General

Old Friends, Cancer, and Child Pornography

Apps, Social Media, and ChildrenThis week has been pretty rough. I received two pieces of terrible news. Both involved old friends, both caught me by surprise, and both continue to defy my attempts to work through and find some semblance of balance. In other words, I’m still struggling to get my head around both of them.

I’m not going to get into the first topic much, other than to say that the sister of one of those friends is out of remission, losing her battle to cancer, and is now in hospice. It’s heartbreaking – for her, for my friend, and for her family. She’s 50, she’s dying, and there’s absolutely nothing I can do other than be there for my friend. It sucks.

On the heels of that phone call I saw a FB post spreading the news that another old high school buddy is a pedophile. So there’s that.

August A. was arrested for, and admitted to having and sharing, child pornography. You can find more information about the case and arrest here, but the short version is this: a Special Agent at the Department of Homeland Security was working an investigation of kik users (an online app I’ve not heard of until now), and after connecting and interacting with August, reached out to the Pearland Police Department’s Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Unit. A warrant was issued, his house was searched, and after admitting to, “…engaging in discussions about sexually abusing children, and also to downloading and sharing child pornography with other users”, was arrested. August is now in jail awaiting trial.

He and I weren’t ‘besties’, but we did hang out. We had lunch together. We had mutual friends. Hell, his father was my math teacher in 8th grade. And while I haven’t seen August in close to thirty years, I have no doubt that other parents have.

And he stalked children through an app that your kids, or theirs, might have and use.

I posted a link on FB not long ago about this topic, but I’d like to post it again here. If you have kiddos, please take ten minutes and read this article. It’s by author Anastasia Basil, and it focuses on the app music.ly (not kik, as mentioned above). It’s informative, insightful, and absolutely terrifying. Consider the following excerpt:

There are #killingstalking musical.lys, which are dark-themed (artistic? emo?) videos showing boys putting knives to girls’ throats. There are #selfharm videos that show suicide options — bathtubs filling, images of blades, a child’s voice saying she doesn’t want to live any more. I saw a boy with a bleeding chest (yes, real blood). I saw a young girl whose thighs were so cut up I had to take a break from writing this article. A long break. The images are deeply upsetting. There are #cutter and #triggerwarning and #anorexic videos. Musers with eating disorders hashtag videos using proana (code for pro anorexia.) I found over eleven thousand #selfhate videos. It goes on and on. Each hashtag is its own magical wardrobe, a portal into a world where it’s always winter but never Christmas. It’s Narnia minus Aslan.

It seems we have the device/app debate with our oldest kiddo just about every other day. And while I’m miles away from ten years old, I get where  she’s coming from. It’s hard enough to fit-in or find your place (to say nothing of being on the front edge of that never-ending search to figure out who you are) in those early years – being cut-off from all the things that other kiddos are doing to connect no doubt seems a kind of torture.

But what she doesn’t know, truly, is that the Internet, social media, and the countless apps her friends use aren’t just about connectivity. They’re also doorways. They’re points of access for things dark, and evil, and spirit-crushing. And the the things that slither through those doorways come in all shapes and sizes.

Part of our job as parents is to keep those monsters at bay, and to bar those points of access, for as long as we possibly can. I just wish there weren’t quite so many doorways or that some of those monsters weren’t disguised as old friends of their parents.

 

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Random Conversations as an Introvert [Preamble (Throat-Clearing)]

An old friend will, from time to time, post entries on Facebook under the heading of, “Conversations Mature Folks Have”. They typically underscore, not surprisingly, the hilarity of moving past (ahem) twenty-something and being light-years away from anything resembling ‘hip.’ Here’s an example:

Conversations Mature Folks Have

Her posts crack me up. Yes, it should have been, “OG in the house [shoes],” but whatevs. They also remind me of just how damn old I am. Case in point – the author of those little anecdotes is a lovely lady I met when I was the ripe-old age of twenty-three. You know, back in the Stone Age.

