Friday, December 15, 2017

Can You Help a Family Shattered by a Horrible Tragedy?

I got to write the Causes and Effect: My Year of Giving Daily blog for six days this month and donated to some wonderful causes each day. But there's a cause that, unfortunately, popped up after my Causes and Effect run was over that I need share:

The I-275 Wrong-Way Tragedy" GoFundMe campaign exists because of a horrific accident that occurred the morning of December 12th. A 59-year-old man was driving the wrong way on Interstate 275 in Canton, Michigan, that morning and slammed head-on into another car, killing Nicholas Pare, 33, and his fianceé, Sharon McIntyre, 32.

Police found an open bottle of vodka in the car that was going the wrong way and say that alcohol was possibly involved in the crash.

Nicholas Pare and Sharon McIntyre were innocent victims. So are the three children they leave behind, ages 7, 13, and 15.

Authorities are waiting for toxicology tests to come back before charging the wrong-way driver (who, of course, sustained non-life-threatening injuries). Right now, they won't say if the driver was drunk or not, but you don't have to be a genius to figure out that he probably was. An open container of alcohol in the car and driving the wrong way on a freeway at 10:40am on a Tuesday morning are pretty good pieces of evidence, if you ask me.

Drunk driving sucks. Consider these statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
  • In 2015, 10,265 people died in alcohol-impaired driving crashes, accounting for nearly one-third (29%) of all traffic-related deaths in the United States.
  • Of the 1,132 traffic deaths among children ages 0 to 14 years in 2015, 209 (16%) involved an alcohol-impaired driver.
  • In 2015, nearly 1.1 million drivers were arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or narcotics. That’s 1% of the 111 million self-reported episodes of alcohol-impaired driving among U.S. adults each year.
Those numbers sicken me, and until this country decides to do something drastic to combat our drunk driving problem, they will just get worse.

I don't know what the answer is. Maybe it's mandatory ignition interlock devices on all cars, like I wrote about back in 2015. Or maybe it's a zero-tolerance policy for impaired driving. Or harsher sentences for first-time offenders. Or something no one else has even thought of yet. I just know that something has to be done. Human lives depend on it.

I grew up the son of an alcoholic father, which is one reason why the subject of drunk driving gets my blood boiling. As I wrote in a post about another tragedy back in 2009:

My father was an alcoholic who had more DUIs than I could even count. On more than one occasion, he hit parked cars and all I can remember is thanking God that the cars were parked and empty. As a kid, riding in the car with my dad while he was intoxicated was a regular occurrence. I will never forget how scared I was, wondering if I was going to make it home alive, but too terrified to speak up about it. 

Whenever I hear about an incident like the one that killed Nicholas Pare and Sharon McIntyre, I think about my dad. And I'm grateful that he never physically hurt anyone as a result of his drunk driving.

Today my family made a $20.00 donation to the GoFundMe campaign for Nicholas and Sharon's family. It will help them pay for two funerals and start a fund to take care of three kids who have had their lives completely shattered, just in time for Christmas. If you have any extra money at all this holiday season, please consider making a donation, too. It doesn't have to be a large donation. Just something. Anything at all. Believe me, every little bit will help immensely.

And, as a final reminder... If you drink, please don't even think about driving. Because so often it's other people who end up suffering the greatest pain.

Below is a direct link to the GoFundMe campaign. If you donate, feel free to let me know in the comments below. It will make my heart happy to know that I was able to round up an extra donation or two for a family going through hell this holiday season.

Rest in peace, Nicholas and Sharon.

Click here to donate: I-275 Wrong-Way Tragedy" GoFundMe campaign

This family has been torn apart and the kids need your help.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Causes and Effect, 12/12/17: Help Mark Dahlem & His Family Battle Brain Cancer (YouCaring campaign)

The sixth and final post of my six-day-long stint as writer of the Causes and Effect: My Year of Giving Daily blog can be found over at Tumblr. Here's the link to today's post:

Helping a Police Officer and His Family Battle Brain Cancer

Today, the Help Mark Dahlem & His Family Battle Brain Cancer YouCaring campaign is the recipient of a $10.00 donation from my family.

