Hopeful Knowledge

26 November 2014

Dear J-

If you’re just editing Wikipedia entries (yesterday: Lungmen Nuclear Power Station) then you’re not writing elsewhere, or more critically, reading. Big storm in the Buffalo area? No clue. I didn’t realize what was happening with Officer Darren Wilson and the grand jury deciding not to charge him until yesterday and the implications are still percolating through my head. Do you read something more critically into this? Some larger implication?

When I was a kid I used to cry a lot; there are a lot of unfair things in the world but nothing rankles more than being systematically disadvantaged under ‘the rules;’ we would make up games and once I realized the rules were set up against me (those rules I’d foolishly agreed to before even starting) I’d go home and say that’s that, that’s enough, we’re done here, good bye. Tearily. As an adult — as an engineer — I find myself leaky at movies in particularly emotional scenes (I’m not crying — YOU ARE) but at the rules? Nope. Now the rules just fill me with the kind of cold rage we need to learn about them with dispassion and understand them before taking positive action to reform the rules. We are adults. We can change the world.

I’ve edited enough entries on Taiwan to be utterly fascinated with their modern history and rules; one of the laws governs how voters may refer a referendum to the national ballot, but there are still vestiges of martial law there: the government has a right to review it. If the laws protecting Michael Brown have failed, if the laws protecting Darren Wilson were too strong — and quite frankly, the burden of proof to justify taking a life is too low — then there is a way to change them. This is some serious bull, to claim reasonable fear for your life: of serious harm to your pride, perhaps, but your life? With Brown over a hundred feet away?

I’ve felt that same rage rise up: don’t you sass me, children, not when I’m righteous if not right; I can only imagine what being on the operating end of a gun might mean in terms of providing authority and that’s why there’s nothing in the house stronger than a monopod. I hope that Darren Wilson gets help for his rage issues; I know that laws in Missouri will change.

Mike

Eureka Coast

25 November 2014

Dear J-

If the question is where do I have so much time to do all these other things then perhaps the answer is I don’t. There are quite literally only a few hours in the evenings between getting home (5) and bed (10 if I’m lucky) so where do you chop those up? We try to usher the kids towards bed at 8, dinner takes maybe an hour out of that, and the nightly preparations and ablutions are … yup. Friends who are parents would chuckle and tell me you’ll never realize where the time went when you were childless and I understand that gallows humor now. Time to kill has become time to spend, and hopefully spend wisely enough that I don’t waste it all, even though …

I suppose you could see the way that was going. I also understand the luxuries that allow me to have some time: there is a fixed amount of work and someone needs to do it; if we work together we can get it done faster, right? Work faster and smarter. Otherwise we’re both stuck with too much to handle alone; no one likes to be left pulling everything along. We have every option to explore; I will not be defeated by schedules or time or getting to check items off a list; there’s far too many experiences in the world for that.

You do your best of course. You try to be considerate and carve out enough time for yourself but really, isn’t this what it’s about? Spend some time together before it’s too late and that’s not what they want any more; I understand I’m prickly and standoffish at times and that’s not what they need to learn. Try this on for size instead, then: find a way to make the world more interactive; show them the wonder to be had in the everyday and they’ll never be bored, will they? Constant blinding enthusiasm isn’t always my style but maybe I can learn to deal with it, right?

Mike

The Second law

24 November 2014

Dear J-

There are many reasons to be mad at the situation but what are you going to do instead? There’s a thousand ways to lash out and hurt other people so instead you try to keep it neatly bottled up inside even though that’s the last thing, the very last thing you really want. I think of Gillian Flynn’s Nick, of Gone Girl: trained to be unfailingly polite (would he say in response to a car accident, hey, I think I might have gotten some paint on your car that just crashed into me?) in every situation and yet … and yet. Is that enough? Is there more? How can I simultaneously enjoy and dread spending time with the kids out of the house?

Some of it may have to do with the demands; some of it has to do with the way my heart breaks as figgy tries to jolly me out of blind rages that have nothing to do with her. These are good kids: happy, funny, loud, exuberant kids all full of enthusiasm and infectious, vigorous joy. Except that I feel like I’ve been inoculated against that lately. It’s not a life skill I meant for her to learn so young, and it’s something I see in myself that I might need to change. I’d like to upgrade the mental checklist I have in my mind from ‘not horrible’ to ‘I want to spend more time together’ but I understand how it is being young and not in control of the agenda; I get it, we need to set up some more interesting things than just mindlessly racking up more hours on the picture tube.

