I Am a Genius: listen to my words

I Have the Conch


listen to my words

Archive for the ‘Myself’ Category

I am interesting. At least, I think so. The main focus of this site isn’t really to convince you that I’m interesting though. Primarily it’s a venue for me to keep my portfolio and journal. Thus, personal history and so forth will go here.

Back to the LEGO!

So I spend the Christmas money from Grandma on LEGOs.

But not just any LEGOs. BACK TO THE FUTURE LEGOS.

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Note that the doors lift and lower and the wheels swivel downward. The only disappointment, which is minor, is the skateboard color. It would have been cool to have a pink one with some sort of clear LEGO brick underneath, to be the hover board. Who knows, maybe we’ll get one in 2015.

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There’s a Mr. Fusion bit up there (removable if you want the version from most of the first movie). The “shiny bar code” license plate can be swapped out for the “OUTATIME” plate. The rims can also be changed out for the red rims used in part III.

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“ONE POINT TWENTY-ONE JIGAWATTS!”

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“This is heavy!”

(The whole point being that you can have happy faces or shocked/worried faces).

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And yes, there’s a flux capacitor. There’s the time circuits too. Set to January 28, 1958 — the date the first LEGO brick was patented, apparently — and October 26, 1985, the date on which the first movie begins.

So, yeah, I’m pleased.

GUYS! KISS K’NEX!

An impulse purchase to be sure. Because I have no idea how on earth one can learn about the existence of LEGO compatible toys made in the image of KISS without immediately buying them. The fact that there was only one package remaining on the shelf when I got there only proves my case.

I’m not sure I need to talk too much about them. Just… LOOK!

KISS K'NEX!

They have all of them. Spaceman (Ace Frehley)…
Spaceman

…Starchild (Paul Stanley)…
Starman

…Catman (Peter Criss)…
Catman

… and my personal favorite, Demon (Gene Simmons).
Demon

And, in case you ever wondered, yeah, fully compatible with LEGO bricks. Here’s Ace Frehley wearing a TIE pilot uniform.
Ace Frehley, TIE Pilot.

But, the absolute very best most awesome thing ever about this? The platform boots are accessories, not a solid piece of the legs.
Pirate Kiss

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.

I’m so stupid

So yesterday I fell victim to a practical joke.

I considered pretending that I was participating. It would have worked, and some people may have believed me.

But anyway, I decided honesty was the best policy. A lot of this is motivated by the fact that I was so angry about the joke. Not about being joked, but that the joke had motivated me to righteous, angry blathering and action. And finding out that it was all a falsehood deflated me so badly.

I have emotional problems, and this is the sort of thing that throws me right off track. I usually feel so weary of this sort of thing that I don’t even have time to think about how I should be relieved that I don’t have to participate in another crusade. I get depressed, basically.

So anyway, yesterday’s post was based on fallacious information. I felt so sure of it being true because so many sites were participating in the ruse. I did have a bit of a nagging feeling that it was weird there didn’t appear to be an “official” link to the bill in question. The lesson here is to listen to your nagging doubts and at least look into it.

Anyway, the premise, that Lieberman is introducing a specific horrible bill, was not true. He is into censorship, however. So he’s still not someone I like.

And my other arguments remain valid. Removing our civil liberties is exactly what terrorists want. They don’t do us any good, and it creates a climate they like.

So, take that for what it’s worth.

And, to make sure this doesn’t come off as a “non-apology apology”: I am sorry for spreading misinformation. I felt I had done proper research, but I clearly hadn’t. It was a mistake, and I’m sorry.

Socially Awkward Penguin Sharted on my Web Site

Let's Talk...

One of the things my team does at work is maintain and develop a set of five distinct but related web sites. They have different content and styles, but they have related material and the same layout and code structure.

One of the design elements that is the same across all the sites is that they have a row of buttons that link to each of the other sites. These buttons are graphics that consist of the name of the target site.

The particular implementation of this design element looks as graphically attractive as fornicating porcupines. I mean, they go well as a set, but no one needs to see that.

Specifically, they look (literally) like someone wrote the name down in marker, and before it was dry wiped it with his thumb. It’s horrendous — and they were created by the individual I have referred to in the past as my nemesis. She’s been gone nearly a year and I’m still trying to fix all the damage she did.

At any rate, until recently only four of the five sites were inter-related this way. The fifth one, which we were already responsible for, was a little more independent. But now it’s integrating with the other five. This means that before we had 3 buttons on each of four sites (no site links to itself, dur). But now we need to implement a fourth button on each site, and put four buttons on the newly integrating site.

That means creating a new graphic.

The new site has a very similar name to one of the previous four, so the name we were using is being tossed, and we’re using an abbreviation for both these sites.

