Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Another Day in the Life ... (subtitled: Where Have I Been Lately?)

This blog deserves an update. Not a lengthy commentary of any particular note, but something to show I do still care about my online presence and that occasionally people will read about it.

I still write online, but I've come to realize the value and significance of making a statement through micro-blogging (innovated most profoundly by Twitter) that simply cannot be captured strictly in this longer format I have been using for years.  That's not to say I've abandoned writing, and, if by some chance you found your way here and are reading this very comment, I have other places where my writing is still more prolific (or, at the very least, more active).

As of this end of April 2013, the best place to see my "typical" writing / commentary is honestly right here:
http://twitter.com/jdrentz - My Twitter account, linked to @JDRentz

It's not all one topic. It's sporadic and jumpy. However, I do write something to the account almost daily and oftentimes more than once a day.  I interact, I engage ... I question, I argue.  If you haven't tried the platform, you might just find you like it.

Along with the Twitter engagement, my regular writing is appearing at Blog Red Machine, a sports blog website in the FanSided network that is specifically geared for topics pertaining to the Cincinnati Reds.  A list of my specific articles can be found here, or by searching under my author name at the website.

I haven't forgotten about writing here by any means, but I do need to remind myself to share more than once every year to couple of years and recapture at least some semblance of a time when people visited here more frequently.  I make no guarantees, but we shall see together.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

An Anniversary of What Was ... and What Isn't to Be ... and What Will Be

Today has been a day of peculiarity to be quite honest.  I overslept my alarm clock (set for a slightly belated 7 AM) by nearly an hour (with a feeling of shock to see the clock on the mantle click to 8 AM shortly after awaking and a moment of realization).  This didn't set the tone for a great day.

I knew today is / was Cinco de Mayo, largely a marketing-driven holiday for Mexico that gives us Americans a good excuse to kick back a cerveza o dos (o mas).  Apologies for my Spanglish ... I've been doing that repeatedly today.  I could write full sentences in Spanish, but what would be the fun in that? Most of you who read this couldn't actually understand it directly.  Cinco de Mayo actually has some American significance, although I doubt many of us could actually share why it is significant (namely, the turning back of the French military presence in Mexico from supporting the Confederate army during the American Civil War and helping to overthrow the American Union).  Many of us don't realize how different how country would be had the undersized Mexican forces not pushed France away during that critical moment in history.  But, to be really honest, I'm not writing about Cinco de Mayo today ... and I digress.

I really didn't plan to write anything special today, and, at this point, "today" really means 5/6 and not 5/5, the date I'm actually composing this.  It was five (5) short years ago that my wife, Jennifer Lee (Reeves) Rentz, and I exchanged vows in St. Ann Church of Groesbeck in Colerain Township, in northwestern Hamilton County, on a beautiful, warm Saturday afternoon / evening.  I remember that day like it literally almost happened yesterday.  We couldn't ask for more perfect weather on an early May Saturday.  The sky was nearly clear blue, almost matching the brilliance of Jen's own amazing eye color.  5/6/2006 was the same day as Derby Day (i.e. Kentucky Derby Day, the Churchill Downs tradition of Louisville, Kentucky, which coincided with our wedding day) ... strangely enough won that year by a horse named Barbaro (which, for any historical reference, was a horse, undefeated, who would tragically shatter his right hind ankle at the subsequent Preakness Stakes, never to race again after developing infection, and, sadly, be euthanized in January 2007).  Another odd coincidence that day, if only for my wife and I having mutual love of NASCAR, was the Saturday night race at Richmond International Raceway (in Richmond, VA), the location where I took Jen to her very first NASCAR races (Busch and Nextel events at the time, in May 2004).  The odd coincidence is that the Nextel (now Sprint Cup) race winner in May 2004 was the SAME race winner on May 6, 2006: Dale Earnhardt, Jr.  Junior, interestingly enough, didn't win another race after that night for over two years ... although, to this day, remains possibly NASCAR's most recognizable name and most popular driver (despite a lack of success in the subsequent years until this one).  Funny in hindsight, but Jen's favorite driver (Jimmie Johnson) became her favorite driver that first NASCAR Cup race she attended, only because the first guy she wanted to root for (Kevin Harvick, who won the preceding night's race in the Reese's Busch car) was one of the guys I disliked most ... so she picked the blue Lowe's car the next night instead.  Go figure she picked the most successful NASCAR driver in recent memory and saw him win four consecutive championships.

