I Am a Genius: listen to my words

I Have the Conch

listen to my words

Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

Family roxxors. I have 4 daughters who are the most beautiful humans on the face of this earth besides their mother (to whom I am still married, apparently she’s not only gorgeous but insane). Family is an important part of my life, and living near both my parents and my in-laws brings them up quite a bit.

Take My Wife … for example

For a guy who thinks of himself as a writer I become exceedingly poor with words when it comes to real things.1

At any rate, I always have a difficult time expressing myself, rather than making something up. I have imagination, but not sincerity, maybe.

And so I struggle to tell my wife what she means to me. Frankly, My family would fall apart without her. I would fall apart with out her. I can barely keep track of my own needs let alone the needs of everyone else.2

But that sounds infantile. She’s not my mom. And I don’t think she wants to be remembered as the person who keeps it all together. At least, not just that. I’m sure she doesn’t mind being thought of as capable. But after all, she’s intelligent and beautiful as well.

And I hope by now my fumbling has demonstrated that I wasn’t lying in the first few sentences.

It’s more than her leadership. Her touch is comforting in a way that I find completely inexplicable. I wake in the night, and I can reach out and just touch her back with my fingers, and suddenly I can go back to sleep. It’s more than confirmation that I’m not alone — although it is that in a very existential way. It’s even more than confirmation that we’re extensions of each other. It’s confirmation that things are OK. That things are as they should be, even if they’re not ideal.

Her touch works other times. I mean, it’s fun to hold my three year old and hug my children. But when Kirsti just runs her fingers quickly over my shoulder, there’s connection and calming.

I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to explain what she means to me, what she is to me. Or why. And right now I find that I’m out of ways to try. But she’s central to my life. Marrying her was completing myself.

  1. Maybe I just make up stories, and am less a wordsmith 

  2. I can feed the cat, but he doesn’t even use his litter box, so he requires very little attention to be happy 

The New White Man’s Burden

My wife was recently diagnosed with cancer.

My reaction is usually one of calm serenity. It’s a major issue, but it’s a resolvable one and we’ve no reason to expect long term problems from this.

But “cancer,” also known as “the c-word” is a scary word on its own. And every once in a while I have a little freak out about it until I can get my brain to move on to something else.

I’ve repeated “it’s not serious” or something like that over and over (and sometimes I even believe it) to kind of control others’ reactions to the news. I don’t want massive doses of sympathy. It’s not serious. We expect that they’ll take the offending thyroid out and she’ll be good (you know, other than adjusting to the medication). As cancers go, this one is pretty low key and easily curable. No chemo or anything like that.

So after, and sometimes while, freaking out I have this immense guilt.

The original White Man’s Burden was the moral imperative to spread culture to all those benighted people who had the misfortune of living somewhere other than Europe. It was well intentioned, but lets be honest, a lot of that European influence was not for the better. And it had the nasty problem of looking at any non-European as inherently inferior.

The New White Man’s Burden is where inconvenient, even bad things happen, but you feel guilty for freaking about it because it could be so much worse.

“We’re not in a third world country with no medical help and she doesn’t have a debilitating incurable cancer, so I should feel blessed instead of freaking out.”

Part of the problem is my Mormon Conscience (which is a lot like a Catholic Conscience except it can have more than one wife). I’ve had it beaten into me that I should be grateful all the time (and I should) and that excludes being nervous or concerned or sad about bad things (but it doesn’t — I just can’t get my reptile brain to believe it.

The real danger of the problem is less psychological and more sociological. It puts me in a situation where I’m in danger of feeling superior, and that “superiority” means I’m not allowed to feel human.

I don’t like this expression “First World problems.” It is false and it is condescending. Yes, Nigerians struggle with floods or infant mortality. But these same Nigerians also deal with mundane and seemingly luxurious hassles. Connectivity issues on your BlackBerry, cost of car repair, how to sync your iPad, what brand of noodles to buy: Third World problems. All the silly stuff of life doesn’t disappear just because you’re black and live in a poorer country. People in the richer nations need a more robust sense of the lives being lived in the darker nations. Here’s a First World problem: the inability to see that others are as fully complex and as keen on technology and pleasure as you are.

Teju Cole, quoted in What’s Wrong with #FirstWorldProblems

Read the linked article. It’s enlightening.

On the one hand, count your blessings. Be aware that you have it better off than many by the simple fact that you own two pairs of shoes and know where your next meal is coming from.

On the other hand, that doesn’t mean you’re better than those people, just your circumstances, a lot of which was just luck on your part. And guess what? Those problems you have are shared by other people.

Life on Easy Mode

How does this stand with John Scalzi’s thoughts on Straight White Male’s being on life’s easy mode? Well, I pretty much agree with Scalzi. No one has ever assumed I was dangerous or part of a gang. Partially because I’m not very fit but also because I’m a pale boy. In short, my conception of “New White Man’s Burden” has nothing to do with it.

