Sunday, November 29, 2009

Brain Flexing And Neurological Heft

If last year was my year of being reminded to keep my physical health up, this year is the year of the mental exercise. I've always prided myself on being able to learn. Especially the things that interest me. So, this year, I'm making an effort to dust off some books, nail down some logical puzzles and linguistic acrobatics, and get me some ol' fashioned book learnin'.

To start with, I got a few books of Greek and Latin. I figured I'd really go old fashioned. It's really exciting, and I love it. I adore languages, and I've always had some skill at learning and using them. It's a little different to just read ancient languages; my skill has always been in speaking and communication. Ask anyone who's spoken Japanese or Spanish with me-- it ain't pretty, but I get the job done. With my ancient language study, I'm trying to approach it differently. Much like a logical problem, I'm trying to get the basic structures down, and not communicate basic ideas. An advantage of studying something no one else speaks or uses is the process becomes wholly an intellectual one, and the social and cultural concerns I usually obsess over are non-existent.

One my major problems has always been my laziness. Not the "lay around the couch" kind of laziness; I'm actually pretty energetic. But the intellectual laziness that comes from not being challenged by mediocre problems. School was always easy for me, even college. I wasn't brilliant, but it was easy to be good. When it's easy to be good, a mentally lazy person like me never strives to be great. Now, at a relatively young 33, I feel the desire to push myself to reach for an intellectual greatness. If not a world shattering greatness, at least great beyond what I have used my mind for so far.

I've spent a lot of time being the person I wish to be, spiritually and emotionally. I'm a good father, I hope, and a good husband. (Or, Jaime's a good liar!) I don't want to be a Senator or a millionaire, or anything ridiculous. But I want to use my mind to do some good work, for me and my community. I haven't decided exactly what it means to attempt this, or exactly how: part of my cure for laziness is taking time to think it through, to plan it to the last detail. I wouldn't leave my kids in a situation where I hadn' contemplated every permutation, and I don't ever plan on leaving my brain in such a place. Not anymore.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving Thankfulness And Thankless Tasks

We had a mixed holiday yesterday. On one hand, we had a wonderful dinner at our friends' houses, including a meal at one place and dessert at another. On the other hand, our house flooded for the second time this year and a ton of our stuff was ruined. So, after a morning spent worrying and being really upset, the afternoon with friends was much needed. Today, we're cleaning and trying to figure out what we can save and what we must trash. Jaime is doing most of the deciding.

On the plus side, today is a nice day, and we're not as upset as we could be. It's all a matter of perspective. In the grand scheme of things, some ruined things are not the end of the world. The real problem now is trying to sort through the stuff and figure out where it goes and what to do next. Jaime is a natural hoarder, and there is a lot of stuff to organize. We did have the nice meal and a night's sleep to energize us though, so we'll get it done.

All of this has a huge silver lining for me: it really highlights my search for what I want to do next. I feel young, in a way I haven't felt for years.

It's odd. I am young, at 33. But for a few years, with kids and money and poor habits and all of that, I have been feeling overextended and worn out. Suddenly, in the past few months, that has gone away. Even yesterday, with the frustration and sadness of dealing with the house, I felt excited and filled with purpose. Jaime says it's change; and there is no doubt I am a junkie for change. But I thing it's also the energy of being reminded that I'm young, I have a wonderful family, I'm healthy, and there are always options out there for people who want to excel.

I no longer define success by the narrow terms that used to limit me. I spent my twenties trying to be true to myself. I wanted an ideological victory. In a sense I achieved that victory, by learning the shallowness of ideology. In my thirties, I want to excel at being who I am, as a person. My kids are growing, and I'm trying to provide for them, socially and spiritually as well as materially. That process of learning what really matters to me as a person has given me strength that the ideological quest never could. I no longer have a standard to aspire to on paper, I have a person to be. I used to write about abstractions that made up a person without understanding the limitations of those abstractions. The next decade is my concrete dedication to growth, for me and my family. That means materially, spiritually, and socially. Most important, it does not mean abstractly or ideologically.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Very Fresh

Careers And Working (For A Living, Not On A Highway)

I'm continuing my ever-evolving quest to evaluate my career and professional goals. I expect this to continue until I die, so please don't expect any great epiphanies. (Actually it may continue well past death-- I'll be the one lined up at the pearly gates discussing possible Seraphim openings with Gabriel.)

