Reflections

The year 2012 is just a few short hours away. I’m sitting here waiting for the clock to chime in the new year. I’m also doing the same thing I do every year as I wait for the new year to arrive. I’m looking over the last year and reflecting over some of the events.

2011 was the year of the “BIG BAD” being toppled. This was the year that played out like some kind of twisted video game. Off hand I can think of three Big-Bad’s who left the world in 2011.

Osama bin Laden – The” head of the snake” leader of the worlds most active terrorist organisation.

Muamar Gaddafi – Much reviled head of a country renowned for training terrorists.

Kim Jong-il-  The worlds longest serving dictator.

The first two in my reflective list were terminated with extreme prejudice. I think this was justified to a huge degree based on their actions alone. I guess you could call it a “Live-by-the-sword-die-by-the-sword” philosophy. Or a “Reap-as-you-sow” philosophy. Either way, they got what they deserved. Dirty, violent deaths meted out in public. I know this sounds rather Old Testament, but, I do believe that these type of “people” deserve no better end that what they received.

The last on my list is, in my mind at least, a huge enigma. Kim Jong-il was the North Korean dictator for a long time. He managed to keep an entire country blind-folded, single-handedly. Yet, this was a man who was a fanatical film fan. He was also adored by his “captive” constituents. He shuffled off this mortal coil in his sleep.  Not really the end one envisions for a “Big Bad” is it. But Jong-il is a villain by default really. I know he was not a very nice person. This is the man, after all, who kidnapped the most talented South Korean film director of the time and imprisoned him for seven years. During his incarceration the director existed on a diet of salt, rice, and grass. At the end of his “sentence” Jong-il brought the man’s wife to North Korea and placed them both on house arrest. The purpose of this whole exercise was to improve the North Korean film industry. Like I said, he was a fanatical film fan – just a not too tightly wrapped one in my opinion.

Still Jong-il was the least of the Big Bad’s who departed in 2011. Old age and ill health defeated him. The first two were beaten by the military – although Gaddafi was technically done in by his own countrymen.

I know I’m taking the long way around the barn to make my point, but, I’ll get there soon. I made the somewhat flippant remark about a “twisted video game” above, but I do think of things in a gamer’s verse sometimes. It helps to take away the horror of it all, I suppose. But my point is this: Two of these monstrous examples of “humanity” were taken down by young men and women who serve their countries in uniform.

While I type this there are still young men and women who voluntarily serve their countries in the pursuit of defeating evil and aiding the worlds downtrodden.  A lot of these young people die as a result. When I was a kid, we had the draft, or conscription if you prefer that phrase, and the military was full of young folks who didn’t really want to be there.

So I guess while I wait for Big Ben to chime in the new year I’ll reflect mainly on the young men and women who daily put themselves in harms way to fight and die for our freedom. These brave people who volunteered for the chance to stop evil spreading and protecting our rights. Not just in 2011 but in the new year as well.

Happy New Year to our Armed Forces. May 2012 be the year where peace becomes the clarion cry that the world listens to.

Triggers

So Christmas has finished, in my mind at least, I’ve never celebrated the “12 days of Christmas” thing. We started taking down the decorations today. The tree is the last decoration standing at the moment. With my work schedule, it will be late in the week before we take the tree down and put the bits and bobs back up into the attic.

The funny thing is, we started talking about taking everything down two days ago! I suppose it has something to do with the total lack of Christmas spirit this year in our reduced household. Moving just before the festive season really left no room for presents or for much in the way of celebration. This I suppose was due, in part, to lack of immediate funds. But mainly, I think, it was down to triggers.


“Triggers” are things that set us off, or set us up, if you know what I mean. I was introduced to the phrase via the Mental Health Team where I work. I had always thought it was an overworked and over-relied on term that was used to explain a multitude of sins. I’ve had a change of heart.

My daughter and I were discussing these triggers the other day.

