I worked remotely for about four straight years before taking a non-remote job this summer, which puts me at five years total of working remotely. As a percentage, that's about a fifth of my adult life, five of the last six years. I love it, and I generally think it's an extraordinary and efficient way to work. There are some pros and cons either way, and this is a brain dump of those thoughts.
First, let's be real: Commuting sucks. Getting in your car and spending time driving to a place and back again is a serious quality-of-life issue. It's not easily solved by declaring that you'll live near where you work. Even if you do live close to where you work, the longest part of the drive is the part near where you live. The 12 minutes I cover 14 of my 24 miles are book ended by almost 10 minutes a piece of the last few miles to work or home. Every day I worry that I'm going to get into an auto accident, and I don't even live in a place where you have to contend with snow. I lose about six hours per week sitting in my car.
That said, the drive creates a certain separation between work and life that I didn't have before. When I'm working at home, I'm typically plugged in before 8, and it's easy enough to do just this one more thing before I end the day if I don't have to try and beat out the traffic. I found I was working an extraordinary number of 10-hour days, when Diana or Simon would come knocking on my door to see if I was done yet at 6. That's no good.
It's also nice to be among actual humans. I don't go out to lunch with people as often as I thought I would, mostly because I end up inserting lunch to whenever it's most convenient. I'll either bring something back to the office or just eat by myself. But I do end up among people and talking a lot. There are some other decidedly dotcom perks in my case, too, like the chef that makes breakfast Monday mornings and lunch on Wednesday, and the free massages every few weeks.
But when you have a truly remote culture, you don't lose the alleged "opportunity cost" around co-location. I developed rich friendships and deep understanding with the people I worked with remotely, in part because you always used video when you called, so non-verbals are still visible. People use Slack or Teams as a crutch, but anything not easily explained goes to a call with the right people quickly when you're doing remote right. In fact, I would argue that interruptions are minimized and communication is at its most efficient in the remote situation. It forces communication to be deliberate and focused.
I've said before that taking geography out of the equation leads to better hires, and I still believe that.
I'd like to work remotely more, because we're set up for it even if our culture isn't necessarily wired for it, but it would be hard in my position at the moment. One of the reasons we moved was so I could have more office space, and I miss spending time in there. One thing at a time though... building remote culture is not a priority at the moment. I did like the way we would do at least two half-days downtown at a previous job. That was an excellent way to get the band together without feeling all of the negatives around commuting were overwhelming.
Third grade is a fairly awful time, we're learning, and it's especially difficult for Simon. This is the year that they start doing all of the ridiculous testing. To say that it's not good for a kid with ASD and ADHD is an understatement.
What I'm seeing right now, just from the homework angle, is that he's spent by the time he gets home. For basic math, he's not receptive to problem solving strategies, and outright memorization of facts is beyond him. But I've seen where he gets it, and I know that some of the time he gets it. Reading comprehension seems to be more of a bona fide problem, but again, it seems to depend on the circumstances. When it's morning on a weekend, doing the online lessons, he seems to get it, but forget it after school.
I'm often astounded at his ability to get how mechanical things work, and he can soak up and understand spacial relationships all day long. He can recite book passages when it's something he's interested in, and as I mentioned, math is no problem if he's in the right spot. My perception is that he's a brilliant kid when the learning method works for him. He also gets tutoring, which probably contributes to his exhaustion. His self-esteem is hurting a bit, because he thinks tutoring means he's stupid, and the homework situation aggravates this. But the testing could hold him back a year, which I think would screw him up long-term.
I give his teacher all the credit in the world, because I think she's generally trying very hard to reach him in his way, but I worry every day that "the system" is not built to measure him in the right way, even if it is intended to accommodate him the rest of the time. I don't know what I can do about that, and it stresses me out.
While I'm generally frustrated with the lack of engagement among voters, and the fact that we don't send anywhere near our best people to Washington, I think I'm ten times as frustrated with people who can't commit to even the most basic civic engagement at the local level. I can see how you might feel that you don't have any influence at the national level (and you're wrong, and that's why we have asshats there), but the impact on your life at the local level is visible and quantifiable.
It really starts with knowing what you're a part of. You probably live in a municipality or an unincorporated area in a county, and so you have elected leaders and issues maintaining your roads and providing your police and fire. They have budgets and zoning and taxes, and you should understand what those are. I happen to live in an unincorporated area, so we're in a county jurisdiction, and I'm shocked at how few people understand that the city in their address is little more than the zip code. Heck, we're eight miles from the city that shares our zip code. I don't think knowing who you elect and who you pay your taxes to is a particularly high bar to expect.
There are other taxing districts that you live in, chief among them a school district. Do you know where their revenue comes from? Do you know how they decide to build schools and fund them? In a lot of ways, these issues may affect your property value even more than municipal concerns, because crappy schools lead to crappy property values.
Right now I'm thinking largely about our HOA, which is like a mini-government that has jurisdiction over your neighborhood. Some people don't like HOA's, but I do because they hold your neighbors accountable to certain standards, and in our case, it cuts your grass so you never have that one lot on the street that looks abandoned. It means you can share a pool and other common areas. You should care about those things.
I don't think basic civic engagement is a high bar to hit as a member of a community. Know where you live, who's in charge, what's going on.
In politics, we've seen a new level of acceptance for coded racism, reversals on civil rights and outright rejection of observable facts. It's not like the "good old days," where we endured constant spin instead of lies that would suit a particular narrative. On the surface, given the small margins between these sides, those that embrace this deep level of bullshit, and those who do not, it appears as if the nation is solidly spit right down the middle.
