Friday, September 28, 2007

Two Tales of One City...or Somethin’ Like That (Prologue)

A ‘Jammin’ Weekend
With all apologies to Dickens, I’ve been thinking about how to approach the story of my recent weekend trip to the ‘Big D,’ and I wasn’t totally convinced that I wanted to do it in one fell swoop. Nonetheless I knew that I needed to go ahead and begin writing before the details start to go cold, or some other distraction pushes them out of my head while it vies for my attention.

The problem is that my emphasis in this series will necessarily be divided from amongst two completely unrelated subjects, however the second circumstance would have not happened without the first, so chronologically and logistically, they’re kinda joined at the hip. But as parallel subjects go, they couldn’t be any more diametrically opposed.

Therefore I think I’m going to split things up and compartmentalize my experience into two separate components, while keeping them together in one series. Certainly they are very different, both in scope and in emotion, but I do somehow feel that they need to be grouped together.

We’ll begin with the Webmaster Jam Session 2007, a two-day conference that was the reason I was in Dallas to begin with. In it’s second year of existence, it has been put together primarily by a company out of Galveston, Texas called Coffee Cup Software.

However in my opinion the flavor of the event was much more Seattle and Mountain View than Texas.

It was truly an eye opener for me in many ways. Both philosophically and practically, many of my longstanding sensibilities regarding my profession were at least challenged if not changed altogether.

So to attempt to explain to myself what exactly it was that rocked my world so dramatically, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking and analyzing my entire career these past few days in the wake of the conference.

I’ll be touching upon some fairly philosophical points about web design and the computer age in general at the outset of this series, so if tech stuff bores you, you may want to just wait for Parts 3 and Four. However I’d invite you to come along with me all the way on this initial tale, because what I observed and learned about others as well as myself, I consider to be pretty interesting.

From ‘Jammin’ to ‘Jammed Up’
The second portion of the series will of course deal with something even closer to my heart than my career: my beloved little brother, Alex. It was a no-brainer that immediately after I discovered I was coming to Dallas for the conference that I began making plans to take a side trip to visit my true best friend.

As you probably know, Alex is the second of my four siblings to fall victim to the family curse: Early-Onset Alzheimer’s disease. He’s four years my junior and is at least halfway into the disease’s gestation which, by previous history of afflicted family members, runs about seven years from onset to death.

However Alex has benefited from the new medical efforts to treat this horrific disease, having been treated with Alzheimer’s drugs Aracept and Nemenda since late 2004, when he was positively diagnosed at Indiana University Medical Center, possibly two years (or more) into onset.

He is now in far better shape than our elder brother, David, who at a similar stage was much more degraded, both physically and mentally. But sadly, Alex’s inevitable decline continues, more rapidly now than before.

I wrote about that trip to Indianapolis, to IU Medical Center, on which I accompanied my brother four years ago this coming November. I haven’t written anything significant about his condition since — but not for lack of effort. I just couldn’t conjure up the emotional fortitude to deal with the pain.

I still have the many pages of notes and outlines I jotted down in longhand at sporadic off-moments during subsequent visits in 2005 and 2006, along with my Dad. But aside from transcribing one or two brief segments (and never posting them), I’ve yet to come close to writing anything in-depth about my observations of my brother’s ever-declining condition.

Hopefully I can do that now.

I really want to follow up on It’s Still Ticking, and as I said I have a lot of material from which to work, that I had previously just set aside because it was so hard to think about.

It’s really not any easier to think about it now, but I do know that it’s time for me to begin laying it all out. I feel as though I must do it now or this story may never get written.

Two tales.

One City.

Two very different emotions.

Next: Trey Magnifique

Monday, September 24, 2007


Please pardon the schoolgirl exuberance, but...
I will definitely have more to say about my weekend in Dallas — both from the perspective of the Webmaster Jam Session 2007 conference I attended on Friday and Saturday, as well as the side trip I took on Sunday to spend some time with my brother Alex.

But just by way of exclamation, please allow me to say (phonetically, mind you), aayoh moy gawd, what a GREAT WEEKEND!

The conference was fun, incredibly informative, and exuded a vibe of camaraderie I’ve felt upon very few occasions in my lifetime, and even fewer in circumstances associated with my profession. It was an extremely energizing and fulfilling time.

