Monday, November 10. 2008
I've generally been on a roll for the last couple of weeks. I started writing again. I got back to my morning regimen of reading and writing and exercising. I started setting goals to get me back on track for my professional writing direction. I had successfully controlled my work schedule and kept it in check. I was starting to look forward to new things, getting excited . . .
For the last week, though, Janet has been sick, in bed with a fever. I had spent three days with a fever myself just the week before, so I figured it was just my turn to be caretaker for a while. I had forgotten just how much time it takes to make lunches, drive to school three times a day, put dinner on the table, get kids to birthday parties and community events, get kids to bed.
At the end of every day I thought, "It's only a temporary inconvenience, she'll be better tomorrow." And the next turned out exactly the same. And the next day. And the next. Every day I took the kids to school her friends asked, "Is Janet feeling better?" and I saw in their faces the expectation of a 'yes'. Though I didn't understand why, I felt mildly embarrassed that I had to say again, for the fifth time, "No, she's not better, still the same."
For the first few days, I took it in stride. I spent a little more time with the boys than usual, that's all. "This is good. I'm getting a chance to see what her routine is like." And then, "This is a chance for me to count my blessings . . . Thank God I'm not a single parent who has to do this kids-plus-work thing every day." And then, "Ok, this is getting old." And after that, I just grit my teeth and felt annoyed at myself for being annoyed with her for having the audacity to get sick for a solid week. And still not know when it's going to end.
I don't know why I should write about this, except that it makes me extremely aware that emotions have almost nothing to do with rational thought. And that frustration is primarily a function of thwarted expectations. The only cure is to lower expectations . . . which in my case is just to accept that I'm Mr. Mom until proven otherwise, and accept that (almost) nothing on my to-do list is going to get done for an indefinite amount of time. The hardest part of persistence is patience. The work isn't half as bad as the wait.
Friday, October 31. 2008
On the afternoon of Halloween, Aidan came home looking tired, and with almost no voice. He went to bed for a couple hours, and when he got up he had a fever of 102. "nnnnnnnooooooooOOOOOOOO! I have to go trick or treating!" His mom smiled a gentle sad smile: "I don't see how we can let him . . . "
But in the end, we let him. What the heck. There are all of six houses on our street. He'll survive. He put on his goblin costume. It looked remarkably like the costume of a homeless person, except for the green mask. He took the green mask off after the first house -- he was too hot in it. This is the third year, I think, he ditched the mask. (Note to self: no more masks.) He troops along, without the wild screaming enthusiasm of his cousins, but still glad to be there. I ask him, before the last house, "How you doing, Boo?" "Tired." Janet had noted earlier: "You know, he's actually a lot easier to get along with when he's sick. Takes the edge off."
He has exactly one piece of candy at home, and then he goes to bed and passes out instantly. There is no fanfare, but I sense a sort of victory.
We work so hard to give our kids safety, the right food, the right education . . . and yet still, so much of their happiness comes down to getting to trick-or-treat when you're seven and have a 102-degree fever. We came so close to making the wrong decision.
Monday, August 4. 2008
We just spent the last five days at Wrightsville Beach. We had a series of small victories:
Tuesday, July 1. 2008
"Dad, do you think Disneyland would be fun?" asked Aidan.
"Hmmm . . . You know what I remember most about the amusement parks I went to, when I was your age? Standing in line."
I have vivid memories of the wooden railings at Great Adventure outside the Log Flume ride. Constellations of gum stuck to the walls. I remember the slant of the sun, the sunburned feeling on my neck, the sound an artificial decorative stream bubbling near the entrance. The disgustingly sweet smell of cotton candy. The hollow thunk of empty flume boats drifting past towards the loading area, still slightly too far away to be seen.
Yes, I remember the waiting.
Of the ride itself, I have absolutely no memory. Well, not quite true. I remember the flume boat hitting the bottom of the final drop, and what my soaking-wet shoes felt like when I was getting out of the boat. Being soaking wet, I recall, was not nearly as much fun as advertised.