It was after an argument interestingly enough, about the laptop and my “umbilical” attachment to it. She had asked me, quite reasonably, to put the lid down for a minute while she finished telling me something. I was, as usual when I’m on the computer,  just half-listening. I was cruising the net – that’s spelt facebook and twitter – and I reacted in a remarkably bad manner. I was furious that she would dare to ask such a thing of me.

I don’t mean that I worked up to this emotion. It happened instantaneously. After apologising for my stupid behaviour things went back to normal.  Then a short while later, I said something about the state of her room. Nothing serious going on in there, just a surplus of clothing that hadn’t been put away. She blew up and pretty much tore a strip off me. Again,  apologies all around and things back to normal.

We discussed both situations later over tea. I explained that I knew where my reaction had come from. Her mother used to complain every time I got the laptop out. My daughter then realised that her reaction had stemmed from her mother’s complaining constantly about the state of her room. I then mentioned triggers and the reaction that they have on us. We both concluded that we needed to be aware of the trigger things and try to avoid reacting to them when they popped up.

I have now come to the conclusion that our “lack” of  Christmas this year – although I must add that we did do a Christmas video this year and had a lot of fun doing it – was as a result of the trigger of last years festive season. Last year was the first time we had not spent the holidays as a family unit. It was strange, uncomfortable and awkward. I honestly believe it set us up for the overall downer that was Christmas this year.

We are now looking forward to the new year and have high hopes that it will be better than the last two years. I think we have a pretty good chance of succeeding as well. We just have to look out for triggers. Everyone has things that “trigger” a response from them. These responses or reactions can be good or bad, we just have to learn to recognise why we have them and how to avoid them if they are of the bad variety.

So that is my wish for everyone in 1012. Learn what your triggers are and change how you react to them. It will help make you a calmer person in the end. It will probably be the one time in your life that it’s okay to be “trigger happy.”

I’ll Be Home…

Christmas always makes me a little maudlin. I think mainly because the last time I spent it with my family was in 1978. I know I’m a little old to want to spend this time of year with my parents and my brother and his family. But I always miss them badly this time of year. It has been 33 years after all. It would also be nice to spend Christmas with both my kids. I’ll be with my daughter but my son who lives in America I haven’t spent Christmas with since he was about one.

I guess the thing I really miss, are the family get together’s we had when I was a child. One day would be set aside to see the grandparents and ALL the local family. The next day would be reserved for my grandmother and the slightly smaller local family. Both days were full of laughter, jokes, stories and great food. 
At my grandparents the women would all get together in the kitchen. There they’d help Grandma finish the dishes she’d started preparing and unwrapping all the goodies they’d brought to eat. The men would set in the front room or on the porch and drink copious cups of coffee and smoke. The kids did what children always do when they are together: bicker, squabble, play and get excited over the prospect of extra presents.
Once the food was served up the kids ate in one of the many bedrooms in my grandparent’s house. I still remember when I got old enough to join the adults in the main room of the house. I felt very grown up and a little proud. Of course the highlight of the day for me was sitting out on the front porch with Grandpa and drinking coffee. While we froze our asses off, he told the most marvellous stories about when he was younger. These mostly consisted of when he travelled all over the place doing migratory work to feed his many children. He picked peaches on the Mexican border and worked in a lumber camp in Colorado, just to name two. As far as I know I was the only grandchild to be told these stories. It made me feel very special.
At my Grandmother’s house, the whole thing was a bit smaller. Less family members but just as much fun. One of my favourite Uncles was always there. I adored him. To me, and yes it sounds silly I know, he made me think of a “white” Sammy Davis Jr. It was his voice I think. Oh I don’t mean he could sing like Sammy, but when he talked, he had the same kind of voice. But his main attraction, I think, was his colourful language. He’d been in the Navy and his vocabulary reflected this. Plus he was funny. He saw life as being funny and was a very jokey character.
Of course the “women-in-the-kitchen” and the “men-in-the-main-room” tradition was also practised at my Grandmother’s with the kids acting exactly the same. The main difference was no-one went out onto the porch for coffee and smokes. There wasn’t one.
I guess, in retrospect, what I really miss this time of year are those old celebrations with  mother, father, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. I suppose I also miss the wonder of being a child and seeing everything through a child’s eyes. Long after I discovered that there really was no Santa Claus, Christmas still held a special place in my heart. It was a time when the whole family put their differences aside and got together.  Quite an accomplishment when you consider how big that family was. 
I guess we all lose the “wonder” of  Christmas when we grow up. It’s harder to see the magic of the holiday. And yes, it is magic. What other time of the year brings families together in such a way. I’ll never forget those special times at my grandparents with my mom, dad and brother. Oh we had fun at Christmas in our house too, but that was like the preamble to the main event. 
So like the song says, “I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.

