Posts Tagged ‘past’

Doomed to History

3 November 2011

Dear J-

In a peculiar display that can only be called a first-world problem, our TiVo gave up the ghost earlier this week and so we’ve been without TV for a while. Which honestly has been fine for the evenings as we usually spend the time consuming content, but lately figgy has been very much into YouTube and what she calls cake videos — which at this point have grown to include pretty much anything people make in the kitchen. Certain characters have therefore become huge heroes of hers and I hear her pottering away in the bedroom, arranging the pretend-cakes just so on a plate and signing off on her broadcasts by saying who she is and who she works for (“I’m Liv Hansen for the Betty Crocker Kitchens.”)

When I was six I discovered my parents old tape recorder and armed with a blank tape I was encouraged to go ahead and record myself broadcasting the news as I’d hear on the kitchen radio every morning: this is CBS News, with Dan Rather or Bob Schiefffer. I cleverly concealed their parody identities by reordering the names: Rather Dan or Schieffer Bob, of course. I don’t recall what happened to the tape (let’s just say that if someone didn’t already throw it away, it could be decent fodder for the Star Wars Kid of 1981), but I do remember there were follow-up tapes and that we listened to it in the car maybe a few times before I only got interested in making the VU Meter jump in a crazy fashion until that tape recorder gave up as well.

I see tendencies from both of us in the kids, good and bad. There’s frustration when the world doesn’t bow down before us and just work right (I spent a day or two weighing the purchase of something like a Boxee Box versus another TiVo given how little we actually watch TV lately, and how all we seem to need is a YouTube connection to the TV … or, y’know, an XBox would do just as well, wouldn’t it?). There’s the dead-on imitation of adult life and habits, at turns both funny and uncomfortable. I wonder if they’ll make the same mistakes and struggle through to the other side stronger for it or if I should find a way to teach those lessons more gently and realize that it’s quickly becoming not my life to lead for them. And I wonder if we shouldn’t move someplace smaller, or if the ego of big fish little pond is at work again. Do we escape the appeal of the past or are we doomed to history?



Buried Past

3 August 2011

Dear J-

We often think that there are obstacles in our lives that are insurmountable but upon further reflection (generally in hindsight) we wonder that we even thought it was worth worrying about at all. Speaking as someone who has personally lived through the age of thirteen I can assure you it’s true. Yet I wonder how it’s going to be for the kids as popular culture has portrayed those years as anything from awkward flirting to utter bullied hell. I don’t know what the future holds for us or them. I envision home as a safe haven for them which is what I needed at that age but what new pressures would the big bad city bring to bear on that picture?

On the other hand how do you do outside the concentrated lens of a small town where everybody knows everyone and your business flashed across the local gossip lines before you can take another step? Unique situations mean novel solutions unlike what pop culture tells us what fixes that which ails us; confidence, moxie, spirit, gumption. We are all moderately awful at being teenagers but there are those (like me) who never had a chance at acting on where my hormones would lead me. I look at her busy social life and I’m assured that figgy will have no shortage of friends.

Because of perceived issues and distance there are lots of people on Facebook, say, that I haven’t seen nor talked to (in person) for twenty years. How long do you let things like that fester? How long before your gawky attempts at romance come back to haunt you? What are the chances of explaining your old intentions? And does it really matter? Here’s the secret: you’re not alone. Everyone’s een through it before, and everyone had a particular memory that they replay like poking your tongue into a tooth socket, worrying about the nothing your mind has managed to inflate beyond recognition. They understand more than you suspect because they’ve been there too, so give it a chance and let the past lie buried.


Double Feature

12 February 2011

Dear J-

figgy has been sick the past few days so I’ve come home to see her sacked out in front of a movie — it seems as though for as many animated movies that have come out in the past ten years we have a good portion of them — and that’s okay. I’m well aware that lots of folks use their online presence to broadcast how wonderfully perfect their lives are (and probably just as many are as proud of how imperfect they are) but it’s nice to see a relative sense of normal descend on the house for once. When I was little and got sick I would demand outrageous treatment: pajamas all day, in bed, warmed liquids and carry carry carry all over the place.

figgy has learned from me. I don’t know how but she’s gotten a time machine, hopped in, and taken lessons from the master of whinging complaints. I suspect that just as there are new parent classes for childbirth and delivery so are there new grandparent classes: strategies for I-told-you-sos and ways to not-look-like-you’re-enjoying-the-taste-of-your-child’s-own-medicine. I wonder sometimes if we keep our distance from parents to prove that we can do it ourselves or to hide the damning shameful evidence of what we’re doing wrong. It’s strange that I feel a greater kinship with my folks knowing how difficult it was for them — new country, strange customs, and two kids keeping them on their toes. We are the lucky ones.


Past Perfect

14 September 2010

Dear J-

Last night after class we drove home in the dark: it’s a preview of life to come during the fall, time changes and longer hours are probably going to mean that we leave and reach San Diego without glimpsing daylight during the week. If I was a philosophical man, I’d say that you can’t expect it to be unusual for power plant workers: the nature of the service demands the jobs to run 24-7 and, when you’re not running, 24-7 to get back to running. And from what I’ve heard, where I am now is one of the better jobs for being able to maintain a fairly regular schedule, but they also say that you don’t quit jobs, you quit bosses.

