Archive for the ‘personal’ Category

Ten Years

2 July 2010

Dear J-

Today is it — our ten-year anniversary. My parents called over the weekend to see what we had planned* (last year was my brother’s tenth, and they took a trip to New York City); we are taking a break next week and heading up to the Bay Area for a cousin’s wedding (who knew that with thirteen on my mom’s side and six on my dad’s side, I’d ever run out of unmarried first cousins?) and after that, over to Disneyland, but that’s pretty much it as far as big plans for the summer go. Ten years is a substantial amount of time when you’re ten years old. At thirty-five, though, it feels like a blink. Ten years, huh? How did that happen again?

I think it’s my nature to compare myself against other folks when it comes to numbers, whether grades or years or speed or income. I can’t help it; for an engineer, quantities are sufficient** but for me I need those qualitative comparisons to really drive the message home. At their ten years — I just remember this, as I was four — my parents took a long road trip from Spokane to Yellowstone as part of a small caravan*** — four adults, four kids, two cars. So I’m down on kids and road trips in comparison; I’m up in geographically close family so we could, theoretically, take a trip, just the two of us. And yet three — nearly four — is the inescapable number that swims up in my mind. We are three.

There’s all kinds of numbers to throw around today, but four seems more important than ten or fifteen**** or 2000. Ten is a number — a significant one, to be sure, but counting it is like scratching years of captivity into a cell wall, and that’s not what this is, not at all. I said earlier in the week that I thought my insomnia had been cured by no longer being in school and its attendant stress, but that’s not it; I sleep well at night because I married my best friend and it’s been ten (fifteen) of the best years so far.

But wait — there’s more! Ten years is a down payment on fifty-plus, I say. I can’t imagine life any other way now and I’m so glad she said yes (and no), so glad to share this journey with her — there’s no couch-jumping over here mostly because I don’t have sufficient influence with Oprah — so yeah. I look forward to every morning, and we’ve had 3653 excellent ones so far, haven’t we? Yet it’s the smaller number of four that I keep looking forward to, and the adventures that two small minds can will dream. Ten years? I can’t wait to see what’s next.


* As it turns out we never make plans beyond maybe a nice dinner. I remember we’d picked July 2nd because it fell over the long holiday weekend and figured that folks who’d come over might want to sightsee in Sacramento. theVet’s boss has a long-standing annual family reunion over July 4th and so she has to pick up more hours precisely at that time of year every year after the first anniversary we had together.

** It’s times like these I wish I was a mathematician, to whom numbers have a soul; think of Newton, Leibnitz, Descartes, Polya, Fourier who all lined them up on a page and made them march up and down in living rhythm. For an engineer, numbers are tools and answers but not intrinsically meaningful.

*** The caravan of two consisted of my parents’ 1969 Mercury Cougar, especially outfitted with a sheet of plywood across the back seat to allow for we two kids to sleep, and my dad’s uncle’s Oldsmobile wagon. I forget the exact name of that wagon other than that it was definitely a GM B-Body, relatively new (1978ish), metallic avocado green, and kitted out with all the luxury features including power windows. Sure, you scoff at that now but power windows and locks weren’t standard equipment until well into the 90s. As part of the lessons learned from the trip my parents went out and bought a wagon — Oldsmobile, naturally — and a CB radio to keep in touch the next year when they took a trip to Vancouver BC with their friends who were driving an Olds 88 (my dad and his friend actually went to the dealership and signed the paperwork nearly simultaneously; their license plates were sequential, SMU 695 and 696).

**** Fifteen is how many years we’ve been dating; we had what we like to refer to as the World’s Longest Engagement, which saw both my brother and theVet’s sister meet and marry their spouses between when we got engaged — 1998 — and when we got married in 2000.


Wedding Vignettes

13 September 2009

Dear J-

Big Wedding

21 Spread 0806 -sm

The bride’s brother (both my cousins) confided their family represented perhaps the alpha and omega of wedding sizes; his wedding last year had sixteen guests, and the wedding today had three hundred and forty. You could almost call it the perfect confluence of My Big Fat Armenian Wedding (groom’s side, inviting family, friends, and distant acquaintances) and my giant family (where just inviting all the cousins means adding fifty hungry mouths to the guest list). At least this time none of the prospective spouses were daunted by the overwhelming family size.

Big Babies

Watchful Eye 0777 -sm

Seriously, what’s up with the wacky size distribution? All the other kids we know besides figgy are either zeroth percentile teeny tots or (as we found out today) ninety-fifth percentile monsters. After doing some clothes shopping based on ages for the other kids, we were warned that it was good we got a gift receipt; several of figgy’s cousins, despite trailing her by twelve months, were just as big. Maybe we’re not feeding her enough, or maybe we need to discontinue the whole notion of a baseline.