So that means making another new graphic. Two in total, which is 20% of all the graphics we used.

My nemesis, naturally, did not bother to save a source file which could be easily edited to make changes or add a new button. This usually is something that would justify my low estimation of her competence, but this time around I was grateful. With no record of what font was used and a pretty small set of letters to work it out with, coupled with my inability to recreate the horrible appearance of the old ones, altogether meant that I had to redo all five graphics. Or, more to the point, that I not only had no choice, but that I could make graphics I could live with.

Another objective in remaking the graphics came in at this point. The lengths of the names being used varied from 3 to 10 letters. With the previous name set, the variation was from 6 to 10. So the previous buttons were all different widths, but not too big a difference. Doing that again was going to make some huge appearance differences.

So I made all five. Very simple, all based off a very easily editable Illustrator file. Took me ten minutes. They all match, they were all the same width, they all look good, and they all blended with their background better.

When I first put them out on a test site, it didn’t look good. It was like one of the porcupines was still there, but now he was shtoinking a jellyfish. There didn’t seem to be a reason for the apparent spacing variations. I could just crop them to the name length, that made it look like the jellyfish was really kinky, had convinced the porcupine to become a swinger, and invited an ostrich to the festivities.

So I put a simple one pixel border around each button. Voila. Now they look like five different objects all the same width, evenly space. It was beautiful (in relative terms, of course). I was complimented on how good it looked.

Documentation for the sites is handled by a different group, and around this time they asked for a copy of one of the graphics so that they could put it in the documentation. No problem. I sent it over.

1980s Troll Doll

REMEMBER ME?!

A few hours later, the troll wrote back.

I call him a troll because, honestly, it’s he reminds me of one of those dolls from the 80s.

He’s short, round, and I’m quite certain that if I stuck him on a pencil and spun him his hair would make a weird mess. Normally this just amuses me. This time, it was irritating. Not the hair, just the trollness.

And trollness he projected at me.

He started complaining about how the changes hadn’t been approved, and we’d have to send it through the stake holders. And how he’s “uncomfortable” changing the “look and feel” of the sites and that we’d have to fill out a change request form which at this time “we don’t have time to do.”

All of this seemed intended to bug me. Socially Awkward Penguin Evacuates

I thought, maybe this guys just being lazy.

But over the course of 10 paragraphs in 3 emails I was certain he wasn’t being lazy. He was putting far too much work into getting out of this.

I came to a conclusion: he was scared to do this. It was change. And he feared change. Because he wasn’t given explicit written instructions to do something, he couldn’t do it.

I guess he kind of had a point to a certain amount. I mean yeah, we don’t make changes just because we feel like it. Even if they’re necessary. But on the other hand, I was already making changes that were not just asked for by the stakeholders, but were REQUIRED. I certainly couldn’t leave things as they were. They had to change.

As for filling out the a Change Request form…. Really? You’re one of those people? One of the people who thinks it’s a good idea to create more paperwork? What the heck is wrong with you? That’s so foreign to my way of thinking that I can barely comprehend it.

Business Cat Tells You What He Really Thinks

Plus, I know what happens to paperwork around here. We literally changed the name of a document once to submit it as the necessary paperwork for a different project than the doc was created for. No one ever said anything. Paperwork around here is a gatekeeper. It’s not to accomplish anything usefully administrative. It’s to keep the faint of heart from ever asking for anything to be done at all.

And after all, adding the borders (or taking them away) was all of 3 minutes of work. If my computer was experiencing some sort of lag.

So we argued with the troll for a while. It was finally conceded that the borders had to go, and the troll finally gave a parting shot that “he had to explain this to the stakeholders.” At which point one wonders (or at least, I wonder) why the border couldn’t simply be part of that, since it was good for the design and all.

So in the end, we no longer have porcupines fornicating on these web sides. But it sure does look like some waterfowl defecated on it.

Philosoraptor Questions Your Ethics

The answer, philosoraptor, is NO.

I hold these truths to be self-evident.

Almost three and a half years ago, I wrote this and my thoughts are going back to it.

I’ve been thinking about it and I’ve decided that I do not pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. I don’t pledge my allegiance to any flag, even Virginia’s. I think that pledge allegiance to a silly looking piece of fabric (I’m not a huge fan of the US flag’s design) is exactly what’s wrong with this country.

