Triple Sweep

22 September 2014

Dear J-

What does impossible feel like? I have an outline in my head but nothing else beyond a vague notion of here, we have to do this instead/in lieu of/in addition to. We were able to get the kids up and moving and playing around yesterday, and I dunno, maybe it felt a little like what my folks did when we were little (visit friends who have kids your age and hey, you kids go and play, willya) but it couldn’t be, couldn’t possibly be that we’re all growing up and getting older, could it? I think back even just a little to my dad, who was a professor by this age, and what have I done with my life instead? In lieu of? Or is that even a good yardstick to use, a source of comparison? Even as I idly eye real estate in different towns — itchy feet are itchy — I know the great purges are yet to come.

I’m plenty flat-out exhausted today, to be honest; it was a long weekend and next weekend is already booked and there’s still the week to get through as well. Once you get over your own sense of badness, though, you might as well pretend that what you do is add value to work and life in general. As we push through the darkening morning (autumnal equinox! today!) we recite the litany of worth: let’s keep going onwards because what I have to contribute is worth getting excited over. Steady or not, here I come. There’s a lot to be done, after all, and me convincing myself that it’s not worth doing before even trying isn’t going to help, not this dark in the morning.

You know the old saw about how when you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail? I had a portrait lens on yesterday so there’s a lot of strange-kid portraits showing up today; this is maybe not unexpected but for those of you who thought it was strange to see strangers’ kids, there you go. This is thunderdome, with all its attendant glory; we live in a state of constant surveillance but so be it; we’ll make the most of it and move on with our lives. I will say this, though; there’s nothing stranger than having a stranger take pictures of your kids, and so I’m okay (for now) with the implied consent I give to have my own kids’ pictures taken because it’s not possible to separate out the intent from the action, not all the time.

Mike

Pep Talk

19 September 2014

Dear J-

That’s it; it’s been a long week and I think I’ve reached a limit of sorts, maybe, perhaps, or not. I wonder if I haven’t been trying hard enough, as nothing is making the data march to command in an orderly fashion. The best I can come up with is to have a threshold value put together and ready to take on some more data. Did I do this right, by the way? I may never know. The data are so erratic and scattered that I haven’t got a clue whether I’ve been successful or not. You wrestle with the numbers and finally never know if there’s some element of random chance thrown in as well, mucking up any trends you might want to draw. It’s nothing like the data from Canada, which showed clear results within hours.

I suppose it all depends on who you’re talking to and what it’s about. I, seeing reflections in the kids at this point, get quite frustrated too easily with the lack of progress and punt by doing something else that takes less brains. Brains. We had an afternoon off in a meeting, and I’m pretty sure I caught my head snapping backwards as I passed out slowly. I should have stolen a cue from a coworker and stood up in the back of the room, but what we learned versus the time we invested was … I wouldn’t have made that tradeoff, let me tell you, if they hadn’t said it was super-important and couldn’t be missed.

The newness of the job and location has worn off, at least today of this week, and I’m weary of committing more time and effort, but let’s think about it this way: are you satisfied with what you’ve produced, and why wouldn’t you want to put your best foot forward instead? I wonder if there isn’t a better opportunity or variable to capture, given that my motivation this week has been low in general and particularly abyssal today (and look at me, I’ve only been awake for an hour or so; this bodes quite well, now, doesn’t it?) Go! Fight! Win! Or something similarly cheerful; if they say the key to success is self-discipline, part of that is being willing to kick yourself in the ass every now and again and getting over your ennui.

Mike

Mirror Mirror

18 September 2014

Dear J-

McCartney wrote one of the triple medleys on the flip side of Abbey Road — namely Golden Slumbers/Carry that Weight/The End — where the closing line is “And in the end | the love you take | is equal to the love | you make”. I might be misremembering it but I listened to that album a lot in college and I’m reasonably confident. Love isn’t money; it’s not a conservation equation of mass or energy; the more you spend, the more you receive. Simple math isn’t enough to describe the calculus of the heart, after all. I’m not sure if it’s worth calculating a rate of return other than to say the misers here are more miserable than usual.