Come to think of it, there’s not a single device in the house where you’re watching the dirty end of an electron gun exciting phosphors, is there? Trivia.

It’s going to take some work and I don’t want to shirk it, but there are times when it’s so unpleasant I don’t know what to do but give up and give in. Yeah, but you know that ain’t right either; what lessons do you learn from that, what do you get out of it? There is a limit to nonsense? Only so much fun will be tolerated? We’ll let you spin out of control as much as you like until something snaps? Where are the gentle limits in your constitution, how long do you have before it’s too late, what do you need out of this? If I have to preface a thought with “you make me” then I’ve already lost; if it’s not “I make me” then who does? Do you define your life in terms of reactions, not actions?

Mike

Railfan

21 November 2014

Dear J-

As we leave the station the voice whispers rules overhead. No smoking. No music. No noise. No conversations. No feet on the seats, shoed or otherwise. A thousand noes bloom through the public address system, and nary a one is relevant. Now arriving. Next stop. It is our guide through the lonely dark, our every very way and path. I could get up and explore the train from stem to stern, our sturdy iron ship of the rails; I’d connect the mystery voice to a face and find out for myself how the curves may match up. When they have male and female conductors working the same train they usually have female pronouncements from on high, perhaps and instinctive reaction to your mom. Yes’m.

We have a spell in the rain today, precipitation giving us a break from puddles and damp, Our sprinklers are still on a timer and going off regularly as their programming dictates, one of a thousand helpful robots I’ll see today, from door openers to ticket takers and all the electrical servants in between. You don’t realize what the gradual accretion of devices and objects mean, how it feels to be living in the modern world, as it becomes everyday amazing instead of novelly remarkable. The first time I rode Caltrain — and the last time, to be honest, having moved away almost twenty years ago now — I still would go to the window and buy paper tickets, which the conductor would punch and eye you carefully to make sure you were out at the right stop; you could be so brave as to nap and keep your ticket in the little metal clip (still present on the Nippon Sharyo gallery cars!) pointing to your seat but I knew I would miss my stop otherwise.

Then it was 4th and Townsend, a straight shot down from Powell Street BART and one you could time right on Saturdays: first train out of Berkeley, first ride out of the City and you were in Palo Alto by 0800, the rest of the weekend yours to spend together. I don’t remember what I must have seen along the tracks but the wooded Atherton stop and the Peninsula Italian-American Social Club ring bells in my head every time we pass through. The steady march of the conductors, though; the quiet solitude of having a car all to yourself and wow, we’re riding the train somewhere: we have commanded the earth itself to revolve for us in silent supplication of technology, a clear link to the now hundred years of nostalgia associated with rail rides.

Mike

Calling It

20 November 2014

Dear J-

So yesterday was billed as rain! all! day! but instead I got a bit of drizzle on the way over to Burlingame, and nothing the rest of the day. Around here, in the grip of drought, we’re taking our rain watching seriously; last winter was unusually dry (I think there were maybe one or two days I didn’t ride my bike because of rain) and so far we’ve had more this year, but the rain has been pretty disappointing overall. So far. Diurnal variation overnight is only approximately 10% (low 54F, projected high 60F) and I’m impressed that we’re like Hawaii in that regard, if not exactly an island (imaginary geography excepted).

It is supposed to rain this afternoon and night, so we’ll see how well that prediction holds up given the ability inability to predict the weather here. I suppose I shouldn’t take it too personally, given that weather prediction is an inexact science. I have noticed that everywhere you go, local people like to brag about how unpredictable the weather is: have you ever heard anyone say something like “If you don’t like the weather, wait for five minutes: it’ll change!”? It’s been bragged from both the Bay Area and New England to me, so that’s everyone, right? My regional variation/hostility is showing again.

For a few months I had convinced myself that Harvey Mudd was the only place I would want to attend; there was the thought that the Los Angeles region would be kind to a footloose traveler. It’s always instructive to think of what might have been or what might have happened if only for … If I’d done this or that, if spinning off into a million branching paths obscured in fate and mysticism. At times I’ve convinced myself that I’d be teaching somewhere, and then my lack of patience belies that idea, we continue on and laugh at these what might-have-beens. Last night we went to ramen; if theVet has been at home there is a strong predictor that when the day has been cold, something warm will be had that night: this is our fate, an easy call for the night.Beyond that all futures are fuzzy, and not always wonderful, but I can’t worry about them until they’re in my control.