I’ve been struggling to get any kind of quality time stitched together for life after work, whether it’s for getting figgy off to bed (this has turned into an hourlong team effort/ordeal, first to cajole her into getting her teeth brushed*, then to read stories**, and finally singing songs***), reading my own library books (I am always overambitious at the library for fear of running out of materials to read; three weeks is shorter than you think), or studying. Of course on top of that the storage/guest room beckons with project promises: hey, how about getting some hard flooring in here, some color on the walls, maybe a Solatube to keep the gloom out?

I realize that my life is so full right now that work is almost a distraction from the real business of living, and that’s a wonderful place to be. A hundred times I might have to do it differently, but I’d want to be here now; between Kung Fu Panda and the Stargirl novels I’ve had enough digestible philosophy. This resonates, though: the past is history, the future, a mystery, so all you can do is live in the now: the present is a gift that keeps unwrapping.


* She does some teeth herself, which is semi-helpful, but needs help with others in the back. And let’s not get started on talking about flossing, which generally sets off a chase through the house.

** Here’s where the library has come in handy, augmenting our meager supply; current favorite is Shrek! by William Stieg, but I also like the Pigeon books by Mo Willems, as there is a lot of Pigeon in most kids.

*** theVet handles this part, as my singing is soothing to no one, and besides which I can’t imagine that Nirvana and The Jam would be considered suitable bedtime material.

Old Time Song

22 January 2010

Dear J-

I suppose it was inevitable; the songs of your youth show up on some nostalgia station or retro show and you end up reflecting on the passage of time. What were you doing the first time you heard it, and how long has it been now? If it feels like forever, perhaps it has been: the years have a habit of slipping away from you as you’re not looking. Me, since high school every four years or so I end up moving on to something else: new school, new job, new place to live; I get so caught up in the acts of change that I never realized counting off by twos and fours makes the time pass twice as fast.

We might be on the verge of something new or not; we keep picking up new experiences and talents as we get older, after all, and who knows what we can do now that we couldn’t when REM made the jump to mainstream radio. The jokes are about being aged to perfection and how we don’t get older, we get better, right? Yet you find yourself in a kind of stasis year after year; you settle into a comfortable groove, you decide that the path of least resistance must be the best one but that’s just putting your life on autopilot and killing time until the next big thing comes along.

How far away from Tubthumping are we now, twelve or thirteen years? It’s an amazing gap; I love reflecting on the changes and every similarity too. We’re still going out for lunch — together — when we can, but now we have a little passenger to tag along weekends; we’re still laughing with abandon, but now often at her antics. Kudos to your past, right, but let’s let it lie there; we flash back to it every so often when we get reminded by song or dance but only to visit, never to stay.


Stretching Exercise

21 May 2009

Dear J-

The weeks are starting to extend themselves into a bit of a blur; we keep working what feels like a whole month’s worth of work in eight hours.  When I reflect on the things I did at the start of the day, they seem like remote mysteries from some ancient past.  This is, of course, not to say that I got a lot done — to the contrary, most days I’m lucky to have kept the deficit between tasks and accomplishments to a manageable level.

Treat things as they come in, then; don’t let them grow to absurd proportions.  I said as much yesterday.  It’s one of those things that you set as what seems like an achievable goal but one you inevitably end up missing in favor of putting the right details in.  Okay, by you I mean me; must be accurate with the man watching in the mirror.  Tasks and weeks both, then, blurring in the rear-view; sometimes I pick up pictures of figgy from not long ago and marvel at how different everything seems.

Stretch your arms around the issues; very few things will escape your grasp if you are ambitious enough.  Acquiring more tasks is entertaining, but how long can you keep those plates spinning on sticks?  When your world contracts on itself and you find yourself having to account for your actions, how proud can you be for having spent all those extra hours at work, instead of on your family?  Priorities shift and so do lives.


Crash Course

5 July 2008

Dear J-

Spend enough time anywhere and you’ll eventually run into someone who’s felt the generation gap quite keenly; someone on the vanpool related the story of how, after his parents divorced, he and his sister were sent to live with their grandparents.  His sister received corporal punishment for bringing home a book on how to love people — not in the physical sense, but in a spiritual sense; this from a grandmother considered liberal in her time (she played sports!) who literally judged that book by its cover.

Me, there was a giant language barrier yawning between my grandparents and me; I never learned Mandarin well enough to do much more than exchange pleasantries about how the weather was and expressing gratitude for the good grub they managed to put on the table (we all lived as one big extended family for four or five years when I was six).  As I’m convinced that any gifts I have must be genetic, I’m curious to see what their perspective is on the historical events they lived through.  Life’s already so busy that we barely have time to talk, let alone set aside the time to learn.

And now figgy will face the same issues; theVet’s parents are not native English speakers, but there’s a wealth of experiences shaped by growing up during a civil war in Korea.  What lessons can we learn?  How much harder is it, really, to extend the same courtesies and patience we do with bare strangers who call the house seeking our opinion on meaningless things?  To understand the person of now, it helps to know the child of the past.  Yesterday collides with tomorrow to shape all our todays.