Games

Way back in July of last year The Today Show stated that “It’s weird for men over thirty to play video games, unless they’re playing video games with a child.” Okay, for those more observant of you out there, yes I did paraphrase the quote…a lot. But that was the bottom line message from television personality Donny Deutsch. Gee thanks Donny. I guess that puts me so far past weird that I can expect the men in white coats to come knocking any day now.

I can never understand this prejudice against video games. Normally rational adults spend more time denigrating and vilifying video games. Blaming them for everything from juvenile crime to brainwashing. So over thirty is too old to play video games? What about board games? Card games? The common thread in all these games is the word game. I know geriatrics that love playing games that range from Monopoly to Sorry.

I’m fifty-three years old. I’ll refrain from using that sickening phrase “I’m fifty-three years young.” This is always stated with a kind of simper – I have to massively control the urge to simultaneously gag and strangle any idiot who uses that phrase. Anyway, back to the point. At fifty-three, you might very well say that I should have more on my mind than playing video games. In most cases I’m sure you’d be right. In my case, no.

English: Arcade Video Game

I also happen to think that more men over thirty are playing video games than Donny or The Today Show think. That’s because video games, which started their infancy as Arcade games, have been around for quite a while now. Space invaders was available to play when I was just twenty. I remember it well. Just a quarter a  pop and you could play this exciting and frustrating game.

I was twenty-one when my first boss in the USAF took me to his house to see his new Atari machine. You could hook it up to your telly and fly planes and shoot each other. This kept us entertained for months. You could shoot each other with other vehicles, but, none of those were as much fun as the planes.

I then got off the “games train” for a few years. I rediscovered the train years later via a younger friend I worked with. He said, “Let’s go to the bowling alley. I want to show you something.” That something was Street Fighter. Once again I was hooked. Then I discovered Mario Bros, then Donkey Kong, well you get the idea. Once again I fell off the train.

Then we got our daughter a PS1 for Christmas and I met Laura Croft. I was in love! This gal was great! She could shoot in mid-air! WOW!  Plus, this gal had a story to go along with all this game play. This was the last time I got on the train and I’ve not gotten off. I don’t intend to either.

I can honestly say that until arthritis makes using the controllers too difficult – although…Hey, with the Kinect and the PS move, or even *shudder* the Nintendo Wii, that can be gotten around. I suppose that when I get really old and my mental facilities slow way down, I will have to stop. But until then, it’s  GAME ON!

Baggage

Baggage claim
Baggage claim (Photo credit: gorbould)
Talking about relationships with my daughter the other day, I stated that I was in no hurry to enter into another one. She was a little concerned about this turn of events and said so. She opined that surely I did not want to arrive at my dotage alone. I have thought about this and I have decided that I am not bothered. It’s mainly because of the baggage you see.

Let me explain.

