On September 3rd, 2020, I lost my best friend to a battle with cancer that lasted 7 years.
More than a friend, she was my wife, my confidant, my lover and my life. We were supposed to be together forever. Yet, as devastating as my loss was, I neglected to think of the devastation that so many experienced around the world. Sad thing about losing one so close, is that often, nothing else matters. Nothing. No one. I have had time to grieve for a while, but what about those to have suffered loss as well?
The Help of Family
Down through the years, I had help of family through my grief. Some of my family are now gone. I have lost my oldest son and my youngest daughter. But those of us who remain, revive two powerful emotions that hold us together, love and hope.
Being Part of a Group
I am part of a group…a very large group of writers, authors and artists. I do not know if any of my group have suffered loss. What I do know is that there were people to help me through my grief. I am still grieving. I still need to complete a fitting online memorial to my lost love. If I had the ability and the talent, I would walk down into Hades itself, and like Orpheus, sing songs sad enough to bring tears to the King of Death, so that I might have the opportunity, the hope to once again, bring the woman I loved so much, back to the land of the living.
The Purpose of this Post
I wrote my first short story in 1972. It was a story about an old man in a decrepit Apollo space ship, determined to end his life by crashing into the Sun. He makes his living on salvage, on the moon colony, with a young, adopted boy. The old man leaves a sizable insurance policy and with friends. He is secure in the knowledge that his young charge will be well-taken care of. The story details his last moments of his life, as he hurtles to his death.
Is this the time for us to set a course into the sun? Or is it a time for us to rise up to the challenges that we all face and let those who follow, know that we loved and lived. With the help of some very good writers, I am once again, writing. This post is the first of many on my horizon that I intend to share.
Navigating the Storm
The past seven years, my wife Diana, taught me how to grab onto life…hold on tight. I spent 20 years in the Navy. For myself, many of the challenges we both faced were like riding out a storm – pummeled by wind and waves, never seeing calm seas. I wrote a poem about weathering the storm of life, which I will share with you, now.
Straight and True
Horizon’s edge, where dark clouds loom, The captain shouts, “Lower the boom”, “Push forward lads, don’t wait, don’t tarry”, Pass on her orders, instinctively wary.
“Steer our vessel straight and true.” “Keep her steady,” I tell the crew.
Water pounds against the hull, Windswept seas…no break, no lull. Ash-black clouds above the ship, Say, this will be a brutal trip.
Weather decks fill with foam and spray, As we feel the ship dip and sway. Gravity comes to rule this tide, We begin to rock from side-to-side.
The cox’n strains to hold his wheel, muscles tired and weak with pain… “Only Hercules could hold this course”, he curses the mettle of his bane.
Against each wave do we stand, shoes slip easily from one’s feet, A nearby bulkhead becomes the deck, a bolted chair my only seat. Gravity becomes a constant fight, a rip of jerky my only meal. I steal a swallow from a whiskey flask, no longer on an even keel.
Tidal forces guide our speed, winds push us left and off our course, We slide into a watery trough, struggling ‘gainst a mighty force.
Spears of lightning fill the skies, As pelting rains burn the eyes, Grip tight the stanchion…don’t slip, don’t fall, Life and death, we feel it all.
Madly spins the compass wheel; I tell the bos’n, “rudder right” Winds begin to howl and push as thunder roars to fill the night. Whitecaps build as waves grow tall, we compensate for set and drift, A water-soaked chart smeared and smudged shows course steady, bare steerage…thrift.
“Keep our vessel straight and true.” “Make her steady,” I tell the crew.
Toe-to-toe, our struggles stand, to fight the monster called “the sea”, Becomes the focus of our mind and tame the maelstrom to our lee. Roiling whitecaps, mountainous crests as ruddy brine sets on my face, We drop into a watery valley, standing tall against the brace.
A slippery stanchion saves my life, with cuts and scrapes on weathered hands, Hold the lifeline, fight rogue waves, burns and stings, salt brine demands. We see a break among the clouds, a rise of hope so far away. We turn our ship to find some warmth as hafts of sunlight streak the gray.
The wind dies down, our set is low, let us now adjust our course, The hatches raise, the doors unlock, as I look on in lost remorse. The seas grow calm, cutting through the waves, I compensate for drift, The sky is red as night approaches; challenges of the day will lift,
Hold your lantern high and bright, Allow its beam to pierce the night, A choice to make, will you behold, Enough to see your fate unfold.
-R.M. Almeida September, 2020
Painting on a Wall
I close this post, with a haiku that I wrote, after I gave thought to what all of us as a world have been through.
Pain and suffering, Masterpieces of our lives, Are paintings on walls.
These are words that seem to spell an inevitable end to many, a death sentence from which there is no return, a statement that everyone nervously skirts around at a get-together. For those who have not experienced a loved one stricken with cancer, there is a disconnect, a mental, “duh”. When my wife and I received the initial diagnosis of cancer, my heart sank. I was convinced that I was going to lose the person I love, the person I had spent the last 20 years with. My wife was going to die. Soon.
Note: When I activated this post, I neglected to mention my friends who have lost their life partners to cancer. I do not know the pain and anguish that they experienced, or their feelings of helplessness as they watched the life slowly drain from the person that they had dedicated their souls to. I cannot imagine the sheer loss, sadness and frustration that they must still feel. I can only tell my story and what my wife and I have endured. All I have to offer my friends is the message that I hope they treasure the good moments that they had with their life partners. For now, I watch my wife wither a little bit every day, but I revel in the moments when she is with me, unfettered by the painkillers, sound of mind and once again the woman that I promised to honor and cherish until death do us part. She is the person who I call every day from work, her life; the garden I tend every day, the soul I sometimes cry for when I am alone; the one I would gladly sacrifice myself for, just to rid her forever of the cancer that has stricken her, our modern day plague.
