Love and loss… and more love

My friend Mike Argadine made me cry yesterday. (And today too, for that matter.) He sent me a link to the video below. It’s a song by the band Frightened Rabbit, as done by fans.

Frightened Rabbit wasn’t a global sensation, but they were big enough to have thousands of avid followers all over the world, and released several albums. They didn’t have any casual fans – if you were into them, you were cuckoo, head-over-heels, abso-tively posi-lutely in love with them. Their songs were burned into your brain, etched into your heart and seared into your soul. There was a lot of darkness in the music— with titles like “The Modern Leper” and “Swim Until You Can’t See Land” — but those songs resonated, they were cathartic, and they helped us make sense of an often-senseless world.

Frightened Rabbit’s lead singer and main songwriter Scott Hutchison took his own life in May, when the demons of depression and anxiety that he battled daily for 36 years overcame his better angels.

We mourn the loss. We miss Scott dearly. But his music will carry on… and carry us with it.

When it’s all gone
Something carries on
And it’s not morbid at all
Just that nature’s had enough of you

When my blood stops
Someone else’s will thaw
When my head rolls off
Someone else’s will turn
And while I’m alive, I’ll make tiny changes to earth

 

“Be so good to everyone you love” was one of Scott’s last tweets before he left us. It’s up to us to honor that request, and make tiny changes to Earth.

Batteries not included

Before you go out and buy that electronic doorbuster special for the wee ones on your holiday shopping list, you might want to consider these two posts:

First, there’s this old article from an ex-Googler, about how websites and apps are hijacking our minds:

…this is exactly what product designers do to your mind. They play your psychological vulnerabilities (consciously and unconsciously) against you in the race to grab your attention.

But here’s the unfortunate truth — several billion people have a slot machine their pocket:

  • When we pull our phone out of our pocket, we’re playing a slot machine to see what notifications we got.
  • When we pull to refresh our email, we’re playing a slot machine to see what new email we got.
  • When we swipe down our finger to scroll the Instagram feed, we’re playing a slot machine to see what photo comes next.
  • When we swipe faces left/right on dating apps like Tinder, we’re playing a slot machine to see if we got a match.
  • When we tap the # of red notifications, we’re playing a slot machine to what’s underneath.

Second, there’s this recent post from the always-brilliant Seth Godin:

If a parent uses a tablet or a smartphone as a babysitter, it’s a lot easier to get a kid to sit still. As a result, parents who are busy, distracted or can’t afford to spend as much 1:1 time as they’d like are unknowingly encouraging their kids to become digital zombies, with a constant need for stimulation, who are being manipulated by digital overlords to click and click some more.

If a kid can’t read, it’s not clear he should be surfing the web, watching TV or playing a video game for hours a day.

Boredom, daydreaming, a good book, building in three dimensions, interactivity with other humans–these are precious skills, skills that are being denied kids that are simply given a plate of chicken fingers and a tablet instead.

Tell the tablet and phone makers to take a hike. And take your kids on a hike instead!

Caught in the college basketball net

Another college hoops season has begun, bringing joy to millions of fans (myself included).

But there’s a seamy underbelly to sport, and the kids that play are merely pawns in a high stakes game that reaps billions for the NCAA. Yes, they get a scholarship, but that’s chump change compared to the money in play. Check out this New York Times article from a few months ago to read about one kid’s sad saga.

Brian Bowen Jr.  (Photo: Gregory Payan/Associated Press) 

A few excerpts below highlight the hypocrisy… bold emphasis is mine:

Playing in a gilded arena — the KFC Yum! Center — with luxury boxes and bars in the concourses that serve bourbon and other hard liquors, Louisville basketball has generated more than $45 million in annual revenue in recent seasons.

According to the government’s case, $100,000 is what it took to lure Bowen to Louisville and its Hall of Fame coach, Rick Pitino. Only $19,500 was actually paid to anyone — an amount equal to one-quarter of 1 percent of Pitino’s annual salary, $7.8 million.

Brian Bowen Jr. is not a defendant; he appears to have been a bystander.

After Louisville said he would not be allowed to play there, he transferred to the University of South Carolina — only to be told later by the N.C.A.A. that he could not play there, either. In that organization’s view, he seems to be irredeemably tainted. At 19 years old, he was a hoops pariah.

In court documents, prosecutors quoted the N.C.A.A. rule book extensively, and in doing so, called attention to stated principles that sounded antiquated, if not outright absurd. “Among the N.C.A.A.’s core principles for the conduct of intercollegiate athletics is a directive that ‘student-athletes shall be amateurs in an intercollegiate sport,’” the criminal complaint says, and that “‘student-athletes should be protected from exploitation by professional and commercial enterprises.’”

