How You Live This Life Is How You Leave It

I just withdrew from a very contentious family incident surrounding my grandmother’s estate. She passed away in late January.

Thanks to ugly family politics during the past year, I and the rest of her direct descendants will receive nothing from her estate. Not even a photograph. That’s too bad. I visited her in France every other year throughout my childhood, she helped me propose to my wife, attended my wedding. And I served as her guardian from 2009 through most of last year, and saw her almost weekly for the last seven years.

I could have fought this, but why fight for a year or two in court over money and things? You see, to fight this would have continued a terrible legacy.

While my grandmother did some great things, she was not a great person. Punitive acts, harsh words or divisiveness marred almost every conversation. Plus the estate was squandered, the result of a decade of uninhibited spending and alcoholic behavior. The expenditure alone would have eaten a significant portion of the estate. It all added up to a distraction, a big negative sink hole.

The results from grandma’s life could be seen at the funeral. Outside of the family members who forcefully took over her care and estate last autumn, there were only four people in attendance.

The acrimony after grandma’s death matches her life. Some behaviors have been passed on, but the seeds of the past don’t have to take root in the future, at least not my future.

I remember discussing this matter with my last close relative of that generation, my step grandmother Miriam. She’s 95, and just lost her beloved Mort last year. She said, “How you live this life is how you leave it.” Miriam was right.

I could not help but consider the contrast between Mort’s passing, my paternal grandmother Jean, and my maternal grandmother Muriel. In the case of Mort and Jean, there was profound sadness. Both served their communities, easily made friends, and did their best to take care of others. Mort was such a well known volunteer and community organizer, his passing was felt throughout Philadelphia.

And then there is Muriel’s death.

I did love my grandmother very much. The painful discord during and after her life makes it much harder to reconcile her death, though.

I can only say that while she loved me, too (I think), in most situations she was a great teacher of what not to do. That includes giving instead of taking, and understanding when to fight as well as what to fight about. It always leaves scars for both parties, and can become a huge distration from what really matters in life.

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My grandmother Jean used to always say when something was troubling me that this too shall pass. Instead of remembering the bad, I hope I can cherish the good things like the many trips to the Vallongue in Provence (pictured above), as well as Paris, Rome, and Geneva (featured image). She did many things for me, and I know that. Only time will tell how I feel about her overall legacy.

But no matter what, she has proven that how you live this life is how you leave it. I’ll keep that in mind.

Living in Shutdown Town

A DC-area Starbucks is overloaded with furloughed feds talking smack about the shutdown.

The entrances to the Mount Vernon Bike Trail near your house — maintained as part of the George Washington Parkway by the National Park Service — is barricaded.

You can’t visit any national monuments on the mall.

Rush hour is slackened to a reasonable slog, but unusually random traffic jams fill the day.

Some of your friends and colleagues suddenly call you back, ready to talk now that they aren’t getting shipped out somewhere in the United States or beyond on this week’s government business.

A friend who is a subcontractor on a larger federal deal is laid off, a casualty of the shutdown.

And the online sites and radio are filled with vitriolic attacks, one party or government body blaming the others for this incredible stasis metropolitan Washington finds itself in.

DC is a government town. It’s kind of like what would happen to LA if all of Hollywood, from movies and TV to interactive and music, suddenly decided to go on strike indefinitely. The titans battle, while the majority of the workforce suffers. It’s surreal, yet happening.

The consequences are mixed, but progressively worsening as the region’s economic engine remains stalled out. As the situation evolves beyond days and into weeks, I wonder if DMV (DC, Maryland and Virginia) will decline into recession.

And then there are the safety concerns. Airlines are left to their maintenance duties without FAA oversight. Here in DC, wholesale portions of the local police force are federal, and some are currently sitting on the bench. For example, will there be drag races on the GW Parkway? Certainly somewhat amusing, but you can imagine a lot worse happening without the long-term presence of police.

That’s what it’s like to live in DC right now.

When I listen to the PR blame war, I can’t help but think that you just can’t put lipstick on this pig. Our politicians aren’t public servants. They’re selfish power-brokers, ideologues throwing mud at each other while those of us that actually live in this city are affected — some worse than others. We are all powerless over the ship of fools running the United States of America.

Shutdown or open for business, our government is broken.

What do you think?

The Secret to Success: Impact and Experience

VCU Mass Communications Commencement Speech

I gave the following commencement speech yesterday in Richmond to Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Mass Communications. The speech focuses on what makes for a successful career in communications, specifically by navigating today’s fast moving media environment. The keys to success are gaining experience and delivering impact.

Thank you to Bill Farrar, Yan Jin, Jon Newman and the rest of the faculty at VCU for having me. And thanks to those of you who took the poll and answered questions on the challenges facing today’s communications students entering the job market.

Commencement Speech for VCU Mass Communications School

Will Media Make Our Children Think Differently?

Toca Tea Party
Image by Toca Boca

Semantic data, smaller screens, texting, social media, short videos, network update streams, augment reality, and more continue to evolve the way we receive information from both new and traditional email. As each new innovation arrives and evolves, people ask whether or not the new XXXX is harming our youth. Will they will be unable to think logically or effectively? Perhaps the right way to look at this is to ask whether they will think differently.

Inevitably, the answer is yes. Their media information environment is dramatically different than the childhood we remember so fondly.

Currently, there is much concern about literacy, and the state of language with texting and short form media. In actuality, what new media seems to be doing is increasing spelling skills and literacy. However, face-to-face skills may be suffering. Meanwhile, the iPad is revolutionizing learning with more than 40,000 education applications.

But, generally speaking, we have seen a decline in the general public’s ability to discern quality information with the rise of social media. As online media becomes more prevalent, it increases the amount of reading an individual is subjected to in their daily lives. More and more of it is headline oriented, and less and less of it is text rich. Sources are not validated, and this is already creating problems with poor media reporting, much less the general public’s belief in unproven data.

Mobile and tactile media continues this trend, leaning towards shorter media, less text, and more video. While this is a natural trend, there is no emphasis on quality or on educating people and youth on how to intelligently discern what is fact, what is fiction, and what is actionable. Further, they are not being taught how to create quality information either.

Adding to the face-to-face issues, we have already seen how millennials and generation xers will text to each other in a room rather than talk. Relationship break-ups are now occurring via text message. There is a general devolution or devaluing of face-to-face interaction that technologies inherently bring.

Yet, is this bad, or is it just change? Was the telephone and televisions’s impact on local neighbors any different? Would you get rid of voice and video technologies because of it?

Point being, media is changing. It changes us, and the way we behave towards each other, but that doesn’t make it good or bad, just different. The waters move further down river, and we need to move with them. Our children simply have an easier time of it.

What do you think of new media’s impact on the next generation?