Saturday, June 24, 2006

Test Day, In Absentia

So, today's the day I was invited to test for my 7th gup, and I'm not in town. I'll be taking the make-up test in two weeks, instead. I'm kind of bummed about not being there -- not so much for myself, but for my classmates. We train together 2,3, 4 times a week and as a result we are growing into a pretty tightly knit group of friends. Not to mention that my mom is testing as well, and I am jus so proud of far she's come, so quickly. Beginning to train in Tang Soo Do has already begun to have a great effect o her -- her heart date and blood pressure is down, she feels stronger and more self-assured. I'm just so proud of her. And my other classmates -- Michelle, Rich, Eric, and Mark, 9th gup upgrades all, are doing great as well. It would have been so fantastic to be there, to see them take this step, and I like to think it would have meant something to them to have me there as well.

But I'm out of town, visiting New York City for my sister-in-law's 40th birthday party. Not that this is a bad thing -- it's fantastic. I miss New York so much sometimes, and it's going to be a terrific weekend. We are staying at the Helmsley Park Lane for two nights. Out room is on the 45th floor, and the view is incredible -- I can see the top of the Chrysler building from our window! Last night we had passes to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and had cocktails on the roof. Kyle McLachlan was there, but by the time I grabbed a drink and was ready to go up and ask to get a picture with him he'd left. Sigh.

Then this morning I rolled out of bed at 8:30 and went for a run in Central Park. It's a rainy, damp, and misty sort of day, but the rain held off while I was running. I don't know my way around the park, so I just sort of randomly chose a path. It was magical -- the grayish light, the rain dripping off of the leaves, mist hanging in the air as steam rose off of my body, my head ringing with Thomas Newman's music from "Finding Nemo." After running about 2 miles, I found a quiet green space near the Boathouse and did all of my forms, then ran another mile or so, stopped and did all of my one-steps and wrist grabs while standing in front of the famous monument to Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, trying to direct my energy to my classmates and friends, trying to visualize their efforts and somehow send the energy to them, from here, to help them focus, to reinforce their in neh.

Today we'll be meeting up with our dear friends Pat and Amy, and will finally meet their new daughter Meagan. We'll be hanging around the Museum of Modern Art with them all afternoon, then heading over to my sister-in-law's to get ready for her big 40th b-day bash tonight. More updates as the opportunity presents itself.

Mood: Great, but a little sad too
Now Playing: Thomas Newman, "Finding Nemo"

Monday, June 19, 2006

10 Thoughts On "Cars"

Took the entire family to see Cars for my Father's Day movie treat. Some observations....

1. Pixar is not perfect. The movie is only so-so, at times barely so. Good start, slooooowwwwww second act, solid finish. Now granted, Cars has a tough act to follow. I mean you've got Finding Nemo and The Incredibles, two family films that belong at the top of nearly any list of great animated films. They're flawless, no question. But even taken on its own merits, this movie is a bit lackluster.

2. While it's not Pixar's first semi-dud, this time it's not due to bad/distracting/annoying voice casting (a la Monsters, Inc., which would have been far, far better without Billy Christal). It's all in the plotting. The movie has a lame middle.

3. Automobiles, no matter how well animated, are very difficult to emotionally identify with. This presents some serious problems when you're trying to tug at the heartstrings.

4. I so completely and utterly loathe Larry the Cable Guy that -- even though his character in the film was sweet natured and funny, and functions as the "heart" of the film -- I still wanted to jump through the screen and kick him repeatedly in the grill. Broad redneck stereotypes really irk me. This, alas, also contributed to problems identifying with the characters.

5. John Ratzenberger can do no wrong.

6. I never realized how much of Owen Wilson's charm can be traced directly to his crooked nose. Lacking this visual element, his voice is just sort of ... annoying.

7. Though I don't really find it offensive or anything, I do find it odd that racial stereotypes are so readily embraced in animated kids films. Cheech Marin, Jenifer Lewis, and Tony Shalhoub's characters are every bit the absurd stereotypical racial caricature that Jar Jar Binks was, and yet no one seems to be up in arms about it.