6 years ago – 2014.
Time can be a brutal teacher, sometimes. I have heard that time can heal all wounds. The passage of time brought about my declaration of war against depression, denial and loss in relation to cancer. I fight for the one I love, no matter barriers, no matter the cost.
It has been 6 years since I took my wife into the emergency room for back pain so excruciating that she could not sit down. It was in that room that the 20-ish Emergency Room physician conducted a number of tests; the last, an X-Ray. It was not long before the doctor returned to tell us that there were a number of masses in the X-Ray.
My wife immediately broke out in tears, exclaiming why her former husband could not have had her results instead of her. She was devastated. I didn’t know what to say. I just patted her on her back, put my arm around her shoulder and told her everything was going to be okay. All the while, I was fighting back tears. A thought seemed to rebound in my mind. I’m going to lose her.
Hindsight does wonders.
There were several moments on that night that could have made the stark news that the Emergency Room doctor gave us. The first thing the young doctor could have done was to give us some kind of reassurance, regardless of whether the doctor may have felt it was pointless or not.
it is not the end of their existence.
The doctor noticed masses covering my wife’s abdomen and brought it to her attention. At the time, the doctor knew as much as we did. The mind is an amazing thing, and like a weapon, can harm or heal. When truth (or facts) are blatantly revealed, it can slice into a person’s will to live as deeply and as surely as any scalpel. The soul is wounded and can be left with indelible scars that last for the lifetime of the person who it is revealed to.
I sometimes wish that the E.R. doctor thought about what the stark truth could do to my wife’s psyche. Sure, the patient needs to know the truth, but come into the conversation armed with news that balances the truth, regardless of whether it is mired in fact or not. I feel that in our world today, many young healthcare professionals (not all professionals in healthcare, mind you) allow themselves to become jaded in a very short amount of time. Facts and truth are all important treasures to be laid at their patient’s feet.
Offerings however, may not be perceived in the same light as the person who gives the presents. Hell, even in retail, gift receipts are offered, so that a customer can exchange what has been purchased for something more to their “palate”. Information however, may or may not be perceived as a gift. It is a “Pandora’s Box” that once opened, could be filled with depression, sadness or pestilence. Perhaps the healthcare professional needs training to develop compassion, or communication skills to offer “hope” for their patients, when the news is as bad as what my wife received that night.
There are many, many healthcare professionals who regularly display compassion to their patients. I have seen proof of compassionate professionals again and again since my wife and I have traveled the road that is paved with cancer. As a spouse who has observed the person I love go from feeling great to feeling despondent and suicidal the next day, I feel that the gift to help patients heal from the inside out is should be primary in the evolution of cancer care.
There are days I feel that I myself, jumped over a chasm of doubt and sadness that I could have fallen into easily. Fortunately, I have a sister who convinced me early during my period of sadness and dread that I needed to be strong for my wife – to exude confidence in her ability to defeat her cancer, rather than succumb to it. That period of training myself to become more composed and unflappable did not come easily. There were days when I had to excuse myself from my wife’s presence so that I could cry alone.
The Worst Thing that Could have Happened
The worst thing that my wife felt when she began her chemotherapy, was the loss of her hair. Despite the fact that she received a prohibitively expensive wig made of real human hair, as well as the loss of all facial hair (eyebrows, etc.), nothing else came close to her fear. My wife fell into a deep state of depression when she lost her hair. No matter what I said, no matter how beautiful I told her she looked, her mood would sour every time she glanced into the mirror. It was not until her chemotherapy ended that her mood improved and her state of well being improved.
has our world become dispassionate?
Despite my statements, I don’t feel that we collectively, have lost our ability to feel compassion for those in need. I did however, experience a difference in the office cultures of two cancer centers, both part of the same organization. The cancer center my wife loves to visit always seems to have staff who are happy, energetic and project a feeling of hope. The other cancer center gave me the feeling that they looked upon the I see regular displays of people helping other people, people sacrificing their personal safety for strangers every day.
I do however, believe that like the soldier who experiences PTSD on the battlefield, healthcare professionals may develop a “thick skin” to cope with the sight of horrific injuries, helping victims of cancer and other diseases cope with the deterioration of their or the erosion of what were rock-solid relationships that can occur between couples when faced with major decisions that must be made when coping with potentially life-threatening diseases such as cancer.
I can imagine the need for a healthcare professional to insulate their own thoughts and feelings, not to mention their own sanity, so that they can accomplish their daily job with standards they have set for themselves, not to mention greeting their patients with a happy or peaceful look on their face and a certain level of panache.
The Importance of Trust and Faith
I feel that it is very important for your loved one to be in an office where they feel that those who care for them, have their interest at heart. For anyone to have a physician who appears aloof or non-caring, regardless whether or not the physician truly does care about the patient, I believe that trust must be implicit as part of their recovery regimen.
My wife relies on her oncologist; not only to keep her spirits up but holds her physician up as a rock solid foundation of belief that she is going to continue to live. Her oncologist is a personal touchstone who supports my wife’s belief that her cancer will soon be eradicated. Her oncologist is very different from the award-winning, “I love me wall” all-around, aloof-sounding, “hero” oncologist she was assigned to a year ago for new, ground-breaking gene therapy treatments.
The new oncologist had all the answers about how the new treatments would work. We both felt that the oncologist who treated her had a very different personality than her regular oncologist. His attitude was more daunting and definitely patronizing. He decided to start my wife as a candidate in a treatment program from China. I heard many patients lauding the “hero” oncologist with honor and praise, but my wife preferred her oncologist. She missed her oncologist, terribly. I felt for my wife. I personally felt that she was nothing more than a lab rat for the award-winning oncologist, someone to use in a control study, rather than someone to care about as a patient. Whether my wife’s oncologist had all the answers or not, I felt that the person my wife has seen for over 5 years now, cares very much for her and has her survival as a cancer patient in mind. I feel that my wife’s oncologist is “hero” enough for her.
