All About Me

The warmth of the sun

It was four years ago that I met him, the man who became my partner.

A few weeks before, I’d just tossed my entire life into the air, like a set of puzzle pieces. Again, as I’d done so often. I’d moved to Chicago to take a job – a writing job! People were paying me to write!

It may have been a sunny August afternoon, but when this tall man walked into Caribou Coffee, with his goofy smile and his crooked bike helmet, it felt like I’d come from a thousand miles of frozen tundra into the warmth of the sun.

It may sound like a dusty Hallmark card cliche, but he’s the best thing that ever happened to me.

We know how lucky we are to have each other, and how it feels like we wasted years before we met each other. So much of that relationship drama that happens in your twenties simply doesn’t exist, replaced with curiosity and gratitude.

When we see each other after a long day of work (and school), we embrace, and stay close for a long, long time. Neither one of us wants to let go. We are very, very lucky.

*

It was a rough week for me last week. The debate over That Restaurant Which Shall Not Be Named brought everyone’s feelings and beliefs to the forefront. I know everyone is tired of hearing about it.

I felt very schizophrenic. On the one hand, I wanted to be respectful of other people, their differences in opinion, their faith. But I’d swing, manically, to rage and anger when I saw little of that respect in return.

Not only were people utterly cavalier in making grand pronouncements and decisions for people they didn’t know and lives they didn’t understand, but a number of people had the utter gall to complain that we, as LGBT people, shouldn’t be complaining, picketing or fighting back. Apparently, we weren’t being polite and thankful enough to them(!).

Of course you can get married, they say. Just marry a woman. Write a Power of Attorney for Health Care, they say, and of course they’ll let you in the hospital to see him if he’s hurt or injured. (This, when hospitals are refusing rape patients care based on the physician’s personal beliefs – a scenario that would easily happen – and HAS happened – to partners even with a POA.)

After that exhausting debate, it’s tempting to let off steam and joke about the topicIt’s a lot easier for people to protest an idea when it’s just an idea, a vague notion. And for a majority of people in this country, that’s all it is – something happening to someone else.

*

My partner has a name. He doesn’t have any online profiles, and on social media, for  privacy reasons, I jokingly call him The German.

In three weeks he will go back to Germany, where he was born and raised and where his citizenship is still held, for renewal of a visa. That visa will allow him to live here for several more years. He’s waited for years for a green card, but post-9/11 processing times means it will likely be over a DECADE from his arrival before he is granted one.

It’s incredibly likely that the whole process will flow evenly and without incident. But I’ll be sitting on pins and needles, waiting for him to come back, because no matter what groundwork we do, his new visa and re-entry is in the hands of some person at Customs and Immigration, and it comes down to praying that he or she doesn’t have a bad day.

Yes, seriously. And it’s not just us – this affects thousands of people. (I just learned that a friend of mine and his Canadian partner have to go through this every year.)

Illinois granted some limited rights last year when it approved civil unions, but there were no real changes regarding immigration (and only limited rights in other categories).

We’ve invested so much here. Our lives. Our jobs, and my education. We work hard and bought a home last year. And all of it – our future, our well being – rests on the thinnest of eggshells.

And all this because some of our neighbors would prefer we remain invisible, or inaudible.

*

My mother died in 2007.  We had the best conversations about life and about people, and she taught me so much. I’d love to hear what she thought of the world today.

Mom was the kind of Christian I always wanted to be and strived to be. She treated everyone with kindness and warmth. She spent thousands of hours volunteering for a thrift shop and did so much for the customers and her fellow volunteers.

She was also the least judgmental person I’ve ever met. She wanted to give everyone a hand. Helping others and building community was her idea of church. So many people loved her because of her warmth.

I hear her voice in my head, telling me to be understanding about the motivations of the people who disagree with me, advising me to just be the best that I can be in my life and be an example – of tolerance, of acceptance, of warmth.

I’m a worrier, and I don’t cope very well with the unknown. I just want to KNOW. Know why so many people are so invested in affecting the lives of people they’ve never met. Know that he returns without incident. I’m probably silly to worry, but we should be able to walk on firmer ground.

ich liebe dich, spatzi. 