The reality is not this at all. The reality is that extraordinary numbers of people simply choose not to get involved. They're so disenchanted by the bullshit that they simply don't vote. If some people don't vote, and the some people will believe the most ridiculous non-facts to suit their beliefs, it's not hard to understand how we got here.
The thing is, it wouldn't be hard to bring some sanity to this if young people voted. Compared to other demographics, people in their 20's are least likely to vote. They're leaving their future and governing of their country to people who will mostly be dead soon. I'm not sure why they don't understand that. Y'all have to vote. We need you, and you need to if you want to have any say in your future.
I can't find the post that I wrote at some point in the last decade, but I know I've written about the range of impact that you can have at your job and on the world in general. For example, one might aspire to establishing new industries, like commercial space flight, but can you really say that this is more impactful than educating children? It depends entirely on your frame of reference and the circumstances. If you're the teacher that influenced the industry creator, and improved the lives of hundreds of children, then I think you can argue that the teacher had the greatest impact.
Work is like that, too. Back in Microsoft's old days (OK, it was only a few years ago), the company was obsessed with promotion to the point that it penalized "stagnant" individual contributors and anyone not ascending to leadership positions. That obviously created a lot of toxic situations between people, since it was a disincentive to help out your teammates, but it also implied that banging out quality code for 40 hours per week also was less impactful in the long run. You don't have to work in the business to understand why that's silly.
In talking with a co-worker this week, I also realized that the wide spectrum of impact, and the desire to have it, has a compatibility matrix with company size, role and context. It seems like there are infinite combinations of circumstances that define impact scope. Going back to Microsoft, you could be the guy that wrote the algorithm to SUM a series of cells, and at this point, millions of people have used that functionality billions of times. But most people working on Excel will do mundane things that are totally necessary, and likely completely unrecognized by end users. I never worked on anything that big, but it's kind of cool to see the reputation system on MSDN has gone largely unchanged since my team of 3-ish developers built it and watched it process 100 million transactions per month in the first year.
Working in a growing company, I see that there is definitely a transition that people make in terms of impact breadth and depth. In a small shop, everyone takes out the trash, I like to say. That means you're forced into a situation where breadth puts you on many different problems at once, and the best you can do is find adequate solutions and move on. In a bigger shop, the problems become more complex, and typically many people have to engage with depth in more specific things. Managers actually get into the reverse situation, where as a company grows, they have to avoid depth and do their best to solve one problem at a time and quickly move on to the next. All of these situations lead to people being impactful, but the shape of that impact varies a ton.
Why does this matter? I think it's because teams have to understand how the breadth or depth of impact translates to being effective. If you're working in the world's largest software company, you can't be concerned with taking out the trash. At a small startup, you can't not have that concern. Effective people have a clear understanding of where they necessarily have to be on the impact spectrum.
I'm a member of Generation X. You know, the slacker generation. I remember the fairly widespread dismissal of my people when I was in college, and in the years after that. It was all the stuff about us being generally disenchanted and never going to amount to anything. At the time it seemed we were supposed to be limited to the "kids" that were in high school and college in the 90's, but the wider definition suggests that we can be a little older than that, and as much as a decade younger.
It turns out that my generation has a mixed record on moving the world forward, but we are largely responsible for the Internet economy, a significant push in entrepreneurial business and we elected the first African-American president. We had great music. We did OK overall. But let's not forget how we used to be, allegedly.
First, let's talk about Millennials. The stereotypes suggest that they're entitled, narcissistic, lazy and naive. Is there truth to that? I suppose it's true for some of them, but I'd hesitate to paint any group with that broad of a brush. I coached them (volleyball) when they were in high school, and they've grown up to be extraordinary people. The thing is, those of us in GenX weren't all that different. I mean, is it really hard to think about how we were just a decade-ish ago? I know that when I was in my late 20's, I was pretty sure that I knew everything, everyone older than me was dumb, I was important, I had better ideas and how dare you tell me that I just need to gain a little experience before I can reach my goals!
What about all of the studies that insist that Millennials adhere to the stereotypes? Is it not obvious about why they're pointless? They aren't old enough yet to make generalizations about how they roll! As they all enter that late 20's, early 30's range, they don't have the life experience and aren't at the same place in terms of career and personal lives that the previous generation is. But they aren't fundamentally all that different than we were at the same age. The biggest difference is that they're more public about how "older people" are full of shit. Because of Twitter and whatever. We didn't have social media at that age, but it doesn't mean we weren't doing the same thing.
Look, telling the younger generation "get off my lawn" is a time honored American tradition. It's perfectly normal to sigh at the way younger people (or older people) behave. But it's also important to be self-aware about it, at least, when we're older. You don't know what you don't know, but I don't think you know that until you know it, you know? I remember being in the height of the dotcom boom, in 2000, surrounded by Boomers at a corporate off-site meeting, horrified about how these "old dudes" just didn't get it. You could never convince me that I was wrong about that, but I certainly was. (That might be a bad example... there were "old dudes" who "get it," but most went to work elsewhere soon after that meeting.) If you think Millennials are not like looking back in time at ourselves, you don't have a very good memory.
Are there real cultural differences between the generations? Of course there is. I think there's some truth to the idea that participation trophies, helicopter parenting and this "safe space" nonsense where people don't want to be exposed to any ideas that upset them put Millennials at a disadvantage initially. However, I don't think that it takes a decade of life experience to overcome that. Like I said, everyone has idealistic and naive expectations in their 20's, but most adjust because they have to. GenX believed college degrees were a shortcut to success and a corner office too. Sound familiar? How's that working out as we approach midlife?