Baggage Art
Baggage Art (Photo credit: aresauburn™)

Everyone has baggage. Baggage equals: children – both young and/or grown, hang-ups – both recent and distant, family – parents alive and deceased, exes – ex-partners and ex-lovers (that may still be hanging around the periphery and causing problems), grandchildren – ugh. The last one hurts to actually think about. I mean I know I’m in denial about my age and the age of women who would be (logically) potential partners, but…dating Grandma’s??

I have my own baggage. Trust issues with future partners, this is based on my last long lasting relationship. The active dislike of dealing with other peoples issues. In-laws and their respective family units automatically become part of your family, whether you want them or not. I could handle all that political manoeuvring when I was much younger. I doubt I have the patience now. Other baggage includes my active denial and dislike of growing older. I haven’t gone through my second childhood yet – my daughter will probably argue I never left my first one – but, I am sure it isn’t far off. I do promise not to try skateboarding again.

English: Julius Henry "Groucho" Marx...

I have thought seriously about this new thing everyone keeps talking about: Friends with benefits. I have decided at the end of the day that this simply will not work either. Why? Because I’m self admittedly picky. Kind of like Groucho Marx’s statement about clubs. “I wouldn’t want to be a member of any club who would accept me as a member.” Okay, apart from my eternal joking around about me being like Cary Grant and getting more attractive the older I get, I know that my “pulling” power is diminishing with age. I also don’t really fancy women my own age.

Screenshot from Charade showing Cary Grant and...
Screenshot from Charade showing Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I know how that sounds. Bad right? But every relationship I’ve ever had, with one or two exceptions have been with women younger than me. My ex-wife was seven years younger. I don’t find overweight, leather faced, chicken winged gals attractive. Yes I know that makes me really shallow. I know this and I accept it. I will admit that yes personality pays a huge role in women I find desirable. The ability to laugh and have fun outweighs all the other factors I just mentioned.   But what these older women all have in common is the baggage that comes with all these attributes.

 

It’s the baggage that really keeps me in the mindset that I will remain single for a very long time. I don’t want more children grown or otherwise. I don’t want any more in-laws deceased or otherwise. In a nutshell, I don’t want any baggage other than my own. I may eventually find a “beneficial friend.” But I think I’m quite happy doing what I’m doing now. Playing games – Assassins Creed Revelations at the moment, blogging, doing the odd video – YouTube, nothing rude I can assure you. Just living my day-to-day life and enjoying it, sans anyone else’s baggage.

One day I may feel differently, I may feel stronger, more tolerant of other folks baggage. When that happens I’ll grab a handful of metaphorical handles and give it a go. In the meantime, I’ll settle for carrying my own baggage, solo. Although I might invest in a trolley to help.

Freezing

So today a bunch of my “mad” colleagues decided to jump (and in some cases actually swim) in the North Sea. This madness was in aid of a very worthwhile charity – Cancer Research. I use the words “mad” and “madness” only because of the temperature. Both the air and the North Sea were bitterly cold. The air was about 38/39 degrees Fahrenheit and the North Sea had to have been much colder. They also wore so little in the way of clothing that, for some of them anyway, they might as well have been skinny dipping!

I’m mentioning the North Sea dip for several reasons.  One is because I am full of admiration for folks who do these mad things for a good and worthwhile cause. I also admire anyone who doesn’t worry about the cold instantly stopping your heart! But seriously I respect folks who give their time so selflessly for such good causes. And  who enjoy themselves immensely while doing so. I wish I was so noble.

I tried the charity thing last year. Okay admittedly last year for me was my version of the Queen’s  Annus Horribilis. But I will now state publicly that I’m not made of the stern stuff that my colleagues are. I can honestly say I enjoyed very little of my experience. I’m sure that the friends who partook of this momentous event all enjoyed the hell out of it, but not me. When one mate started the sentence, “When we do this next year…” I interjected quickly, “What in the hell makes you think I’m ever doing this s**t again??” “This is like a death march!” What we did was climb Mt Snowdon, in the summer. Summer in Wales equals cold, rain, low lying clouds, practically no visibility and basically freezing your backside off. So I waded up knee deep trenches of running water to almost the top of Snowdon. The less experienced of the climbers (myself and one other) had to turn back when it became too dangerous. I learned a lot about that experience. Mainly that I did not want to repeat it.

