He Said, She Said

“He who only knows his side of the argument, knows very little of that.”

This paraphrased quote, borrowed from utilitarian philosopher John Stuart Mill, speaks to the idea of the importance of counter arguments. It is impossible to render a verdict until both sides of the argument have been provided and explained, no matter how strongly one may feel about an issue. Many of my students have changed their minds over an important matter after they were forced to argue the opposite side of their (seemingly) preferred position.

I would contend the same holds true in our interpersonal relationships. That is to say that when a friend is having trouble in a relationship and are explaining this relational strife to you, I would extend this idea that he who only hears one side of the story, does not know the story at all, or, at the very least, very little of it.

So when someone recently was explaining to me the plight of their friend who was “screwed over” by their now ex-husband, my first reaction was as to whether or not they had heard the ex’s side of the story. Exasperated that I did not immediately just buy into the “victimhood” and plight of her friend, we just decided to drop the conversation. What she wanted to hear was, “That no good, dirty bastard!” Of course he may be, yet I have lived long enough to know a scorned human being is rarely an objective one, perceptions jaded by the scabs of deep wounds.

This is not to suggest I believe such people to be lying, rather they are experiencing the situation through hurt and prejudiced senses, lacking the ability to perceive their own personal responsibility, if there is indeed some to be found, and, in my experience, there usually is some.

This is not a gender issue. I have heard a myriad of men speak to the misery unleashed by their former significant female other and I refuse to believe such a demonization until I have heard what their now-nemesis and former lover has to say; after all, men and women typically have different antennas. However this is only if I am requested to render a conclusion at all. Often times I just sit silent and think to myself what the other he or she would have to say…most frequently no response neither requested nor necessary.

Same for the “he said, he said” and “she said, she said” crowds. Hell, even for the “they said, they said” relationships.

All of us human beings just love to fill-in-the-blanks of unknown, missing and incomplete information.

Or…

Perhaps in our quest to empathize with those we love we forsake THE truth for the sake of HER or HIS truth?

Could it be both sympathy and/or empathy are superior to truth seeking?

Ah, my place, tensionland.

Rene’, my partner for over 40 years, and I have always said that if one of us declared in a court of law the 4 or 5 worst things we have ever done or said to each other in these past 4 decades, we would both be able to paint a pretty awful picture of each other…without uttering one single lie and no trace of perjury to be found.  40 plus years is a hell of a long time to be picture perfect for your partner. To catch someone and declare them guilty in their few worst moments, when thousands of best moments abound, is both inaccurate and unfair. And if you know what I think of my partner, that is fairly eye opening.

I must admit to being skeptical towards one who feels the need to express their ill will towards a former lover at all in the first place. Why? Are they seeking said empathy? Or trying to abdicate their personal responsibility and personal poor behavior over their role in the dissolution of the relationship? By painting a horrible and terrible picture of a former partner are they attempting to justify their own poor choices?

I would contend it is frequently the latter, and perhaps, at times, the former. Maybe both.

Does empathy outweigh truth-seeking?  One could argue THE truth will likely never be known in any case, so why not love on and console a hurt loved one? Or does truth-seeking keep both parties responsible for their role in the failed relationship, hence coming to terms with their own reality and culpability? This may provide a good opportunity to look in the relationship mirror at our own shortcomings.

Of course, the answer to these questions is purely on a case-to-case basis, while one “empathy vs. truth seeking” size does not fit all.

In any case, before we go ahead and demonize anyone, we may want to hear the other side of the story, as he who only knows one side, knows very little of that.

 

 

 

 

Legacy

I think every family has that “weird” uncle, right? I am quite certain, that in my family of origin, I am that weird uncle to certain nieces and nephews. In fact, I know I am.

However, if you believe this moniker of “weird” is somehow unflattering or disrespectful, you have no idea about my thoughts on “weird.” If interested, you could read about those thoughts here.

In short, I really like people who are different. How boring this planet would be if we did not have eccentric, strange people inhabiting it.

Enter my Uncle Les. My 87 year-old uncle recently passed away from lung cancer. As the one who presided over the funeral while delivering the eulogy, I had a chance to sit back and really reflect on my strange uncle. Though was he really that strange? You be the judge.

Uncle Les never married. He rarely dated, at least to my knowledge, and I was around for 56 of his 87 years. He never had children, or if he did he performed a stealth-like job keeping it a secret. He lived alone with his two pooches in a modest house in the hills of Burbank.

While recently cleaning out some of his belongings in his home, a neighbor came over and informed us he was very territorial and, allegedly, threatened gun play when someone dared park in front of his house or trespass on his property. I do not think he was a violent guy, you know, he just, like, didn’t appreciate unwanted trespassers I guess.

I have plenty of Uncle Les stories, like the time when I was a kid and my family was driving home one night and we watched as police officers were giving a man a field sobriety test…lo and behold it was my uncle.

But that was a long time ago. Uncle Les stopped boozing sometime in the mid 80’s.

