My 2005: A 5-Quarter Year of Living Patiently Frustrated
So there was this year, see, that had so much packed into it that it couldn’t be finished in just 12 months, or even 4 quarters. That year was 2005, which for me took another 3 months, another quarter, and another birthday to catch up with where I felt I should’ve been 3 months ago. And the deal is (well, one of the deals is) that most of what happened in 2005 was … nothing. Unless you count waiting as “something.” But for those “somethings” that did count, they came without waiting, sometimes without warning, and sometimes without wanting.
It was the 5-quarter year, a year that required me to learn patience and tolerate frustration and, I’m not ashamed to admit, in the process sent me to the time-out chair with rapped wrists on more than a couple of occasions. But it was my year and it was the only year I had. So it’s what I have to document with minimal embellishment. So if any publishers are reading, this constitutes an attempt at creatively-written memoirs, not creatively-remembered fictionalized memories.
The theme of “frustrating patience” (or “patient frustration”) applies first and foremost to the various trials related to the renovation of Read House, the building purchased by the Institute of General Semantics in November 2003. “Read House” honors its namesakes and benefactors of the Institute, Charlotte Read and her husband Allen Walker Read. As Executive Director of the Institute, I bore the brunt of the responsibility in ‘managing’ (oh, sweet delusions of control!) the project which was originally intended to provide a new home for the Institute, and me, by the middle of 2004. The beginning of that tale was recounted in last year’s “Balance Sheet.”
The renovation tale resumed in mid-January 2005 when the city of Fort Worth finally granted us a building permit to begin the 4-month project. (A 4-month project? A 3-hour tour?) Thinking we would be moved in by the end of June at the latest (5+ months for a 4-month project, that’s sufficent margin, right?), we committed to have the formal, official, can’t-change-it-once-it’s-set Dedication event on September 23rd-24th. That’s a good 4 months to get settled in and ready … plenty of time, right?
Cue Frustrating Patience, or Patient Frustration, whatever the hell his name is. After rain, drought, theft, vandals, changes, increases, delays, and waits, we finally received an occupancy permit to move in to the building on September 16th … a full week before our can’t-change-it-once-it’s-set Dedication event. With the stroke of a bureaucratic pen, Frustrating Patience morphed immediately into BallsToTheWall Panic. The move began, and in many respects still hasn’t stopped. We got the Institute’s stuff moved and I moved my personal stuff into the rear apartment in the back of the building. (Sorry, but I’ve also had to learn redundancy and it can be a hard habit to break). The Dedication event came and went to positive review, even as it coincided with Hurricane Rita which interrupted some attendees plans. We have a complete photographic summary of the project, along with photos from the Dedication, on the Institute’s website. Here are a few Before/After images:
After moving, the “renovation” challenges lingered or transformed into “maintenance” issues. And worse, I had to deal with vandalism that hit me, and the Institute, where it hurt$. I had my car window busted out twice in a month, with nothing stolen, and somebody shot out one of our front windows with a BB gun. In the 5th quarter, I’ve had a lawn mower and barbeque grill stolen when I thought I them secured with a cable lock. But I have to say, I enjoy living here. If anything, the problem is that it’s too convenient to “cocoon” and keep to myself here. And you can’t beat the commute and “traffic jams” I face every morning.
Not that anybody’s counting or giving Green Stamps for such things, but I had four addresses last year — two apartments through July, a Comfort Inn for August and most of September, then Read House. That’s three personal moves, plus I handled the Institute move mostly by myself with some help from Stacy, a moving truck, a dolly, and the back I used to have. And if you’re not family, you may not realize that the Read House address of 2260 College Avenue, originally built in 1932, is just blocks down the street from 1812 College Avenue, birthplace of my father in 1933 and home to my great-grandparents from 1920 until the mid-60s. The cycle of life, indeed.
Highlights of the Year (sans whining, for the most part)
My Assistant Executive Director, Jennifer Carmack, gave her notice after working with us for year. She stayed on as needed on a contract basis throughout the year, but it wasn’t a good way to start the year. The renovation on Read House started on January 13th.
