Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Look What the Cat Dragged In

Yeah, yeah. I'm alive.

Since my last journal entry, things have been hectic and somewhat complicated. Both of my kids have had chicken pox, my daughter getting it just before we flew home from North Carolina after Thanksgiving, and my son popping up with it just a couple of days before last weekend, thus forcing me to cancel the Chrismahanukwanzakah Cocktail party I had planned for last Saturday night. Given how snarky I've been feeling about the holiday season this year I was really looking forward to a little mirth and merriment, so the party cancellation kinda put me in a bit of a tailspin for a few days. Now I just want this month to get done and over with. Get 2006 here already. This year has been utter shit, and I'm ready for a fresh start.


Otherwise, the only new news of note is that I have finally, after mulling it over for nearly 3 months, taken up Tang Soo Do.

I've had two classes so far, and it's going "well." By "well" I mean that I feel awkward and embarrassed and utterly lacking in confidence. But honestly I feel that way a whole lot of the time anyhow, and it's not because I'm standing around in a white cotton suit trying to do forward and reverse blocks and defensive stances. I'm one of those guys that makes up for an inherent lack of confidence and a certain degree of shyness by talking louder and acting brash. Not aggressive, by any means, but something of a clown. It's funny, but it's exhausting. A performance I put on that entertains and gets me approval (mostly) but also leaves me feeling so, so tired.

On the matt last night, though, that crap all dropped away and there I was: nervous and awkward, my muscles coiled tight as a friggin' spring instead of loose and relaxed, self-conscious and self-aware to an extreme degree, embarrassed by my repeated errors and fuck-ups and apologizing, apologizing, apologizing every time I failed to do something right the Very First Time. That was the real me out there. Scared to death. Utterly mortified. Knees unsteady and shoulders hunched, feeling alternately embarrassed and foolish, too big and too small in equal measures. That's me, with my shields down.

All the bravado and crude humor I use to mask how acutely uncomfortable I can get in social situations was left at the edge of the matt. There's no place for it in martial arts, no way to bring those defenses into play. Humility and respect define the instructor/student role. The things I've used as self-defense for most of my life do not, cannot, come into play here. Not if this is going to be of any use to me. Not if I'm going to learn new methods of self defense.

It was terrifying. I felt like a coltish 13 year old kid, awkward and unsteady, hips locked rigidly in place, arms and legs -- which never felt so haphazardly attached to my inflexible and off-balance torso -- hesitant, wobbly, moving into the wrong position, the wrong location, the wrong side, fists facing the wrong way as often as not. My "kya!" shout of focus and power strangled in my throat, sounding more like a weak old man's attempt at clearing some phlegm. I haven't felt so utterly inept, so completely unskilled and incapable, in 20 years.

And yet Kyo Sa Nim Nunan walked me through the basics, encouraging me all the while, telling me that I was doing great, told me repeatedly to stop apologizing for making errors when the whole point of this is too make errors until I no longer make them. Complimented me on my strength, my stamina, my attempts at getting the rigid protocol of respect correct. Tried to make me laugh with his dry, dry sense of humor. Eye contact. Approval. Patience, above all.

And in the end I got some of it. I did some of it right. Usually not the first time, but I got some of it right. And I hope that tonight, I can do better. I think my ultimate goal in undertaking this art, this discipline, is to gain the self-confidence that I lack. By hiding my fears behind my own bluster for so many years, I've protected and nurtured my own weakness. I hope that by stripping away my own defenses I can finally let that fear and worry wither away, and my own confidence to grow in its place.

This obviously cannot be a simple process, nor a painless one. Which is why, I think, it's a worthwhile one. I need to do this.

Mood: Good, but tense
Now Playing: Nothing.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Kill, My Minion!

Got home from work today, and found a package waiting for me. Once the kids got to bed, I opened it and found....

THIS fantastic item, courtesy of Karl.

God I love Archie McPhee. They also included assorted cool, random items, including...

... nasty lookin' vintage recipe cards (featuring MEAT) and a Parasite Pals eraser. This one featured a cuddly little Head Louse. This being Friday night, I provided the Shiner Bock....

Seeing as I am really nothing more than an overgrown 7 year, I immediately set about playing. The first victim was clear. Obviously, the mime had to go:

Gee, he looks surprised!

Next up, it was the New Age Lady. Now, I have nothing against New Age types, really, but the Unicorn was clearly enjoying this, and I gotta take care of my little buddy. For her, he used his glow-in-the-dark horn. Seemed appropriate.

Looks like the bodies are piling up. But I saved the best for last. The box says he's a businessman, but to my eyes he's suspiciously fundamentalist lookin'. Pat Robertson-esque, if you will.

Quickly inserting the chrome-plated horn (again, what better choice for this guy? Probably matches the grill on his Volvo...), it was time to dispatch the bad man.


Boy, this was fun. Once he was done smiting my enemies, he surveyed the battlefield...

... and then headed off to frolic in a leafy glade.

Ain't life grand? Thanks Karl -- you TOTALLY made my week.

Tomorrow morning we're off to North Carolina for a week with Christine's family. I may check in, I may not. Regardless, I hope y'all have a Happy Turkey Day.

Mood: Just dandy
Now Playing: Nip/Tuck

Thursday, November 10, 2005

All I Want for XMas is a Murderous Mythical Beast

OK, if anyone out there is feeling generous, feel free to buy me this for Christmas:
Honestly, could this possibly be any cooler? As the description says, "everyone wants an imaginary unicorn friend that they can call forth to smite their enemies." I know I sure do!

God bless Archie McPhee.

Mood: Amused
Now Playing: Kate Bush, "Aerial" (yes, I'm completely obsessed with this CD)

Blog Tag Silliness

K, got tagged by Karl on this one. Just playing along....
  1. Delve into your blog archive. Check.

  2. Search the archives for the 23rd post. Okey dokey -- posted using my laptop at the Alamo Drafthouse, early evening, during a Twin Peaks Marathon. A short post, basically reporting the current state of affairs at the marathon. Not exactly bubbling over with meaning...

  3. Find the 5th sentence, or closest to. Well, including the title the entire thing is only, like 7 sentences or so. Not too tough....

  4. Post the text of the sentence in your blog along with these instructions. Ponder it for meaning, subtext or hidden agendas. Um, OK. Here goes:
    "The gangly old man/giant alter-ego dude is saying "Thank ya. Thank ya kindly!" right now."
    Meaning? Subtext? Hidden agendas? Not so much.

    I do recall this evening as the last time I can think of that I did something really unusual or odd. Having chosen a larger house in exchange for exile in the cultural wasteland of suburban Austin (worse yet, Cedar Park -- but just barely...) opportunities to just do impulsive, odd, or "strange" (to the common suburban populace at least) activities present themselves on a seldom-to-never sort of schedule.

    Now, this doesn't necessarily apply to activities in my own home, mind you. But ask me no questions and I'll tell you no lies.

    So there's not a lot to analyze in this sentence. Although reading it does poke that sore spot in my chest that flares up everytime I consider just how much I don't really fit in in suburbia. We don't like most of our neighbors, but then again, we're not LIKE most of our neighbors. We're the weird ones in this suburban context, so I can't really blame them for being soulless, lifeless, SUV-driving zombie soccer moms and church drones.

    Oh, wait. That certainly sounded like blame, didn't it? Heh. Gotta work on that.

  5. Tag 5 people to do the same. Oh, that's easy! I'll just tag Lee (who won't see this for weeks, I'm guessing), Circe (who'll see it on Karls' blog first), Evil Science Chick (who, being highly focused and responsive academic type will see it and respond immediately if not sooner), Mike (who'll see it, and respond with some sort of mass-transit blathering), and ... ummm ... running out of untagged folks. I'll tag Neil Gaiman, who doesn't know me from a hole in the wall and will neither see this nor respond. But today is his birthday, so Happy Birthday Neil Gaiman!
Mood: Pleasant
Now Playing: Nuthin'

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Tough Day

Having a bad few days, emotionally. This week is always tough for me, or at least it has been for the past few years, and this year it seems to be tougher than usual. Today is the anniversary of the day Raven, the first pet Christine and I brought into our home after we got married, became so ill that we had to put her to sleep. The actual anniversary of her death is tomorrow, but honestly the two days blurred together so much it hardly matters. The bad part, the series of worry/concern/fright/sadness/hope/devastation started today.

The last couple of years this hasn't really gotten to me too much: I recognize the day as it approaches, I recall many of the details of the days leading up to that dreadful last evening, I tear up a bit as I look at her ashes, stored in a little black-and-floral tin box on my wife's dresser, her bone-shaped ID tag sitting on top and a picture of her propped up against the mirror behind it. But I seemed to have mostly moved past it. But for some reason this year this loss feels fresh again.

Maybe it's just a side-effect of a tumultuous year. We've had deaths and illness, political and social issues, disasters -- on large and small scales -- around us, mixed in with wonderful times with our family and friends. My professional life has been challenging and the disappointing outcome of the past five years of my career is still very, very fresh. And truth be told, Raven's death and the beginning of my job here in Austin coincide so closely that it's hard to separate the two. So I suppose that's as good a reason as any for why this stings so much this year, this time.

I'd only been working here in Austin for a week. Christine was still back in the North Carolina with the kids, working her ass off to get the house ready to be sold and starting to pack so we could move to Texas by early January. My first day at my new job was October 30th, 2000. Halloween away from home wasn't any fun, but I'd be flying home on Friday so that was good at least.

I don't want to go into all the details. Simply put, she got some sort of bizarre immune system thing that caused her body to attack her own red blood cells. Wednesday night she began vomiting and shaking. Thursday Christine brought her to the vet, who kept her overnight. Friday, I called from the airport to see how everyone was doing, assuming that she'd be fine, and was told by my father-in-law that she wasn't doing so good and Christine had to bring her to an emergency care facility nearby for some aggressive treatments (steroids, white blood cell transfusion) to try un-fuckify her immune system.