But reading those posts also remind me, from time to time, some of the many odd, one-off conversations I seem to have with people. Perhaps it’s because I’m a former bartender – think approachability and light banter – but I seem to invite/have the most random, brilliant, and sometimes heart-breakingly-lovely conversations with all manner of strangers.

If that’s not a topic for blog posts here at Stone and Sea, I don’t know what is.

So, taking a queue from WB, look for ‘Random Conversations as an Introvert’ posts soon. And please – drop a comment about one of your random interactions and why it was memorable – I’d love to fill this blog with stories from guest authors.

News of the Weird (per Stone and Sea)

James Clavell's ShogunFirst: I’m not sure why it’s stuck with me for as long as it has, but there’s a quote from James Clavell’s, ‘Shogun‘, that has surfaced in my mind on more than one occasion: “…like a butterfly on the summer’s breath.”

I hear it in the background when I realize that I just can’t seem to focus on a project, or while listening to my kiddos during any of their countless rapid-fire summaries of that day’s events, or sometimes (ahem) when trying to keep up with my wife when we’re [debating]. I’ve also heard it, from time to time, while drumming up ideas for posts here at Stone and Sea.

You see, one of the great things about kicking-off this blog again is how much it’s changed the way I’m consuming information.

Second: Perhaps not unlike yours, feeds in my social networks have, for the last few years, been so insanely negative and frustrating that I typically log-in, scan for a handful of minutes, then close up and go drink. You know, heavily.

Since I’ve started writing again, though, I find that I tend to avoid the nasty threads and instead jump down random, thought-provoking/intriguing rabbit holes to see where they lead. The only caveat I’d note with that note is that I avoid, like the plague, the comments section on anything. There are far too many mean, vapid, and seemingly psychotic individuals that live in those threads. Go there at your own peril.

Those rabbit holes, however, often lead me to surprisingly interesting posts, articles, tweets, images, etc. So, taking a queue from The Austin Chronicle, I’m going to keep a file of those random moments under the heading of “News of the Weird” and post them here from time to time. Who knows where they might lead you, but if you discover a cool bit of this or that in the journey, let me know.

For now, here are a couple I thought you might like:

TED Talk: Elizabeth Gilbert – Your Elusive Creative Genius

I’ve had this Elizabeth Gilbert talk bookmarked for years because it’s just about one of the most awesome things in the history of ever. Ms. Gilbert is the author of ‘Eat, Pray, Love,’ and spends her time in this talk addressing creativity, what it means to be a genius, and provides a word or two on poetry. If you’ve not seen this before you’re in for a treat.

 

The lost years of William Shakespeare

The Iron DruidFor the last few years I’ve read a series of books under the heading of ‘The Iron Druid Chronicles’, by Kevin Hearne. If you’re into SF/Fantasy, they’re a great and fairly light read and are absolutely worth a look. To be clear, I’m not saying they’re fluff, but they’re certainly not the mental commitment of ‘Lord of the Rings’ or the ridiculous time-sink that is Jordan’s ‘Wheel of Time’ series.

They are, however, a lovely and well-written series of tales that manage to incorporate Irish, Norse, Asian, and Native American religion and folklore, viewed through the lens of a modern-day Druid working to preserve the planet. There’s also a wolfhound named Oberon who is (not surprisingly) obsessed with meat, gravy, and more meat. Check it out – you’ll like it.

In one of the novels, the lead character (Atticus) tells a story of the time he prevented Mr. Shakespeare from becoming a late-night snack for a coven of witches. Yes, I get that it sounds goofy out of context. Read the series and you’ll totally get it.

That story, however, prompted me to do a little research on the real-life bio of our favorite bard, and I discovered an interesting fact: he was MIA for seven years. My mind immediately started building Robert Johnson/Deal with the Devil scenarios, but that’s me.

Where was he? What was he doing? It’s a mystery, but one that’s fun to chew on. If you’re interested, you can find more information here.