Gay fatigue and the road to reconciliation

NOTE: This post is, in part, inspired by a recent post on The Cynical Girl blog, written by Laurie Ruettimann, who’s funny and blunt and just a great writer. Check out the post, and the blog. 

It’s been a very gay summer, so to speak, and a very gay year, overall.

How so? A number of public figures have come out publicly as gay – from astronauts to Anderson Cooper. We’ve had a Secretary of State and our President make unprecedented statements about LGBT rights here and around the world. Gay marriage has been a part of the presidential campaigns, and even institutions like The Muppets and the Boy Scouts of America have been part of the conversations and debates.

A little sandwich – fuel for a huge controversy.

There’s been little in the news in recent weeks as controversial and divisive as the debate over fast food restaurant Chick-Fil-A.

The company’s CEO made statements about gay marriage that offended some people, and CFA’s charity foundation has made donations to some organizations with questionable intentions toward LGBT people.

And you know what? I’m sick of hearing about it all. I’m sick of gay people in the news. I’m having gay fatigue. And I AM gay.

Part of my frustration? We are living in a highly politicized world right now, and a very polarized one, too. I can’t see from the middle of this battle whether people are just taking to one extreme or the other – or whether all the more subtle, nuanced points of view just aren’t being talked about.

It just seems like a lot of bread and circuses to me – and a whole lot of people being asked to weigh in with the last word on the matter.

And somewhere in the midst of that, I want to say, quietly but forcefully: Hey, that’s my life you’re talking about. 

I wish the need to have this debate was past all of us. I wish that my partner and I could just quietly live our lives, loving each other. Caring for each other emotionally, spiritually, financially – and legally, through legal recognition.

It’s amusing to me to be thought of as a radical when the most ‘radical’ thing we ponder most days is what’s for dinner, or what bills we’ll pay this week. I’m as tired of people discussing this as others are of hearing about it.

Trying to strike a balance between American citizens with different, conflicting ideas and beliefs is an enormous challenge. And I actually think that the Chick-Fil-A (CFA) controversy is a great illustration of just how complicated and complex it can be.

CFA serves all customers and to my knowledge, has never declined to serve an LGBT person. Their board and CEO are certainly entitled to run their company as they see fit. And people who disagree – as I do – are clearly entitled to boycott the chain or not give them their dollars – and I have chosen not to spend my money there for some time now.

The more complicated questions arise in terms of employment law. There may be legal complications if local or state laws listed sexual orientation in their non-discrimination clauses for employment and the company was denying LGBT people employment. (Sadly, there are no national laws to protect LGBT employees.)

Was it right for lawmakers in Chicago and New York to state their intent to deny CFA permission to open a restaurant? I have mixed feelings about that. As much as I appreciate the message those lawmakers were sending on behalf of the LGBT community, I think it overstepped legal boundaries. (EDITED TO ADD: If we ask people not to let their religious rights encroach on the legal rights of LGBT people, then the reserve should also be true, too.)

And somehow, we need to strike a balance between respecting deeply held religious beliefs and ensuring fair legal protections for the LGBT community. I have to admit, it’s complicated. I have no solutions and no ideas, just an admission that it’s way more complex and involves a great deal more than the “us vs. them” media blare would have you believe.

And I also want to protect myself, my partner and my community, because these things aren’t just concepts or news stories to me.

  • I HAVE been fired from a job for being gay – twice.
  • I HAVE been evicted from an apartment for being gay.
  • I HAVE experienced abusive treatment from a police officer when I was reporting a crime (a minor theft) and was told that I deserved to have everything taken from me.
  • I HAVE experienced issues at school, too – I almost didn’t graduate high school because one of my instructors told everyone he could how much he wanted to “flunk that faggot.”

These aren’t just perceptions that I dreamt from whole cloth. There was no subtlety in these events – the reasons were made crystal clear to me. And it’s devastating to know that you can have even the basics in life taken from you. Most of those things happened   years ago, but there are still places in this country – and the world – where they still happen.

Faith in the LGBT community.

I’ve spent most of my life trying to figure out how to break down walls and broker peace, if not acceptance, among others. And yes, I am really, really tired of doing that.