I’m learning that patience works the same way. The more you extend the more likely it is you’re going to receive. It’s easy to pass judgment in the silence of your head (that was me, yelling profanities at the truck that nearly turned right into me yesterday) but consider that most people wouldn’t be rude unless they think they can get away with it (those cars that shove in front of you while merging? you think their drivers would do the same in a coffee shop line?). Just ponder that for a moment; especially with kids, they learn how you deal with things and work accordingly: these are the lessons you teach. This is the abrupt anger they’ve learned to react with.

When I was reading the barely-better-than-fanfic Pocket Books Star Trek novels (I still love Black Fire and The Final Reflection) I remember one author proposed something like a perfect reflector to counter phaser fire — phasers being some form of electromagnetic radiation and therefore subject to mirror reflection — which would redirect the fire back at the aggressor. At the time I scoffed, thinking that of course there would be ways around it (ha, just hit it with a photon torpedo!) or since there’s no such thing as a perfect reflector, waste heat would eventually degrade the reflector’s capability. I hadn’t counted on kids, who are perfect reflectors of ourselves, not as we want to be but as we are.

Mike

Credit Due

17 September 2014

Dear J-

I keep trying to keep up with all the various developments in technology (read that as “I read a lot of gadget-y blogs”) and so it was with no small surprise last Friday that I saw someone with an iPhone 6 out in the wild (he was an Apple engineer, I gather, and explained somewhat sheepishly what a relief it was to be able to bring it off-campus). Just like that, we’re off and running on adrenaline and wow. You know if you had asked me a couple of weeks ago, I would have said that of course there’s nothing wrong with the 5S, just as there’s nothing wrong with it today. On the other hand, the techno-lust knows no bounds.

Let’s consider what’s good enough instead. Flagships from last year are still useable and desirable, but those from 2011 and before (my current suite, which comprises the iPhone 4, issued from work, and a Galaxy Nexus, my purchase) are fairly slow. Let’s be real: for someone who worked with an ancient Treo just because it had Bluetooth, we’re not doing too badly, I’d say. The 5S is coming to my service provider, a MVNO with Sprint, in a couple of weeks, so there’s an opportunity to upgrade theVet perhaps. Or maybe … perhaps … life instead. I’ve been trying to bring myself to a budget with my purchases (I realized I had a problem when I got a box filled with twenty-some odd calculators, which I’d bought because it seemed like a good deal at the time).

Perhaps there should be credit given for purchases for the house instead; let’s think about replacing all the different dimmer switches (8! worse, they don’t all work the same way) with something more consistent, like maybe out of the Lutron catalog.

Mike

Progress Report #43

17 September 2014

Dear J-

This is the week we do the all-out bribery and work to get the boy potty trained, which is probably something we should have done maybe six months ago, but so be it and so on and so forth. We have been lazy — I have been lazy — and we have had better things to do like … watching TV and stuff. I know, there’s no excuse. It’s extra work, but when you compare it with the idea that he might be held out of certain things because he doesn’t reliably use the toilet instead of diapers, that’s been the final impetus to get him on the can. We have a box of toys that he earns by just trying to go several times in a row, and we’ll probably ratchet up the difficulty in the days to come as he progresses.

What we really have to do is work on the motivation; why you would want to go to the bathroom, right? Why bother to interrupt what you’re doing for something like this, right? I have to remember and/or remind myself that there’s no deeper intent going on, that is there’s no way he does these things solely to infuriate us, and adjust my reactions accordingly. Patience is the real watchword here, and with some patience and work, things will be way better. Way. Remember when I said I couldn’t wait for us to be moved and in a house and boy, wouldn’t things be better then? I have to remind myself the reward will be there and it will indeed be worth it.

I’m not always clear on the concept, I guess. You can stare at these things for hours on end without realizing the simple message that awaits you, so if you don’t get it right away there’s no need to panic. Take a deep breath and try again. Life is always going to amaze and surprise you so don’t even bother bemoaning your lot, especially since you’ve got nothing to complain about. I used to read blogs where the authors would count their blessings in closing, realize how lucky they were, and sign off happier than when they entered; I may not go so far, but I do agree there’s nothing to fear moving forward.