I thought about instead I would pledge my allegiance to the Constitution of the United States of America. But that didn’t sit exactly right. You know what I pledge my allegiance to? The principles upheld by the Constitution and Declaration of Independence of the United States of America. To wit:

  • That all men are created equal
  • That they are endowed with certain unalienable rights such as
    • Life
    • liberty
    • the pursuit of happiness
  • That government governs only with the consent of the governed
  • That a populace has the right to take up arms against a government that treats them unjustly if that government is not willing or able to make reparation
  • That church and state should be separate entities and not screw around with each other if they can at all help it
  • That people should be allowed to gather and discuss even vile and stupid ideas
  • That with the exception of dangers to national security (not an individual’s security) the government should not keep secrets
  • That the range of national security dangers is quite narrow
  • That protesting a government policy is at the core of patriotism
  • That citizens of a free society have the right to arm and defend themselves if necessary
  • That the government has an obligation to explain itself when it feels it necessary to search a person or their belongings or property, and that this option must receive approval
  • That persons have a right to trial by jury of peers when accused of a crime
  • That there are punishments for crimes and methods of interrogation that go beyond necessary or humane, and these should not be used.
  • That any citizen has a right to vote and protest and speak
  • That all men being created equal does not exclude any race, color, creed, or gender
  • That this list, the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, nor any other document contains a comprehensive list of all civil rights nor all principles of good governance.

Why? Because this:

One of these men is an arch-conservative. The other is Rick Santorum

This man also said that JFK believing in the separation of church and state made him “want to throw up.”

GOP, I mean it. You are horrible, vile people if you continue to even consider Santorum.

But that’s off subject. What I really wanted to get at was this.

I’m certain Santorum loves America. Or at least his idea of it. I’m sure the flying flag stirs his heart.

I also think he doesn’t give a fig for what’s actually in the Constitution or any of the principles. And that’s my point. Loving your country, loving its flag, none of that is an ideal that I truly aspire to. I have a love of my country, and even of its flag (which, I still maintain, is a little bit silly looking). But ultimately, where I pledge my allegiance is the principles of humanity that this country is supposed to maintain. And Gingrich and Santorum don’t even pretend to do that. They want to use the Constitution as toilet paper.

That makes me want to throw up.

Bad Cinema

So I have been asked what I mean when I say “Bad Cinema.” The thing is, it’s not an easy thing for me to encapsulate any other way. Which is, after all, why I settled on the phrase.

One proposed definition is “movies that are so bad they’re good.” And to be honest, Bad Cinema encompasses a lot of these sorts of movies. Robot Jox is a good example of this. Robot Jox is a B-movie, set in a post-apocalyptic world, where the remaining nations (the Soviet Union among them) have agreed that instead of full on wars or weapons of mass destruction, they will settle disputes with what amounts to Ultimate Fighting Championships – between giant robots. There’s no rationale for how on earth societies settle on this, or why they even abide by it. The budget was so low that the props and costumes were made primarily out of bits you’d find in any local Radio Shack.

What did the film have going for it? Well, they managed to avoid wholesale copying of “mecha” style robots. Otherwise… not really anything.

But I like it. So by default, I throw it in the Bad Cinema category.

But that doesn’t work for the main body of what I consider Bad Cinema.

The second simplest way I can put it (since “Bad Cinema” is the first simplest way) is that these are movies that have at least one flash of absolute brilliance in them. Something genuine and real, and almost objectively well done – but that are otherwise so poorly made that they have no chance of commercial or critical success.

Many movies with cult followings fit into this category: Buckaroo Bonzai, Rocky Horror Picture Show, Attack of the Killer Tomatoes (the camp approach on the last one walks the brilliant line of farcical silliness without ever crossing into just plain stupid, which is the problem with so many spoof movies, including all of Tomatoes’s sequels.

They all have that one piece of inspirational awesomeness that draws certain people who are able to overlook the flaws. Highlander is another example. By all objective measures, the TV series was a better made production. Critics collectively gave the movie a “meh.” If it weren’t for international audiences, the theatrical release would have been a loss for the studio.

All the same, the ideas and the story that lay under the movie were enough to inspire Queen to sit down and write a bunch of songs for it. It launched a multi-film and multi-media franchise. The catch-phrase “There can be only one” is widely known these days. Taken as a whole, it’s not a brilliant achievement. But the component parts of it reveal some wonderful creativity and some powerful ideas that can be truly moving.

Another example: Godzilla (1954). This isn’t what most people think of when they think of great cinema. It’s also an example that initially seems to be arguing against myself. Godzilla was initially panned by critics. But the people disagreed sharply. It broke records for ticket sales. The only reason it didn’t win best picture in the Japanese Academy Awards was because it was up against Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (a fantastic movie by almost any measure).

You know what’s awesome about Godzilla? This is a movie about the horrific accidental result of a nuclear weapons testing – made concrete in the form of a literal giant monster. And the only way to stop it is to create a new kind of weapon of mass destruction and using it on their own territory. And where does it take place? The only country to have had a nuclear weapon used against them – less than ten years after the flight of the Enola Gay. It is powerful that the creators would have the courage to examine the issue that way in the mass media.