Complications of Cancer
Needless to say, the award-winning oncologist did not have an opportunity to prove his mettle to my wife. 8 months ago, my wife shattered her cancerous hip as she left the cancer center following a blood test. Her accident resulted in the loss of a job that she coveted, along with benefits that many in our country do not receive. After 3 months and 2 surgeries in and out of the hospital, my wife lives in a quasi-coherent existence of pain killers and muscle relaxant medications. During her rational state, my wife burns with a desire to work again, perhaps share her specialized knowledge of reading EKG strips for the past 20 years. I live with the hope that my wife will one day be free of the painkillers and that one day, I will once again, have the clear-headed, highly-opinionated woman that I married by my side.
What I believe are the easiest (and probably costliest) ways to advertise on the web is to utilize pay-per click advertising.
Pay-per-click advertising is very easy to find. If you are reading this article, you may have used a pay-per-click ad to reach what I have written. I will focus on pay-per-click and where to find
Search Engine Pay-per-Click
Google is probably the most prevalent (if not well-known) method that is used to attract customers to websites. Anyone with a credit card (or PayPal, etc.) or digital option to pay can utilize Google to get customers to their website.
So, what benefits are there to using Google to help you advertise your site? The major benefit of utilizing Google is that you can zero in on your market (if you don’t understand what I mean by “market”, follow this link). Google gives you the ability to find people who will love what you have created, live in your area or may hire you to create more of what they love.
Google gives you 3 goals (choices) when you access their site:
Get more calls
Get more visits to your physical location
Get more website sales or sign-ups
Let’s try one. How about the third choice? Get more website sales or sign-ups.
Google wants you to describe your business. You start by entering your business name and the url (Uniform Resource Locator) of your website (web address).
Google then wants to know WHERE your customers are. Do you want customers in your local area or do you want to conquer the world?
Next thing Google asks you is to target your ads. You want to choose topics (or key words) that are RELEVANT to your website. Let’s take my 5Artz.com website, it is set up for my local area and caters to artists of all disciplines. What do I want to work with? I have a literary agent in one of my groups. How about publishing? Okay. My co-founder was an award-winning journalist, editor, author and ghostwriter. So, how about writing? Sounds good! So, I will add “story writing”, “writing a novel” and “writing a book” as my product or service. I’m still missing a few things. Well, I focus on “collaboration” and “establishing networks”…guess those will become services. I have video experts in my other group, so I will add “video collaboration”. I also have musicians in my group, so I add “Indie Musicians” I also have voice over professionals, so I will add “voice over” to the list. I will top off the list with “arts organization”, since that term encompasses what I am trying to do. Here is the result of my effort.
Notice how many people I will reach with this ad.
Now comes the hard part, what do I title the ad? I cater to 5 different creative disciplines? I don’t have your help to name the ad, so I will have to “wing” (guess) my best solution. How about “Creative Minds Collaborate!”? It’s…okay. I want to keep the message simple. How about “We help creative people find a reason to collaborate.” I could even attempt to appeal to one’s greed: “Collaborations make more money.”
Google gives me an option. I can add images to my ad. Why would one want to include images? If you have not kept up with the latest statistics, people tend to respond quickly to images.
One of the last options Google gives me is the budget. What can I afford to pay? Let’s look at the lowest amount that Google will offer:
For my most inexpensive option, I would only have to pay $1.81 per day (on average), a result of 24 to 42 clicks to my website out of 915 to 1,428 people who look at my ad. If I apply the 1 percent rule to my numbers, the minimum number of people who follow my site should be at least 3 to 5 people per year.
For my average or mid-range budget, I would pay $5.10 per day (on average). My results should be between 69 to 117 people who visit my site out of 2,345 to 3,970 people who see my ad per month. When I look at these numbers, I would estimate that I would get 828 to 1,404 visitors or 8 to 14 followers per year.
The most I would pay would be $25.00 per day (on average). My results should net me 341 to 570 people visiting my site out of 11,592 to 19,377 people who see my ad.
If I use a little practical math, that means I should have had 4,092 to 6,480 people who visit my site per year. If I apply the 1 percent rule to the larger figure, I should have between 41 to 68 people follow my site every year.
Of course, there are no guarantees that I can get members out of the people who visit my site, but I prefer to build my members (or followers) over time. A perfect example are my meetup groups. Our Writer’s Workshop, started on October 1st of 2017, guided by Bill Guthrie has accumulated 485 members. Our Mixed Creative Meetup group, Creative Affiliations has attracted 551 members since November of 2017.
One note of interest is that normally, when one person drops from the group, we generally see from 2 to 3 people join within the next day.
Next in my series is pay-per-click, using social media.
If you have been following my series about Search Engine Optimization (SEO), I started with a general overview and followed with brief coverage about social media. This next installment of the SEO process will talk about local optimization.
Local optimization can be explained away with the use of “techno-babble” (as you can see from the Wikipedia link that I have provided). Artists however, are NOT normally tech-savvy. So, how can I simplify what seems to be an insurmountable mountain of technical data and specifications? If you make a quick search of the web, you will find dozens (if not hundreds) of websites that simplify the definition of this terminology. I have provided 3 links to 3 different websites that I hope will help you to understand exactly what local SEO optimization entails.
So, we will start with what you can do to make your website stand out from the over one-and-a-half billion websites on the web.