I'm a little disappointed that GenX hasn't really tackled the big problems, but I think there's still time. We're not that old yet. I'm actually really impressed with what we've done, and how far we've come. Millennials will follow in our footsteps and they'll stereotype the "Z's" or whatever they end up calling them with all of the same attributes we gave them. They're not special, and neither are we.
I'm apparently the opposite of "typical" (as if I need more reminders of that), because as I get older, I get less set in my ways and more convinced that ideological absolutes and extremes are the totally wrong way to go about life. Such is the case with current politics. I'm continually disappointed by the left/liberal/Democrat side that doesn't have the balls or moral leadership to actually get anything done, win elections or otherwise motivate constituents. On the other side, I'm completely fed up with the right/"conservative"/Republican schmucks who have been completely hijacked by extremists that appeal mostly to a vocal minority and have no sense of decorum or morality.
We're rewatching The Newsroom (I'm sure I'll write about it again), where Jeff Daniels' character Will McAvoy is an outspoken cable news anchor who also happens to be openly Republican. He's also a former prosecutor and exceptionally scholarly about American history and politics. Set during the 2010 to 2012 time frame, he declares war on the Tea Party and calls them the "American Taliban." During the newscast portrayed at the conclusion of the 2012 election night coverage, a guest analyst asks him how he can call himself a Republican while nightly attacking the GOP. He says:
No, I call myself a Republican 'cause I am one. I believe in market solutions, and I believe in common sense realities and the necessity to defend ourselves against a dangerous world and that's about it. Problem is now I have to be homophobic. I have to count the number of times people go to church. I have to deny facts and think scientific research is a long con. I have to think poor people are getting a sweet ride. And I have to have such a stunning inferiority complex that I fear education and intellect in the 21st century. But most of all, the biggest new requirement, really the only requirement, is that I have to hate Democrats. And I have to hate Chris Christie for not spitting on the President when he got off Air Force One.
Now, take what he said and pile even more on: You also have to believe that immigrants are a scourge on the nation and the source of increasing crime, even though crime is not increasing and immigrants, legal or illegal are less likely to commit crimes than natives. You have to believe liberals all want your guns, when they just want them better regulated. You have to believe that victims of sexual assault are just making it up for political reasons. You have to believe that the press is the enemy, despite being so core to our democracy that it's protected by the Constitution. You have to think that tax cuts for corporations will trickle down to middle class workers (they don't), and that tax cuts are totally worth it no matter how much worse they make the deficit. But worst of all, you have to excuse the behavior of a president that, if it were any of us in any job, would get us fired without question. That's what it's come to.
Look, I find many of the Republican ideals completely absurd, but the core, old school beliefs around small government, fiscal responsibility and a market driven economy aren't all bad. The president and those currently in Congress don't subscribe to these values at all. They're Republicans in name, and that's about it. Where have the reasonable, old school Republicans gone?
When I hear music from late 2013, I associate it with extraordinary energy, hope and a sense of calm that I haven't had for very long periods in my life. In fact, I would say that started to fade a bit after two years, and now I find myself anxious much of the time. It's really obvious to me now, as this week I'm enjoying a "staycation" for a week, after going at it for 14 weeks straight in the new gig.
Naturally, I first make assumptions that it's related to work, but I don't think that's it. Sure, the scope of my responsibilities in this job are a new high for me, but I was feeling this anxiety at my last gig too, and the scope of that job was arguably much smaller than the job before, and definitely smaller than what I had in my contract gig in 2013. In fact, you would think that the 2013 gig would have caused more anxiety, since I didn't know what I would be doing after six (then 12) months. I had no idea what I'd be doing, and had a house I had to buy. So I don't think that the anxiety is rooted in work. The one caveat here is that I thought my last gig would last for years, and the idea that one person other than myself ultimately had control of that situation is troubling. I'm not sure how I get over that.
It could be financial, I suppose. The four month delay on selling the house when the first buyer fell through, along with two months and change of involuntary non-work, was definitely not a comfortable situation, and having to replace both cars and being under contract to install solar really stretched everything way too thin. I won't be fully recovered from that until the end of the year, when I can finally recast the loan on the house, almost a year after I had intended to. I don't know how I went a decade and a half of my college/adult life living with debt, because now even the prospect of doing so makes me queasy.
Parenting definitely causes anxiety. It's hard to imagine, but getting Simon in the right place academically and socially, given the challenges around ASD and ADHD, really have their best shot in the next four years. That's a lot of pressure, and I feel like I might be making him miserable when I just want him to be prepared for the difficult teenage years. I want him to feel understood, and socially capable.
It could also be age. We're headed for mid-life, and that comes with some realizations. We know people who get cancer and have heart attacks now. It's scary. It's weird to even talk about it out loud. We have suboptimal lipid panels come back and need biopsies and get weird things on our skin. That all is even more weird in part because we have a young child, where our peers would have one quite literally graduating from high school now. I don't fear death in the sense that I accept and understand it as the ultimate outcome of my life, but I sure as hell don't want it to affect my child in his youth or my wife in our prime (or vice versa).
Maybe the bigger stressor is that I find myself not capable of living in the moment. I feel like I'm always looking forward to something, usually that next travel opportunity. That's no good, because I don't want to miss what's happening right in front of me.
This too shall pass, I'm sure, but for now, I don't have answers yet.
Today was pretty rough for two people in particular in a Senate hearing for a Supreme Court nominee. There have been a lot of accusations about conspiracy and toxic politics. The validity of those accusations seems to vary based on your perspective, but let's look at it from a different angle.