Yeah, it’s easier here because I have access to modern medicine and insurance. But that doesn’t mean it can’t still scare the crap out of me. It just means I won’t win a “mine’s bigger/worse/scarier” pissing match with someone who doesn’t have access to those things. It means I should have hope, but having hope doesn’t mean that nothing bad is happening (nor does it mean that I believe nothing bad CAN happen).

In the end, it’s OK for me to have a little freak out. It doesn’t mean I think I’m in the worst of all possible scenarios. It doesn’t mean I believe I’m in a life-destroying situation.

It just means I’m worried and have to reign the more primitive parts of my imagination in.

Thirty-ish paragraphs of gratitude.

One item for each day of November. No, it’s not 3 like much of my in-laws have been passing about each day for the last month, but I wanted to expound a bit on them. And tripling the size of this list was just not an option at this point. Maybe next year. NOTE: the sequence is not significant.

  1. Suspension of disbelief
    I’m not sure why this one is first. But I’m glad to have this particular skill. I can watch a movie with a guy in a rubber lizard suit stomping on models and I can enjoy it for what went into it. And yes, the original Godzilla raised some interesting questions worth thinking about.
    Likewise, my favorite stories all rely on fantastic premises. How dull my life would be without the willing suspension of disbelief! And how many opportunities to learn and understand would be lost!
  2. Comics
    I love comics. The synthesis of words and images to create a narrative. It’s fascinating simply as a communications medium. I won’t bore you with an analysis here, but in this case, McLuhan was right: the medium is the message. I enjoy reading comics because they’re comics. Certainly I love stories about superheroes too, but comics on their own are intriguing to me.
  3. The Internet
    It’s the future, people. Innovation is faster because people can collaborate across the globe in real time. Your Kindle? That’s the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Certainly there is some knowledge that has never made it on to a web site, but on the whole, the Internet is the human race’s memory. And it doesn’t have to be deep! The simple communication it fosters is a great boon.
  4. Passionate people
    Passionate people are interesting people. Sometimes they’re also irritating people, but people who aren’t able to put their emotions into something don’t bring a lot to talk about to the table. Also, passionate people are the people who change the world. New things happen because people are excited to find something new.
  5. Democracy
    It’s easy to get hung up on the problems of our society – because we have got a bunch of them. “Democracy is the worst form of government… except all the other ones.” (yeah, I probably misquoted that one). Greed, disinterest, shortsightedness, misunderstanding. These things cause major problems. But we don’t have to wait for a specific person to decide to do something about these problems. We can work for change with efficacy. And if the people who are supposed to do things about the problems are too apathetic, we can replace them.
  6. Divergent opinions
    Despite abundant evidence to the contrary, I’m not always right. People have different ideas and different ways of understanding issues. Because they disagree, I can receive deeper understanding of issues. And it’s divergent opinions that push progress as well. If we all accepted something as best, no one would ever try to make it better.
    And at the very least, an intelligent discussion of different opinions is good for an excellent conversation.
  7. My cat
    It’s stupid sounding, but I really was inspired to adopt Pippin. I’m very affectionate toward him. After all this time with us he’s learning how to accept and even enjoy petting and scratching. And he’s excellent with the children. He’s even learned to game that system. The other day when Erica grabbed his tail, he didn’t retaliate and just left, which earned him four cat treat snacks. Later, he was found encouraging Erica to grab him again, so he could get more treats.
    It’s also very cool that he has one ear. It makes him look tough and manly. So when he kills small critters, it’s easy to be proud of his accomplishments.
  8. My mind
    My mind doesn’t work like most other people’s do. This can be a detriment when I haven’t been able to adapt to new situations, but on the whole it’s given me wonderful ways of looking at things and has brought me access to a variety of things I would never have tried if I was stuck in your focused brains. I don’t know what it’s like to have a non-ADHD mind, but it’s not infrequent that I pity you for not experiencing life like I do.
  9. Good books
    Moving books, educational books, inspiring books, well-written books. Books of wit, books of adventure, books of instruction. I have gained so much from so many different categories of books. Insight, catharsis, fascination, understanding. It’s because of books that I write. It’s because of books that I’ve learned to do most of the things I do. I’m not talking about nostalgia for traditional “dead tree” books, though I love those plenty, but any cohesive, discreet combination of words with the possible addition of images – those have enriched my life.
  10. I can write
    I enjoy it. It’s responsible at least in part for my livelihood. It allows me to share my ideas. It helps me to remember my own ideas and keep track of other people’s ideas. It’s not the only way to tell stories or to organize thought, but it is the most effective and common way I do it.
  11. I can write code
    Because creating a web site or a program really feels like doing something. It can be shown off. It helps me see the relationships between points of data. And, ideally, putting good code together makes the world just a tiny bit better for me and possibly others.
  12. Turkey dinner
    Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, and while turkey dinner with stuffing, potatoes, and green bean casserole is far from even half the reason for it, this particular meal is a non-trivial contributor to making Thanksgiving so wonderful to me. It makes me fat, but it makes me happy.
  13. Kirsti
    It’s a wonder I ever got anything done without Kirsti in my life. I look at all the other relationships I had and I wonder sometimes how I ever thought I was in love. I am literally a better man because she’s in my life. Plus, she keeps me grounded. I would be off in la-la land. Being near her helps me remember what is important.