Keywords are very important words that you can insert into your website or web page that make it easier to find with certain kinds of search engines. Know that there are 3 specific kinds of search engines that people might use to find you:
Crawler-Based Search Engines
Google and Yahoo are examples of crawler-based search engines. Essentially, what you use frequently, to find information on the web, uses a “spider” or “crawler” to search the web. The method that the search engine uses is generally referred to as an algorithm. It is a complex structure that rewards certain words (keywords) to discover information that is relevant to what you look for. Let’s do this together, so that you can see for yourself how this works. Try any of these search engines:
Now that you have selected the search engine, we will use a keyword to test your results. How about using the word “home”, then press the spacebar, type the word “sale” and lastly, type your zip code. What are your results? What websites came up for you? Were your results different if you used a different search engine? Notice that I will not attempt to include a graphic to help you. My reason is that search results of any graphic I put up will be totally different than what you will see. This example should demonstrate to you, why keywords are so important for YOUR particular website if you want people to find your work.
Human-powered directories are online directories. Some of these directories require or employ a subscription of some type, some do not. TheArtList, for example, is an online directory listing coveted by many artists and galleries. Alexa, owned and operated by Amazon is unique in that it offers you choices that you can utilize for your website, run by an internationally known brand. Arts Services Directories targets art organizations in general. Erected by Americans for the Arts this directory features specific art categories as well as books, registration and blogs designed to reach arts organizations that cater to the arts or artists.
Hybrid Search Engines
There are those on the web who consider Yelp an online directory of sorts, akin to a hybrid search engine, while many define this online juggernaut as a social media platform. A hybrid search engine combines the features of a crawler-based search engine with a human-powered directory. Yahoo and MSN/Bing are considered examples of hybrid search engines, though there is plenty of room for argument. Google has also moved in this direction with their business directory.
Metacrawler, DogPile, Mamma, take the keywords that you input and transmit simultaneously to many search engines to offer your user a result. Results can be combined, duplications erased and subjects within search results can be applied by meta-search engines.
So, why use a meta-search engine? One can save time by searching in one place (kind of a one-stop shop), without using different search engines.
Adding Keywords to Your Website
You can add keywords or metadata to your website to make it easier for search engines to find. This technique is one that requires practice, research and a lot of patience. Metadata can often be added into your website from your dashboard, a separate forms page reached by clicking on a link. WordPress is a very popular site for beginners, especially artists, that features help with SEO.
Social Media such as YouTube,
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat can be instrumental in locating
markets for your website. There are other social media platforms that you may
or may not be using, such as Flickr, Ello or TikTok.
All of them work differently, so it is important for you to understand how they
can help you.
Facebook is probably
one of the most influential social media platforms that you can use. Unlike
many of the other social media platforms, it allows you to target specific
markets. Recent political marketing on Facebook proved the effectiveness to
reach specific markets; an excellent demonstration of how you can put its power
YouTube is effective
in delivering video messages directly to your audience. “Edutainment”
can take on many forms as a video. An artist can demonstrate their technique (for
example), value that may be inherent in the art that they create. A musician
can reach tight niche groups by talking about their music and how it relates to
their interests. A writer can talk about their work…break into the nuances of what
they tried to say in their prose. A culinary artist can demonstrate the beauty
of their presentation, even taking their audience to create exact copies of
their work in step-by-step informational videos.
exactly 140 characters to deliver a message. It is a unique social media
platform that is utilized by celebrities, politicians and businesses. “You can
create a hashtag unique for your business and use it in your marketing to help
people find your company and the conversations around it. In fact, hashtags are
a great way to use Twitter for customer service and support.”- Social
Media Examiner Twitter offers an artist the ability to “Tweet” a quick
notice about what they are doing at the moment, as well as include a quick image
of their life, as a method to promote themselves. A writer can offer a quick
tweet of themselves at a bookstore signing. A musician can tweet what venue they are
playing at, showing a quick snapshot of the audience to bring in a larger crowd.
An artist can tweet the gallery they are displaying their latest work, even
include a snapshot of the work everyone is vying for to attempt a bidding war
for their art. A culinary artist can tweet which of their locations they are in
and provide a snapshot of their latest creation that is selling out from the
Instagram is a visual
social media platform that can be used in place of “a thousand words”. With 25 million
business profiles worldwide, 2 million advertisers worldwide use Instagram to
share their stories and drive results. -Instagram One of the most innovative
ways I have found to utilize Instagram is to create an Instagram account and
link it to your Facebook
account. This method works very well if your desire is to set up an auction for
a piece of work that you have completed.
Snapchat is unique
among social media platforms in that messages created are short-lived. The “self-destruct”
quality of a Snapchat message started as a way for millennials to stay
entertained. With 150 million users, Snapchat is used by people in the 13 to 34
age range, more
males now use the platform. So, how could an artist use Snapchat? A gallery
show would be the best use, perhaps a giveaway that offers a limited amount of
time for Snapchat users to attend the gala. Culinary artists can use Snapchat
in the same way, perhaps a limited menu offering for a specific amount of time
to drive customers into the door. An author can use Snapchat for a book signing
in a specific bookstore at a specific time…perhaps the offer of a free book can
entice Snapchat users to attend. Simultaneous draws on Facebook and Twitter can
add to the excitement of a dwindling opportunity to meet the artist in
Flickr cannot be used to
sell a product. It can, however, be used to promote
you or your work with photographs or events.
Ello is an ad-free alternative is
existing social media networks. Ello is more of a “closed” kind of social
network that is accessed by invitation
only. Ello has become a uniquely relational social media platform in that
it is “espousing a message of trust and cooperation, and the cornerstone of that
is their insistence on not running adverts and not selling their user’s data to
third parties.” – Make
TikTok is all about short form mobile videos. Launched in 2017 by ByteDance, it is an app that was created for markets outside of China. More like a YouTube for mobile devices, TikTok is meant to spurn creative videos developed, edited and streamed on a mobile device. Videos are limited to 15 seconds and it works like other social media. Followers can leave reviews or comments as well as likes and/or hashtags. Like Snapchat, quick videos from artists could serve as promotions for a new generation of users.