It was a curious claim, given that the N.C.A.A. — the Indianapolis-based nonprofit that governs college sports — is not just an enormous commercial enterprise but arguably an exploitive one. In the fiscal year that ended in 2017, the organization surpassed $1 billion in revenue for the first time. A majority of its income, $761 million, came from television rights to the season-ending basketball tournament popularly known as March Madness, an annual payment that increased to $869 million in 2018. The contract with CBS and Turner Sports stretches to 2032 and has an overall value of almost $19.6 billion.

That money, though, is just a fraction of what college athletes generate in football and men’s basketball. (The major college football programs essentially seceded from the N.C.A.A. when they formed the highly lucrative Bowl Championship Series in 1998, but their players still compete under the N.C.A.A.’s amateurism rubric.) Their labor is responsible for revenue that flows directly to their universities from a range of sources, including ticket sales, donations from wealthy boosters, in‑stadium advertising, conference broadcast rights and so-called shoe deals in which Nike, Adidas and Under Armour pay for the right to outfit teams — thereby turning ostensibly amateur athletes into human billboards.

Until the kids that are the “product” peddled by the NCAA get a bigger slice of the pie, they are playing a losing game.

 

 

 

Monday morning musings

If you aren’t signed up to receive the Gaping Void blog posts via email, you should do so posthaste. You’ll get a nice visual doodle with some words of wisdom in your inbox nearly every day. Little stuff that can make a big difference. Speaking of which, here’s a great Gaping Void post from this summer:

As you get older, it’s not the stuff on your highlight reel that makes you happy, but the normal stuff you do every day.

That first cup of tea in the morning. The walk after dinner with your spouse. Lunch in the office canteen with Bob from Engineering. That new yoga class.

Sure, the photos from your vacation in Paris, or the time you got a standing ovation at the conference may stand out, but those are only temporary highs.

So if you need to start improving my your life, instead of coming up with grand schemes, you might start paying more attention the little stuff.

Not to mention, trying to focus your ambition on the stuff that really matters: Being useful. Being loved. Staying healthy.

It may not sound too exciting, but over time it works far better than trying to live out a rock and roll fantasy to nowhere.

Just an observation.

Remember, remember, the 9th of November

Yes, I know Guy Fawkes Day is November 5th, commemorating the failed Gunpowder Plot of 1605. There’s even a nursery rhyme about it:

Remember, remember, the Fifth of November
Gunpowder treason and plot
I see no reason why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot

Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, ’twas his intent
To blow up the King and the Parliament
Three score barrels of powder below
Poor old England to overthrow
By God’s providence he was catch’d
With a dark lantern and burning match
Holler boys, holler boys, let the bells ring
Holler boys, holler boys, God save the King!

But November 9th, 1968 is the day that blew our family to smithereens. It’s the day my mom passed away. It’s been half a century… and nearly all of my lifetime. I was 3 years old. My siblings were 6, 5 and 2.

My mom was 33. My dad was 37. He was never the same. Nothing was ever the same.  

I’d like to light a match and blow up leukemia. Instead I’ll light a candle and pray for a cure.

Well, I’ve cried me a river, I’ve cried me a lake
I’ve cried till the past nearly drowned me
Tears for sad consequences
Tears for mistakes
But never these tears that surround me

Alone in this place with a lifetime to trace
And a heartbeat that tells me it’s so
I’ve got these tears from a long time ago
These are tears from a long time ago
And I need to cry 30 years or so
These are tears from a long time ago
These are tears from a long time ago
I’ve got these tears from a long time ago

Rock the vote

Today’s the day to rock the vote… even if you do a write-in vote for Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

“If you are bored and disgusted by politics and don’t bother to vote, you are in effect voting for the entrenched Establishments of the two major parties, who please rest assured are not dumb, and who are keenly aware that it is in their interests to keep you disgusted and bored and cynical and to give you every possible psychological reason to stay at home doing one-hitters and watching MTV on primary day. By all means stay home if you want, but don’t bullshit yourself that you’re not voting. In reality, there is no such thing as not voting: you either vote by voting, or you vote by staying home and tacitly doubling the value of some Diehard’s vote.”

– David Foster Wallace

Big in Iowa. Big everywhere.

Bob Burns was the lead singer and main songwriter in a roots rock band back in the 90s. They were called Big in Iowa, even though Bob hailed from Hamilton, Ohio. They were big in Cincinnati, and even did a bit of international touring. But Big in Iowa never became big in Iowa (or the rest of the country for that matter), probably because they were a bunch of hefty, average Joe lads from the paper and steel mill towns near Cincy. They didn’t have, as Roxette would call it, “The Look.” (Yes, that’s the first, and we hope only, reference to Roxette in this blog.)

