Monthly Archives: January 2011

Fatherly advice…


Those with school age children who presume that once their kids reach the age of majority that their parenting is finished may not want to read beyond this sentence unless they like having their bubble burst.

It won’t happen.  Parenting never stops and besides some of the most fun you have as a parent is when the kids are on their own.  At least they feign listening to you.

Last week’s letter allowed me to dispense a little fatherly advice. It is a preoggative that builds in value with every successive tuition payment.

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January 24, 2011

Ellen/Reid: Since I’m not entirely sure of how things went down in Tahoe you’ll have to fill in the empty blanks of which there are many.  Hope you had fun, and no doubt there was no dearth of snow so you likely had your fill of snowboarding and skiing or snow shoeing.

I am back in the saddle this morning after last week’s trip to Greensboro.  I have to admit that there is something likeable about the new situation.  A new freedom to speak out and speak up, and it is quite refreshing.  Of course a person can’t just blurt things out (as I am wont to do) but it’s nice to have a seat at the intellectual table and flex the brain muscles for a change on things I know something about.  The change of guard (to say nothing of the change in venue) has been good in that regard.  There comes a certain authority to help affect change even if it does inch its way along.

Reid, I’ve been thinking a lot about your quest for grad school vs. your entrepreneurial spirit.  Both are good.  But let me toss in an 11th hour opinion which your mom agrees with (I think).  There is something to be said for an MBA degree.  This has come to light for several different reasons.  If you’re strictly in a digital or communications environment, you will be very narrow even though digital and online communications rule the business roost.  There is nothing wrong with that.  An MBA, however, would still let you continue your communication quest but it might round your rough business edges in the event you do want to go forward with Erik.  You would also be around people who aren’t as well versed in your deep approach to digital and media, and that might be a good thing for them and for you.  Plus, there are scads more MBA programs for you to choose from.  You can still zero in on digital media as part of your studies; i.e. your main focus of class work, your papers and thesis for example.  I cannot imagine business schools turning a blind eye to the very things you’ve told us about.  They know their graduates must survive in the digital world you know very well.  I know this comes at you at the 11th hour but I hope you will consider it especially if the New School does not pan out for whatever reason.  This in no way is meant to keep you in your agency situation but just to expand the grad school boundaries a little bit.  I don’t know how you go about exploring what other MBA opportunities there are that have a heavy digital footprint, but there must be a way to find them.

There was a study published last week (The Hechinger Report) that show today’s college grads have abysmal skills at discerning problems, critical thinking and even greater abysmal-ness at writing or communicating concepts and ideas.  I suppose that is a little bit more ammunition or fuel for the fire of grad school.  I think it’s depressing because I see a lot of that in play right now in my world.  Not that I am a poster child for such deep thinking but if almost half of college grads show negligible improvement in those skills in their four years, then something is really amiss in the academic world.  Less than one-fifth of their time each week is on academic pursuits.  I was probably in that ball park, if not worse, in college.  But I paid attention at the right time.

Mike and Mort may come down in mid-February, which by that time will mean I have transcended another birthday.  I need to stop counting.  I think Mike’s film is doing okay at the box office but the reviews could be better.  No Oscar nominations for him this time around.  I suppose we’ll play golf and tip back a few cold ones.  I may take them to some eateries out in the boonies to see how the other half of the Carolinas lives.

Time to go.  Work to do.  Fill me in on the West coast, and although you went back to colder temps, February should be somewhat warmer.  I know it will be, at least around here.

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Letters at a natural end…


For weeks I’ve gone about a Friday routine of writing a letter to my mother (even though you’ve seen none of the pages).  On every envelope is scrawled the notation ‘Please open and read to Barbara.’   Now, I find that few, if any, of the more recent letters have been opened.

That is because her condition has worsened; she is weak and cannot eat on her own.  She’s been moved to another facility better able to care for her more immediate health situation.  My brother and I are hopeful she can regain her strength and return to the location she has come to view as her home.

It looks as if years of writing to my parents has reached a natural end.  It is disheartening for me to know that as far as letters to my parents are concerned, there really will be no more.  It was my lifeline to them in a way they could grasp.  It brought me some comfort that at least I was doing my best to stay in touch.  Many posts ago, I alluded to the fact the ink-on-paper was how many people in their age group got their news whether it was world, state  and local events as well as social doings.  Electronic methods and gadgetry so in vogue were of little use to mom and dad.  They were information aliens in cyberspace, especially my mother.