As others are. That’s undoubtedly added fuel to the fire and the debate. We’re tired and we’re fighting. It is a war, no doubt about it, and it’s become Us vs. Them.

So, where do we go from here? I still don’t have any answers.

I think of someone who inspires me. His name is Patrick Farabaugh and several years ago, he created a magazine called Our Lives.

And that’s exactly what the stories in the magazine do – tell the stories of LGBT people, in a way that I think has opened the eyes of many. We ARE gay men and lesbians and trans people. And farmers, and bankers, and hockey players and writers and….

….and people of faith. I wrote much of the content in the cover story (seen above) about LGBT people of faith in the community, and it was wonderful to reconcile those two parts of my life.

Reconcilation. Bringing things into balance. It’s challenging and it’s complicated. But it can be done. At the very least, it’s a process that we can begin – if we want to. It means sitting down together, dropping our masks and the predetermined scripts from political parties and cable news channels, and just talking, face to face, to one another about who we really are. Sharing who we are – sharing our lives. That’s all I have in terms of ideas as to where we can start, folks.

Me? I’m a writer. The youngest child (and, my siblings would say, a spoiled brat). Wary of people but warm and loyal once the ice is broken. I have a wicked sense of humor and a soft spot for dogs and cats. I love the rolling hills of Pennsylvania, which I’ll always think of as home. I’ve been researching my family tree and hoping to build and strengthen ties with newly-found relatives. Religion and faith is a personal and, in some ways, private matter for me, but let me be clear: I know God and have felt His presence in my life. I love my partner with a depth and pureness I didn’t think was possible, and would do anything to protect him, sustain him, and be a source of light and joy in his life. I can’t cook worth a damn and I kill plants just by looking at them, but hey, let’s not focus on the negatives……

The friendship dance

The New York Times ran a series of articles last week on the topic of friendship, and one of them has hit close to home.

The article, “Friends of a Certain Age,” talks about some challenges that face those of us who are over 30 and trying to establish new friendships.

Confession: I’ve actually wanted to blog about this topic for a while, but nothing screams “fail” like a blog entry complaining that you have no friends. It’s some comfort to me that others have had the same experience.

I do have several really wonderful, strong friendships with people I’ve known for 20 years or more. They’re more like family to me at this point.

But, like most of my family, these friends live a time zone or two away. Two of my closest friends, who I’ve known for a decade, will be moving away from Chicago at weeks’ end and will not be returning.

We forge our friendship foundations when we’re younger. High school and college years are great incubators for friendships; you’re in an existing community and can make connections. Those intense life events that bond people together – the good, the bad, the lifechanging – are all in plentiful supply in those years, and are fuel for friendships.

Once we reach our thirties and forties, it’s not impossible to make new friends and sustain those relationships, but it definitely takes more work and more precise effort.

And in terms of growing my friendship garden, I have to confess that I don’t have a green thumb. And I take ownership for most of that. In the last 10 years I’ve lived in three different cities and have worked for four different employers. I left all of that behind a year ago to return to college, where I’m surrounded by students that have parents my age.

There are other quirks, too, that probably play a role. For example? I don’t drink. No, I don’t have an addiction issue, and I don’t have a moral objection to it. I just don’t like the taste of it, or the effect (depressed and sleepy) it had on me, and I haven’t had more than a half glass of wine in over a decade. It doesn’t mean I can’t hit happy hour or be at those networking events – but asking for bottled water when everyone else is having a belt is a bit unusual!

And here in Chicago, friendship is often strengthened by neighborhood ties – or to be more blunt, dictated by whether you’re within walking distance. We all fight traffic to and from work – and understandably, few people want to fight it just to hang out with a buddy.

My partner and I knew several wonderful, kind people who lived in LGBT enclaves like Andersonville, Boystown and Rogers Park. We made a choice to live significantly closer to the city and lost many connections as a result. Logically we’re right near the Loop, but to our north side acquaintances, we may as well be in Indiana.

Chicago is also a place where all of us are chasing careers, and that has to be priority numero uno. Few of us have free time during the day, and for many of us, the end of our day can be 9 p.m. or even later. That doesn’t leave much time for socializing.