 

Man, I’m a Genius

Albert Einstein

Today it’s beautiful. As I wait to pick up my eldest from dance, I’ve claimed a couple of hours for myself to do as I will. I’ve spent that time sitting on a patio enjoying 78-degrees of bliss with a soft breeze, blue skies, and an awesome soundtrack pouring through the speakers in the background.

I’ve also been a bit self-indulgent and spent most of that time going through the old posts here at Stone and Sea in an effort to reconnect with my writing. Sorry if that sounds goofy or pretentious, but it’s what I’ve been doing, and it’s been so much fun.

It has, however, given me a bit of a reality check.

My first recent post, which was a kind of re-entry thing after more than seven years of being away, was both exhilarating and a little tough to write. On one hand, I was stretching muscles that I haven’t used in a while. On the other, though, I was pretty excited about my approach to the subject matter that I’d be writing about moving forward.

More the fool, me.

While going through my old posts, I (eventually) found my way back to my very first and second. The second reads (in part) as follows:

“While I’ve spent the last couple of days sifting through possibilities for the focus of this blog, I’m no closer to establishing a firm, central theme.

So be it.

If the purpose is to grow as a writer, to learn new things, to possibly teach a thing or two to others, a central theme might not be as important as it initially seemed. In fact, with time and work the “central theme” might evolve naturally.”

So, here I sit – you know, the genius – and realize that my first, “Hey World, Check Me Out!” post for the re-launch of this blog was, essentially, a re-hashed, less-polished version of a thought that was crystal clear to me ten years ago.

~sigh~

It’ll get better, I promise.

A Word or Two on Easter, Neil Gaiman, and Conversations Around the Dinner Table

While the last couple of years have been difficult on many, many levels (more to follow on that), there have also been more than a few ‘silver lining’ moments that have helped ease the journey. My wife’s patience and positivity certainly top that list, but another has been my renewed focus on reading.

I’m not sure what the trigger was (it may have been the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan that I read over lunch hours at Charles Schwab), but I’ve been gorging on books, articles, short stories, and on since then, and it’s been wonderful.

In fact, I finished American Gods, by Neil Gaiman, three or four days ago and I spent a few minutes talking about it with my father-in-law over Easter dinner this afternoon. Big time kudos, by the bye, to BA (mother-in-law, not Baracus) for a place and a moment that seamlessly welcomed, embraced, and nourished – more than food – so many disparate elements.

Side note: If I’ve not mentioned it before, my father-in-law is a (now retired) Presbyterian Minister. It seems like he’s working as much (if not more) now than he did before retirement, but those are stories for another time. For now, know that he’s an amazing and thoughtful man, and when I find (or stumble across) topics or thoughts I think he might have some interest in, I’ll bring them up.

I didn’t, however, get into the American Gods manifestation of “Easter” in our conversation – that would have definitely pushed the conversation into a place that wouldn’t have been good for anyone – but we did talk about Shadow’s (the protagonist in the story) conversation with Jesus. I’ll not spoil the conversation if you’ve not read the book, but as a Cabernet drinker I totally appreciate Christ’s perspective on the making of wine.

But American Gods isn’t the Gaiman book I wanted to talk about.

the ocean at the end of the laneIf you’re not familiar with the author, I respectively suggest you pick up a copy (hard or digital) of The Ocean at the End of the Lane. I finished this one yesterday, and I just can’t get it out of my head. I’m not a professional reviewer, so I’ll lean on my friends at NPR:

Ocean is told from the point of view of a melancholy but successful artist returning to his childhood home in Sussex, England. On a lark, he visits an old farm where he played as a boy, and is suddenly overwhelmed by memories of being entangled in a magical conflict with roots stretching back before the Big Bang.”

For the full review, click here.

But it’s so much more than that. It’s one of those amazing books that, once finished, almost demand a second or third read. It’s a snapshot of our childhood, viewed through the lens of both the common and the terrible, framed by interactions with the Triple Goddess – the Maiden, the Mother, and the Crone – and is, at heart, a fairy tale.