Yet perhaps the strangest thing about him was his relationship with money. In our Hungarian family he was known as an “ocho sheggi,” (please do not hold me accountable for the spelling of this phrase) which is Hungarian for “cheap ass.”

To illustrate, often times for Thanksgiving he would eat at the local Salvation Army to save a few bucks. He was generous enough to will me his car upon his passing, and though Uncle Les had plenty of money in the bank, several properties, and a home worth damn near a million bucks, he left me a 2011 Toyota Yaris with crank windows.

I had no idea they still manufactured cars with crank windows in 2011.

You could say he was a “no frills” kind of guy. He actually enjoyed being extremely cheap, saving every penny he could whenever he could. He would brag about how little he paid for things…if he even paid for it at all and was not picking it out of a local dumpster.

But dammit, I loved the guy…a lot. I really did, particularly as he aged. His relationship with money was endearing in a strange kind of way. We would often take him out to lunch or dinner and I would pick up the tab. As I swooped up the $32.49 check to pay, he had a look in his eye like I just bought him a new Tessla Roadster or 14 carat diamond watch.

And, to be fair, he would treat on occasion as well…even if it was the greasy spoon called Harry’s Family Restaurant in beautiful downtown Burbank, where the omelettes are 4.99 though the cockroaches come for free.

But this is not why I write today. I write because Uncle Les is remnant of a bygone era whose values are sadly dying with it. Born circa 1930, a depression era baby, Uncle Les and his ilk did not run out and by new socks when one wore a hole through one – you stitched it back up and off you went.

You valued hefty savings accounts not expensive cars; a “rainy day” fund over fancy clothes. Uncle Les had enough money to do whatever he wanted to do: buy a bigger house, a nicer car, a vacation property or two, but, no. He had developed a lifestyle that he was content with and lived life on his own “ocho sheggi” terms.

So now I, along with my siblings and cousins, am left with what Uncle Les refused to spend and I feel really weird about it. Really weird.

Perhaps my biggest take away is the old adage, that money cannot buy you happiness. Or that a man worked his entire life and saved damn near every penny for the sole purpose of leaving it for the next generation – a next generation that did not include any children of his own.

Uncle Les lived in an age where character mattered and the legacy a person leaves actually meant something.

As we buried Uncle Les we did not bury his legacy nor our gratitude for his profound generosity. As we lowered him down his legacy rose like a phoenix out of the ashes along with our love and appreciation.

I now realize Uncle Les is in many ways a role model for all of us and I am now challenged like never before to consider what legacy I can leave the next generation when my number comes up.

I guess sometimes (Uncle) Les(s) is more…than you could have ever imagined. Thank you. Your legacy lives on.

Mad Respect. Thanks Mom.

The other night I was pumping gas at the local Exxon station. As the 87 octane was flowing from pump to Honda Civic tank, in my proactive attempt to avoid the annoying television screen that pops on when you start filling, I stared off into the night. It was not long before I noticed a dark-haired woman of about 50 years of age foraging through a trashcan just a few feet from my car. This is not at all an abnormal occurrence, but, for whatever reason, I seemed to take extra strong notice of this activity on this evening.

As I watched the dumpster diving unfold, it appeared she was looking for recyclable goods, such as plastic containers and cans. I noted her shopping cart, left at the station entrance, was full of both these things as well as blankets and clothes, so it was pretty much a dead giveaway she would soon be off to the recycle bin. We caught a quick glimpse of each other as she looked me in the eye for a quick millisecond creating the briefest of gazes. Then, without the remotest hint of wanting anything from me, looked down in her continued quest for a few dollars’ worth of trade-in goods.

I was actually very impressed with this “apparently-but-who-knows” homeless woman. She did not have a dirty homeless look about her, rather a perhaps “recently homeless” look as if a homeless “newbie” or a woman on the verge homelessness. However, what impressed me about her was, during our millisecond gaze, having the greatest of opportunities to ask me for a handout and not doing so.

As the prepaid $24 worth of gas continued to pump, I realized what this woman was doing. In addition to perhaps providing the few dollars for a meal that evening, she was actually performing a public service. Her trash activity was making all our lives an environmentally better one. She was helping herself yet she was also indirectly helping you and me as well. I wanted to reward her so I reached in my wallet and took out a $20 bill. By this time the woman was on her third or fourth trashcan and now about 30 or 40 feet from my car.

I was thinking: What do I do? Should I approach her? Would this be insulting and demeaning? Dangerous? Is this a really bad idea? A really good idea? If I do approach her, what do I say?

I really just wanted to get in my car and drive off, though my impulse was strong on this cold and very rare, rainy Southern California night.

To better understand my inner conflict, know that I am very big believer in not enabling panhandlers and the like. When I see people giving money to street beggars and such, I am repulsed, as I believe providing money to those seeking handouts only perpetuates the problem and, in turn, creates a much larger one.

