Happy birthday to me!

It’s my birthday (a week in which a lot of creative people celebrate), and my friend Holly asked me a question that’s an appropriate birthday blog entry. She’s in her early 30s.

“Now that you’re 66,” she wrote, “what’s the one thing you absolutely believe today that you never, at my age, would’ve imagined you could ever believe?”

When I was in my early 30s, we didn’t even have computerized newsrooms (today’s producers would be amazed at how we did things), so I’d have to give the following ten answers:

  1. That my phone could be a computer in my pocket
  2. That humankind could be hyper-connected
  3. That media consumption could first be replaced by tape, then by recorded disk, and finally by a digital file in a “cloud.”
  4. That Kodak could go bankrupt, and that Brittanica wouldn’t be the primary encyclopedia
  5. That video rental stores would come into being and go out of being
  6. That I couldn’t share my music collection with my friends
  7. That humankind’s wish to be God (Godlike) would be so close
  8. That tyranny could be overthrown without weapons
  9. That I’d no longer have newspapers with which to wrap glassware
  10. That an African-American would be in the White House within 30 years

The more I think about this, the more answers I come up with. For example, I didn’t even touch on medical matters. It really has been an amazing 30+ years.

Remembering dad on Father’s Day

My father’s heart gave out in September of 1988. He was 74, and it was his second major heart attack. I made a scrapbook to remember him after he died and usually take it out about this time of year. Father’s Day and his birthday were pretty close together, so this is when I remember him.

The scrapbook, I must admit, is a tribute of love to a man I used to despise. It wasn’t until much later in life that my mind was able to understand him, and I was able to let go of all that anger. I’ll spare you the details, but suffice it to say he didn’t believe in “sparing the rod.” When we finally made amends, he told me that growing up on a farm in rural Western Michigan, he had worked a full time job since the age of seven. Imagine the toll that could take on a boy. He had no advanced education but a strong, Calvinist faith that required much of him. He served in World War II, and moved my mother around the country much as I did as a news director a generation later. He was doing the best he knew how to do, and I could no longer hold it against him. I remember that day well. We were together alone overlooking the channel at Holland Harbor on Lake Michigan. It was June of 1981.

It’s taken me a long time, but I’ve come to a place where I believe that we’re all — every one of us — just trying to do the best we can with what we know and have. Yeah, we all tend towards self-centeredness, but that’s because we’re human. The more human we become, however, the better we see the faults of ourselves more than the faults of others, and that becomes its own great freedom. We have a saying in AA: “If you spot it, you got it,” which means that the defects we see in others are really our own, for how else would we recognize them as defects?

My scrapbook walks me through my life up until his death, but it’s all smiles and happy memories. Playing on the beach. Holidays. Trips. Sports. Friends. Music. Vietnam. Brothers. Weddings. And other times, too. In truth, though, I was a lonely, lonely boy. I felt unwanted and unloved — even unlovable — although I know in my head that wasn’t true.

My best friend and my greatest enemy as a child was my imagination. “Stop being so sensitive” would’ve made me rich, if I had a nickel for every time I heard it growing up. The problem was I was also very intelligent. School was easy, but my creative mind took me into illusionary worlds when things around me didn’t make sense. Some of the worst things in my life, the old saying goes, never happened, because they were all in my imagination. Father beats a 10-year old boy’s backside with a thick stick? He must hate the kid. And so it goes…

Freedom from that misery, however, begins with letting it go, and as I learned with my dad that day at Holland Harbor, that’s because only we have the ability to change our past. Actually, it’s not the events that matter; those can’t be changed. It’s our reaction to those events that we control, and that’s something we can change. After all, I’d still been living with the negativity of those wounds all those many years later. Whose fault was that?

So I can say with confidence this Father’s Day that I remember the many sides of my dad. He told me that day at the beach that the most exciting thing that ever happened to him as a youngster was when they built the new gymnasium at his little country High School in Ravenna, Michigan. That puts much in perspective for me, and I celebrate his life by carrying his blood and saying a small inner cheer every time a new gym is built anywhere.

And let me join my voice to others this day who send out a simple note to those with fathers still living: it’s only too late to tell him you love him after he’s gone. I’d give anything to be in your shoes for just a few minutes, to tell my dad what I’ve been up to, show him a little of my work and share my family with him. You still have that opportunity. Please take the time to do it.

Happy Father’s Day to all the dads everywhere.

Law & Order, a tale of TV’s greed

the old Law & OrderI’m sad to learn of the passing of Law & Order, although I think the show really collapsed when Lenny Brisco moved on. Today’s version is a ghost of its former self, and I suppose it’s best to let it go. I thank Dick Wolf for all those years of entertainment.