I've always been guided by ideology, something which I have worked hard these past few years to stop. I didn't go to law school after college, in a large part because of my professor's disdain for the profession. I went to acupuncture school to learn about alternative health because of a political interest in the health care system. I'm grateful for the people who informed these decisions, of course; they shaped me and allowed me to move forward in my real life. No one would have been well served by me in a cubicle and miserable for this past decade. (Well, the prostitution and pastry industries would have benefited-- but no one cares about them.)

I needed to be where I was, when I was. Now, as Jaime begins her career and evaluates where she is where she wants to be, I'm doing the same. I have time: I'm just over thirty, my kids are ready to start school in a few years. This is the chance to really think about where I want to be and how to get there. I'm really happy I spent the time I did, building myself and my family. It sounds self-indulgent, and maybe it is a little, but I know if I had tried to have a career at twenty I would have messed up something badly. Now, I have a stable marriage, two great kids, and years to really make a living. I could work from now for thirty years starting in two years and still be relatively young. Especially if J succeeds in hiding all the sugar in the house.

I'm off to write resumes and contemplate where I want to be in two years when both of the kids are in school. I feel strangely how my mother must have felt, when her kids were getting bigger and she went off to school to become a teacher. Oddly enough, my life has paralleled hers in this way. And perhaps I'll look back on my few years with the kids tiny, me at home, as the best of my life. But somehow I don't think so; I think the best years of your life are very much in how you live it, and in how you appreciate the moments in front of you. At least, that's what I'll tell Gabriel when I'm interviewing for the guardian angel job.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

A Long Winter's Rest?

Apologies to family and friends who keep up with my blog. With a busy week, and the dark and dreary Seattle weather, we haven't gotten out as much, and so I haven't had a ton to write about. In the coming weeks we have some time off, a holiday, and I'll finish a fun book about the Cincinnati Reds. I promise I'll get back to work on writing about the kids soon. In the meantime, check out this!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Soul Of Baseball

I'm really getting into sports in my thirties. It's odd; I'm not sure exactly where the impulse comes from, but it's happening and I'm going with it. (I'm referring, of course, to the two important sports: football and baseball. Soccer gets a pass for being Europe-y and fun to play, if impossible to watch sober. The others are not sports, and should be watched accordingly.)

I love baseball to a great extent. While I'll watch football and have fun (I'm watching the Colts and Patriots now. Great names. Indianapolis Colts. New England Patriots. Definitely in my top ten team names) baseball really means something to me. I'm moved by baseball. I'm hurt when people don't get it. I'm angered by fans and owners who don't treat the game with respect. I agree with one of my heroes, Buck O'Neil, who said that baseball and jazz are the two greatest American inventions. I learned a ton of amazing things about him and his amazing life, and read a ton of the cool sayings that got recorded in Joe Posnanski's book, The Soul of Baseball. It's about baseball, and America, and race and faith. It's mostly about Buck O'Neil. He also wrote a great book about the Cincinnati Reds, which is fun. (I've really gone to town on baseball books this month.)

Buck O'Neil, as any casual fan even knows, was a Negro League first baseman who later became the first black coach in the majors. He was a brilliant baseball man, and in a different time would have been a manager or a GM. He was smart, he charmed everyone who met him, and he said wonderful quotable things. (Another of my favorites: "There are angels everywhere.")

The book is on my list as one of the greatest I have ever read. I'm quite a reader, and I don't make that statement lightly. It is an amazing book. Joe basically follows Buck through his life for a year or so, chronicling his interactions, listening as he makes the effort to remember people who deserve to be remembered. When baseball fans like me go on about baseball, we often talk about the history of the game, and how that tradition makes it great. But that tradition isn't great because it's all good; on the contrary, it's great because it's enormous, flawed, and American. Baseball is intertwined with the country, and love it or hate it, every American is a product of that history as well. It's fascinating to me for that reason.

I highly recommend that book to everyone interested in baseball. Or race. Or faith. Or awesome people. Or anyone else. Look, just read the book.