20 minutes after I arrived home, late Friday night, we got a call from the vet saying that we should come, quickly, because it was time to let her go. By the time we got there, she had rallied a bit, so the vet said cross your fingers, we might have caught this in time and we should go get some sleep. Next morning we had a fucking garage sale. The vet called and said she was doing better, and he was "cautiously optimistic." Garage sale finished up, we headed inside, and the vet called again and said it was time to end this. There were signs of liver and kidney failure. The treatments weren't going to fix her.

We wanted to be present and to hold her when the shot was administered. Actually, "want" is probably the wrong word, here. It was more like "had" or "couldn't not be" -- it wasn't really a desire so much as a sense of absolute need/responsibility. No real decision-making in the choice. She was our first pet, and was very much that "practice baby" that many couples take on prior to choosing to have children. We doted on her shamelessly.

I remember every single moment of that night, when we had to euthanize her, like it was yesterday. It was absolutely the worst moment of my entire adult life -- a blessing, in a sense (losing a beloved pet is awful, but given some of the other events that can occur in life ...). We brought Scarlett (who is, thankfully still with us, along with new problem child Cinnamon) so we'd have something we loved to hold on to on the way home. I can still feel the way she tensed and then relaxed as the shot was administered. She was so, so weak.

God it was awful, but it was also one of the best moments of my life, because I don't think I've ever been more sure that I was doing the right thing, taking absolute responsibility for something I loved, and bringing peace without concern for my own comfort. But it was like I glimpsed the shadow of what it must feel like to lose a child. Having sensed that, I will never understand how anyone who loses a child can pull their lives back together.

On Monday I headed back to Austin, and on Friday I returned to Raleigh, drove to the vet and retrieved her ashes. It took me 15 minutes to pull myself together enough to be able to safely drive home.

Mood: Very sad
Now Playing: Kate Bush, "Aerial"

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Scariest. Clown. Ever.

My buddy Matt has this little hobby. There's one of those "Everything's a Dollar" stores near his gym, and for some reason this particular bargain palace seems to specialize in weird little cast resin figures and statues. If he spots something he thinks will annoy or discomfit you, he'll drop a buck and leave a little gift on your desk. He did this to a co-worker of mine for the better part of a year, after the co-worker had been repeatedly accosted by a Christian neighbor who had decided it was her mission to "save" him. Every week or two, my buddy would arrive at his cube to find Yet Another Hideous Christ Figuring, poorly cast, the figure almost always slightly (sometimes grotesquely) disproportionate or -- more disturbingly -- with Christ's body outrageously buff and tan, looking like something off the cover of a romance novel, the facial details often painted so heavily that Mary looked as though she had stooped by to comfort him between turning tricks.

Hysterical, really.

But I made a mistake. I mentioned over lunch one day that I am absurdly disturbed by clowns. Not all clowns -- the ones in cirque du soleil (which are really more mime-ish that clown-ish) don't bother me a bit. But your basic Barnum n' Bailer dime-store paint-by-numbers art clowns give me the heebiejeebies.

Sigh. And now Matt has a new hobby.

While talking to my wife on the phone this morning, I glanced up and saw this on top of my monitor:

I literally jumped in my chair and gasped, like I got stung by a bee. It's terrifying. I mean, all of these things are hideous, but this one: WHAT IS THE DEAL WITH THE BIG PURPLE HAND?

The popular theory is that the clown head is actually a decoy, meant to distract you from the Big Purple Hand of the Devil.

You know somewhere, some half-blind grandma saw one of these in a store and thought it would be perfect for their little grandson. And that, Virginia, is where serial killers come from.

Mood: Seriously creeped out, man
Now Playing: Nada

Sunday, September 25, 2005


Sigh. Sometimes it sucks being a dad. It sucks even more trying to be a good one.

Let me explain. Anyone who knows me knows I adore my kids. Not in the fawning obnoxious my-child-can-do-no-wrong sense, but in the sense that I don't know who I'd be without them, and it bring tears to my eyes to even try to imagine such an eventuality. They are the most important thing in my life, bar none, followed closely by my marriage.

So, let's just say I take being a dad seriously. At least part of this is due to not having a father since I was 6. I'm like a textbook case study of the psychological effects of tragic parental loss at a young age. It's all terribly fascinating on some level, I'm sure.

But anyhow, that doesn't mean I can't be a selfish jerk on occasion. I don't sit around trying to find ways to indulge and spoil my kids at every turn, at the expense of my own happiness. The long suffering martyr parent I am most certainly not. I go out, I party, I have drinks with friends, we'll take vacations with and without the kids, whatever. My wife and I have a relationship with and without our kids, and I have plenty of stuff I like to do that doesn't have to include my wife OR my kids. I just try to balance it all out.

Mostly, this works. But unfortunately sometimes the balancing act just doesn't work out too well, and something's gotta fall off the scales to get things to work.

Meaning, well, ACL Fest.

Not that we didn't DO the fest. We did. We went Friday evening, and after a 90 minute ordeal of trying to find a parking space downtown before the state offices closed we finally got on a shuttle bus and got to the park. We had a blast on Friday: Miranda and I dancing our asses off to Grupo Fantasma, me and Trevor boppin' along to Thievery Corporation, chowing some tasty vittles (crawfish enchiladas from Prejeans and Crispy Chicken in a Cone from Hudson's ... yummmm), drinking expensive, nasty canned beer (just how long ago was it that I realized Heineken was, in fact, really bad beer? Well, it still is), and ending the night with a nice set of Lyle Lovett and his Large Band. Friday was essentially flawless.

But Saturday, it all started to go wrong. We went too early -- hustled downtown to be there by 1:00 to catch Aqualung, only to decide once we arrived that they would have been way more enjoyable without the 105+ degree heat, scorching sunlight, and crowds. Hung with Ray and his daughter for too little time -- was hoping to catch up later in the day once things got less unbearable -- then hung at the Austin Kiddie Limits for about 2 hours with my kids, listened to some kid-friendly acts in the shade there (The Biscuit Brothers were a hoot), did the face-painting/balloon animal boogie, etc. Then, we decided to head back onto the surface of the sun.

Big mistake.

30 minutes of walking in the scorching heat (and I mean SCORCHING. I'm not a lightweight, but this was killer heat) and the kids started wilting. We tried to find some shade, but had little luck -- most every square inch of shade had already been claimed by some of the 60K+ other people there. We drank lots of water, grabbed cold snacks, stood in front of misting fans, etc. NOTHING helped. The kids started getting that flushed look that sets the parental warning lights blinking, and then Trevor had a full-out meltdown when his balloon sword popped.

It was time to cut our losses, before things got hairy. So we bailed at about 5:00.

And then, there was today. I had my heart set on seeing Bob Mould, but we had some obstacles to overcome. The most significant of which was, simply, that today is Miranda's birthday. She's been having fun at the fest, but I could tell she was starting to get a bit worn out. I didn't want to force her to go down there again if she really didn't want to. This was our first festival/live music experience as a family, and I didn't want to endanger the memory of the experience by creating any negatives, if possible.

At first, this morning, she seemed cool with heading down in the late afternoon to catch Jason Mraz and Bob Mould. But, well, I could tell she was playing along at least a bit. She could tell how much *I* wanted to go, so she figured she'd go too. And well, that's just not fair. I mean, it's the kid's birthday, ferchrissakes. If she's worn out on the whole festival thing, then she shouldn't have to go. I'm not a fan of compulsory fun, no matter how expensive it may be.

So, we have ditched day 3. Instead, we're having my mom and my brother's family over for BBQ and ice cream.

It'll be nice.

I'm trying to not be a dick about this. But it's kinda tough. On any other day, I'd have just gone downtown by myself, met up with Ray or my buddy Baba and his friends -- Christine would have been totally cool with it, the kids would have been fine, no blame and no worries.

But not today. Today is my daughter's birthday. Christine even tried to tell me it was OK for me to go, but I know it's not. Of course it's not. If it were after bedtime, then sure, but the shows worth seeing start at 4:00. No way in hell am I skipping out on own daughter's 7th birthday to stand around in the sweat and dust and heat with 60K people, alone.

I can be a selfish jerk, but that would be beyond the pale.

And yet, damn it if there isn't a little pissy voice in my head saying do it... do it... do it. Lucky for me it's just a little voice, and I can ignore it. It'll shut up before long.

I love being a dad, but I'd be lying if I didn't acknowledge that sometimes it can be a real pain in the ass trying to be a good one.

Mood: A tad cranky
Now Playing: Thievery Corporation, "Cosmic Joke"

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Hey Chum!

OK, confession time. I've apparently become a serial killer. The angel of death. Destroyer of worlds. Riding a pale horse. Wielding my scythe. The grim reaper.

OK, well, only for fish. But man, I seem to have the kiss of death when it comes to fish, lately.

My kids each have a fish tank in their rooms. Miranda's is larger -- about 7.5 gallons, with one calico fantail and one moorish fantail -- while Trevor has the basic small betta bowl. The betta's of course, tend to live forever, but the goldfish are, well, a bit more delicate. However, the two we had in Miranda's room were hanging in there. After going through 3 or 4 fish, we'd finally wound up with a couple that seemed to be hardy enough to withstand my tendency to let the tank get pretty dirty before I'd do anything about it.

Well, that all changed Sunday. I'm thinking that that's when my diabolical and nefarious powers first manifested themselves.

First, the calico ("Spot") goes belly up. Miranda cries and sobs "he was my little buddy!" Very sad, although she was over it in about 5 minutes -- the promise of a new fish seemed to be sufficient. So, I took the corpse out of the tank, changed the water out, cleaned the tank, and put the moor ("Luna") back in.

Hmmm. He doesn't look so good. Less glossy-black than coppery-gray looking. Well, perhaps the cleaner water will help.

Nope. Dead two hours later, after the kids went to sleep. So I sneak the lifeless body out of the tank, hoping Miranda won't notice that he's gone when she gets up for school in the morning. As luck has it, she does not notice and I resolve to try to replace "Luna" with an identical twin later in the day. We have some meetings at her school that afternoon, so I'vetaken a half-day of vacation and will have time to make the switch when she and her brother head to karate class.