This anti-handout position in no way, shape or form applies to those wanting to provide some type of service for a handout -in which case it is no longer a handout rather a payment for services rendered. I will frequently drop a few bills in the tip jar of a street performer or give the guy at the red light a buck for washing my windows as I am stopped.

I also refuse to give because, well, I frankly believe many of those seeking handouts are compulsive liars and are not using the money for basic necessities.

Just a few weeks ago in the city of Redlands, CA, at another gas station (this time an Arco) a man came up to me and asked for some money for gas. I would normally just walk away, though, for whatever reason (am I changing?!?) I told him to pull up to the pump and I would fill his car up for him. He said that was not possible cause the car was several blocks away and he did not even have a gas can. He just wanted the cash.

I politely told him, “good day.”

Now at Exxon, I fought my instinct to drive away as I watched the woman continue to forage. I slowly began walking toward her, still not knowing if when I arrived I would follow through with my giving her the cash.

I was now a few feet from her,

“Excuse me, do you need some help?” I mustered the courage to ask.

She smiled and said yes.

I handed her the $20.

She smiled and said, “God bless you.”

That was about it. Not a lot more to write. Not a lot more to say. She accepted the money and I walked away and she continued in her recyclable endeavor.

However, I must say that, in addition to giving her the money making me feel really good, I realized how much I respected that woman: for both what she did do –recycle otherwise landfill refuse- as well as for what did she did not do –ask for a handout.

As a young teen, my mom once told me that there is never any shame in earning an honest dollar. Of course she told me this as she was getting ready to begin her afternoon cashier gig at the McDonald’s across the street from my high school. Pretty amazing words coming from a registered nurse who was taking some refresher courses to get ready to jump back in the nursing game.

I would take my dearly departed mom once step further…not only is there no shame, there is some mad respect. Deep mad respect. I love you mom.

And thank you woman. Thank you.

RIP Michelle. On And On The Village Goes.

“On and on
I just keep on trying
And I smile when I feel like dying
On and on
On and on”

Life is in constant forward motion that has no room, nor patience, for stragglers. We keep moving. And sometimes I just want to stop and turn back. Singer John Mayer reflected this sentiment when he wrote, “Stop this train. I want to get off and go home again. I can’t take the speed it’s moving in.”

I wish.

I just spent nearly my entire Sunday at a memorial service in honor of my daughter Rosie’s best friend growing up, Michelle, or, as she refers to her, Michu.

She passed away of breast cancer on March 29 at the age of 27.

Wow. Life is just not supposed to happen that way. I guess.

Yet “on and on” we go.

So when I looked across our table at another friend of Rosie’s growing up, Kelsey, I was reminded of life’s seemingly careless twists and ferocious unpredictability.

Kelsey was a beautiful and gregarious child. When she was in the seventh grade, she caught a virus that was diagnosed to be healed in just a few short weeks. In the meantime, this nasty virus caused the bottom half of her body to go paralyzed and she became wheelchair bound.

The virus never healed and now, 15 years later, this beautiful young woman experiences life from a chair.

“On and on. Toss up my heart to see where it lands.”

I watched Michelle’s dad, Dan, shriek guttural screams and primal cries as the slow drip of the reality of death became ever more present with each passing story, photograph and memory. I connected with his fatherly energy, feeling and empathizing with this deepest of internal agony. I. Cannot. Possibly. Imagine.

I think a brutal ripping out of our guts would not be nearly as painful as burying a child.

“And I smile when I feel like dying.”

My daughter posted on Facebook, “[The Rabbi said], ’Don’t try and search for meaning in any of this, there isn’t any.’ I think those were some of the most comforting words I’ve heard the last few days. This is all so unfair and unjust, and I know it’s only going to get harder, but I will continue to celebrate you every day.”

Rosie, who has now lost a grandma and best friend within a six month period, is forced to reckon and deal with seemingly endless pain. Forced to learn at age 28 how do deal with the sting of loss, whether she wants to or not. Life can be that way. Learn or go home.

“On and on
She just keeps on trying
And she smiles when she feels like crying”

I watched all the moms and dads, our faces having aged and wrinkled since when we were youthful, hopeful and eager parents of elementary schoolers; hopeful for the exciting promise of what the future may hold for our precious little ones, now our faces bearing the toll of the years and the knowledge of what that future really held.

Our collective countenance suggested a sharing in the pain of Dan and his wife Ellen. In a sense we all lost a child that day. Our village was in mourning. Our faces etched with another wrinkle of experience, wrinkles lined with unwanted loss and grief.

“So he takes a ladder, steals the stars from the sky, puts on Sinatra and starts to cry”

I heard the outspoken basketball analyst Charles Barkley once say that when it comes to doing battle with Father Time, we humans will always be on the losing end as that is a battle that can never be won.

Yet “on and on” it is, in an inevitable forced march with no turning back. No stopping allowed. Not for a second. Do not pass go. This train stops for no one or no thing.