One of the great experiences of the year was the privilege of being one of 13 “Community Columnists” for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. I had the opportunity to write four 720-word columns with the assurance that they would be published, for the most part, as I wrote them. One of the learning moments for me in writing this first one was the realization that, from the standpoint of my own conscience, there’s a tremendous burden of responsibility when you write something and know that it’s going to be published and delivered to tens of thousands of readers. The first of my four columns was a blatant effort to “spread a little general semantics” in what an editor titled, “A word by any other name.”
For the second year, the Institute sponsored an exhibit booth at the local Entrepreneur Expo trade show at the Fort Worth Convention Center. And this really happened in April, but to even out the photos, my friend and ongoing career ‘advisor’ Helen Harkness came out with her third book, Capitalizing on Career Chaos. Noteworthy for me, I was in it … believe it or not, I qualify as one of her “success stories” (no disrespect to Helen, of course). Click here to read the excerpts related to me. (1.5MB pdf file)
The month began with a 4-day stint in Dallas manning the Institute’s booth at the annual convention for the National Science Teachers Association. It ended with a combination business/pleasure trip to New York City for the Institute’s quarterly Board of Trustees meeting and annual banquet/lecture. Stacy, her mother Cheryl, and our friends from high school/college Ken and Betty and their daughter Sarah joined me in New York for the weekend. We had the great timing down so that we also spend one evening with another best friend from high school, Jim and his partner Jim. For the banquet we enjoyed a wonderful dinner at the Ocean Grill. (And celebrity-watched, spotting Malcolm Jamal-Warner and Mark Wahlberg dining at the same time.) The lecture, given by anthropologist Robert L. Carneiro, was held at the American Museum of Natural History. The joy of the New York trip was tempered by the news that my dad’s wife, Donna Stockdale, died after a long bout with cancer. I stopped in Tulsa on my way back from New York, driving a rental truck with GS archive materials.
May was highlighted by Stacy’s graduation with the Class of 2005 from McMurry University in Abilene. It’s hard to believe, on one hand, but then it seems like the natural progression of the next logical step. I can’t help but remember when she started in 2001, one of her firm convictions was that she wasn’t one of those “sorority girls.” As it happened, in her sophomore year she pledged to the TIP social club on campus and has never been the same since. She even created their official website . Now she’s a college graduate with a Communication degree looking forward to the rest of her life. As I write this on April 1, we’re leaving tomorrow on a 10-day road trip to Las Vegas and Anaheim, CA. Details next year. My second Star-Telegram column was published. This one came out during the service academy graduation periods, titled “The code of our country.”
When I thought we’d be moving into Read House, the workers were barely starting to put up sheetrock. I made a trip to San Francisco to represent the Institute at the National Media Educators Convention. The most interesting part was that I arrived at the hotel in the middle of the 35th annual San Francisco Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Pride Parade. (Sorry, no pics.) I finally was able to find a capable administrative replacement for Jennifer and welcomed Kristen Harford, who began working on a half-time basis.
On July 1st, I submitted an email to a panel discussion on National Public Radio’s The Diane Rehm Show. The panel was discussing political language. My question: These kinds of panels invariably concentrate on the supply side of political talk — the spin, the propaganda, the doublespeak. Seldom does anybody bring up the listener’s or reader’s individual responsibility to critically, sometimes skeptically, evaluate the messages they hear and read. Why isn’t there more emphasis on educating people as critical thinkers and evaluators? That line of thinking led me to develop some thoughts in an essay that was published in the Institute’s quarterly journal, ETC: A Review of General Semantics January 2006 issue. The title of the article was “Response Side Semantics.” Later in the month, I traveled to Milwaukee for the 5th consecutive summer in a row. I was part of the staff to teach a GS seminar-workshop at Alverno College.
By August, with no end in site for the Read House renovation, I turned pretty jaded, skeptical, disillusioned. Maybe even a little … realistic. But I got a huge break out of the blue with a phone call from TCU, asking if I’d like to teach a graduate course in general semantics in their Communication Studies Department. With three weeks notice, I put together a syllabus, sketched out a plan for the semester, and began a new “additional duty” as Adjunct Professor. The class met weekly for 2.5 hours, and I must say that I put as much into that class as anything I’ve done in a long time. I found teaching this particular class to be everything positive I could imagine. It re-energized my own curiosity about learning and re-validated that this general semantics stuff is indeed an important area of study. Three of the grad students signed on for an internship with the Institute beginning this past January and one of them, Erica Gann, will join us full-time after she walks across the stage with her Masters degree. Some of the final projects (left) completed in December reflected the range of creativity and understanding from this terrific group of students. At the end of the month, my third Star-Telegram column came out, which documents the irony that four years ago I couldn’t get a high school teaching job because I wasn’t “certified,” but here I was getting asked to teach a graduate class at TCU. Go figure. An editor titled this one, “A long winding stream,” which I think is a bad choice, but … wha’ ya gonna do?