Well, I hit the pet store, talk to the fish dude, explain what happened, and he recommends getting another tank. I agree, because the current tank is one of those plastic jobs that has the lid attached and that uses the under-the-gravel filtration system. The tank is continually filthy, and it's a bitch to clean, so enough is enough. So, I drop $50 on a new 10 gallon tank started kit, with light and basic over-the-side filter. Plus, I grab a new moor and a basic medium fantail goldfish to replace the calico. They look hale and hearty.

I sneak the new tank upstairs, and wait for the kids to leave for karate. Well, Miranda runs up to her room to grab some sandals and notices that"Luna" is gone.

More tears.

OK, so now we have to spill the beans -- Daddy is setting up a new tank, and we have some new fish. They go to karate I set up the tank. I follow the directions exactly. I let the fish hang out in their little bags, floating in the water, to minimize the shock of the new environment. Finally, an hour later, I release them into the tank.

The moor seems fine -- he's swimming about, wildly active. The fantail, though, swims quite a bit initially and then ... settles to the bottom of the tank.

Uh oh.

I'm trying to figure out what's up. His gills are going, but he's not really moving around all that much. I drop a few flakes of food in and he perks up, eats and swims around, and then ... settles to the bottom again.


Of course, at this point the kids come home. Miranda, excited, immediately christens my latest victi... errr... I mean "purchases" with names, thereby setting the stage for the next tragedy. Hey everyone, meet "Midnight" and "Goldy"!

Try not to get, you know, too attached.

Now, as I said, "Goldy" was once again just sort of sitting at the bottom of the tank, where as "Midnight" was still swimming about the tank wildly. Concerned, I kind of shush Miranda out of the room and decide to check back in a little while. Well, a little while later, "Midnight" was no more, his lifeless corpse clinging to the water intake for the filter. Apparently, what I took to be Midnight's "enthusiastic swimming and exploring" was more akin to "panicked attempts to escape from impending doom."

And "Goldy" wasn't looking to swell, either. But he was still alive, at least.

So, I scoop "Midnight" out, break the news to Miranda (less tears this time -- great, now she's getting calloused by the recurrent tragedies), and take the dead fish and a water sample back to the pet store, along with my daughter so she can learn a little bit more about what's going on.

Well, the guy at the store runs a test on the tank water and it comes back fine -- pH a bit high, but nothing terrible. The water is kind of hard, but not enough that it should kill fish on contact. So the fish dude tells me that it was probably just shock -- the water temperature in the bags hadn't equalized well enough yet, and the fish freaked. I let him know that "Goldy" ain't doing so well, either, and he' says she might be OK, she might not. He also recommends pulling the charcoal filter out of the filter system for a few weeks to help encourage the growth of the various beneficial bacteria in the water that helps keep fish happy and healthy. He then recommends against getting another moor at this time (they're delicate, he says) and instead suggests getting a couple of mollys. They're sturdy fish.

You know, tough to kill. Heh.

So, of course, Miranda picks out a couple of pretty red ones and off we go. On the way home she names them. I suggest that maybe naming them isn't such a great idea considering how the day is going, and if she really wants to do so maybe she should name them both "Lucky" just in case. She ignores me, instead dubbing them "Speedy" and "Pokey."

We arrive home, head to the tank, and of course "Goldy" has now expired as well. So that's 4 fish in less than 24 hours. Out comes "Goldy," in go "Speedy" and "Pokey." And they seem to be fine. I figure they're tough enough, and we'll just leave them in there to establish the environment for a couple of weeks (in fish talk, "establishing the environment" apparently means "pissing and shitting to pollute the water to a satisfactory level") and then we'll go back to bigger fish.

This morning, 6:30, I'm awoken by my daughter crying out "Speedy! Pokey! OH NO!!!" Two more down. 6 dead fish and 2 trips to the pet store in less than 36 hours. I surrender.

So yeah, the fish tank is getting a few days of rest. No fish until the weekend, and then we'll try again. I imagine that when I enter the pet store on Saturday Bernard Herrmann's theme from "Psycho" will be thrumming through a lot of fishy minds. Oh great. Here's comes the fish killer.

Mood: Annoyed
Now Playing: The Call, "Into the Woods"

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Humdrum / Addiction / Holes

Man, it's been a while since I wrote, here. I was IMing with a friend that prefers to remain anonymous the other day and said friend was bitching at me, saying "update your damned blog, I'm bored!" and I was all, "ummm, there's not a lot going on, here, and I just can't muster the focus to write about a lot of nuthin'."

More or less. These aren't quotes, they're paraphrases. But fuck it, it's my blog.

So, it got me thinking. I mean, there's actually a LOT going on, hereabouts. Work's been nuts, and the wait for "the big professional event that I can't talk about because officially I know nothing about it" to transpire so that I can finally rattle on and on about it is now stretching into its fourth frustrating month. The in-laws have finally flown the coop, heading back to North Carolina after their 3-month relo to a nice condo on the lake here in Texas, and our house has become significantly less chaos-oriented as a result. The kids started school this week, which has gotten us all on far stricter and more rigid schedules -- a good thing for all of us.

But you know, all this action and buzz is desperately disordered. I'm knee deep in the humdrum. There's no arc, no narrative that connects it all together, really. I tend to think in narrative terms, to try to organize the events of my own life as if they were plot developments in this larger story of my life, and right now I feel as if I'm muddling around in some sort of extended rising action, scene setting for important stuff that comes later.

But, I mean, some interesting stuff is going on. For example, I've become pathetically, uncontrollably addicted to Big Brother 6.

I thought I'd gotten over the whole reality TV thing, and had completely missed the boat on Big Brother in general (watched a bit of the first season, never bothered checking it out after that), but for some reason this season caught my attention. It had a little to do with how freakin' pretty this season's contestants are: all these fresh-faced 20-to-30-somethings with gym bodies and breast implants. And there's all these twists and secrets built into the show this year. But whatever -- I figured I'd give it a try, see if I liked it. I mean, it's summer, right? It's not like there's anything else on.

Well. Here I am 6 weeks later. The show airs 3 times a week so that's three nights of TV right there. Plus, I've subscribed to the Live Feeds so I can watch these people any time of the day or night, spying on them and seeing what they're really like, the way they act or talk before the editors start carving three hours of weekly television out of the 24/7 interactions of these people. Plus there's the Joker's Updates site, which chronicles all of the stuff on the feeds that I might have missed in the hours when I haven't been monitoring the feeds because pesky things like sleep or kids get in the way.

It's very time consuming.

I once read or heard someone describe addiction as a full-time job. Once a true addiction takes hold, you spend an enormous amount of time and energy feeding the addiction. After a while you are spending as much time ensuring the presence of your substances as you do running the rest of your life. Well, that's Big Brother for me these days. At work the feeds are going in the background the entire day and I'm listening, through headphones, while I work, waiting for something really juicy to happen. And I spend a good half hour each morning before work catching up on the feeds via Joker's Updates. And then there are the notes to fellow addicts, comparing notes, discussing developments, and so on. And then there's the show itself, three times a week.

Good lord, it's exhausting being an addict.


Otherwise, let's see, what's going on? I've had to put the kibosh on attending Dragon*Con in Atlanta for the second year in a row. I'm really annoyed, but airfares are INSANELY expensive and I just can't justify it: between airfare, lodging, membership fees, food, and drinks for the weekend I'd be setting myself back a solid $700-800, and that's before I actually but anything to bring back for myself or the kids. It's just not worth it. But I'm pissed -- I really enjoy that particular geek-fest. Sigh.

What else?


Oh, yes -- I have a new piercing. Yesterday, we brought my daughter Miranda and her girlfriend Jessica to Claire's to get their ears pierced, and I got my first cartilage piercing (upper right ear, stainless steel barbell) to help them get over the nervousness. I went first, got the piercing, said "ummm ... ow" and was fine. It was funny -- I had an audience of about a dozen customers and employees gathered around, watching me, which was funny: I guess they don't see a lot of 37-year-old dads (jeez, 38 in just 3 days...) getting cartilage piercings with their daughter and her friend out here in suburbia.

My daughter's friend went, was terribly excited, got jabbed, and cried uncontrollably for the next 20 minutes. It was so pathetic -- she was all smiles, totally down for the whole piercing experience. After watching me, she was completely convinced that it was going to be nothing, and well... not so much. As soon as the little piercing guns went off she winced, and then her smile just dissolved right off her face and the sobs began.

It was pretty traumatic for Miranda -- she looked truly freaked out for a minute. Eyes like saucers. I was semi-convinced she was going to bolt. But she still got in the chair and went through with it, even though we told her flat out she could walk away at any time. Well, she went through with it, it hurt, she cried a bit -- 5 minutes or so -- and that was that.

Today, she's thrilled (as is her friend, who we are told has completely recovered from the trauma of it all), and we're WAY proud of her for going through with it even though she was scared. And her little "pink crystal daisy" studs are beyond cute. They aren't even really hurting her at all, so that's awesome. Earlier, over my first cup of coffee and still semi-conscious, I glanced at her and the sight of the earrings caught me by surprise. You know how it is, when you just aren't used to something new yet, and for a while every time you see it without planning to it's like it's brand new again.

I just grinned, and wiped my eyes. Damn, she's really starting to grow up on us.

My ear hurts, but not so bad -- mostly because I slept on my right side and that annoyed the freshly pierced cartilage a bit. Ultimately I want a small stainless hoop-and-ball thing in the new hole, but it'll be a couple of months before I can swap the barbell out for something else. I think my wife is convinced I'm a little insane for getting it -- she says it just looks like pain to her. And well, sure, it hurts, but that's fine. It's just pain. I kinda dig pain as long as it leads to something significant. Women always fall back on the "childbirth pain" stories as proof of what they'll go through for their children, and maybe this is a similar impulse on my part. I love that this little bit of pain means that my daughter can tell her friends, for the rest of her life, that she went and got pierced with her dad.

I mean, how many kids can tell that story?

And I've got a new hole that has significance, that really means something to me. It's not a fashion statement, and it's not some sort of trendy choice meant to impress anyone. I'm sure some folks think it's a bit ridiculous, but I didn't do it to get anyone's approval. It was for me, and I did it to mark a moment in time. And if my son chooses to get his ear pierced and he wants me along, I'll do it again.

