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On Life

Ruminations and provocations.

The Big Move: Waking up from the California Dream

Stephen H. Provost

California, it's been nice to know ya!

I’ve lived in the Golden State for almost 54 of my 55 years, and I’ve written three books on its history, but it’s time to say farewell to sunny California.

I do so with mixed feelings. The past few years have dealt me one change after another, each one seemingly intent on prying loose another one of my anchors and setting me adrift on a new course.

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Seven years ago, I lost my job at The Fresno Bee when my position was eliminated, but I was fortunate enough to find a new job less than 200 miles away in San Luis Obispo. After a brief detour into substitute teaching, it meant a return to my chosen field. I’d earned my degree in journalism and had spent the previous quarter-century in newspapers, and I was perfectly happy to stay there.

Except the industry had other ideas. In May, after more than six years, I lost my job in SLO County when my position was eliminated (starting to sound like a broken record)? In between those two layoffs, my father died in Fresno. I’ve still got a few friends there, and I’ve made some here on the Central Coast, as well, but there was no way I could afford to continue living here without a job. Heck, I was struggling to afford the cost of living even with a job.

With circumstances conspiring against me like the James Gang plotting a train robbery, I decided not to fight it. This train has already left the station – it started rolling down the track May 4 when I lost my job – and I’m determined not to be held up at gunpoint by California’s exorbitant cost of living any longer. So, this month, we’re packing everything up (we have a lot to pack) and moving east, embarking on a great new adventure.

SUCH SWEET SORROW

There’s a lot I’ll miss about California. I’ll miss traveling the highways I’ve written two books about, asking, “What used to be here? What was it like driving these roads a century ago?” And then doing the research to find out.

I’ll miss exploring the rolling hills, marveling at the giant redwoods, braving the Tule fog and basking in the sunshine – not the 100-degree days of the Central Valley, though; I definitely won’t miss those.

I’ll miss being able to drive down the coast to see a Dodgers or Rams game on a whim. Or over to Fresno to visit my old haunts and high school friends. I missed Fresno so much I wrote a book about it, and I’ll always have those memories. I didn’t live in Cambria nearly as long, but I’ll fondly remember the misty mornings and the Monterey Pines; the elephant seals and the scarecrows and Pinedorado; reading at open-mic nights seeing familiar faces during a stroll down Main Street.

I’ll miss Cal Poly basketball games and Fresno State football.

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I’ll miss eating at La Terraza in Cambria and DiCicco’s in Fresno. And I’ll definitely miss Me-N-Ed’s Pizza. That may be the biggest sacrifice of all.

I’m sorry I won’t get another chance to provide guest commentary on KTEA’s broadcasts of Coast Union baseball games. I did it once with John FitzRandolph, and it was a kick.

Of course, I’ll miss writing stories and taking photos for The Cambrian newspaper. I love telling stories, and there were some great stories to tell during my time in Cambria – from the closure of Highway 1 to the Cambria Christmas Market. I’m a sucker for Christmas lights, so that was always a highlight of my year.

Now there will be other stories, as an author, as a journalist or both, and I look forward to telling them. They’ll be different, but that’s what will make them interesting.

I’ll miss working in the historic home they’d converted into an office for The Cambrian newspaper. How many people get to work in a place with such character? That office is gone now, though, yet another sign that my time here is truly done. 

The friends I’ve made over the years, I’ll miss them, too, though not nearly as much as I would have if I’d made this move 20 years ago. We’ll keep in touch on Facebook, which is where we see each other most often now anyway. (I will miss shooting the breeze with Art Van Rhyn on Mondays, when he would arrive at The Cambrian office to submit his weekly cartoon; he’s not on Facebook, but I’m sure we’ll keep in touch.)

AN ADVENTURE AHEAD

With all that, there’s much to look forward to. I’ll miss the history of California, but there’s even more history where we’re going. And everything’s closer together there, so I’ll be able to explore more easily. I’ll miss the Monterey pines, but there are more trees where I’m going: dogwood and cypress and oak and pine and maple. I’ll still be able to catch the Dodgers and Rams on the road, and it will be fun to see them play in different venues.

We’ll get to eat at Cracker Barrel and pay $1 a gallon less for gas. There won’t be majestic mountains, but there will be rolling hills that stay green all year long instead of staying brown for half the year or more. We won’t miss droughts or wildfires or earthquakes, and a little snow never hurt anyone (we hope!)

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Best of all, we found a sweet house in a quiet neighborhood that has something in common with Fresno’s old Fig Garden. There’s a forest behind the house and a lake within walking distance. The home itself is a 3-bedroom, 2-bath two-story with a finished cellar complete with a wet bar. We don’t drink much, so this room will be our library (it’s big, but trust me, we have enough books to fill it).