^Â Â Â Â ^Â Â Â Â ^
Lying in bed one night, my wife and I try to recall the first time we met. It was at an SKS meeting at UNC-Chapel Hill, in the early summertime. I have one image of her from that encounter still intact in my memory. I remember thinking that she was attractive, but that she didn't talk enough that night for me to know whether I liked her or not. She says she remembers me talking a lot that night, and thinking that I was really smart . . . But neither of us remembers what I said at all. It frustrates me that I can't remember the exact room we were in. Even with the two of us talking together, reminding each other of details, we have a hard time piecing together the chronology of our early relationship -- when exactly, did we go out on our first date? And the first time we broke up?
When, exactly, did the most tumultuous, passionate episode in my life start to become fuzzy and confused in my mind?
^Â Â Â Â ^Â Â Â Â ^
I try to summon memories of the early childhood of my first son . . . I find it disturbingly difficult to summon specific memories unaided. Some routines were, through sheer repetition, burned in permanently. I remember every contour and detail of the wooden changing table beside the bed in the bedroom, but I can't recall what his face looked like then. I remember the streets and sidewalks and trees where I walked with him at night in a sling, trying to get him to sleep. I remember the pattern of the sling, but not what he wore. I remember the shape of his hands, the bump of his legs against my side, the weight of him in the sling. I cannot, for the life of me, remember his face.
^Â Â Â Â ^Â Â Â Â ^
I started reading The Sandman comics by Neil Gaiman a couple years ago. I just got Volume Three of the bound collections. The Sandman is Morpheus, the incarnation of dreaming. As an eternal being who has been around for millennia, he's constantly running into other long-lived gods and demons and recalling old times: "We drank wine in Babyon together . . . " I find it slightly annoying that all these immortal beings have such crystal-clear recollections of events centuries ago, when I can only hang on to a few shreds of memory from a mere five or ten years ago. It seems more likely they would say things like, "You're my brother? Ohhhhh, yeaaaaaah, I kinda remember that . . . " Or "What the heck did we do with ourselves in Babylon? Was that Ashurbanipal's place we stayed at?"
It makes me wonder about God himself . . . All of humanity's drama may rise and fall away, and all God might ever remember is the theme song of "Gilligan's Island."
Monday, June 23. 2008
Some readers have commented on the fact that they're seeing some post-dated entries popping up in the blog. No, you're not imagining it â€“ have been writing stuff, but then failing to post them the same day, and so they molder while I get distracted. I try to post things on the days I actually wrote them, just to be representative of my writing activity. I realize that this is antithetical to my original mission, which was to write something, anything every day and then post it no matter what â€“ I'm supposed to abandon my text.
Sigh . . . try, fail, get up, try again, repeat until success or the apocalypse.
I dreamt last night that I was running around an apartment building, checking and rechecking locks to keep some burglars at bay. It seemed that the same perps had been coming around to the same buildings routinely, and I thought if I just checked everything enough times I could catch them, and hold the intruding world at bay. The whole time I'm doing the checking, I'm waiting for someone to jump out and grab me. If it was a TV show, the suspense music would have been playing.
Sounds like a real nightmare for me. If my security depends on me locking down enough details in my life, then I'm doomed. Sometimes it seems like there is no "big picture," just an endless series of details to attend to. Or, worse yet, I see the big picture and despair entirely, and console myself with the small pleasures of small tasks.
Monday, June 2. 2008
Readers of these posts will remember that about a year and a half ago, I embarked on a quest for the perfect Schedule. When it came to feeling in control of my life, I had hit bottom. I was forever reacting to crises in my life, switching focus from work life to spiritual life to family life, and constantly feeling like I never had enough time to do what needed doing. I routinely overcommitted to tasks and projects, with a long trail of missed deadlines, frustrated customers, and stressed-out managers in my wake. I was Stephen Covey's worst nightmare.