Anyway, company coming in a couple of hours. Basic Sunday bar-be-que with the family. Kids, burgers, beers. Should be a good day.

Mood: Just hangin'
Now Playing: Blue Man Group, "The Complex"

Monday, August 01, 2005

Back from Florida

Well, the trip to Florida went well. Basically, I really didn't need to be there at all, but I'm glad my brother and I went all the same.

It was an exhausting 50-or-so hours, though. My flight there was screwed up of course, and as a result we didn't get into Port St. Lucie until almost 8:00PM Thursday, effectively preventing us from getting anything of substance in regard to my grandmother's estate accomplished. Not that we didn't make use of the time, mind you. We found a cool little Italian restaurant out on Hutchison Island, ate and drank a bit, then grabbed some beers and headed for the beach. As it turned out, the beach we went to was one of those sea turtle sanctuary beaches. The benefit of these is that they are unlit after about 10:00, so the place was pitch black and deserted.

Even better, thanks to the darkness and complete absence of other people (well, almost complete -- I saw one person walk by in the hour we were there) when I got a suit full of sand I just said "fuck it," stripped, and skinny dipped in the Atlantic for about 15 minutes.

It was glorious.

After that, it was more drinks at a local joint, and ending the evening at a strip joint across the street from the hotel. Not exactly what people would have expected us to do I suppose, given that we were in town as a result of the death of our grandmother, but whatever. As I said, we weren't close, and really this trip was more about doing what I felt was right and respectful, not about grieving.

The next day we hit the ground running, as we only had about 8 or 9 hours to accomplish anything. First we hit the funeral home to settle the cremation charges and to make sure everything there was in order. Then we met with the nursing home staff to get a sense of what things were like for her in her last couple of years, and to personally thank the folks who had worked with her and helped keep her happy and active before she passed away. The facility was a nice one, clean and pleasant, and the staff filled our ears with charming anecdotes about how sweet and kind our grandmother had been.

And we were like, "Ummmmmm, really? Oooooookay...." Because she wasn't all that nice. I mean, she could be nice when it suited her, but mostly she was selfish and petty. If she was getting her way she could be a lot of laughs, but if you weren't playing by her rules then she was like a 3 year old child throwing a tantrum. Or at least that was how I remembered her. Perhaps she had mellowed in her final years.

After that we headed to the attorney's office to take a look at the jewelry she had at the time of her death. It's mostly costume stuff, although there were a number of nice pieces that might actually have some resale value should we decide to let them go. Otherwise, she literally had nothing aside from a couple of bank accounts, the contents of which had been greatly reduced by the nursing home costs of the past 2 years. Over $116,000 in charges since she was admitted in 2003. Nothing unethical or illegal in there, although it's amazing just how expensive those places can be. Sad, but hey -- it was her money, and she actually liked it there.

So we put the lawyer on retainer to finish up the disposition of the estate, which will take the better part of the next month. We're hoping that some additional funds will magically appear (via a death benefit from a pension or something like that), but we don't really think that's all that likely. Still, about 8 or 9 folks will be getting a tidy little sum of money (some more than others) per her wishes. Not enough to change anyone's lives, but a little cash beats a sharp stick in the eye hands down.

The biggest recipient of my grandmother's good will was her friend Walt, and elderly gentleman whom we had never met, but who had taken care of her affairs over the past few years. Of the parties singled out for special gifts in the will Walt and I got the most cash, and Walt got twice as much as I did. After we met with the attorney, we were able to track down Walt and sit with him for a few hours, exchanging stories about my grandmother. It was the closest thing to a wake that we were gonna get, but it was pretty good nonetheless. The best part was how Walt presented us with a slightly less rose-colored glasses version of her than the one the nursing home staff had provided.

Basically, she drove him nuts.

Demanding, petty, selfish, occasionally charming (when she wanted something), often nasty (when she didn't get her way). According to Walt, half the nursing home staff had essentially stopped speaking to her due to her mean streak (a lot of the care workers at the home are black, and she had some pretty racist attitudes that tended to surface when they wouldn't give her cigarettes...). Turns out he never knew my grandfather (lucky him), and the only reason he had gone to such astonishing lengths to help out my grandmother was because his late wife had asked him to take care of her.

And so, for the past 4 years, out of respect for his late wife's wishes, he visited with my grandmother nearly everyday, kept an eye on her expenses, apologized to the folks she was being so awful to on a regular basis, and made sure that she received the care which almost certainly prolonged her life into just over 92 years. Had this guy wanted to, he could have emptied her bank accounts and disappeared. In fact, she often encouraged him to buy himself things using her funds, but he never did any such thing. The guy is scrupulously ethical. But seriously, had he bought himself some groceries every now and then I wouldn't have blamed him a bit: she was a full-time job, and he wasn't getting paid to do it. But he did it anyway. He's a gem, and it was a pure pleasure meeting him and chatting for a few hours.

After that it was back in the car and down to Ft. Lauderdale, where we checked into a hotel near the airport to make it as easy as possible to catch our 9:30AM flight the next day. As it turned out, there was a Dave and Busters right across the street from this hotel, so we wound up drinking and eating and playing games until about midnight before heading home and turning in. After a full day of meeting with person after person after person I was emotionally and intellectually drained and chicken cheesesteak, beers, and games were the perfect solution.

And then it was sleep, and getting up too early, and the flight home.


So, a few general observations as a result of the trip:
  1. I think it's wonderful that an elderly woman still maintained, until the day she died, a routine of visiting a beauty parlor twice a month, ensuring that her hair maintained the same strawberry blonde hue it'd had since forever and a day ago.
  2. There is something indescribably sad about looking at a box of costume jewelry; an old purse with some makeup, reading glasses, 3 combs, and lots of tobacco residue in it; several beautiful rings and bracelets that may have some monetary value; one photograph; a note pad; and 2 bank account statements and realizing that that's all that remains of someone you once knew. The way in which her estate contracted within the final years of her life, as her home was sold and her possessions distributed or discarded, was astonishing.
  3. On a hot night, with the stars in a moonless sky and lightning flashing on the horizon, nothing beats swimming naked in the ocean.
Mood: Not bad
Now Playing: The Cars, "Candy-O"

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Off to Florida

My brother and I have decided to take a quick trip to Florida to make sure that things go smoothly with the disposition of our grandmother's estate. We'll be on a plane tomorrow morning, in Port St. Lucie, FL by tomorrow evening, and will hopefully get to meet with some folks who knew my grandmother then and on Friday, with an early Saturday morning return to Texas.

What's funny is that there's nothing in particular we have to be there for. There's no property that needs to be sorted through or sold, and other than a box of jewelry and her purse it appears that there are few personal effects to deal with. Her will contained a number of special gifts of cash to a number of relatives (grandchildren -- myself included -- and several nieces and nephews) and her friend Walt (an elderly man who lived next door who did a really terrific job of keeping an eye out for my grandmother's interests). The bank accounts appear to be the only real "money" assets, and the contents of the accounts is almost exactly as much as the total amount specified to be distributed as gifts, so unless some life insurance policies or other unexpected assets turn up the distribution of assets will be really simple as well.

But it just seems appropriate, respectful, to at least take the time to go there, to visit with a couple of the folks that knew her and to say thanks to some of the folks that helped her during her final days. Happily, the amount that she left my brother and I more than covers the travel expenses (with enough left over in my case to pay off a few bills, which is a really nice feeling). So really this will just be a few days away, meeting with attorneys, neighbors, friends, and careworkers to get a few memories and say a few "thank yous."

Seems like the right thing to do.

Mood: Kinda excited
Now Playing: Nothing

That's MR. Executor To You

So, this just gets weirder and weirder. Found out last night that I am named as executor in my grandmother's will, although I know nothing of the contents of the will as yet. I spoke with the funeral home last night: they are faxing me a cremation authorization to sign this morning. Happily, my grandmother appears to have pre-planned and pre-paid all of this stuff, so all that remains is for me to sign off on it. It looks like she obtained a small plot in the same cemetery in which my uncle is buried, so hopefully there won't be any of this digging up other people's gravesites to bury urns nonsense this time around.

I spoke with the attorney about 45 minutes ago to try to get an idea of what needs to be done, and it looks like this will be fairly simple. It might not even require that I go to Florida, assuming everything looks on the level. Sadly, it appears that my grandmother may not have kept very much in the way of personal items or family heirlooms. She sold her home about 18 months ago and the proceeds of the sale went to the convalescence home in which she resided until she died. There are two bank accounts, the contents of which I have not yet been able to ascertain. There's a small box of jewelry, including her engagement and wedding rings and several other nice pieces. They'll be faxing me a copy of the will later this morning so I can see what my responsibilities are and how the estate is to be divided.

And, apparently, that's about it.

The attorney's are, of course, poking at me to try to get me to sign a retainer so that they can "handle" getting the jewelry and whatnot appraised, but until I know a bit more about what cash is actually still in those accounts and whether it will be sufficient to cover their fees adequately I can't really make any decisions. Honestly, given that the estate appears to be fairly simply structured, I probably don't really need their help at all. It might make more sense to just fly there, close the accounts myself, and so on. I could leave tonight and only pay about $500 for the ticket, so if the estate has funds of any significance I might just do that.

Sigh. It's weird. I feel so ghoulish, picking through the probate remains of someone I barely knew in any meaningful fashion. And of course, I'm a bit uncomfortable with the little voice in the back of my head that's insistently whispering "What do I get? What do I get? What do I get?" I suppose it's only human to get a bit, well, greedy at a time like this. But admitting that doesn't make me feel terribly proud.

Mood: Edgy
Now Playing: Cirque du Soleil, "Tapis Rouge: Solarium"

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Death, and Distance

Last night I get a call from my brother, about 8:00 or so. Now this, in and of itself, is odd. My brother and I are close, but we're not telephone people, really. We work together and see each other on a regular basis outside of work, so if one of us calls the other there's a reason. Calling on a weeknight is especially odd, since we both have kids and plenty to do once we get home from the office. So, it's gotta be news.