So now I have no way to communicate with mom.  She has no phone in her room, and if she did her eyesight is such she could not locate it.  She cannot read.  The best my brother and I can do is hold his cell phone up to her ear while I talk and she listens.   But it’s hard for her to comprehend and process what she’s hearing.  It’s not feasible, either, to travel to see mom as often as a good son should do.  The 1,238 miles between us has a way of interrupting the personal touch she needs.  Tomorrow, Friday, there will be no letter.

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What a difference a few years make…


Last week’s letter to the kids could not have been written as recently as two or three years ago.  Maybe I am slow on the uptake or am a late adopter, but the region has had some impact on me, perhaps as the seas have calmed and my head has cleared.  What a difference a few years make.

It took me a while to see past some of the uncomfortable local politics and other nuances which were quite alien to a Midwesterner.  But look past them I have.

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January 18, 2011

Ellen/Reid: Reid, I’m a little surprised at the turn of events relative to the new business opportunity vs. grad school.  You can’t serve two masters so by default it will need to be one or the other.  You’ll have an interesting decision to make so if you need someone to talk with, you know the number.  The big cautions remain the money and the potential harm to your friendship with Erik.  You need to keep that in mind, and I know this sounds like a squeaky wheel, but you can’t treat either of those lightly.

Never in a million years, Ellen, could you ever be envisioned as a downhill skier, but now you are one.  Black diamond runs, no less.  Those were the ruination of me the last time I attempted such derring-do.  I might as well have slid down on my bum.  John and Bruce could whistle down those but I was light years behind in skill and nerve.

I don’t know why, maybe it’s because people ask me about it now and again, but as I was driving around the other day it occurred to me that the move to North Carolina was maybe one of the best things that has happened to me as an adult.  Even in the face of all that has happened down here it has been, on the whole, a life-changing experience for me.  Sure, there have been potholes and setbacks now and then but on balance it’s been fine.  As you guys know from St. Paul and Chicago, there is something about new surroundings that force a person to make the best of what they have at the time.   It made me find a house and set it up (let’s not get into maintenance), handle all the nuances of an entirely new industry, and just overall to fend for myself economically, socially and otherwise.  Oddly enough the move came at a pretty good time in terms of cleaning the slate and beginning anew.  Although I might not have said this a year or two or three years ago, but this has been highly preferable to Des Moines for a lot of reasons given the circumstances.  I haven’t missed much about Iowa, physically that is, other than my friends which is still something of a heartache for me.  That has been by far the toughest part.  Yet not knowing a single soul down here was particularly helpful in that there were no distractions or explanations to be made in the inevitable chance encounters in Des Moines.  I could, and did, get on with things without bumping into someone I knew.  Not that anything about running into people was inherently bad but I could simply move forward.

Every once in a while I have a very strong moments of amazement; i.e. I am actually in North Carolina where they talk differently, the trees are different and the dirt is red.  And the sky is blue and there is an ocean a hop, skip and jump away.  Everything about it is different and that just stuns me.  I think that is the part that is in some ways still surreal.  And then the moment evaporates and I honk at the slowpoke in front of me at a red light.  Back to reality.

Tomorrow I head to Greensboro, North Carolina (about two hours up I-85) to visit a loan servicing center.  My first trip for the bank in nearly four years.  I stick around through Friday and then zoom home for a Friday night dinner Felicia and I will host for some friends of hers.  I’ve fallen back on an old standby menu, shrimp and pasta since those are the safest bets and it’s hard to screw up although if there is a way I will find it.

Reid, keep me posted on the business vs. grad school decision.  Be sure to make a list of the pros and cons for each.  It won’t be an easy decision by any means.  And Ellen, I hope Henry is feeling better and not so sore to the touch.  Temperatures are beginning to inch their way upwards but real warmth cannot happen fast enough for me.

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My friend Mort…


My friend Mort and I go way back.  Way back.  Back as in college days.  Mort lives but a stones throw away in Atlanta and I’ve scratched my head wondering why it took so long to write him. 

But in the spirit of better late than never, Mort indeed got his first letter from me last week.  He is an incredibly creative writer who loves Nebraska’s Sand Hills even more than me (read chapters of  Ghost Dance at http://churnhead.blogspot.com).  He works hard at a craft the rest of us can dabble with at best.

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January 6, 2011

Mort: How is it that we have both ended up in the southland, you for more years than me but in roughly the same place and stage of our “careers”?   I still pinch myself – a form of self-abuse, I guess – many days wondering how the hell this has all come to pass.