8. During the really long boring stretch in the middle of the film, there's a lot of fun to be had looking at the huge number of details in the background. I particularly loved how the mountain ranges and mesas were shaped like the Cadillac Ranch and various classic auto hoods and fins. And how the vapor trails, left by unseen airplanes, looked like tire tracks. Great work, and a welcome distraction.

9. If you don't like NASCAR, this movie will not change your mind. In spite of all their efforts to make it look all fast and whooshy and exciting during the race scenes, I still think that any "sport" that basically comes down to "drive straight/turn left/repeat as quickly as possible for as long as necessary" is some sort of gigantic corporate-sponsored joke being played on people who value neither their time nor their hearing.

10. In spite of all of this, I still teared up at the end. Once they get to the part where Lightning start to realize that Radiator Springs is a good thing that's been forgotten about and deserves to be remembered, Cars finds its heart and managed to find mine, too. But it was really, really iffy for a while there. And I honestly enjoyed Over the Hedge more.

Mood: Beat
Now Playing: Nothing.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Breakfast in Bed

Ahh, Father's Day.

Awoken at 7:30 or so by the sound of my kids' voices, the smell of a fresh mug of coffee, and the delicious aroma of a freshly made cinnamon roll. There are few ways that I can think of that the day could start better -- and none of the other scenarios involve having my kids standing in the bedroom, I can assure you of that. Plus, they brought me my Sunday morning reading, the "Geek Comics" (Best Buy and Circuit City ads) so I got to ogle a bunch of electronics I can't possibly afford just now. Tech porn, I suppose.


Next up is breakfast tacos, followed by a little
video gaming and then we're heading out to see Cars together. Then at the end of the day we'll be hitting a birthday pool party, so that should round the day out nicely.

My feelings about Father's Day are, well, ambivalent I suppose. I don't have any real memories of great father day observances from when I grew up on which to base how I feel about it. So observing it always feels a bit, well, awkward I suppose (nearly as awkward as that last sentence, but what the hell. It's early, and I'm tired). I feel like, "What did I do to deserve extra attention?" But I'm not complaining -- anything that involves receiving gifts, breakfast in bed and extra hugs and kisses is just fine with me.

Speaking of my father's day gift, it has not yet arrived. But it's a beauty! I wanted something for my Jeep and decided on a new spare tire cover -- the one that came with the Jeep is a big American flag and the slogan "There's only one" and I'm just not a big, flag-waving patriot type of guy. I mean, nothing wrong with it, but it's just not me. I wanted something with a bit of a sense of humor, so I chose this:

Definitely more my style. Should look perfect, on my black Jeep, next to this:



While today is Father's Day, yesterday's activities were more or less "all me" as well, to be fair. The kids and I trained at the dojang in the AM, then we did a bit of shopping, after which we headed back to the dojang for the dan promotion ceremony.

The ceremony was cool -- each of the dan members did a form or vignette while Master Nunan read a brief student biography. Then there were a bunch of demonstrations -- some groups forms work (awesome), and a lot of breaking demonstrations (less awesome -- the batch of boards were VERY hard, for some reason, and nearly everyone had trouble breaking them). Then they all put on their blue trimmed dobakhs for the first time and received their midnight blue belts. After that we went and celebrated at one of the dans grandmother's place. Lots of food, plus a little beer, a little wine, a little hot sake, a little cake, and lots of good conversation.

When a student is promoted to dan, their picture is hung on the wall of the dojang. Before yesterday, there were a total of 12 dan portraits at our dojang. 11 students from our school were promoted to dan last night, so we've roughly doubled the dan membership at the dojang. Fantastic stuff. This is the first time I've attended a promotion where peers -- people I've trained alongside and gotten to know quite well -- were being promoted, and it was really very moving. I kept tearing up while I watched, proud of their achievements, proud to have worked with them while they earned this honor, and really inspired to keep plugging away at this art so that one day, my picture can hang on the wall as well.