Food Service

Cake Cascade 0814 -sm

Dinner was good — we’re big fans of Mediterranean food — but I’ve never been to a reception where a seemingly endless array of appetizers stretches out on your table. We all sat around for a good half hour before digging in, as no one wanted to be the first to start eating, especially on the absence of the bride and groom.

Restroom Pervert

Luminous Arc 0809 -sm

Towards the end of the night we had to change figgy; after scouting it out, theVet beckoned me in to the ladies’ room to help. But immediately after I walked in, she went into a stall for some toilet paper, leaving me alone, wiping a half-naked figgy on the counter as some other guests arrived to give me the stink-eye before they also disappeared into their own stalls. Great, just what I needed right after being that guy who ruined the first dance by letting figgy nearly escape onto the dance floor (in restraining her, she let out a tremendous yell).


Pets in Heaven

11 September 2009

Dear J-

Back in 1990 a movie entitled Flatliners came out; it starred Kiefer Sutherland and Julia Roberts as medical students experimenting with death.  Their particular group of friends would artificially stop each others hearts and then revive them — they’re med students, after all — and discuss the things they saw while their hearts were stopped.  The movie was pretty forgettable (now mostly notable as the place where Kiefer and Julia met and started their particular ill-fated romance), but it does spark my mind to ponder what happens after life.

I’m not particularly religious — I seem to have adopted almost a fatalistic karma mindset (there is no free will, but if there was, it will come back to bite you), in fact, but it’s one place that no explorer has returned from.  One of my main reasons to reject most of the organized religions is the insistence that animals don’t have souls and therefore can not ascend to an afterlife; it may be the Berkeley talking, but it seems unreasonable to say that only humans can go to Heaven.  I know that I’d certainly insist on bringing pets along; pets are not people, but they fill different needs inside you.

Am Here 0722 -sm

We put Bean to sleep this week, seven months after finding a high-grade osteosarcoma in his jaw.  The whole process was remarkably fast; theVet handled the requisite injections and the next moment he was gone, head down, peaceful — not for nothing is it called sleep.  It’s been strange to adjust to life without — which often meant pushing hm back from an exuberant greeting as we arrive home — after all, he’s been part of our lives for the last twelve years.  In some ways it comes as a relief for us, knowing that his anxieties aren’t fueling destructive behavior, but there’s a definite sense of incompletion as we move forward.  All I really know is that we’ve got a dog — the world’s best dog, as all dogs are — waiting for us however many years in the future.


Hat Trick

15 June 2009

Dear J-

School Time 3283 -sm

They say a Gordie Howe hat trick consists of a goal, an assist, and a fight. Today was no exception, as we did end up making it to Monterey (just an hour away) for a visit to the aquarium — the goal — with a stop for lunch where I bought wildly overpriced noodles that figgy ended up rejecting anyway — the assist — and not before quarreling with theVet over reading each other’s minds — obviously the fight. Three adults and three children fit neatly into our little van, but at the end of the day it’s the adults who are exhausted and the kids who need judo to work out those last bits of aggression — twelve hours of fun make for a long day.

The Assist 3418 -sm

In between we had the chance to go strawberry-picking, one of those activities that seem faintly ridiculous — don’t we pay other folks to do that for us? — until you see the effect it has on kids, entranced with heavy fruit, the sweet scent filling your head, and the obsessive quest for the best berries. We passed by the supercritical plant at Moss Landing on the way from Aquarium to field, a fitting reminder of how the industrial world keeps intruding on what was a rural network of farms and towns. I had a vision of San Jose being an impenetrable maze of similarly-named freeways and houses huddled behind concrete sound walls, but the truth lies somewhere south, in the garlic-scented air of Gilroy, by the roadside stands lines up from Watsonville to Castroville; like the Boston of my mind, the edge between city and country is abrupt and dramatic. Beauty is never where you expect it.

Downstairs Ahoy 3238 -sm

My nephew is quite fond of pigeons; the last visit to San Diego, we found him chasing the ones in Balboa Park without much luck; at the time I assumed it was the cruelty born of youth, but now I suspect it may have been to hear the dry rasp of feathers ruffled through hurry. Today sitting on the wharf and eating our leftover ham sandwiches (he, feeding the strays with bread crusts) our fellow picnickers disgorged a child who was, with limited success, actually trying to kick said pigeons. My first instinct was to see what kind of parents would encourage sociopath-in-training tendencies, but as it turns out, they either didn’t care or didn’t notice — not sure which was worse; so while I sat and fretted over what to ask them, my eight-year-old wise nephew told the kid to stop, asking how he’d feel with a giant pigeon kicking him (come to think of it, said pigeon would probably just eat the kid raw — at least that’s how Roald Dahl would write it). Smart. Our future is secure.