Of course, when I talk about Bad Cinema, I don’t mean just the 1954 movie. I’m talking about most of Toho’s output, as well as even the Mathew Broderick version. One of my favorite installments in the franchise is Final Wars, which features … well, pretty much every rubber suit monster Toho ever conceived. And they just keep coming. Also included? A Power Rangers-esque set of super soldiers who do battle with humanoid aliens (who control the monsters) and each other. Good times. It is, essentially, pro wrestling in rubber suits. I think, honestly, it’s that homage to the original that makes it so appealing. It’s not an attempt to recreate the phenomenon. It’s an acknowledgement that giant monsters stomping tiny things is pretty awesome on its own.

So that’s Bad Cinema. I’m not sure if I can reduce it any more than that, other than to cite more movies and explain what I love about them.

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.

Why it’s possible that some of what I like may be utter crap

So today I got pointed over to Philip Athans’s blog and his brand new willingness to try a romance novel because he recently had the (mis)fortune to accidentally listen to an Andy Gibb song.

On the surface, one would assume that Mr. Athans either suffered a head injury or else the hearing of the succulent voice of Andy Gibb either traumatized his mind or turned him gay. Or possibly both.

But I appreciate Philip’s position (did you see that unprofessional way I switched to his first name? It’s as if I decided, most suddenly, that I wanted to use it instead of something more formal… because that is The Way. I. Roll.)

Now, I should clarify. I don’t know any Andy Gibb songs and I have no desire to learn them. I also still hate Abba and the Bee Gees (“it’s those blasted Bee Gees!”). My wife doesn’t share my opinion. Neither does her family. I have to hide in solitary when we go to family gatherings for fear of being forced into a “Dancing Queen” sing along.

But let me back up. Since Philip used music to introduce it, I’ll use music too.

In seventh grade.. ish… I listened to Top 40 music. I really hadn’t been introduced to anything. Kiss 98 was what played at the swimming pool in the summers when I lived in Nebraska, so I knew Sting singing “Free, Free, set them free” and Tears for Fears singing “Everybody wants to rule the world.” So when we moved I naturally found the top 40 stations. By 9th grade my favorite albums (on tape) were Starship’s Knee Deep in the Hoopla, Heart (the one with “These Dreams”, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts Up Your Alley, and Cutting Crew’s Broadcast. Though close follow ups were Huey Lewis and the News Sports and the soundtrack for Ghostbusters. Thing is I knew I liked guitar, but, I had no idea what real guitar sounded like. I had an inkling of good bands, but with the possible exception of Joan Jett, none of those are close to the artists’ finest moments (well, maybe Huey is an exception too, but that’s a completely different story). And really, there were better bands out there. Especially with Starship. I mean, technically it was almost the same band that had played at Woodstock. WOODSTOCK. Grace Slick had once told us to “go ask Alice,” a song that resonates through all kinds of different layers socially and musically, and in the one I liked, the lyrics went

Knee deep in the hoopla
Sinking in your face

I mean… what?

(Not that I hate that song, but let’s move on before we talk about why I wasn’t wrong here).

I happened to be a loser. Not quite a nerd, then I would have had science club or AV club friends or something. but more of a Dork. I had… one (ONE. 1. Uno. Einz. 01.) friend in seventh grade. Aaron had been heavily influenced by his almost pothead brothers. He liked metal. Led Zeppelin was the best any music could ever aspire too. Randy Rhodes was brilliant.

I never got fully into his music, though now I’d dig on it a lot more. But he opened my world. By the time I was in tenth grade, I was listening to classic rock and everything else SUCKED.

I have a debt to Aaron for opening the door to music. I never would have found the best of hte best of the best, 99% of the music I adore now, if it hadn’t been for him. Of course, he also stunted me. The classic rock or die thing was his fault too. So I really missed out on some awesome music while it was on the air waves. But still.

Gradually, I learned a bit of other stuff. I made fun of people who like Morrissey, and even though I went through a metal phase (I bought the soundtrack to Shocker… which was a disservice, featuring as it did a lame cover of an Alice Cooper song), I was peer pressured into destroying my tape of Run DMC’s Raisin’ Hell (though I have managed to recover that on LP, a treasured possession now), I disavowed several other things I loved, and I alienated people that could have helped.

In 1990, however, the world fell in love again. We were marching hand in hand (though we didn’t know why), and a brand new record came out. They Might Be Giants brand new album Flood. This album is a work of pure genius. I heard that The Band’s (The Band, not the band They Might Be Giants) Music from Big Pink changed lives. Well, Flood changed mine.