If I wanted to be brutally honest, I’d also confess that I’m a wary person and though I can be friendly – and very generous and loving to the people I know and trust – I am more cautious in my initial dealings with people. It’s the reporter’s gut, telling me to check my sources and get a better sense of someone before I proceed. [EDITED TO ADD: that might come across as aloofness or unapproachability.]

I’m a pretty unconventional (read: oddball) guy and though that’s been a source of pride and a professional strength, it’s also been a roadblock to building community and a potential professional pothole.

My life has taken an unconventional path – and I have to say, I’m very happy about the journey so far. I’m in a great place and am working towards some really important goals in my life. And I’ll keep working towards building and growing the community that my partner and I have here in Chicago.

But I wish, sometimes, that some of my more established friends were in much closer proximity. That established history makes for a rich experience.

Friendship can be wonderful in its simplicity and strength once it’s been created and forged. But the art of meeting and making friends is not so different from dating – location, chemistry and what you have in common can play a big role in whether you become true friends or distant acquaintances with someone.

If you’ve experienced challenges making friends after 30, or you’ve had some success building your community, please share in the comments! 

A rich inner world

Are there splinters in the windmills of my mind?

In April, I took an online Myers-Briggs text. Myers-Briggs is a personality test and indicates how you approach decision making – and how you interact with the world.

My result was ISFJ, labeled “The Nurturer.”

OK, whatever. I wasn’t investing a lot of thought in the results. It was, after all, an Internet test.

But something in the written results caught my eye.

As an ISFJ, your primary mode of living is focused internally, where you take things in via your five senses in a literal, concrete fashion…

IFSJ’s constantly take in information about people and situations that is personally important to them, and store it away. This tremendous store of information is usually startlingly accurate, because the ISFJ has an exceptional memory about things that are important to their value systems. 

It would not be uncommon for the ISFJ to remember a particular facial expression or conversation in precise detail years after the event occured, if the situation made an impression on the ISFJ.

ISFJs have a rich inner world that is not usually obvious to observers. 

Wow, that’s me. Very much so.

I’ve always described it as “living inside my head” and it’s probably a great basis for the imagination suited to writers and artists. But it doesn’t always make friendships, relationships and social situations easy.

I developed a healthy imagination as a sick kid, forced by nasty allergies to play indoors. I also sharpened my powers of observation during those years. I am, as the ISFJ analysis suggests, that person with a memory like a steel trap.

I remember events, people, places and dates – and more importantly, the emotional texture that was surrounding that particular event. I remember one neighborhood gossip pumping me for information because, as she said, “nothing gets by you, kid!”

That rich inner garden kicked into high gear in grade school and high school as a coping mechanism. I’d run into challenging situations – being shunned by other kids or being teased, or having someone beat the crap out of me  –  on almost a daily basis.

When the conflict escalated, I started seeing it all through my mind’s eye and imagining it Life Is Beautiful style, as if it was all just a TV show that I was watching – or starring in. It was a creative way to cope, though a therapist would probably have a field day with that and call it ‘disassociative.”

In high school I became deeply involved in fictional worlds, both as a voracious reader and a writer. I created my own stories. But except for a few friends, it all essentially remained in my head.

Going to college at 18 broke through that shell in some necessary ways. I made some close friends and learned to live in a more interactive world.

I don’t think I’m a terribly shy or reserved person. I’m not antisocial or misanthropic. But I still live, in many ways, in my head. Why? Self-protection is the obvious answer.

This approach is sometimes manifested in my language and writing. A friend of mine commented a few years ago after not seeing me for a while that he had to remind himself about “Patrick speak” – a mixture of metaphors and foreshadowing where the real meaning was buried three or four paragraphs in.

I’ve also had to weed this approach out of my writing. Good journalism counts on a solid lede to tell you what the story is about. Burying the lede means people might stop reading before the real news reaches them.

I’ve tried to be more aware of this with friends and co-workers. It’s a necessity, especially at work, for people to understand where you’re coming from and what you’re thinking.

But if I had to be brutally honest, I’d say that even with the very closest people in my life, they’ve only seen a portion of that inner garden. Even after all these years, I still hold those cards close to my vest.

