That meant that I was missing out on the benefits of exercise, one of which is elevating the mood.

That was the ride of my life. And not because I made it up that hill at the end in record time, (I really did!) But because I knew that, just like taking up biking again, I could work through being divorced - I would survive.

Biking saved me.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!

This is my second Christmas as a divorcĂ© and while the number of gifts under the tree is small, the meaning of the day is more powerful than ever. Because this holiday is not all about giving material gifts, it is much more. It is a time when we focus on others.Whether through the giving of a gift, the sending of a card, or even a phone call from across the country we take the time to reach out to others to connect to let them know that they are loved. But more importantly than that, Christmas is a powerful reminder that we are loved by God.

I am loved by God!
And so are you...

Merry Christmas