Likewise, while quite a bit more reserved, the emotion-packed, but surprisingly loose five hours I spent with Alex and his family was truly special. Sadly, my brother continues along the path of mental detachment at an increasingly rapid pace — there’s no mistaking that. Nevertheless I was delighted to see how much of the real him is still there to enjoy.

It was hard to leave after only a few hours, but it was a really good few hours nonetheless.

As physically tired as I am today, emotionally I’m fresh as a daisy.

In one circumstance I excitedly anticipate the future; in the other, I absolutely dread it. Each situation carries with it a peculiar kind of energy — one that simultaneously soothes and agitates my soul — yet both experiences are invigorating in their own kind of way.

I’m going to need some more time to process the emotions I experienced this weekend — I’m just not sure how much. I took a lot of notes on both scenarios; I'll need some time to transcribe and expound upon those thoughts, but I will be talking about this more in the near future.

Until then, have a great week, all.


Thursday, September 20, 2007

Conference Call

Weekend Trek to Tejas
Just a quick post to say that I'll be the one traveling this weekend. I'm haeading off this afternoon to fly down to Dallas for a web training conference on Friday and Saturday courtesy of The Company.

I'll be traveling with my web co-worker, Trey, and hopefully get a head-full of good knowledge from the conference training sessions and keynote speakers who will be featured at the event.

After the conference, instead of flying back home on Sunday morning, I'll remain in Dallas and spend the day with my brother Alex and his family. It's been just over a year since I've seen my little bro, and from recent conversations with his wife, Seraph, he's going downhill rather quickly. So I'm preparing myself for the worst, but hoping for something better.

We'll be spending about six hours together, and I'm hopeful they'll be as high-quality as possible. We'll see. I'll then take an evening flight back home, arriving back in Nashville around 9:30 PM, so needless to say, my weekend will be full.

It should all make for a very interesting three days. Stay tuned.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Random Ruminations of a Man Left to His Own Devices (September 2007...Take One)

Batchin’ it
This weekend I’m temporarily a bachelor once again.

As I’ve written in the past, Michelle has made it her habit to take a few weekends throughout the year — usually apart from me — for the purpose of visiting friends and family. I do the same thing, what with my semi-regular trips to California and other locales to see my own friends, so things pretty much even out in that regard.

The biggest difference between Michelle’s trips and the ones that I take usually involves duration and distance. Hers are generally shorter than mine and are much closer to home. They normally involve a car as the mode of transportation rather than an airplane, so they’re a sight less expensive on average as well; hence she can take more of them, more often.

I suppose it would be a safe guess to say that about three-to-four weekends per year Michelle hooks up with her BFF, from Memphis, Mrs. Franklin.

The Franklins, you’ll recall, are our good friends from California who moved to Memphis a few years following our own exodus from the Land of Fruits and Nuts (not that there’s anything wrong with that, mind you…).

In the years since, Mr. Franklin and I have become a lot better friends as well, but our friendship will probably never even approach that of our wives. Michelle and Mrs. Franklin have been seemingly joined at the hip since the early 80s.

Typically Michelle has traveled to Memphis for their frequent swatching get-togethers, but in recent years, our fellow SoCal expatriates have had circumstances that have brought them to our neck o’ the woods quite a bit more often than normal.

It seems as though they’ve made a dozen trips to the mid-state over the past two years for a number of reasons, most notably involving their youngest daughter, who embarks upon her collegiate experience this fall as a freshman at Middle Tennessee State University in nearby Murfreesboro.

The Franklins have also a spent great deal of time in the area over the past year seeing one of their twin sons and his wife into their first home, which the young couple had built in nearby Spring Hill, Tennessee.

Subsequently, in several of their more recent confabs, Michelle’s bestest budette has traveled here instead of the other way around. Several times she’s had Mr. Franklin in tow, so we’ve all enjoyed the time together.

However that was while we still had a house to entertain them in. Now, until our new house is built, any get-togethers with our friends will necessarily be relegated to either a quick fly-by on their way home, or back at the Franklins’ pad in Memphis, due to the obvious space issues of our minuscule apartment.

Now with all that being said, you’d probably guess that Michelle has gone off to spend some time with her best friend this weekend, right?

Wrong, Kemosabe.

I did call this story, random ruminations, didn’t I?

No, this time Michelle is traveling to Chattanooga to spend some ‘girl’ time with our daughter, Amy; something she has also begun doing with increasing frequency in recent years. So again, I’ll be home alone — just me ‘n the animals.

It’s actually been quite awhile since Michelle has taken one of these little trips, and I’m really looking forward to using the time well.