    And let’s face it, nobody doubts that it’s her genetics that made my kids so beautiful.
  14. Elizabeth
    Elizabeth made me a papa. Ok, maybe it’s more accurate to say Kirsti did that with me. But before Elizabeth, I wasn’t a papa. With Elizabeth, I am suddenly a papa. She’s a smart kid finding her way with a lot of the same issues I had. She reminds me of my past. But she’s not the same as me, she has her own ideas and her own loves. It’s fun to talk with her.
  15. Sarah
    Sarah is a ball of energy. She is also brilliant and creative. So often I finding her giving of herself. After Hurricane Katrina, she donated one of her blankies to the relief effort. I almost cried in that moment. I’m not sure that I did anything right to teach her to give that way, but it’s a thing of beauty to have a person like that in my life.
  16. Rachael
    Rachael has the most awesome smile of anyone I’ve ever met. As the middle kid, it seems she often gets lumped in with other kids or completely overlooked. Then, when she does something that catches my attention she stands out with a radiance that makes me wonder how I could have paid attention to anything else. She has a dynamic and a powerful spirit, and she is going to change the world.
  17. Maire
    For the longest time, Maire was the baby in the family (for almost five years, in fact). She sometimes resents being so far behind her sisters, but she really shouldn’t. She’s a shining star where she is. No one else in our family has invented nearly as many songs, or given so many smiles to other people. As she finds herself, she becomes a more amazing person.
  18. Erica
    A frenetic wiggler. That’s enough to bring joy to my heart. She adores her sisters, and seeing that adoration is enough to bring joy. She gives everyone something to care about. And in her seven months she has often been a source of comfort and emotional warmth for me when I have felt dark times upon me.
  19. My parents
    It almost goes without saying that my parents have made me who I am today. It’s possible that I would have found many of the things that make up my psyche anyway, but it’s doubtful. My faith grew from their faith. My loves grew from their loves. They gave me emotional and physical shelter, and I can never thank them enough for that.
  20. My in-laws
    We have strikingly different outlooks at times, but I owe them everything for turning out my wife like they did. And yet they continue to give, encouraging us, loving us, and giving my children new opportunities they wouldn’t have otherwise. They are amazing people, and I don’t give them credit for that often enough.
  21. Bob Dylan
    The single best songwriter. Ever. Maybe you could argue against that, but I’m firmly convinced it’s true. He helped shape culture for nearly five decades now. Music wouldn’t be anything like it is without his input. So much joy and art has come out of his existence.
  22. Ray Davies
    I almost feel like I’m cheating by putting two songwriters in a row, but it’s my list, so my rules. While Bob is the best songwriter ever, Ray Davies is my favorite songwriter. I have had hundreds of hours of bliss listening to the music of Ray, his brother Dave, and the band they formed. Ray’s music literally formed the way I would listen to music throughout my life.
  23. Speculative Fiction
    Because reality gets so boring and its impact decreases when it gets too personal. Speculative fiction: science fiction, fantasy, and the like, fixes all that. It puts a layer of metaphor in between all the problems it addresses. And also, dragons and aliens are fun.
  24. Fun games
    This is simple and I worry I’ll make it sound deeper than it is. I love playing interesting games. Working through the relation of the rules and the goals, inconsequential competition, entertainment. I can’t understand people who don’t like games.
  25. A safe home
    With so many troubles, it’s so nice to have a safe place to turn to. It keeps us dry, and warm (or cool, if appropriate), gives us a home base to rest and let go of stresses. And it gives us a place to relate with each other and bond. The value of a home, even a small one, cannot be overstated. The stability it affords alone is worth more gratitude than I can give.
  26. The gospel
    I can really be a screw up. And you know what? That will always matter, but because of the gospel, I know it’s not terminal in a spiritual sense. I can change on a fundamental, identity level. Change into something infinitely more than I am. Even better? My family can go with me in that change. The gospel and its implications are beautiful.
  27. Best Friends
    The identity of my bestest best buddy has shifted over the decades of my life. But there are very few people who have moved out of the category of people I think of as my best friends. These people are emotional and social bedrocks for me when I feel I’m otherwise cut adrift. There are people who have been as literal a second family to me as you can get without a marriage license. They are at the core of my being.
  28. Friendships with interesting people
    There’s a lot of overlap between the last item and this one. But there are people in my life who have inspired me by their interests and their friendliness to me. People who, because they were in my life, have shown me proof positive that I can achieve amazing things if I pursue those things. These friends have done things worth talking about, and because of that, I know I can do things worth talking about as well.
  29. My job
    I say bad things about my job a lot. This is because at least 80% of the time my job is a waking nightmare. But even given that, a nightmare job is better than no job at all. The idea of where I could be because I was unemployed for the last 2 years is orders of magnitude more terrible than my actual job is. Someone paying me to do stuff for them is, on the whole, pretty darn awesome, and I’m grateful I’m in that situation.
  30. Seeing my grandmother
    Last Saturday may be the last time I ever see her. Not because I think something is happening to her (or me) soon, but it’s already been years since I last saw her. Neither of us can travel across the country that often. My heart is full just because of the time I got to spend with her. She is a true matriarch and an inspirational life. It is an honor to be her descendant.