Round Shuffle 3467 -sm

After dinner we headed off to watch nearly the whole family participate in judo; figgy sat on the bench and snapped her arms in unconscious imitation. The life — her life — is fast-approaching and it’s not always clear where we should be going next; just as the class started shuffling in orbit of the mat I was struck by a clear memory of that morning, watching a small school of fish flying in formation through the big kelp tank. We could do worse than to encourage the group dynamic, pushing her in boisterous celebration of life.

Urban Forest 3468 -sm


Enemy Protozoa 0027 -sm

Hear Great

23 February 2009

Dear J-

Part of me still wants to claim that I’m content, right, in this time of turmoil, to cling to whatever rafts float my way, job-wise; it’s not the most thrilling career, but it’s steady, it’s busy, and it keeps my head down while folks rely on me.  Grindstone.  Nose.  Didn’t have much to begin with, though, and the question of ambition comes back up.  When I first started working at the plant, I carpooled for several years with the same guy — we traded off driving, but not talking.

Setting the stage, then; me, my usual taciturn self and he, gregarious and generous, asking me once if I was happy:  what were my plans?  Plans.  We’d started work a month or two ago and I already knew I had to get out at some point (so that’s why it took four years for me to muster up the courage to leap from that world of spreadsheets and database reports, of interpreting the steely language of numbers and massaging the words to fit), so I started talking, proving to myself if not to him that I was better than that, that there were still ambitions left in my head:  back to school, perhaps, back to school and more research ahead, teaching, learning.

And he cuts me short — I’ve worked up an impressive head of steam, ready to roll over all opposition to this plan — by asking if I wasn’t happy with the way things were.  Your life.  How lucky?  Much, thanks.  Now I wonder if being the good uncomplaining soldier isn’t repressing frustration, isn’t subsuming ambition for appearance’s sake; we hope that we’ve made the right choices to come to where we are, but does that mean that we should stay there?  Ambition isn’t about dissatisfaction, though it may arise from it; examine your chain of command, scour your environment, all your surroundings for what you like best.  Make that the priority.  Bliss has very personal definitions; can you change the obstacles?  Opportunities abound in challenge, make your greatness heard.


Fumble Forward

11 January 2009

Dear J-

We fumble towards resolution; she grows ever more aware, ever more alert, watching our example.  Helpless today; unable to express disappointment with restaurant service, receding ever further into resentment and for what?  Then, later, unchecked emotion as the Steelers run roughshod over this years particular edition of the Chargers.  Frustration should be met with equanimity, pushed down the importance pile where it belongs:  how could I affect a game played two thousand miles away, and a game, just a game?


When you’re tired it’s so very easy to slip into the first possible reaction, which is often the wrong one.  If instead we manage to instill the right ones — don’t sit by passively and stew until you can’t take it any more, instead politely ask why the food is taking so long, for instance — as a first instinct, then we’re succeeding as the first and closest examples.  Charles Barkley has it partially right in declaring that sports figures shouldn’t be examples and heroes; they shouldn’t but often are, and therefore need to show up as exemplary as possible.  We talk about passion on the ice and field and yet wonder at the words coming out of our mouths as we froth at the TV.

I know I take things personally too often.  The voice in the head declares that, “Well, they wouldn’t be doing this if only I was ____.”  Smarter.  More forceful.  I keep flashing back to the lessons in patience my dad wanted to teach me:  the knife in the heart, the pain of not doing what comes naturally, but what’s right.  If I fail to watch my words, I’ll end up watching them play out before me for generations to come.


Losing Count

13 December 2008

Dear J-

It comes into focus slowly; I’m not the most patient person in the world so I end up reading all these ideas and methods in managing your temper.  Count to ten; focus on what’s important, right?  Gain perspective on things, choose the wiser path, walk away, turn the other cheek, be the bigger person, seek compromise, be willing to sacrifice, remain flexible.


To which I add tonight two thoughts:  lose count, lose focus.  Lose count of how many other times you’ve had to do the same thing, lose count of how far you’ve counted, lose count of the blessings in your life — you know they outweigh any annoyance at hand, so lose focus on what’s bothering you so much and let it slip into the background.


Moving Week

24 October 2008

Dear J-

The long week comes to an end; I look forward to several calm, numbing hours in front of the TV scanning odd channels for coverage of improbable NCAA Football upsets.  I always end up, at the end of the day, reflecting on the distances traveled and comparing where I woke up with where I lie down.  It’s easy with the lens of distance to note the changes, just as it’s easy when you make the millionth round-trip to where-ever you call home tonight to dismiss the everyday as pedestrian.