So I pause the movie we were watching (Monday night is movie night for the kids -- they pick the movie, no set bedtime, snacks and whatnot with the whole family, etc. -- the movie this week was "The Neverending Story" which dazzled them and irritated Christine and I beyond words) and grab the call.

Mike sounds weird, kinda shaky, and my first thought is that something has gone wrong with the negotiations with an unnamed company that will result in some significant changes to my unnamed company in the near future. This stuff is all he's -- and I've -- been thinking about for the better part of two months, now. But nope, it's not that.

Turns out that our Grandmother passed away yesterday.

Now, our family history is a bit, well, involved. This is my father's mother, and my father died when I was quite young. After his death, the relationship between my mother and her in-laws soured quickly (my grandfather was a vicious, controlling, drunken prick who thrived on feeding his ego by debasing everyone around him) and when, after a few years, they moved to Florida, the relationship between them and us quickly became one of distance and attempted manipulation through cash (they had cash, whereas my mother was a widow raising two kids on Social Security and a part-time job at Sears) where they would try to make us feel guilty for not visiting them in Florida but would never offer to assist with the cost of plane fare or a hotel. Really intrinsically mean stuff.

Time went by, and the relationship slowly resolved into the basic Christmas/Birthday Cards cycle, with an occasional visit when they were in upstate NY for the summer months. As I got older, I hit a stage when I decided I wanted everyone to get along (17, idealistic, whatever) and there were a few more get-togethers -- they even attended a community theater performance of "The Rainmaker" in which I had the lead over the summer after I graduated from High School.

Then College, more distance, and then some sort of perceived slight at my brother's wedding (apparently we didn't spend enough time with them, although they were who we spent most of our non-wedding party oriented time with) led them to decline to attend my wedding a couple of years later. After several letters were exchanged, my grandmother owned up to the fact that the "slight" was an excuse, and that simply put it was too painful for them to see me. I looked, at that time, almost exactly like my father did not long before he died -- I was about 25, he died at 32. And she said, simply, it hurt them too much to see me. My grandfather maintained until the day he died that we snubbed them and that he had no use for us (including the very vocal and dramatic gesture of disinheriting us. He had a lifelong mantra that we'd be sniffing around for cash when they got older), but I at least knew the real story.

So, talk about your irreconcilable differences.

Anyway, after that I settled into a basic "dutiful grandson" role. Whatever chance there was for some sort of relationship had been pretty methodically snuffed out by my grandfather, but I decided that the best route was to keep them in the loop, with Christmas cards and small gifts, the occasional letter, pictures of my kids each year, and so on. Really more for my own benefit, I suppose, but it seemed like the right thing to do. I figured that if nothing else, I knew I was being kind and maybe it would help my Grandma, a silly and fairly dippy old lady, cope with her marriage to a miserable old drunken prick a bit better.

So, anyway, then my grandfather died (we didn't find out until a month later), and then my uncle (my grandmother's other son) died (pancreatic cancer. Awful), and then it was just Grandma, down in Florida, slowly degenerating, drinking Scotch, playing cards, and chain-smoking. Then there was throat cancer, and an operation, and recovery, and more drinking and chain smoking, and several minor strokes, and more drinking and smoking, and repeated bouts of pneumonia, and then yesterday she was having trouble breathing and then, after being put on oxygen, she died last evening.

It's all very odd.

I've never had a death of someone in my family about which I felt so … ambivalent. I mean, it's sad, but mostly because the entire history was just plain sad. Bitterness and misery on their part, carried like a talisman over the 25-or-so years since my father's death until the death of my grandfather, and then Grandma living another 6 or 7 years, settling into a quiet life in which she made it clear she didn't really want any visitors and that she was happy to receive the occasional card and letter but that mostly she just wanted to be left alone with her booze and ciggies and elderly neighbors and friends as her life slowly ground to a halt. By all accounts she was quite happy in her final years, and that's a good thing. Being free of the presence of my grandfather was almost certainly a blessing. I hope my notes and pictures brought her some happiness.

Now it's done. Every ancestor on my father's side of the family, aside from a cousin whom I can't stand and his widowed mother (not a "blood relative" exactly, but family), is gone. My family tree's looking fairly barren these days….

So we're waiting for information. We know there is a will, and after my grandfather died Grandma wrote us back into it (Mike and I, at least – don't know about my cousin or Aunt. I hope my Aunt is in there, though if there's any justice my cousin will be utterly and completely excluded) although what it contains is anyone's guess. These folks had income from full NYC pensions (he was a firefighter, she was a clerk of some sort) and I assume their medical expenses were covered by the pensions as well, and aside from their drinking and smoking they lived extraordinarily frugal lives. There could be little, or there could be lots. I honestly don't know. I suppose it seems ghoulish, but I am terribly curious to see what comes out of this.

And apparently, I might be the executor of the will. Waiting to hear more, soon, and I might need to take a brief trip to Florida to take care of her effects and see if there are any family heirlooms that should be distributed that aren't covered in the will. I kinda hope that the trip is necessary, actually. I have such strange, unresolved feelings about this -- I'm not sad, exactly, but a big part of me keeps telling me that I should be, even though there was literally no actual relationship here outside of one of token respect. A trip to take care of the final "stuff" could be what I need to get some closure on what is a very odd event in my life.

As for her remains, she has requested cremation without any remembrance or ceremonies, and to be shipped to my Aunt. My Grandfather's cremains were buried, illegally and without our knowledge or permission, in my father's grave, and the assumption is that this is what she wants as well. For my part I have no real objection, other than that it's not legal and I'm not sure it's fair to ask my aunt to do this. We'll see.

So, anyway, in memory of my Grandmother, Charlotte. She wasn't a smart woman, nor was she brave or even particularly kind, but she wasn't so bad, either. Over the course of 93-or-so years she buried her husband and both of her children, a fate that I wouldn't wish on anyone and due to which I am willing to forgive quite a bit. In a different life, with a different husband she would probably have been a very different person. Kinder. Perhaps nobler. In the end, she was sweet, in her way, and probably happier than she had been for a long time, and I hope my token attempts at familial rapport added to that.

Mood: Unsettled
Now Playing: Nothing

Saturday, July 23, 2005


So, y'know, I guess I'm another victim of this blogosphere posting malaise that has struck. A week or more between posts. No real urge or desire to blather on about this and that. Just a big ol' "whatever." But here I am. Figure I'll just type for a while and see what happens.


Busy Busy Busy

This Summer seems to have been unusually busy for us. I had figured it would be really laid back, since my in-laws are around and have their own place for the duration. We have built-in babysitters that the kids fall over themselves to spend time with, which would seem to suggest that a lot of spare time would magically appear, enabling us to read or watch films or just hang out at will.

For some reason, though, this doesn't seem to be the case at all.

I mean, we're doing some cool stuff. The occasional visit to the bookstore to sip coffee and browse (I'm reading Chuck Palahniuk's "Haunted" a few chapters at a time. I don't like it enough to buy the thing, but I'm intrigued enough to steal it, intellectually, piece by piece, during our infrequent bookstore visits). We've NetFlixed a bunch of films, many of which have sat, unwatched for a week or more at a time (this list currently includes "Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle," "Throne of Blood," and "Gods and Monsters"). We've instituted Monday Night Family Movie Night (kid-friendly fare with lots of snacks and no set bedtime) and have watched a few classic kids things that were not nearly as good as we remembered, really ("Benji," "The Love Bug," "Honey I Shrunk the Kids," and "Beethoven" were all diverting and more or less entertaining but not particularly good) and one terrific movie ("Holes" was fantastic). Hit Sea World for a day. Lots of swimming crammed in between all of this. And then there's the usual occasional BBQ type stuff. But it's all very distributed, and tends to make things feel very, very busy.

Odd. All this time on our hands, taking away all the time on our hands.

Other Things

Haven't played World of Warcraft in almost a month, which is kinda silly since I pay $16 a month to be able to play whenever I want. Might need to rethink that.

Did have a few friends over the other night for an evening of drinkin' and horror movies. I've been thinking of getting a horror movie viewing crew together for a while, and I finally pulled the trigger. I set the theme for the evening at Classic Giallo and we watched Lucio Fulci's "The Beyond" (not good) and Dario Argento's "Suspiria" (beyond brilliant), and drank far, far, far too much.

This is going to become a monthly occurence, I think (the movies, if not the "drinking far too much" -- I mean, drinking will occur, but I can do without the hangover, thanks a bunch), with the next movie night being devoted to Basic Monster Movies. I define these as "movies in which a group of not terribly famous celebrities encounter a monster that proceeds to pick them off one by one."

Examples of this genre are nearly limitless, but I think I'll be going with my all-time favorite bad movie, "Anaconda." So, so awful, and it's knows it, as does every single actor in it, including a pre-superstar J Lo, pre-fame Owen Wilson, Ice Cube, Eric Stoltz, and Jon Voight giving the most eccentric and ridiculous performance this side of Eric Roberts or Gary Busey. Second feature will probably be one of the crop of late-90's /early 00's semi-star driven monster movie vehicles. Perhaps underappreciated, lobotomy-required fare like "The Relic" -- starring celebrity meth fiend Tom Sizemore! Or maybe the incredibly gory, incredibly silly "Deep Rising." Or the bizarre horror movie in space riff on Solaris "Event Horizon" with Lawrence Fishburne. So many to choose from....

Finally caught "Batman Begins" last night, and it was fantastic, if uneven. As talented as he is, Christopher Nolan needs to learn how to film and edit an action or fight sequence. When things were slowed down and dramatic the film was amazing, but the minute the pace picked up and the punches started to fly it was a chaotic mess. But the look of the film, the story, the acting (aside from Katie Holmes, who was pretty damn lame), and the overall effect was great.

I mean, aside from that ridiculous polot hole with the microwave transmission thing boiling all the water in the sewer from hundreds of feet away, but not boiling the water in the bodies of anyone else nearby it. Dumb dumb dumb. But otherwise, terrific.

