Aug 13

The Nazis Were Never This Stupid

One day as a child, I was watching Hogan’s Heroes with my dad. He was laughing at the antics of the goofy Nazis and the way they were being played by Hogan and the gang. Suddenly, he stopped laughing and looked me in the eyes. “The Nazis weren’t stupid.” There was a chill to his voice that lingers with me.

 

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He knew Nazis. He had killed Nazis. They had tried mightily to kill him. He was at Normandy, The Bulge, Nordhausen. He was one of the first Americans to enter Germany. He had walked through concentration camps. He had seen their war machines, the precision of their troops, and the ferocity of their missiles.

The threat of the Nazis was the brilliance behind so much of what they did. It was evil genius, but genius nontheless. He said, “Don’t ever forget that.”

I can’t help thinking these guys in Virginia are boneheads. That doesn’t mean in the short run they aren’t dangerous, but in the long run…boneheads. I want to be afraid of them, but this is a small, sad band of relics.

Fight them by making lasting loving relations with people who are different than you. Fight them by making the world a better place despite them. Fight them by keeping your sense of humor, your trust in human dignity, and your willingness to never let ideology get in the way of being a loving soul and a force for awesome.


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Apr 13

Day 12 of Positive Impacts – My Dad’s Three Warnings

I have written somewhat about my relationship with my dad. The short-hand is Hank and Bobby Hill, if Hank had a brogue instead of a twang.  There is much more I can write about him, I am sure.  I just want to quickly lay down his three laws that he emphasized.

  • Never get behind the old guy in glasses and a 1950 styles hat driving in the left lane below the speed of traffic: you will never get around him once  you are there. (Take it as a metaphor and a huge clue to my driving style)
  • Never pull to an inside straight. (Oh, Daddy…I can honestly say my best successes and worst failures were both from ignoring this rule)
  • If you are ever going to serve in the military, choose the Navy.  They dropped us off on Normandy Beach and then went back to America. (I did serve in the Navy, no dropping troops off, except for exercises)

I want to note that my Dad did not land at D-Day.  He arrived at Normandy Beach later in the month, just as the Germans did.  It was not the same as D-Day, but it was not a good week.

He had other wisdom, but in my early 20s I condensed his wisdom down to these three axioms of greatest note.

 


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Apr 13

Day 11 of Positive Impacts- Some Korean Family in LA

I was watching early morning Sunday TV, one of those new programs. It was the mid-1980s, and I was living in California. At this point in my life, I knew one Korean Family, and their last name was Holoboski, so we can guess they were not fully Korean.  They did a full Korean cousin living with them, but for the most part, it was a typical Polish Catholic family with a Korean mom.  In some ways, the family pre-saged the Nguyen Family represented on Bojack Horseman. This is not, however, their story.

This is the story of the family I watched on that day. They were living in a two bedroom apartment with a large number of relatives crammed into the room. They were, they said, in america to become part of America and to share in the riches of America. They were not going to stop working until they had the lifestyle they wanted, and they weren’t going to spend their money until they could buy what they truly wanted…an upper middle-class lifestyle.

They all worked ridiculously long hours, pooled their money for the common good, were frugal if not parsimonious, and counted every day a chance to learn more, work harder, earn more.  In some ways they may have been held up as a stereotype of the driven Asian pushing forward to goals, lead by a tiger mom, longing for an absentee father. But, their eyes told of both their sincerity and the reason for their commitment.

They all fondly remembered and respected Korea, and their heritage.  They were not ashamed of who they are, what they were doing, or why they were doing it. They had focus on their goals, and had internalized them.

Years later, I was left in a horrific situation. I had spent Christmas time recovering from a surgery. I had no job, my then wife had no job. I was barely able to walk again, and only with a walker. In January I was looking for any job…ANY job, that didn’t require me to stand up or walk. I found two.  I was a web-author (the hip term that year) for a large computer hardware firm, and I was a technical support analyst for a long-distance provider for 30 hours a week during evening.  I was working more than 70 hours a week, getting around with a walker. I was in pain nearly every day. Nearly all of every day. But, I did it.

I did it because I was born into a land of great opportunity that others travel across oceans to find. I wouldn’t take that for granted. I did it because I could work 70 hours a week because I had nothing else to do besides love my children enough to keep a roof over their heads.  I did it because I had watched that Korean family do it over 10 years before on a sunny weekend morning when I was living on the east coast.

If that is not a positive influence…I don’t know what it.

Do things because you can. Do them because they are right.