So what do we have? I do know we have each other. We have this moment and we have a life full of memories.

I do know that I will continue to live the hell out of life.

Yes. That I do know. I may not beat Father Time though he is gonna be so sick of me by the time it is all said and done he may wish he had lost.

So my precious village, I love you…this I know. Goodbye Michelle.

“And I smile when I feel like dying.”

My Mother Passed Away The Day Before Yesterday

My mother passed away the day before yesterday. I knew I would eventually experience this day, and well, as I think about it, I am glad I have. If I had not, her son would have went before her and that is a pain no parent should ever have to bear. My surviving dad, in whose living room I now sit and write these words, is repeating the mantra through anguish and tears, “I always wanted to go first, dammit.” He now has to bear the pain of losing a spouse of nearly 60 years. I don’t think he means those words as then it would have been his spouse, lover and life partner now bearing this unparalleled pain. Yet guttural pain is not known for its reasoning skills, nor should it.

My mother passed away the day before yesterday. My dad does not want to be left alone -for even one second- therefore I am now performing my role in the rotating schedule of figure person of strength, courage, support and above all, love. He wants to simultaneously cry, reflect, cry, take care of business, cry, sleep, cry and cry some more. The thought has crossed his children’s minds that he may now want to take his own life to go be with her. He will not be left alone at this time –for even one second.

My mother passed away the day before yesterday. How am I you ask? I was already fearful of my mental and emotional health when one, or both, of my parents passed. Just a few years ago when my mother had a terrible health scare I was paralyzed with anxiety for days. However, I feel very little anxiety at this time. Death is such a powerful force–there is no arguing with it, compromising with it, negotiating with it…death wins. I believe the peace I am currently feeling is due to the absolute fact that death is the ultimate, there-is-nothing-you-can-do-about-so-what’s-the-point? feeling. The strongest emotion is “missing”….meaning dealing with the reality that I now will always miss her.

My mother passed away the day before yesterday. The most beautiful, and quite unexpected, reality of this situation is the powerful presence of love: The love that is holding us all together at this time. The intense love of my life partner, whose inner beauty is only matched by one other person, and she passed away the day before yesterday. The love I see in my children’s eyes for their grandparents, parents, cousins and family members. The love that has been hibernating now for decades has now awoken…the love I have for my siblings. And the love for the man who, along with the woman who passed away the day before yesterday, brought me into this world.

My mother passed away the day before yesterday, so what is next? In many ways, I have no idea. No clue. No hint. And don’t care. Yet I do know I am going to love on my father in a way I have never loved before. I do know love is going to get us through. I do know this rogue, independent man of reason, is not so rogue, independent, or even reasonable. I need the love of family. I need to emotionally vent. I need my children as much as they currently need their father.

My mother passed away the day before yesterday, and I am seeing the love, support and encouragement of both close friends and acquaintances, colleagues and gym buddies and my beloved and precious students both past and present. All of these groups, in particular my students, have no idea of the depth and extreme importance of what their support, love and encouragement means to me. Thank you. Really. Thank you.

My mother passed away the day before yesterday and I now sit on her couch, in her room, in her house. I look at her things, embrace her unique touch and style and steep in the thankfulness of the many precious treasures that woman has brought into my life. One of my fondest memories is a letter she wrote me when I was 14 years-old, at the height of my teen “shit show” powers. The woman who passed away the day before yesterday was not a terribly expressive or tactile person when I was growing up. This letter was I all I needed and went it something like this:

“Dear Jim, I know I do not tell you I love you a lot or give you a lot of hugs, but you must know that every day that I make your breakfast, lunch and dinner; do your laundry or drive you to practice; clean your room or make your bed, is me telling you how much I love you. Please never forget that. I love you.”

 That is all this 14 year-old needed to hear.

My mother passed away the day before yesterday.

Damn.

Creepy Guy Part II: A Progressive Female Feminist Perspective

I would like to depart from the normal expression of my thoughts and hand the blog over to my oldest daughter, Rosie, a resident of London and passionate civil rights advocate. Rosie kindly gave me permission to post her impassioned private response to my latest blog entry concerning creepy guys. I received A LOT of feedback from this blog in many forms –conversations, emails, formal written responses, yet, in all, I believe her response strikes to the core of the issue that must be shared.

First, a few things to give some context:

  • In spite of the fact the primary intent of the blog was either poorly communicated or misunderstood, with said intent being the use of all generalized terms that tend to classify large groups of people in general, unproductive and stereotypical fashion, she does strike at the more troubling deeper societal concern: Patriarchal power and practice that many believe necessitates the need to identify the “creepy guy;” which, upon reflection, is a gravely more important issue than the stance one takes on the use of the word creep.
  • Secondly, it is important to note the “conversation” she refers to me having -it never happened -it was a facebook post, stating the creepiness of all older men, which was mistaken for a conversation. In reality, I never responded to the “facebooker” at all; yet Rosie’s points are still very well taken and appreciated.
  • Lastly, if you want to hear an EXCELLENT podcast from an expert on fear, Gavin de Becker, and in particular the fear women experience on a daily basis, this is a must listen. Quite frankly, as I come to a better understanding of this fear and educate myself, it simultaneously makes me both very sad and very angry. I so appreciate those like Rosie who can assertively state their point of view and better inform the rest of us all the while not taking shit from anyone. I wish we had more like her.