Mike

Orion’s Belt

16 September 2014

Dear J-

This morning I looked up to see Orion in the little strip of yard between our houses; under the streetlights it’s not always easy to catch a glimpse of any constellations; coming out of our front door the lamps are bright enough that I’ll catch the moon on a bright day, but as it is I suppose there’s just enough shadow to cast the stars into bright relief, looking south. I suppose Orion is an urban sort of constellation, and a fall/winter one at that, as I remember seeing him in San Diego as well from our driveway. That was something to remember, sitting on the still-warm, sun-baked concrete of the early dark, looking up to watch the stars peek forth.

I am at best an indifferent student of the stars; Orion is one of the only constellations I can readily identify and then only because of the distinctive hourglass shape (I can’t tell which side is the shoulders and which the legs, although I’m sure a bit of study time would inform me). Still, though, there’s something distinct and pleasant in seeing old friends follow you across the state, though I never thought to look for Orion until the last few years, not growing up nor during college, not with night hours being spent fruitfully studying (all that knowledge has leaked out my ears by now, I’m sure). If you want to ponder infinity there’s nothing better than the stars.

Consider: the light coming from these stars can be hundreds of years old. As for human time scales, remember that these names were given by people living thousands of years ago; what more proof do you need in infinity? I’m not convinced we have the capability to consider time scales longer than a few hundred years properly (1914 and the world was at war; 1814 and still early in our nation’s development; 1714 and I got nothing). The stars are as constant as anything in our lives and we have the same view every night, don’t we? Not even then; the shifting seasons and the sky’s canvas tell us change is coming, in cycles and great galloping leaps.

Mike

University Days

15 September 2014

Dear J-

One year later, here we are. We have not been on any extended road trips together, so we’ve spent the entire last year in the Bay Area now, me minus the three business trips (Charlotte, Nashville and Chicago, which total to less than two weeks); one year later, what’s new? I’m forcibly reminded, as I scrape my legs against various obstacles in the dark, how we live in a city if not the City I’d thought of when we first conceived of this crazy plan. That was when I thought San Francisco was a completely closed enrollment district, where you went to school based on your geographic location. Thankfully we were disabused of that notion with a more careful read of district policies, although I do wonder if we might have been happier stuck in that … well, no.

I still wonder about what other paths my life might have taken if not for … X. These can be fun what-ifs or at the same time they could be strange and unproductive. There’s also a sense of what if and should it even matter, given where you are now: if you’re not happy then maybe you should wonder about it. At the same time I keep thinking that maybe I’d like to dabble in some real estate to see if we could try to come out ahead, but we don’t have the money to spare, honestly. What we paid versus what we could get and what things are going for now are all three dizzyingly separate numbers, and that’s enough for now.

At the end we’ll keep trying to find new ways of motivation. The boy’s progress with potty training continues, albeit slowly as he resists even trying. Why no try? I think you’ll eventually understand at about the same time you choose to wear underwear that isn’t imprinted with cartoon characters; we’re not there yet but we’ll get there sooner or later. Hopefully sooner, unless you want to see us start to cry with frustration; it’s been a long slog already and we’re ready to give up at times, although I suppose what we need to do is tackle it with resolve and patience. Keep driving, please; one more year, one more decade, one more just one more.

Mike

Fairytale Ending

12 September 2014

Dear J-

The other day we were discussing the fate of the children (not as a threat, but rather in wonderment at what might happen) and I rashly declared that figgy, being born under a lucky sign, would undoubtedly marry well and leave our life of middle-class daily exhaustion. I foresaw it as possibly meeting a literal prince and being swept away into fame and fortune, because, you know, all the royal marriages I know of have ended well. theVet rightfully and figuratively slapped my hands, telling me that was terrible, and that I should instead hope that she makes her own fortune in the world, so I hastily and smartly amended my wishes that she should instead discover a huge breakthrough, medical perhaps.