 

 

 


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Apr 11

Day 10 of Positive Impacts – Fictional Character Saltheart Foamfollower

Writer Stephen R. Donaldson created a tense, dysfunctional world called only “The Land” in his epic saga The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant.  The main character, a leper who finds himself in a magical land that he rejects, stands alone in this sort of literature because he not particularly likable despite being interesting.  However, there is a character in the series who spoke to me as a young man, and still influences me today: The Giant Saltheart Foamfollower.

The last giant of Seachreach, Foamfollow is a bastion of hope and acceptance in a world that sees his people slaughtered, the return of an ancient evil known as the Despiser, and the ending of all that is stable and peaceful. He befriends Thomas Covenant on two quests in the saga, and returns as a spirit to provide advice later in later novels.

He was a deceptively simple character who appeared to just be a jolly, angelic conversation partner for Covenant. In truth the character was a complex amalgam o guilt, hope, despair, and resignation.  He was a stoic’s stoic…not a faux-spartan parody of stoicism, but a soul struggling to live in the classical apathea–creating his responses without respect to what the external pressures would expect.

Two things the character says in the first of the Chronicles, Lord’s Foul Bane, stick with me.

The first is that we gain a sense of hope not from our strength, but from what we serve. It is not that hope is internal, nor even external, but hope arises from the interaction of our being in service to something greater and truer than ourselves. Bob Dylan famously wrote that we “gotta serve somebody/it might be the devil/it might be the lord/but we gotta serve somebody.” When I came across the Dylan tune, I was already aware of this concept from Foamfollower.

The second, which actually paved my road to understanding and accepting Stoic teachings, was clearer, “Laughter is in the ears of those who hear, not in the mouths of those who talk.”  Foamfollower exposes a belief among his people that we are not responsible for the words that come to us, but we are responsible for how we respond to them.  Laughter, they believe, is the response to all news no matter how good or how bad it is.  To hear any tale of woe or any calamity, one responses best with laughter.  We create the world with our responses…create it with glee.  This is not being insensitive, not being dismissive. It is controlling the only thing we need or can control: our contribution to the world.

I have usually tried, and often fallen short, to serve those concepts and precepts and even deities that are worthy of my service, because they are fuel for hope.  I have tried to embrace the pain and suffering of existence with a hearty laugh and a creative response.  Both of these traits I learned from a fictional character in a fantasy book about unbelief.

 

 


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Apr 09

Day 9 of Positive Influences: Elvis Costello

Apart from his uncharacteristic racist rant a few years ago, Elvis Costello has always been one of my favorite artists and performers. I don’t know what happened to him that day, but I am assuming low blood sugar and bad traffic that morning. As for the rest of his life, two verses in one song stands among a career of consistent experimentation and quality songs.  “I used to be disgusted/now I tried to be amused.”

That, folks, is all he needed to ever write to make an impact in my life.

The song is “Angels Want To Wear My Red Shoes.”  The verses in question pop out of the song, straight into my psyche. There they burn a scar broad and wide as the heavens.  When things are too much me, they are there for me. When I am losing patience with tomfoolery, they sing to me. When I want to walk away from all that is my life and find a cave in the mountains of Eastern Tennessee to wait out the rest of the century, they beckon me to laugh.

Declan MacManus came into this world a poet. An angry, frustrated poet.  He arrived on the music scene with a ridiculous professional name and rode on the wake of the Sex Pistols to overshadow and outlast the post-punk movement.  His first album, My Aim is True, gave me the name for my youngest daughter, and the motto by which I judge all of life. That’s the album where you can find these lyrics.

Before the dot com bust, I worked at a company that valued relationships and integrity more than technical skill, and they valued technical skill greatly. During the initial interview process, they met for ninety minutes with candidates to figure out what type of person the candidate was. If a person was deemed worth working with, then went into a technical cycle of interviews. One question that they asked lingered with me, “What are your three life mottos?”

I had no answer prepared, so I was honest. I pulled from the Golden Rule of Jesus, “Do unto others as you would have them do until you.”  Then I followed with Epictetus’, which I paraphrased as, “There are things which are within my control and things which are not.”  For the third motto, I went less lofty, but oh-so-accurate.  I quoted Elvis Costello.

I used to be disgusted

Now I try to be amused.

 

Life can be draining without a sense of humor. Petty things take on bigger weight.  Our grievances become deeper, our hurts more throbbing, and our forgiveness less ready. Being amused, seeing the comedy in others and ourselves.  It lightens the load, greases the wheels of healing, and fills the tires of forgiveness. The down side of this is when other people aren’t so ready to get over their hurts, weights, and grievances. Then I find them amusing. That, of course, doesn’t always make things better. But, it’s better than being disgusted.

I used to be disgusted, honestly. Now…now, I try to be amused.

Thank you, Elvis Costello.