And I know I can do it. I really do.

Perhaps that's the best thing I've learned in the last 7 months -- I know I can do this. It'll take time, but I've realized that the only thing that can stop me from attaining dan membership is myself, my own fears, my own doubts. Last night, watching friends receive their midnight blue belts and wear their blue trimmed dobakhs for the first time, I realized that I've grown stronger than my own sense of doubt, and I can shut it up when I need to.

I can do this thing.

Mood: Content, inspired
Now Playing: Dixie Chicks, "Taking the Long Way"

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Latest Invitation to Test

After the stress and sad events of last week I decided to just focus on family and work for a few days, and to try not to dwell on those who have passed on for the time being. My aunt and uncle from Connecticut are in town -- have been since Friday, though they are currently visiting one of my aunt's cousins down in San Antonio along with my mom -- so the entire weekend was packed full to bursting with Family Time.

So much for avoiding stress. Lots of bickering, and the kids and their cousins have done a spectacular job of synergistically increasing each other's bad qualities, resulting in a broken bed frame, a wasted Sunday afternoon spent fixing said frame, and lots of "arrgh!"

Anyhow, things are settling down now -- we'll probably all get together for a last hurrah tonight once they return from San Antonio, and then they fly out in the AM. I'll probably get to see them for dinner or something while we are in NYC a couple of weekends from now. I should have recovered by then.

So anyway, I received my invitation to test for 7th gup last night, and needless to say I've begun to stress myself out about that. As I mentioned in a previous entry, I feel like my training has been a bit random the past few months. Happily, now that Master Nunan is back on the mat in the dojang, things are very rapidly returning to normal and the entire focus of all of our forthcoming classes appears to be on prepping us for testing. I'm nervous, but I'm sure I'll be ready. I mean, I really only have one or two minor problems with some techniques (spin hook kick continues to present a challenge, in particular -- I think I get it right about 1 in 4 tries with my right leg, less frequently with my left), but they'll get straightened out with more practice, I'm sure. Still, I'd prefer to feel a bit more confident in my techniques than I do. Hopefully that confidence will develop over the next week or so.

I also get to write another paper, this one a bit more personal-experience oriented. The topic is "What have you learned about Tang Soo Do Academy?" (that's our dojang). At first I was a bit flummoxed -- I mean, does he want history? The address? Square footage under air? But then I got to thinking about it last night, and I realized that in the time Master Nunan was absent from the dojang recovering from surgery I learned quite a lot about how our dojang operates, how it functions, how easily change can destabilize it, how when people pull together it can make it through the rough patches until things settle down again, and how rapidly things can return to normal when stability is recovered.

In a sense, it operates very much like a family. What will be interesting is that in that context, I am a child of the family, a junior member of a clan, and given that context a lot of the stress and concern I felt about the progress of my training over the past few months makes perfect sense. It also explains the thrill and relief I felt while training last night when Master Nunan complimented me, several times, on my hopping side kicks -- I hadn't realized how much I needed to hear him say that I was doing OK before I could accept that yeah, I was. Children thrive on stability, whereas chaos and rapid change tends to destabilize them and slow their growth. I think that the past couple of months of entropy (some good, some less so) had a similar effect on my progress as a student, or at least on my confidence in my own progress. I'm looking forward to exploring this topic more in my paper.

Anyway, I'll be in NYC the day my test is scheduled, so instead I'll be testing the following Friday night at the makeup exam. My daughter will be testing that night as well. I'm a bit worried about how well she'll cope with all of the distractions; unlike the standard testing the makeups are considered harder -- longer and more chaotic -- since all of the ranks are tested more or less at one time, instead of in ranked groups, but all I can do is work with her and get her to practice more and try to work on her focus. Regardless, it will certainly be a very different experience than my last test. I have no idea just how many folks will be taking the makeup test, but I imagine it will be more than just 3 or 4 of us: I'm sure there are lots of kids whose parents have made vacation plans that overlap with the testing day. I'm sure we'll be in good company.

