My 2001: A Year of ‘Crossing Rivers’
January 9, 2002
Since beginning these “Year-End Reviews” in lieu of Christmas cards several years ago, I have, with one exception, completed them by the end of the calendar year. For 2001, I’ve deliberately delayed writing this in anticipation of some big news. By waiting a week, I can now report two significant items as ‘done deals’: 1) I have a new home; and 2) I have a new job, sort of. And while I’m about as excited as a young puppy on new carpet, to get to this point I’ve had to — literally and metaphorically — cross a good many rivers.
My 2001 began with a resolve to quit my ‘real job’ in order to pursue a grand vision to make the world safe (or at least more tolerable) for middle-aged singles, via He-Said-She-Said.net. The name itself proved prophetic. My partner (the “She-Said” side of the hyphen) and I encountered what you might call “irreconcilable differences” at the peak of our three-month endeavor — on, of all days, Valentine’s Day, even in the midst of raising $4,000 to benefit the family of a slain Irving police officer. What happened? Well … there’s the story that “she said”, then there’s the story “he said”. “He” being me, of course. Call it “irony squared”.
By then, I had already given notice to my employer, Rockwell Collins, to leave effective the end of March. Not knowing for sure what I was going to do to earn a living, I stuck to my departure date. Fortunately, Rockwell Collins retained me on a part-time basis to work on a proposal through May.
Lacking a “She-Said” side of the hyphen, I nonetheless felt so strongly in our premise and mission for a different kind of an online/offline organization for singles that I wanted to pursue it on my own. Three friends of mine, Internet professionals, were intrigued enough with the promise of the plan that they agreed to provide their development services in exchange for a minor stake in the business. Thus was conceived elucidating.com. We got so far as to have an attorney prepare a Limited Liability Company agreement for us. By early June, however, we had already missed my initial mid-May launch date, I was consumed with selling my house, they were busily involved in their ‘real’ jobs, and I still hadn’t really come up with a feasible way to make money, so I pulled the lucidating plug.
One aspect of the lucidating experience did expose me to a new environment — radio. In April, a woman who knew me from He-Said-She-Said launched a one-hour talk radio program about online dating in the DFW area. In return for helping her promote her show, she allowed me to write a weekly commentary. I called it, with ever an eye for promotion, “Two Minutes of Lucidating”. After four weeks it became pretty obvious to me that the show, the hosts, and the station (“The Talk That Rocks”) were not conducive to what I viewed as “lucid.”
I put my house up For Sale By Owner in early May, just in time for the Byron Nelson golf tournament played at the Las Colinas Four Seasons Resort – right across the street. Traffic was great, and in the first three weeks I had showings just about every day. Of course, about half of the people who came to look were realtors trying to get me to list with them. But I ended up with an acceptable offer in June and closed in early July. Not having a place to move to, I rented a U-Haul and my friend Connie helped me move all my stuff into a self-storage unit.
I didn’t have a place, but I had a plan. I had decided the time was right for me to do what I had said I always wanted to do – teach. Stacy had just graduated from high school and was going to college, so there wasn’t any reason for me to stay in the DFW area. I could move to a small town where it was cheap to live and teach, just as I’d always wished! But, after two months of almost full-time pursuit of information, contacts, leads, job fairs, interviews, and learning about the way the Texas public school system works (and doesn’t work), I ended up turning down an offer at what would’ve been an “ideal” situation. Why? I have several pages of notes for a first-person article that I’d like to write, “I Wanted to Teach, But …“, so I’ll save the details for later. Suffice it to say, money, bureaucracy and TAAS standardized tests make the short list of prime suspects.
I mentioned Stacy’s graduation … if I can speak for her, she had a terrific 2001. She and her four best friends and their boyfriends all went to their high school prom together in April, then graduated in May. Her mother and I hosted a big family graduation lunch on the patio at Joe T. Garcia’s restaurant in Fort Worth. In July, we spent a couple of days in San Antonio to attend the induction of my father into the Texas Bandmasters Hall of Fame. Then Stacy and I took a mini-vacation to New York City and stayed with Jim and his partner Jim. The highlights of this trip, our second to NYC, were: the Guggenheim; “De La Guarda“; and an evening “Harbor Lights” cruise around Manhattan.