I realize in writing this now that I don't need to do what I've done in the past ... namely, dwell on the negative things that bogged me down for so much of the past eight months since my wife's passing.  Tomorrow (nearly today) is going to be incredibly difficult.  I've cried already multiple times tonight just thinking about Jen, visiting her grave site again this evening, and reminded in stark letters on the marker "Married May 6, 2006" with my own name to her left and a year yet to be placed for my own conclusion.

I know, the Church wants me to not think of death as only an Ending but also a Beginning.  The end of mortal life and the beginning of eternal life.  I admit, just over eight months later, it still doesn't feel all that comforting.  The afterlife, compared to the here-and-now, is still hard to fathom.  I still go to church. I still read from the Word itself (including my role as Lector this very Sunday morning, which is still tough for me to do since Jen's passing).  I know I shouldn't curse at something I don't understand, but, let me be frank, I don't understand it.  My wife should still be here.  Dying at 31 years old isn't fair.  It isn't right.  Taking away the love of my life in her prime will always hurt me.  It will always hurt her mother.  Jen's loss is an inescapable void left in more than just my own life ... and I can't undo the pain it causes me and others every day of our lives.

Why do I feel compelled to write any of this? Why do I publish this message in such a public forum (my own blog and cross-posted to facebook)? Am I seeking some self-satisfaction? Am I looking for attention in a world that could truly care less about most other people?  Even if these are rhetorical questions, I do have an answer for every one of them ...

I feel compelled to write because writing about it shares how I feel with other people.  Keeping inside doesn't do me any good; it makes me feel more anger, more sadness, and more despair.  Sharing it in a "public" forum (as public as the Internet can be to any common "stranger" who might actually take the time to read this) is my small way of sharing my own story with others.  I'm not seeking self-satisfaction ... far from it, I'm seeking enlightenment.  I'm seeking wisdom.  I'm seeking the knowledge of others to help me understand that life does go on, that people do actually care, and that I can find strength where I least expect it.  Do I really believe the world as a whole doesn't care?  Honestly, I used to think that ... but I don't anymore.  More people actually have genuine compassion than I ever realized.  Not everyone knows how to express it in a "good" way ... but how can you tell someone who lost a best friend to "get over it" or "it will all be better with time" even though you know in your heart that you will always carry some burden or pain for your lifetime.

Time does diminish pain; it doesn't make it go away.  I cry just as hard now as I ever did.  Why should I lie about a fact like that? Anybody who thinks my life is some fantastic thing ... you really don't want to be me.  I blame myself for most of what I perceive to be the bad things in my life, and losing my wife feels, no matter how hard I try to tell myself otherwise, like a personal failure.  I feel guilty.  She shouldn't be gone, I should be.  If one of us had to die young, it should have been me.  She changed lives.  She contributed to society.  She made an impression on children as a teacher that I can NEVER match.

I want to make a difference.  I want to impact people's lives EVERY DAY.  I want to make the world know, in my own way, that I care.  I want EVERYBODY, and I mean ALL of YOU, who read this to tell AT LEAST ONE person (preferably MORE) in your life who matters that YOU LOVE HIM/HER. Don't ever let a day pass where you don't tell people you love them ... and MEAN IT.  Maybe I use the term "I Love You" more freely than I used to ... but I don't think it's a bad thing.  If I tell you that I Love You, I mean it.  I share my genuine feelings far more often than I ever did.  I don't let my emotions out all the time, but I wear my heart on my sleeve.  I care too much to watch others suffer, and I don't ever want any of you to feel regret that the last thing out of your mouth to a loved one is something you can't take back.

Before I close, and Lord knows I've rambled too much yet again tonight to stop sometime soon, I need to say this.  My wife told me in the hospital room the morning she died that she loved me.  She told me she never wanted to be apart from me, and, (the hardest part for me to write without crying) if she died that day (with all of the pain she was feeling), to tell her mom she loved her.  I can't write that right now without tears in my eyes because she made me pull in close, my face next to hers, and tell her I would never leave her.  Unfortunately, here I am now ... and she left me.  I can't bring her back, but I see her face from that day EVERY DAY in my memory.  I see her lying there, and I want to change what happened so badly that I cannot even express it.  My heart is still broken ... and less than an hour from what would have been our fifth wedding anniversary, I still think about what could have been or what would be if things hadn't happened that night / day in Tennessee.  I pray for God to bless me every day, to help me get through all this, but it certainly doesn't make any of it easier.

