1500

This is the 1,500th post on Markstorer.com. I’m rather proud. Just thought I’d mention it.

The school year began unpropitiously. It’s hot and humid in California, relatively rare-except when it’s not. The classroom reaches well into the 80’s by early afternoon, sometimes even late morning–and it’s miserable. No one wants to learn when their sweat is dripping onto the paper, blurring the ink, smudging the lead.

It’s a smooth year for me, but I fear a rocky one when you look at it from the 30,000 foot level. Budget shortages, lawsuits (on account of various shenanigans), petty fiefdoms-the usual political falderal.

It’s mundane, I know-but I can’t help it. Once the routine begins again, I spend a few weeks in the mundane-it helps to acclimate to the new situation, feel what it is to do the work I have to do, stop dreaming for a while and start acting. Dreams without action mean nothing. Action without dreams is feckless.

The work takes time, however, and I find that I have to divide that time up-get to know what I’m into each day, focusing on lessons and keeping kids engaged. Once that becomes routine (and how could it?), then I get back into the flow of teaching and writing, allowing them to relate to each other and build each other up.

So, a little wobbly-a little slow-and perhaps not all bad. My girls and I miss Conni and we wish she could come back. Going back to school without having Conni around has been difficult-but we shall carry on. We keep in touch with her via Skype and free-texting. The European 9-hour time difference is a little tough, however.

In any event-a new year to be had-new bridges to cross, blah blah blah.

Onward.

 

 

Jobs

Steve Jobs uttered the unutterable. He wasn’t painted into corners and, indeed, he never sought to paint others into them either. But he was a bully and he was so full of himself that, at times, his rage was the only power left standing in the room. Like most great thinkers, great leaders, Jobs had great flaws and his impatience was legendary.

Ashton Kutcher’s portrayal of him in the new movie, Jobs, is admirable-at least to my thinking. I read Steve Wozniak’s non-review and it hit home a bit. I didn’t know either of the men, so how can I tell? But to me, that wasn’t the point of the film. We have sadly arrived at a time when people believe that a Hollywood production about a real life event should be exact and documentary-like, even when we learn that the actual documentaries are false, too.

So, it’s not a surprise that the movie opened to mixed reviews and that Mr. Wozniak didn’t like it. It’s interesting that his criticism of the film is that Jobs is “deified.” I didn’t pick up on that. I actually found the treatment of the main character fairly powerful, but I understand what’s meant when the film’s writing is criticized. It is disjointed at times and Kutcher’s Jobs spends so much time on the screen that one is forced to think that the movie won’t work at all unless he is there–sort of like his presence at Apple Computer itself.

But the movie narrowed a point of view for me, one that Mr. Jobs is famous for creating and the message is even narrated toward the end of the film:

“When you grow up you tend to get told the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world. Try not to bash into the walls too much. Try to have a nice family, have fun, save a little money.

That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you and you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use.

Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.”

I got the sense that director Joshua Michael Stern wasn’t focusing, as Mr. Wozniak says, on exactly how bad the Macintosh roll-out was or how much the Apple II was keeping the company afloat in the early days. Instead, I took from the movie that, while Jobs was the flawed man that we see, he was also a modern visionary and perhaps a man whose most important legacy isn’t the company he left behind, but a man who learned that his children and the love of his family were the most important things. I also got the sense that Stern was trying to show us the Steve Jobs who resonated through the aforementioned quote.

So it was that I sat there, not mesmerized and certainly not enchanted, but awake to the thought that settling for anything is defining down one’s life. I got the message that “taste” as Mr. Jobs called it, is not about what looks or feels good-but about what makes the world a better place–not because it is hip or new or modern, but because it resonates with people’s best definition of themselves.

Most of us, indeed nearly all of us, know Mr. Jobs through his company and his company did indeed house a great deal of his ethos. As he got older, he wasn’t afraid to point out that what he thought he knew had changed. He knew that technology wasn’t the most important thing in the world. He knew that his embrace of his children and his partner, Laurene, was. He knew that relationships mattered, even though he burned bridges so many times, that the number of relationships he unalterably destroyed, began to have as much impact as the ones he salvaged.

The movie will do what it will and Mr. Kutcher’s career will survive. He’s a good actor and his portrayal of Mr. Jobs for all of the movie’s flaws, was engrossing and even fun. But the buzz for me isn’t about the movie’s historical or factual flaws, but rather my own need to be unfettered from the low standards and a bar that does nothing more than create a false and weak horizon. I hope, anyway, that’s as good a reason for motivation as any,

Onward.