 


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Apr 09

Day 8 of Positive Impacts: Cousin Barb

Shortly after my father died when I was 14 years old, a young girl in my high school came up to me and asked me if I was Dan Carroll. I assumed she carried a note telling me to go to the vice-principle’s office because I had committed some infraction, but I said yes anyway.  She looked me in the face and said, “I am your cousin.”  This was the start of one of the oddest, amazing relationships of my life.

Her name was Barbara Denny, and she was my polar opposite. She was a highly driven, regimented soul who knew her life’s goals when she was, I assume, embryotic.  I was a haphazard collection of whims, experiences, hopes, and faith. The gaming community had given the world a moral model that is popular on the internet based on one’s level of lawfulness and desire to do good.  I am, with no excuses, considered CHAOTIC GOOD. I will always strive to do the right thing, but never because I am supposed to do it. I do it because it’s good.  Barbara was LAWFUL GOOD.  She always valued the right way to do things. This would create much friction between us, because we had always had different approaches on life. But, that’s not the story today.

She was the daughter of the McGarry branch of the Waters Family. If I remember correctly, our grandmothers were first cousins. This made us blood-kin, but barely. We were close as any two people could be for a long time, and we discussed the possibility of romance between us, but never had a romantic relationship, though rumors of our romance were prevalent.  Instead, Barb was actually the model for future platonic closeness that has always been a staple in my life. That is surely positive influence enough on my life. But, it is not the story that concerns us.

I could write volumes on our time together, our friendship as adults, and the shared intimacies and frequent disconnects. We were both unabashedly interesting in things of the mind and the heart.  She introduced me to Leo Buscaglia, love Yeats, and was appalled by my love of Stephen R. Donaldson. But, that’s not the story I want to tell today.

Barbara taught me about standards. Standards are basically principles you hold up as norms or minimums. We use them in business, we live by them, we build or reject associates based on them. Barb, over the course of three years of close friendship helped to school me in recognizing and establishing my own. I became truer to myself under her influence, and learned to know what parts of me are authentic, and what parts grafted on. This was all about standards. I had grown up in chaos and disorder, she in a highly regimented home. Her ability to share some of her expectations in life, taught me to increase my expectations for myself.

The first was that I would no longer care if people liked me, but I would focus on if I liked people. Secondly, I would try things (which I was prone to do anyway), but I would prepare and consider the possibility of doing them right so that I could have success and enjoy them more. I would make lists and work with them (I learned this from her).  Cheating was rampant in my high school, but I would avoid cheating. (The level by which grades were inflated through cheating is, all these years later, unimaginable.)  I secure a role in a play I wanted, I wrestled, I did numbers of other things, I would not have done without her encouragement and support.

One of my personal standards is to always take my work seriously, but not myself. When I achieve this goal, there is a little bit of “hanging out with Cousin Barb” to credit. That’s one of the standards I live by today, that I codified years later.

Because, good influence like this lingers.

 

 

 

 

 


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Apr 07

Day 7 of Positive Impacts – Fictional Detective James Rockford

So far, all my influences have been actual people, with whom I interacted. James Rockford is the first fictional influence.

Wrongly convicted of a crime, then pardoned by the governor, Jim Rockford worked as a private detective solving convoluted, unlikely crimes for 200 dollars a day plus expenses from his trailer parked on the beach in what I always assumed was Malibu. He drove a Pontiac Firebird, had a famous answering machine, and had a printing press that let him print up business cards for any purpose he needed.  Played by veteran movie actor James Garner, he had a harried yet confident panache.

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James Garner’s autograph, a gift from my buddy, Russell.

The show Rockford files came on Friday Nights starting in the mid-1970s. It was one of the few shows that my father and I could enjoy together. He like the crimes, while I preferred his interpersonal dealings, co-stars, and human failings.

Rockford had a lot of failings, for all his tough guy, “I have seen it all” swagger, he always tried to do the right thing, and often paid the price. He frequently was stiffed on his payment, landed in jail, was beaten, was shot at, and threatened with death.  He would shrug and smile and keep going on.  I always shipped him and his lawyer, Beth Davenport. In the end he never got the girl. He kept going and kept trying to figure things out.

And, that is what I learned from him: you can a be a cool and interesting guy, even if things don’t always work out the way you planned.

Also, I assumed, I would end up being broke and living a trailer in Malibu, but I would still be there to help people out and I would smile even if didn’t get paid.

 


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Apr 07

Day 6 of Positive Impacts – Pat Dandridge

When I was a young man figuring out what things were going to work well in my life, I worked retail in a very rough neighborhood in Atlanta. How rough was it? I heard a shoot out in the parking lot. That kind of sums it up. I was desperate for a better life for my family, and I saw working at a chain office supply store as a segue into the IT field. It was calculated risk, but at the time I needed a calculated risk.