Bob got married in October of 2001. He needed a gig that was more stable than “rock and roller,” so he became a screener at the Cincinnati airport for the newly created T.S.A. Eventually he became the social media expert for the T.S.A., starting their official blog in 2008 and their Instagram in 2013. The Instagram account offered travel tips, often by showcasing the weird and wacky things people try to bring on board planes, using a great sense of “dad joke” humor that came straight from Bob.

F. Scott Fitzgerald claimed that “there are no second acts in American lives” but Bob’s second act as a social media dude made him more famous than his band ever did. In 2016, “Blogger Bob” was ranked #4 in Rolling Stone magazine’s list of top Instagram accounts (#5 was Beyoncé, just for perspective).

The account won multiple awards like Webbys (given out by the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences) and Burns was featured in all forms of media with its increased popularity. He’d been profiled in the past year alone by NBC News, the Chicago Tribune, the Austin Statesmen and Mental FlossRolling Stone declared the account No. 4 on its list of best Instagram accounts and it got a nod from late-night TV host Jimmy Kimmell. Last month, Burns was featured on the syndicated TV program The Doctors. (Source: this CityBeat article)

A few weeks ago, Bob was bitten by a spider. The wound became infected… and Bob died of sepsis eight days ago, at the age of 48. He’s survived by his wife and two young daughters.

(The link to the GoFundMe page is here.)

“You can still find humor in the daily duties.” Here’s hoping we all can channel our inner Blogger Bob more often. We need it.

Friday focus: Seth

I know I repost Seth Godin’s stuff way too much, but it’s so darn thought-provoking. Here are a couple of points to ponder this weekend:

And here’s a recent blog post of his that should be required reading for every American:

We are not the enemy (if we try)

Fewer than 1% of our population works hard to divide us. To pit people against one another for their selfish aims.

These are the pundits, divisive politicians, media companies and short-term trolls who have decided that schisms and fights are a good way to achieve their aims.

But if everyone is demonizing the other, then everyone is the enemy to someone.

We end up spending our time fighting each other instead of fighting for the things that really matter. We end up focusing on the current thing while something more important shrinks away in the background.

It’s possible to be fierce, fierce in your dedication to change, to what’s right, to making things better–without finding the source of your power in the destruction of others.

We ought to be fighting inequality, corruption and inefficiency. Working to stamp out ignorance and missed opportunities while creating access and possibility. Keeping our promises and making things better.

Every system is improved when it’s in sync, and the narcissism of small differences is a seduction that keeps us from focusing on creating real value by doing important work.

Realizing that things can get better (they can always get better) opens the door for productive conversations, conversations that aren’t based on prior decisions about what team someone is on, and instead, on putting our shoulder to the work, taking responsibility and actually making things better.

We can fight injustice without becoming pawns in a boxing promoter’s game.

 

Playing soccer just for (penalty) kicks

My youngest kid plays soccer for the junior high team at his school. This past weekend, they won the city tournament, capping off an undefeated season. The finals came down to penalty kicks, and his team’s goalie, who is also our carpool buddy for practices, made a great leaping block of one PK to seal the win.

My son also played for the squad last year, as a 7th grader, and they won the tourney that year too. Which is certainly exciting, but it isn’t the be-all and end-all. Can you pick him out of the photo below?

Probably not. Because it’s a team sport. And the life lessons that come from that are what really matter. Last year, he didn’t get much playing time. Even this year, as an 8th grader and one of only five returning players, he wasn’t a starter. Because that’s how life works: nothing is handed to you. You have to work hard, get better, earn it. Which he did. Besides, a player can lead without being the leading scorer — he excelled at that.

The team’s practice jerseys have “Team over Self” written on the back. A not-so-subtle reminder of how to play.

I’m happy for the team, but not because they’re “champs”… because they’re a great group of kids who get along well with each other. Long after the trophies are collecting dust in a corner of the basement, the friendships he’s formed will remain. That’s a much bigger win in my book.

 

You’ve got the power

It’s easy to feel powerless these days. At work, at home, in the political arena, in social circles… or just when your cell phone dies…

But Brené Brown, in her book I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t): Making the Journey from “What Will People Think?” to “I Am Enough”, claims there are two types of power, which she calls “power-over” and “real power.” Here are a couple excerpts from the book:

Unfortunately, when most of us hear the word “power” we automatically jump to the concept of power-over — the idea that power is the ability to control people, take advantage of others or exert force over somebody or something. We think of power as finite — there’s only so much, so if I’m going to get some, I’m forced to take it away from you.  

But real power is far more… you guessed it… powerful.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines power as “the ability to act or produce an effect.” Real power is basically the ability to change something if you want to change it. It’s the ability to make change happen. Real power is unlimited — we don’t need to fight over it because there is plenty to go around. And the great thing about real power is our ability to create it. Real power doesn’t force us to take it away from others — it’s something we create and build with others. 

Have a powerful day!