We left a mid-town pier on the Hudson at dusk, went down the Hudson River into New York Harbor, out to the Statue of Liberty, around the southern tip of Manhattan and the World Trade Center, up the East River under the Brooklyn Bridge, then reversed course back to the West Side pier on the Hudson. Stacy met a couple of guys on the boat who had just driven up to New York with their grandmother from Dallas. They took pictures of each other and had a good “small world” time. The only skyline picture that Stacy took was of the World Trade Center – dark, except for the office lights on within.
Stacy enrolled at McMurry University in Abilene in August, rooming with Emily, a friend of hers from church in Bedford. Through the luck of the draw, they got an over-sized corner dorm room, and immediately bonded with a half-dozen other girls who have made their room “the” room on the floor. In the category of “parents, be careful what you ask for”, Stacy sent me an email after her first two weeks in which she stated, “I am having soooo much fun in every aspect of college life!”
Just two weeks after that email, however, she had to grow up pretty quick. Emily’s father, an elementary school principal in Bedford, was diagnosed with lung cancer. On October 8th he suffered a massive heart attack during surgery and died. Emily seems like a very strong young woman and has handled the tragedy in stride, and I’d like to think that Stacy and her group of friends at McMurry have helped. Over the next two months, Stacy learned that of the four girls she went to prom with, two were pregnant and her best friend was getting engaged to be married next summer. Through it all, Stacy seems to have adapted and adjusted with these changes, and completed her first semester with good grades. She can’t wait to return for the spring semester.
After “just saying no” to teaching, I had no other prospects, no plan, and no place to live, so I decided a road trip was in order. I spent a couple of weeks in August with my brother in Phoenix, a few days in Tulsa with my dad and his wife, then headed up to spend some time with my Uncle Perry and Aunt Linda in Bellingham, WA, north of Seattle. I took a leisurely rout, heading north from Tulsa to Minneapolis, then west on I-94 and I-90 across Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana and on to Seattle. I arrived in Bellingham on September 8th, prepared to spend a few quiet weeks on the tranquil Lake Whatcom reading, writing, and contemplating my future.
Three days later that plan came to an abrupt end as we sat glued to the television. I wasn’t directly affected by the tragedies, but I had several friends close to it, and several more who could’ve been flying that day. And it had only been 44 days since Stacy and I had been there on the evening cruise. For reasons I could not verbally articulate, I knew that I couldn’t stay there in the idyllic setting of Lake Whatcom and lose myself in my own little reverie. This wasn’t a time for withdrawal – it was more a time for connection. So on the 12th, I headed back ‘home’, through Oregon, California, and Phoenix.
Having nothing else to do, in late September I accepted an offer by the Institute of General Semantics to do some work in their archives in New Jersey. A friend and fellow Institute Trustee offered the use of a country house he owns in the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania. So I spent October, November, and the first week of December in the northeast, digging into correspondence, photographs, articles and all manner of documents going back to the 1930s – sorting, trashing, organizing, categorizing, cataloging, etc. I loved it, and believe I made a valuable contribution to the Institute and to general semantics. I wrote the first of several articles that will appear in the quarterly journal, ETC: A Review of General Semantics, entitled “Snooping Around the Time-Binding Attic”, due for publication in March.
I returned for the rest of December and the holidays to the DFW area, staying with my sister and her family in Bridgeport. Just before Christmas, I submitted a proposal to the Institute, defining a statement of work for a half-time job that I could do here, with the possibility that the archives might eventually move down here where I could continue with what I started last fall.