And As a matter of fact, I believe Michelle, on the heels of this trip, is planning another visit to see Mrs. Franklin within the next few weeks, so I’ll probably be batchin’ it again in the not-so-distant future.

Shopper Mom
But as I said, Michelle has begun making more frequent weekend trips down to see Amy to spend the quality time together that they’ve missed since our girl moved away from home.

Amy just moved into a new house that she’s renting with another girlfriend, and Michelle will be adding her much sought-after decorating expertise to help make it special. She has done something like this each time Amy has changed addresses, which has averaged about once a year since our daughter relocated to ‘Chatty’ full-time in the fall of 2004.

She transferred there from a private college in Texas following her freshman year, and spent her two semesters at UT in the dorms. Unlike her brother however, Amy wasn’t eager to come home when school was out for summer. She felt a greater connection to the group of friends she had made in Chattanooga (many of whom were Chatty locals) than to her old high school chums back home. So she decided to make a clean break right in the middle of her college career and stay in Chattanooga year ‘round; she has maintained an apartment there fulltime ever since, completely supporting herself during the non-school months.

Although I wasn’t all that happy about her decision, as it cut down considerably the opportunities we would get to spend time with her, I have to say that I’ve been impressed with how responsible and able to stand on her own two feet she has been these last three years.

However, she’s not so successful that she still doesn’t need a little bit of help, and that’s where ‘Shopper Mom’ comes in.

I don’t see Michelle spending a bunch of money on Amy this weekend, but I know she does want to help her get what she needs to get settled, especially this initial transition from apartment to house.

Michelle remarked to me last week how much she misses Amy being around; for the time they used to spend together going to the mall and running errands when she was younger and still living at home. The two women in my life were constant companions each Saturday during Amy’s Middle and High School years.

As you might guess they spend a lot of that time engrossed in the great American female pastime: shopping. But I never worried about them racking up huge bills on their weekly boondoggles; the premium placed on such events was spending time together, not money. My wife is no spendthrift, and fortunately, neither is our daughter.

Dollars and Sense
I feel really good about the way both of our kids, as young adults, respect and understand the value of a dollar. They’re both simple in their tastes and know how to make their money stretch. Neither of our kids have credit cards or car payments.

I would like to take the credit for making our kids resist credit as a matter of course, but even I’m not that vain. I just think they saw what we went through as a family back in the day when credit cards nearly ruined our lives. That, compared with observing how we live now is about as good an object lesson as any cautionary tale that a would-be-wise ol’ Dad could ever pontificate. My kids have common sense, and I couldn’t be prouder of that fact.

The cars they both drive were paid for and are still registered to me; and while they’re not new, or the coolest wheels on the road, they’re solid, dependable vehicles, and that’s what matters most to Amy and Shawn. And my kids’ humble rides have yet another added bonus; since they’re registered to me, they’re still covered under my insurance, so Amy and Shawn avoid having to pay what would be a major monthly expense for them, despite the fact that they no longer live under my roof.

They’ll fully discover just what a great deal that is once they take the step of getting a car on their own, which is something I desperately hope only happens when they’re truly ready. At this point in their young lives the thing they need the least right now is to be saddled with both car and insurance payments. However Daddy’s insurance subsidy won’t last forever. While we’ll help them to get started, continuing to provide for their transportation and auto insurance needs, we’ve agreed that by the middle of 2008, they’ll begin reimbursing us on the latter, until such a time when they’re ready to buy a new car and can assume their own insurance coverage.

I’m happy to help them out in their introduction to the big time, but we’ve always felt it just as important to set limits and to continue the gradual distancing of ourselves financially from our children. They realize that there’s no coming back home to live while they attempt to ‘find themselves.’ They’ve each had more than five years of college to do that.

Nonetheless, we’ll always be there to help in case of catastrophe, but at this point it would really have to be just that for us to bail our kids out of any trouble they get into on their own. These little birdies have wings; it’s time for them to use ‘em.

All the same, if Mom wants to take her daughter shopping a few weekends a year, I’ve got no problems with that.

Next Steps: Shawn
In this first summer of freedom for our kids since graduating from their respective University of Tennessee schools, each is approaching things from a slightly different perspective.

Our eldest child, our son Shawn, who graduated from UT Knoxville this past May, never had any thoughts of staying there or moving on to someplace along the east coast to pursue his career aspirations, although he wouldn’t rule that out for the future. However, in comparing him to his sister, Shawn definitely seems to be the one with the stronger sense of need to remain local.