I think maybe it’s because I don’t originate from England. I’ll explain. England is a countryfull of charitable people. I don’t mean just the “dig-deep-into-your-pockets-and-donate” kind of folks either. The entire country is full of folks who do outlandish, uncomfortable things to raise money for worthwhile causes. These things can range from the slightly grotesque – taking a bath in cold baked beans, to the admirable – near naked dips in the freezing North Sea. And they all enjoy doing it.

I think we can all look up to the selfless folks who donate their time, surfeit their comfort and raise money for worthwhile causes. Yes charities need money, I try to give whenever I can. But what charities need more is effort, time and individuals who aren’t afraid to give either.

I take my hat off to all the good folks who can continually do these things in aid of a good cause. I’d like to be just like you when I grow up.

Note: If you’d like to see what these heroes for good causes look like check out http://sticklepix.blogspot.com  the blog of the photographer extraodinaire who took pictures of the event.

Rushing

RUSHING IS DANGEROUS ANY TIME - ANY PLACE^ - N...

I’ve been in a hurry my whole life. When I was a youngster (that’s teenager, really) I was convinced that if I didn’t hurry up and “grow-up” I’d somehow miss the boat. I also wanted to do as many different things as possible. I had the usual suspects in my itinerary, travel, fame (or a monetary equivalent), freedom, and of course the all important career.

I changed my career goals as often as most folks change their underwear. My career choices ranged from: Lawyer – school took too long, Doctor – see Lawyer, Police – poor pay, Military – very poor pay (of course I did wind up in the Air Force, but that wasn’t a planned career move), Archaeology – pay non-existent. The list was endless.  Then one day I had an epiphany – on the career front anyway –  I could be an actor! Rather than try to pursue all those careers, I could act like all those folks.

So, I enrolled in the High School Drama Department. I became a card carrying Thespian and I was proud to be one. Then that “being in a hurry” thing got in the way again. I started working for who ever wanted me. I made the lady who gave me my first chance vie for my time. We had, quite understandably, a huge falling out. I quit the Drama Department in a fit of rage. This had a house of cards effect. I lost the chance at my almost guaranteed scholarship to university, and my impetus. In my hurry to get where I wanted, by rushing ahead impervious to those around me, I screwed up.

I did try (several times) to get back on the “acting train” – moving to LA in the late 70’s, and then nothing for almost 12 years. I did a little stage work when I moved to England, some extra work here and in Holland. I did the odd commercial, a lot of adverts for the Armed Forces Radio & Television Network in Holland. More extra work in the 90’s along with some voice-over work, and then…nothing.

I was still in a hurry with everything else though. While my “career” stalled out, I was rushing to do other things. Getting married – twice, divorced – twice, fatherhood – twice, changing jobs – again more often, than most folks change their underwear, moving – like a grasshopper. My life didn’t slow down until about ten years into my second marriage. Then it ground to a shuddering halt.

Now I’m single again, I’ve found that old habit of being in a hurry has resurfaced, albeit for a different reason now, I’m rushing to try get some old business taken care of. It is not often we get second chances in life. I’ve had more than my fair share of  ”second chances,” and this time I’m planning on getting it right.

I think I’ve cracked it finally. I think I’ve figured out how I can fulfil my natural proclivity for rushing while still taking my time. I’ve got a lot of catching up to do and I’ve started already – still in a hurry – but this time, I’m paying attention. I’m going to look at the sign posts as I speed up the last roads of my life. I’ll try to avoid the detours when I can, and enjoy the scenery when I can’t.

I guess that’s the only advantage of rushing, if you get sidetracked, you can still get back on your path. A little older, hopefully wiser and still able to enjoy the trip.