My Seven-Year Itch

June 19th, 2016

Moving forward, looking backward

My life-partner left me seven years ago this month. It’s been a difficult time since the breakup, to say the least. Severe health issues and two or three jobs later, I still miss our connection.

We were good together. Sure, we had our quarrels. They were understandable given the passion, the love. But we experienced a whole lot together, traveled to incredible places and were invited to witness the entire gamut of the human condition from the slums of Port au Prince, Haiti, to the opulent mansions and castles of the world’s richest elites.

We spent time with presidential candidates, toured prisons and flew in balloons & helicopters together. It was a great relationship.

But then it ended; I got dumped.

I have to admit, even though I’m not always proud of my efforts, there are times when I’ve tried to rekindle things. When those efforts failed, I thought about other relationships, dabbling in the possibility that maybe this might make me happy, that might make the days more interesting. But so far, nothing meaningful or lasting has come of my attempts.

I still have dreams we’re back together. That’s the weird, sick part of it all. Weirder still, my dreams take me back to just before or just after it all ended. I feel marginalized, diminished in those dreams. Thank goodness I can smile at them when I wake up.

Do I still yearn for and mourn over the past? I do. Do I want things back the way they were? Hmm … sometimes, when nothing seems to be flowing in the right direction. It’s odd, even back then I knew things were going to end and I prepared myself for the inevitability.

So did my wife and family. We got a lower mortgage, pushed the kids through orthodontics, saved money just in case …

But now seven years after the breakup — getting laid off from my journalism career — I find myself inexplicably happier than I was back then. I’ve come to view that time in my life as not always a healthy one. It even felt abusive at times. After I was pushed out the door due to austerity measures, the company’s CEO was given 37.1 million dollars to retire.

If I dwell on it, which is only natural at this annual anniversary, it can bring me down. But if I remind myself how much healthier I am (having survived a shit ton of medical attacks), I find myself breathing easier, happier. Most of the friends I made back then still swirl around me via social media or through actual, physical interactions. What’s missing is the fear, the pit in my tummy, the anxiety.

A smile forces its way across my face.

Seven years into the breakup I look forward to future roles, future positions that fit my skills and talents. The possibilities seem numerous. Will I write for some organization who pays me for my silly insights? Will I take pictures full time for another? Will anyone ever hire a photo editor again? Will I once more teach students how to write or take pictures at another university here or abroad? Or will I continue to perform a fun freelance hybrid of all three (or more)?

And as if by some mystical cue while I’m looking for a conclusion here, several of my former co-workers have begun sharing a photo of me on social media of my last day at my last big newspaper. Grinning in the middle of the group, I see myself wearing a royal cape they crafted for me, hugging someone’s thigh, someone else’s shoulder.

The smile from a couple paragraphs ago is still here.

So am I.

All Rodney's talents

TOP LEFT: photo by Cassidy Johnson — BOTTOM: photo by Dale Parry — MIDDLE: Rodney’s books — RIGHT: Rodney’s videos, photos and blogs

Gun Control: for my brothers, for my sister

June 6th, 2016

When an abusive relationship becomes too much

M&R Photography

A gun convention in Houston. (Photo from M&R via Wikimedia Commons.)

Thank God my brother was working from home when the umpteenth crazy with a gun this year walked into Dean’s usual place of work and shot someone, then killed himself. That was the other day at UCLA. By the time you read this, another gun tragedy (or twenty) will have taken place, guaranteed.

My mom was shaking when she heard the news. So was my brother. So was my friend whose son studies on campus and passes that building every day.

This isn’t the first time my peaceful, loving brother has faced gun violence. A maniac held a shaking gun to his temple many years ago, demanding his wallet and his girlfriend’s purse. No one ever caught the guy.

Nor is this the first time my family has faced unspeakable violence caused by handguns. Before my adopted sister joined our family, she had her own family. While she was lying in bed in a Detroit suburb many years ago, a man calmly walked into her home, shot her mother’s best friend, put a pillow over her mother’s face and shot her—then he shot my sister. Miraculously, the bullet just grazed her head.

She’s part of our family now, so is her husband and incredible daughter. Her birth-brother, not surprisingly, grew up to become a cop. He was still a baby in the home when the shootings took place and was un-touched, at least physically. That tragedy colors almost every part of her life, 35 years later.