So sit back and allow my girl to unpack on her pops…

I just want to unpack my thoughts after I read your blog, so I’m not directly attacking your post or you as a writer at all, but it was a trigger for me, and these are the thoughts that I want to express after reading it. 

A woman told you about her experiences of unwanted sexual attention from men and you centered it on you. With privilege, sometimes what we need to do is listen.

As women, from the time we are sexualized in the eyes of society we experience ‘creepy’ men daily in the form of microaggressions. We are primed from our early teens to behave in ways that make us innately respond with non-aggression (out of fear) and de-escalate. This is basically instinct for most women.

This is from a well written piece on de-escalation, and how men can struggle to understand it: “Maybe they don’t know that at the tender age of 13 we had to brush off adult men staring at our breasts. Maybe they don’t know that men our dad’s age actually came on to us while we were working the cash register. They probably don’t know that the guy in English class who asked us out sent angry messages just because we turned him down. They may not be aware that our supervisor regularly pats us on the ass. They likely have no idea how often these things happen. That these things have become routine. So expected that we hardly notice it anymore. We learn at a young age how to do this. We didn’t put a name or label to it. We didn’t even consider that other girls were doing the same thing. But we were teaching ourselves, mastering the art of de-escalation.”

But it doesn’t have to be as explicit as a threat. It can be a look, a comment, a smirk. The microaggressions women experience on a daily basis contribute to the institutionalised construct of patriarchy. Without the sexualization of women on the very micro of levels, the patriarchy wouldn’t exist. Think of sexism like building blocks, the first block is the ‘creepy’ look a man gives you that makes you feel unsafe, the next block is the slap on the ass, the next the threat when you rejected his date invitation, the next is the missed promotion and wage gap, so on and so forth until you have every element that contributes to the marginalization of women. When we are addressing institutions like sexism, every block must crumble, including the smallest of microaggressions, and women need to platform their voice and not de-escalate. We must feel safe to voice when we are receiving unwanted sexual attention from men, because this is beneficial for the macro. However, the trigger for most men is Not me! I’m not creepy! I’m not the problem!

Women do not owe you anything. Women are entitled to think someone is creepy. I know you would have not viewed this conversation as a big deal, but when a woman is telling you of her experiences of unwanted sexual attention, instead of victimizing yourself and tone-policing her (or language-policing in this instance), listen. It’s not about you – and the usage of the word creepy is not on our radar. We have other things to worry about (like smashing the patriarchy!)

Being ‘politically correct’ (or the preferred word, intersectional) is hard, and it’s not easy. The past year especially I’ve spent unpacking my privilege, my whiteness, and how that has affected my perceptions and experiences in every single aspect of my life. When a person of color says something that I view as attacking, and my first instinct is to defend myself (I’m not racist! I’m not the problem here! Not all white people! White people have struggles too you know!) and center it on myself because as white people that is what is taught and what is accepted our entire lives – that our experiences are more important and worthy of a voice (thus it’s an easy mode to default back on – and because you know how stubborn I am anyway). When in fact, the most valuable thing we can learn is “I hear you.” We need to start breaking those building blocks and learn to be an ally with even the most mundane of conversations. But it’s not easy because it’s so damn uncomfortable and tempting to go back to our default response – especially as we get older and think our worldviews are correct and solidified and that we have the right to shout the loudest. 

Sexism and racism are societal constructs. None of us want to consider that we might be sexist or racists on an individual level, but we must accept we have been brought up in a white supremacist patriarchy and we have innate privilege (white women do not hold male privilege as we don’t stand to benefit from the institution of patriarchy, but we hold white privilege, and this dynamic of power is strong). White people have always had a platform for their voices to be heard, white males particularly. I really love your writing, but I think it can be a little toxic when you are using your platform in a way that’s projecting males as ‘victims.’ There are other posts (on police and people of color) that were also difficult for me to read. We must always be unpacking our worldviews and how they are evolving and changing within the scope of intersectionality and feminism, in a personal and a communications context. I learned about privilege and intersectionality in my Intercultural Coms class – I’m really grateful my professor introduced that curriculum as it started to emerge academically, but I have so much more learning to do. We are all learning and we are all trying to do better; we all CAN do better and it starts with listening and with conversations and blog posts and so on.  