Well, I think I've babbled long enough. It is pretty much a certainty that I will have interesting news to disclose about my professional life in the near future. Sadly, I don't know how long it will be before I can do so. Not that it's so interesting, really, but it's just that I know that these un-disclosable events are taking up a huge amount of my thoughts and are almost certainly contributing to my dearth of postings lately, and I'd like to clear the pipes already.

But it'll have to wait.


Mood: Drowsy
Now Playing: The Avalanches, "Since I Left You"

Friday, July 08, 2005

Behold My Power / Archival Photos

Heh. So, a few hours after I completed yesterday's paean to my genetic predisposition to pine for rainfall, last evening around dinnertime the skies opened up and we got ourselves a nice little downpour. Actually, up in my neck of the woods it was only raining with any urgency for about 5 minutes, followed by 15-20 minutes of drizzle, distant lightning, and low, grumbly thunder. According to Ray, however, central Austin got deluged.

My powers are formidable, it would appear. I must remember to be careful in the future.

I had just finished eating my dinner when we heard the first rapid slapping of the large drops hitting the pavement of our patio. In a flash I was up and standing at the window, and seconds later I had stripped off my shirt and was standing in the rain, getting drenched, cool water running down my chest and dripping from my fingertips. Within seconds the temperature of the air dropped by what felt to be at least 15-20 degrees. It was heavenly.

The kids looked at me like I was crazy at first, but then they decided that a headlong rush to grab umbrellas and rain boots was in order. We caught raindrops on our tongues, pooled rainwater in our hands and threw it at each other, and spun our umbrellas as I taught Miranda the words to "Singing in the Rain."

Crazy? They think walking around in the rain without a shirt on was crazy? If the sun hadn't of been up, I doubt I would have stopped at stripping off the shirt. Alas, I live in the suburbs and I don't need to get shit from the neighbors. And besides, I have no doubt my kids would have told my in-laws....

So now the "Days Since It Rained" calendar has been re-set. It could be weeks, even months, until we see real rain again. But I feel renewed in the strangest way. I don't understand it, I can't explain it.

But man, that rain felt So. Damn. Good.


Today, my friend Lee posted links to two of the best sites I've had the pleasure of seeing recently. They are:

Ratt's Freak Show


Least Wanted's Photos

The freak show site is perhaps the less savory or "tasteful" of the two, but I've always found archival photos of circus and carnival freaks to be simply fascinating. Yes, these people were exploited, but in many cases the photos show so much humanity, even dignity, in their faces, their postures, their expressions. Perhaps it's the fact that typically the whole person is shown, portrait style, their face and hands and clothing as much a part of the image as their deformity. It's not clinical, doesn't dehumanize them in the way a black rectangle covering their eyes tends to, or dismember them with selective cropping, removing their identities and focusing attention on the result of some capricious genetic error or unfortunate viral infection.

And the archival mug shot photos are just terrific. I find myself paging through them, one after another. Who were these people? Where did they come from? What were their crimes? What ever happened to them? Questions and suppositions cascading through my mind. Lack of context coupled with the burnishing effects of time creating layers of meaning. If you've ever spent some time in an antique store, going through old photos or other people's diaries, the effect is similarly fascinating. It's an odd form of voyeurism, I'd say: Intellectually titillating, simultaneously sad (why have these memories been discarded and sold?) and sweet (the act of perusing discarded keepsakes is a way of remembering these people, even if it is without context).

Thanks, Lee! Wonderful Stuff.

Mood: Kinda giddy
Now Playing: Brian Eno & David Lanois, "Apollo"

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Floating Along, Dreaming of Rain

Well, my previously described inability to muster a decent blog entry continues. Not that I don't have a lot to talk about, but either a) I can't discuss the issues of interest in this particular forum, for lots of different reasons or b) I just can't muster the energy and focus to really dig in and write about things.

Maybe it's the heat and lack of rain. One thing I've noticed, since moving to Texas nearly 5 years ago, is that I have an odd psychological reaction to extended periods of dry weather. My first summer here we went for nearly 7 weeks without a drop of rainfall. I remember when a small thunderstorm finally rolled in, on a humid August afternoon, I immediately felt the uncontrollable compulsion to strip off my shirt and just go walking in the rain. I told my wife I was going for a walk, she looked at me like I was nuts. I came back about 20 minutes later, soaked to the skin and feeling an indescribable mixture of vague pleasure and highly specific relief.

June was the sixth driest June on record. We haven't had any meaningful rainfall in over a month (and the rainfall we did have, about a week ago, was really just a brief mist that evaporated moments after it touched the ground). I've noticed that if I let my mind wander when I'm laying by the pool or sitting in traffic I tend to look to the horizon, searching for clouds or signs of overcast.

If there's anything to the Jungian idea of the collective unconscious, or of genetic memory carrying experiences forward across generations, then I think it's safe to assume that my ancestors didn't spend a lot of time in deserts.


So, some general issues that are worrying me:

Money. Money money money. The latter third of this year is looking to be outlandishly expensive, for a lot of different reasons -- some moreso than others. I'm so tired of being paid damn good money but continually feeling unsuccessful because, regardless of income, I just never seem to have anything left when the bills are paid.

Absent friends. One in particular. I've lost touch with one of my best friends, and can't seem to get back in touch with him. I've e-mailed, left phone mail, etc. No response. I haven't even seen him pop up on AIM in months. I'm becoming sincerely concerned. Thom, if you're reading this, get in touch willya?

Meh. I'm boring myself, here. Maybe I should just let this creative lull pull me along for a while.

Mood: Distracted
Now Playing: The Avalanches, "Since I Left You"

Monday, June 27, 2005

World Making More Sense / 5 Right Now Meme

Finally, a supreme court decision that has the justices I like on my side and the justices I loathe on the other. Perhaps my sense of progressive/liberal freefall over agreeing with The Dark Side on the eminent domain/property rights debacle and the medical marijuana idiocy was premature....

Anyway, it's Monday morning and creativity ain't exactly squirting from my pores. So, I'll just do the 5 Things Meme (via Karl and Ray).


5 things you feel right now:
  1. Hungry
  2. Hopeful
  3. Achey (leg muscles still aching from running this AM)
  4. Distracted
  5. Punchy
Last 5 things you bought:

I'm going to ignore groceries, since that was the last thing I went shopping for and the resulting list (chikcen breasts, frozen chopped spinach, cherries, 1% milk, Scooby Doo mac-n-cheese...) would be terribly uninteresting.
  1. Cookie Mintster in a chocolate dipped ice cream cone at Cold Stone Creamery. $6 for an ice cream cone. Fucking insane.
  2. "Make Love the Bruce Campbell Way," by Bruce Campbell
  3. Tan guayaberra
  4. Corona beer flip-flops
  5. An hour of indoor rock climbing for me, Christine, and the kids
5 objects of lust:

I'm skipping the obvious "hot women" list -- here's my "I'd Hit It" list if you want to know those --- and will instead limit my use of "object" to the less dehumanizing, more inanimate sense...
  1. Absurdly tricked-out Black Mini Cooper S Convertible
  2. Special U2 Edition iPod (not for the U2 connection, just because black+red=sweet)
  3. Sonos Digital Music System
  4. Alienware ALX with SLI
  5. Sony 61" HDTV Plasma WEGA HDTV
5 things in your pockets or purse:
  1. Wallet
  2. Cell phone
  3. $1.24 in change
  4. Keys
  5. Shiner Bock bottle cap
5 things you collect:
  1. Video games that I barely have time to play.
  2. Books and magazines that I barely have time to read.
  3. Music. My digital music library is over 147GBs, with over 27,000 individual tracks. Needless to say, I hardly have time to actually listen to much of it, but it's comforting to know it's there.
  4. Small gargoyle statues (more of a "used to collect" realy -- haven't bought them in years, but I'll eventually kickstart this collection again)
  5. Aches and pains in my ankles and feet (220 lb. men are not really that well designed for running...)
5 true statements you can make that most people can't:
  1. I fell in love with, dated for 10 years, married, and remain happily married (13 years this August) to my high school sweetheart.
  2. I have (had? He may be dead by now) a paranoid schizophrenic uncle that was called in for questioning regarding the Son of Sam murders.
  3. I had an "outie" belly button for 36 years, but now I have an "innie."
  4. I have almost no recollection of the majority of my childhood prior to age 9 or so, and almost no memories of my father at all.
  5. In my mid-teens I briefly, but very seriously, considered attending Junior Seminary. Luckily, they declined to admit me at about the same time I realized that maybe it wasn't such a good idea...
Mood: Pleasant
Now Playing: Foo Fighters, "In Your Honor"

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Best. Blog Entry. Ever.

Just read this over at Waiter Rant. I think it's one of the most beautiful things I've read in years. Just wanted to share.

Mood: Misty
Now Playing: White Stripes, "Get Behind Me Satan"

Good Deed for the Day

OK, I need to take a few minutes to pat myself on the back here.

So, anyone who knows me knows I'm a mush, especially for animals. Sometimes it gets me in trouble (like this time, a few months ago), but mostly it makes me feel good to help a dog find its way home, or just to help make sure it survives long enough to get picked up by its owner.

So, today, I'm heading out to the gym at about 7:45. I hop in my car, head out of my driveway, and before I even reach the main intersection this little tiny dog comes trotting along across the road right in front of my car. I stop, hop out, and the dog comes straight up to me. Sigh. What to do now? So, I pick up the dog and start looking around, trying to see whether anyone is out looking around with a concerned look on their face. Nope. No one. So, I get back in my car with the cute little thing. I mean, look at her...

So cute!

I drive around the neighborhood for a few minutes, still hoping to see someone looking all panicky, but no dice. so then it's back to the house. The kids, of course, go NUTS. A NEW PUPPY!!!! We explain that the dog is lost and we are trying to find its owners, and I assume the kids hear something like "bbuzzzzzzzzbuzzzzzzzzzzz puppy" cause all they want to do is hold her. My other dogs, of course, go into a frenzy immediately. Totally freaking out, wanting to get a look at the new competition.

Sigh. It's almost 8:30 now. Guess I'm not going to the gym.