One of my biggest hopes with my remaining time in college is that it continues to be a transformative experience, and leads me to learn new ways to share that rich garden of ideas in my head in a way that makes me feel comfortable, confident and empowered. Like me, it’s a project that is still a work in progress.

The end of 2011

If this were any other year, I’d join a million other bloggers in trying to start a discussion about the year in arts & entertainment, or news, or anything we’ve experienced as a community and can talk about.

But 2011 was a year like no other for me.

At the risk of invoking a cliché (and being a plagarist) few words fit this year for me like the opening of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way. 

For me, it was a year of high highs and low lows. It was a year where it truly, deeply sucked to be a grown-up.

A few great things happened. My partner and I bought our first home. Being a home owner is not without stress, and the search for a home was incredibly stressful. But there’s a security in owning a home that I haven’t experienced before.

I returned to college this year. My complete and utter wipeout during the first go-round at university has always haunted me, and while I’ve managed to carve out a successful career without a degree, the whole experience felt completely unfinished.

This fall was one of the most intensely stressful periods in my life, but it was incredibly redemptive when I met with success in my classes.

I continued my genealogy research, and made some really compelling discoveries along the way. But the worst of times of this year was losing several family members. It was definitely a year of loss for our family tree, as we lost an aunt and an uncle.

And, unthinkably, my sister took her own life in April.

I haven’t written about my sister since I initially wrote about her death. Losing her, and the events that followed, made for some of the ugliest moments I’ve ever experienced.

The story of what led my sister to this point, and to this irrevocable decision, continues to be more and more complicated, with more points of view than Rashomon. And at the end of the day, my sister is no longer with us. Part of me wants to let go completely. And part of me thinks writing about her will honor her memory.

And speaking of clichés – like the Dickens I invoked at the beginning of this post – the loss of my dear, sweet sister and the effect it had on all of us revealed to me the truth of many clichés.

Value the family and the people in your life, and let them know how much they mean to you.

Having a positive point of view – or positive people in your life – makes a difference. 

Value the time you’re here on Earth, and don’t let fear prevent you from experiencing life and embracing new adventures. 

And maybe that’s the lesson I will take away from 2011. Maybe the conventional wisdoms and definitions I’ve lived by – of what a cliché is, of what a grown-up is – should be discarded and left to rot.

I’m still processing what’s happened this year, but what I can tell you is that I am out of a long corporate cubicle slumber. I may not be ecstatically happy or completely content at this moment. But I am alive, awake and aware. And that is a good place to start 2012.

Back from hiatus

It’s been a LONG time (three months!) since my last post.

What’s been happening? Well, we did end up buying a new home. And I’m back in school as the oldest college freshman EVER. Just call me “Jerri Blank.”

I’m happy to be back in school. But at the risk of being a buzz kill, I want to repost an entry from last year, when there were a rash of teen suicides. We’ve had the same happen this fall, for the same reasons.

Check out that old entry and my personal experience with that particular journey. And understand the costs of that kind of violence goes far beyond some kid getting teased at school. I’m happy to be doing what I’m doing and being back in a learning environment. But I wouldn’t wish that kind of delay, or hiatus, on another kid.

The joy of househunting

For the last few weeks, my partner and I have been house hunting. After renting for the last few years, my partner – ever the efficient mathematician – crunched the numbers and decided we would be paying less with a mortgage than we pay now in rent. (This is the same slightly dubious reasoning that led us to give up our Zipcar membership and buy a car we drive, on average, one day a week.)

I love the idea of owning a home. I thought that the process would be fun, or at minimum, a bit of an adventure.

You know what I’ve discovered? I’ve found that if our government really wanted to torment terrorists, spies and criminals at Guantanamo, water boarding is not necessary. They could just send them on a search for real estate instead. It will break them and shatter the stability of their mental health in no time.

Now, before I complain further, let me say this: I’m very, very lucky. My partner and I are healthy. We have saved enough to be thinking about this seriously. We both have decent credit scores. We are in a place where a lot of people ain’t. I am very grateful for that. So grateful, I feel guilty for complaining.

But some parts of the process are just crazy.

Working with a real estate company seems to be the same no matter where you go. They get the most basic information about what you want (bedroom and bathrooms) and then bombard you with emails of the same properties. We seem to get the newest or most inexperienced agent every time, which is NOT who you want to sell you a house in this economy.