Mike

Everything New

19 November 2014

Dear J-

Fury and fire move in similar patterns: they burn and leap from one to the next. If anger is a coal you clutch to yourself in an attempt to extinguish it, then you’re not doing it right.

There are any number of rational explanations for why we are unable to I can’t seem to get past myself lately and all of them have to do with me. If you want to change, then change will happen. If not, then you’re stuck hoping with both hands and doing the same things in the meantime. In other words, it’s not going to happen. It’s not personal — this is not personal — and you have to stop treating it like it is. Your rational thoughts should rule your conscious mind.

There’s some sticky situations yet to be threaded; in terms of parenting we’ve only just begun (and does that ever stop? I look at my folks who end up feeding us and entertaining on a fairly regular basis, and I conclude no, so why do I expect the world to pause every evening around nine or so?), and it’s hard to reconcile that, even eight years later: you don’t have the free time you might have had before, and why I have yet to realize this I don’t know. We’re all always working hard, and being envious of having kid-like levels of free time isn’t very productive. It’s no longer just sufficient to be a half-comatose lump in the same room, so step up your game.

Everything seems better and worse in the mornings, and at night the same patterns repeat themselves, daily weekly monthly I follow through and the next morning has me dissecting the night before: where did it go off the rails, why did I let it happen, how will things be better next time even though they end up all loused up again? That temper I remember from being a kid: it resurfaced at the exact wrong time, and now it needs to go back.

Mike

Island Standard Time

18 November 2014

Dear J-

The geography of San Mateo is such that our neighborhood is bounded by the Bay, Highway 101, and two major streets (Peninsula and 3rd). Practically speaking, there’s only a handful of ways out by road (two entrances to 3rd, one to Peninsula) and the overall effect in my mind is to think we’re on an island of sorts, cut off from most of the rest of the city by 101. We have a couple of small restaurants and a grocery store, a gas station right on the border, but aside from that we’re houses, a couple of parks (city and county — Coyote Point) and one major gathering spot, the Boys and Girls Club up on Monte Diablo by our habitual park. The whole village/island is contained within one or two square miles, although I admit I haven’t taken the time to walk down every street yet.

Honestly we’re not as cut off from the rest of San Mateo as I make it out to be; we can be downtown in half an hour, walking at kids’ pace and direction, and that’s a pretty easy jaunt up and across our pedestrian bridge. I like reducing our trips to human scale; for anything longer we can either drive up to Millbrae and ride BART or walk down to Caltrain. It may not be the most efficient way to travel in terms of time but it is a reliable option we didn’t have in San Diego, either (there our trolley trips were limited to the few times we went downtown). Compared to driving and parking, though, it’s still not the cheapest option, which can be curious given the emphasis on getting cars off the road.

theVet’s current job requires her to be on call when we’re out, so consequently we haven’t been out much lately. I intend to fix that. We can be out; we can have fun watching the world go by and I can start with baby steps. I used to have a routine on Saturdays when it was just me and figgy; we’d go out someplace we’d know about like the Zoo or the beach (come to think of it, the boy does have the sniffles lately; perhaps the healing powers of sand and surf should be on order) and then maybe the bookstore until we were advised to try the library instead. If you can, try reducing your world down to what’s walkable and what’s within reasonable reach of transit to see what you discover; your islands may be more interesting than you remembered.

Mike

Whole Earth

17 November 2014

Dear J-

I have my doubts about what might come next, but I’ll tell you this much: it’s not going to be easy. Things are changing and I’m not going to be able to be as lazy as I have been, which is both frustrating and enervating: are you ready to tackle this, and what choice do I have? Our situation is not the same as it was in San Diego, so why should I believe we retain the same habits and abilities as last year, too? Scratch that: it’s now been a whole year since we moved, and the boy has now had two birthdays in the north, same number as he’s had in San Diego and though he may never remember San Diego clearly, he is going to remember what happens now. I owe him that.

What do you end up owing your family, in the final calculus of accountancy? Everything: as the athletic metaphors go, if you’re leaving some in the tank/not on the field/giving it all on the ice, then you’re going to be disappointed in the playing time you get. This is the simplest thing: be as good as you can be for as long as you can be. You realize that go is as simple a game as you can think of yet it takes ages to master, as you never truly comprehend the patterns and strategies without significant repetition. Perhaps this is the repeating part, or maybe I’m a slow learner, but these lessons have come pretty hard lately and I know that I haven’t been as … forthcoming? evitable? selfless? as I need or would like to be.