I love you, Jen. I miss you dearly. I always will. Forever in my heart, and forever touching my soul.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

The Shaping of Generations

Anybody who happens to be connected to me on Facebook also has seen my recent comments in a string of responses to a recent Kiplinger.com article (shared via the Yahoo.com website) entitled "Make Way for Generation Y".  For your reading convenience, the original Kiplinger article is located here and the Yahoo! version is here.
There have been more than 1,000 comments (original comments, not including comment replies, of which there are countless more) on this article right now.  Most of what has been happening is the usual "finger pointing" exercise that one generation claims superiority over another generation, most typically the (Baby) Boomers are slamming the Gen Y crowd while the Millenials have attacked not only Boomers but also the Gen X bunch (of which, by most definitions, I find myself).  Gen X repliers, for their part, have gone on the defensive against unwarranted attacks but, maybe not totally surprisingly, have sided more often than not with the Boomers in general disgust of the opinions of the Gen Y responders.
Depending upon whom has made the response, I have agreed with some points that every group has made up to now, but, in the same breath, I recognize none of them are completely right.  Maybe might generational positioning is part of the rationale.  I'm in the bridge area between Gen X and Gen Y (depends where the "official" line gets drawn by the people who decide these things), but I personally have a perspective that melds some of X / Y ideals together.  My parents were of two previous generations: dad from the "Silent Generation" (1925-1945) and mom from the Baby Boom (1946-1965). 
Since I started to write a specific response to someone, I decided to keep this particularly section.  I think you will understand what was said originally [bracketed for clarity] ...
[It's a pretty bold statement to say Baby Boomers "need to leave the workplace" when it's not really in your place to decide that.  Actually, given that retirement ages keep getting pushed back further and further (from early 60's to almost 70 the way things are headed), I find it hard to believe that I would tell my own parents (both of whom are still working) just to "step aside" and let someone younger take their places.  I don't know too many people in my dad's generation who aren't or weren't hard workers in their time (many working long hours in factory jobs with high amounts of physical labor).  My dad is 70 years old, and, while his job isn't high physical strain like some of those jobs are, I wouldn't think of him walking away from what he does.  I guarantee he works harder than men half his age, and I know people in his same occupation who wouldn't try half as hard to be employed or work only part-time doing the same job.
My point isn't to say Gen Y is bad because it's not.  No generation bears the burdens of all previous generations (as evidenced that future generations will come after it), but I will go so far as to say you imply your generation "knows it all" by saying you don't need experience when you have knowledge at your fingertips.  This is the classic youth trap ... you just won't realize it for another decade or so.
I don't know your exact age (my guess is early to mid-20's but you are welcome to correct me), but I remember when I started in the workplace a little over a decade ago.  I thought I knew as much as those I worked around in the short time I was there, and I thought I could do their jobs better than they did.  I grew up with computers, too ... even if that means my first system was DOS-based (nearly a foreign concept to anyone under 30) that actually required more understanding of how technology worked than the "point and click" Windows / Mac world in which we live now.  The evolution of what kinds of "pains" technology or the lack thereof used to be (not even attempting to grasp how annoying things like punch cards used to be or having to use typewriters over word processors over PC's, etc.) is what makes experience meaningful.
Yes, new ideas are fantastic.  Yes, new technology has a place.  While you think that Baby Boomers may or may not be receptive to all of the "information at your fingertips" that you believe only your generation sees, you forget the first PC generation wasn't yours.  Apple put computers in the classrooms in the 1980's (I remember them as early as third grade), so Gen X had them, too, throughout their formative years at the very least from junior high into high school and beyond.  I had my own desktop system (since computers used to cost way too much) from the time I was 13, and I have never looked back.
Don't confuse having access to information with knowing how to use it.  There is a BIG difference.] 

At this point, my reply to the specific poster wasn't going through on Yahoo!'s comment section, so I started writing my own personal response, which follows below. 