And then there’s my other brother who was menaced by an ex-felon who purchased almost an entire gun, piece-by-piece, online. His father bought the last, critical piece and gave it to him, circumventing the flimsy rules supposedly keeping felons away from firearms. The guy also bought thousands of rounds of ammunition, all legally, and boasted around the office that my brother Scott would be one of his first targets. Thankfully people spoke up and he was arrested.

It’s tempting to wring our hands, blame mental illness and say, “There’s nothing we can do about it. If Sandy Hook didn’t change things, nothing will.”

It would be understandable if you felt that way. It’s not your fault. NRA-backed congressmen have made sure no legislation gets passed that might stem the tide of gun violence. These same politicians claim the Constitution allows everyone to carry machine guns, infinite amounts of ammunition and rapid fire handguns. Nope, not even close. Back when the Constitution was written, it took 20 to 30 seconds to load one shot into your gun. Furthermore, the founding fathers also wrote that arms and militias should be “well regulated.”

SO, MEANWHILE … LET’S TALK

Bullet holes (1)Until there’s a sea change in Congress — most likely this fall — why don’t we circumvent them and have a national dialog ourselves.

Let’s start with our own stories. Then, let’s put everything on the table — all ideas that could help us control gun violence. 

How have guns affected your family? If we could all sit in a circle, putting politics aside, here are some other questions I’d raise:

Who needs armor piercing bullets?

What about closing loopholes that allow guns to be purchased at gun shows

Where would it make sense to begin the discussion about online weapons sales?

When can we begin talking about an assault weapons ban?

Why don’t we limit the number of bullets a clip can hold?

How about we limit the number of guns you can own?

We need gun control, but let’s start by talking — actually talking with each other and listening to what our friends, families, co-workers and neighbors have to say.

For too long, we’ve simply refused to talk, blaming the U.S. Congress for refusing to act. We have been in this abusive relationship far too long. But, we can change the pattern. 

We must!

Celebrating 100 Years

April 27th, 2016

Oh the things she’s seen, the places she’s gone.

In a bucolic early image, my grandmother strikes a heroic pose with a speckled friend in New York’s Catskills.

In a bucolic early image, my grandmother strikes a heroic pose with a speckled friend in New York’s Catskills.

My grandfather used to say that before 1916, the world was ruthless. My grandmother, Ruth Harris Adams, was born in 1916. If the world was ruthless before that date, I can only guess that afterwards it was ruthmore, ruthful? Ol’ granddad passed on before completing his silly pun. Grandma Ruth lives on.

She’s 100 now.

Grandma at Columbia University in 1936

Grandma at Columbia University in 1936

Think about that for a moment. She not only witnessed both World Wars, Lindbergh and Armstrong (Neal AND Louie), experienced The Great Depression, The Great Gatsby, The Greatest Generation and simply The Greatest in the guise of Mohammed Ali. Civil War soldiers were alive and well in her lifetime, as were warriors from all the wars in Afghanistan, 1878 to present.

It’s hard to fully fathom the scope and landscape of Western and Eastern civilization that she’s seen from the sidelines or actively taken part in. She’s lived in Beirut, Lebanon; Jeddah, Saudi Arabia;  Seoul, South Korea and has traveled almost everywhere else extensively. Her home bases have been Philadelphia, West Virginia, Arizona and her native New York City. And even though an unhealthy portion of her mind has forgotten much of what she once knew, she is a living, breathing historical marker of the 20th and 21st centuries. And we honor her for that.

Grandma was a female doctor in a profession dominated by men. She originally wanted to fight polio, but since that cure also happened in her lifetime, she changed her focus to pediatric liver disease, receiving her degree from Columbia University. Her daughters also graduated from the school decades later. This fall, her great granddaughter begins her graduate work there as well. We are all lucky to live in a family of amazingly strong, bright, courageous women.

Grandma was a doctor in a field dominated by men.

Grandma was a doctor in a field dominated by men.

A large contingent of family members flew out to Arizona in order to reverently shower her with love and well-wishes. At first, only a few of us planned on making the pilgrimage. Then it became a groundswell, finally a movement. A great grand who works miracles with the elderly signed on for the fun of it all. Another great grand asked for an extension from her professor in order to attend: final paper be damned. We kind of felt bad for my aunt and uncle on site and on the spot who had to cope with our invasion for three days. It was all for a good cause, family re-unioning and meeting new members who — in contrast to Grandma — are barely 100 days old. One wonders what wonders these newest born will witness in their lifetime?