I can feel the tiredness underneath my eyes this morning. It’s been a difficult weekend for me, compounded by feeling selfish and sorry for myself, even as there’s been very little actual effort expended on my part and what little there was ended up accompanied by extensive complaining and groaning, even if only just internally. Drive that poing home: are you feeling sorry for yourself lately? Is there a valid reason? This gets back to enumerating the reasons to be blessed, the thousand different ways in which your life is better now than yesterday, so let’s start counting.

Mike

Dark Clouds

13 November 2014

Dear J-

It’s not so bad, today’s rain, I tell myself as I get drippy on the way in. There’s a lot to be thankful for and more to be appreciated, so I should probably get my gear washed one of these days, assuming I figure out how to empty out my pockets. It’s all new! and shiny! and clean! once and then I get my hands on it and never again, of course. We have a thousand other better things to do, none of which seem to involve actually cleaning them, of course. If I had my way there would no doubt be a thousand unfinished projects (I’m up to at least two that I know of, possibly more once I get around to them, possibly, or if I can locate them). Yet the rain reminds me, as occasionally as it falls around here, of those things better left in place.

It’s not completely clear that what I’ve got is always what I wanted; does that make sense? Hooray, you have time off at home. Now spend it wasting that time. The productive things you do and say aren’t always happening, are they? Riding your bike in the rain can be an exercise in self-flagellation, if you choose for it to be that way, but instead perhaps take it for the chance to confess your sins. This is where I turn into Chunk at the hands of the Fratelli brothers,* confessing to all sundry sorts of childhood crimes, but even that might not be good enough, right? If I have these opportunities to be better, why aren’t I taking them on?

You have to value the chances you’re given. If it feels like no big deal, another day, then maybe you should be so blase when they’re gone, right? This is one of those don’t-know-what-youve-got situations, right up there with peace and not having to worry about where your next meal is coming from. Are some of these things hassles because they’re hassles, or because you choose for them to be difficult? That’s what I thought, too, so maybe next time you’ll listen when I say how lucky you are: enumerate the reasons. If you’re done learning, then you’re done; if you can’t find an upside in a situation, then why did you put yourself into it?

Mike

* c.f. The Goonies

Glory Days

12 November 2014

Dear J-

We had a day off, in terms of child care, yesterday. I’m still not as patient as I need to be; you can’t respond by becoming louder and angrier than a four-year-old, so that doesn’t help, does it? Patience is the eternal watchword, and patience grows from presuming good intentions, not assuming nefarious intent. Let’s remember that. We do not ask for things lightly; we do not always hear explanations correctly, and we definitely do not respond appropriately. And by we I mean I, but am apparently working to make the we a real we as we work up our impatient responses to outrageous indignance. Let us suppose the language of all four-year-olds is foreign; would we then presume that getting louder and slower makes it more intelligible?

If we are yelling then that means one of two things; either we are trying to carry on our conversation in the vicinity of a jet engine, or communications have broken down in some way or another. Given that we’re not prone to hanging out at too many airports lately, that narrows down the possibilities, doesn’t it? I’m learning that my ridiculous premise is in assuming intentions: the kids are yelling at me not to anger me but because I’m not hearing what they’re saying. It’s a downward spiral from there. How long does it take to explain to them just how much longer it will be and please can you wait until we get there because I don’t have forty arms to drive and retrieve what you’ve lost/you need/you wanted ten miles ago?

So yes, patience is the watchword. It is a neverending, thankless task to be worked on — by me, mind you — because our lives have changed, generally for the better, as we have come back to the Bay Area. If it means we have long days of watching the kids on our days off, then that’s what we have to deal with; you play the cards you’re dealt, and even that’s unfair: these are not just the deal, they’re what we wanted, too. Let’s keep that in mind the next time we’re stuck driving and trying to find some entertainment. Let’s also remember how much patience then is rewarded now with the slightly-older kid, and when I didn’t used to yell so much over everything and anything. But mostly, remember the fundamental assumption you’re making by assuming nefarious intent which isn’t there: the kids are not making weapons of mass destruction, the evidence has been faked and it’s my job to see through that.

Mike


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