Finally, the renovation work wound down to details and we were able to get a city permit to occupy Read House. The Dedication weekend was considered as a general success by those who braved the threat of weather associated with Hurricane Rita, which never materialized. If you’re interested in reading about the weekend, including the transcript of the presentations by our architect, W. Mark Gunderson, and the tributes to Allen and Charlotte Read by Bruce and Susan Kodish, click here .
I’m sure something happened in October, but I guess I was too busy trying to find sox that matched, lost files, misplaced computers, boxes temporarily hidden inside of cabinets, the can opener, and all the other joys of unpacking after a hasty move. Oh yeah … the vandalism. That happened in October.
My fourth and final Star-Telegram column was scheduled for the Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend. However, I was able to switch dates with another columnist so that I could write mine the weekend following Election Day and Texas’s Proposition 2. This Proposition was the fear-and-hate-based initiative to “save marriage and families” by denying marriage to gays. Anticipating the outcome, I wrote my column about my friend Jim (see April above), titled “Friendship: football, band, church, and a major talk.” Still in the midst of recovering from the move, getting settled, filing police reports, and all that, I took off a few days before Thanksgiving to join IGS Board President Andrea Johnson, Trustee Gregg Hoffmann and his wife Pauline to represent the Institute for the third year at the National Council of Teachers of English annual convention in Pittsburgh.
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Still unpacking and settling and arranging, we got around to shopping for furniture which actually arrived in January, but the work was done in December. There was also a huge effort over the last three weeks to complete editing and putting the Institute’s annual yearbook, The General Semantics Bulletin.
The calendar year ended in Tulsa on a note of celebration with my dad re-marrying Juanise Weatherman.
As busy as I was last year, and as much as I worked to the detriment of anything resembling ‘balance,’ I did allow some time for reflecting on my life so far. I admit that this came about toward the end of the year, after we were in the building, and well into the semester with my TCU class. I couldn’t help but recall my college days, to the degree that the Air Force Academy could be considered a college. More than once during class I caught myself wondering, “What would I do with my life if I was sitting in those chairs, at their age, in these times?” Of course, I couldn’t have been in that class pondering that question had I not attended the Academy and lived the life that followed. And of course, knowing where I am now, if I had it to do over again, if I was sitting in one of those chairs in that TCU classroom, I would’ve changed everything which, of course, would have resulted in me being someplace else entirely. And so it goes.
But it does seem appropriate here and now, as I’m reflecting back on there and then, to recall a piece of faded red construction paper tacked onto my bulletin board at the Academy. I typed this then as a reminder and as inspiration. I recall it now more soberly as an indictment, and embrace it with a greater sense of urgency as I face the future that I have before me now. As far as faded notes go, I think it’s a good one to end with.
I’d Pick More Daisies
If I had my life to live over again, I’d try to make more mistakes next time. I would relax. I would limber up. I would be sillier than I have been this trip. I know of very few things I would take seriously. I would take more trips. I would climb more mountains, swim more rivers and watch more sunsets. I would do more walking and looking. I would eat more ice cream and less beans. I would have more actual troubles and fewer imaginary ones.
You see, I am one of those people who lives prophylactically and sensibly and sanely hour after hour, day after day. Oh, I’ve had my moments and if I had it to do over again, I’d have more of them. In fact I’d try to have nothing else. Just moments, one after another, instead of living so many years ahead each day. I have been one of those people who never go anywhere without a thermometer, a hot water bottle, a gargle, a raincoat, aspirin, and a parachute. If I had it to do over again, I would go places, do things, and travel lighter than I have.
If I had my life to live over, I would start barefooted earlier in the spring and stay that way later in the fall. I would play hooky more. I wouldn’t make such good grades except by accident. I would ride on more merry-go-rounds. I’d pick more daisies.