Suddenly, music didn’t have to be 20 years old to be any good. (In truth, I had adapted that rule. I couldn’t like Clapton’s Journeyman otherwise. But it was something like, 20 years old, or by someone who was recording 20 years ago — still lame. It took me years before I finally bought my own copy of Kill Uncle, an album I still adore.

Over the years, my taste has only expanded. I still don’t like country or most gangsta rap (but it most assuredly is all about the Benjamins). But Johnny Cash and the Fat Boys are in my regular rotation. There probably isn’t a genre of western music that isn’t on my iPod. There are some eastern music too, but I have less exposure to that, so I don’t have as much. I can consider a song on its own terms now, instead of assuming that I know what it’s about just because of what radio station it’s on.

A lot of people think they’re open minded because they listen to both country and Top 40. That’s not what I’m talking about. Let me emphasize to you. I will listen to Peter Gabriel’s “Solsbury Hill” followed by P.O.D. doing “Lights Out,” which will then transition to Dynamite Hack’s hilarious early-20th century-esque cover of “Boyz in the Hood.” Followed by MC 900 Foot Jesus doing “The City Sleeps,” Bela Fleck doing “How Can you Face Me Now,” a performance of Holst’s planets, and finish the short burst out with The Ramones. (Oh yes, Joey, I do remember rock’n’roll radio). And yes, I put kids songs in the playlist too.

Thing is… I’m still a snob about it. There is music I hear and then simply Will. Not. Touch. of my own accord ever. And people who like those songs are often as not morons in my head. But I have, at least stopped telling people that. To their faces. Very often.

A similar thing happened to me with movies.

I was into movies, but I was very careful about my reasons for watching a movie. Story was highest on my list. Solid story, then well-acted performances. If I couldn’t justify it, it was kind of a shameful viewing.

Then I realized… it’s OK to watch a movie because it was eye candy. Great special effects, beautiful cinematography, or even just great explosions. Then there came other reasons – Jackie Chan flipping around was suddenly appealing.

These days I enjoy what I call “bad cinema.” A Godzilla movie holds a lot of appeal for me. Not any movie will work, though. A movie has to be trying, at least. Or at least have one great idea. A lot of dumb comedies try to hard to be in your face and absurd. Juvenile. But I like 80s teen movies — John Hughes never talked down to me; he always seemed to know what he was talking about. His characters, even if they could only be properly described as losers, never seemed like a waste of space.

So that brings us back to music. I will listen to Lady Gaga and Cyndi Lauper. I can put them on a playlist with Bob Dylan and Joe Satriani. Because I listen to each of those for a different reason. Not every song hits me, but if it does, I’ll listen to it more than once.

It’s the same with books, really. Comics, for example. Sturgeon’s law applies. Most of it is horrible, but even a lot of that is still fun to read. And what’s wrong with reading for fun? I have a guilty pleasure I like to indulge — reading Shoujo Manga (Japanese made comics targeted toward a female audience). I love Azamanga Daioh and Gina Biggs is a wonderful writer.

So, yeah, I’m not ready to seriously investigate the romance genre at this time (which, going back to the begining, was Philip’s reason for mentioning Andy Gibb). I reckon, however, it has something it could teach me about writing. There’s a reason romance is so successful. And it’s not because it’s horrible. Horrible it may be, but there’s something there that appeals to people.

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.

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.

Tech Support

I confess, I’m a tech. I sully my hands, ears and tongue answering questions for people. Most of whom have no clue what they’re doing. So it comes as no surprise that I would have something to say about how dumb people are. Well, it takes something big to phase me these days, and since most people who call in realize they have no clue, I’m more than willing to help them and even grudgingly respect that they’re taking a step into a wider world. The other day, I got a call from someone that I can’t bring myself to even think one nice thought about.

I work for a national Internet provider, which is really more of a multi-level marketing place. Don’t give me any grief on that, though, they treat me much better than just about any other employer I’ve worked for, and on top of that they do actually provide better quality service and products than any other ISP I’m familiar with (plus they have top notch tech support!). One of the products they sell is a combination phone/Internet access device. Kinda nifty, actually.

Ok, enough with the background. Here’s what I’m ranting about. A representative called in for some help on this Internet appliance. Only she’s not calling in for HER appliance, it belongs to one of her customers. This happens all the time, so it didn’t shock me, except that the customer wasn’t on the phone either. What’s more, she wasn’t even within convenient driving distance of the appliance. What’s more than that, she wasn’t even close to HER appliance so she could see what I was talking about. Yet demands ensued that I fix the problem. Only she doesn’t KNOW what the problem is. Maybe that’s unfair. Maybe it was just that she couldn’t explain what the problem was. Or maybe I’m right and she’s a freakin’ tard.