I covered a few social media platforms in this blog post. As of this writing, there are many more platforms that show increased popularity. Do you want to sell your work or simply promote what you have created? As you can see, each platform serves a purpose. My advice is to choose what platform (or combination of platforms) best fit your perceived needs.
Have you ever been curious about the number of people on the web?
If not, why not? If you own a blog, have a Facebook or other social media account, own a website, or are thinking of developing one you might want to be curious about the number of people on the web. Why? You can take the optimistic approach in wondering about how many people are on the web. Think of the number of people you could reach. The flip side of the coin is the more pessimistic view. Think of the number of people you are competing with for attention to your particular site. Here is a website you can use that offers you a glimpse into the world wide web, courtesy of Internet Live Stats: https://www.internetlivestats.com/.
Search Engine Optimization
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) has become the craft of getting people to your website. It is reminiscent of the marketing process.
When Marketing was Simple
I learned about marketing by working at a marketing services company in the early 1990’s. We employed a particular process for our clients. In order to get customers, they needed broadcast ads (radio, television were all we had at that time), print ads (magazine, newspaper) and word-of-mouth advertising. Advertising (I found) was like owning a boat. You pour a lot of money into it, in the hope that you will get some use out of your investment. Our job was to save them money on advertising. Money on radio ads (for example), could be saved by purchasing time at night (after midnight), rather than during the day. You still reach a small spectrum of the people you want to reach, but you could reach enough people to offset the amount of money you were spending on advertising.
Social media has taken the place of advertising. Websites like Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and even Snapchat have become havens for anyone to establish a market for pennies, often for free. Like the old marketing process, a part of SEO focuses on social media. Marketing however, focused on a kind of mix (“marketing mix”) to get people into the door:
SEO has the same kind of mix . Here is a very good definition, courtesy of Wikipedia:
The process and methods that we have at our disposal have become complex and often seem overwhelming. If all you have is yourself and no advertising budget to speak of, how in the world do you reach your audience?
Thankfully, you don’t have to employ every part of SEO to find your audience. I personally feel that employing one part of SEO at a time is the best way to let people know you are on the web, a practice that requires above all else; diligence and patience.
Unless you have access to hundreds or even thousands of dollars, you are going to have to be satisfied with chipping away at your SEO requirements a little at a time. Not everything is going to be free, but you can build an audience for your work.
It has been 200 years since the birth of Walt Whitman. Why is Walt Whitman so important? If you read poetry, he is considered one of America’s most important poets…in the same class as Emily Dickinson.
A recent article in the New Yorker talks about his life and his work. The son of a house builder, Walt Whitman started as a printer’s apprentice, to become a journalist, a teacher and a government clerk.
“At age 11, he left formal schooling to go to work. As a child and through much of his career he resided in Brooklyn, he also produced a temperance novel, Franklin Evans (1842). Whitman’s major work, Leaves of Grass, was first published in 1855 with his own money. The work was an attempt at reaching out to the common person with an American epic. He continued expanding and revising it until his death in 1892. During the American Civil War, he went to Washington, D.C. and worked in hospitals caring for the wounded. His poetry often focused on both loss and healing. Two of his well known poems, O Captain! My Captain! and When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d, were written on the death of Abraham Lincoln. After a stroke towards the end of his life, Whitman moved to Camden, New Jersey, where his health further declined. When he died at age 72, his funeral was a public event.” – Wikipedia
Walt Whitman has been compared to Homer, Virgil, Dante and Shakespeare. He is best known for his work, Leaves of Grass (1855, 1891-2).
What better way to celebrate his life and work than to create your own poem? Here is mine (entitled “The Joust”), set to pen in 1987.
If you have not served in the military, you have not experienced what it is like to truly offer yourself, your life and your freedom to serve. That being said, it was the military that allowed me to “kickstart” options in my life that I never realized I had.
I was going to graduate from high school in 1976. I had no real future and no plans to attend college, like my classmates. I had been working since the age of 15 as a janitor, dishwasher and pizza maker, not really making any headway in any position, living with my parents and making wrong adult decisions. I had already become a drinker, dancing until the early hours of the morning, with nothing to show for my effort but hangovers and a pregnant girlfriend. In short, I was failing in life and I wasn’t even “out of the gate”. I made the decision to join the military.
Getting into the military was an effort. I decided to go into the Navy. I had grown up as an Air Force brat and I did not want to have anything to do with the Air Force or Army. I had seen what my father had gone through and it seemed too restrictive for my taste. Anytime I saw sailors, I saw parties and drunken carrousers. THAT was what I wanted. I gave my local Navy recruiter a call and spoke to Bill Sutton, a veteran Radioman about what it would take for me to join. Bill went over my grades with me and said that I should be able to get in. Anyone who knew me in school, knew me as a person who never seemed to be in school. I skipped classes constantly in high school, though I would read all the material I was given. I did not take any Math classes, choosing to focus instead on creative arts such as English or Theater. I would rue the day that I made those decisions, but not that time.
Bill administered the ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery) test. I scored high on everything except Arithmetic Reasoning and Math. My scores were low, but enough to get me in. Bill was confident that I would be able to handle what was going to be thrown at me in my career. My scores in Word Knowledge and Paragraph Comprehension were very high. Bill recommended that I sign up as a Navy Journalist. It was exactly what I wanted. As a journalist, I might become a radio broadcaster or even write for a military paper. The problem was that I would have to wait for a year to enter into the military DINFOS school and I needed to get into the military. Now. Why? My girlfriend was pregnant and I wanted to marry her. Did I tell Bill that little piece of information? Hell no. I just told Bill that I really wanted to join the Navy, now. Bill’s advice was an option; Operations Specialist. I would broadcast on the radio and could be involved in top secret operations. My father got his start in radar when he started in the Air Force during the Korean war. Bill did not lie to me. I was a broadcaster on radio…just not the kind of broadcaster I wanted to be.