One day a man came into the store to buy, i think, a printer and related supplied. He was handsome, charming, and well-dressed.  After discussing his purchased, we talked a little bit about this new thing called the internet. He was Pat Dandridge, and he changed my view of what was possible in life.

He asked me what I knew about creating “web pages.” I explained that I didn’t have a computer myself, because it was an extreme luxury for someone making 9.36 an hour with a mortgage and three children. After talking a few other times about the emerging technology, he offered a compromise. I would work for him for 200 a months and do research, and he would supply a computer.  Within a week, I was connected to Mindspring, Atlanta’s premiere internet provider, with a 486 computer and 24K modem. Within two weeks he had a website to sell heavy equipment overseas. Neither of us knew what we were doing.  He found me a job with a family business, so we could work more closely together.

We continued to work together for nearly two years, not having any success. We both learned a great deal. I soon left for a tech support job, my first non-sales in computing, ended up having back surgery, and things were at their darkest when I found a job with a major computer hardware maker in front end content work.

I returned the computer to Pat, and we kind of lost track of each other. His faith in my skills, despite the results, set me on a path where I was able to build a career in computing, first as a content developer, then software engineer, and finally Project Manager.

The things I learned from Pat?

  • There is always a way
  • Risks are worth taking
  • Take care of folks who have potential
  • Focus on what you like
  • Look around and find the people you want to be like
  • Sometimes you have to break your back to stand your tallest

I am glad Pat is back in my life as a Facebook friend. His influence continues in the way I mentor younger people, encourage folks who are on the edge, and remember there is a way to get to my goals.


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Apr 05

Day 5 of Positive Impacts – Leo Buscaglia

I have written four posts about positive impacts in my life, but today I want to take a moment to talk about the man who taught me what love is.  I never met Dr. Felice “Leo” Buscaglia, and that makes my life less. But, I have read him, listened to him, and watched him throughout my life.

Dr. Buscaglia was a professor at University of Southern California when he wrote his seminal work, Love. He soon came to my attention with his series of PBS lectures on the subject of being truly human. There is much I can write about him, but I will make this brief because I am having trouble dealing with the scope of his impact.

He said this:

“It’s not enough to have lived. We should determine to live for something. May I suggest that it be creating joy for others, sharing what we have for the betterment of personkind, bringing hope to the lost and love to the lonely.”

This has become a core principle of my life.

As I struggle to determine where and how I live my life, if I aim to share hope and love, then it is enough.


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Apr 04

Day 4 of Positive Impacts – Forrest J. Ackerman

As a young boy with weird tastes, I was an outsider. The fact that I was, for lots of reasons, a social pariah didn’t help. Uncharismatic, badly socialized, and having weird tastes is no way to go through grammar school, son.  I was told this often, and eventually learned to be likable. But, before that time, I was alone. Worse, I was an extrovert who was alone. But, I had my friends in comic books, cartoons and tv shows, and Famous Monsters of Film Land. My love of horror, monster movies, and science fiction was validated and encouraged by the magazine’s editor in chief, Forrest J. Ackerman.

Forry, if you didn’t know, was one of the early founders of what is now known as fandom. Born during WWI, by the 1920s he was active in Science Fiction clubs in the Los Angeles Area.  By the 1930s he was going to fan gatherings. He wore the first known costume at a science ficition convention, in fact.  His best friends were Ray Bradbury and Ray Harryhausen. He supported and encouraged the careers of so many people. He dabbled in Science Fiction writing, but found his real lasting impact with a monthly magazine that covered film and TV science fiction, Famous Monsters of Filmland.

The magazine has been credited by Stephen King, Billy Bob Thornton, Steven Spielberg, and so many more for the impact it had on their careers. It taught them it was okay to LOVE weird stuff. It taught them about the early days of Sci-fi and horror in the movies. It let them know about upcoming films. It was our internet for folks whose genres were a little bit out of the mainstream.

Mostly, it let us know we were not alone.  It let us know it was okay to like what we liked.

Much of his life was a struggle financially, and later in life he faced some serious strife because of problems with ownership over Famous Monsters. These factors pale in comparison to the positive impact his work has modern culture. Not “pop culture” or “nerd culture.”  His influence is all aspects of American Culture, beyond what I have words to describe.

This is the positive impact that Forrest J. Ackerman had on me: he showed me that it was worth while to make sure that others who like weird stuff know they are not alone, and that there is nothing wrong with liking Godzilla.

For more information:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forrest_J_Ackerman


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