Maire’s first story

Elizabeth, my oldest, is in a creative writing class in seventh grade. They are given prompts to write on. Elizabeth adapts these into segments of an ongoing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fan fiction. Lately it’s started crossing over with Transformers and Dragon Slippers too. It’s a complex world.

She frequently shares the story with us at dinner. And her writing has inspired the other girls as well. Sarah and Rachael both started TMNT fan fiction too.

Maire has finally joined the craze. What’s really awesome about Marie’s though, is not just that she’s 5, but that she isn’t dictating this story or stealing anyone else’s. She’s writing new material and she’s writing them herself on different colors of construction paper with a black marker. She does occasionally ask for how to spell a word, but for the most part, she’s just using her one quarter of kindergarten education to make her best guess.

This is awesome because it’s the best way for her to really learn how to do it, and it tethers her less to needing any help.

So without further ado, here are scans of Maire’s hand-written story I have provided a translation, trying to match up the proper English with the letters she wrote to represent them — I think you’ll find she does a good job at figuring it out. I’ve added punctuation, and corrected some spelling, but not corrected grammar.

One day I was in a airplane. Then I saw a hole. I tried to walk around it. But instead I fell into it. Then I saw some turtles. Well, 4, actually. Then I fell unconscious! Leo said, uh guys I think we should tell Splinter

click to mutant-size

"Ah, Leo I think you should not have said that." "Me" said Leo. Then I didn't know what to do. Then a rat walked out of a tunnel. "Master Splinter, look who found us."

click to Maire-size.

The rat's eyes widened. The turtles went to the side, to let me to follow Splinter into a room. Then Splinter gave me some robes. When I walked out I found myself in a room that Splinter told me out. Then I started to realize

Click to giant-rat size.

that I was practicing with turtles. Then I had a dream. well, day dream. "Hi Maire," said Leo. "Hi," said Raph. "Hi Maire," said Mikey. "Hi Maire," said Don. Then Pippin jumped in the hole. "Pippin where are you going?"

Click to fan-fiction size.

Maire would like to point out the awesome turtle illustration in part 4.
I just want to clarify that Pippin is our cat.

The Selfish in Marriage

Marriage & the gospel are essentially selfish: they are things we enter into to make ourselves happy — what I’ve missed for so long is that for my marriage to make me happy, I have to strive to make my wife happy. For so long, maybe because of what I thought I saw in the world, I thought that just “being together” should be enough for any person in a relationship. But what you are entering into when you marry is a covenant to try to make the other person fulfilled. Yes, we need it to fulfill ourselves, and that’s a lot of what drives us to it. But the way that marriage fulfills us isn’t by proximity, or even the suddenly allowed physical intimacy. It’s because it gives us the opportunity for a very personal and intense experience of focusing on what can make someone else happy and fulfilled.

Does this mean there is no room for ourselves in a relationship? I ask this thinking of how single persons will react to the ideas in the previous paragraph. Admittedly, partially this is to justify myself. But it is a valid question. Especially for a person who isn’t married. Certainly I do not want to suggest that there is no value in an individual — after all, every soul is precious in the eyes of God. Every soul. There’s a lot of talk of love making one soul out of two, and I think there’s a lot of validity to the conceptualization. But one needs to remember that before the ONE soul is made, there were TWO, COMPLETE souls.

And that’s why I began with saying that these thoughts apply both marriage specifically and the gospel writ large. Personally, I need to work out things pertaining to my marriage, but I think I’m saying very little that can’t be absorbed in that context.

Again I point out that this is a path to personal fulfillment. Christ says “he that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.” And he also says, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” The first seems to be about subverting the ego. Losing ourselves in the work. But losing yourself, according to this scripture isn’t about losing identity completely. By focusing away from ourselves, and into the better part, we find out who we really are. Who WE are. The second points out that true love doesn’t focus on ourselves.

We can’t be completely unaware of the irony here. That’s the point of the idea, after all. While we are striving to fulfill the other, the other is, if she’s working on the same, working to fulfill us. We achieve our happiness both through performing service and through the service rendered by the other. The two together are what make the whole. And that is the plan of happiness.