Top Ten Team Names, in no particular order:
1. NY Giants (the baseball one was first)
2. NY Titans (better than Jets)
3. Cincinnati Reds
4. Chicago Cubs (so cute. "cubs." cuddly)
5. New England Patriots (the whole region. we're too big for one state!)
6. NY Yankees ( hate 'em, of course. but good name.)
7. Washington Nationals
8. Boston Red Sox/Chicago White Sox (tie)(or pair? hehe)
9. Philadelphia Athletics
10. Indianapolis Colts (as cute as cubs, but tougher!)

This list was restricted to Major League or NFL teams. I could have talked about minor leagues for days. Or Negro League teams. Atlanta Black Crackers? Genius!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Space Ghost And Dino Boy Together Inexplicably

My son's obsession with strange and disturbing cartoons continues, this time with the discovery of the 1966 insanity that is Space Ghost and Dino Boy. They aren't together in the show, just paired together in separate shorts for no discernible reason. They have nothing in common: Space Ghost is a superhero who turns invisible and wastes everyone's time until a monkey can save him or get saved, and Dino Boy is a virulently racist kid who travels around with a caveman and dinosaur and runs from things.

Space Ghost is a pretty good time in some ways. The voices are over the top. (Jace is voiced by Tim Matheson, Vice President Hoynes in the West Wing!) The animation is horrible, but colorful. Space Ghost has a fun array of powers from his wrist bands, although the turning invisible seems the least effective of them. When you can make giant pile-drivers appear and smash your enemies, is there a need for subterfuge? But despite some of these silly problems, and the attempt of the writers to shoehorn the whole "invisible space ghost" theme into a science fiction show, Space Ghost is pretty good. The real problem with this show is Dino Boy.

First of all, the boy is voiced by Johnny Carson, and that made me waste time discovering that it isn't THAT Johnny Carson. I bet he got really sick of that. Second, the premise is one of those half baked ideas that drive me nuts. The boy crashes in South America, and finds a lost kingdom of cavemen and dinosaurs. Now I recognize that these writers didn't have Wikipedia to look up La Paz, but come on, writers. You know South America is not Pangaea. Is it that hard to just make the kid fly through a time warp? I'll forgive the caveman/dinosaurs living at the same time thing. It's a cartoon. But I won't forgive lazy storytelling.

The second, larger problem, is that the show is oddly racist. The bad guys are weird caricatures of Africans, or sometimes Native Americans. One strange villain is a short dark skinned guy with a bald head, straight out of a racist political cartoon of the 19th century. I understand that 1966 is not 2009, but come on, guys. It isn't 1830 either. At one point Viri just turned to me and frowned. They don't use any bad terms, so I didn't want to turn it off; but the creepy image was a bit much. I would definitely avoid it for my kids, if these strange and disturbing cartoons weren't so captivating to Viri.

The Dino Boy doesn't do anything either. The two episodes I watched involved him running from bad guys he found. He just wanders around and finds trouble? Then runs away? Solid storytelling there! At least Space Ghost had fun monsters that chased him and developed ridiculous plots to capture him. (My favorite: Metallus invites him to his ship, shows him his plan, then lets him go. Later, Space Ghost just comes back and beats him up. Can you explain your thinking on this, Metallus?)

I've got to continue to find some of these for him, and for my own twisted curiosity. I'm especially curious about the Alex Toth cartoons, like Space Ghost and Herculoids. He also wrote early Green Lantern comics, which I would love to expose Viri to when he gets old enough. If he likes the style of the cartoons, he'll really like the Golden Age comic style, once he's able to appreciate it. For now, it's crazy animation and invisible monkeys! And Dino Boy wandering around Copacabana being racist!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Death Of My Camera

So, my trusty Konica Dimage has passed on. It is an ex-camera. Nothing I can do will restart it, or even get the little lens-cover device to close. I have no idea why it won't work, it just locked up and won't do anything. It is no more. I'm a little more sad at this than I would be any other device that I could lose or break, because this camera has documented the entire life of Viri and Arkaedi. JoAnn and Becky bought me this camera when Viri was first born, and I have used it to take thousands of photos. Mostly I have pictures of the kids, but also friends and family, some nice natural scenery in the Northwest, and even a few of me.