I’m not one to overly beef about it, but as a recent convert to the “it is what it is” way of thinking, I can’t help but think of the daily reminder that is chief, but not the only factor, that keeps me here: the weather map.  It is just a hell of a lot nicer down here, on balance, than we might be experiencing back in the heartland.  I keep reminding Ellen and Reid that – rubbing it in, really – when it is 60F here it is likely -10F there.  You said the other day my blood must be getting thinner, but is there a way to make that happen to the rest of me, too?

There has to be a way to get you and Mike back down here.  Hill has to be going nuts, and taking Leann with him, as he twiddles his thumbs up there.  What would it take him to get to ATL?  A strong day and a half, max, to reach you?  Then it’s the short jaunt over here.  On my oath, I swear you would have separate rooms with clean sheets.  This is the sort of pilgrimage the two of you ought to make.  That, or I save you the gas – petrol and/or Mike’s gas – by jaunting over your way.  You make the call.  I can go either way.

I’m glad you liked the reference to the Sandhills.  The pioneers were probably smart to set up shop all those years ago near a source of water, the Platte, but if they’d only plunked Grand Island on the map a bit further to the north than that would’ve met my needs all that much better.  Pretty short-sighted on their part.  Must be the wind-swept appeal of those hills.  Kind of like New York; not sure I want to live there but I sure like to visit although a spot up that way could be fairly palatable if you had the right amenities like running water and Wi-fi.  A golf course within hailing distance would be a plus, too.  That round up by Chadron was one of the more memorable I’ve had although I can do without bunking at Ft. Robinson.  Have you read John Janovy’s book Keith County Journal?  Or was that you that turned me on to it?  Either way, it’s a good descriptor of that portion of the country.

On that score, I think you should plow ahead at flank speed with your book.  That you started it at all is sort of Lao-tzu – a journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step.  It’s just a matter of finishing.  I’ve been following that writer’s group you got me onto enough to know that the self-help stuff a lot of them promote is okay but hardly up to your standards.  There’s always room for a good oater.  Besides, you’ve come this far and there are lots of self-publishing situations that can help you bring it to fruition.  It’s all going online and e-book anyway.  I would volunteer as the necessary second set of eyes, and no doubt Hill would too, if he’s not already.

As for me, I’ll be content to trundle into the office every day and get done what needs to get done.  The last few months have been an epiphany on the work scene.  Some days I wonder about the long-term but then I look in the mirror and realize it’s me that needs to adapt and change.  I’ll keep the blog up and going since it is one of the few creative outlets at my disposal.  Readership is picking up bit by bit and that’s good enough for me.

Well, as Walkin and Mayeux used to say, it’s time to sign off.  Really, you and Mike butt heads and see what you can muster in terms of you coming here or me going there.  Either way, it is high time I got a chance to see you ruffians and to hear your old yarns.  Emphasis on the old.

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A cabbie named Mohammed…


Mohammed injected some common sense to an electric topic for most of us. Where others see strife, he sees freedom.

Taped to the wall of the shop of Lannie, my former barber in Des Moines, is a quote from the late comedian George Burns: “Too bad all the people who know how to run this country are busy running taxicabs or cutting hair.”  I looked at that quote almost every visit (for the five or so minutes it took to clip my thinning locks).

I mention this because of the highlights of my December trip to the Midwest, a close third (behind seeing my mother and brother and walks on country roads) was the hurried trip to my father’s grave with a taxi driver, Mohammed.

A couple of decades of taxi rides in New York will cure you of conversations with cabbies.  That wisdom came to mind moments after my whining about Omaha’s snow and cold.  Yet the subsequent two-sided conversation with Mohammed was anything but New Yorkish.  He made me think.  It was another teaching moment for me, and for Ellen and Reid.

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January 12, 2011

Ellen/Reid: This note is a couple of days late owing to the snow/ice barrage down here and the fact that I needed a workable printer.  Not that you were wringing your hands waiting by the mail box.  I had to chop a path through the ice on the pathway behind the house if I had any hopes of making it to the office.  My place will never see a snow plow.  The office today is a ghost town.

Ellen, given that you teach African and Asian immigrant children, here’s a side story from my Christmas trip that might strike a chord with you.  The cab driver who shuttled me to your grandfather’s grave was a guy named Mohammed, who had fled Somalia with his family about 10 years ago.  He, too, was a teacher but had been trying to gain his footing in the U.S.  I’m normally loathe to strike up conversations with cabbies, but he seemed genial enough.  I made some offhand comment about the lousy weather and that seemed to break the ice.