Things I remember my kids saying

“I’m so cute.”
Maire, age 2, has no problem with self image, apparently. She’s right, she’s about the cutest thing ever. But she’s not supposed to SAY it.

“Jesus is a mammal.”
Rachael made this conclusion at age 3 when we were talking about whether people are animals. She puts 2 and 2 together. Which leads to:

Not a major revelation, unless you’re 5 and haven’t been taught addition yet. Rachael figured it out because Sarah was away with Grandma and Mom was away for the day. Which meant two were gone, and there were four of us at home.

“The dark has stars in it.”
Maire made this observation when she was looking out the window at the night. It is perhaps the most poetic and hopeful of observations to come out of my family.

Because of You

Because of you, every day I feel as if I walk on rose petals.
The dimmest stones are precious metals.
Because of you, I feel the moon shines only for me.
I can see the way to what I want to be.
Because of you, I can feel my heart pounding in my chest.
Wonderful dreams fill my mind’s rest.
Because of you, I’m always full of gratitude.
My belief in dreams is renewed.
Because of you, I have something to think about all day.
And I know that I can never lose my way.
Because of you, I want to do and be more than I am.
I’m strong a lion, but calm as a lamb.
Because of you, I can sleep at night.
When I worry, I know all will be right.
Because of you, I always see a rainbow.
What you can teach is all I need to know.
Because of you, I believe I can fly.
When I’m alone, comfort is always nigh.
Because of you, I feel blessed by my fairy godmother.
I know that I will never need another.
Because of you, I feel like I could hold the stars in my hand..
My mind’s eye can see every grain of sand.
Because of you, All the world seems bright.
And I am free from endless night because of you.

Figure Shopping

Saturday I took the girls to Target to spend their dollars. Naturally, I ended up in the toy aisles. I’d like to pretend this was because I had three people under the age of 8 with me, but we all know my penchant for buying and playing with toys. Plus the girls wouldn’t stop in the G.I. Joe and Star Wars aisle. To make a long story short, I saw two new lines of toys. This was surprising in that Christmas was less than two weeks previous, and it seems like January is a poor time to market a new set of toys, but there you have it. I was no less excited over the prospect.

The first one I want to talk about is the new set of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles figures. They look really different than previous lines, but this is hardly a shock, since they’re based on the new film coming out and the character design for the new films is very different from previous movies or shows. I’m not very convinced I like the new designs, but I’m excited for the movie (though it could very easily turn out to be lame). Maybe my position will reverse on this issue in a couple months.

So I didn’t buy any turtles. I did, however buy April O’Neil. April in the new line is dressed like a ninja — complete with katana and overly large tonfa that is bigger than her leg (normally a tonfa is only slightly longer than your forearm and fist). This would be an entirely new approach to the character than I’ve really seen before, which intriguing less that the figure is this way (toy lines have made her a ninja before) but that it reflects what will be in the movie. Yes, I’m interested. They could very easily blow this, but still.

Anyway, April gets the thumbs up. She looks good, if cartoony (and well, what did you expect?), plus she stands and isn’t fragile. You go girl.

The other set of toys is the brand spanking new line of Marvel Comics based action figures coming out of Hasbro. At least a year ago, Marvel announced that they would be discontinuing their contract with Toy Biz and moving to Hasbro, but I didn’t think it would take a full year to ramp up to actual distribution of collectible figures. Foolish Eric. When I first heard the news I was disappointed and apprehensive. Toy Biz has made the best figures I’ve ever seen, hands down, with their Marvel Legends line. Super articulated with quality sculpts, they’re fun to look at, sturdy, and highly posable. Hasbro, on the other hand, does the craptastic Star Wars figures that are out now. 90% or more of the current Star Wars figures cannot stand up without leaning on something. The poses are awkward and while the sculpts have improved over the last couple years, they’re still mostly suckaliscious. I suppose that’s good for my wallet though, seeing as even though I hate them I still buy all sorts of Jedi figures. I need help.

So, yes, I bought all six figures in Hasbro’s new Marvel Legends line. I tried to convince myself to only grab one or two for approximately .36 seconds before acknowledging the futility of the argument. As soon as I saw all six figures where there, I took them, despite the physical impossibility of carrying all of them. I had to enlist my daughters, already laden with the popcorn and lemonade they had bought, into helping me until I found a shopping cart. Despite the fact that some of them were, well, stupid. Don’t get me wrong. While the Hasbro figures aren’t as articulated as the ones from Toy Biz, they’re quality sculpts, sturdy figures, and still quite posable. In terms of quality, these are very good toys.