I eventually diagnosed the problem as my inability to be faithful to priorities in the heat of the moment. I was too swayed by the sense of urgency surrounding whatever was right in front of me. The cure, I thought, was to take that decision-making power away, but blocking out all my time in a Schedule. The Schedule, I thought, would remove all ambiguity about my time commitments and force me to really give time to the things that were most important to me, as well as making me more efficient by grooving my life into a reproducible routine instead of a series of attention-binges.
The Schedule more or less worked. I started getting regular sleep, exercising routinely, and wrote every day in my blog. I mostly stopped working on the weekends. I started doing more of the important-not-urgent things, especially with financial matters. I was generally pleased with the results.
But . . . not entirely happy. The Schedule succeeded in its primary goal, to make me fully conscious of where my time was going. I was making the most of my "free" time, but there was no getting around the fact that after my job, sleep, and basic family obligations were met, I had all of a couple hours a day to do "the important stuff." My commitments to community, to spiritual life, and to my writing ambitions was still crammed into an untenable amount of time. Something had to give.
Well, something has given. About nine months ago, in August of last year, I made the fateful decision that I needed more time, and I wanted the time more than I wanted money. I gave notice to my boss that I needed to cut way back; I still wanted to work in the consulting business, but no more than two days a week. We made a plan to transition me out of my role in the company over the next six months. Nine months later that transition had still not happened, and my boss (one of the best human beings on the face of the planet) decided we just needed to do it and be done with it. A couple weeks ago I started working half-days, four days a week, plus a staff meeting on Friday morning.
Wow. I quit my day job. Or, at least, as close as I could afford to doing so.
How does it feel? I would like to say that I feel victory, a sense of triumph at having seized control of my life and moved it toward a more fulfilling, more conscious vocation. I had thought I would feel hope, vigor, renewed freedom, excitement at all this new time.
The truth is I'm stressed out. I didn't anticipate the psychic toll of working at a job, and not being able to give it 110% of my energy. It's taking twice as much management attention (and the corresponding stress) to work half the time, because every decision about what to work on has far greater consequences. My blogging groove had faltered in the months I was fashioning my exit strategy, and I've struggled to regain it. New challenges in my life â€“ moving my mother-in-law into our city, sustaining our kid's school through a management transition and financial crunch â€“ have risen up to lay claim to all the time I thought would be "freed up." And on top of all that I have my closest friends asking me every few weeks, "So, how's the writing coming?" and still not having a good answer.
In the Self Knowledge Symposium we have a saying: "When the Zen is happening to you, it doesn't feel like Zen. It feels like shit." I have no doubt that I am doing everything that must be done. It's just been harder than I expected.
Friday, February 8. 2008
Today, it's official -- I have started a new career. My consulting hours are now being cut back to allow more time for me to write, and today is the first day that I am not scheduled to be hacking a database instead of penning the great American whatever.
Of course, I had utopian visions of what this day would be like. I had hoped to have everything squared away at work, with a long stretch of several non-working days to luxuriate in newfound freedom. In my dreams,Â I would close the study door, settle down with my long list of things-I'd-like-to-do-but-hadn't, and start out right. Make goals, plan, dream, start some balls rolling. Start thinking of myself as a professional writer.
Ah well. Such bubbles are for bursting. The truth is not nearly so glorious. I have items lingering for several consulting projects that are going to stress me out for weeks to come. I could only start phasing out today, but it will be a couple more weeks before the shift is complete.Â While I'm pushing back my work life, other aspects are swooping in -- projects at school, SKS business, contested bills, taxes. Instead of boldly walking out the front door, eyes fixed on a faraway mountain, I am jumping out the window and hoping I don't break my neck.
But actually, I don't care that much. However tangled and graceless, it's a start. The rest of my life is beginning. I remember when I was working with a software startup company, and the new CEO was emphasizing the importance of keeping sales going up, no matter how slightly. "All I need is a trend line! The investors will be patient, as long as I can point toÂ a time in the future when they get their money back. Just give me a positive trend!" So here I am, trending positively, inching my way to a new path.