One of my favorite scenes in Shrek 2 is the transformation of the princesses from stereotypes to warriors. In one minute they’re draped on the furniture of the jail cells, hoping beyond hope that someone will break in and release them — rescue them, I mean. At the next, they’ve head-butted their way to escape and then, for good measure, launch a rescue mission of their own, set to Led Zeppelin. I know it’s supposed to show how ridiculous fairy tales are but it’s empowering in the same way that similar scenes from Mulan are for all their unfamiliarity (wait, Chinese girl who’s not some smoldering sexpot? princesses not waiting for rescue?), it’s unexpected and then you think: why is this so unexpected?

I’ve been reading a lot of young adult fiction lately and of course one of the primary criticisms is that unlike real life, these usually end in a reasonably happy ending (wait, have you heard this before, or is this something I’m making up?). To that I submit the many dark fates of fairy tales; although I’m sure you may not think the ending of, say, Hansel and Gretel is dark, let’s not forget that it ends in the death of two women (the witch, burned, and the stepmother as well). Hmm. Perhaps the lesson from fairy tales is avoid being a woman altogether, but that’s one trope I’m happy to skewer: don’t wait for a rescue, don’t wait in general; make the most of the time you have, and now.

Mike

Conquering Heroes

11 September 2014

Dear J-

There are days theVet recites a veritable litany of things we as parents are expected to do for school and kids and inevitably at some point one or both of us will remark how this never seemed to happen to our parents, that we have it so hard.

But then I think of our kids, who are threatened, according to the news, by so many other perils we never faced as kids: kidnappers! pedophiles! internet porn! bullying! social media! conformity! And I begin to wonder, wow, this next generation has it hard, too.

Truth is somewhere in between, as it always is. Yes, my — our — parents didn’t have the same pressures we do, but they had their own. Bringing in immigrant relatives? Buying a house without help? Learning a new language? Foreign country? New life? There are so many I can’t even begin to comprehend, and I’m sure some of them resonate with you or generations immediately prior because it’s true, and unique, and can’t be explained by your standard hand-wringing argument that the next generation is doomed because of this new threat. You know what this does for me instead? Hope.

Because we are infinitely adaptable, because I’ve seen change in my lifetime there is every reason to hope and believe in the future. Take a minute and recount not your potential threats but all the things you’ve already conquered. Only a minute, though, because now you’re ready for more.

Mike

Small Breakout

11 September 2014

Dear J-

We have two kids and two cats. At one point this week we experienced a LOCA (loss of cat accident) which we’ve reconstructed as such: I go into the garage Monday night to prepare for theVet’s arrival with a 95-pound dog and the little cat, Bailey, slips in behind me. I finish and close the garage door; she’s trapped inside. When theVet gets back and opens the outer door, Bailey takes off into the uncertain night and I swear (I swear!) I did just see her but my sequence seems off (I fed the cats that night, and I had to push her away from the other cat’s bowl, but I can’t remember if I fed them before or after the garage prep). So there you have it; from a high of two dogs, two cats and two kittens (for one summer) we’ve gotten down to one cat.

At least that’s as much as I knew leaving home yesterday; theVet called in the middle of the day to tell me she’d found Bailey out on the street, a bit dirty and bedraggled but otherwise unharmed. I had feared the worst, being that she is socially awkward as well as willing to pick fights she can’t possibly win, and I’d seen raccoons early Tuesday morning amongst the trash bins set curbside. What we had was a curious mix of resignation and anxiety: we wish her no harm, but we also did not wish that uncertain fate upon her. With any luck the thirty-six hours on the street won’t have much lasting effect.

We have had her longer than any other being in the house save each other — she’s been with us since 1998 and indeed slightly predates our cohabitation, so in a sense she’s always been there, grumpily consenting to share our lives (you know how grumpy cat looks is how she is, personality-wise) and animals and children. I should be more charitable, and extend patience to this animal who is now old enough to drive (these are staggering numbers, honestly). As we struggle with the boy’s potty training (poo goes IN the toilet, please) I don’t need to go looking for more aggravations or stress, so let’s remember that the next time I try to work myself up over small things.

Mike


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