See, the thing is, with the Toy Biz lines, you could never get some of the figures of any given series. Let’s use Series 13: Onslaught Series as an example. It was relatively easy to find Lady Deathstrike, Blackheart, and Pyro figures, but very difficult to get the others unless you preordered or bought off amazon, which takes half the fun out of it. This is because those three I mentioned are, well, stupid. D-U-M, dumb. Plus they weren’t great sculpts, relatively speaking, particularly Lady Deathstrike. You couldn’t make most collectors care enough to get them, even though you have to buy all six figures to be able to build the Onslaught figure. Naturally, I did buy all six, eventually. Because I am Toy Biz’s bitch.

The thing that got me was the building additionial figures. Most of these figures are cool, like Onslaught, Galactus. And usually only one or two of the figures in a series suck too badly, which makes me feel better about buying them. But some of the build figures are pretty darn insipid too. I mean, I can almost see Mojo, but Modok? Frickin’ MODOK? who cares about Modok? No one. Nobody cares.

But what got me about the figures in Hasbro’s new line is the character selection. There are some silly figures in the Toy Biz series, but they’ve done over 100 figures. Even with some alternate versions (such as First Appearance Iron Man or black costume Spidey — yet, sadly, never a Ben Reilly costume Spidey… how we hates them, yes we do…), you’re going to have to dip into some less impressive characters. On the other hand, Hasbro is introducing a brand new line. Trying to get a new following, from scratch, essentially. So why are there second- and third-string characters on the shelf here?

Ultimates Iron Man is shiney, both in the literal sense and in the Firefly slang sense. Planet Hulk … er… Hulk is both timely and original looking. Heck, he looks like Spartacus. And let’s face it, Emma Frost is both popular right now and oh so very smexy. These are figures that will attract buyers. If I were starting a toy line based on Marvel properties I know who my first six action figures would be: Hulk, Spider-Man, Captain America, Iron Man, Wolverine, and well… Emma Frost. These are the first stringers. The most iconic of Marvel characters. These are characters known even by people who don’t particularly care about Marvel. If you want to mix it up you could replace a couple with villains — choose from The Green Goblin, The Red Skull, Magneto, and Venom, all recognizable characters. Sure, Toy Biz has done most of them during hte last few years, but come on, new line. It replaces the old. *These* are going to be the ones everybody wants now.

I don’t really know what to say about including Hercules. I mean,for starters, the sculpt isn’t to die for. He can barely hold on to his mace, and his head looks like it grows from his chest, with a neck behind it. For some reason, Marvel keeps wanting to think he’s a significant character, even though most of us forgot (often on purpose) that he’s even in that universe (they do this with characters like Namor and Black Panther too — seriously guys, stop trying to even out sales and focus on characters we already like). He’s not even Thor, who is at least a character that people recognize as a superhero. People only recognize Hercules as a bad TV show and a worse Disney cartoon. Some of the unwashed masses might remember he’s a figure from ancient mythology, but no one thinks “comic books!” when they hear the name Hercules.

Then there’s X3 Beast. Not Beast. But the Beast as played by Kelsey Grammer in X-Men 3: The Last Stand, the worst X-Men movie of the lot. Ok, well, at least it’s not Elektra, but still. Look, I’m willing to give them a lot more props for this movie than most people are, but neither I, nor anyone I know, is exactly clamoring for an action figure of Frasier. And what we got in that movie was a hairy blue psychiatrist. Couldn’t we just have one that looks good like the comics?

Finally, there’s Banshee. Yeah, Banshee. He’s never actually been in a movie. This is because he sucks. His superpower is yelling. Now I know it’s cool to show the character using his power, but well, come on. Banshee’s craptacular sculpt makes him look like he’s coming on to the other male characters. This is not good.

So yeah, in general thumbs up. But there’s still some problems I’m not happy with. But yes, I still bought them all.

I had to in order to have the parts to build Annihilus.

No, I don’t know exactly who that is.

Congrats Hasbro, you win. I am now your bitch.

Renga of the Matriarch

In the beginning

was Matriarchal Beauty —

Eve: progenitor.

The Mother of great children,

Quantity and quality.

Just as Sarah: a

Mother of generations,

raising a nation.

She raised her brood and taught them

righteousness, then sent them forth

Spread on the face of

A holy, promised nation,

Israel and America.

Beloved Grandmother Alley —

Holy Rachel, Rebekah.

Traveler, like Ruth;

Returned to Holy Lands to

raise a family.

Teaching principles of good

To children in love and faith.

Then scattered, like a

Sariah, descendents gone

to foreign places.

Gather today, give honor

to Diasporic Mother.

Partakers all of

a love that recalls that of

Matriarchs of old.

Holy Writ an exemplar,

showing us our matriarch.

Humble Mary, the

prophetess Deborah, and

exemplar Abish.

The caring of Dorcas with

the support of Miriam

together we find

fulfilled in our grandmother

Fam’ly Matriarch.

