Archive for March, 2015

I’m Home, Mom.

“Donna Smith Sucks!” some angered person shouted at me from behind a door.

I had put a political flyer on a door and knocked hoping to ask someone to consider voting for an upstart democratic candidate in a largely republican district.  She had progressive ideas and a relentless energy to fight for people who couldn’t always fight completely for themselves.  Some people weren’t ready for her ideas and her energy.   I ran away from that door, crushed.  I immediately rushed to the nearby creek and threw the rest of the flyers I had into the flowing water.  I just couldn’t stand to have my candidate’s name and mission violated.

I was ten.

Donna Smith is my mom.

She was my hero.

She still is my hero.   My mom has fought harder than anyone I know (or know of) for a better world – for everyone to have a more humane and peaceful existence.   Even when it clearly didn’t benefit her personally to stand up to a mad world she has done it.   Always.  For me, for anyone, for any injustice.  (yes, at one point she even tried to get an Odyssey of the Mind judge to understand the power outlet my team was assigned malfunctioned handicapping our competition team severely… she almost cost us vital points and I pleaded for her to stop even though she was absolutely right.)

Tonight she’s in the hospital.  She survived yet another surgery to remove some ill from her body.  She is fighting what I consider the ultimate injustice – a body horribly betraying such a beautiful person.   Her body has failed her.   The physical world has failed her. For one who has given so much, I am devastated seeing this play out.

My mom is a genius.  She has the gift of words and observation and empathy and everything the very best mother and politician and teacher should have.   She gives completely and has been doing that at least as long as I’ve been a concious being. She raised six children while attempting law school and paying the bills and writing… moving on to political ambitions… taking corporate positions to make sure me and my siblings were fed… freelance writing for newsweek and woman’s world…. completely engaged in our schooling and passions… and still remaining a community advocate.  She has reinvented herself endlessly from mom to writer to financial manager to politician to journalist to care worker to community organizer to wife to grandma to mentor to patient to listener…

And through it all with all of her siblings, her own parents, her other kids… she took every dream and idea and hurt I had seriously.  In 7th grade I had my first crush and was immediately crushed.  I remember crying horribly on my bed wailing to my mom about how much i wanted to be loved and that this was my dream, to have a girl love me.  She petted my head and hugged me and told me “Oh Russ, it will be ok.  There will be so many wonderful people that love you. This has nothing to do with you. You are loved and will always be loved as long as you look for it.”   I never ever forget that.   And she was right.

She’s never turned away my dreams.   in 1988 after I saw Brian Boitano win gold I was convinced the only way to be truly transcendent in life was to ice skate.  She immediately got me into ice skating lessons.  Years before that she somehow provided me private acting coaching after I fell in love with the theater as a 5th grader.   In 8th grade I begged for a weight bench to get in shape and that showed up one christmas.  Every book I ever wanted she found a way to get me.  I remember so many of these formative moments.  There’s not a single moment where I think, “man, mom let me down.”  She never did.

And she always trusted me.  Every bad idea she just let me have and execute – even when I told her I would be spending the night at a hotel after prom in highschool  She just never ever second guessed me. I suspect it was mutual respect.  She told a cop to go away when he tracked me home from skipping school.  She beat off reporters when I left a murder trial.   She’s been gentle when my heart breaks and been kind when I dated “the wrong person” and even supportive when I scored an 8% on a test.   She always fight for a better world and I always try to live up to that.  It all works out if that’s your approach, perhaps.

As I age I turn more to my mom, not less, in the most confusing situations and darkest moments and highest highs.  I make sure to call or text from anywhere I think is new or interesting.  I have called her from every city I’ve visited.  She has always done the same.   She passed onto me a basic love of life.   Just live!

I do not have enough bits in this computer to articulate all of her engagements with the world and with me.   The memories are too lucid and the love too big for words to do it justice.

My mom has never required anything in return.

And to that asshole behind the door, you were so incredibly wrong.  My mom is the best.  I’m home mom.  I just arrived.

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This week my 11 year old daughter asked if she could download and join snapchat. I immediately nixed that idea. I haven’t nixed her getting involved in much else technically where the EULA allows it. Snapchat touched a chord and got me to thinking (again) about identity – how we identify ourselves – who we think we are – and who others think we are. I think about this deeply every so often, sometimes becoming unglued when I think too hard about it. It’s a complicated concept.


So many things contribute to the patterns that are what we are. Our identity and sense of place in this world – undoubtedly conditioned by the modern world – is built around physical place (and now virtual places) and social circles (and now virtual social networks) and status within established networks of influence. This was probably not always the case when people were far more nomadic and identity wasn’t tied to a hometown or a home school or a 150 person social network. But now, more than ever, identity is a thing.