If you would like to make a contribution to this campaign, you can do so here:
Six down, zero to go.

Thanks again to Melinda Newman for letting me come back and have another chance to participate in this incredibly fulfilling exercise in humanity.


Monday, December 11, 2017

Causes and Effect, 12/11/17: One Spirit

The fifth post of my six-day-long stint as writer of the Causes and Effect: My Year of Giving Daily blog can be found over at Tumblr. Here's the link to today's post:

Today, the One Spirit is the recipient of a $10.00 donation from my family.

If you would like to make a contribution to One Spirit, you can do so here:
Five down, one to go.


Sunday, December 10, 2017

Causes and Effect, 12/10/17: Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries

The fourth post of my six-day-long stint as writer of the Causes and Effect: My Year of Giving Daily blog can be found over at Tumblr. Here's the link to today's post:

Today, the Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries (DRMM) is the recipient of a $10.00 donation from my family. (Thanks to a grant opportunity that quadruples all donations through December 31st, that donation will be worth $40.00!)

If you would like to make a contribution to DRMM, you can do so here:
Four down, two to go.


Saturday, December 9, 2017

Causes and Effect, 12/9/17: NAMI and Support for Tracy and Zack (GoFundMe campaign)

The the third post of my six-day-long stint as writer of the Causes and Effect: My Year of Giving Daily blog can be found over at Tumblr. Here's the link to today's post:

Today, my family is making two donations of $10.00: One to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), and one to the Support for Tracy and Zack GoFundMe campaign.

If you would like to make a contribution to NAMI, you can do so here:

The National Alliance on Mental Illness's donation page

If you would like to make a contribution to the Support for Tracy and Zack GoFundMe campaign, you can do so here:

Support for Tracy and Zack GoFundMe campaign donation page

Three down, three to go.


Friday, December 8, 2017

Causes and Effect, 12/8/17: The Leelanau School

The second post of my six-day-long stint as writer of the Causes and Effect: My Year of Giving Daily blog can be found over at Tumblr. Here's the link to today's post:

Today, the Leelanau School is the recipient of a $10.00 donation from my family. If you would like to make a contribution to Leelanau, you can do so here:
Two down, four to go.


Thursday, December 7, 2017

Causes and Effect, 12/7/17: Michigan Humane Society

Back in December of 2015, I took over the Causes and Effect: My Year of Giving Daily blog for a month. Started by entertainment and culture journalist Melinda Newman back in 2013, the premise of the blog is simple: Donate $10.00 every day of the year to a different organization or individual that needs it, and write about your experiences daily. As she wrote in her first blog post, "The only criteria is to give the money to some outlet that needs it that day more than I do."

Writing the Causes and Effect blog for a month was one of the most fulfilling things I've ever done. So, as the blog gets ready to wrap up after a five-year run, I was thrilled to be asked back by Melinda to be in charge of the blog for six days this month.

Today is the first of those days and my post honors my late feline companion, Elliott, with a donation to the Michigan Humane Society.

Here's the link to today's post:

Today, the Michigan Humane Society (MHS) is the recipient of a $10.00 donation from my family. If you would like to make a contribution to the MHS, you can do so here:
One down, five to go.

Rest in peace, Elliott. We miss you.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

My Son Started a Blog

My older son, who--as readers of this blog already know--has struggled a lot in his life, has started a blog. It's called A tumbleweed in a traffic jam: Thoughts, stories, and ramblings from the twisted mind of a recovering addict and I think it's going to be a good thing for him. As he said in a Facebook post last night:
"Some of my blogs are short stories. Some are poems. Some are lyrics to songs I've written that just never materialized. Little bit of everything. Eventually, I'll delve a little deeper into what happened to me and what it was like. If it helps even one person, it's worth it."
My son is a terrific writer, and I'm glad he's taken the time to create this outlet for his work. I also look forward to him eventually writing about his experiences, because I know how cathartic writing can be. Getting stuff out of his head and onto paper (or, I guess, a screen) will be liberating, I'm sure.

