2010 Year-end Review

Three weeks ago, I became the object of a discovery that resulted from a misunderstanding. (Sort of like America, but on a slightly smaller scale.) The consequences of this misunderstanding will play out over the course of 2011, but since it currently occupies a position of prominence in my prefrontal cortex, I thought I’d go ahead and lead off my 2010 Year-End Review with it.

Recall from my 2009 review that I had self-published an eBook titled Here’s Something About General Semantics . After initially trying to sell it via PayPal, I decided to offer it as a free pdf download. I was therefore quite surprised when, on December 10th, I received an email asking me to autograph two copies of the book. It seems that some unknown person had printed out a few pages from my eBook and left them in a major university library. The sender of the email had come across the pages quite by chance and mistakenly assumed they were photocopies of a “real book.” The email sender liked the excerpts well enough to place an order with a local bookseller for two copies of what was presumed to be a “real book,” then contacted me with the autograph request.

During the subsequent exchange of emails, I clarified that there wasn’t really a “book” to autograph. The email sender offered a humble assessment that the eBook was worthy of publication and, if I didn’t already have an agent, would be happy to contact a few on my behalf as the sender was … let’s say “familiar” with the publishing industry.

So for the past three weeks, I’ve had to reorient my thinking about what my next few months are going to look like. As it turns out, what “someone” is interested in is a novel idea (or idea for a novel) that I started ruminating about in 1999. When I moved to Santa Fe in early 2009, the idea and characters relocated as well. I haven’t actually written anything, but I’ve researched and developed the story enough to talk about it, as I mentioned last year. Now that “someone” has expressed an interest in the story, I really have no choice but to start writing.

Right after I clear out a backlog of To-Do’s, which includes this 17th in my series of year-end reviews. At the moment there’s no video version available, but maybe I’ll get to that later.

The most significant ongoing activity for me in 2010 was “back to school.” Last February, after prodding from my daughter, I determined I had exhausted all reasons for not getting a Masters degree. Searching online, I found the Educational Psychology program at the University of New Mexico (UNM) in Albuquerque, applied, interviewed, took the GRE (again, 35 years after the first time), and was accepted in April. I took two courses last summer, four in the fall, and planned to finish the 33-hour program this coming May with five courses in the spring. Finishing in May probably won’t happen due to my writing re-prioritization. But I’ve really enjoyed the stimulating educational experiences and making some new friends.

Other items of some significance:

  • I went back to the DFW area for a visit in May, primarily to help my daughter buy her first new car. She was just finishing her second year of teaching high school and just beginning her fourth summer of working for the Texas Rangers baseball club. On the day she bought her car, she proudly drove me to a game just as a massive thunderstorm hit Arlington. Fortunately that storm didn’t include hail. I got to attend two games that trip, then rooted the Rangers on from Santa Fe as they won their division, then the American League and got to play in their first ever World Series. Stacy got to work several of their home playoff games, including a World Series game, and I can’t articulate the feelings of pride, envy, and happiness for her experiences.
  • I got some minor media attention locally. In January I had a 10-minute interview about my eBook (remember, it’s not a “real” book) on “The Journey Home” drive-time talk radio show. In April I got a burr in my butt about an activist trying to block the growth of wireless technologies in the Santa Fe area, so I devoted some of my blog to the “Electrically-Sensitive Trail of Arthur Firstenberg.” That drew a mention in a column in the Santa Fe Reporter. In September and October I re-engaged in some analytical criticism of the one and only hospital in Santa Fe, Christus St. Vincent, which resulted in an abruptly-ended email exchange with their PR guy. I’ve also begun criticizing a series of murals in the Zimmerman Libraryat UNM that I view as historically and sociologically problematic.
  • At the end of May I was fortunate to participate in the annual Santa Fe Science Writing Workshop conducted by noted authors (of “real books”) Sandra Blakeslee and George Johnson. It was held the week before my summer classes started and really helped me gear up mentally for the intellectual and academic challenges ahead. I learned a lot and met some terrific people.
  • I volunteered for a few weeks at the prestigious Santa Fe Institute last spring. It’s quite a place, hosting people like Nobel physicist Murray Gell-Mann, author Cormac McCarthy, and former CIA agent-turned-author Valerie Plame Wilson. I didn’t do anything other than answer a few phones and stuff some envelopes, but it was an experience and I met some good people including the other volunteers.
  • In August I completed an article for my friend and career mentor Helen Harkness. She had been asked to edit a special edition of a career planning and development journal on “Chaos Theory and Positive Psychology,” and invited me to submit an article. I ended up writing about my own career experiences and philosophies, organized by eight quotations that have inspired me, and I titled it “Passages for Uncertain Career Journeys.” The journal is scheduled for publication this month.
  • Back to last year’s Here’s Something About General Semantics (third mention, too many?) … a few other nice things resulted from that effort, even before someone mistook it for a real book. My friend and colleague David in Australia led a study program by the Australian Society for General Semantics based on the eBook. A professor from the University of Wisconsin system used it in an online course he conducted last summer. And I was approached by the online training firm MindEdge, Inc. about offering some of their online training curriculum on my ThisIsNotThat.com site.
  • Other than my classes, the highlight of the fall was attending Jon Stewart’s and Stephen Colbert’s Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear on 10.30.10. I’ve posted a video that explains why I chose to attend it, and one that shows some of the signs I saw that I felt were … video-worthy. These are just two of a dozen or so videos I felt moved to make during the year.

