Category Archives: music

Raging for Twenty Six Years

I remember the first time I heard Rage Against the Machine’s self-titled debut album.

I was a junior at a country high school. My brother and my best friend were deeply into punk rock, and I wanted to date this hottie college girl named Cheryl Carpenter.

I was all over the place, at times trying to fit in with the rednecks and the true-blue farm kids, and at other times trying to be what I saw my favorite others around me being.

I hadn’t really found a place for myself yet. Continue reading Raging for Twenty Six Years

The kids aren’t alright

The question I get most often now is: “So what do the kids think about moving to Alaska?” The second most common question is: “How are the kids handling the move?”

Those are fair questions, but as a parent, I find it tough to answer for the kids. So I asked them about how they feel about the move.

My oldest son, Cole, answers that he does not wish to leave Missoula. When pressed for reasons, he’ll say that he’ll miss his best friend Grant, running cross country and his school friends.

Cole is a focused kid. When he was born, people would remark about how calm he was. As he grew up, we realized we had a little man on our hands and not a toddler. He always prefers to hang out with the adults. He likes to be part of the conversation, and he hates to be left out.

He wants to attend Stanford University, after which he plans to get a master’s degree in computer design. His goal is to be the next CEO of Apple Computers. To that end, he works very hard at school and serves on the student council. I sometimes wonder where on earth this kid came from.

Alaska is all right, he says. He’s looking forward to the adventure, but he’s sad to be leaving all that he put so much energy into these last three years.

As a parent it’s sometimes difficult to quantify all that a child has seen and done in the same period of time. I have to learn to value those things that my kids value in order to assess the cost of moving them away.

Our middle child, Carson, is a dreamer who lives inside his imagination at least 10 hours a day. He doesn’t vocalize things well, so I can only assume he’s struggling with the idea of moving. He’s 52-pounds soaking wet, and he dreams of playing football for the Griz, because his best friend Dylan has the same dreams. Carson plays flag football and absolutely lives for the game.

When I’ve asked him how he feels about moving, he shrugs his shoulders and throws his surfer-length blond hair out of his eyes. “Ummm, I don’t know. It will be cool,” he says.

That’s about as far as I’ve progressed with him. But I can see other signs of nervousness there. He’s struggling with leaving what he’s become comfortable with. Carson has huge dreams, but he, more than any of us, needs a firm foundation on which to have those dreams. Unstable ground means he lives more in the here and now, and when you live in the here and now, it’s very difficult to fly. I know this, because Carson is me. I was once the very 9-year-old he is. I dreamed the same dreams and lived in my imagination as much as possible.

In some ways, I empathize more with Carson than anyone else, because I see some of this through his eyes. I can remember how he feels, and I feel bad that he can’t express himself through what adults consider normal pathways of expression.

Gabrielle is, like most four-year-olds, along for the ride. She doesn’t seem to show any anxiety, and she’s legitimately excited about some of the things she’s heard about. Almost every park in Anchorage has a frozen field for hockey and ice skating. She’s excited to see moose in town, and this will be her first airplane ride.

Mostly she just asks questions about those things that affect her day. “Mom, what are we doing today?” I don’t think she has a concept of leaving friends behind. She certainly didn’t when we moved to Montana three years ago. It bothers me a bit that this move will teach her about the pain of losing friends.

Mostly I tell people that the kids are doing just fine. Fine is a relative term when considering that we’re packing up our lives, leaving our own house and moving to the last frontier, a place from which we have to fly to visit family instead of the one-day trips we used to be able to do under cover of darkness so I could drive in peace.

The easiest explanation, and the one I struggle with the most is this: The kids aren’t alright.

As the Offspring song says:

Chances thrown, nothing’s free
Longing for, used to be
Still it’s hard, hard to see
Fragile lives, shattered dreams

But kids are resilient in a way that adults are not. Those shattered dreams change up a little bit. Everyone wants to be a garbage man, an astronaut and a firefighter at some point in their lives. Relocating can push dreams around a bit, like puzzle pieces, but kids are nothing if not masters of putting those puzzle pieces back together. And often as not, they’ll get a new picture and a new dream out of the deal.

This is my chance to learn something about rebuilding from those little master craftsman of dreams.


The Village People Unemployment Recovery Plan

The YMCA has been synonymous with unemployment for me for years. I think it came from the time when a family friend lost his job and moved out of his home when I was a teenager. I heard he was living at the Y, and I was astounded that you could rent a room there.

According to the Village People, there is a lot you can do at the Y. And I suppose the whole unemployment/Y connection is a fairly common association for more than just me.

Just listen:

Young man, I was once in your shoes.
I said, I was down and out with the blues.
I felt no man cared if I were alive.
I felt the whole world was so jive …

That’s when someone came up to me,
And said, young man, take a walk up the street.
It’s a place there called the Y.M.C.A.
They can start you back on your way.

We started a family membership at the Missoula Y last fall, when an early freeze made running outside miserable, or at least more miserable than normal.

I don’t know if the membership at our Y is different than in other towns and cities, but there is a curious mix of wealthy, middle class, blue collar and unemployed folks. My general practice doctor works out there, which always makes me self conscious and somehow willing to raise my heart rate more than I normally would. Some strange confidence that he would whip out a defibrillator and save me if I collapsed, obviously.

Once I overheard an unemployed man say he had nothing else to do besides working out now and wait to collect benefits. He had worked at one of the local mills that shut down. I’d covered the last day at Stimson Lumber Mill for the newspaper and produced this video, so I felt a connection to this guy.

Still, when he approached my workout partner and I and wanted to chat about life, I kind of dismissed him. I think I felt some pity for him at the time, and it made me uncomfortable. Now that I’m in his shoes, I realize it was pity.

There’s something about the well-used feeling of most Ys. They lack that polished, moneyed feeling of high-priced gyms, and users often feel a greater sense of ownership. At least I do.

Stan is always leaving the locker room at around 6 a.m. I only know his name from the big STAN embroidered on a patch on his work shirt which hangs on a thin rack near the door.

Since I’m arriving and he’s leaving, I assume he shows up at 5 a.m. or earlier to work out before going to a full day of manual labor at whatever auto shop or tuneup place he works at. I always admire Stan’s dedication.

Stan once asked me what I did for a living, and I told him I’m a reporter at the local newspaper. It was easier than explaining that I was the digital manager. His eyes lit up and he said, “Gosh, I bet that’s a great job.”

I told him I felt like the luckiest guy in town.

I don’t know what Stan thought as he went to work that day. He may or may not have thought about my job some more.

But later, as I was on the rowing machine, I listened to two lawyers talking about their plans for cycling through Spain with their wives and some friends in the summer.

I spent the rest of the day thinking about what it would be like to be a high-profile lawyer with a sailboat and a cabin on the Flathead.

Greener grass and all that.

The Y is such a classless meat pit where doctors toil side by side with laborers. I could people watch and eavesdrop there all day. A microcosm of community, the Y certainly has the potential and obviously has given some a new start. We’ve seen a lot of layoffs and job losses in Missoula in the last three years.

“Hey, can I get a spotter over here?”

Perhaps the Village People said it best:

Young man, are you listening to me?
I said, young man, what do you want to be?
I said, young man, you can make real your dreams.
But you’ve got to know this one thing!

No man does it all by himself.
I said, young man, put your pride on the shelf,
And just go there, to the Y.M.C.A.
I’m sure they can help you today.