On the Birth of My Fourth

Watching your wife give birth is a wild ride, at the very least. Having been through it four times, I feel qualified to speak a little bit about it. I have a friend who claims that watching his wife give birth is harder on him than actually giving birth is on his wife. I find that probably a touch insensitive, though I can understand what would lead him to the idea. You can’t help when your wife gives birth. Not really.

Guys move the furniture around. They get asked to do it, and they flex a little, knowing they were asked to do something specifically because of the body they have. It’s a bit egotistical, but it’s also quite subconscious. And every guy does it. No matter how much we pride ourselves on our minds and whatever else, we still are proud to be the ones who do the lifting and other grunt work.

But we can’t with the whole giving the baby thing. God made it that way, and not even the manliest man can change that. He has to sit and watch his wife do all the work; watch her strain, sweat, and push and flex. On the one hand, it’s hard as a human being, just to watch someone go through the pain and the effort. In addition, it’s the sort of thing YOU’RE supposed to be doing. It makes you feel helpless on a lot of different levels. You can’t make her feel better, you can’t help her get the job done, and she’s doing the physical work that’s supposed to be your department.

So, in a very real way, watching your wife give birth is sort of a psychological torture. You are completely useless.

Of course, the last sentence is not completely true. In fact, the whole purpose for being there in the room, with her is the emotional support. Which, of course, is traditionally her job. I get to hold her hand for several hours (about eight and a half, this time around) and tell her to “breathe.”

I understand, on an intellectual level, that telling her to relax and let her uterus do the work, and to breathe normally, is actually very helpful to my wife emotionally and even as a reminder of what she’s supposed to be doing. However, it’s not a tangible thing. When men think of service, we think “build stuff,” or “repair stuff,” or, even better, “tear stuff down.” We can go to a yard, rake up all the leaves, then stand back, and say “You can see what I did here. There were leaves, and now there aren’t.” With “breathing…” well, how do I know it’s even been done right? How can I see that I did any good? It’s all well and good when my wife says “thanks” and tells me how it helped, but I still don’t see it. I have to take her word for it (not that I think she’d lie… in fact, my wife would scream at me if I did it wrong).

And don’t forget physically exhausting. My greatest fear at this point is that people will think I’m diminishing what my wife does. Sure, she’s done more. She is more tired. I know that. But the next time you wake up at 1 am to tell someone for the next eight hours that she’s doing fine and to keep going that you won’t be tired. No, I didn’t have some muscles constantly flexing, sometimes painfully, and I didn’t push that 9 pound creature out of my crotch, but I’m still tired and in need of a nap.

So, clearly, there’s a lot of ground to argue for the man’s suffering. I don’t know that the two types of trials can be compared directly, actually, since people have varying capacities for dealing with problems of different sorts. However, the biggest problem with my friend’s argument is that as a man watching your child come into the world, you aren’t thinking a whit about any of that.

At one in the morning on April 29, 2006, my wife elbows me in the ribs. “Eric? The contractions are ten minutes apart. I need your help.”

Granted, this is the most trying part of the labor for me. I’m still in bed. It’s still absolutely dark, and there’s very little either of us can coherently say during the 9 minute stretches between the end of a contraction and the start of another. My eyelids are in complete and utter rebellion, trying to force a cranial shut down for at least another five hours.

However, combating this impulse are two very important concerns. First, if I don’t stay up, I am officially a jerk. There is no argument that could defend myself successfully. Even if I’d been awake for the 24 hours previous, I am a jerk if I don’t stay up. That would be my own judgment on myself, not some judgment (perceived or true) made by the rest of the world.

Second, I’m excited at this point. We’ve been waiting forty weeks for this to happen (actually, forty-one weeks). While I wasn’t thinking about it all the time, as soon as that due date passes, you can bet that I’m jumping at the slightest hint that labor is imminent. Even though no sane person not between the ages of 14 and 22 is awake at this hour, it’s like Santa Claus is going to appear any moment.

My job at this point is not just to hold her hand, occasionally massaging her lower back or legs, but also to watch the clock. When she says “here comes another one,” I need to be able to say how long it’s been since the last one started. This means I can’t go through motions. I have to be conscious enough to do basic arithmetic using a number I saw ten minute previous. Good thing I’m excited. If I’m really on the job, I’m counting seconds too, so I can say how long the contraction lasts.

This stage goes on for an hour. After each contraction ends, I stare at the digital clock and mentally will it to progress. If we can establish that the contractions are coming at regular intervals, (or even better, ever shrinking times), then we can go to the hospital. Once we’re there, the baby will come. We’ve got motivation to get this done. Of course, since, once again, there’s nothing I can do to stimulate the contractions, this leaves me trying to alter the course of time until I hear “Here comes another one!”

