The One About… Every Single Morning

Here is one of the worst things about having someone you love die:
It happens again every single morning.

                                                                

With the upcoming anniversaries of the deaths of both my mother and my best friend a few years ago, I have found myself ruminating on the concept of death, of grief and mourning. I had planned out a week of posts for the Tao of Maud project to coincide with the anniversary of her passing. I figured I was ready to move on.

Life has a knack for laughing at our plans, as if some mischevious spirit decided to ball them up and say, “Not for you. I have something special planned instead.”

Dean Stefan’s passing Tuesday (I wrote about it here) caught me off-guard in some ways. While Dean did have a heart attack, I thought he was on the road to recovery. He was going to make it. It’s like the plot of a story where you don’t get the payoff. You feel cheated. We didn’t get our happy ending.

Dean was close to my age and had a daughter who graduated from college just last summer. I am off to see my daughter graduate from college this weekend.  The parallel is disquieting. I admit I am losing sleep over the thought.

My writer friend who first introduced us was much closer to Dean. This hit her pretty hard, and she said she was having a hard time processing it. In true Tao of Maud fashion, I relied on the wisdom of others in an attempt to craft a message that might bring her some comfort in this time.

I’ve decided to post the majority of it here on the blog, with the hope that someday someone may also find some peace from it along the way as well. As I note, the wisdom is from smarter people than myself. I just gather and pass it along.

Know that you are never promised another moment beyond this one, so cherish it and the people with you on your journey through it, my friends. Be well. Namaste.


My friend, 

As promised, here are some thoughts from people a lot wiser than I could ever hope to be. I found these when researching the topic of grief for what I would use on the Tao of Maud later this month and for how I am processing it myself – more on that in a bit.

First, about the shock and pain. This will hurt:

Here is one of the worst things about having someone you love die: It happens again every single morning.
                                                              ― Anna Quindlen, Every Last One

The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same nor would you want to.
                                                             — Elizabeth Kubler-Ross

But then, we also begin to see there is a reason behind that pain…

Grief is the price we pay for love.
                                                                – Queen Elizabeth II

All endings are also beginnings. We just don’t know it at the time.
                                                               – Mitch Albom

So we begin to find a way out of grief. How? It’s tough. C.S Lewis had it right…

No one ever told me grief felt so much like fear.
                                                             – C. S. Lewis

Only time and tears take away grief; that is what they are for.
                                                            – Terry Pratchett

And know it’s never a straight path as we process these things.

You think you’ve accepted that someone is out of your life, that you’ve grieved and it’s over, and then bam. One little thing, and you feel like you’ve lost that person all over again.
                                                           – Rachel Hawkins

But you will learn something, both about them and yourself…

The greatest tribute to the dead is not grief but gratitude.
                                                         – Thornton Wilder

Death ends a life, not a relationship.
                                                        – Mitch Albom

In the end, our love for this person overcomes our grief. We remember not how they died, but how they lived.

Remember my own processing? I am coming up on a pair of anniversaries. I lost my best friend five years ago in early July. I lost my mother two years ago on the 1st of  June. In each case, their final words to me were the same: “It will be all right.” And in a way, it has been.

Do I miss them? Sure. Every single day. I’m sure it will be the same with Dean. But he chose to live life as Mark Twain suggested:

Let us endeavor to live so that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry.
                                                     — Mark Twain

You’re terrific, my friend. I know Dean was so proud to work with you, to have been there throughout your career, and to call you friend. He is missed, but he is loved, and he will be remembered.

Be well. Hug your family and say a prayer for Dean’s tonight, as well as anyone else you hold dear in your heart. Know I keep you and yours in my thoughts as well.

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The One About… Dean

32654356_10159523551908504_5987511412254048256_oThe year was 2013.  I was in the midst of writing the sequel to my first novel. At the same time, I won a trip to see the premiere of Iron Man 3 in Hollywood. Since I was having issues with my story, my hope was I could use some of my free time to get together with some of my writer friends out there and discuss things.

I told one of my friends what I hoped to do. “Oh, you don’t need me. You need to talk to Dean Stefan.”

“Who’s Dean Stefan?”

Divorce Court
The Smurfs
Chip ‘n’ Dale Rescue Rangers
TaleSpin
Darkwing Duck
Goof Troop
Bonkers

Dean and I made arrangements to meet for lunch, but at the last minute, he had to cancel. He’d come down with a cold and didn’t want me to catch it. Instead, we had a long phone conversation. For 90 minutes, we talked storytelling philosophy, heroes journey, what worked and didn’t how to apply it in books versus screenplays and more. It was relaxed and genial, I took notes, and in hindsight wish I’d brought my recorder to capture the call. Dean was wise, funny and generous with his time and knowledge. 