If you have a spare few minutes, head over to my son's blog and check it out. Maybe even consider subscribing to it via email. And if you like something you read over there, leave a comment and let my son know. I think he's a little anxious about putting himself "out there," so any validation or positive feedback he gets will definitely be reassuring for him. Lord knows, that would not be a bad thing.

I love my son so much. And I'm super proud of him.

Feeling Out of Sync

My life is out of sync. For some reason, the man or woman in charge of things upstairs decided that November would be a good time to mess with me. I'm not sure if they were bored or just looking for a little extra curricular fun, but for most of this month I've felt like I'm stuck in a never-ending episode of Punk'd, minus Ashton Kutcher (thank God).

It started a few weeks ago when the "check engine" light on our 2007 Ford Focus (aka "The Silver Bullet") lit up in all its dreaded yellow glory, and it's kind of snowballed from there. If I had a dollar for every time I've said "Oh, great" or "What the fuck?" to myself since this streak started, I wouldn't have to worry about money, which is something I worry about pretty much all the time. (Living paycheck-to-paycheck is even more challenging when you've been without a regular paycheck for about three years.)

In addition to a $1,000+ repair to the Silver Bullet--which had to be done twice, because the first time the new part that was installed was defective (oh, great)--I got stuck with a $600+ repair to our 2010 Toyota Highlander. This fix is finally getting done after a surreal series of events at the Toyota dealership that had been servicing our car for the last five years or so. I didn't know that mutinies could happen at car dealers, but apparently they can. And that's what happened at my trusted dealer when all of their service people up and quit, forcing me to track down another dealer to fix my car.

What the fuck?

I know. Car repairs are, unfortunately, a part of life, but why do they always seem to rear their ugly heads at the worst possible times? I guess there's never really a good time to fork over money you don't have to fix a car. But knowing that doesn't help much. It still hurts like hell. I suppose I should just be grateful that both cars are fixable. Right??

Another bizarre thing happened to me the other day. I had ordered a sheep toilet paper holder from an online store I'd never ordered from before. It was scheduled to show up on Saturday and I was pretty excited to get it and hang it up. (Yes, things like that can be exciting when you're old.) When the postal carrier dropped off the package, I eagerly tore it open, only to find...some kind of garden sculpture made from a bunch of rocks.

Oh, great.

This is the first time anything like this had ever happened to me. The packing slip said "sheep toilet paper holder," but someone upstairs figured they'd have a laugh at my expense and sent me a box of rocks instead. Either that or someone in the Houzz warehouse was having a very bad day when they filled my order. Regardless, I couldn't help but feel a little bit like Charlie Brown on Halloween.

Other weird things have happened this month, too. I just can't remember them all. (Another side effect of getting old.) But all of the things added up make me feel like I've just been out of sync with the universe this month. When I look in the mirror lately, I half expect to see a "check engine" light glowing right smack dab in the middle of my forehead.


There are only two days left in November, and I can't wait for it to be over. Here's hoping December brings with it a reboot and a healthy, positive resynchronization in my world.

"Sometimes you are in sync with the times, sometimes you are in advance, sometimes you are late." --Bernardo Bertolucci

P.S. I ended up ordering the sheep toilet paper holder from another place and it arrived today. I have to say, I really like it! It adds a bit of whimsy to an otherwise boring bathroom wall. Not only that, but my wife is a knitter, so the whole "sheep" thing is a perfect fit for our crazy house. 


Wednesday, November 15, 2017

What the Hell Is My Purpose in Life?

What the hell is my purpose in life?

I've been struggling a lot with that question lately.

Almost four years ago, I left a company I worked for for almost 25 years. I'd grown tired of my job and felt completely stuck. I was spending eight-plus hours a day doing something I pretty much hated, just because I needed the paycheck and the benefits. That seemed completely wrong. I figured there had to be more to life, so when I was offered the chance to walk out the door with a severance package, I decided to do it.

Now--1,433 days later--I'm wondering if I made the right decision.