Wednesday, January 2. 2008
My six-year-old son Aidan wandered into the study early this morning (much earlier than he would normally be up), and said, "Would you like to hear about my dreams?"
"My dreams kinda feel like when I'm reading a book that I'm not old enough to read yet. I sort of understand it, but it still doesn't make sense to me." And then he told me about the usual unusualness of his dreams -- fire engines driving down our driveway with mom and dad just standing there, construction workers and gardeners arguing over which group would get to have Aidan working with them.
I just loved that way of describing it: your dreams really are like reading a book you don't completely understand. The sensation of order and coherence is there, but you don't completely understand what's going on. Philosophically, that's something that's always scared me about my dreams: the fact that you can have the sensation of meaning and order, when in fact there is no meaning and order at all. It's that self-evident quality of our dreaming experience that makes me fundamentally question the wisdom of trusting completely in our feelings. Just because something feels true doesn't necessarily mean it is true.
And yet . . . perhaps it is exactly as Aidan says -- the meaning is there, but we aren't mature enough yet to fully comprehend it. For instance, I know exactly what the fire trucks in Aidan's dream means. On a daily basis he experiences super-powerful emotions of fear or anger or excitement, and for him it's a full-blown crisis . . . and meanwhile Mom and Dad just stand there like nothing unusual is happening. And the gardeners and construction workers arguing -- that's Aidan's awareness of the tension between his intellect (the construction workers) and his emotional life (the gardeners). He senses that he could work in either sphere, but knows that he needs to consciously choose what to develop in his life. (Right now he naturally gravitates to the intellectual, but he really needs to cultivate the emotional.) The only reason I can say any of that with any certainty is because I have a broader context from which to observe Aidan's life. Meaning is only meaningful once it's full context -- how it relates to everything else -- is understood.
And maybe life is the same way. We look upon the seemingly random, arbitrary events that unfold, to our delight and terror, and see that perhaps it has no meaning at all. Then again, maybe the arbitrariness will make sense, once we see it from God's point of view.
Tuesday, January 1. 2008
Things improved so much last year, I'm going to have a hard time doing better in 2008. Here are my resolutions:
If I continue to consciously dedicate my time and energy to the things that are most important to me, I'm sure my (already abundantly blessed) life can only improve.
Friday, December 21. 2007
A couple years ago I got my very first callback from a routine physical. "Nothing serious," said the receptionist. "The doctor just wanted to talk to you about your blood work." My cholesterol had crept right up to the edge of unhealthy, so I had to endure the mandatory lecture about diet and exercise and oatmeal and omega-3 fatty acids. I was shocked, because I have been rail-thin most of my life. My father eats bacon-grease on toast for breakfast and still has low cholesterol. I had gotten into the habit of thinking that I had magic genes that would keep me healthy my entire life. Now I had the faintest shadow of mortality across me . . . not to mention paying another $30 co-pay just to have someone tell me what I already knew.
The next year I didn't do much to change. I moved to another city, got another doctor, and eventually had another routine physical that confirmed my lipids were continuing to lurk in the shadows. But at the beginning of this year, I made the conscious decision to reform my ways and live according to a strict schedule that ensured I gave time to the important things that were habitually neglected. One of those things was exercise, and in this year I've been more faithful to an exercise regimen than I've ever been in my entire life. As with my writing, I set aside time to exercise every day, since it seems the only routines I can respect are the daily ones. I also started eating oatmeal again, something I hadn't touched since I OD'ed on dried goods when I was living in isolation in West Virginia.
Last week I had the routine physical. I was half expecting the same cholesterol talk, something along the lines of "yeah, still high, probably genetic, let's keep an eye on it." But instead the doctor said, "Wow! Your cholesterol and LDL dropped twenty points. What did you do?" I was mildly embarrassed at how happy I was. A modest gain in health, really, nothing to write home about. But the important part was I did it. I consciously changed the way I was living, and it manifested measurable results. I stiff-armed age and ill-health. I can change my destiny. Me. Wow.
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