And the entire time I’m ignorant of who he is, other than another working writer like my other friends. Except Dean turned out to be the writer they went to for fun. Quick-witted, his jokes were legendary, his observations wry and his puns awful.

X-Men
The Mask
Quack Pack
CatDog
Men In Black: The Series
Jackie Chan Adventures
He-Man and the Masters of the Universe

Over the years, we stayed friends. We chatted via Facebook and on occasion Messenger whenever I hit other roadblocks on books or in life. I would make comments on his amazingly bad jokes. Usually, he’d reply with an even worse come back. It was a thing of beauty.

We always joked about our ships in the night moment, and about how, when I finally made it out to California again, we’d hook up this time for a frosty beverage or such.

Clifford the Big Red Dog
Rainbow Fish
Dragon Tales
My Friends Tigger & Pooh
Barney & Friends
Pom Pom and Friends
The Octonauts
Miles From Tomorrowland

32811109_643582629315627_4299420438351577088_nA month ago, that voice went silent on Facebook. Word trickled out. He’d had a major heart attack and was flown to UCLA Medical Center. It had been touch and go for a while, with Dean in the ICU. But soon there was a picture of him, eating applesauce. I told him online it was time him to go get well because someone like him sure as hell could never get any better.

Damn, how could I be so wrong?

Wednesday morning I got word from my friend Nicole, the one who introduced me to Dean, of his passing. Complications of the heart attack, they say. He leaves behind a wife and a daughter who just graduated college last year. What else he leaves behind is a legacy. All across the Internet, people who knew Dean are sharing their stories, their memories of this warm, sweet, funny man. If you look at his Facebook page today, there are hundreds of postings from people, prominent ones who have been greats in the television animation industry for the last few decades. And why not? With an IMDb page like Dean’s, you tend to get around.

Max Steel
Transformers: Animated
The Penguins of Madagascar
Transformers: Prime
Johnny Test
Ben 10 Omniverse
Transformers: Rescue Bots
Skylanders Academy
Lalaloopsy
Norm of the North 2

Oh, there’s one more post as well, from a small writer, trying each day to hone his craft, to step into the light and join the ranks of someone like Dean. He would have liked and encouraged that.  That, too, is part of his legacy.

I will miss you, my friend. Be well on your journey.

P.S. There is a Go Fund Me to help Dean’s family defray some of their costs. You can find it here.

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The One About…Off with Their Heads

A story in Washington Post on May 15, 2015:
After Amazon opposition, Seattle passes compromise tax to fund homeless services

I used to live in the Puget Sound region. The Navy sent me initially to the Bangor submarine base, and then I spent the majority of my career in the area. Afterward, my family lived on Whidbey Island and in Snohomish County. My daughters are still there (ex-wife, too, I believe, although why that matters, who knows).

SeattleTimeHeadTx051418

Photo by Bettina Hanson / The Seattle Times

The point of all this is I’ve watched the kerfluffle develop over a couple of generations. I’ve been a business owner, although never on that scale. I’ve also been on the edge of homelessness. I see both sides of this and understand the passions involved. It seems to have evolved over time. The thing is, it’s a history lesson.

 

Seattle has been considered a desirable place to love for many decades now. It took pride in its unique culture and style, which made it attractive. But it became a victim of its own success. Some businesses had their stock prices skyrocket (Microsoft Millionaire, anyone?) while others established their name in the region – Starbucks, REI, Amazon, Expedia for example. Me, I wasn’t lucky enough to hit the dot-com jackpot — I worked for a company called Laplink and our killer app was going to be something that made it possible for you to copy and transfer MP3 files faster. Not play them, just copy them. It went quickly from killer buzz to buzz kill. For the average joe like me who wasn’t riding the boom, wages weren’t going up anywhere near that fast. That, you see, was the start of a problem.

Seattle proper sits in the center of King County. The city itself is on a pretty narrow strip of land between two bodies of water – Puget Sound to the west and Lake Washington to the east. This geography meant that once the area was built out, to the city limits, there was only one place to go for expansion – up. As they say, there’s one thing they just aren’t making more of – land. But Seattle had beautiful vistas, with the Cascade mountains to one side and the Olympic range to the other, Mount Rainier waiting to blow up just south of the city. Big, tall buildings are so New York, so Chicago, so… everywhere else. The citizens insisted on city ordinances banning them.