Among the evidence that she’s a freakin’ tard (“freakin’ tard” happens to be a very precise psychological term meaning “stupid idiot”) is the fact that she refused to explain what the problem was. Over the course of the first 15 minutes of the “conversation” (a term used loosely, I assure you) I realized that she doesn’t like to listen, she likes to hear her own voice. She interrupted every single time I tried to talk, especially if I was asking a question to find out what the heck was going on. Lest you think it was my own personal voice she objected to, I must also point out that she at one moment admitted that she didn’t even let her customer finish explaining the problem. In other words, we had the stupid (or the freakin’ tard) leading the blind (the blind man, who I am led to believe is also deaf and dumb, did not call because he’s shy about this sort of thing — by which I believe I understood properly meant anything invented since he was watching The Howdy Doody Show — which led me to wonder why this man was spending hundreds of dollars on a machine he had no intention of learning how to use; but I degress).

In all fairness, I must argue the other side. She was trying to help her customer. Why she thought I could do anything when she didn’t know the problem, and wouldn’t be able to articulate it even if she did, is beyond my ken. So there you have it, even if she wasn’t a freakin’ tard, she was at least utterly incompetent.

After 15 minutes or so of conversation, she was finally acquiesced to get her customer on the line for a three way call. This didn’t help. In addition to hanging up as soon as I put him on hold (despite the warning about what I was doing), Blind Man also had no idea how to articulate what was going on. (Sample conversation: me: “Describe to me what is going wrong.” him: “I don’t know.” me: “What exactly does it do, and what error does it give you when it does it?” him: “I don’t know.” me: “What does it do that you don’t like?” him: “I don’t know.” me (mentally expressed in the middle of more violent thoughts): Then how the heck do you know it’s not working right?!). Blind Man also interrupted a lot and made assumptions about what answer I was looking for. I was beginning to understand why these two had a business relationship. I was also beginning to wonder if they had gone to the same community college.

After roughly half an hour of conversation with persons with the combined IQ of a box of hammers, I finally thought I was beginning to grasp what the problem MIGHT have been, and informing the two that I was going to ask my supervisor a question and do a small amount of research, I put them on hold (this is when Blind Man bailed out). Well, admittedly, the search for information did take longer than anticipated, and I should have informed them that I was still working on it, but it’s not like I hung up. When I came back, freakin’ tard started yelling at me. This is not an exaggeration; I had the earpiece pulled away from my head and my neighbors will giving me dirty looks her voice was so loud. Apparently I was taking too long, and I was wasting her time when she was supposed to be on an important business call. I’m a professional, so I didn’t say this, but I should have: “Lady, you are the one wasting time. You are wasting your own time, your customer’s time, my time, and the time of every one of the fifteen people waiting on hold for a tech support representative to pick up the line and help them out. Now shut up and hangup. If you can’t plan your life around the business phone call you KNEW you needed to make at this hour, and if you can’t find out what a problem is before you try to solve it, then Stop pretending that you can do anything besides flip burgers you freaking tard!

Next time, I’m just going to tell her, that I’m sorry, the switch for that particular device on our master control panel has somehow been switched to the “broken” position. I’ll just go switch that back to “fixed.” Sorry for the inconvenience. Maybe she’ll believe that.

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.

Personal History – II

There are several other scattered memories that come to mind from my early childhood. I had a teddy bear. Apparently I wet the bed as lot as well, which resulted in a somewhat disgusting bear that was thrown away. My parents never told me that they had tossed the bear. But Mike, ever kind as older siblings are wont to be, made sure to tell me. My brother told a lot of creative stories, so I’m not sure I believed him when he told me he had gone to the dump with Dad and found the bear. This set off some trauma, I cried to mom about how I wanted my teddy bear, and that was pretty much it.

I also acquired a small stuffed turtle at this age. I think I named him Hermes. I thought this would be a nice ironic name for a turtle (though I don’t think I knew that word, but still, my knowledge of Greek mythology was impressive, right?).The turtle is still around. Most of the outer layer of plush is just gone, and he looks pretty sad, but still. My girls like to look at him, and he sits by my computer monitor.

One time I walked home from a weekday Primary meeting. I suppose I thought my mom would see me as I went. But I decided to crawl through a drainage pipe that my brother had shown me before. It was harder than I had remembered. I don’t remember that dirtying the outside of my clothes (though I’m sure it did as I wriggled through). And I soiled my drawers. I don’t know why, except that I was 4 or so and wriggling though that tight space took a long time. My mother reprimanded me, but she was probably scared to the point of panic when she hadn’t been able to find me. I was never scared the whole time, so in my childish mind didn’t imagine anyone else could.