I opted for Operations Specialist, hoping that within a year, I could be eligible to opt out for a seat in the Journalism school, instead. The test complete, I needed to pass another test, the military physical. Bill sent me to what is now known as the MEPS station for my phsyical.
My first hurdle in joining the military was that the surgeon stated I was not qualified to join. I had a fresh scar across my neck that the surgeon took a shine to instantly.
“What’s that?” he asked me.
“I just had an operation,” I answered him. “A thyroidectomy. 95 percent subtotal.”
“Are you on medication?”
“I’m sorry, but I can’t let you in. Physically, you’re okay, except that you have flat feet and you’re taking medication.”
“Can’t you make an exception?”
“No. I can’t let you go in. You have too many other problems that disqualify you for service.”
I went back home and talked to my father about what the doctor said.
“I’ll go back to the station with you,” he said.
Dad was true to his word. He went back to the station with me and had me sit down at a chair so that he could talk with a sergeant at a desk. I looked at the person talking with my father. He had an Air Force insignia on his arm. He left for a moment and came back to talk to my father for a few more minutes. Both of them smiled at each other and he beckoned me to approach him.
“Looks like your father really wants to help you get into the service,” he said.
“Okay, I talked to my commanding officer. He talked to the surgeon and they don’t see a problem in letting you join. Looks like you’re in the Navy.”
He had a record in front of him with my name on it. He had a stamp in his hand. With a flourish, he pounded his fist on the record…”Passed” showed up across the record in big red letters. I had successfully passed the military physical, only because my military father had intervened on my behalf.
Bill called me within days of my physical and told me to get down to the processing station with a light bag. My mother’s idea of a “light bag” was a suitcase, which would be taken from me and sent home, including my underwear that was packed with it. My father went with me. I filled out the necessary paperwork, signed my name on the line and got on a bus to head to the airport. I was on my way to NTC San Diego, California for Boot Camp.
Boot camp was a flurry of activity. I ended up in a “Special Company” because I could sing. We were not a “drill company”, we composed the marching band, the navy choir and the flag team. We did a lot of marching in San Diego. We marched on the “Grinder”. Those days were hot, sleazy kinds of days, marching on a hot tarmac, covered with the smells and splatter of pigeon shit. I grew to hate pigeons in those days. When we weren’t marching, we were in a hot classroom, nudging each other to stay awake and when we weren’t in class, we were running in the heat, learning to fight fires in the heat, sitting in tear gas, learning how to fire a weapon and sweat together as a group to complete our mile-and-a-half run in two minutes, fifteen seconds. Our evenings were spent polishing boots, ensuring that our bunks were spot on and our clothing was folded perfectly for our daily inspections.
Boot camp could take up the size of a book, so I will be brief enough to let you know that in the time I was at NTC, I ended up being robbed on liberty (I was at a company party and our entire group was waylaid by two individuals who robbed us all at gunpoint – apparently a common practice at that time – which left me on the base for another month, while I waited for my military ID to be reprocessed). I was lucky to graduate with my class. I had a report chit pulled from me, ready to go in my last two weeks, because I decided to humiliate a fresh company marching into their barracks, in full view of their company commander. My company commander chewed me out for over an hour, telling me how lucky I was, since their company commander wanted me to repeat my boot camp training.
Two weeks later, I took part in my graduation with my company and received my orders for Apprentice Training. AT was quick on my timeline radar, more of a laid back kind of memory, filled with classes that taught us all how to tie knots and learn all the functions of shipboard life to prepare us for our future as sailors.
I remember the flight to the Phillippines to catch my first ship, the USS Long Beach (CGN-9). It was a very long flight for me. Families were on the flight as well, since it also stopped at several airports along the way. We were on an Air Force C-9, bound for Clark Air Base, Phillippines. Our flight from San Diego made a stop in Anchorage, Alaska, where we all de-planed into what was a cold airport. We boarded another C-9 that stopped in Honolulu, Wake Island, Tachikawa Air Base in Japan and finally, Clark Air Base, Phillippines.
Opening the door to the Phillippines was a memorable greeting for me. The air was so hot and humid that my glasses fogged up as soon as I stepped out of the door. I suffered from jet lag and shuffled behind everyone onto the tarmac, measuring every step carefully as I struggled to wipe the fog from my glasses that seemed to not go away. I retrieved my sole baggage from the airport, a duffel bag and walked to customs. On my way to customs, I noticed a couple of yellow buses parked not far from the small airport, all of them with different names. Out of customs, I found my way to the Naval attache, showed him my orders, who directed me to the first bus that was parked next to the terminal. A large sign, “Subic Bay” was on the front of the bus, with a line of sailors, men and women formed up at the door, each with a duffel bag in hand and filing onto the bus.
Looking back on my past posts, one can realize what it was like to be on a ship, even a ship filled with as colorful and glorious a past as the USS Long Beach.
A Career Sailor
The life of a career sailor can become a plethora of changes: one command to another command, each stay at the command lasting only a year or two.
My tour on the Long Beach only lasted two years. It felt longer because those years were my most formative years, comprised of 2 months of scrubbing toilets that literally “exploded” with feces from time-to-time and 3 months of duty, scrubbing hundreds of steel sheet pans in a hot scullery every day. (By the way, I attempted to find steel sheet pans on the web like the ones that I worked with. There are none even close to what I cleaned. The pans I worked with were heavy individually, each one had to be at least 7 pounds each, pitted with use, always covered with grease.)
