Death. Just Death: A Blog I’ve Been Just Dying To Write

 Do I have to blog about it?
In the spirit of openness and synchronicity with the universe (more about this later), it seems I must deal with the issue so many of us go to such great lengths to avoid—death and dying. To begin our discussion on all things grim reaper, some necessary backstory is in order.
I was recently contacted by an acquaintance, Lisa, to assist her in a TEDx event in which she was going to be participating.  For those unaware, TED is a nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks (18 minutes or less). TED began in 1984 as a conference where Technology, Entertainment and Design converged, and today covers almost all topics — from science to business to global issues, even death — in more than 100 languages. Meanwhile, independently run TEDx events help share ideas in communities around the world. This TEDx was at College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita.
I describe Lisa as an acquaintance (yet ironically Facebook “friends”) even though we attended John Burroughs High School together and, as she puts it, have been “orbiting” in the same atmospheric social circles for well over 30 years, yet never really connecting at any qualitative level.
This all changed when I received an email from her requesting my assistance in her TEDx presentation, as she was aware I was a Speech Professor and was recommended by a mutual friend. Her topic? Death.
Lisa is one of those people who possess an aura of positivity and friendliness accompanied by a strong and undeniable, though carefully veiled, strength.  One cannot allow her overwhelmingly warm, bubbly and charismatic demeanor to conceal that she has the heart of prizefighter who will ultimately not take no for an answer. She is the warm and fuzzy teddy bear with the tenacious heart of a lion.
It is little wonder as to why.
Lisa lost her son Justin, who was a young teen at the time, to cancer about 12 years ago. If this were not enough, some years later her youngest son, Jacob, was diagnosed with the same cancer at the same age his older brother was diagnosed. Today, her youngest son is cancer free yet still needs to be checked every 6 months. Perhaps these horrific events explain her tenacious heart, but how the teddy bear demeanor? She is remarkable.
As a result, Lisa is now an advocate for people learning how to deal with death.  She has started “Death Cafés” in which all people are invited to come and discuss all things death; be it coping with the death of a loved one, dealing with your own mortality, or just curious and in need of discussion. In addition, she has started a non-profit, “Justin Time” in which children can attend and express their thoughts and emotions concerning the death of a loved one through artistic expression.
Simply, if it’s about death, it’s all good with Lisa. If she were a radio station her motto would read, “All Death, All The Time.”
The basic philosophical underpinning behind Lisa’s relationship with death is that people do not like to discuss it and do not know or even realize the basics of the grieving process for themselves or others.  To exemplify her message as simply as I can, if you attempt to console one who is grieving with saying, “He is in a better place,” they will want to slug you; rather asking, “What happened? Tell me more,” is music to a grieving person’s ear.
The process of death is not about wonderfully motivated, yet painfully insulting, platitudes; rather it is about expression and discussion.
I, perhaps like most Americans, am guilty of being a “death denying” person who is not interested in the discussion. I hate death so much because I love life so much.  As I think about it, I suppose it is not the fear of death that haunts me as much as the fear of no life does; this in spite of the fact I have spoken with enough people who have had near death experiences and speak of a complete warmness and joy in the process. Yes I fear, yet concurrently believe it is a beautiful transition into what awaits us, whatever that might be.
And speaking of synchronicity (paragraph 4, look), as I was assisting Lisa I had a unexpected conversation with an old friend who, unbeknownst to me, nearly died from Lyme Disease several years ago, recovered, and now loves life more than ever—yet has absolutely no fear of death in the least; in fact, she is very excited for it.
I’m also aware, through first hand personal experience, that some people on death’s doorstep converse, out loud in a semi-conscious state, with long dead friends and family. And speaking of synchronicity yet again, the day of Lisa’s talk, my partner Rene’ told me her 94 year old grandmother, who is very close to passing in a retirement home, is now having conversations and making plans with her deceased family.
Am I pimpin an afterlife philosophy? Hell no. I have no idea. Am I pimpin an afterlife period? Hell Hell no. Jimmy’s preaching days are long over. I just believe there is something— and if it’s nothing? Not a damn thing I can do about it. Still, it’s my blog so hear me out.
In all, human beings hate change. We resist change. Most of us would rather live a half-assed lifestyle and avoid change over living a full and complete life that requires risk and change. Perhaps this is the same with death. Death demands change.
Far from a Hindu expert on anything, I am reminded of the Hindu God Shiva who is understood to be the “destroyer,” or God of death, as it were. However, though Shiva is associated with destruction, this is not considered a negative in the Hindu religion as Shiva is also considered to be the “transformer” –as destruction opens the path for a new creation of the universe, a new opportunity for the beauty and drama of universal illusion to unfold.
So, no longer just an acquaintance and now a new friend, Lisa, has guided me into an honest and thoughtful reflection concerning death. Is it a beautiful transition? Yes. And what do I still think about death?
You might say Jimmy’s in death tension. I love change…and death may be the ultimate form of it.