The Supreme Court is the top of one of our three branches of government, and it's populated with lifetime appointees. It's really serious, and really important. It has historically involved some intense scrutiny toward nominees, as it should. This isn't some student council gig, it's the Supreme Court. It's gonna be deeply personal, as it should be.
You can make accusations about partisan politics, but this is largely the same judiciary committee that sat the last justice.
Truthfully, I'm not that troubled by any single appointment to the court, because by design, it doesn't make laws. A lot of the changes people would like to see in government can be made by the legislature, provided it's constitutional. It's a slow process, but that's also by design.
I don't think Kavanaugh should be confirmed. Any doubt about his integrity should be enough, because it's the Supreme Court. Even if he didn't do it, and it really is his word against Dr. Ford's, I'm troubled by his participation in entitled private school bro culture. That's enough for me. It's uncomfortable that people will question the memory of a woman who was assaulted, but a guy who liked to party and tie one on can have a memory like a steel trap.
We have to do better.
There's a well-known guy from Microsoft who, for a short time between re-orgs, worked in the same org as me about 8 years ago. He was here this week for a conference, and was nice enough to speak to our local user group. We talked ever briefly about the old MSDN days and some of the people we both knew at the time. Then, Facebook reminded me that this is the seventh anniversary of the day we packed all of our crap onto a truck headed from Snoqualmie, Washington, to Brunswick, Ohio. This brings back a lot of crappy feelings, and I think I'm long overdue to unpack all of that and understand the feelings.
Let me say that I love where we are now. Orlando feels so right and I love it here. That's the part that makes the least sense, because had we not left, we wouldn't be where we are. Moving here was a correction, so maybe it's just that I don't like being wrong.
In 2009, about six months after Diana and I got married (and with her being about five months pregnant), we moved to Seattle from Cleveland on Microsoft's dime. We left Ohio with two unsold houses, hers and my own. It was enormously stressful, given all of that transition. New marriage, baby on the way, new job, new city, almost two weeks being transient, and unresolved real estate situation 2,600 miles away... it was a lot to process at once. But we found an apartment pretty quickly, even if it did end up to be suboptimal, and joining The Empire and being on campus was a fairly exciting thing. My brother-in-law and his family were pretty close to us, too, so my baby had cousins. We had an instant social scene because of the parent group.
About two years later, Diana's house had been sold in a short sale and mine still wasn't going anywhere. We had not really banked any significant cash, and I was endlessly frustrated with paying for two places to live. On a trip back to Ohio, there was a little nostalgia, and the idea popped into our heads that we could solve much of our financial non-action by moving back and living in that house, assuming that the job market there had improved. I quickly got a job, and we just decided to do it. From that moment on, I didn't feel good about it, and there were a ton of reasons for it.
First, I hated the idea of leaving Simon's cousins. I think I struggle with it even more now because of his social challenges, and I assume that cousins don't get to say things like, "I'm not your friend," to him. I'm so happy they have a Florida house now, and even Disney passes, but it's still going to be limited to two or three visits per year.
Leaving Seattle itself kind of hurt. I can't really put into words how beautiful the Pacific Northwest is. Seeing those mountains every single day inspired a sense of peace. There was a sense of belonging I felt there that was unusual for me. There were so many great people I would encounter every day.
Then there was leaving Microsoft. I think I could have stayed, but I definitely was going to struggle a bit where I was, after I changed positions. My peers had quit by then, and my boss, through no fault of his own, was relatively inexperienced and schooled in the old way of making software at Microsoft, which was fundamentally incompatible with everything I had seen and done for the previous decade or so. That may have made it harder to move to a better scene. The company was still a few months away from ditching the stack ranking and toxic obsession with promotion, so it's hard to say. I truly loved that company, and leaving it felt like some kind of failure. I don't know if I'll ever be at peace with that.
I didn't have a high level of confidence in the job I found, but also appreciated that there was a lot out there. It wasn't going to be Redmond, for sure. I landed at this marketing agency in downtown Cleveland, and they had nothing for me to do. What's worse, they wanted me to be in the building 8:30 to 5:30, which was wholly absurd, and particularly horrible given the general desire to not drive during rush hour. When I questioned this, of course, I was no longer a good fit. That day I got an offer from someone else, and within a few weeks, I got the Humana offer to work remote (that job was insanely frustrating, too). This wasn't great career focus.
The 21 months that followed in the Cleveland burbs came with weird feelings too, and they probably had more to do with the feelings of regret than anything. At first, it was cool because we squeezed in a few Cedar Point visits in the fall, which is one of my favorite things ever. But then it got colder, and winter eventually brought snow, and I just loathed it. Everything was gray. As I was working remotely, I would stare out my window and it was just bleak. I felt stuck, but more than anything I just felt as though I made a lot of mistakes. I'm OK with being wrong, but it felt like I made too many mistakes around that move.
All this said, a year into that move, it was pretty clear that the financial turnaround was working. Early in 2013, after I bailed on Humana, I took a lucrative (if impossibly boring) contract gig with the specific intention of moving again, either back to Seattle or to Orlando. We all know how that turned out.
If I were silly wealthy, I think I would spend summers in Seattle and the rest of the year in Orlando. I say silly wealthy, because Seattle is too expensive to own a place you only spend three months a year in. Real estate there is at least twice the cost per square foot as it is here. I miss the people, the technology vibe and the beautiful landscape. But I love Orlando, too. It has been really good to me.