We got to the cemetery in pretty quick order without a ton of conversation beyond he was from Somalia and the weather didn’t inordinately bother him as much as it did me.  He waited while I went through the snow up the hill and searched plot by plot in the effort to find the right marker.  It was when I got back into the cab that our conversation changed during the 20 or so minutes back to the airport.  He was respectful of your grandfather and although I’m not sure how, we began to talk about his Muslim faith and how he feels accepted in the Midwest.

He denigrated the zealots who miscast his religion beyond what he reads in the Quran.  He wondered where are the moderates among Muslims, and he followed that up by saying most were afraid to speak out because of what can happen to those with moderate views.  Mohammed wasn’t one of these cabdrivers who just simply spout things loud and long.  He was very considered in what he said.  I asked and he responded.  He happily found the U.S. and Omaha to his liking because his kids are getting a good education, he and his wife have jobs and the opportunities are there for anyone to be anything they want to be in the U.S.  He thought freedom was a great thing that Americans sometimes overlook or take for granted.  I agreed.  I suppose living in the hellhole that is Somalia would shape a person’s outlook on life.

We got back to the airport and I shook his hand as we parted ways.  I’ve thought a lot about that 45 minute encounter.  Mohammed was positively glowing about the potential for his family, and it was incredible to me that his I’m-glad-to-be-here attitude had yet to be infected by others who have a far more jaded view on the Mohammeds (or any of the other immigrants) among us.  Mohammed painted Muslims with a different brush than I’d been exposed to, and I learned more about tolerance in that short period than I have in a long, long time.

There’s an object lesson in there somewhere.  I try to keep that in mind in the face of immigrant news and the views so prevalent down here and elsewhere.  I find myself slipping, though, in my resolve to take judgments about people one person at a time.  My friend John at Caldwell has a hand in continuing to shape my perspective and resoluteness, too.  I guess I can only be in control of how I act and react, one person at a time.

Well, I’d better go.  I navigated the slick roads this morning to reach Uptown.  No doubt you two laugh at a 5” storm bringing Charlotte to a screeching halt for days at a time.  I stocked up on bread and milk like the other panicked locals, most of it has not been consumed.  So much for a winter apocalypse.

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Broken vows to lose weight and grow hair…


I’m not much for New Year’s resolutions.  Already, I’ve already broken vows to lose weight and grow hair that were iffy to begin with.  The jury is still out on the annual pledge to read more books.

But why wait for the new year?  My preference is to sprinkle personal efforts to improve throughout the year.  Among those: once I get in touch, try hard to stay in touch.  A notable example is a regular letter to folks you’ve heard of before: my friends Jane and Dave.

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January 4, 2011

Jane/Dave: As is the custom of the postal delivery services down here, your sparkly holiday card just arrived.  But it still merited a place on the mantel next to the other U.S. mail items that remain unopened such as bills, tax notices and numerous offers of free dinners at nice restaurants if I want to sit through an investment spiel.  I don’t know where they get their mailing lists but it can’t be predicated on the balance in one’s checking or savings accounts.

Coeur d’Alene is still in my rearview mirror although I look at the pictures and scorecard (also on the mantel) with some regularity.  It was the high point of the year.  At some point it is worth a return trip since there were many holes we did not conquer, such as holes 1- 18.  But still it was an incredible time and an incredible place.

I am at the office computer this morning.  As you may have heard, I am back among the working and glad of it.  I’m one more cog in the wheel that answers the many, many letters of complaint that come into the mortgage division every day.  I don’t write the letters but orchestrate some of the responses.  Perhaps it’s not my ideal job but it sure beats the alternative.  As is also the custom of the bank, the actual call to arms for me came at the 11th if not the 12th hour.  I was hopeful of such a call but was resigned to know that if the phone did not ring then something else would’ve surfaced.  I’d scraped together some freelance work and that might have sufficed.  If nothing had panned out then yes, I would’ve taken the investment houses up on their offers of a free meal.  That would have forced them to look at their mailing lists much more closely.  But the turn of events is what makes the possibility of a return to Idaho that much more appealing.

In that vein, the door is still open for anyone who wants to visit the Carolinas and needs a home base from which to do so.  I’ve watched your weather and I know it is somewhat better down in these parts.  By my reckoning, the cold here will last another six to seven weeks or so and then it will warm up consistently into the mid-60s and above as the days get longer.  As it is, it will be 55f today but it will be the coldest 55f you’ve ever felt.  Must be the damp air.  I bundle up most mornings as if I still lived in the Midwest.  Actually, there is good golf locally and within hailing distance at Pinehurst, Myrtle Beach and other spots in South Carolina.  The only downer is the dormant Bermuda which is like playing on thin mud.  But at least we don’t have to clear the snow away before we strike the golf ball.