Instead of major wars, will they bask in a worldwide outbreak of peace? Like their great great grandmother, will they see devilish diseases defeated? The technology, the revolutionary advances to come, nothing short of a planet and humanity-saving epoch is within their reach.

Sure, eventually the world will be ruthless again and we will all be sad for a time. But the world is already Wyattfull, Russellmore and packed with a whole bunch of other great great kids readily accepting Ruth’s torch, her baton, her legacy.

My brothers, cousins, Mom and I gather around Grandma on her 100th birthday.

My brothers, cousins, Mom and I gather around Grandma on her 100th birthday.

The Power of Solar

April 10th, 2016

If politicians tell you solar power doesn’t work in Michigan, feel free to tell them to stick it where the sun doesn’t shine!

For about the price of an average used car, we’ve decided to install solar panels on our garage roof.

I’ve heard many, many times that solar power just doesn’t work in Michigan. It’s too gray, it’s too cold, it’s too fill in the blank.

But if you can grow gladiolas, you can go solar. Putting it a little differently, Germany leads the world in solar production. Yet they get about the same amount of sunshine as Seattle, Portland and the Pacific Northwest — long perceived as America’s cloudiest climes. In fact, last July, Germany set a record by hitting 78% of their day’s electricity demands by using renewable energy alone.

Not to put too fine a point on it, as I wrote in an article a few years back, “Just how effective can energy from the sun be in the Great Lake State? Incredibly effective. To offer a comparison, Detroit has roughly 2,375 hours of sunshine per year. Sun City Center in Florida has about 2,927 hours. Those thousands of hours warm the state like a cozy mitten in winter and offer a tremendous source of free energy all year long.”

Over the years, as we’ve watched the planet get warmer and have seen the disastrous effects of climate change, we have wanted to go solar. But there have been obstacles set up in our path. Large energy corporations, coal and oil producers, rich, old, white men and their political allies have done their best to throw shade on solar power.

But our tulips have been blooming now about a month ahead of normal. And a storm is dumping inches of snow atop them and their daffodil sisters out front. At the risk of sounding too righteous, we wanted to do something about it. If there’s some small part we can play, we’re gonna play.

A federal incentive allows home owners to slice 30% off their income taxes as a solar energy credit. Plus, our electric company will give us credit for the energy we produce; it should take roughly a dozen years for the system to pay for itself.

Though we are convinced that very soon, all power companies will be forced to provide more incentives for alternative energy. They will also have to supply more green electricity. When our electricity supplier (DTE) briefly did that a couple years ago, they gave large incentives to individual customers to produce electricity. That program (Solar Currents) will definitely come back, but it will just be icing on the cake for us. If you live where Consumer’s Energy supplies electricity, they are currently running a solar incentive program for their customers. We think things will make even more economic sense very, very soon, though we aren’t calculating on that happening.

The best way to think about our panels right now is like this: we are just a tiny substation, generating electricity for DTE. The electrons we produce on our roof, shoot right back to DTE and the grid, for now. But only for now. There are whole home batteries being produced as we speak. Once the price of these batteries come down a bit, we will snap one up quicker than you can say Nicola Tesla. Estimates tell us that for $3,000 – $4,000 installed, these batteries will charge up during the day, then run our home at night. Any additional electricity we need will still be supplied by the grid. But in essence, we’ll be making our own electricity, then using our own electricity.

Yes, in the long run we’ll eventually save money. But for now, it’s an ethical/moral decision. I know it makes us sound like silly, high-minded liberals. But I guess we kind of are. I’ve repeated the fact over and over again that if only 1/4 of the world’s structures had solar panels, they would power the other 3/4 of the planet. When you think of it that way, saving the planet is a lot easier to envision.

I’ll end my proselytizing with a few more fun facts:

 

RESIZED 3

Joe Nagle, from Strawberry Solar, looks down into our home from a rooftop “Skye”light.

RESIZED 2

Joe Nagle and Connor Lark attach the rails which the solar panels will rest on.

_Electricity in the Air 002

Joe Nagle surveys the roof as he plans the solar panel installation.

_Electricity in the Air 001

Will Held’s shadow waves from the ladder as the sun tracks his work.