Here’s a really great article on being a ‘responsible’ devil’s advocate, I really recommend it: https://the-orbit.net/brutereason/2013/08/10/how-to-be-a-responsible-devils-advocate/

And here’s the de-escalation article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/gretchen-kelly/the-thing-all-women-do-you-dont-know-about_b_8630416.html

Anyway, that has OBVIOUSLY digressed away from your blog post, which I am not attacking, but stuff I have wanted to share for a while, that you don’t have to take on board (and it’s fine if you don’t want to) but I wanted to unpack with you. 

I’m honored. Thank you.

Protests, Oral Sex, Coming Out, Being “Kinda” Gay and Compassion. Wow. What Just Happened?

Wow. Never before and perhaps never again.

Let me explain.

I really like to keep all my classes organic -with a point. I want the point to be made- yet keep open all the infinite ways the means by which it may be made. Typically the weirder the better, as I find students remember concepts much more vividly.

Be careful when you get what you want.

The class began rather normally and I did not see what was coming. Not a clue. In my traditional courses -as opposed to my hybrid/online course where there is very limited room for flexibility- we have opportunity to meander and “Golden Snake” quite a bit, particularly on days like this one when we are in between delivering speeches.

In general, the climate of this class is normally subdued and mellow. Not a quiet class, yet not a loud class either. Some students in the 18 member group have never talked at all…with these students I am the speech dentist, attempting to extract thoughts from their brains as painlessly as possible.

Not today. No need.

I began the 3 hour course with a lecture/discussion on the positives and negatives of the use of public protest as a means of political action. Such a lecture is quite relevant for a public speaking course as said protests carry a form of public speaking, not to mention the political process is on the forefront of nearly everyone’s mind at the moment.

I suppose it was not surprising that the discussion began to get heated. Going against my natural wiring, I did not assert my thoughts and opinions very much…there was no need as the class was providing the required fodder for spirited debate and discussion. I had the pleasure of acting as more moderator than instigator, clarifier over invigorator, and referee not player.

As the class purged their opinions on the current political climate and protests specifically, the discussion took a turn in the direction of LGBTQ when a normally quiet student, a 19 year-old lesbian (we had no idea until that moment) declared she was recently kicked out of her house by her conservative father upon revealing she was homosexual.

We discussed. We opined. We pondered. We empathized. We cared.

Then the strangest thing happened. An older and much more vocal student, who dropped hints during the semester of his religious affiliations and somewhat eccentric nature, informed the class he was a homosexual for a few years and really enjoyed oral sex with men during that period…yet he is straight and married now.

What. The. Fuck.

Did Captain Inappropriate just strike or what?

Aside from the obvious general bewilderment as to why one would even offer up that information to an entire class…how does a person turn gay and then straight again? Did he just really say that? Why?

This then sparked a conversation about being “kinda gay” and the spectrum of sexuality.

Perhaps it was just me that was bewildered concerning this seemingly out-of-place and strange comment- but then the floodgates opened. Another rather quiet student in the back of the class opened up about how she was sexually assaulted within the past year and her parents instructed her to not talk about it or tell anyone. She began crying…and crying…and crying.

This student was not a drama queen. Conversely, she is a stoic, tough, and strong young lady.  As she broke down, she confessed that this behavior was all an act as she DOES care what people think, she IS hurt and that her strained relationship with her mother is killing her inside. She recently signed up for the military -to escape- and is not telling her mother until the day she leaves.

We listened. And as the class gently responded to her, the tones of their voices drenched with empathy and love, I realized one can be untruthful with words, yet tones do not lie. This was real.

Then an older student, the class matriarch if you will, who came over from the Sudan 14 years ago, got up out of her seat and walked over to her just to hold her in her arms, as if perfectly scripted and brilliantly blocked out. And yes, the poetry of a woman from a “banned” country being the source of unity and love did not escape me.

The class was silent. Yet even the most silent of students would gingerly chime in a comment…comments that were poignant, soothing, and well, brilliant, as if something beyond the totality of the present individuals were guiding their tongues and caressing their minds.

The open confessions kept coming. A man opened up concerning his 16 year-old daughter who was recently stalked by an older man and was attempting to arrange an illicit affair with her; a young man, who just moments earlier was defending the recent Berkeley protestors and was visibly distraught, confessed he was bisexual while suffering from anxiety and depression on a daily basis…and could NEVER tell his parents for fear they would disown him.

It seemed everyone’s personality changed to accommodate this powerful dynamic that was taking place: The loud were quiet, the quiet just loud enough, and the apathetic empathetic.

I manufactured nothing. It was as if I jumped on this train and went along for the ride.

It was the most powerful 3 hours in my nearly 30 years of teaching.

We all were looking at each other with the facial expression suggesting, “What is happening right now?”

This was so much more than a “hippie dippie” Kumbaya moment. It was the kind of moment people pay hundreds of dollars per hour to a therapist to achieve.

Then the father of the 16 year-old suggested that perhaps this 3 hour lecture went full circle. As we began the day discussing the MACRO benefits and costs of a protest, we now realize the point of any protest must eventually benefit the MICRO of each of our lives.