When I was five we moved to Dayton, Ohio during the summer. This is the first place I remember having specific friends. It makes me wonder if my Elizabeth will remember the first friends she had when we lived in Provo. Or even the ones she has right now if she doesn’t keep playing with them.

At any rate, my parents bought a newly built house at 5340 Gander Road West. This had a nice rhythmic quality and even a little alliteration in the number (which I may not have remembered correctly), which made it fun to say. Again, to the 5-year old mind, it just sounded neat, but those are the reasons why. My dad informed me that a child my age named Dan lived 4 houses down the street. For some reason I had the impression that he had “helped” build our house. And when the toilet seat didn’t want to stay up in the bath room, I figured he had done that work.

At any rate, I did walk down the day we moved in and knock on Dan’s door. We became friends and did a lot of things together, including dressing in Underroos. Dan had Superman, while I had the Robin to Mike’s Batman (how is that supposed to make a 5 year old feel – that he’s just his brother’s sidekick?). Dan also was a trouble-maker, and one time we all got in trouble because of his idea to involve nudity in a game when a girl was around. I didn’t participate; I didn’t know what to do. But I got sent home. I remember one time when Dan and his sister came back from a visit somewhere and they had balloons. The cool helium kind that rose on their own. I told Dan’s little sister to let it go and I would catch the string. I thought THAT would be cool. I didn’t realize that my reflexes weren’t fast enough. The balloon was gone, and I went home again. Another time I visited Dan’s house he and another friend were doing something and wouldn’t let me participate, and I threatened to hold the wooden handle of a lawn tool in a puddle until it was ruined if they didn’t let me. Yeah, not only does it not make sense, but I didn’t have the patience to wait long and I left. I swear that Dan and I must have done fun stuff, but all my memories are of weird things like that.

Personal History

It will come as no surprise to anyone that I have little to no recollection of my earliest years. I was born on the 10th day of December 1973. I’m told it was cold, as it is wont to be in Cheyenne, Wyoming in the December months. The birth announcement proclaimed “Our stocking was stuffed with…” (me). This part I know because I’ve seen the announcement. Which now that I think about it is odd, as the only way we announced the birth of my own children was via email (and phone calls to our closest family).

My mother kept a baby book faithfully. At least it looks like she did. There are two books covering my life to about age 8. My older brother Mike and I both have really thick ones . The books for my younger brother and my sister are both considerably smaller. Which is merely an observation that the trait of losing enthusiasm projects after I lose momentum over time is something I inherited, and I am in no way accountable for it.

Anyway, when I was born I had one brother. Mike. Mike was two and a half years older than me and the bane of my existence from about age 5 until I was 15 (the year he went away to school for the first time). He was also my most frequent playmate for most of my younger years, and he taught me most of the games I played with my toys and the mannerisms I have for playing with those games. He’s probably still the biggest influence in my life as far as the patterns of my life and sense of humor. This is a fact that I will never again admit to or acknowledge, so make the most of it now.

We lived on the Laramie Air Force Base at the time, though I’m not sure what rank my father was. Some time in my early childhood I know that he was a captain, and I remember also at about age 6 or 7 praying as a family that dad would make the promotion to major (he did – though maybe he was older than I remember). At any rate, I don’t have memories of living in Wyoming (and there are nights I thank God for that) as we moved during my second summer, to Orem, Utah.

Dad had taken an assignment to instruct ROTC at BYU in Provo. I had no idea of this at the time, though I have a vague memory of my first (and only) college football game. It was cold. I fell asleep. We left before it ended. I’m not sure who my family was rooting for or who won, and it would probably only traumatize me to know because while Dad was teaching at BYU, he and Mom and I believe my mother’s parents had all graduated from the Y’s arch-rival, the University of Utah.

I have a dozen or more memories of driving down what I now know is University Blvd in Orem and seeing the Provo Temple lit up. This was always after returning from visits to Gramma and Grampa (Mom’s side) who lived in Bountiful just north of Salt Lake City. Still do, for that matter. I don’t know if my little girls will have that same memory, but it’d be kind of neat if they did – after all, we drove the same stretch as a family once a month or so after visiting my grandparents while I was going to school at BYU.

I also have vague memories of our house in Orem. We lived next to an empty swimming pool, which was fun to play in. And we had those broomstick horses that Mike and I rode on all through the back yard playing cowboys. My first dirty rhyme was learned in the gutter (literally) in front of that house. It came about because someone had a Mr. Peabody toy from the Rocky and Bullwinkle show:

I’m Mr. Peabody

I want my mommy

I need to go potty

Yeah, back off. I was three or four and lived in Utah Valley. Cut me some slack will ya?