Here is a link to my photo album, which will mostly stay the same for a bit until I can get a new good camera. Any recommendations?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Happy Birthday Jaime

Today is Jaime's birthday. I'm using the day to shower her with love and affection. After so many years, we've run out of gifts. I was never the best gift buyer anyways; I think she'd rather have a clean house and fed children. Appropriately enough, we're spending it working and cleaning and caring for the kids. It's a little more fun, though, because we're reminded of how awesome it is to have our little family. We're also reminded of how long we've been a couple, since today is also the anniversary of when we started dating. Appropriately enough, it was the day she turned seventeen. She has been dating me half of her life, as she reminds me. (I could trade her in now for two seventeen year olds, I remind her. She isn't sure that's legal.)

I can't believe how long it's been, how many birthdays and anniversaries. It's pretty amazing though. Looking through old pictures, so many of the memories are tied into places and people and situations that have since changed; the one constant in my life is Jaime. I can even remember in perfect detail the one birthday of those seventeen years that she was in Malaysia and we weren't together. It still makes me sad. One day without her in seventeen and it gives me a little twinge of pain. It's a sweet twinge, though, because the years we've spent together remind me of how precious that time is.

I sometimes get on a little rant about relationships, and staying together. It drives my friends and acquaintances nuts, especially those who have been through divorce or serial monogamy. But there is a reason I come back to it, other than the standard "I-can-never-shut-up" reason that I go on about everything: My life works and contains joy to the extent that I have held onto the people who have meaning to me. My time with Jaime has made my life better in innumerable ways. I think many of us would benefit from making an effort to build commitment in all areas of our lives as well. This means not only staying together, but working and building and growing together. We don't try to do that, we don't compromise, hold fast, or change in the right measure. We don't do what it takes to be together, as friends and partners, and our society and world suffers for it.

I'm glad we made the effort, forgave each other mistakes, and learned to be a couple. We're both better for it.

Okay, mostly me. But maybe a little bit Jaime too.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Busyness Isn't A Word

We've spent a crazy few weeks here. Between J's busy schedule, and my fairly busy schedule, and 24/7 kid stuff, I'm about to collapse. Well, I would be, if I wasn't spending my Saturday evening sitting on the recliner watching cartoons with the boy. That's a fairly relaxing end to the week, I'll admit. But overall, this is not a sustainable pace for me. I'm enjoying my work; and I even kept the house fairly under control. I cleaned the kids' room, even, which is a shock to us all.

I really wonder how people do it, week after week. I know the kids won't be 2 and 4 forever, and as they grow they get easier in some ways. But they get tougher in some ways too, and running them all over town for this and that, helping with school, and then trying to work enough to pay the bills seems as daunting to me as taking them with me everywhere does at the moment. It will possibly be harder, because at least now I get a baby girl hugging me and saying "Wuv wuv Papa!" as she toddles along. When she's embarrassed to be seen with me, will it be harder to get motivated?

I think a big reason is that I am not happy in our situation. I'm extremely happy with how awesome my family is; but being really broke and working hard, living in a city that I'm hot and cold on, and (alert Homeland Security here, Glenn Beck) a country I'm increasingly frustrated by and disappointed in, I'm losing patience with my workload. I'm working hard, and Jaime is damn near killing herself, to make bills in a place with no health care, lousy education for my kids, and the prospect of millions in student loan debt for my whole family just to get them all through college. Is it worth it?

There great things about this country. I'm not saying I'm casting any votes for Somalia or Indonesia anytime soon. But more and more I find myself fantasizing about Sweden, or Japan, or Canada. (Your national anthem rocks, Canada. Seriously. Even the name. "O Canada" is awesome. It sounds so casual. Like, Oh, yeah, Canada, by the way, we like you. Do you like us? Check a box below for yes/no/maybe. Canada is awkward in a really cute way.)

Are these places better? They seem better, when I visit. They seem calmer, more polite, more egalitarian. Is it true? I don't think I'm totally rose-colored-glasses here. Other people tell me the same thing. People a lot like me, in mindset and temperament. Which I think is the key; America has greatness, and maybe will have greatness again in the future, but it isn't me. Does that sound weird? It does, I know. But more and more it seems true. I do find that woman with a gun slightly hot though, as disturbing as it is. Maybe the problem is that it's more me than I want, and less me than I need.

Sunday, November 1, 2009