Figuring out what to do in my spare time has been a struggle for really my entire adult life. I don't get why it's so hard. For a long time I wondered why I even had to have a hobby.
I can genuinely say that video has been a hobby for me since around 2006, when I bought a bunch of gear, just seven years after I left it as a profession (and I'm freaked out that 12 years have since passed). Since moving to Florida, I haven't done as much of that as I would like, maybe one thing a year, but nothing yet this year. Of course I've considered writing software a hobby as well, but I've struggled with doing that for fun given how much I was writing it for work in my last job. That may reverse now that I'm back to not writing it during the day. I used to game more, but the scope of games that interest me isn't very wide anymore. I've expressed interest in making stuff, with wood for example, but I don't know where to start. I'd like to learn to play guitar or piano or something, but that's another thing that's hard to start.
The thing is, I do like to write. It doesn't require a lot of resources to do so. I mean, I've been writing on this dumb blog forever. I've had some articles published, and various letters to editors. I wrote a programming book once. I wrote some pretty bad screenplays that I never want to look back at. But I really like writing.
In the spring I took Aaron Sorkin's Masterclass on screenwriting, and it was fairly inspiring. I have a lot of stories in me, so I want to getting them out. Writing should be my hobby.
I watched Lost in Translation today for the first time in a few years. I realized though that the movie is now 15-years-old, and that may explain why I react differently to it today, compared to when I first saw it. It's not just that I'm older, I've since divorced, re-married, had a child, moved 7,000 miles and have generally seen a whole lot of life since then. Back then, I identified with Charlotte's distress over who and what you're supposed to be. Today it's more about how Bob thinks he should buy a Porsche and eat better.
The world looks different as time goes on, and it's not so much because the world is changing (though it certainly is), but because we change. When I stop and think about all of the change in the last 20 years, it's exhausting. I can't imagine what the next 20 look like, which is also exhausting to think about.
I would like to generalize that we learn a ton, and we're able to better function in the world because of it, but I know people far older than me who still aren't very good at life. It makes me wonder if objectively I'm good at it. All of that knowledge and wisdom that should come with time and experience... am I doing the right things with it? Do I use it to my advantage? Am I offering advice to others based on that experience?
I definitely go through phases with that line of thinking. When you turn 30, it's like this realization that, wow, you're definitely an adult now. You have responsibilities and there's more to life than hanging out with your friends and getting drunk on the weekends. At 40, the realization about where you are in life is more complicated, because you still don't have it all figured out, and you've got a long way to go. But I do think that, if you're self-aware, it's OK to give yourself a little more credit, and realize that, yes, you don't have all of the answers, but you've got a lot more than you used to. It's OK to be confident about that.
All of the drastic life change in my mid-30's created an interesting opportunity to reboot life, and with that, some of the milestones around marriage, procreation, career and such came later than it might for others. I'm not sure if that's better, worse or indifferent, but it's definitely harder to relate to people. The world is different, but so am I. I like my part of the world, even if I still don't always understand it.
When Living Colour's Vivid album came out, I was a freshman in high school. I think 1988 was an awkward year for music, because the best of 80's top 40 was kind of done, and rock music was getting kind of lame. We had Michael Jackson, George Michael was having a new solo career and holdouts like Genesis, Pink Floyd and the Rolling Stones were still filling arenas. But there was this one band, an African-American group out of New York City that were led by a guy who could sing R&B or scream, and a guitarist who could shred and blow your mind. Their lyrics were political in a way that I really had never heard before. That was Living Colour, and I never got to see them. They ended up opening for the Stones, which as a high school kid meant I couldn't afford to ever see them live.
(Sidebar: When I was in college, the "classic rock" we played was 20 to 30 years old. Vivid is now 30 years old. What do you even call that? It's also weird that popular recorded music, as a thing, now spans about 70 years.)
Living Colour had three albums and an EP in those years through my college experience, and I never did get to see them. I didn't think much about them until the last two years, when they played the Epcot Eat To The Beat concert series during the Food & Wine Festival, but I missed them both years. This year, I refused to let that happen. The band was dormant for a number of years, and Corey Glover, the singer, even did a run as "Judas" in a tour of Jesus Christ Superstar, which is hardly surprising given his vocal abilities. Friday I got to see two of their three sets.
These guys are about as loud as a rock band can be, and easily the loudest of the concert series. Vernon Reid does things to a guitar that don't seem human, and he does it every song. Glover is as good of a singer as ever. I would have loved to have seen them do "Open Letter (To A Landlord)," but that's the only song I missed (maybe they did it in the second set). Of course they did the contractually obligated "Cult of Personality" in both of the sets I saw, but also "Glamour Boys," "Middle Man," "Funny Vibe," "Desperate People," "Memories Can't Wait," "Ignorance Is Bliss" and others I'm not remembering off the top of my head. They definitely leaned heavily on Vivid, but "Ignorance" came from 1993's Stain and felt particularly relevant today. I don't think I heard anything from Time's Up, but again, I didn't see the second set. Glover took a move from Mark McGrath's playbook and roamed the crowd doing selfies. And like other bands, they indulged in a pretty great cover, this time a very metal version of The Clash's "Should I Stay Or Should I Go." I mean, it was face-melting.
It may have taken three decades for me to see them, but I'm so glad that I did. They're amazing. I realize now that they were ahead of their time. It's also frustrating that their music is so relevant today. "Funny Vibe" might as well be an anthem about driving while black this decade. Have we really not gotten past that in 30 years?
Living Colour is a bright spot from the late 80's/early 90's that are as good as ever. If they come back next year, I will make it a point to see all three sets.
