June, 2016 Archives

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!