Mood: Fatigued
Now Playing: Aaron Copland, "Appalachian Spring"

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Another Friend Passes Away

We all walk the long road. Cannot stay...
There's no need to say goodbye...

All the friends and family
All the memories going round, round, round, round

I have wished for so long
How I wish for you today.

After battling a host of cancers for the past coupleafew years, Tom Brown, father of one of our oldest, dearest friends, and a dear friend of ours in his own right, passed away this morning. After being diagnosed with lung and bone cancer he was given 6 months to live. Being a cantakerous sunnuvabitch who never once listened to anybody or did a single thing he was told, he instead chose to hang around for over 3 more years. In the process he got to welcome his son back home from a tour of duty in Baghdad, and to see him remarry later that year. Not to mention getting to spend a lot more time than anyone expected with his grandkids and friends. And he lived on his own and independent up until the last month or so.

Time well spent, I'd say.

And as for me, I'm just incredibly grateful I got to see him again, back in October. I grew up without a father -- my dad died when I was 6, and my former step-father was never much interested in trying to assume the responsibility of being a father figure to two boys. As a result, the fathers of my friends often filled some part or other of a pretty sizable vacancy in my adolescence. Some did it tangentially, representing a father I didn't have but never really taking an interest outside of being a friend's dad. Others recognized a need and made some effort to address that need. Tom, or "Pops" as I always called him, was of the latter variety. Never exactly a warm or cuddly guy -- far more of a cranky curmugeon who would happily bust your chops whenever he could -- he still never failed to make me feel more welcome in his home than I sometimes felt in my own, particularly as a teenager.

Here's Tom last year, on a sunset cruise off Key West.

We had such a great time seeing him -- he could be a true pain in the ass, but in the most frustratingly endearing ways. I can only imagine what a nightmare he was when he was drinking -- he stopped drinking decades before I met him -- and being married to him must have been a real kettle of fish. Sue (his ex-wife, a.k.a. "Mom") and he became good friends once they got divorced, but while married they could barely stand to be in the same room. Distance makes the heart grow fonder. Or more patient. Whichever.

This one is not a shock. We knew this was coming, and actually expected it so long ago that it hardly seemed real anymore. He had some particularly nasty surgery a month or so ago, and it did not go well. He never really recovered, and surrendered to the inevitable early this week, finally slipping away this morning. But still, expecting a thing and experiencing a thing are not, as it were, the same thing.

So I'm sitting here at my desk, fighting back a few tears yet again. I've had too much sadness in my life this week. I'm ready for some light.

Tom Brown, Rest in Peace.

Mood: Sad
Now Playing: Death Cab for Cutie, "Transatlanticism"

Monday, June 05, 2006

On Princess

"Adrianne Blue Wakefield-St. George died Thursday, June 1, 2006 at her home, Havencrest Castle, in Savanna, Illinois."

Stop and consider that sentence, for just a moment. The opening sentence of the obituary of a dear, now departed friend. She died at her home, which was, indeed, a castle. We've exchanged Christmas cards for years, and it never failed to make me smile when I'd address the envelope. "Havencrest Castle." No street name or number. I mean, it's a CASTLE for Christ's sake -- I imagine the postal worker would have little trouble figuring out which house the letters should go to. "Hmmm, Havencrest Castle. Should this one go to the mid-70's split-level, the nice little colonial, or the enormous 60+ rooms turn-of-the-century castle overlooking the Mississippi?"

Yeah, I suppose just "Havencrest Castle" was more than adequate.

I knew Princess for nearly a decade. We met way way back in the good old days of USENET, on alt.showbiz.gossip, where I met some of my finest online friends, and where I also learned a bit more than I care to know about how wonderful and yet utterly dysfunctional online life could become. Ask anyone who was active in alt.showbiz.gossip during to mid-to-late-90's and they'll understand. The highest of highs, the lowest of lows, in online relationship terms. It was worth it, but god, what a mess.