20 years. The show last 20 years, and at a time when television was evolving from something worthwhile to the relentless crap that we have today. How did that happen? Greed, and we can use Law & Order’s long lifespan to observe that closely.

In 1990, when the show was launched, the average program length was 47 minutes with 13 minutes for commercials and marketing. A couple of years ago, the average program length had dropped to 43 minutes, with 17 minutes of commercials and marketing. Is there a correlation to the crap of today and the length of the programs? Absolutely, and while researchers for the industry try to sell us on the idea that people sit there and actually watch those 17 minutes of commercials, our own behavior tells us that’s ridiculous.

I miss Law & Order, but I miss even more the two-minute commercial break.

Adieu, fair phone book, adieu

dinosaurs at the doorIn 1975, I was running the assignment desk at WTMJ-TV in Milwaukee when the phone company came out with a new device — a phone with (as I recall) 24 speed dial buttons. I read about it in the Wall St. Journal and called my contact at the phone company to get one of the first ones. It was such a great piece of technology for an assignment editor (although I had memorized a jillion phone numbers) that I bragged about it all over the place. I was also featured, along with my new toy, in the Milwaukee Journal business section.

I know that 1975 seems like a lifetime ago, but this was the first device since the touch tone phone that I recall dramatically changing wired communications for me. And today? Who needs speed dial with an instantly searchable library of numbers are in your pocket?

On the desk in Milwaukee, I spent a lot of time on the phone. That meant I spent a lot of time on hold, too, and I used that time to go through the White Pages of the Milwaukee phone book looking for oddball names. The city’s German and Polish populations made for some humorous entries, and I still have the notebook containing such gems as Kilborn D. Clapsaddle, Ronald W. Pinkipank, Iona Carr, and Larue Dingledein. Ah, the fruit of discovery as my “fingers did the walking.”

So now, Verizon is asking regulators in New York for permission to stop printing the White Pages there. It’s sad but inevitable. There’s no market for the things, and I have for years been publishing pictures of what I call “dinosaurs at the door” upon their annual delivery to my home.

We’ll do fine without them — as long as we have electric power — and my grandchildren will look at me funny when I tell them stories of sitting at the desk in Milwaukee with my fancy speed dial phone and thumbing through the phone book (the what, grandpa?) looking for funny names.

The lonely journey of Tiger Woods

Writers write, and so I write.

The Tiger Woods event today has really torn at my heart, and I find myself incredibly sad. I’m so sad, in fact, that I don’t believe I can move on unless I share that sadness here, in the place where those who know me so well have been with me through thick and thin.

In the days leading up to this event, I have read, watched and listened as observer after observer shot holes in what Tiger was about to do. It was a staged PR event that “legitimate” reporters would do well to avoid. The golf writers association actually boycotted the event, saying — are you ready for this? — that to attend would lend credence to the canned event. They wanted a news conference to ask questions. Shame on them. As I heard on the radio this morning from Colin Cowherd, “This is their superbowl, and they’re not attending.”

Observers called it every ugly name under the sun, and now, in the hours following his statement, I’m reading words like “pathetic.” Pathetic?

So let me say what’s on my heart, and you be the judge.

What Tiger Woods did today was straight out of the rehab recovery manual, the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. If you’ve ever been there, you know that addicts need to make amends in order to find peace, and that’s exactly what I saw today. Every sentence in that statement was carefully worded to accept responsibility for his behavior, acknowledge those he had harmed, and state that talk is cheap, and only future behavior (what’s known as “living amends”) really matters. Moreover, I felt genuine contrition in his statements and a ton of self-loathing and anger. He acknowledged a return to a higher power, and his description of why he did what he did — “I convinced myself the normal rules didn’t apply” — came not from a man who is trying to get his kingdom back but from one who has confronted the humbling reality that he is not God.

The only person who can say that Tiger Woods is an addict is Tiger Woods. From what I saw today, he is behaving like an addict who is trying to find his way home, and anybody who has been there knows that is a lonely journey. I’m not suggesting feeling sorry for the guy or that you consider him a victim, for as he admitted himself, he’s guilty of despicable behavior that he brought on himself. I do believe, however, that addiction is a dark, dark place, and only those with the light of experience can bring others out. If he finds his way home — and I certainly hope that he does — he will have a light that he will carry himself to help others find their way out of the cave as well.

Addiction is a form of insanity, and what is the behavior of one of the most recognizable people in the world orchestrating dalliances with porn stars and prostitutes if not insane? Any non-addict would view this as impossible. “He’d never get away with it.” But not an addict, for the addict lives by intentions, not behavior.