After an hour to ninety minutes of this, I finally feel brave enough to suggest my wife needs to call the doctor. One of the problems with being the father of the coming baby is that you know you’re out of your league. No matter how well you’ve studied all the manuals your wife made you read, you are in the position, roughly, of the freshmen intern hired primarily to make coffee. You have no good ideas. If you suggest something, the best result you can hope for is laughter. More likely, you are going to end up with a red, hand-shaped welt on your face.

Fortunately, for me, my wife agrees. I get the bag and the camera, and get myself a bowl of cereal (hey, maybe she can’t eat, but I’m gonna be hungry quite soon — my belly is quite Pavlovian, wake it up and it starts to drool). Then, when my wife is off the phone and getting on something she can go into public wearing, I call grandma. Grandma knows a whole lot more about what’s going on and when and why in life, but this is the one time in my life I can tell her to do something. In moments she is on her way.

The car ride in is awkward. Not in the “what do I say?” sort of way. But if it’s difficult to go watch regular labor, knowing that my wife is having a contraction while I’m doing 60 (gradually increasing to 70 and beyond) on the highway is maddening.

The following several hours are a marathon of impatience and frustration. The contractions are regular, but they aren’t getting closer together. There’s a machine that somehow measures contractions — how strong they are and when they’re happening, so I don’t have to wait for my wife to tell me. I can just watch the seismic readings on the chart being printed out. I get excited as I see a big one coming. But I have to hold it in, or face the wrath of a woman too busy to distinguish joy over the labor progressing and joy over someone in pain.

Then they start slowing down. What? Slow down? They’re not supposed to get father apart? We’ve been doing this for hours! The man in me wants to grab the phone, call the doctor, and tell him to get his over-educated self down here and do something about this. But that man also knows that he is not on his home turf, and he does not call the shots. You keep your head down and fire when ordered. So I wait.

Eventually the doctor gets his over-educated self down here and does something about it.

Things finally start to move, and eventually, we get to the final stages of labor. Generally, I can handle this. Watching the head emerge is a strange experience. There are at least three different things going through your head. One is “Holy…! That’s a person’s head in there!” Another is more like “Yikes! You’re gonna get it out of there?!” The last is much more “She’s almost here! Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!”

This time, however, maybe it was because it had been many hours since I’d eaten and been standing for a while, I nearly pass out. For some reason, I was really worried that everyone present would think I had a weak stomach. It’s the one area where I have any sort of authority. No one is listening to me anyway, so it really doesn’t matter.

Finally the baby comes out. Getting perfect Apgar scores.

Describing emotion is not something that language is really equipped to do, so this is where we enter the most difficult part of describing what goes on.

The baby comes out and the doctor puts her on mom. My wife gets to hold our new daughter. Tears stream down her face, from exhaustion, pain, relief, or joy, I can’t tell, but I’m pretty sure it’s all of the above. She (my wife, not the baby) is emitting sobs and laughter at the same time.

And the only think I find myself capable of doing is stroking my wife’s hair, and staring at this wonder, every so often uttering, “That’s our new daughter.” I’m a bit lost. I find that while I’m re-entering the part where I’m supposed to be in charge again, I have no idea what to do. I keep feeling moisture gathering at the corners of my eyes, but I’m not sure if I’m supposed to let them come out again, so I simply say “our new baby,” again. I’m vaguely aware that I sound, and probably look (what with the tears there but not coming) pretty stupid. But I pretend no one else is there. I need to hug someone, and I do my best to put my arms around my wife who has collapsed into the bed. I’m not entirely successful, but she puts her head against me. I say, “I love you. You did it.” The two thoughts aren’t really connected. I don’t love her because she did it, but they’re both coming through my head.

There’s a great urge to hold the baby, nonstop. I get annoyed at the nurse who took the baby and is still still cleaning/checking, and doing whatever else she’ll need during these first few moments. But I let her be.

I finally get my chance. She’s nine and a half pounds, which is quite large for a newborn (though not excessively so), but she’s small and fragile. How on earth does she have fingers smaller than the last segment of my pinky finger? This hair is so soft. Her cry isn’t in the least way bothersome. It almost sounds like conversation. There’s nothing so soft as a baby’s face on your own, either.

There’s a bond that’s almost visible. You can certainly feel it. I’m connected to this child. One part of me, the man that’s frustrated he hasn’t been in charge wants to yell out, “I made this!” But I think, no I didn’t, it all happened inside her. But how else do you explain this touching of spirits? She is truly my daughter. I’m swarmed by emotions: I’m possessive, protective, caring, tender, loving, and joyful. Like an elevation of something spiritual inside me. Yes, she is indeed mine, and now I have to spend twenty years teaching her to no longer be so much mine as she now is. Yet, that bond will always be there. No matter where she does, what she does, or who she’s with. She will always be mine.

It’s incomprehensible that I could be so intimately involved in such an incredible event, yet I am. “I love you,” I whisper again as I sit next to my wife and lean in close. I say it not to my wife, nor to my new daughter, but to them both. At this point, they are all that’s in the universe.