I've written countless times about how fear is everything in politics now. The right wants you to fear brown people and education, the left wants you to fear rich people and corporations. TV is filled with crime porn both in "news drama" and fiction. If these are the lenses with which you view life, then you undoubtedly feel the world is a scary place.
Social media of course amplifies this. If you live in a community that uses a Facebook group or Nextdoor, you likely have seen neighbors who believe that everything is so bad, and everyone suspect, that there's little to do but barricade yourself in your house and never come out. At our last house, we had a neighbor who said the development had turned into a third-world country (shocking news I'm sure for the people living there that actually immigrated from a third-world country). In the current place, a neighbor suggested you shouldn't answer the door when strangers are there, because they might push their way in, take your children and everything you own. I'm not exaggerating.
How did we get like this culturally? Maybe it's because I grew up in a rough neighborhood (though I never knew it at the time), but life in the suburbs is relatively safe and easy going. There are certainly crimes of opportunity, as there are anywhere, but I can't imagine operating as if I'm inevitably going to be a victim of something heinous. Statistically, it's extremely improbable that some stranger is going to kidnap your children. And we know that being out and about in your neighborhood and knowing people is a huge deterrent against those crimes of opportunity.
What's particularly frustrating is that you can't reason with people with... reason. Crime in our county is down year over year. Nationally it has been trending down for decades, some regional exceptions aside. Immigrants (legal or not) are less likely to commit crimes than natives. You're more likely to be struck by lightning than be a victim of terrorism. Kids are rarely abducted by strangers. These aren't my opinions, they're facts. So much of the fear is irrational.
If you watched the prime time Emmy Awards this year, you may have noticed that most of the winners aren't even technically on in prime time. They're streamed, which means you can watch them any time you want. Still, they're all lumped together, and the old TV networks were barely recognized. For the broadcast awards show, the only winners were SNL for NBC, in a category where it has almost no competition, and the Oscar telecast on ABC. Everything else was on the streaming services and pay cable channels. In fact, if you count the creative arts awards given the weekend before, the Oscar show was the only thing ABC won at all. It's hardly a mystery why Disney wants to launch a streaming service not bound to the broadcast model. Fox had 3 awards, CBS 2. Only NBC made a dent, with 15 awards total for SNL, Will & Grace and Jesus Christ Superstar Live.
For us, we kind of gave up on network TV this year. Even during periods of time when we didn't have cable, we had at least four or five shows we kept up with via Hulu. This year, it came down to NBC's This Is Us and ABC's Designated Survivor, which went nowhere in the second season and was cancelled. We had high hopes for Rise on NBC (because musical theater geeks), but they killed that pretty quickly too. There's nothing good on network TV.
We made some great discoveries though on the streaming services. Diana has been into a few different series over the years, but this year she did the horrifying Handmaid's Tale. I couldn't watch it because it's too awful. I did watch Amazon's The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, which is frankly the best thing I've watched in years, and it deserved the awards. It's really fantastic. I also enjoyed Jack Ryan, which like 24, took a solid approach toward terrorism and how not simple it is. They also have Catastrophe, which has three short but wonderful seasons. Over on Netflix, Simon has enjoyed the Voltron and Magic Schoolbus reboots.
So why are these services making better TV than the networks? The first thing is that they're not competing for advertising budgets. This is a wholly broken model because it creates the chicken/egg problem around having a blockbuster to attract the audience, and therefore the cash. The networks want a quick return or they'll bail. The artistic value is irrelevant, and that's what wins awards. There's no way to win here, because you want to create something that is safe enough to have broad appeal, which often appeals to no one.
The streamers, and to a degree HBO, aren't constrained to a few time slots per night, broad appeal to attract ad dollars or even broadcast standards for language. So if you're Amazon, and the writer of Gilmore Girls pitches you a story about a 50's New York society Jewish girl who gets drunk and does brilliant and raunchy standup comedy after her husband leaves her, you can throw money at it and a bunch of other diverse projects and potentially end up with a winner. This show would never have been made for network TV.
I think we're in a strange new golden age for TV that isn't really TV anymore. I'm wondering if there's something that could ruin it for us, but so far, Amazon, Netflix, Hulu and eventually Disney are complimentary and not at risk of killing each other at the current costs. I'm pretty excited about what comes next.
If there's one thing the Internet can show you, it's that people are exceptional at being assholes to each other. The latest example of this is the Serena Williams controversy, which has yielded little constructive conversation. I already wrote about my feelings on it, but if for some reason you think I'm unqualified to have an opinion (I'm getting to that), then take Martina Navratilova's opinion. She's among the best players ever, and did so while being openly gay in the 80's. I think what she says carries significant weight, and I agree with her.
I'm a white, straight guy, brought up in a middle class, Christian, Midwest environment. I have no real ethnicity or nationality to identify with, though my grandfather was 100% Polish, so I guess that puts me in the 25% bracket, and there are jokes about that I don't really get or find offensive because I have no context. My socioeconomic background could not be any more generic. I went to school in Cleveland during the court-ordered desegregation years, which meant that I was bused to the primarily black east side half the time, and the other half went to local schools in white-ish neighborhoods that were mostly Latino and Eastern European while black kids were bused to the west side. This entire arrangement to me as a grade school kid was meaningless, and I only understood it to be "busing" without intent. At that age, we were just a bunch of kids learning to read, write and do math. I kind of knew that I was a minority, but I couldn't think of any reason that it mattered. The world was pretty simple in my eyes, even if I didn't understand the racist jokes my grandfather made all of the time.