By the time I was finally introduced to the life of an Operations Specialist, I was grim. I learned from the best veterans in the U.S. Navy. Our captain could be stodgy at times, but I feel that he was the best mentor anyone could have to this day, Captain Harry S. Schrader (later Vice Admiral Harry S. Schrader, Commander Naval Surface Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet), a man I would have the honor of working for in other capacities throughout my career, a man who would eventually see me progress as an exceptional Operations Specialist.
My introduction to my commanding officer however, did not start out so well. I was assigned as the bridge talker as the ship took plane guard station 10 levels above the main deck.
It was an awesome sight and a scary position for me to be in. I felt like I was stationed on top of the world and “God” himself was in front of me. We were part of the world’s only nuclear task force, Long Beach, Enterprise and Truxtun, Long Beach taking station 500 yards behind the carrier for plane guard duty. For anyone who has never seen what it is like to be 500 yards behind a huge carrier, with jets taking off and landing on its deck, you don’t know awe or fear. Not yet, anyway. I was manning my sound-powered headphones, a naval tradition that dated back to the second world war. Captain Schrader had the conn and started by looking at my board before talking to me.
“Combat, give me a range and bearing to the carrier.”
I was ready for him.
“Aye sir…range to the carrier, 3,750 yards, bearing 279.”
“All right. Combat, give me range and bearing to the carrier every 15 seconds when we approach 2,000 yards.”
“Aye, Aye, sir.”
I could hear OS2 Goodman on the phones. He was manning the radar, chatting with the rest of the Combat Information Center watch crew in CIC, 12 decks below me.
“Goody, the captain wants range and bearing to the carrier every 15 seconds when we are within 2,000 yards of the carrier,” I whispered into the sound-powered phones.
Goodman’s voice was crisp and clear.
Captain Schrader called out for range and bearing to the carrier.
“Combat. Bridge. Need range and bearing to the carrier.”
“Range 2,300 yards. Bearing 270.”
“Roger,” I said.
“Captain, range is 2,300 yards, bearing 270.”
I watched the carrier pass us on my left. It looked huge. It also looked too close. The bridge tilted to one side as we turned.
“Quartermaster, give me constant range and bearing to the carrier.”
“Aye, captain,” answered the quartermaster manning the chart.
The captain stepped out onto the deck just outside of the bridge.
“Combat, range and bearing to the carrier.”
“Combat, range and bearing to the carrier.”
I watched the silhouette of the carrier loom ahead in front of us as the quartermaster called out visual range and bearing to the carrier, while I waited for word from CIC.”
“Combat, where is my range and bearing?”
“Aye sir. CIC, Bridge, range and bearing to the carrier.”
Captain Schrader was obviously annoyed.
“Bridge Combat, range 1,700 yards at 300.
“Captain, CIC has carrier at 1,700 yards, bearing 300.”
“Okay, give me those ranges and bearings.”
“Combat, range and bearing to the carrier.”
“Don’t sweat it.”
“Don’t sweat it, man.”
“Captain wants range and bearing to the carrier every 15 seconds.”
I watched us approach the carrier closer as the quartermaster called out range and bearing of the carrier every 15 seconds.
“Combat, need range and bearing to the carrier. Captain wants it, now.”
“Okay, okay. Range 800 yards, bearing 357.”
“Captain, CIC reports range to the carrier 800 yards, bearing 357.”
By now, the captain was not listening to me, but the quartermasters. The aft end of the Enterprise loomed directly in front of us.
“Okay QM’s, that’s good. Give me a final bearing and range. Combat, finish up with the Officer-of-the-Deck. Good job everyone.”
I relayed the information to CIC, which now was silent. The circuit had gone dead while the watch changed. I felt like I did not do a good job, but that I did the best I could.
My tour on the USS Long Beach lasted until my new orders to my OS “A” School in late 1978, where I would spend 6 months at NTC Great Lakes, Illinois. I almost failed at the school, because of my low math skills. I never realized the need in high school to have even a rudimentary knowledge of trigonometry or calculus, a lesson I would rectify on my next command, sacrificing precious sleep for an education in mathematics at sea.
After school, I was assigned to the USS Monticello. I was salty, but not enough. Monticello was where I really grew up as a professional and as a man.
I grew as an Operations Specialist in a very small group. It gave me the opportunity to not only make my mistakes, but to stand out as a growing professional.
The USS Monticello was where I began to throw off my mantle of anger and frustration. I began to truly enjoy myself as a sailor and hone not only my perspective of the Navy, but discover what and who I was, by looking at the men that I lived and worked with. Those I worked with, shaped me into the man I would become. We would visit many countries, cities and ports. I would go with my friends on some occasions, scout out alone on others. All of the places we visited became a part of me.
What I discovered during this time was each port had its own distinctive smells. One of the guys taught me that. I can’t remember who did. But that person was right.
Eventually, life or destiny brought me back to the USS Long Beach (CGN-9) as one of the decommissioning crew, to retire her in 1992. As fate would have it, my last ship was the USS Denver (LPD-9).
I felt it fitting that I end my career and retire on the Denver, since I initially made my 20-year start in the MEPS station, located in Denver, Colorado. Looking back, were it not for my time in the military, life would have been very different for me, I doubt that my life would have been better, probably worse. What I have to look on with pride is that I took part in a part of our country’s history and served the United States as a military sailor with pride and honor.
Many of my Meetup members, friends and family have been talking to me about contributing to my site again. It looks like they have won. I can’t think of a better day to start than on Mother’s Day.
My mother turned 95 yesterday (May 10th, 1924).