So, I snap a couple of digital pictures and slam together a few posters to hang up. I mean, this is a small dog (no more than 5 pounds), and when I found her she wasn't even remotely tired or freaked out. She couldn't have been running around for long -- she HAS to belong to someone in the vicinity, right?

So we give the dog some water and settle her down in our newly decorated bathroom and head back out to hang up some "Found Dog!" posters. I see a woman kind of walking around her driveway down the road from me and stop, to ask if she lost a dog.

"Nope, but I just saw one running around."

I ask does she mean the little tiny brown one I found, and she answers "Nope, this one was gray, with a white ruff. Sort of a terrier mix looking dog."

Oh, Jeez. TWO strays running around. Someone must have left a gate open or something -- they probably don't even realize the dogs are missing yet.

So , back in my car, hang up the signs, start heading home and I spot the gray dog. I stop of course, chuckling at what it's going to look like when I bring ANOTHER stray home, but this one won't even get near me. I try to coax him to come over but he keeps skitting past me or growling if I try to corner him. So, I figure it's probably best I don't continue to alarm him -- don't need to feel like I helped panic him, causing him to dive in front of a car or something. Instead, I head back home, and call animal control. Better he be picked up by them, even if they have a (ugh) 3 day kill policy. If nothing else, 3 days of chances for your master to pick you up beats getting hit by a car today.

Anyway, I finally head out for work at about 9:45, figuring I've done pretty much all I can, and knowing that if the owners don't contact us, we've probably just added a new dog to our family -- I mean, she cute, she's small, and she's sweet. She sheds, which would be a problem (allergies), but Christine would never allow anyone to put that dog down, so we'd figure it out. Happily, I just got a call from my mother-in-law, who is at our house with my son right now. The small dogs owners came by and picked her up, and they found the other dog as well, unharmed. Both were theirs. A plank in their backyard fence came loose and the dogs decided to squeeze their way out this morning while the mom and daughter (about 8 or 9) were at the store.

The daughter was totally beside herself, laughing and crying at the same time. This is her dog, and she sleeps in her bed every night. I think some fence repairs will be completed post haste.

I feel really good about me, right now.

Unfortunately, I also know that MY daughter is going to be sorely disappointed when she gets home from camp and finds that the puppy is no longer at our place. But oh well, she'll manage.

Mood: Pretty darn pleased with myself, thankyouverymuch
Now Playing: "Horror Graffiti," Various

Monday, June 06, 2005


So, yeah. Quiet lately.

Damn, this is annoying.

Basically, there's interesting things afoot at my job. Perhaps a light at the end of the tunnel. Who knows. But the frustrating thing is that, being all the usual hush-hush stuff, I can't discuss what little I know, even though the potential occurrences, as well as the potential resulting situations in which I could find myself, are taking up a larger and larger part of my thoughts on a daily basis.


What's more annoying, though, is I've found that when I muzzle myself on one significant issue that is taking up a lot of my attention, it has the irritating side effect of dampening my urge/ability to discuss anything else. I keep trying to come up with stuff to blog about, and it's not like I haven't been busy, and I do have things I'd like to jot down. But when it gets to be time to actually start writing, I can't seem to muster the focus to really get my non-hush-hush thoughts to gel.

Fucketty fuck fuck fuck. Annoying.


So, saw Revenge of the Sith the other night, and ... well ... meh. It was crap. Better crap than the last two pieces of crap that Lucas squeezed out, but crap nonetheless. Horribly written dialog, atrocious acting, and a good 30 minutes too damn long. Granted, it looked spectacular, but by the time they arrived at the big finish (and, what, the 439th light saber battle?) all I could think was "man, I would have liked this better about 30 minutes ago...."

And good lord the writing and the acting was beyond bad. A couple of the actors managed to pull something worth watching out of their asses (Ewan MacGregor does a solid Alec Guinness imitation, and all the bad guys are fun -- when you're dealing with absurdly underwritten cliche characters, evil always has more to work with, even if "more" means having an eyebrow to arch and a mustache to twirl), but Natalie Portman and Hayden Christensen are locks for Razzie nominations next year. Horrid performances, lifeless and mewling respectively. To be fair, they are trying to act against green screens, with no props, opposite computer generated "actors" who are typically represented on-set by a tennis ball, mouthing atrociously poor dialog, and directed by a man with as much sense of drama as your typical high school gym teacher, so it may simply be a matter of not having anything at all to work with. Portman, in particular has done better work (she's not stellar, but I enjoyed her in Garden State and Closer).

It got me thinking, though, about what exactly is wrong with these movies. I mean, obviously George Lucas is what's wrong with them, but how so, exactly? So we went back and re-watched Star Wars (oh, sorry. I mean "Star Wars Ep. IV: A New Hope." Assholes.) to try to figure out what was lost.

And, well, it's a bunch of stuff. The most prominent, though, is a sense of lightness and fun. The first Star Wars had it in spades. It never really took itself too seriously, and while the writing had all the clanging awfulness that characterizes Lucas' other scripts, the delivery (especially by snide Carrie Fisher and wry Harrison Ford) saved it from overwhelming, fatal clumsiness. The droid banter was fun in an Abbott and Costello/Laurel and Hardy way. The whole thing moved along at a nice, brisk clip -- it's masterfully edited, never getting too bogged down in the less engaging elements. Even the mystical shit was handled half-seriously (Ghostly voice overs! Does it get any goofier?). Dumb lighthearted fun, poorly written but delivered with energy and panache.

Most of these elements were jettisoned for Empire, but that's OK because instead we got the one, solitary, well-written SW script (courtesy of Leigh Brackett, who died of cancer before it was released thereby enabling Lucas to steal far more credit for the script than he deserved when he revised it with help from Lawrence Kasdan) and terrific directing by Irvin Kershner. It was more serious and darker, but it was also so much better written and acted and directed that it didn't get bogged down by the darkening mood.

And then, well, Lucas decided he was Orson Fucking Welles, got back in the driver's seat for Jedi, decided to try for dark plot elements and light moods simultaneously (Cute and fuzzy ewoks! Adorable cherubic kids that go bad! Absurd racial stereotypes disguised as alien races! Cutesy dialog between robots everywhere you turn!), and the whole series rapidly swirled down the shitter. Jedi was bad, but fun. Phantom was awful, but tolerable. Clones was literally unwatchable -- I've never managed to see the entire thing in one sitting, but have instead watched far-more-tolerable 15-20 segments of it over a 2 year period, finally assembling the entire thing into a sort of extended, patchwork, quilt-like viewing experience.

And, well, now Sith. It's a slight return to something approaching acceptably enjoyable entertainment. Perhaps a tie for 3rd place, along with it's brighter, dumber cousin "Jedi." But a distant 3rd all the same.

I hate that I even care, but there it is. I'm such a geek.

Mood: Hungry
Now Playing: Beth Orton, "Superpinkymandy"

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

How I Spent My Memorial Day Weekend

Well, it was supposed to be a 2-day project, but the entire effort stretched into Monday afternoon. I'll let the pictures tell most of the story....

Friday (3:00 - 5:00): Removed enormous hideous mirror, ugly cheapo light fixture, and various bathroom hardware, removed toilet tank, scored wallpaper, stripped wallpaper from one wall....

Saturday: 9:00AM - 5:00 PM: Stripped wallpaper (4 more hours.... I will never, ever use wallpaper and I can't imagine why anyone would ever decide to do so either...), removed medicine cabinet, applied 2 colors of paint to walls, blended, to form a faux finish base coat.

Sunday: 12:00PM - 6:00 PM: Ragged on a top coat of paint, in a watered down lighter shade, to complete the faux finish on the walls -- nice venetian plaster effect, I'd say. Installed light fixture. Reinstalled medicine cabinet. Hang nice new mirror. Installed all new towel racks, toilet paper holder, and outlet/switchplate covers. Replaced the toilet tank and turned on the water supply. Once the tank was full, noticed there was a leak, so I promptly overtightened the bolts, causing the bottom of the tank to shatter and and resulting in about 6 gallons of water flooding the bathroom floor. Obtain a new tank, install it, attempt to reconnect the water supply line. The supply line was an old-style flexible metal one that was integrated with the valve stem, and it promptly kinked and snapped, requiring me to replace the entire water supply valve. At this point I realize this ain't getting done today and that Monday is now shot. Decide it's time to quit for the day and drink a bunch of beer.

Monday (9:30 - 2:00): Spend an entire hour trying to find the main water supply valve for my house. Shut off the water, unhook the old supply valve, and head for Home Depot. Buy new valve and supply line, head back home, get halfway there before realizing that I forgot plumber's putty, turn around, buy putty, head home and install new valve. Happily, it goes smoothly and the toilet is back in working order. Crack open the box for the new faucet, read the instructions and realize that the $160 faucet from Delta doesn't include the $.39 worth of silicone I need to install the drain. So, back to Home Depot. Buy silicone, return, install the faucet, install the drain,install pulls on the vanity drawers. Hang hideous roman shade on the window and resolve to remove it as soon as we find something better.

And that's it for now. Next, we've got to get new towels, shower stuff, etc. and hopefully some small shutters fro the window (will look far better than the roman shade, I'm sure...). Here are the results:

Quite an improvement, if I do say so myself. Now I just need to sleep for a day or two, and I'll be ready to clean the paint drips off of the tiles...

Mood: Headachey, but proud
Now Playing: Happy Mondays, "Thrills n' Pills n' Bellyaches"

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Book Tag! Book Tag! Arrgh!

I've been Tagged by Karl! I'll be tagging some folks at the bottom -- five, I believe, according to the rules. If you're reading this, check to see if you've been tagged and do your part in perpetuating the meme...

1) What is the total number of books I've owned?

Hundreds of hardcovers, probably thousands of paperbacks, over the past 25 years. I don't keep them around, though -- my darling wife has cured me of my pack-rat ways, and now if it's not a beautiful hardcover book that I'm likely to re-read they go straight to friends, the local Half-Priced Books, or Goodwill.

2) What is the last book I bought?

"Mediated" by Thomas De Zengotita and "America (The Book)" by Jon Stewart and The Daily Show Folks. Bought them simulataneously on Amazon. "Mediated" is fascinating, but it's taking me forever to finish. "America" is a riot.