I left my corporate comfort zone in order to find work I could be more passionate about. I wanted to do something that met at least one of two criteria: 1.) I wanted a job I actually liked doing. And 2.) I wanted a job that made me feel like I was making a difference in the world. Ideally, I was hoping to find something that checked-off both of those things. Little did I know that finding any job was going to be way harder than I ever imagined.

The first three years of being underemployed were pretty enjoyable. I wasn't able to find full-time work, but I was able to pick up some freelance gigs that I enjoyed and brought in a little money. But this last year has been a tremendous challenge.

I was probably more than a little naive to think that cutting my household's income by more than 80 percent was going to be something my family could survive long-term. Yes, we had some savings that we'd accumulated over the years, and that was definitely going to come in handy. But I wasn't planning to still be looking for full-time work almost four years later, and that savings account wasn't that big. (Needless to say, you should see it now.)

For the last few weeks, I've found myself second-guessing my decision to leave my my job. I don't miss the job itself, but I miss the money. And the health insurance. And the 401k. And the cheap life insurance. And the five weeks of paid vacation. All of those things that kept me stuck in a place I didn't want to be for so long would certainly make providing for my family a lot easier than it is now.

Maybe providing for my family is my purpose in life. And maybe my walking away from something that enabled me to do a pretty decent job of doing that was a huge mistake. Honestly, I don't even know anymore.

If you ask people what the purpose of life is, you'll get a bunch of different answers. To love. To help others. To make a difference. To be happy. To explore and experience. Etc. Mind you, those are all good answers. But none of them are resonating with me these days. To be totally honest, I've been feeling more than a little lost lately. I keep asking myself, Why exactly am I here??

Yesterday was particularly tough for me. After paying some bills and looking at the minuscule amount of money that was left in our checking account, I started doubting myself again. Hard. I even told my wife that I didn't know what my purpose was anymore. And then I realized: Maybe I've never known what my purpose is.

It's probably just coincidence that last night's episode of This Is Us had finding your purpose in life as a central theme. And it's probably just another coincidence that Sam Lamott posted the first episode of his How to Human podcast yesterday and the subject was "Finding Your Purpose." Total coincidences, right???? Or maybe someone out there/up there is trying to tell me that I need to figure some things out. Maybe someone is trying to tell me that by age 56, I'm supposed to know what the hell I'm doing here.

Unfortunately, right now, I don't.

I'd be curious to know if anyone else is struggling with this whole "What's my purpose in life?" thing. Or if you've struggled with it in the past, how you dealt with it. I can't be the only one. Can I?

Feel free to leave your comments down below. And, as always, thanks for reading.

"The two most important days in your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why." --Mark Twain

Friday, November 3, 2017

Coffee Break

If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you probably already know that I recently attempted to become a barista at Starbucks in order to bring in some extra money. Alas, I only lasted a few days. But at least I got a good story out of it. And I'm happy to say that story was just published on Hello Humans, a website that describes itself as a place to "Celebrate the human-ness we all share. The unvarnished, the dirty, the small steps and big crashes, the small victories, and the breakthroughs."

It's also very cool that the Hello Humans site is the brainchild of Sam Lamott, who just so happens to be the son of my favorite author, Anne Lamott. (I have to say: the awesomeness of that is not lost on me.)

So, do me a favor and head over to Hello Humans and read my piece, which is entitled "Coffee Break." And while you're there, maybe look at some of the other stories, too. There's a lot of really great writing there from "storytellers who capture the truth of what it means to be human."

Like the "About Us" page of the Hello Humans site says: "The internet is full to the brim with 'gurus' and 'experts' who are happy to tell you about their successes, their methods, their shiny lives. While we believe that sharing success is important, we believe deeply that the discovery process, with all its missteps, pivots, and do-overs, is what connects and inspires us--not the final destination. After all, isn’t it obvious that there never was a final destination to begin with?"

Amen to that.

Here's a direct link to my story:

Coffee Break

I'd love to hear what you think of it, so feel free to leave a comment underneath it on the Hello Humans page.