With the rare opportunity to be up and awake just past midnight (this, courtesy of my brother and his Wii), I bunked down in my nephew’s bed, which forced all kinds of musical sleeping arrangements — and was up by five to experience the promised ninety minutes of Bikram Yoga.  I’ve never practiced Yoga before, and the opportunity afforded me insight on the flexibility it lends its practicioners (“Okay … now bring your other leg behind your head …”).  The overall experience — held in a room kept at near-sauna conditions, to better replicate the conditions of India — left me drained and sopping wet, but as my brother explained, it’s more about the meditative experience you gain as you progress through the poses, rather than a competition to find the next human Gumby.

I’m not sure for sure that it lent me some perspective on the following internment ceremony later, but I certainly saw things in a different light than I did yesterday, flying in to San Jose.  I got to learn more about my aunt’s life; I got to see how she touched my family in numerous ways.  Best yet, I’m now most familiar with the portrait of her as a warm, vibrant woman, not as the past few years had left her.

We all came together with few exceptions, with few gaps, this mob of a family and all its cousins.  We may fumble over the right words and produce something nonsensical, but that we’re all willing to pause our lives and gather, that speaks volumes to how strongly the feelings pull us together.  Once again, humbled, amazed, in awe of the things that keep us family.  And a long Friday closes with nothing but surprises.


Bailing Water

29 September 2008

Dear J-

So with the failure of the bailout plan to pass the House, both Democrats and Republicans stand united to do what politicians do best:  sling mud and point fingers.  And sure, you can point to any number of party lines on this one, but the most interesting statstic is that something like 85% of the representatives up for re-election in the fall election voted against it.  This speaks volumes to how deeply unpopular the plan is amongst the citizens; despite the tweaks and careful propaganda campaign, this plan had corporate welfare written between the lines.

I’ve read all kinds of newsprint spilled on such topics as how we’re supposed to feel — outraged, but willing to sacrifice for the sake of the national economy — and explaining the details of the plan (“See, it’s not like Congress is writing a check to Wall Street, because Congress is writing the check to the Treasury to give to Wall Street”).  So what was the straw on the camel’s back this time?  What happened that made taxpayers stage what amounts to a revolt?  Has the smug equation of the American Way with profit at any cost finally shaken out?

I used to read with some amusement the letters to car magazine editors; one evergreen topic was complaining about tests of cars that most folks couldn’t afford; the main reason given was one of aspiration and practicality (a car magazine that tests only Corollas would be … well, it would be Consumer Reports now, and even they’re starting to test prestige-mobiles).  It’s the same thing with CEO pay scales; the idea was that if they didn’t get the pay, they’d go someplace that would pay them what their inflated egos were worth; those bonuses, executive perks, and stock options were not only their just reward, it motivated the rest of us to work harder, flush with the idea of climbing that ladder.

But it broke down; with no mechanism in place to tie performance to pay, CEO scales went out of balance.  Didn’t do a good job?  Sorry, here’s the door — and a fat check.  Did a good job?  Here’s a fat check.  We’ve unleashed a race of incompetent, irresponsible (the buck stops somewhere else), inbred (let’s hire their CEO, he just got on the market!) executives who inhabit a closed ecosystem — no one gets in, they just keep playing musical chairs until everyone’s tired.  And yes, unfortunately, the failure of businesses doesn’t just affect only the executives.  But after having structured our businesses to venerate and insulate the wrong end of the pyramid (hint, not the pointy part), how else can we keep teaching the lesson?  How else do we shout our message?


Crying Aloud

25 September 2008

Dear J-

Growing up I used to cry a lot; now, as theVet likes to put it, in my second adolescence as a teenage girl (I enjoy those shows such as, say, Gossip Girl and The O.C.), I only get suspiciously weepy at things like sappy movies (“momma, how come the fox can’t be friends with the hound any more?”) and books.  But yeah, growing up, usually daily, I’d find myself mad or sad enough to get leaky-eyed.  Such is the lot of a younger sibling — I have privately referred to it, upon seeing little boys crying, as LBD, Little Brother Disease.

It used to be pretty easy to get me spun up, too; emotions on the sleeve and all, no secrets spilled to see exactly the kind of reaction that folks wanted.  I took everything seriously and personally; every challenge a chasm, every criticism a cut.  You learn to let these things go after a while, but the change is gradual, and I still find my temper driving me more often than I’d like.  I smile in a mild way because the things I contemplate — the horrible actions just waiting for provocation — could touch off in an instant.

The things I learn, the skills I acquire, the training and discipline all seem so insignificant compared with the social masks we slip on every day.  They are incredibly subtle and nuanced; we place such stock in maintaining a friendly yet aloof persona (there’s the lonesome cowboy myth of the West again) with strangers and believe that familiarity brings such understanding and sympathy that we start to take those closest to us for granted.  Brusquely.  It’s no excuse, it’s no  reason, but how can we be so beastly to each other, and especially to our friends and families?  I’m still learning, ever evolving towards serenity and isolating my actions from my stimuli, but some days it’s so difficult, you know?