My Ellen was discussing baby names over the Thanksgiving holiday so they seem to have broken the ice on the topic.  Most of her cronies have joined the mommy brigade and it may be that she doesn’t want to be left out.  But there’s plenty of time for her to deal with that and I’m not ready yet to be a grandpa but it will be what it will be.  Jane, you’ll have to mentor me on appropriate gifts from the grandchild-gift challenged.  I could be like Earl Woods and get him/her/them (there is the potential for twins) some clubs but Ellen might not like that all that much.  Hey, it’s never too early to learn.

Thanks again for the nice card and given my propensity for keeping most items of paper hanging around, it will grace the mantel for some time to come.  When you make plans to visit this burg, let me know.

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Kicking the snow aside…


Dad's new marker is in place. I would've spent far more than the $40 cab ride to honor him.

How can it possibly be six months since June 28, 2010?  As you’ve read time and again, the focus is on the now, not what was then.  But with some frequency I remember what once was and bring that to the attention of Ellen and Reid.

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January 3, 2011

Ellen/Reid: Happy New Year to you both, and let’s hope for good days ahead in ’11.

I’m back in the shop this morning and glad to be working again.  It’s hard to believe that for all or part of six years I’ve been down in North Carolina.  No one has accused me of developing an accent yet.  Instead, when they hear me they say ‘you’re not from around here, are you?’

There weren’t any fanciful resolutions developed on this end.  Forget about weight loss and all the other usual complaints.  Won’t happen.  If there is one thing, it’s to stop pointing the finger at other people’s faults and be a little more introspective and self critical: how I can make things better on my end rather than expecting others to improve?  That’s not so much a resolution as the end result of the past half-year or so.  This sort of personal momentum has been building for a while now.  They say you can’t teach old dogs (me) new tricks but the landslide is already moving in that direction so we’ll see if any of that mud sticks to the wall.  If I can make improvements in small increments, that’s good enough for me.

Reid, I’m glad you’re looking at graduate school.  A colleague here just this morning instant-messaged me that she will continue her efforts to get a business degree on top of her B.A. in communications.  Spreads the risk if or when the job market gets a little dicey.  I like the way she thinks on that.  As we were talking yesterday, it’s fine to pursue the New School but I would do your own ‘spread the risk’ planning by applying to other schools in some concentric circle outside NYC.  I’d look as far up the coast as Connecticut and down toward Philadelphia.  You can always take the train or bus into Manhattan, and you’ll lower your costs and avoid putting all your eggs in the New School basket in the event you don’t get in.  I understand, too, your reluctance to attend a school that might have tentacles in the ad agency world, but if you do end up in New York, that is agency central.  It is where the ad world revolves, or at least it did revolve there.   The reality, unfortunately, is that schools are hard pressed for dollars these days, and they’ll gladly accept agency money in exchange for a seat or naming rights for some class or department.  That doesn’t make it a bad thing by any means, so don’t assume that just because a school has accepted dough from an agency that it means they have capitulated to agency pressures.  But you can’t hurt yourself by getting an advanced degree, especially if you want to become a researcher or teacher which, in reading from the tea leaves, is what I assume you want to be.  Since I’m wrong on the weather, stocks and the outcomes of pro sports, I might be wrong there, too.

I forgot to tell you guys that during my layover in Omaha, I took a taxi over to your grandfather’s grave.  Like an idiot I didn’t think to do this until about an hour before the shuttle to Grand Island was supposed to load, and the taxi driver literally broke all known speed records and ran every light to get me to the cemetery.  But once there I erred on where the grave actually was.   In my taxi-meter/shuttle-to-GI induced panic to find him, I frantically kicked a recent crusted snow off markers in the area where I thought he was buried.  It was so frustrating to think that I would not find his plot, but at the last moment I looked over to the south twenty yards or so, and there I found him.  His marker was, miraculously, not covered by snow or slush.  The new marker is very simple.  I said a few words and in the space of a couple of minutes, was back in the cab headed back to the airport.  That was a highlight of the trip.  One more item removed from my short term bucket list.

Well, in the vein of introspection and improving myself rather than asking others to improve themselves to fit my whim, I’ll sign off for this week.  But I reserve the right to pester you guys this weekend.  Did I tell you it was in the mid-60s here yesterday?

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