It didn't last very long, but it sure was an adventure.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Anne Lamott Gives Us Hope with "Hallelujah Anyway"

If I wanted to sound hipper than I actually am, I'd tell you that Anne Lamott is my "spirit animal." But at my age, I'm probably not cool enough to use terms like that. So instead, I'll just say that Anne Lamott makes my world a better place, because her books are like elixirs for my soul. I've been hooked on her writings since my wife introduced me to them several years ago during a difficult period in our lives.

When I read Annie's books, I feel like I’m being hugged by her words, and Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy is no exception. In fact, the words on the pages of this book are the best kind of hugs, full of love and hope and spirituality. And even though I don't consider myself to be a very religious person, I am a big believer in love, hope, spirituality, and the comfort they bring to our lives.

In Hallelujah Anyway, Anne Lamott explores the complicated concept of mercy. The dictionary may define mercy as "compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one's power to punish or harm," but Annie's got a better definition: "Mercy is radical kindness," she writes. "Mercy means offering or being offered aid in desperate straits. Mercy is not deserved. It involves absolving the unabsolvable, forgiving the unforgivable."

Yes, mercy is complicated, but Hallelujah Anyway does a fabulous job of breaking it down so it’s easier to understand. And Annie even paints visual pictures of mercy that help you feel what mercy is. "Mercy is a cloak that will wrap around you and protect you," she says. "It can block the terror, the dark and most terrifying aspects of your own true self. It is soft, has lots of folds, and enfolds you. It can help you rest and breathe again for the time being, which is all we ever have." Can’t you just feel those words giving you a hug?

Showing mercy isn't an easy thing to do in this day and age, but it's something that's so very necessary. So many of us are struggling and hurting, and we need to be embraced and connect with each other. Because, as Annie states, "the last word will not be our bad thoughts and behavior, but mercy, love, and forgiveness."

Sure, people come in all different shapes, sizes, colors, religions, and ethnicities. But the bottom line is, despite all our differences, we are all human beings. And we all deserve mercy. And the way we start making that possible is to accept one another for what we are. In what I found to be the most powerful line in all of Hallelujah Anyway, Lamott tells us:

"Polite inclusion is the gateway drug to mercy."

On the first page of Chapter One, Annie writes about "scary, unsettling times--times "when we know that we need help or answers but we're not sure what kind…. We look and look, tearing apart our lives like we're searching for car keys in our couch, and we come up empty-handed. Then when we're doing something stupid, like staring at the dog's mismatched paws, we stumble across what we needed to find. Or even better, it finds us."

At this point in my life, when I’m going through still more trying times, I truly needed Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy. I’m so grateful that Anne Lamott put it out there for me to find. You should go find it, too. I guarantee it will make you feel better and give you a little bit of hope for the world we live in today.

Monday, February 6, 2017

We've Lost Our Sense of Wonder

I love trivia.

For as long as I can remember, I've been fascinated by little-known facts about all kinds of things. Back in the 1980s, a couple of friends and I would make regular trips to a local bar to play an electronic trivia game, and we won on a regular basis. I also won numerous prizes for answering trivia questions on something called Sports Phone, which was--are you ready for this, Millennials?--a phone number you paid to call to get up-to-the-minute sports news and scores.

And don't even get me started about my lifelong obsession with Jeopardy!, a game show my wife and I watch religiously every weeknight.

There's something so incredibly satisfying about knowing the answers to obscure questions like: Who was the last switch hitter to win the American League Most Valuable Player award? Answer: Vida Blue in 1971. (Yes, Blue was actually a pitcher, but pitchers still batted in the American League in 1971, so that’s a totally legit answer.)

For me, possessing little nuggets of information like that has always been something to be proud of. I'd come across them and tuck them safely away in my memory bank, where they'd reside until I needed to pull them out so I could challenge someone else's knowledge of all things trivial.

On the other hand, when someone asked me a bar bet-type question and I didn't know the answer? It would drive me crazy until I could actually verify the answer. Sometimes it took days for me to confirm the answer via a reputable source. Sometimes it even required a trip to this place called a library to do some research. 