I was saddened by the loss of two friends whom I’d neglected to keep up with over the years. Mike Parsons was a year ahead of me in high school. I shared one of my most formative teenage experiences with him, a car wreck when I was a sophomore. Mike was a great all-round athlete and won the 1971 Texas Class AA state championship in the mile run with a time of 4:15.7. He went to SMU on a track scholarship and was one of the reasons I had initially wanted to go SMU. He graduated and went on to law school. His wife J. Carol was also a high school friend. The last time I saw them was at a party in 1996.

Danny Sawyer was one of my roommates my last year at the Air Force Academy. He was from North Carolina and the first true basketball junkie I met. He majored in Civil Engineering and apparently loved it; on the bookcase over his desk, where the rest of us put pictures of family or girlfriends or inspiring mementos, “Dano” had a cinder block. The last time I saw him was at Pete Trump’s wedding in the summer of 1976.

For Christmas, my sister Lizann gave me a USB turntable for transferring my old (pre-1985) collection of almost 200 record albums to digital MP3 format. I’m about three-quarters of the way through the conversion process and it’s been wonderful to re-connect with sounds that were so important to me in the 60s and 70s. More than just reminders of what I was listening to, they’ve also resurrected reflections on what I was thinking about then.

It seems an appropriate way to end this particular year, which has involved a lot of looking back. Perhaps this year past will serve as prologue for spending the coming year writing a story that will involve looking back to 1942. I’ll be inspired by my daughter’s hopeful wish for the new year:

Year-End Cheers!
We’ll see if I can get the writing right enough to “make a noise.”

The Passages from “Passages for Uncertain Career Journeys”

  1. “I lived with the terrible knowledge that one day I would be an old man, still waiting for my real life to start.” (Pat Conroy)
  2. “The self explorer, whether he wants to or not, becomes an explorer of everything else.” (Elias Canetti)
  3. “By midlife, most of us are accomplished fugitives from ourselves.” (John Gardner)
  4. “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” (George Bernard Shaw)
  5. “There is no coming to consciousness without pain.” (Carl Jung)
  6. “If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your own estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.” (Marcus Aurelius)
  7. “The voyage of the best ship is a zigzag line of a hundred tacks. See the line from a sufficient distance, and it straightens itself to the average tendency. Your genuine action will explain itself, and will explain your other genuine actions. Your conformity explains nothing.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)
  8. “Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later. Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.” (Steve Jobs)