Now the pressure is on housing stock. There’s only so much to go around, and the laws of supply and demand kicked in. Prices start to climb, both in the city and the region beyond. I lived in a suburb forty miles outside the city proper, and my house went up 70 percent in value in five years. But this rise hit both purchases and rental properties. In other words, rents went up – but wages didn’t.

People got squeezed. How bad? The median cost of a home in Seatle is more than $750,000 – $777,000 to be exact. Stop, take a minute, breath. I know. I said that too when I read it. Three-quarters of a million for an AVERAGE house.

Now, Seattle is a liberal city.  It was one of the first to enact legislation to declare a $15 minimum wage. Yet if you do the math, a full time, 40 hour per week person making that will take home about $900 after taxes every two weeks. What does that get you?

I did a search on Zillow. You can get a 250-square-foot studio apartment with a bathroom (a toilet and a sink, no door), a stove and a microwave, and lots of natural light, for $995 per month.

So, what’s a fellow to do? Some of your choices when you’re priced out of the market like that:

  • Find a new job in a less expensive housing market
  • Find a less expensive dwelling within a reasonable (or semi-reasonable) commute. You define reasonable. I once commuted 150 minutes each way.
  • Keep your job but become homeless to stay in the city you love. As one person put it, either be homeless and eat well, or live in a beautiful place and starve.

Lots of people are choosing Curtain #3. Hence the record homelessness now.

You have too many people wanting to live in Seattle. Period. That’s it. So what are your solutions?

  • Create enough housing so you can depress the price to the point that allows people to live in the region affordably under the existing wage structure.
  • Raise wages enough so people can afford to live in the region at the current housing prices.
  • Decrease the popularity of the region so there either a decrease in the net population growth relative to the rate of new housing construction or an actual reduction of population in the area.

Which of these has been tried?

Regarding new housing, the prohibition on tall buildings has been lifted. But in the downtown buildings, the units are either at full cost and rent for over $2500 per month, well above a middle-class income, or are subsidized to help toward the homeless issue. The middle class has been squeezed out of the city center.

Even in the traditional single-family neighborhood, builders are now able to put multi-family units on these lots, an attempt by the city to bring more people into somewhat gentrified areas. Needless to say, the gentrified are less than thrilled. For one, the issue of parking isn’t really addressed (a building with five apartments and one parking space is never a great idea). As with downtown, these are mixed cost apartments, so the non-rent subsidized ones still tend toward cost prohibitive for a middle-class wage earner.

Regarding wages, since 2001, Washington State has always been at the vanguard of the wage equity movement, granting cost of living increases to the minimum wage every year due to a voter initiative. The $15 minimum wage in Seattle is a natural extension of that sentiment, in what is arguably the most liberal city in America. But in the face of runaway housing inflation, it’s like a squirt gun against a forest fire.

This brings us to the Employee Head Tax. I understand the reasoning behind it. These companies have money. Redirect it, and use it to fund “Homeless Services.” Great idea. But poor execution. Where to start.

  • Three cities have had it – Chicago and Denver, which were $4 per month each, and now Seattle.
  • Seattle’s tax will be six times as large as the other cities.
  • No specifics on how the money will be spent or how it will be accounted for.
  • All the rhetoric about this directed at a single company and individual (Amazon’s Jeff Bezos). It became about punishing him, rather than helping people. Yet it’s going to cast a much, much wider net.

 

Head-tax-ONLINE-COLOR-780x602

Copyright David Horsey / The Seattle Times

 

  • Seattle’s tax base has increased more than it’s population growth over the last decade, and it has had a declared state of emergency over the homeless issue for the past three years, but no progress has been made. They have no proof they know how to use or manage any funds or programs.

Major employers in the city, including Starbucks and Amazon, have all voiced their opposition. What this may do is the third option – decrease the popularity of the region. LastPersonSeattleHowever, Seattle’s been there before. In the early 1970’s, after the SST program was canceled, another area employer, Boeing, laid off thousands of workers. So many workers left the region that the population of Seattle decreased by 10% over the decade. This famous billboard went up.

This tax program is an invitation for the same. Remove thousands of jobs, increase unemployment in the region to near double-digit levels. You might even increase the homeless population at first. But after a time, these people will see greener pastures elsewhere and leave. Reduce that pressure, reset home prices downward, and eventually, people will get a chance to live there again.

Of course, thousands will be ruined financially. Some will still fall through the cracks. And certain politicians will attempt to manipulate this process for their own personal gain. But then again, no plan is perfect.

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