If a macro protest is not undertaken with the ultimate objective to enrich what really matters in all our lives, for all people, for all countries -family, friends, love, trust, support, ie, the micro, it might just be a misguided protest.

A class that was divided minutes earlier came together and unified as our attention focused on what really matters, no matter our political associations or beliefs.

The class ended and the students slowly began filing out the door, changed to be sure, realizing something very special had just taken place.

I like to keep my lectures organic -with a point. And, on some days, the point is even made for me.

Why I Love My Partner Rene’

I am not big on the idea of public displays of affection (known in the biz as PDAs). Nor am I too hot on the idea of telling loved ones just how much I love them via social media–when I can just walk in the next room and tell them myself. In fact, my philosophy has long been that those couples who continually post love notes and “lovey dovey” pictures of their significant other on social media are likely the ones struggling the most in their PLLs (personal love lives).

It is as if the posting and public displays will somehow compensate for a struggling connection and perhaps may set the course straight. Or, maybe, we would just like to provide the world with an impression of our relationship that it is ideal when, in reality, it is far from it.  I have known far too many men and women on a personal relational level who I know are struggling greatly in their PLLs…yet one would NEVER know it via their social media. The deeper the struggle comes a commensurate rise in the “lovey dovey,” carefully crafted, impression given in their social media lives.

Ahhh, social media. The king of impression management.

Regardless of the motivation, this is my evolving and working theory in regards to interpersonal communication and technology. Therefore what I am about to write does not fall into this category. Or I do not think it does…at least on a conscious level. What I am about to write is not a description of my loving relationship; rather it is a tribute to the person, my partner, whom I deeply love. It is about her…not me…not us…her and only her.

So why this and why now? Two reasons:

One, I am currently reflective as this month marks the 31st year we have been officially together, 35 years unofficially, and we typically like to honor the other with our thoughts and feelings. Secondly, I would like to go public with my sentiments because we live in a world of divorce, strife and relational hardships…our relationship is a sign that, with creative and outside-the-box problem solving and thinking, long-term love and devotion can indeed exist.

To begin, when I tell people I have a partner named Rene’ they immediately think he is a gay Spanish dude. Far from it, Rene’ is very much a female who is my partner. Why partner? You can read about that here.

Rene’ is a partner in nearly every sense of the word. We partner in parenting, we partner in finance, we partner in domestic duties, we partner in nearly all aspects of our lives. Through mutual support, we even partner in our freedoms.

I have told Rene’ on a number of occasions that her funeral eulogy will be so unfortunate. In a time in which we whitewash and sing the praises of even the most miserly souls when they depart, people will be singing the saintly praises of Rene’ and only I will know that, not only are all the praises going to be true, they will also not go far enough in their exaltation.

She is selfless, deeply caring, deeply passionate, and without question the most loving person I have ever met.  Her life is a devotion to everyone else. When you ask her a “favor” she does not view it as a burden, rather an opportunity to practice who and what she really is…a continual and full-time giver.

Stories? I have far too many accounts that demonstrate the lengths she will go to serve others. If you are reading this and you know her, I am quite certain you do as well. 3am and you need a friend? Rene’s goodness knows no time and place. I guarantee it.

Yet, her hyper-kindness only scratches the surface of her greatness.

She is an impressive professional who owns and operates her own vocal coaching business. Her students will testify to her amazing ability as a professional and vocal coach. Even though her goal is for every student to nurture their inner voice and use it to serve humanity as a whole, this does not mean that many of her students do not go on to professional fame on broadway or television…they do.

She can vocally coach you to be the best singer and performer you can possibly be…you might say she is the self-actualization coach of the vocal world.

In her 40’s she went back to college and earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees, not to mention her certificate to teach college reading. I have NEVER met another person with her work ethic…ever…and I know some pretty hard working people.

Personally, she strives to be the best Rene’ she can be. At the age of 50, she took up pole dancing and prances about on the pole like a child on the monkey bars during morning recess. She sings, she dances, and extracts all the youthful exuberance possible out of life. It is of little surprise that many of her closest friends are half her age as her physical years and spirit years are not at all aligned -with the latter being decades younger.

I said this was not about us…and it is not. Certainly I love her with all my heart…though who would not? Loving her is like loving breathing…what is there not to love? It is I who is blessed and showered with her goodness everyday, all day.

Damn did I get lucky. Rene’s is probably the only person on the planet who lets me be completely me…who wants me to be completely me, and if you know me, well, I’m just sayin….

There you have it. Probably my one and only shot at “tributing” the love of my life on social media.

And, hey, if I can find it, I know there is hope for all of us.

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Rebroadcast: Watch A (Once) Live Podcast With Jimmy, Tessa, and Jordan From New Orleans

Last May 27 we did a podcast form New Orleans and had the go-pro rolling. If you want to see a podcast…check it out. Like typical Urb conversation, we talk a lot of weird stuff…and it is usually centered around saving the planet in some way, shape, or form. You can even find out what kids are on Team Dad and who is on Team Mom -and why. Enjoy!