We’ve worked with a few people where we explained some of the specific things we wanted…and they just kept sending us listings that were nothing like what we’d been seeking. The search engines many of these companies use are missing a LOT of fields. None seem to have a search for square footage. No listings for finishes/design type.

And the money! It’s supposed to be a recession, and I’ve heard nothing but news about how low home prices have gone, and how much lower home values are now than they were two years ago.

But I think those lower sale prices must have skipped Chicago entirely. I’m astonished at what people want for small, cramped, poorly lit, badly decorated condos that are less than 1500 square feet. It’s insane – half a million dollars in some cases!

Maybe I’m being unrealistic. It’s Chicago, after all.

I’ve been thinking a lot about when my mom and dad bought the house I grew up in. It was in 1965, and the buying price was $15,000. Dad put $500 down and did another few hundred dollars in work inside. It was a great house, with 3 bedrooms and almost a half acre of land. When he sold it last year, it garnered not quite ten times the original cost.

That’s in western Pennsylvania, where housing costs are very low. But in much of the rest of the country, you can’t buy even a small place without spending at least $300,000 these days. And that just seems insane to me.

I’m a city boy, so we’re looking mostly at condos and townhouses. But a little part of me thinks about the home I grew up in, and wonders if we shouldn’t be looking to buy not only the living space, but the land underneath.

I wonder if we are making the right decision in buying a house. From theorists like Professor Richard Florida to money gurus like Suze Orman, I’ve heard over and over that renting, not buying, makes more sense in the long run in this new economy, in these new days.

It’s a lot of money to gamble. And that’s before the mad dash to find the place we love, the place we can live in and call ours.

It’s a financial consideration, perhaps, but it’s also an emotional one. Having a home feels like the top rung on the ladder of security. So do we follow our heads or our hearts? I’m not sure where this will end up.

Changing the channel, career edition

A week ago, I did something really, really crazy. 

I gave notice at my job.

And you know what? It was EXHILARATING. It’s also insane, and a little scary. OK, a LOT scary. But it was also exciting and empowering.

For anyone who knows me, or has read my blog for a while, you know that just a little over two years ago, I was in a tailspin because I’d just been laid off.

Then? Just landing a job was such a focus for me. I discovered that having someone take your job from you really shakes your professional identity (and your personal one too).

But getting to change the channel on your own and take a new pathway? Is a really amazing feeling.

The job I’m leaving is a fine job with a company that I’ll forever be grateful to for giving me an opportunity and for letting me get back on the horse, so to speak. I’ve met great people and learned a lot.

But I want to explore other things. And the focus of those things? Is education. This fall, I’ll be returning to school full-time.

It’s exciting, and scary. I still have to worry about the basics, my savings, health insurance. I can’t completely give up on making money, but will have to think of different ways to do it (hello, freelancing!)

And it’s been….well, let’s just say it’s been a while since I’ve been in college. (I think Clinton was in office when I was last in a true classroom!) It’s going to be a challenge and a whole new way of looking at things for me.

And I can’t wait.

The eccentric genealogist?

This tree is only going as far back as great grandparents? Sheesh. Amatuers!

I’ve been working on my family tree for close to a year now, and as you can tell by my previous entries (or my Facebook photo and news feed) I’ve really taken an interest in genealogy.

It’s a really fun, interesting project for me and I am glad for all it’s brought me: connections to some new-to-me family members, a better understanding of where we came from, and a peek into life as it was years ago.

But if you’re researching your family tree? Prepare to become a bit of an oddball….or at least be perceived as one.

This hit me as I was reading a newsletter for a genealogical society I belong to. One of the board members described a mentor who inspired her to do research: “All we knew was that my uncle was an oddball who took photos at cemeteries.”

I mean, it IS kinda weird if you think about it, if you’re looking from the outside in. (Now I understand those odd looks my family’s given me!)

Some things must look odd to non-genealogical types:

Obituaries. I don’t know how to say this any plainer: I collect obituaries.