Our friendship began, and existed entirely, online. We never once met, nor spoke in person. This factoid seems to make some people think that the friendship was of lesser value. Honestly, what a foolish and ignorant thing to say. Before the advent of the telephone people built relationships based solely on the written word. The entire concept of pen pals is based in the idea that written communication can be the foundation of incredibly rewarding relationships. Online communication is no different, particularly when both parties regard it as such. Adrianne has been a daily-to-weekly part of my life for many years. We shared stories, gossiped mercilessly, comforted each other when cherished pets died, quipped and snickered, chatted and exchanged recipes, and shared an obsession with Big Brother (her obsession far exceeding my own). And yet I never once heard the sound of her voice. And while that is something I now deeply regret, it in no way changes the simple fact that yes, we were friends. Very good friends.

One of the groups to which we belonged is very long on role-playing and cattiness, with an almost outrageous level of vicious snappy banter being thrown about left and right. I'm not very good at that, sadly -- I can keep up, on occasion, but mostly I'm too earnest and thin-skinned to get into the catfights, joking or not. I have trouble telling when the fun ends and the mean begins, so mostly I stand at the sidelines and observe, throwing the occasional pithy comment in just to participate. But Adrianne was *brilliant* at her role. She typically struck the pose of "scathing, vicious royalty," exchanging barbs and witticisms with astonishing skill. But she wasn't that personae at all. Off-group, or in e-mail, or in chats, she was, instead, warm and encouraging, generous and open-hearted, and above all just plain kind. A good person.

Anyway, one of the jokes about her on line personae was that she was eternally youthful, the secret being that hoary cliche "bathing in the blood of virgins." I mean, what else? One thing that I said to my wife, many times over the years was how someday we were going to take a flight to Illinois and attend one of Princess' incredible parties. Some day. My little joke had always been that we couldn't attend until my kids were older, because a) we couldn't deny them the opportunity to meet her, since the experience would be something they'd remember forever -- I mean, she's a PRINCESS -- but b) I couldn't allow her to bleed them for the baths, either. But someday we were going to go, and we were going to meet this Princess that willed herself into being. One of these days. Well, there's that regret. Something I wish I'd done. "One of these days" just isn't going to happen now.

I don't know what else to say, here. I mean this as a sort of tribute, but honestly there's just too much to say about her. I have ten years of stories, all of them treasures. She was unique, truly. One of a kind. Without peer or parallel.

Yesterday, while shopping, I decided that I would purchase some pink roses just to sort of honor her and make myself feel better. However, there seemed to be a shortage of pink roses so I wound up selecting a trio of lovely pink peonies, which are currently serving as our centerpiece. When I picked them up, one was beginning to bloom but the other two buds were still tightly bunched up. After I left the market, I needed to stop and get a refill of our propane tank. As I had the top of the Jeep off, the peonies spent some time laying in the sun while I went into the store. By the time I arrived at home, the other two buds had begun to burst open, and two hours later they were in full, glorious bloom. And today, of course, I looked at the flowers, and they've already begun to wilt.

So lovely, but failing far too soon.

Rest in peace, Princess. My life is better for having known you.

Mood: Very sad
Now Playing: Nothing

Saturday, June 03, 2006

A Dear Friend Passes

After a wonderful day of martial arts training with my daughter, my mom, and many friends, I returned home to find that Adrianne St. George, aka The Pink Princess, a dear, dear friend for 12+ years, passed away on Thursday.

I'm stunned. And deeply, deeply saddened. Certainly not ready to talk about this, here, yet. But I did want to light a virtual candle in her memory, and to let anyone who happens to stop by this little corner of the web know, should they notice that the sun isn't shining as brightly today, or that the birds' songs are muted or off-key, that there is a very, very good reason.

Farewell, Adrianne. I will always regret that I never had the pleasure of meeting you in person.

Mood: Somber, sad
Now Playing: Nothing.