Also over Christmas, I house-sat for a friend of my stepmother who lives in east Fort Worth. Now this gets a little complicated … Betty (the friend) lives in half of a duplex she built last year with another friend of hers named Judy. Both Betty and Judy are retired ministers. As their new duplex was being completed, Judy accepted an offer to become a District Superintendent for the Methodist Church in Waxahachie, postponing her retirement. So she’s never lived in her half of the duplex. In the course of talking with Betty about what she (and her cat, Butch) needed me to do while I house-sat, I explained that I was looking for someplace cheap to live. She explained that her friend Judy was going to be in Waxahachie for several more months, possibly a year or more, and would prefer that the house not be vacant. But, she didn’t really want to rent it to ‘just anybody’.
Since I’ve never really considered myself as a ‘just anybody’, I made Judy an offer to rent her side of the duplex for as long as she would like, more as a ‘caretaker’ than a ‘renter’. I offered her what I felt I could afford, which is probably half of what she could get on the market.
On January 1st, I spoke with Jeff, Director of the Institute of General Semantics, and in principle agreed on a part-time job for me to begin in February, subject to full Board approval in March. This will allow me to do work on behalf of the Institute and general semantics that I feel is urgently needed, while giving me some time to pursue some of my own writing, teaching and consulting projects. On January 3rd, I met Judy and we talked for about 15 minutes, then signed a lease agreement. An hour later I rented a U-Haul truck and began to move my stuff out of storage.
On January 4th, I slept in my own bed for the first time since June. During those six months, I slept in 40 other beds in 32 cities in 21 states at 22 different motels, with 5 different relatives and 4 different friends. I drove almost 25,000 miles — just about around the world — to end up 20 miles west of where I started. I crossed many rivers:
- the Red
- Rio Grande
- the Missouri
- Des Moines
- Clark Fork
- the Yellowstone
- the Klamath
- the Tennessee
- the Delaware
- the East River, and others.
And I also ‘crossed many rivers‘ to arrive at where I am today — a ‘place’ I could not imagine one year ago. I haven’t “depended on the kindness of strangers” as much as I’ve simply accepted the willing and gracious offers of help from family and friends. I consider it the utmost of human privileges to be so indebted.
In a year of so many river crossings, one experience eloquently captures the notion of “dealing with change” with profoundly vivid clarity. In the Institute’s archives, I found a series of taped lectures from the 1956 general semantics course taught by Wendell Johnson at the University of Iowa. Johnson, author of People in Quandaries, Your Most Enchanted Listener, and Because I Stutter, discussed the challenges we face in appropriately responding to and adjusting to the changes we inevitably encounter in life.
On the tape, he describes a 3-minute film made by Dr. Russell Meyers, then chief neurosurgeon at the university’s medical school. The film shows a little two or three-year-old girl, seated on the floor with a piggy bank and several coins in front of her. A hand appears to show her how to drop a coin in the bank. As the coin “plunks” loudly in the bank, the little girl squeals with delight. She reaches for a coin, fumbles a bit, then gets the coin to drop through the slot, and squeals again with the “plunk”. She drops more coins in the slot, one at a time, each time enjoying her success as only a child can.
Then the hand appears again, reaches for the piggy bank, picks it up, turns it 90 degrees to its initial setting, then places it back down. The little girl resumes her play, but now when she attempts to drop the coin as she has before, she’s stymied – the slot in the bank is perpendicular to the way it was, so the coin won’t drop as it did before. Frustrated, she tries several times. Then she puts the coin down, picks up a different coin, and once again tries without success to place the coin in the slotted bank.
Growing more and more perturbed, the little girl then reacts in a most interesting way. She puts the coins down, reaches for the piggy bank, turns it back to its original orientation, then resumes her play. Even at that age, we seem to learn to react to change by wanting to go back, to return to ‘normal’, to re-make things the way they were.
Johnson summarized the challenges we face in reacting and adjusting to changes in this way: “If we are ever to become what we might have been, we must cease being what we’ve become.”
So for 2002, may you cross many rivers and become more of whom you might have been, while dropping many coins in your ever-changing piggy bank.