I personally have moved residences over 20 times in my life. 13 of them different cities (social networks) and 5 across state lines.

Non Existence -> Born (don’t remember)
Littleton, CO (don’t remember, sorta remember)
Colorado Springs (k – 2nd grade)
Aurora, CO Laredo Circle House (2nd grade – 3rd grade???)
Aurora, CO Laredo Court House (4th grade??? – 7th grade)
Miami, FL Kendall House (8th grade)
Miami, FL Baptist Hospital House (9th grade – 10th grade)
Aurora, CO Salsaleto House (11th grade – 12th grade)
Aurora, CO Some Apartment I Forget Where (Summer before college)
Chicago, IL Woodward Court/Univ. Chicago (Freshman year college)
Aurora, CO Buckingham Mall House (Summer between Freshman and Sophomore Year)
Chicago, IL Woodward Court/Univ. Chicago (Sophomore year college)
Chicago, IL 53rd Street Apartment (summer between sophomore and junior year)
Chicago, IL Blackstone Building/University Chicago (Junior year college)
Chicago, IL 53rd Street Co-Op Apartment (summer between junior and senior year)
Santa Monica, CA 9th and Pico (1999)
Chicago, IL Roosevelt and Michigan Apartment (2000 – 2002)
Santa Monica, CA 9th and Pico (2002 – 2005)
Playa Vista, CA Fountainhead Apartment (2005 – 2006)
Venice, CA Abbot Kinney House (2006 – 2010)
Austin, TX Travis Heights House (2010 – 2011)
Austin, TX Deep Eddy House (2012)
Marina Del Rey, CA (2013 – present)

My own children have now moved 5 times (the oldest one) and twice across state lines.

And these are just the residence moves – not all the jobs, schools, social circles, life phases and other changes that go into making up our context and our history. I have 692 friends on facebook, a couple hundred followers on twitter, tens of followers on instagram, one attempt at snapchat, fifty pinterest followers and so on. Sometimes I think of this all as an audience, which is quite insane to me as a concept but I doubt I’m the only one that feels like they have an audience online. I’ve done speaking engagements at conferences, I’ve written 8 years of blogs, somehow I authored several whitepapers, I think i have a patent or three, I’ve performed in 40+ live theater shows, I built hundreds of websites and mobile apps with between 1 and 50 million users a month…. WHAT THE F*** DOES IT ALL ADD UP TO? WHO AM I? and WHY IS THAT EVEN A QUESTION?

It’s a question because my daughters keep finding new ways to “express themselves” and “connect to others.” They “identify” with my wife or myself by saying “oh, i’m so like mom!” They intellectually get the ideas of genetics and art and fashion and learning and the delineation between it all.  They are very keen at telling me I don’t “get” them…. I keep waiting for the day when the TSA finally says they are full human identities and require proof of the case (driver’s license/passport).

It’s also a question because everyday the Western world bombards each other in ways such as:
“what am I worth?”
“tell me about your past.”
“are you this ism or that ism?”
“what party are you?”

and every other variation of class, job history, race, culture, language, outward appearance…

Anchors is my best guess at identities. Us, limited beings, pattern creating and recognizing beings find ways to lay anchors and say THIS IS ENOUGH – THIS IS WHERE I’M DROPPING ANCHOR and REMEMBER THIS. We drop these anchors – which are complex patterns we simplify – and label them as classes, races, job titles, cultures, state lines, political parties, etc. We drop anchors to save energy. That is, we hope the anchors keep us from having to remember all of the context and history that lead us to here when we are in the heat of the moment of making a decision. We want to save time when working out who we hire, with whom we partner, with whom we commune, with whom we war…


Identity is an illusion.

We are not the isms, the races, the classes, nor the anchors we drop. We all are ever evolving changing masses of organs, cells, and atoms that respond to the changes around them. We are connected – to each other, to the Web, to the world, to nature, to everything that passes gamma rays into us – EVERYTHING.

And this isn’t a ZEN kind of thinking i’m talking about. It’s a very simple, real concept that *WE* don’t EXIST. and the idea that WE EXIST is a major reason why “we” all end up fighting and destroying and gloating and taking credit and paying dues and every other manner of paying homage to an illusion. We do this because the delusion of singular identity is efficient in many respects. Capital markets reward identities. Democracies, despite their conceptual idea of the masses, reward identities. Social media and the internet reward identities.

And in all this efficiency created by identities we actually end up destroying things. Identities are the most efficient destructive concepts we’ve collectively devised. They shut everything down. They allow entire populations to be ignored. They tune our attention out. They tune our own senses out.

It makes sense this is so and that it persists.

Can it be resisted? *I* don’t know. Can we live without it?  I don’t know.

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