But today's world is different. Technology has made it so easy to find anything out in just a few seconds. When we don't know the answer to something, we go to our computer, smart phone, or tablet, type in a few words, and boom! There's our answer.

*How old is that celebrity? 

*Who was the actor who played that obscure role in that movie from the '60s?

*What was that singer's biggest hit? 

*How many home runs home runs did so and so hit off of left-handed pitching?

Nothing is a mystery anymore. Bar trivia has been ruined forever.

And we've lost our sense of wonder.

Another example from the mid-1990s: I remember when a quiz having to do with lines from '80s pop/rock songs was going around via email. Email was pretty common at the time, but the Internet had yet to become something everybody had access to. People would email this quiz around, print it out, and pore over it for hours, trying to figure out which band or artist sang the song each line of lyrics was from.

People spent time wondering about that stupid quiz! They'd fold it up, carry it around with them, and ask other people about it, because they wanted to find out the answers. And they'd work hard to do so.

But those days are over for good. Today, whether the question you're seeking an answer to is silly or serious, the answer is right at your fingertips. And if you have access to Siri, Google Assistant, Cortana, an Amazon Echo, or a Google Home, you don't even have to use your fingers. You can just ask your question out loud and get an answer. Technology is such a fabulous thing!

Or is it?

Maybe I'm just getting old, but sometimes I think it would be better if people today were left to wonder about more. Exercising our brains is a good thing, and taking some time to think about why the sky is blue (molecules in the air scatter blue light more than they scatter red light) or how many toilet paper tubes it would take to fill up the Empire State Building (8.5 billion) might be good for our brain health.

For better or worse, kids these days have access to everything kids from earlier generations had to wonder about. Whether they're curious about something that occurred in American history, how a certain product is made, or where babies come from, they only have to wonder as long as it takes to plug their question into a parent's--or, more likely, their own--device. Young boys with raging hormones don't even have to hunt down Playboy magazines to see what a woman's naked body looks like anymore because anything (and I mean anything) they could ever want to see is out there in cyberspace, readily available to them. Now where's the fun in that?!

There's a song that appeared on Sesame Street a few years back called "I Wonder." It's sung by Ernie and the lyrics go something like this:

How does a bunny hop, hop, hop?
And what makes popcorn pop, pop, pop?
Why does the rain fall drop by drop
And the lightning always come before the thunder?
I wonder.

Do you ever wonder as you walk along
What makes a tiny little ant so strong?
Does every bird have a different song?
Do you wonder why?
Well, so do I.

Somebody needs to loan Ernie their iPhone. I wouldn't want him to wonder too long.

By the way, "I Wonder" was co-written by Adam Schlesigner, bassist for the band Fountains of Wayne, which you probably know from its Grammy-nominated song “Stacy’s Mom,” which was also written by Schlesinger, who also wrote the title song for the movie That Thing You Do!, and whose cousin, Jon Bernthal, played Shane in AMC's TV series The Walking Dead.

You can Google it.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Update on 2017 Scholarship Contest

Just a quick update to let folks know that I've been doing a lot of thinking about the feasibility of a 2017 My Life as 3D Scholarship Essay Contest. As you may or may not know, my wife and I started our essay contest back in 2015 as a way to help college students who have been affected by a sibling's addiction. We were thrilled to be able to award two scholarships in both 2015 ($1,700 total) and 2016 ($2,050 total).

In both of those years, my wife and I seeded the scholarship monies with $500 of our own, with the rest of the funds provided by generous donors. Unfortunately, I haven't worked full-time in more than three years now, and money is about as tight as it can be. Funding last year's contest was a challenge, but funding this year's contest is pretty much an impossibility.

As much as we'd love to do it, I think the scholarship contest is going to have to take a break this year. Sometimes you just have to be realistic, even if it hurts a little.

If anything changes--like if by some chance I win the lottery in the next few weeks (note: that probably won't happen since I don't buy lottery tickets)--I will update you. But for now it looks like we'll set our sights on getting the contest back on track in 2018.

Thanks for understanding.

Peace. And remember...