As someone who hits at the tail end of Gen X and beginning of Gen Y, I feel like there is something to be said for what this piece is trying to articulate. 
I find it interesting that the Baby Boom is defined as 1946 to 1965 and Gen Y as 1981 to 1999.  Both periods are 19 years long ... but that leaves the intervening group (Gen X) only 16 years in between.  The Gen X group would be "small" already relative to the other two (the Boom and the Echo Boom), although trimming off three years of population on either side seems disingenuous.  A generation, under "normal" definitions, should span at least closer to 20 years (or about 22 years under historical models).  This is probably why the X model doesn't seem all that effective.
Maybe history will re-write itself as time moves forward, since the torch passing from the Baby Boom to the Gen Y crowd is a ridiculous premise.  Sure, upper leadership in most organizations is currently the over-50 to under-65 crowd (which would be largely Baby Boomers), but are they passing the baton to the under-30 crowd when they retire?  I guess I don't understand organizational succession planning or career progression if that’s the case.  I realize the point attempting to be made is that, by sheer population numbers, one large group of people is going to sway marketing and workplaces from the largest group that preceded it.  The funny thing is that workplace evolution has already been happening for over 20 years now, from the strictness of dress codes to flexible work schedules to more incorporating of technologies. 
Generation Y may be taking advantage of more of what is now out there (being “information managers” more than their predecessors), but why then is 1982 a “defining moment” if technology is the driving force?  A defining time period for technology was the proliferation of the World Wide Web, starting around 1993 or 1994 with the advent of web browsers.  What “generation” benefited or took most advantage of this?  Well, besides the “techno-geeks” of any age range (who were online even before this time), any children / young adults in schools (up through college) were benefiting from the technology wave.  Think about Yahoo!’s creation – 1994, by grad students.  Think about Google’s creation – 1996, by grad students.  The broader conclusion is that the foundation of some of today’s most-used websites happened at an interesting point age-wise … since these technology “leaders” are, by definition, Generation X members.
Here’s a more relevant point: knowing how to use Facebook, Twitter, or text messaging, amongst a myriad of technology choices, doesn’t make you “tech savvy”.  It doesn’t make you actually KNOW how those technologies work.  That may be the greatest shortsightedness of the point of the article.  The people who shape the future are the ones actively defining it.  People who are behind the scenes creating new technologies (such Gen Y’s own Mark Zuckerberg) are the major influencers.  To think that the generation as a collective thinks accessibility of information (whether or not it is factually right and having ability to differentiate the sources) is acceptable for the level of discernment needed to make good decisions is a travesty.  I don’t point the finger at Generation Y alone in this regard … critical thinking, in general, is missing in recent generations of people.  With more information available to us than ever before, someone needs to filter Niagara Falls into a garden hose.
I could say more, but there really is no point.  Many of the comments have digressed into the typical “flame war” that should be expected when one generation is threatened by another.  Accept the points made for what they are.  Agree or disagree because ultimately most of what has been said, including the article itself, is just subjective opinion.  Stereotyping an entire grouping of people by a limited number of characteristics is a fruitless exercise anyway.

Post-script conclusion:
I don't find any significant value in the grouping of entire age ranges (particularly 20-year ranges) as defining every member contained therein.  I started to make that point at the end of the above opinion.  Yes, some generalizations apply to some groups, but subsets might better be defined than the whole.  *Most* in Gen Y use technology in ways their predecessors never did ... but this is no different than how members of Gen X used technology more than their predecessors, and so on.  It's a cycle that doesn't end.
One of the early remarks was made by a Boomer who called Gen Y a "me" generation.  Wow, pot must have seen kettle on that one ... as the Baby Boom was the *original* "Me Generation" as many, many experts have seen it.  The Boomers, by and large, were raised with a sense of entitlement.  They were a generation raised with Social Security as a promise, the last of a breed of company "lifers", and a strong sense of loyalty (to their employers, to brands, etc.).  They fueled the American economy by spending money, as evidenced from the 1980's to now (where fiscal conservation hardly seemed the norm for wage earners in the prime earning years from their 30's to their 60's).  
The oldest of the Boom turns 65 in 2011, why all this "fuss" is being made at all.  Boomers will continue "retiring" at the rate of about three to four million people per year (assuming they don't continue employment after age 65, which is not really a given any longer) and start drawing the Social Security system even faster than it's been depleting so far.  They will be the last generation with a Social Security "right" (if that's not a real misnomer at this point).  Conveniently, the Social Security trust fund is projected to run out of actual securities by 2041 (if current projections hold), the year I am "projected" to turn 65.  I haven't been counting on SS benefits for my retirement up until this point, and I certainly won't be counting on them then, either.