A Tale of Two Airplanes

The glint of sunshine off of the Boeing 757’s wings was blinding. Under the American Airlines livery, the silver aluminum aircraft works as a reflector and at Naval Air Weapons Station Pt. Mugu not far from where I live, the tarmac is an expanse of unshaded concrete and summer sun reflecting, hiding shadows and desert-like, all absorbing.

I watched the aircraft on final approach as I drove toward the base to meet my media contact there. I was a little nervous because I was told that the flight I was waiting for would not arrive for another hour. I called Shane and he assured me that he didn’t know which aircraft this was, but it was not Naval Mobile Construction Battalion Five returning from eight months on duty in the Pacific.

At the guard gate, credentials shown, name registered, I followed Shane into the landing ramp where the airliner sat. Doors open, flight stairs loaded at the front and rear of the aircraft and the generator whirring away preparing for engine start-up, the families of NMCB Five wondered too what the civilian airliner was doing there. At that moment, Navy officials, iphones in hand, reported that the chartered World Airways MD-11 aircraft carrying NMCB Five was turning on final and would be landing within the next 20 minutes. There was a minor cheer from the assembled crowd, some with newborn babies who had not yet met their fathers, some who were brothers and sisters waiting, husbands who tended the home-fires while their wives were away. A military troop homecoming is always emotional and it never gets old.

As the breeze picked up and the cool ocean air softened the summer sun, the roar and rumble of buses coming down the access road was audible. In front, three police car and three police motorcycle escorts led the way, drove right past us and over to the awaiting 757. It was the Dallas Cowboys, who make their summer home in the adjacent town of Oxnard, and they were boarding the flight to Oakland to play the Raiders.

Their buses were shiny new motor coaches and their police escort remains a mystery-why do they need it? Flight attendants and the captain and first officer were waiting at both the top and the foot of the stairs to welcome the V.I.P.’s. They boarded, the doors were closed and the engines started.

In the distance, the bright landing lights of the Seabee’s plane came into view and as it touched down, the 757 powered up and turned toward the runway, the two aircraft passing each other as one readied to unload, the other headed skyward.

When the Seabees came off the plane, the scene was nearly readied cinema. My favorite image that was printed in the newspaper alongside the story I wrote (I was not allowed to reprint the image here and in order to see it, you must subscribe) was of a Seabee husband meeting his daughter for the first time as his wife held up a sign saying, “Hi Daddy! I’ve waited my whole life to meet you!” It’s a beautiful and touching moment as this warrior gently holds his porcelain doll of a daughter, only two months old.

As the Cowboy’s plane split the clouds, police escort moving back to wherever they came from, the cabin crew preparing drinks and small snacks for the less than one-hour flight, the Seabees stretching their legs down the steps from their airplane had been flying since the previous day–from Okinawa to Alaska and then from Alaska to the base. The men and women who didn’t have families waiting for them boarded plain white school buses that would take them to the processing center where they would rejoin their stateside lives for at least a few months until the next deployment.

The contrast was stark between the two stories. Though I was not there to write about the football team, I was surprised that they couldn’t or didn’t stop for just a few minutes to welcome home the Seabees. What a great press opportunity they had before them–a chance to say thank you to the men and women who allow them, for the sake of convenience, to use a secure Navy facility to get to their next game, to make their next million dollars, to fly in true comfort, dressed easily in designer slacks and shirts. Not even 1o minutes? Not even a hand-shake or thank you?

Schedules to keep, places to go, I know. But here was a clear view of the values of a society on display and it was a bit disturbing. Our military has been overworked, overstretched and overused of late. The suicide death rate has climbed astronomically as warriors ill-prepared for more than a year on combat duty, come home to find themselves unable to adapt to a relatively peaceful life. As I awaited the Seabees return, I spoke to a young woman, part of NMCB Three, a media relations representative. She was getting ready to deploy to the Pacific herself in a few days. Her husband, also a Seabee, is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Night terrors, sweats, panic and fear of loud noises all visit him regularly. He’s getting help and therapy and he’s doing better, but she worries about him–and she’s about to leave for half a year while he struggles to maintain a normal life. He’ll be discharged soon, mainly because of the PTSD, and she’s told him to take the six months off, that she’ll support him and get him whatever he needs to be OK again.

The Cowboys lost their game to the Raiders by two points on Friday. They already came back to Pt. Mugu and are preparing for next week’s game. The Seabees are just beginning to get adjusted to life at home with their loved ones, new children, new situations, reconciliation of old relationships that perhaps soured a little while they were gone.

Sometimes, life’s most poignant ironies force us all into humble submission. And the only response to it is to wonder why.