There are three balconies, a fireplace and dual-pane windows, all in nearly 2,000 square feet on two-thirds of an acre. Compare that to the place we’ve been renting for the past two years, which is slightly more than 1,100 square feet. And cost? If we paid 3 years and 9 months more in rent, we’d have spent what it costs to buy the new place.

One thing I’m not looking forward to is the move itself. We’ve got 100 cardboard boxes on the way, and we’re trying to figure out the safest-cheapest-best way to move. Packing up all our stuff, driving more than 2,500 miles in five days with our animals, then getting everything unloaded and hooked up on the other end is not my idea of fun. When I was 25, I loved the idea of driving 10 hours in a day; at 55, it’s not nearly as appealing.

Wherever I end up, though, I’ll have what’s most important: my family, my cats and my writing. And I’ll always have my memories. Ask my imaginary friend Minerva how important those are. She’s the hero of my Memortality series. Is that a shameless plug for my books? Damn right. I’ll still be writing them and, I hope, you’ll still be buying them.

See you on the other side (of the country)!

What it's like to be a perfectionist

Stephen H. Provost

What does it mean to be a perfectionist?

It means second-guessing yourself. Continually.

It means procrastinating for fear that you’ll “get it wrong” and (worse) that someone might see you get it wrong. It means criticisms are evidence you’ve already gotten it wrong and that someone has seen it. It means that, because of this, you hate people looking over your shoulder or viewing your work until you’re sure it’s “done” or “ready.” Sometimes, it never is.

Perfectionism makes you snap at people when they interrupt you during a task, because you need to focus to ensure you don’t make a mistake. One that people might see; one that will give them an excuse to ridicule you.

It means being an introvert because you don’t trust others. But you don’t trust yourself, either.

It means thinking before you speak. And thinking. And thinking. Until your thoughts tie themselves up in knots that wrap themselves around your tongue.

It hinders decision-making and can leave you paralyzed.

It means expecting the worst because, at least that way, you won’t be disappointed.

It’s believing you’ll never be able to live up to your parents’ or peers’ or employer’s or partner’s perceived expectations of you, and it means adopting those expectations as your own.

It’s a reaction to believing you’re unlovable. Inherently so. But you can’t control that, so the only remedy is to control what you can by earning people’s respect and substituting it for the love you’ve convinced yourself is unattainable.

Yes, it’s controlling. It’s a desperate attempt to control a world that seems chaotic, hostile and overwhelming, but mostly it’s an attempt to control the one thing you think you can (or should be able to) control: yourself. Because of this, it controls you, and you hate that.

It means seeing everything as your fault because, at least that way, you can control it by “doing better the next time.”

It means you seek approval. But you shun it when it’s offered for things you don’t think you deserve ... and sulk when you don’t receive it after working very hard on something you’re very proud to have accomplished.

It means having a very, very hard time with the reality that life isn’t fair, because it feels like fairness is the only thing standing between you and despair.

It means taking breakups hard and layoffs even harder. At least you can rationalize breakups because they’re based on love, not respect. Love is unpredictable. Respect isn’t supposed to be. If you do a good job, you’re supposed to be rewarded. When it doesn’t work out that way, you feel cast adrift, deprived of the life raft you’ve been clinging to: your hard work and ability.

When you lose a job, you blame yourself for taking that job in the first place, because (of course) you should have known better.

It means Woudla, Coulda, Shoulda and What If are couch surfing on your medial temporal lobe. Regret and foreboding team up in an unending tag-team match against your reason and your serenity.

You feel the need to look in the rear-view mirror, peer under the hood and keep your eyes on the road, all at the same time. You have to be on top of everything. Otherwise, the unthinkable will happen. You’ll fail. And people will see it. And they’ll never let you live it down.

It means sleepless nights lost to anxiety and fitful sleep haunted by nightmares.

It means high blood pressure and low self-esteem.

It means you’re constantly asking yourself, “What have you done for me lately?”

It means playing the diplomat and getting slammed from both sides.

It means avoiding conflict and trying to please everyone.

It means thinking you’re never good enough.

It means loving spellcheck for saving your ass and hating it for making you look the fool.

It means always having to say you’re sorry: repeatedly apologizing for things that are your fault, and for things that are.

Failure is the enemy. When you fail, you beat yourself up for it publicly in the hope that self-castigation will keep your critics at bay. But it doesn’t. They revile and ridicule you anyway, so you get beaten up twice over.