My son earned his degree in Forestry, playing upon both his love of the outdoors and longstanding part-time vocation as an arborist, a job he’s held since high school here in Nashville with a few well-known local companies.

He’s the daring young man who trims the trees waaay up there where even the squirrels are a tad bit acrophobic. He’s my rock-climbin’ boy, that Shawn: the man without fear. And he’s really good at what he does. I’ve got a great little story to tell about something that happened a couple weeks ago, when I had my first chance to see his mad skillz at work, which I’ll share in a future post.

Given the person he’s become, and what he loves to do, I can easily see Shawn working in some capacity at a wilderness-related effort or venue.

He’s a tree-hugger in the best — and most literal — sense of the word.

However, just where he ends up going and what he ultimately pursues as a career path is still very much up in the air.

Last summer in 2006, he spent two months interning for the U.S. Forest service, both as a tree-tagger for lumbering operations in Idaho, as well as working in a much more high-risk capacity on forest fire crews in the same area during what was an especially active — and dangerous — forest fire season.

Fortunately he wasn’t involved in on-the-spot confrontations with any blazes, but he did work closely with the men and women who were. A critically sobering fact of that experience was that two men from the fire crew he was attending lost their lives in their efforts. Shawn was never in any real danger, but he witnessed first-hand the reality which that line of work can bring to bear.

The high excitement of being a forest firefighter doesn’t come without the equally high caveat of risk. That’s not a fact that was lost on our son, despite his devil-may-care persona. What he saw in that summer tryout may have cured him of at least a little bit of that lust for excitement.

The danger factor notwithstanding, Shawn’s need for companionship may also become a dissuading factor to him seeking a career out in the isolation of the Great Western wilderness. He’s always been pretty much a homebody, what with most of his longtime friends being local here in Franklin and in Nashville. Leaving this area would no doubt be a much tougher decision for him than that of his sister, whose ties to the area amount to little more than just Michelle and me.

So we’ll see. Shawn and a buddy recently rented a house here in Franklin and he really appears to be diggin’ that bachelor-pad experience. He still shows up at our door with his laundry, however, as his tiny historic home has no laundry facilities.

Hell, we may never get rid of ‘im!

...just kidding.

The point is, it will be interesting to see whether hanging here locally with his mates, coupled with the great money he makes as an arborist, will retard his desire to go beyond the day-to-day and really pursue a career in Forestry.

But it’s his decision, and I know he’ll give it the requisite consideration that it deserves. It’s just a matter of how long that will take; how much time he’ll allow to tick away before becoming an adversary to his efforts.

Hey, whadaya want? I’m a Dad ferpetesakes. It’s my job to worry.

Next Steps: Amy
Amy also went through graduation ceremonies this past spring, but it was really just for show — mostly for the grandparents, who traveled up from Florida to attend both ceremonies.

We knew going in, unfortunately, that our daughter wouldn’t be receiving her sheepskin until the end of summer, as she had fallen short one single derelict requirement: a math class she had flunked her sophomore year due to lack of attendance (and interest).

She re-took the class during the summer and then went through graduation ceremonies once again, in order to walk with two of her Theater Department buddies who were in the same tardy-grad position. Michelle and I of course traveled to Chattanooga to deja view our daughter’s official graduation ceremony just a few weeks ago, and had an even more fun and relaxed time than in the first go-round.

As far as Amy’s future plans are concerned, not surprisingly, she’s made the decision to stay in Chattanooga for at least one more year, in order to work and save money before deciding upon what will be her next step, which hopefully will be one that will point her toward a career in Theater sometime in 2008.

Proud Papa
We’re obviously very proud of both our kids, who are now blossoming into surprisingly mature and resourceful adults. Most surprising of all is how independent Amy has remained throughout her early transition from fully supported student to self-sufficient adult.

She herself has recently landed a very nice full-time job working for the Chattanooga Visitor’s Center. She’ll have that as her ‘day job’ while continuing to hone her acting skills, performing community theater at night, while hopefully squirreling away enough cash to support what may be a move to Chicago, where some of her elder UTC classmates have preceded her, making their way in what I understand is a vibrant theater community.

I’ll have a bunch more to say about her in future posts, but for now, if she happens to read this, I just want her to know how very proud and gratified she has made her mother and me.

Break a leg, sweetheart.