3) What is the last book I've read?

Working on "Mediated" right now, almost finished. But the last book I finished was "Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas" by Tom Robbins. Fantastic, as is to be expected.

4) What are the 5 books that have meant a lot to me?

"The Chronicles of Narnia," by C. S. Lewis. I read and re-read this series at least 10 times when I was a kid, and one of my most wonderful expereinces as a parent so far has been reading them out loud with my daughter.

"The Crying of Lot 49," by Thomas Pynchon. I loved it when I read it, 17 years ago, in an Experimental Narratives in Lit. class, and it still resonates for me.

"The Prince of Tides," by Pat Conroy. Yes, it's melodrama, but it's beautifully written melodrama, and I've never forgiven Barbra Streisand for jettisoning the incredible, heartbreaking middle portion of the book (the story of how his brother died) so that she could give her manicure more screen time.

"Interview with the Vampire," by Anne Rice. I'm putting this one in to irritate Karl. Truthfully though, I thought this book was wonderful -- beautifully written prose that sounds like it was grown in a hot-house somewhere in the deep South. Rice has gotten exponentially worse with each subsequent release, but this one is a keeper.

"The Sandman," by Neil Gaiman. Had to bring some graphic novels in here, and if you're gonna pick one, this is the one to pick. Brilliant, thoughful, engrossing, and epic in scale. Wonderful.

Extra credit question: What book would you wish to buy next? Well, the next book I AM buying is "Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince." Lately the book I WISH I could buy is an autobiography written by Kirsty MacColl, revealing how the boat accident that killed her 5 years ago was just a hoax and she's actually been working on yet another mindboggling brilliant CD all this time. Alas, this seems unlikely....

I'd like to Tag:

Sigh, pretty much everyone I read and who actually reads me has already been tagged by Karl or Ray! I'll go with ...
  • Richard (who never reads anyone else's stuff, and who will almost certainly not see this...)
  • Lisa (his fiancee, who actually *might* see this, and who will then tell Richard about it so he can respond and not seem like too much of a dick...)
  • Mike D.
  • Lisa Snellings (hope she's still reading me -- I ADORE her work!)
  • And a mystery lady, who has asked to not be linked from my site but who I trust will know who I mean and will go ahead and pick up the meme on her own...
  • I'm going to put a sixth here: Lee in AZ
Mood: Mellow
Now Playing: Various Artists, "Late Night Tales: The Flaming Lips"

Friday, May 20, 2005

Preparing for Summer / Funky Frontal Lobes

Yeah, yeah, I know: Wherethehellyabeen.

Just crazy busy is all. The past week or so has been an astonishingly busy blur, but largely devoid of anything particularly blog-worthy. My aunt and uncle from Connecticut flew in last Friday for a long weekend visit, so we had a little bar-be-que/drinking fest at our place to welcome them to town. Saturday was spent largely recovering from said drinking fest, having some brunch, then going to my son's final t-ball game of the season. Sunday was a trip for the entire family to Inner Space Caverns -- lots of fun, there. Then, lunch in Georgetown (awful) and dinner over at my brother's place (I made penne with a vodka cream sauce, topped with smoked salmon and chives -- delicious). Lots of wine was consumed and karaoke sung. Fun fun fun!

Then on Monday my in-laws arrived -- they're staying with up for most of this week, and will then be moving into a condo they have rented out on the lake for the next few months. This is going to be fantastic as a) they will be nearby, which means we have babysitters who LOVE to babysit our kids whenever and b) they are not staying with us. They've only been in the house for 4 days and my wife and her mom are at each other's throats. Same shit every time. Sigh. Tuesday was work work work followed by getting together with my aunt and uncle for their last night in town (yummy delicious ice cream, wine and conversation at mom's after).

Then Wednesday Christine and I had a follow-up meeting with a neurologist regarding our daughter's ADD/ADHD evaluation and testing.

Oh, we could talk about that I suppose. The last month or so has been very informative on that front.

Briefly, my daughter has been doing great in school, but has been showing lots of warning signs/red flags/what have you for potential ADD/ADHD behaviors and her teacher (who we adore) suggested that we might want to look into getting her evaluated before any of these issues become a real problem for her. So far, the main issue that's been caused is her inability to enter the accelerated/creative learning program they offer because they haven't been able to get her to sit still long enough to take the tests necessary for admission, so it hasn't really impacted her yet.

Anyhow, we had a meeting with a neurologist that was recommended to us by some very respected friends where we discussed Miranda and did the whole parental Q&A thing. The entire screening process is designed to identify a broad range of behavioral, psychological, and neurological issues that can fall under the ridiculously non-specific umbrella of ADD/ADHD, so the first step is to meet with the parents, get their view on things, examine family history, and so on.

Then, a week or so later I brought Miranda in for her testing. Pretty much a full-day affair, where they do all sorts of tests and interviews to evaluate motor skills, conceptual and cognitive function, IQ, and psychological and emotional state. It was quite an adventure for her, actually -- she had a lot of fun with the tests and enjoyed being the center of attention (obviously -- I mean, she is my daughter after all...) . I took her out for ,lunch to give her a break and then picked her up a few hours later. After that, she kept me company while I gave blood, which was an ... interesting ... experience for her. She was alternately intrigued, freaked out, bored, and grossed out by the entire process. But it was definitely something new and interesting for us to do together -- I figure it's good for her to see her parent's doing things that might not seem like fun, but that are for good reasons anyhow.

So, Wednesday Christine and I met with the neuro to follow-up and discuss the results of the testing. Long story short: While she has absolutely no sign whatsoever of any learning disabilities or emotional/psychological issues, the frontal lobe of Miranda's brain is wired a bit differently than the "typical" brain, and as a result she has some problems focusing when other stimulants compete for attention, with basic impulse control, with emotional control and with long-term information retrieval. The testing couldn't have been more precise in diagnosing this -- she hit every criteria for it.

The "problem" is fairly minor, however, especially because the testing also demonstrated that Miranda is exceptionally bright. Her IQ registered at about 120 (91st percentile), but the neuro said that that is actually lower than her "actual" IQ, since the problems she has with focus and paying attention interfered with some of the IQ testing procedures, causing her to leave some sections incomplete. So yeah, she's brilliant, which has prevented the attention deficit from affected her scholastic performance and development thus far -- she's at least 1-2 grade levels ahead in nearly every area for which she was tested.

Of course, the trouble is that in time, as the difficulty and amount of school work increases, she will almost certainly eventually hit a point where suddenly the attention problems become an issue, which is why it's good we got involved in this process early. Plus, this stuff can lead to some serious social issues for kids, especially for girls. Kids who have these problems tend to have trouble judging proper behavior in specific social situations, and it can really jam them up over time -- especially girls, apparently. Since girls, particularly in the early grades, tend strongly toward "social ruler" roles, other girls who don't play along, or who more precisely gets the rules "wrong" can really get ostracized. Not that I want my kids to be followers -- far from it -- but being independent is different from being forced to be an outsider. Take it from me: I know.

Which is what's been most interesting in all of this. As we've done the reading and research and spoken with the neuro, well, a lot of things have become much clearer. There's a very, very strong genetic corellation with this sort of neurological development, and, well, let's just say this apple didn't fall far from the tree. Christine and I both were just like this when we were kids -- oversensitive, easily frustrated, very bright but socially awkward and impulsive, odd kids. We both carry a lot of baggage as a result of this, because when we were kids they didn't call this ADD or work with parents to try to identify the issue and come up with ways to work around it -- they just said we were "dreamers" or "flighty" or "easily distracted" or "lazy" or "weird" and moved on.

But, more interesting though, we are just like this as adults. We've just learned some strategies to work around the problems our oddly wired little fore brains present. Keeping lists, multi-tasking, avoiding emotionally charged situations if they are not comfortable for us, forcing ourselves to think before saying something impulsively, etc. For example, anyone who knows me knows I'm a crier -- give me a good sad movie and I'm wiping furiously at my eyes at the end. I'm fine with this, because I'm lucky enough to not be uncomfortable socially and I don't particularly care what people I don't know think when they see some big 220 pound guy sniffling and wiping his eyes. But I also know that if I am going to be somewhere, around people I do know and respect, where emotional outbursts aren't OK (such as work, for example) I need to keep a certain emotional distance on what goes on around me or I won't be able to control myself or my emotions at all.

Coping strategies. That's all. And judging by our experience, our lives thus far, that's all it takes.

So, it's been interesting. Basically, we stacked the deck on this kid (and almost certainly on our son as well -- he's certainly showing some of the usual tell-tale signs as well and I have a strong feeling we'll be doing this whole process all over again in a year or so...) but we also know that she's super bright and that bright people find their way through these things. We both managed to do it, without much in the way of assistance or help (since 30 years ago this stuff was all just being figured out). Our kids will do just fine, and wuill probably do better than we did because at least we know what we're talking about and what to watch for.

As for medication, we're avoiding it if at all possible and will only consider it if things start looking bad school- or social-wise. But one of the things we learned form the neuro is that the meds actually address precisely the sort of issue that Miranda (and me, and Christine...) have, which is that they stimulate the frontal lobes of the brain and thereby enhance the patient's ability to focus and screen out distracting info for a brief period of time. One of the reasons these meds have gotten such a bad rep is that they were prescribed to every kid who had any sign of anything ADD/ADHD related. Our culture is so keep on the quick fix, the magic pill, so that's what we do. Still, we're going to avoid them if at all possible -- they are a Band Aid, not a solution.

So next is reading and study. We need to bone up on techniques to help Miranda learn how to keep her thinking and activities more ordered and structured so that the neurological issues don't interfere with her ability to learn and develop socially. So that'll be interesting.

Side note: Just a moment to brag. As we were going over Miranda's tests, we went through the emotional/psychological portion, which was essentially a series of "fill in the blank" type questions. One of them was "I feel safe when..." and Miranda finished the sentence "... my Daddy holds me in his arms."

OK, misty-eyed now. Damn funky frontal lobes.

Mood: Beat
Now Playing: Gorillaz, "Demon Days"