It’s being governed by worry and a continual readiness to shift into fight-or-flight mode ... if you don’t live there already. It’s a gateway to defensiveness, cynicism and, if you’re not careful, superstition and paranoia. But because you are careful to a fault you’re less likely to get there. At least that’s something.

It means you seldom stop to smell the roses, and you miss out on a lot of life’s beauty. That’s a mistake, too, and you beat yourself up over that. Another regret.

That’s what it means to be a perfectionist. At least part of it. Of course, this list isn't perfect ...

 

Trump's arrogance will be his downfall, and it could be ours

Stephen H. Provost

“If you try to tell me what to do, I’ll do the opposite.” You’ve probably heard a friend or acquaintance say that, or something like it. It’s sounds defiant. It’s feels gutsy. And it’s ultimately self-destructive.

Yes, it’s rude for someone to try to order you around, and it’s healthy to stand up for yourself. But automatically doing the opposite as a knee-jerk reaction is pretty damned stupid.

You won’t always know the right answer; sometimes, another person will. If you tune that person out because you think you’re the ultimate expert on everything – and no one else has anything of value to offer – eventually, you’ll fall flat on your face. And when you do, who’ll be there to pick you up? Certainly not the people whose advice you shunned.

This tendency is more likely than anything else to be Donald Trump’s downfall. He has a penchant for ignoring advice and doing things his own way because he believes he, and he alone, knows best. The stronger the pushback against his ideas, the more likely he is to try to implement them.

Don’t antagonize your allies, they say? He’ll do it. Don’t cozy up to dictators with a history of bad behavior? He’ll do that, too – and praise them as great leaders.

Stop tweeting? He’ll tweet more. Don’t separate kids from their parents? Let’s do that! Tariffs will drag down a strong economy? He’ll impose them anyway. He’ll hire people who are unqualified or potentially corrupt because he feels like it, without checking their references (or ignoring them if they run counter to his “instincts”).

It's still the economy, stupid

At some point, those instincts will fail him, and one of his ideas will go so far wrong that a lot of people will get hurt. Those people will turn on him, and he’ll be left politically isolated. That hasn’t happened yet, but the economy – the number one concern of Republicans, not to mention voters in general – has been strong. If it tanks, do you really think they’ll stand by him? Ask the previous Republican darling, George W. Bush, how that worked out.

That’s why Trump’s beloved tariffs are a bigger threat to his presidency than any of the other bonehead go-it-alone moves mentioned above. People will look the other way when it comes to foreign affairs (“too far away”), government corruption (“they all do it”) or even the welfare of children (“they ain’t my kids”). But hit them in the pocketbook, threaten their livelihoods – or, for corporate shareholders, their profits – and it will be another story.

Trump’s supporters will hold their collective noses and go along with the tariffs unless and until the economy starts to head south. Then, they’ll desert him. But by that point, it will be too late. Again, ask George W how this works, and ask Republicans who have distanced themselves from that administration because they lost the White House for the next eight years.

The problem with Trump’s go-it-along contrarianism is that he’s not really going it alone: He’s dragging the rest of the country along with him. No one roots for a president to fail, but if he’s going to fail – as Trump seems prone to doing (six bankruptcies, a failed “university”, a gutted spring football league) – isn’t it best that he do so before the damage is so great that the rest of the nation fails along with him?

Unfortunately, that may not be possible. Trump has convinced Republican lawmakers that it’s in their political interest to go along with him, even against their long-held principles. It’s no longer a conservative party. It’s Trump’s party, conservative or otherwise. Because Republicans control Congress, they control the nation, and so, like dominoes, Trump’s arrogance could well be the first domino to fall in a line of devastation that trickles down – or flash-floods its way – through the GOP and on to the nation as a whole.

Trump has failed before. Repeatedly. But his selective memory only sees his successes and glosses over, hides (tax returns, anyone?) or lies about his failures. He’s convinced his supporters to do the same, rewriting history in a way that would owes more to Stalin’s Soviet propaganda machine than it does to any American tradition

But if the economy starts to fail, even that won’t protect him.

The housing bubble that led to the Great Recession might turn out to be nothing next to Trump’s overinflated ego. I hope I’m wrong about that. No one wants a president to fail. But no one wants to stay aboard a train that’s rushing toward a washed-out bridge over the Grand Canyon at 100 mph, either. Someone needs to apply the brakes now. Republicans in Congress. Voters in November. Anyone. Before it’s too damned late.

For more commentary on the Trump presidency and the media’s coverage of it, check out my book Media Meltdown in the Age of Trump, available on Amazon in paperback or ebook.