If you’ve never read any literature about sexual addition, I encourage you to look at the seminal book on the subject, “Out of the Shadows” published by Patrick Carnes in 1994. It is a chilling look at the life events and conditions that shape people with this horrible affliction.

Addicts feel unloved and unlovable, which means other people cannot be depended on to love them, so their needs will not be met. The resulting rage becomes internalized as depression, resentment, self-pity, and even suicidal feelings. Because they have no confidence in others’ love, addicts become calculating, strategizing, manipulative and ruthless. Rules and laws are made for people who are lovable. Those who are unlovable survive in other ways. (pg 84)

Addicts confuse nurturing and sex. Support, care, affirmation, and love are all sexualized. Absolute terror of life without sex combines with feelings of unworthiness for such intense sexual desires. Sexual activity never meets the needs for love and care, but continues to be seen as the only avenue to do so. Addicts have a high need to control all situations in an effort to guarantee sex. (pg 85)

To us, Tiger Woods was a child of privilege, because he could hit a golf ball better than anyone twice his age, and yet none of us knows the price he paid inside to do that. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not blaming his environment or upbringing, but we know so little about what disconnects addicts from reality or at what point in life. The bottom line is that at some point — if he is indeed an addict — Tiger Woods made decisions based on self that later put him in a place to get hurt.

“So our troubles, we think, are basically of our own making. They arise out of ourselves, and the alcoholic is an extreme example of self-will run riot, though he usually doesn’t think so.”

Here’s another matter. Celebrities have problems with rehab, because their “handlers” force them back into the limelight before they’re ready. Addicts shouldn’t even open their mouths — except for 9th Step amends — for at least a year. Why? Because they know nothing. Zip. Nada about which they wish to speak, and to do so is, again, selfish. They want to brag about how well they’re doing, when the very act of doing so is self-centered and almost guarantees failure. Life is filled with such sorry creatures. Relapse is an indescribable hell, if one is truly trying to find their way home.

“Take questions?” What a moronic thought that is. He doesn’t even have the first idea of how to answer them. He should not answer questions, and the answers are really none of our business in the first place.

The question for Tiger is not how does he get his wife back or how does he get his family back or how does he get his life back or how does he get his adoration back or even how does he get his swing back. Much more than that is on-the-line here, for a young man’s very life is at stake. Tiger is, after all, a human being, and as a very wise fellow told me a long time ago:

Human beings are like snowflakes, all the same, yet all different. Put a flame to the snowflakes, and they melt. Poke humans with an icepick, and they bleed. Poke the psyche of humans with a figurative icepick, and they bleed, sometimes even worse.

Tiger Woods is a human being, although he has been thoroughly dehumanized by those who view themselves as better than him. It is, after all, so much easier to point fingers of scorn and ridicule when the object is less than human.

Again, Tiger brought all of this on himself, but the thing is he now knows it. And it appears from this heart that he’s acknowledged that there is a higher power, and It isn’t him. That’s a powerful starting point, for he’s going to need all the strength he can get to ever hold his head high again.

How dare we call that pathetic? How dare we judge him by that with which we judge ourselves?

Shame on him? No. Shame on us.

“Nashville is Talking” to close

So my old friend Nashville is Talking is closing down. You can read about it here, here, and here.

This is a tough one for me personally. That site is a part of my life, an innovation in local media that accomplished much in teaching us about aggregating and curating a local blogosphere. However, the site didn’t meet the economic needs of its owners, Young Broadcasting, who were going through a severe financial season. In that way, what happened to it is a sad reminder that innovations by companies with serious bottom line issues can’t compete with those funded by venture capital.

A part of me dies with NiT, but here are a couple of thoughts.

In today’s fire hose of content known as the Web, we need curators more than ever. The value proposition of Nashville is Talking always was it was one RSS feed that could give you insight into 400. Who will do that tomorrow (or today, for that matter)?

It’s ironic I’m at a conference in New York with local media companies who are discussing ways to make money locally via the Web, and friendship with local bloggers seems to be high on everybody’s agenda. I disagree with those who say we’ve moved past blogging. Broadcasters tend to understand Twitter and Facebook, because they can function very much in a broadcast mode. The problem with NiT was that we didn’t have time to create the ad network that would have sustained it, and that’s simply a matter of timing. The idea was ahead of the ability to pull it off.

I’m really sad to see it go. Yesterday, I was talking with another company in a bigger market about building such a curator/aggregator in his city. So the concept is still very much of interest to people who wish to help grow the personal media revolution locally. That’s a good bet for relevancy tomorrow.

And who knows if somebody in Nashville won’t acquire the domain and resurrect the original model. For that reason, I’m disinclined to say R.I.P.