Notice that I did not mention that she “celebrated” her birthday. I have my reasons, my mother’s (reason) is that she HATES any mention of her birthday. In fact, if you want to see the ire of a 95 year-old, 4’9″ Japanese mother, go ahead…mention her birthday.
Born Yukiko Matsushita, she grew up in a wealthy family. Yet, 75% of her family were decimated by post-World War II diseases in Japan that are no longer spoken of. Diseases such as polio, smallpox and diphtheria claimed the lives of her mother, brothers and sisters.
My mother is the first child on the left, held by her mother. Her mother would die of disease, a few years after this photograph was taken. Her father would remarry a younger woman with her own children, siring three more. Her father (my grandfather) owned a textile factory in Tokyo. He attended the oldest and what was at that time, the most prestigious university in Japan Keio University. He graduated in the top 1% of his class. Because of his standing, my grandfather could have become a politician, lawyer, doctor or scientist. He chose to become a businessman and enter the world market as a textile manufacturer. My grandfather specialized in manufacturing silks for the seats in the finest Pullman cars in the world. His company prospered from the manufacture of silks until World War II, because of the war. The advent of World War II devastated his business, the Japanese government told my grandfather that he would retool his factories to manufacture uniforms for the Japanese army and navy, or they would take over his business.
My mother used to tell me stories about her siblings calling her “mouse”, because of her height. My mother also told me stories about dodging bullets as a girl in Tokyo. She mentioned once that one of our planes was strafing ground targets, of which she was one (I guess mom was pretty tough).
My mother lived through post-war Japan by attending school to be a kindergarten teacher. She talked more to my sister about those years, the devastation of her father’s business, the war eventually leading him to move onto other business ventures, only to die of stomach problems at an early age. One thing my mother did was to work at the USO, where she met my father in the early 50’s. No doubt, she was shunned by her family because of her association with a gaijin (especially a non-commissioned officer in the Air Force). A two-year courtship via mail ensued, eventually landing my father in trouble for failing to get permission to marry my mother from his commanding officer (an error that would cost him his ability to rise up in rank, quickly).
With my birth, and my sister’s birth two years later, we became a family that traveled from one base to another every 4 years or so. My father loved art and music as a pastime, as did my mother. From my perspective, Dad often did his thing and Mom did hers.
Mom was our influence in art and would continue to be until only a few years ago. All of the following images were either painted or created by my mother.
What were also fascinating, were Mom’s dolls. She took up a hobby of “doll-making”. Mom added her own flair to her dolls, many of them relegated to a lifetime in her basement, hidden from public eyes.
Some of her dolls won awards. Again, what you are seeing were kept locked away in her basement.
Mom did have a more prized collection of dolls in her living room. Not all of them were made by my mother, but prized (just the same).
It was my mother’s love of art that influenced me to create a more “visual” form of writing.
Thus ends my tribute to my mother on this Mother’s Day. I hope that you have enjoyed her work as much as I have and that you enjoy your own Mother’s Day celebration in honor of the mothers of our world.
If you haven’t heard of Dr. Marissa Pei, you will.
I met Dr. Pei while I was working at the store in February. We talked briefly about her book “8 Ways to Happiness”, and what it takes to sell and promote it.
Take one look at Dr. Pei’s website and you will see hard work. A lot of hard work to make what you create into a bestseller. Dr. Pei has spoken on radio (“Take My Advice, I’m Not Using It: Get Balanced with Dr. Marissa”) for 6 years broadcasting LIVE out of the Shonda Rhime’s Sunset Gower Studios in Hollywood California with UBNRadio/TV, syndicated on IHeartRADIO, CNBC, NBC News Radio KCAA AM/FM home of Dave Ramsey and the Stephanie Miller Show.
Dr. Marissa has interviewed A-level celebrities on the red carpet and on her show. She has talked to: John Travolta, Halle Berry, Quincy Jones, bestselling authors Dr. John Gray, Marianne Williamson, Neale Donald Walsch, Geneen Roth, Don Miguel Ruiz, TV icons Potsie and Mrs. C. from Happy Days Anson Williams and Marion Ross, Fran Drescher, Corey Feldman and Music greats Supremes Scherrie Payne, Toni Tennille, ShaNaNa, Jefferson Starship Cathy Richardson, Santana Andy Vargas, Keiko Matsui and Dave Koz, Olympic Gold Medalists Shannon Miller and Laurie Hernandez, famous fathers Laila Ali and Kerri Kasem, Humanitarians and Activists Ric O’Berry (The Cove) and CNN Hero Bruno Serato to name a very small portion of the 318 unique consecutive weeks of show and Red Carpet guests over the past 5 years. (Courtesy of Dr. Marissa Pei’s website)
From the Amazon website: “8 Ways to Happiness is for anyone who has stopped to ask themselves, “Am I happy?” or “Why am I not happy?”, and is not willing to spend 10 years in therapy or take a pill with side effects that make them feel even worse than they do now. Furthermore, it is for those who ARE taking medication for their “Dis-Ease” with life and STILL not feeling better. The 8 chapters are focused on common places that human beings get stuck, such as Loneliness, Loss, Hatred, Shame, and Heartbreak, with relatable snapshots and exercises to build new roads into Hope, Love, Faith, and Happiness. Dr. Marissa Pei’s own pain from the past and fear of the future identify with readers and relay a message of hope. She provides those struggling to find happiness with alternative ways of seeing their own reality, as well as a chance to practice balance tools that shovel out the shii-take from their past and return it as fertilizer for new seeds of understanding about the unique, beautiful, wonderful, precious beings we all are.”
I had a great time talking to Dr. Marissa. The problem with talking to someone that you enjoy speaking to during a book signing is that you have about 5 minutes. She was very busy not only signing books, but being interviewed.