 

Family Values

Individuality. Responsibility. Tolerance. Sense of humor. Creativity. And what do each of these wonderful virtues have in common?

All are the central values that we desired to impart to our children as they were growing up.

Values are strange things in that everyone, yes, everyone, has them yet most have not stopped to identify and critically evaluate them.Family_ValuesF

When our eldest children were still very small, Rene’ and I adopted the idea of imparting “family values” to our children.  Perhaps some are unaware that the term “family values” was a conservative, right-leaning buzzphrase about 25 years ago (perhaps still is?? Not sure) that translated into adopting a rather conservative spin on one’s politics. I felt this to be unfortunate as, politically, I am fairly middle-of-the-road and really did not want to identify with any political branding. Yet I am a strong believer in both family and values while believing it is very important to impart discretion and wisdom to our young (or at least attempt to…I still surprise myself that at my age I am quite capable of lacking both…but I digress).

The political right used the idea of family values to provide the primary pathos of their party…as if they have corner on family values that the left sorely lacks. I would argue both parties have values -just fundamentally different ones to be sure. There is a lot of, “if your values are not my values they are not values” thinking going on. Perhaps the most striking example of this is the issue of gay rights -as both sides accuse the other of lacking values. I believe both sides have values…just radically different ones, generated from different places with different moral mindsets. Kim Davis, the Kentucky country clerk who went to jail for refusing to issue gay marriage licenses, is, in my opinion, a 4 time married, law breaking, hypocrite who should quit her position or go to prison. That said, I do believe she has values…just radically different ones from my own.

We adopted the term “family values” NOT in the sense of imparting conservative, right wing SHtuff to our children, rather the adopting values we felt to be important. Have our values changed in the past 25 years? In a word, yes. For example, personally, I would not have selected the value of tolerance -as it suggests to “put up with” something/someone. I would replace tolerance with a phrase that goes much further… love, for example. I am still very cool with responsibility, sense of humor and creativity….perhaps even moreso today than 25 years ago.

Taking responsibility for your own actions -not blaming others when things do not go your way, owning up to mistakes, etc… is a central tenet of the Urb clan. Rene’ has grown to believe creativity is the root of all humanity and I tend to agree. And a sense of humor? Life would not be worth living without it…to take ANYTHING, yourself included, too seriously is a serious Urb offense. Even at our most serious, we have learned to seriously laugh at ourselves and each other. I seriously love that.

I am very pleased to report that I believe we have accomplished imparting these values to our now adult children. Each child embodies these 5 values, with each child seeming to strongly emphasize one value in particular. For those of you know my family, I believe you can guess which one matches which value.

HOWEVER, if we were to change one of our original values, perhaps a value we wish we could take back, it most certainly would be that of individuality.  I do believe a healthy dose of being a very strong individual is a good thing, yet, like any good thing in abundance, it can go south….quickly.

To be a strong individual has a tremendous upside, particularly as you are growing up. To be strong in the face of peer pressure, to not allow others to determine your happiness, to stand up to wrongs and indifference, to fully develop your own unique voice and use it without apology, to question authority and, well, question everything, are all wonderful attributes -so what’s the problem?

As I think about it, strong individuality is a lot like drinking- the best part is concurrently the worst part. The worst part of drinking is that you do not care and make reckless decisions -the best part of drinking is that you do not care and make reckless decisions.

As I age, I realize the immense value and importance of community. Terrifically strong individuals typically make for poor members of a community. There is a time to give and a time to take; a time to sacrifice and a time to be a bit selfish; there is a place for “me” time yet I now realize there is a much more prominent place for “we” time.

Rene’ is much more collectivist in her thinking than I am. While I tend to be “looking out for number one,” Rene’ is too busy helping numbers two and three to be concerned with her number one status -and that is a beautiful thing. If I could go back and alter the Urb family values, I would try to find a value that balances the concern for self with the concern for others. That, or just eliminate it altogether. As I think about it, if one is tolerant, responsible, creative, and has a sense of humor, the idea of individuality is somewhat redundant at that point.

So what do we got? We have a family, even counting Rene’ in a strange sort of way, of fierce individuals. They are who they are with no apologies. Whatever they want in life they attack it…with a vengeance.

This December, when my daughter Rose and her man, Nathan, come for their long awaited visit for a few weeks, the house will once again be stuffed full of strong creative and individualistic energy. Oh sure we will fight over where to eat, what time to go to a certain place, what meal to cook, what temperature to set the thermostat, the volume and movie choice on Netflix, to put the accordion and trumpet away, and even who gets the front seat.

I suppose that is the price to pay for four children who could all potentially change over the world.

So, like them or not, for better or for worse, we have identified our values and have attempted to consistently enforce them for about 25 years now.

And remember, there is no “i” in values. It only took a mere quarter century to figure that one out.