In high school, I moved to a mostly-white suburb, and it all made sense. In college, it made even more sense, and I spent a lot of time being angry at people for being stupid around issues of race and sexuality. After college, when I started coaching girls volleyball, I became angry about the inequality of women. I've spent a lot of time being angry, despite not having any real skin in the game, only because it felt like, morally, it was the right thing to do.
These days, it seems like the discourse is reserved only for the people who are aligned with the people disadvantaged. Men are routinely dismissed as "mansplaining," and white people are disregarded for their privilege. This totally goes on, for sure, but more and more, this judgment is rendered early and without context. That's not OK.
I've been an advocate for other human beings my entire life. I'm not looking for recognition or congratulations for that, but I do expect the courtesy to offer an opinion and not have it rejected outright because I'm a white dude. Not everything comes down to two divisive sides. Sometimes there is plenty of nuance, or seemingly opposing things that coexist. The Serena situation is a perfect example of this: We can and should talk about sexism in the sport (and silly coaching rules), but we can also expect that our greatest athletes conduct themselves with exemplary sportsmanship. I may not have much obvious identity to connect to, but I am a parent and a coach, and I feel strongly that it's not OK to damage your equipment or yell at officials, no matter how right you are.
We can be angry at the situation without declaring everyone as with or against you. That m.o. is the campaign that got the guy in the White House elected. I don't expect that we can ever go back to the naiveté of my grade school experience, but we don't have to shut down conversations because others don't think they're as simple as you do.
I've never been much of an athlete, but for most of my life been involved in sports in one way or another. This despite the ongoing jokes with coworkers about my general disregard for "sportsball." I mean, I lettered in girls volleyball in high school (manager), spent plenty of time line judging, running clock, announcing players, etc. In college I played club ball and did some officiating, then after college I coached for something like ten seasons. Eventually I picked up tennis, took lessons and even did a USTA season. In other words, I've been directly involved in literally hundreds of contests, and I've seen a lot as a participant. I know what sportsmanship looks like, and it didn't always come easy.
I'll never forget having to hand out a yellow card as an official. I only did it once, but it was uncomfortable for me, as I'm sure it was for the player. The dude had put up a block and tagged the net pretty hard while the ball sailed over the block and out of bounds. It was a pretty obvious call, and he was pissed. It was actually the second straight time he did it, but I didn't make the call the first time because I was new, and unsure of myself. I kind of just let him be pissed and rant about the call, until he made it personal and told me to "open your eyes." It was at that point that I busted out the yellow card. He didn't made any more rants (or net violations) the rest of the match.
My next encounter with cards came in my first year coaching 17's, which is kind of the varsity of the club circuit (better, in my opinion, because that's where the kids get recruited). It was my fourth season coaching, and I felt like I had a lot to prove, with a bunch of small kids, some of whom were second string on their high school teams. In my second tournament, I had a seriously poor official in the playoffs. She had a ball come off of one of my blockers and land plainly on the other side. The line judge, a kid from a sitting team, called it out without being able to see through the defensive player and the two blockers. I wasn't going to yell at the kid certainly, but the official was literally looking at the floor where it happened and should have made the call. Like I said, my kids weren't that big, so getting a big block was a treat and I yelled up to the official asking how she could not override the call. I was pissed, and I felt like I was advocating for my kids. She yellow carded me. Later, after the opposing setter was catching the ball, double-hitting, just making a mess for a 17's tournament, I laid into the official again. One of my kids was actively trying to get me to chill out, but I persisted, and I got redcarded. I might have thought I was advocating for the kids, but I lost a little of their respect that day, not to mention that of the parents.
Which brings me to the US Open final between Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka. By now you know what happened. The official gave Serena a warning for receiving coaching, which the coach admitted to but she denies. There's definitely a healthy debate to be had about the rule and how arbitrary its application may be, but that's not the place or time. Her second code violation came when she broke her racket after Osaka continued to put on the pressure. That meant giving Osaka a free point. Serena then started to lay into the official over the penalty caused by her throwing down her racket, which went on for awhile, until she called him a thief for "stealing" the point away from her. That's when she had her third code violation and gave Osaka a game. Osaka went on to win, but even without the penalties, she was beating Serena in most of the stats.
There has been a lot of anger over the whole affair, with accusations about sexism, double standards and the validity of the coaching rule. I think those are all valid discussions to have, and they're very important. But Serena still made a choice when she slammed down that racket. Even if we make the argument that someone else can get away with it, does that make it right? This is a professional athlete we're talking about. There is responsibility that comes with that, especially when you're arguably one of the best in history. I immediately thought back to the 2009 tournament against Kim Clijsters, where Serena threatened a line judge over a foot fault after slamming her racket down.
The stakes are higher when you're a professional, and one of the best. I let down my kids and parents, and I was just coaching a bunch of high school kids. Serena is an athlete at the highest level, representing women, moms and the United States. Slamming your racket when you're getting beat isn't OK, and debating the outcome of that by berating the official isn't OK either. The circumstances around rules and sexism matter, but it isn't right to simultaneously chastise others for bad behavior and use it as an excuse for someone else. It's like the right accusing the left of immoral behavior to justify their own in politics.
If someone plays sportsball, it's important to demonstrate sportsmanship, and be an example. The higher we go, the more of a responsibility that becomes.
I haven't written about parenting lately in recent months, I guess because I'm often not sure where to go with it beyond, "I don't feel like I'm doing it right." Not only that, but when so much of your time is spent thinking about ASD or ADHD, you can't help but feeling like you're spending too much time on what's "wrong." That's definitely not something I want to do, because I do have some great times with Simon. He can also be pretty funny, though sometimes unintentionally, and with a kid that socially struggles, that's certainly a good thing.