Perhaps.

So. Give it a shot and let me know what you think once you’ve read it. Also, if there’s a book that you’d suggest – you know, one that just touched you in a way that left a mark – I’d love to hear about it. For those that are interested in connecting with about nine readers, I’m totally down with you jotting down a sentence or two that I’ll post here on your behalf. You will, of course, get the by-line.

Happy Easter, everyone, and thanks again for coming by.

Open for Business

Open for Business

Where to begin?

First: successful blogs – define that however you’d like – tend to have a central theme or focus that drives traffic, readership, ad sales, etc. You can find blogs that dig into just about anything, from sports to sales, life as a single dad to lessons from the pulpit.

Stone and Sea has never had that kind of clarity. As such, it’s always been a source of, if not frustration, certainly confusion for me. In other words, I’ve always struggled with the question of what this blog is really about, and what I’m trying to accomplish.

I think I’ve finally figured it out, though, and while I’m satisfied with where I’ve landed, it’s pretty clear to me that “successful blog” might not be in the cards.

Well and so.

Second: it’s been a really, really long time since I’ve written here. I’m talking seven-plus years. And while there are countless reasons/excuses for the absence, it can, I believe, be boiled down to one thing: I didn’t make it a priority. And that’s all me.

Part of it was certainly the problem of focus mentioned above. What the hell do I write about this week? Some of it has to do with the hectic schedule I (and anyone else with kiddos) have to navigate on a day-to-day basis. Some of it’s been my – we’ll say fluid – career path. Free time has often been spent researching potential contract gigs, submitting resumes, etc. More on that to follow.

But, again, I just didn’t make the time.

That, my friends, ends now. Moving forward, here’s my commitment to you (and me):

I will no longer stress about a lack of focus here, and instead embrace it under the heading of: What would my kiddos find interesting about their old man if/when they read these posts twenty years from now? That not only gives me all kinds of room to maneuver, but also changes the type of content/posts I’ve written up to now not in the slightest. So, win-win.

I will write regularly, so don’t expect a “Gone Fishing” sign any time soon. Countless times over the last year I’ve felt a pull/need/desire to get back here and write, and I’ve ignored that inner voice. More the fool, me. Consistent writing – writing that’s done for pleasure rather than those hours pounding away at the keys in my professional life (Content Marketing) – is something that’s been missing for far too long.

I guess I’m trying to say that I’m excited to be back, and I’m grateful that you’ve stopped by.

Talk to you soon.

Just Plain Folk

I’m probably tilting at windmills here but I’ve got to be straight – the thinking that aww, shucks, I’m just a normal, every-day-guy is exactly the kind of quality we need in Washington, or our local governments for that matter, drives me absolutely. fucking. crazy.

Take a recent interview with Ted Nugent (see the entire clip here) where Fox host David Asman says the following:

“Well Ted, you have common sense, which probably 98 percent of the people inside the Beltway don’t have. And common sense means much more to living a good life than any kind of degree from an Ivy League university. These government officials, just because they have an Ivy League education doesn’t mean they know more than we do.”

Take away for a moment that, well, it kind of does, and instead consider this: when did having an education become a negative? That former President Bush projected the everyman persona any time he was in front of a camera boggles my mind. That the country elected him twice while he did so makes me want slam my head into a wall. Twice. The right’s continued love of former Governor Palin (due in large part to the same kind of personality) does the same.  

Sure, we elect politicians. But it’s important to note that we call them by another name, too – leaders. And don’t we want our leaders to have a first-rate mind? One that’s informed and analytical and capable of attacking the problems our country faces – problems that are incredibly complex, nuanced, and in dire need of all the brain-power we can put behind them, by the bye – with a little more intellectual might than Joe the Plumber?  

Thoughts?

Thanks to Eileen Smith at In the Pink for the original post.