 Lisa and jim



Profanity And Language, WTF? A Closer Look At The 6 Different Types of Cursers. Warning: Explicit Language Ahead

Recently in one of my online communication courses, the subject of profanity and cursing was discussed.  Many do not realize there  is a difference between the two, as profanity, or the “profane” can be a conceptual idea while cursing is utilizing specific “bad” words. As one who essentially never cursed the lion’s share of my adult life and now curses liberally, I find the subject of great interest and, actually, pretty important.

Thus, the conversation was started with a 25 year-old female stating the following on our discussion board:Let me start by saying that I spent a lot of time as a child with my stubborn grandma who smoked like a chimney.  She also cursed like a sailor.  With that said, I didn’t curse so much when I was a child, but as I’ve grown, I have picked up this sailor cursing habit; and yes, I blame it on my grandmother.  So, as many of my peers and siblings do not mind the cursing (I also believe cursing is embedded in my generations’ language) I do realize that my elders and the older generation do not find this language attractive.  Some men that I have dated have also commented on my cursing in a negative way, and I just say “Fuck you.”  I’m kidding… I have realized that I can come off “unladylike” and childish to certain people, so I have learned to refrain from cursing in front of certain people.  I do this to respect that particular person I’m with; I don’t mind cursing and it is simply the way I was raised and a part of my language and expresses my laidback personality.  I never intend to insult people with this type of language and I’ve learned it can do just that.  So I now am very cautious of who I curse in front of.  It’s amazing how something as little as cursing or slang can have a big impact on how one perceives you or your culture as a whole.”

A female, approximately the same age, responded with this:“I completely agree about cursing being a staple in today’s generation! I also find it comical that people say it is “unladylike”. What is “ladylike” anyway? Crossing legs? Being a man’s beck and call? Then count me in as “unladylike”!

You go girl. I’m down with the feminist stuff. Totes.

So, what is it? Cursing good? Cursing bad? Should we? Shouldn’t we? So many different ways to go with this blog. I could write of the philosophical outlooks on using profanity and its cultural effects. Or perhaps even the psychological dimensions of the interplay of profane language with human thoughts processes and behavior. Naaaah. Instead I realized that there are essentially 6 different types of people and their relationship to swearing and it might be fun to recognize each type. Which one are you? Be honest.

1. The Never, Ever Curser. This is essentially what I was for many years. Cursing to me was a sign of weakness and expressed a lack of self-control. I mean, if one cannot control their tongue how could they control anything else in their life? There is no hint of the profane in this person’s vocabulary. Even in times of extreme anger, silence is the preferred choice over any hint of profanity. This is “Father Know Best” language meets Ward Cleaver for a good delicious dialogue over milk and cookies. In my opinion, when one has young children this is not a bad route to take. Therefore it was quite a compliment when my 20 year-old daughter recently told me “good job” as she explained she never even knew the “F-word” existed until she was 11.

2. The Replacer Curser. This is the goshdarnit crowd. For gosh sakes, you know the ones, they replace what would be a nicely placed swear word with a freaking PG version. This is the world where crap becomes crud and the ass is transformed to a butt. All the intent of a swear word is present without actually committing the swear crime, for Pete’s sake. Some might think this person is just full of bullroar, as I do. Think of the person who violates the spirit of the law yet cleverly remains true to the freaking letter of it. They like to think people do not give a fudge about their picking replacement vocabulary or else they can just go to heck.

3. The Cleaned Up Curser. In the cleaned up curser world, they like to dangerously push the language limits yet will only dabble in the swear words that are deemed only moderately profane.  Typically the word ass can be used because it can also refer to a donkey, hence acceptable. Even dick and pussy can be used due to their relationship to a person’s name or pet feline. In this world, shit is still far too much yet crap is just fine. Of course I never really understood the difference between shit and crap; I guess the former is just a shittier version of the latter. In addition, damn is ok because water can be collected behind it and god can still declare you to hell in its name. Oh, and speaking of damnation, hell is ok as well. And if it’s good enough for god? It’s good enough for the cleaned up curser, godddammit. Generally these people are very poor cussers and do not use even their cleaned up versions effectively, perhaps due to the fact they are not privy to the full arsenal of profanity. For example, they may confuse the hard-headed man to be a pussy while the soft coward to be a dick. Whoops. This could lead to real fustercluck.

4. The Regrettable Curser. This is the person who will liberally use swear words yet still feel a sense of shame in the process. These people will often try not to cuss, yet fail quite miserably. My suspicion is that these people probably got their mouth washed out with soap or their ass backhanded at some point in their childhood, due to cussing, and never really got over this traumatic experience. Typically this is the final phase for many before transforming into the next possible phase of cursing, the Discerning Curser.

5. The Discerning Curser. I would probably place myself in this category. Why? I do use curse words yet not flippantly so. I think about it. I gauge my audience. I assess. As the conversation above will attest, I communicate with a generation -by and large and with many exceptions- of those who liberally curse. You know, the 18-28 year old motherfuckers who do not give a shit about profanity in language and actually respond quite well to it. However, the discerning curser can still reign it in when necessary and not drop F-bombs while visiting grandma at Beverly Manor or to their little brother at Mountainview Elementary. The Discerning Curser will occasionally drop a profane bomb at the wrong time yet will instantly recognize and address the transgression.

6. The Out of Control Curser. This curser is the completely out of control asshole who has no idea when fucking too much is just too fucking much.  Whether a fucking ball game, bar, nursing home, or goddamm kindergarten playground, for fuck’s sake, it’s all fucking good shit and the right time to drop profane fucking words to any dick or cunt within earshot. I think you assholes get the goddamm idea.

So which one are you and why? I really do believe a nicely placed profane word, given the right context to the right audience is not only acceptable, it is the preferred nomenclature. It is a bit like watching a film and the characters are drinking a made up brand of soda, like Cole instead of Coke, or Pipsi instead of Pepsi. I feel cheated. I want the real thing. So it is with my language  -I want the real thing dammit. Don’t cheat me and the rest of the world out of profane sugar with your aspartame language.

And so the discussion will continue. As a former “never, ever curser” just realize I have a lot of damn time to make up for.

The Urbanovich Family Tattoo And Other Bad Ideas: Lessons From The Urbanovich Family Text Zone (UFTZ)

Sunday night we were sitting at dinner-if you call Jalapeno fries and Lagunitas IPA at Schooners “dinner”- when Rene’ came up with a very traditional and maternal idea (not); an idea that would build family unity and solidarity (not) while creating even stronger bonds among all our family members (not). You’ve probably guessed it by now – she requested that all of us get an Urbanovich family tattoo, a simple “U” inked on any body part of our choice.
For those who know me or read my blogs, it is no surprise when I tell you that I am not a tattoo guy –I have never even been remotely tempted to do so.  Why? There are quite a few reasons that you can read here, yet I can summarize most fittingly with the word, “change,” as in I change too much and too often to like anything I would ink on my body after, say, about 3 months, tops.
But this tattoo idea intrigued me. Turning 51 has softened my outlook on tats. Hell, I am in the early fourth quarter in the game of life and this skin ain’t going with me to the locker room. Yet, still, there is no symbol, art, picture, or concept I would want permanently on my body. However, a simple U inked on any body part of my choice? I could potentially live with that.
So I immediately went to the Urbanovich Family Text Zone –the UFTZ (that is a different blog for a different day) where the Urbs communicate on a somewhat daily basis about all kinds of bullshit, share funny pictures, whatever…and I sent the following:
I forewarned Rene’ precisely what would happen. In short, there is no way in hell we would all agree to do this.
“I disagree with you, Jimmy,“ responded Rene’, “I am their mother and it is a special request from me. Besides, they can put it anywhere on their body…it can be hidden.”
I further explained that the reason they would not agree would be because we did an excellent job parenting (if I do say so myself). One of our family values we wanted to impart to our once young children growing up was that of individuality; the idea to be individually strong, develop powerful personal identities and to cultivate a very personal and unique voice in the world.
And we accomplished that. Almost too well.
Whether you are their mother or anyone else, my children will simply not do what they do not want to do and if they want to do something? Best just move aside and not risk getting injured.
The UFTZ responses started pouring in.
The first response was entirely expected:
That was easy. Yet it also comes from a family member in which “risk, adventure, challenge, and change” are some of his many middle names.
The second response was not quite so agreeable, to say the least:
“Absolutely not.  Sorry.”
What did I tell you? This family member has friends who are tatted up one side and down the other. As one who eventually wants to be a successful businessman, he realizes the downside of permanent markings. I must say I agree with him.
The third response was somewhere in the middle, yet perhaps the most “collectivist” minded of all:
“I’LL DO IT BECAUSE I LOVE YOU. And because external manifestations of the internal are powerful! I love it and I hope you change your mind ‘other family member.’”
Hmmmm. That is sweet and what I would expect from this artistic and expressive child.
Now on to the fourth response.
And this was just the short introduction to her well thought, wonderfully crafted and quite reasonable dissertation on Society and Tattoos via UFTZ. We get it. Again, like the other disagreeing sibling, I tend to agree with her.
So what is the Urb clan to do?
It does not look like the fam will get unifying tattoos anytime soon yet it does teach an excellent lesson about life and choices:
For every honorable trait there lurks a potential not-so-favorable consequence.
For the one who is courageous, there is the danger of trying something courageously stupid and getting courageously hurt. For the person who perseveres through good times and bad, there is the chance of not getting out of something while one still can and cut the losses. For those who take full responsibility for their actions, there is chance of becoming a compulsive control freak and not roll with the ebbs and flows of the universe. All wonderful traits, all with unintended consequences.
So it goes with our family value of individuality. It has a wonderful upside that I believe in strongly. Yet, often we individuals (and yes I am TOTALLY an individual) do not always make great team players and often value our own identity over the sake of the collective.
And I would have it no other way.
I love my family dearly…I embrace each one of my children’s strengths and flaws and I respect when their “yes” means “yes” and their “no” means “no.”
So as mom and dad converse over their Jalapeno fries and Pale Ale while attempting to soothe their own personal transitions to an empty nest with some different ideas, we celebrate this disagreement concerning the Urb family tattoo -as it speaks volumes more about the character of the clan than any skin deep ink possibly could.