Other fun things involved catching grasshoppers using our blankies. The method was to throw out the blanket so it was spread over the bug, and you pinned down the sides and slowly lifted until you could get a hand on the bug. Which you then let jump off (just to watch it jump, because we were boys, and they were bugs, and that was enough). Sometimes we just nudged them to make them jump. To be honest, I don’t remember ever torturing bugs (until I was 11, when I killed a slug by shaking salt on it…) or killing ants with a magnifying glass.

My earliest definable memory takes place in Orem as well, when I was about 3. My mother, like most good Mormon mothers get at least once (however short lived is the effort), was getting into food storage. I remember drinking a lot of nasty powdered milk at this time (I was so very grateful when that kick ended). My mother ground her own wheat for bread, and it being the mid- to late-seventies, we had this monstrous grinder with an open drive belt, which my brother and I loved to watch. The grain moved prettily as it was funneled toward the grinder, and plus here was this big engine (a temptation for all little boys, I’m sure). One time while watching the grinding, and for some still unknown reason – I think it has something to do with me being meant to have this mark on my finger – I decided I wanted to know how it would feel to have the belt move along the inside of the second knuckle of my right index finger (though I was familiar with very few of those vocabulary words). Being a very scientific three years old, I determined the only way to find out was to stick out my finger.

Screaming ensued.

My second definable memory takes place in a hospital or doctor’s office – I’m not sure which – with a trained medical professional removing stitches from my hand. I remember nothing in between these two related events, but I had a lot of stitches. Apparently I had severed tendons and my hand had been cut open all the way down and across my palm in order for them to retrieve the tendons and reconnect them. Today the scar only stretches about half an inch down toward my thumb and half an inch into the palm, but there is a huge mass of scar tissue in that knuckle today, and I can only bend my finger about half way.

The scar quickly became part of my identity. There was a corner on my blanky that was harder than the others which I used to like to hold against the scar. My family still remarks on it. Over the years, I’ve kind of developed the idea of that scar as a symbol of the protection the Lord has given me over my life. I’ve been in many accidents, many of which could have killed or at least crippled me, but I’ve never suffered anything more injurious than that scar on my finger. I reckon that the Lord had something he needed me to accomplish. When I received a Patriarchal Blessing at age 18, I was told that I would bring into this world worthy spirits. I jokingly remarked that I was safe from any serious harm until my wife was pregnant with a second child. As I now have three beautiful daughters, all of whom are worthy, I’ve decided to start being a little more thoughtful and cautious (though I still want a motorcycle); the Lord might have had something else in mind for me, but no sense in taking any chances right?

I remember that I had a broken or sprained arm once in Orem as well, but I don’t know how I got it. I just remember playing in the backyard once with my broomstick horse with my arm in a sling (it’s hard to ride a horse like that, even one made from a broomstick).

Presaging my destiny to write and observe the beauty in all that surrounds us, I still have a slight memory of going out into the backyard and seeing the view of the mountains. Mt. Timpanogas being the most prominent. I remember thinking how wonderful the world was. As I was ever spiritually minded (or at least, have always believed myself to be), I also remember realizing in some small way how positioned I was in God’s plan. It’s not something I could put into words at the time, but it was a feeling. Knowing that I was on the earth, and the earth was in the heavens, and that I was an individual. Maybe you think this more of a psychological self-consciousness than anything else. But I knew it was a spiritual event.

My family was (still is) LDS. Mormons. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We went to church every Sunday for several hours. At this point, I believe the meetings were still scattered, so we’d go once for Sacrament meeting, again for Primary, etc. In primary I once got a little certificate of some sort of achievement. I have no idea what it was for. It had a picture of a young boy and a picture of a young girl on it. So I did something very typical for young boys: I crossed out the picture of the girl (well, they were ICKY!). Mike told me when he saw it that I would regret that later. Probably because he said that, when I saw the certificate once when I was much older, I did regret it and tried to erase it. It wouldn’t come off.

In Primary we learned a lot of songs like “Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam” and so on. I still remember the first time I learned “The primary colors are one, two, three / red, yellow and blue.” I don’t remember the symbology, but I’m pretty sure there was supposed to be some. It’s ok; they don’t sing that song anymore. At any rate, I learned about Jesus, and the story of Joseph Smith, and many other Bible and Book of Mormon stories while I was still very young. And I’ve never doubted them. This could make you think I’m brainwashed, but as I grew the maturity of my belief grew as well. Sure, I’ve questioned my beliefs, and tried them, and had to learn more. But I’ve always had faith in the Savior and the scriptures, whatever misdeeds and actions I’ve taken. I know that the Church is of God, and that the Book of Mormon is true.