While I get frustrated with the fact the he's not always showing empathy, or even appears outright selfish at times, I can see very clearly that he's very emotional, and that emotion can come flooding out at times. Even at 8, it's still very important to him that we lie down next to him at bed time to talk before bed. Diana and I take turns at this, and we've been trying to get him to talk more about what he feels. There's a secondary motivation here, that academically he sometimes has issues composing things into well formed thoughts and sentences even when he understands internally what he knows. It's odd how he can see numbers and all of the math shortcuts, and can read all day, but still finds expressive language challenging.
We've very suddenly been hearing things from him, in a good way. He's starting to share, though he's more apprehensive about doing so with me, probably because I'm pretty brutal about him being accountable for what he says and does. But last night, he first expressed that he got into trouble at school for doing something that a classmate was doing (he didn't say what). I asked him if he did this because it helped him feel like he belongs, but he had trouble understanding what I meant.
From there we went on to other subjects, and he expressed that no one liked him at school. That's a heartbreaking thing to hear from your kid. I asked him why he felt this way, and he said that it was because no one laughed when he was funny. This was something of a relief, because I suspect this feeling was based on his misunderstanding about a social contract. I explained that being funny wasn't really an indicator about how much people like you, which he seemed to partially accept. He has all of the same kids in his class this year, and I can't believe they don't like him. He's having some trouble on the bus with some kid (and an inattentive driver), but I know some kids like him.
We talked about making friends, and how to get people to like you, and I brought up the example of one of the neighbor kids, a sister that is a few years older than one of his peers. She routinely defends Simon and calls out some of the other kids when they aren't being very nice. I asked Simon if he thought that she liked him, and he said yes, and we talked a bit about how she's nice to everyone, and that really makes her likable. I asked if he could do that, and he said it would be too hard.
A minute later, as sleep was catching up with him, he said that he would like to try that, so we had a deeper conversation about the haters and how you can't really win them over, so it's best to ignore them. I don't know how much of this really sunk in.
The thing that was most painful about this conversation was how I related to it, from my own time in grade school. I was the "weird kid" as well, and I did not fit in. Kids are dicks, and I remember that in painful detail, though I had mostly forgotten because, well, I'm over 40. Simon brought it all back to me, which made it even harder to hear what he was telling me. But I get how intense his feelings are, and how much he wants to belong. You can't think critically about your own self-worth at that age.
I know my kid is going to suffer at times, and I struggle with the extent to which he has to endure it as a developing human being, and how much I should try to protect him. It doesn't feel good.
I was reading a blog post by Om Malik about how he's leaving Facebook, and it's a declaration that a lot of people seem to be making lately, especially in technology circles. I respect Om and his writing, and I think he was a solid journalist, and I loved his writings about his recovery after a heart attack. But I think his generalizations about why and how people use it aren't very good.
Let me first say that Facebook is most certainly on the hook for questionable behavior and some adverse effects on society. Along with Google, it has become a gategeeper to the Internet, which sucks when that kind of power is concentrated. That social media companies largely reinforce echo chambers and allow ill intent to occur on their networks is definitely not OK.
Here's where I think Om has it wrong, and he's frankly saying the same thing that a lot of valley types are saying:
I left because it was making me someone I am not — someone who lives life through the eyes of others. There is a hard edge in Facebook life. People are always fronting — putting their best life forward.
I find this to be a silly generalization. Maybe that is how valley people are, but not so much everyone else. It begs the question about whether or not online life is just an extension of how people act in real life. I can tell you that I, along with the people I generally see as active on Facebook, aren't fronting. Quite the opposite, we share about the struggles, the frustrations, the pain and the parts that are not the best. We don't live life through the eyes of others, we live life seeking empathy and friendship with people we can't always see in real life. (I might add that, anecdotally, this is more true for people who have moved around a bit.) It's an online kind of authenticity that, at the very least, matches how we conduct ourselves in the world, with all of the confidence, insecurity, joy and sadness that goes with it.
So if you leave Facebook because you think it makes you different, is it because you are putting on a show? Social media in general seems to produce these weird "celebrities" who gain notoriety for not really doing anything. Are you trying to be that, or just keep in touch with people you actually know? If it's the former, then cool, I guess Facebook really isn't for you. Just don't project that on the rest of us.
I remember in the primaries leading up to the 2000 election, I found Bill Bradley and John McCain as infinitely more interesting than Gore and Bush. Bradley was a bit more liberal, but McCain just seemed less... Republican status quo. Over the years, I can't say that I was happy with his policy positions as a senator, and picking Sarah Palin as a running mate was bowing to the gradual hijacking of the GOP, but he was usually able to be a respectful human being and assume morally decent positions. He wouldn't accept the Obama birther nonsense, he was against torture, he could be a war hero but call out wasteful defense spending and mostly came on the right side of immigration. He was entirely too aligned with his party on most other issues though.
I think that the reason people liked McCain, even his opponents, is that he was a decent person. His party has been hijacked by people who are not decent, and who feed on fear and hate. I'm not saying that McCain wasn't a party to this (at the very least he was too frequently silent about it), but I'm always drawn to the moment where he shut down the birther woman in a town hall and expressed respect for Obama as a person. I feel like you won't get that from a lot of sitting Republicans right now.
I do hope that people in his party can honor his memory by trying to be more like him. I might not agree on policy, but politicians don't need to be assholes to each other, the press or the public.