Why? Well, obituaries are (outside of the Census) the easiest documentation to get regarding a relative or ancestor. With some research and a little knowledge about where to look, you can find obituaries dating back to the mid-1800s. (More official documents, like birth and death certificates, require more substantial proof from you that you’re related….which is often what you’re looking to prove with the document you’re ordering!)

They’re not always 100% accurate – it’s only as accurate as the source that provided the information – but it’s often a great place to start building a framework.

I am totally NOT doing this.

I’m certainly not celebrating anyone’s death, and I wish I would have met or been able to talk to these folks. But I’m really happy when I find this information.

I recently found an obituary on a great-aunt that I’d spent months trying to locate. That ONE obit literally brought down an entire brick wall to reveal the names of her children, and I learned about an entire family I didn’t even know existed before. Two libraries helped me find that obituary and other related articles to complete the picture.

NOTE: That’s one of a million reasons that all of us should support our local libraries – not just with dusty old books from your basement, but some cash dollars to help sustain them and all of the wonderful work they do for the WHOLE community!

Graveyards. Yeah, cemeteries are certainly not Party Central. Most people want to stay away from them (we’re all headed there someday) and only go when needed or obligated.

I’m a bit queasy about it myself. But I have to admit: Sites like FindAGrave.com have been really valuable in helping me bridge a gap when obituaries haven’t been available or easy to find. Knowing a date of death or where someone died is really helpful – to find out about them, as well as finding out more about their ancestors or descendants.

Also not doing this.

History geek. I admit it; I’ve become more of a history geek than I ever was before. I used to roll my eyes at those people who would do Civil War reenactments. But truth be told, I’m only a few degrees away from there!

I did well enough in my History classes at high school and in college. But I was always the 70s and 80s pop culture kid; out with the old and in with the new. So this is quite a 180 for me in my thinking. I’ve become interested not only in my own history and my family history, but also about how that fits into a bigger context (our state and our country).

I’ve posted before about the working conditions that my ancestors lived through. Enough men on both sides of my family died in the mills and mines to have started their own union. One man had his head crushed by the claws on a crane. That’s enough to put your stuck-in-traffic, bad Monday morning into some SERIOUS perspective.

So, yeah, OK. I get it. It’s all a bit odd. But only just a little bit. There are far stranger and more socially awkward things to do. You’ve seen Hoarders, right?

And now, the weather

Have you noticed it? The news, that is.

Journalists are supposed to be objective and deliver the news calmly and objectively. But when news became a 24/7 deal, and drawing viewers became more important, everything reported on the news became filled with hype.

So now, instead of reporting on tips to make your house childproof, the local news station will say: Next….something in your house that could (((((((((((KILL YOU AND YOUR CHILDREN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)))))))))))

They should be handing out prescriptions for Paxil with those kinds of reports, if you ask me.

And nothing is hyped more than the WEATHER.

Yes, there have been several bad delays in the last few weeks. Yes, New York City has been hard hit. Yes, Atlanta has an unusual amount of snow.

But the thing is? It’s WINTER, folks. It snows in winter. If you’re anywhere in the Midwest, New England or Mid-Atlantic states, this should not be a surprise to you. This is also, quite frankly, not headline news in most cases.

But in the last few years, even the tiniest threat of snow seems to set media outlets off on a race to see who can hype this weather event the most. Anchors warning that a MASSIVE SNOWSTORM WILL CRIPPLE THE STATE!!!!!! All for a few inches of snow.

Here in Chicago, we got maybe two inches of snow the other day. But from the urgency on the news (and yes, they broke into regular programming too) you would have thought a meteorite of snow was about to hit the earth.

I know media outlets have to be competitive these days, but it’s gotten ridiculous. The massive hype on most local newscasts make them almost impossible to watch, because it leaves you unsure about what IS a legitimate crisis and what is just hyperbole.

It’s why I usually get my weather reports from the Internet, so I can make up my mind on my own. We’re lucky here in Chicago to have a great meteorologist, Tom Skilling. He’s a weather geek, but I say that as a compliment. He not only does the forecast but explains details for the viewer. And he does it calmly and objectively, and without that fear-inspiring SNOWSTORE THAT WILL KILL YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! voice. He’s well worth watching.

A calmer soliloquy to winter: