Category Archives: writing

An unidentified man…

Last night I listened to a podcast episode of Snap Judgment, called Counted: An Oakland Story. The episode was about how Oakland’s homicide rate has declined from a high point of 140 one year to 77 in 2017.

“And about those 77, we wanted to let you know about these artists, singers, students, activists, teachers—they are the Oakland family. They are what make beautiful Oakland, edgy Oakland, woke Oakland. Every loss, makes this place less special. So we’re going to do something a little different in this episode. We’re going to tell you who some of these people were.”

There’s a website associated with the project, and on its “In memory of” page each victim is featured—all with their date of death, some with sketches of them, and most with their names included. But 7 of them—with a sketch of either a rose or a candle in the place of their face—say, “Unidentified man.”

This morning I was still thinking about those unidentified men. How does that happen? And I wrote this short contemplation.


The unidentified man

I’m one of 7. I died in Oakland in 2017 on:

  1. February 15 or
  2. May 30 or
  3. September 28 or
  4. October 21 or
  5. November 23 or
  6. December 12 or
  7. December 16.

Imagine for a minute that you—yes you—are walking down the street, late tonight on your way home, and you get killed. Can you think of 3 people who could identify you? How about 5? 10?

There are so many ways to identify me, but they had no luck. No luck for me that my fingerprints or DNA weren’t in “the database.” And I thought that was a good thing.

I didn’t have good teeth. That wasn’t the reason there were no dental records to match. There were no dentists in my life.

I know why my family isn’t looking for me. There was no father, or mother, in my life. They had their own lives to live. And I was an inconvenience in them.

And don’t think nobody on the street knew me. I did know one other member of this club, a club none of us wanted to join. And that person definitely knew me. But someone got revenge on him for someone he killed.

My favorite member of the club? It has to be Jason. They said about him: “He actually didn’t live on the streets, but inside them. Inside the hollow cement pillars that hold up that off-ramp, where he made a room for himself—he even wired cable and internet inside with a projector, a couch, and a mini-fridge.” That cat was hooked up. I was not so resourceful.

But resources can’t help me now. At least I count. I count among the 77 of 2017—even as I lie in an unguarded tomb, unknown.

Riff on a connection mnemonic…

Like I’m sure a lot of people did last night, I thought about the old adage, “Spring forward, fall back.” But probably unlike a lot of people, this morning I contemplated mnemonics—those memory aids we employ for those things we do either so infrequently or that aren’t so meaningful that they’re hard to remember. A quick search on Wikipedia reveals these 9 types of mnemonics:

1. Music mnemonics: Songs and jingles can be used as a mnemonic. A common example is how children remember the alphabet by singing the ABC’s.

2. Name mnemonics (acronym): The first letter of each word is combined into a new word. For example: VIBGYOR (or ROY G BIV) for the colors of the rainbow or HOMES for the Great Lakes.

3. Expression or word mnemonics: The first letter of each word is combined to form a phrase or sentence — e.g. “Richard of York gave battle in vain” for the colors of the rainbow.

4. Model mnemonics: Some type of representation is constructed to help with understanding and recalling important information.

5. Ode mnemonics: The information is placed into a poem or doggerel, — e.g. ‘Note socer, gener, liberi, and Liber god of revelry, like puer these retain the ‘e (most Latin nouns of the second declension ending in -er drop the -e in all of the oblique cases except the vocative, these are the exceptions).

6. Note organization mnemonics: The way textbook and lecture notes are organized (e.g., notecards, outlines) can inhibit learning and recall or promote it.

7. Image mnemonics: The information is constructed into a picture — e.g. the German weak declension can be remembered as five ‘-e’s’, looking rather like the state of Oklahoma in America, in a sea of ‘-en’s’.

8. Connection mnemonics: New knowledge is connected to knowledge already known.

9. Spelling mnemonics: An example is “i before e except after c” or “when sounding like a in neighbor and weigh.”

I decided that “spring forward, fall back” is a connection mnemonic, and to that end I wrote this piece, which I call “Riff on a Connection Mnemonic,” because there just aren’t enough riffs on connection mnemonics, or any other kind of mnemonic, really.


A CONNECTION MNEMONIC

Spring forward. Going forward. Fast forward. Forward, March.

Spring forward.
Spring has sprung.
Sprung a leak.
Take a leak.
Take a break.
Break a leg.
Get a leg up on it.
Have a leg to stand on.

Going forward.
Going strong.
Strong women.
Women of color.
Color my world.
World peace.
Peace and quiet.
Quietly changing the world.

Fast forward.
Fast as lightning.
Lightning bugs.
The light of a thousand stars.
Star light, star bright.
Bright lights, big city.
City by the sea.
See the light at the end of the tunnel.

Forward, March.
Forward thinking.
Thinking too much.
Too much to handle.
Handle the hands on your clock.
Clean someone’s clock.
Clean up your act.
It’s a balancing act.

Spring forward. Going forward. Fast forward. Forward, March.

Matt’s “Writing Salon”: A prompt-writing gathering

On Sunday, the first day of October, I attended a gathering at the home of my friend and co-worker, Matt, for a couple of hours of prompt writing. In attendance, in addition to Matt and myself, were Naomi, Brent, Jacques, and Matt’s girlfriend, Ashley, who devised the prompts we used for the evening.

Here are the prompts, for each of which we had 15 minutes to devise a story, and then decide whether or not we wanted to read it to the group.

They held each other’s hands tightly in the rain, waiting, all 15 of them, until the music had stopped…

In all honesty, they didn’t anticipate the Verdi Requiem for their friend’s final farewell. Five of them were leaning toward Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven. Three thought for sure it’d be Martina McBride’s How Great Thou Art. And the other 7 were betting on John Berry’s Blessed Assurance. I, personally, had just prayed that no bagpipes or harpsichords would be involved, and simply beamed with the playing of taps. In all honesty, I melted at the way the trumpet player’s lips encircled the brass mouthpiece with an embouchure so exquisite that it excited me in a most inappropriate manner.

It turned out that after the break-in only one thing was missing… (I wrote to this amended prompt. The original one led off with “Despite the broken glass and mass chaos.”)

Well, only one thing was obviously missing… at first. But, as the days wore on, they found other things missing: her feather earrings and his fishing lure (which in retrospect looked a lot like her feather earrings). Then, the next time they had games night, they discovered that their Twister game was missing. It would actually be years before they realized that both their high school senior class rings had gone missing that day, too—rings they’d stopped wearing when high school had finally become irrelevant to her and his size 8 rings no longer fit on his size 10 fingers.

It turned out to be the cleaning people who had figuratively “cleaned the house,” filling trash bags with household items that were then “accidentally” diverted past the trashcans and into the trunk of their car. Their biggest mistake, though, was taking his only pair of jeans that still fit. As soon as he got home from work that day, he found them missing, which led to the filing of the police report.

Less alarmed than bemused, she noted that the gun had, in fact, been loaded after all…

And then she thought, “This is incredibly convenient,” remembering the calculating and deliberating last week about whether she could be sure that if she drove her BMW off the calling roadside cliff she’d actually end up dead as opposed to a quadriplegic for life, or perhaps worse, “locked in” to her body with no abilibty to indicated that the black ice really didn’t figure at all into the “accident.”

With that, she started a Facebook Live event, and when exactly 10 people had tuned in, she put the barrel to her head and just before pulling the trigger said, “I’m pretty sure this won’t hurt a bit.”

The Senate floor fell suddenly silent. In 200 years of existence, no one had ever spoken those words…

As the gay gentleman from North Carolina finished his sentence, the straight gentleman from Texas said, “They put what, where, again? That’s got to hurt. I remember the day I decided to be with Eve instead of Steve. I was a man on a mission, positioned to procreate with a rhythm so natural I didn’t even have to fantasize about Gina at the Gentleman’s Club to make it to home base. That said, however, if I gave some dude-on-dude action a try, I might gain a whole new constituency.

FAQs about my gym check-ins

I’ve had several questions over the years about the content of my Facebook gym check-ins, which are mostly to Planet Fitness but sometimes to the Red Hat Fitness Center.

  1. How long have you been doing this?
    The oldest record I have of one is May 3, 2010, so 7 years? But there’s only one in 2010, and then they appear more regularly in 2012, so it’s probably more like 5 years.

  2. Do you make them up?
    I’ve only made up one or 2 of them over the years.

  3. Why don’t you give attribution to them if you’re not making them up?
    I did in the beginning, when I was getting a lot of them from “Quotable Quotes” sites, but then I started to get them from several different places and most of the time they weren’t attributed to anyone, and so I eventually stopped. People can Google it if they’re interested in its source.

  4. Where do you get them?
    I get them from several different sources: someecards, other people’s timelines, memes, PostSecret, and sometimes I just Google “exercise sayings” or “exercise memes” or “exercise quotes” or “exercise jokes.” Or, I substitute “gym” or “diet” for “exercise” in all of those search arguments.

  5. Does Planet Fitness pay you to post them?
    No. They don’t even know I post them, since they’re on my timeline, which is friends-only, and not on Facebook’s Planet Fitness page or any place public.

  6. Why do you post them?
    The biggest reason is because it’s a huge motivator in getting me to the gym. I look forward to checking them after I’m done to see the reactions to them.

  7. Do you have any criteria for their use?
    Yes, I don’t use one unless it’s been at least a year since I last used it.

  8. How do you know how many times you’ve used one or how long it’s been since you last used it?
    I have a spreadsheet with all of them in it, including how often each has been used, the last date I used it, and the date of each use.

    Sorted by frequency of use

    First spreadsheet column showing frequency of use


    Sorted by date of last use

    Spreadsheet column labled 'Last' showing the date of last use

  9. How many do you have?

    The number of rows currently in my spreadsheet indicates that I have 340 of them.

    Spreadsheet number of rows = 340

  10. Haven’t you already used that one? (Which sometimes manifests itself as, “You’ve already used that one!”)
    Usually I get this from someone who doesn’t know 1) that I keep track of them, and 2) what my criteria for re-use is. I always use the opportunity to educate them. 🙂

  11. Have you seen this one? (With the item in question either posted to my timeline or to their own timeline with me tagged.)
    People often want to make sure I’ve seen something they think I might like to use, which I appreciate, but often already have it in my repertoire. I’m somewhat of a control freak (I can see you trying to put a look of surprise on your face) about what goes on my timeline, so I appreciate when someone sends me one using Facebook Messenger instead of putting it on my timeline or tagging me on it in a posting on their timeline.

My night of terror

I had three nightmares last night, all disturbing and frightening in their own way.

DIAGNOSED

I was at a gathering of family and friends and I had a wife who was projecting a slide show on the wall. I don’t remember the slide before or after to know if they were about a vacation or a topic or what.

Then one came up that just said: TERMINAL KIDNEY FAILURE. Everyone gasped, then got real quiet, and then slowly turned to me while I processed that this was a diagnosis about me that my wife had shared earlier with everyone, but hadn’t yet told me about, and the slide was supposed to have been removed from the “show.”

I just stood there stunned, for quite a while, wondering all those things I imagine everyone wonders when they get such news. “How bad is it? How long have I been sick? How much time do I have left?”

I moved slowly across the room, with all eyes on me, hugged my wife and cried inconsolably—terrified. Then I woke up.

ON DUTY

I was a new police officer, and I was with my partner going through a rundown building with rooms that were enclosed per se, but consisted of walls that you could see over and with glass-less windows and door-less doorways. They were such that you could see into a room through one door or window and see another window in the room that let you see into an adjacent room.

I had a gun but no idea how to use it. My partner heard a noise behind one wall and went to investigate. I was scared to death and didn’t want to be anywhere around that, so even though I knew I was supposed to be covering him, I left the area, walking around another corner in complete terror that I was going to come face-to-face with a “bad guy” with a gun.

There wasn’t anyone there, but I saw in the distance a line of people forming that was being escorted out of the building, so I got in it. Once I got just past the door leading outside, a woman called me, and said, “What are you doing?” I looked at her puzzled, to which she continued, “Don’t you recognize me? I’m your supervisor. You’re supposed to be in here working your beat. Get back in here.”

I re-entered the building—terrified. Then I woke up.

OUT OF CONTROL (A dream the likes of which I’ve had before)

I was driving alone in a van/truck. It was dark outside, and I was traveling about 50 MPH and using the cruise control. I was driving along the side of a mountain, so it was a winding road.

Suddenly, I was on the floor between the steering wheel and driver door and holding on to the steering wheel with one hand trying to steer from down there. I could see the quickly-passing side of the mountain out the windshield, and I wondered how long I could keep from crashing while steering but not being able to see the road ahead.

Then, the overhead cabin light came on, which made it even harder to see out the windshield at the passing mountain to try and at least stay close to it or follow it as a guide.

I thought, “Oh my god, how long can I keep doing this? I can’t believe I haven’t hit the side of the mountain yet. Or hit another car ahead of me. Or crossed the lane and hit an oncoming car. Or crossed the other lane and driven off the side of the mountain.”

I tried to get up, but I was wedged tightly between the seat and the door, so I couldn’t—and I was terrified. Then I woke up.

What day is it? It’s today. My favorite day, at Red Hat.

What day is it? It's today. My favorite day.


I’ve been working at Red Hat, on and off now, for about 3 years and 9 months, and I’m going to call Tuesday, June 6, 2017 my best day yet. Here are the 3 things that contributed to that:

ONE: RED HAT PRIDE INFORMATION TABLE

Red Hat has a diversity and inclusion group called Red Hat Pride, a group of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, and asexual/androgynous Red Hat associates and their allies who are working together to make Red Hat a more diverse, inclusive meritocracy. Ally is a term used to describe someone who is supportive of the LGBTQA+ community.

On Tuesday along with the other Red Hat diversity and inclusion groups, we staffed a table for this week’s New Hire Orientation class that included around 75 people, a good majority of whom were 2017 summer interns.

I marveled as 11 people from the class signed up to be on the mailing list for our group. I’m not naive enough to think our community still doesn’t face lots of challenges around the globe these days, but this gives me hope for a new generation of kids.


TWO: SHARE A MOMENT THAT MADE YOU PROUD TO WORK AT RED HAT

Our CEO sent out this request:

I want to invite every Red Hatter to share a story about a specific time when you were proud to work at Red Hat. These stories will be used to collaboratively craft a “functional why” for each of our core organizations, and ultimately, an overarching Red Hat Why.

In response, I shared my story:

My “proud to be a Red Hatter” moment happened fairly recently. One morning I was in the elevator with a cake in a large Tupperware cake taker. It was just me and another guy (whom I didn’t know) in there, and he said, “That looks good! I’d be even more impressed if you made it yourself.”

I did my usual split-second assessment as to whether I was in a safe place or not and then said, “Actually, my husband made it.”

Thanks, Red Hat.

To this posting, I received a number of heartwarming responses:

  • My favorite story. You are loved!
  • How wonderful. Thanks for sharing that.
  • Love this!
  • Literally gave me chills. I’m so glad that you feel Red Hat is a safe place where you can be yourself and share bits of your life with us.
  • ❤️ this 😊 We’re so lucky to have you John Martin!
  • John, don’t think we’ve ever met… but good to meet you now. I wanted to take a moment to tell you how much I appreciated your “Why” story. I can only hope that there is a day sooner, rather than later, where anyone does not have to perform that gut check for the “safe place” before speaking freely. All the best!
  • This is my favorite story so far :-). Thank you for sharing, John. My brother wrestles with that question of “am I in a safe place?”, too, but he also works for a company where he doesn’t have to worry about it. He’s told me similar stories—and how it makes his life so much richer to be able to live openly and freely. Thanks. You made my day, and made me even prouder to be a Red Hatter.

THREE: CELEBRATION OF WORLD ENVIRONMENT DAY

Our Red Hat Global Workforce Solutions group hosted a “Sustainability Walking Tour” in celebration of World Environment Day, and we walked about a mile around the area of our building, where we stopped at various “stations” to learn facts about how our city is protecting our environment in a number of ways. At each stop, someone held a sign that listed the ways the nearby things were being protected.

When we got back to the office, I sent this email to the GWS team:

Thanks to the GWS team for putting together the Downtown Raleigh Sustainability Tour. I was surprised that it was as informative as it was fun. You guys rock!

I was so inspired by your signs that I made my own:

 

YOURS

 

MINE

 

To which I received these replies:

  • I. LOVE. THIS. and you! 🙂 You bring such joy to Red Hat Tower!
  • This is amazing!!!! Thanks for coming and thanks for the shout-out! 🙂
  • Ha! Thanks for the laugh.
  • John, the picture made me laugh! Thanks for the positive note and glad you enjoyed it. Have a great rest of the week.
  • Haha this is great. 🙂