Wednesday, December 28, 2022
Monday, December 19, 2022
I got word today that a friend of mine is in the hospital and is transitioning into palliative care. They don’t really know if he has days, weeks, or months, but it doesn’t look good.
I’m in shock. We worked together in a boarding school for five years. We were literally neighbors, living for several years in the same dorm overseeing kids, and since I was the music teacher and he was the theater teacher, we also worded closely in the classroom, with the theater where he taught and the music room where I taught being adjacent. Not to mention collaborating on programs. The first year my wife and I were married, we lived in a freshmen dorm an an apartment that connected directly with the apartment he and his wife lived in. It wasn’t quite one big apartment, but it was pretty close.
I was in the car with my 6-year-old when I got the call and I started crying and then I had to explain to her why I was sad. And it’s amazing how putting things into words makes them more real. Like, thinking “my friend is dying” is very different from saying it out loud.
I’m going to head out to see him and his wife and some of our mutual friends tomorrow for a couple days, so if I don’t manage to blog, that’s why.
Sunday, December 18, 2022
Saturday, December 17, 2022
I suspect that evolution has programmed us to seek out a mate with the opposite sleep tendencies of our own, so that one half of the partnership can wake up at the smallest twig cracking and protect the family from sabretooth tigers, etc, particularly during the child-rearing years, and the other partner can sleep like the dead and get a good night’s sleep to be happy, healthy, and live into old age.
Certainly, I’ve always been the former while my wife has been the latter. When we were young and parenting only a small dog, she knew exactly who you come to in the middle of the night to go out to potty, because it was only possible to awaken one of us.
And that’s why I’ve been awake since 6:30 on a Saturday, because our hungry-hungry six-year-old also knows who to wake up.
There was a brief period in our relationship when this dynamic flipped: when any of our children were still breastfeeding. Then and only then my wife was on high alert to the needs of another living thing (a living thing that alternated between sharing our bed and sleeping right next to it). For that all-too-brief period, I was allowed to sleep pretty well through the night (unless the dog needed me or the baby REALLY started to cry).
But those times are long gone, and none of the routine needs of our children is powerful enough to lift the weighted blanket of sleep from the other side of the bed.
Friday, December 16, 2022
I don't tend to read nearly as much non-fiction as fiction. I generally like history, but there was only one book that fell into that category this whole year. So it goes. Here are the highlights.
It's been on my list for a while, but I finally read Open by Andre Agassi, and absolutely loved it. I started playing tennis in high school in the 90s, more or less at the height of the Sampras-Agassi rivalry, so it was both a bit nostalgic to revisit that time through Agassi's eyes and also revealing to get to know him and his journey through tennis. It's so well written, so authentic and rich--I would imagine that even people who aren't tennis fans would get a lot out of it.
I read From Strength to Strength: Finding Success, Happiness, and Deep Purpose in the Second Half of Life after hearing an interview with the author, Arthur C. Brooks. Truthfully, I probably got as much out of the interview as I did out of the book, but both were good. The central insight is that our brains naturally change as we age, such that we may not retain the strengths that helped us in our younger years as we age, but we also tend to grow into other strengths, and the key is embracing those changes as we age to go, as the title suggests, from strength to strength.
Another book I found after an interview with the author was Trauma: The Invisible Epidemic by Paul Conti. There's a quotation that's stuck with me from the writer Robert Anton Wilson: "Under the present brutal and primitive conditions on this planet, every person you meet should be regarded as one of the walking wounded. We have never seen a man or woman not slightly deranged by either anxiety or grief. We have never seen a totally sane human being." I think Conti would agree: under the influence of repeated traumas, both large and small, we are all suffering to one degree or another, even as we find ways to get by. This was a fascinating and helpful treatment of the subject of trauma, its effects, and how we might better deal with it.
Far and away the most important and best non-fiction book I read this year was Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood by Lisa Damour. Our oldest officially becomes a teen this January, but she's already started on this transition. It was nice to see some of the signposts more clearly through Damour's analysis and to feel like we've got some help navigating the years ahead not just for our oldest but for the next two as well. I listened to the audiobook, read by the author, and it was particularly nice to hear the humor and warmth in her tone. But I also bought a copy, as I expect to return to it frequently in the next several years.
Thursday, December 15, 2022
Wednesday, December 14, 2022
Tuesday, December 13, 2022
IS it the greatest ever? I don't know. It's very good. For a book written 100 years before I was born, it's remarkably modern in many ways. I was impressed by its subtlety and nuance, by its detail and deftness of description. The characters are so human from their charms and admirable qualities to their failings and foibles.
Monday, December 12, 2022
Sunday, December 11, 2022
It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas... in the sense that the lines at Target are even worse than usual.
The cash registers were a mess. Just super long lines everywhere you look. And the way Target sets things up doesn't help, with one set of registers behind another, and in this case they had registers open that were stacked on top of each other. So it was an ambiguous line situation--is it one line feeding into two registers? Is it two lines? Those of us making up the tail of the line tacitly agreed among ourselves that it was one line.
And then a woman walked up and tried to make it two and all of us 1) knew full well that it was an ambiguous situation, so the woman wasn't wrong, per se, and 2) were too polite to confront her anyway, but 3) were not happy that our implicit assumption was being challenged. But maybe 30 seconds later I took decisive, passive-aggressive (emphasis on passive, honestly) action. "Wow," I said aloud. "These lines are a real mess. It's not really even clear if there's one line or two."
The woman who had turned it into two lines turns to me and says "Oh, was it one line?" I said we weren't really sure... but we were all assuming (gesturing to the growing line both in front of and behind me) that it was one line.
She apologetically joined our line and all was well with the world again.
As we got up to the registered, I continued in my leadership role, suggesting the couple in front of me might go up to the second register and then, comparing the cart of the next person at the near register and the people I'd just promoted, I decided to follow them.
And then, someone from way back in the line sees me going to the far line and is like "Hey! We all were treating this like one line!"
I was suddenly being mistaken for a line-jumper! I cleared up my status though, and muttered to the people ahead of me "I've been the one enforcing one line." They laughed with me.
Anyway, all of this could have been avoided if Target got their act together and made their lines make sense. Good systems trump (hoping for) good behavior most of the time.
Saturday, December 10, 2022
When people talk about marriage, there's a lot of talk about love. Maybe some "soul mates" stuff, or at least "she brings out the best in me." Someone to raise a family with, perhaps (though I think the joys of two incomes and no children should probably not be understated). What rarely gets discussed are things like, when you need to go to the airport at oh-dark-thirty, having one person in the world who pretty much has to take you.
My wife got to cash in on that this morning as we awoke before 3:00 am to get her there by 3:30. Considering that she's chaperoning a dozen or so high school students as well as a wet-behind-the-ears teacher for a week, I'd still say I got the better end of this deal. I could at least go home and go back to bed until our youngest woke me up way too early demanding food.
But there really is something wonderful about that part of the relationship. One person who, when you're asking them a big favor, it doesn't feel to either of you like you're asking them a big favor. You're just doing whatever they need done, and you know that they would do the same for you.
I'm talking about something that, in a way, by its very nature, you can take for granted. But, of course, you can't really take it for granted, can you? I'm in my mid-40s, and for the last decade or so I've watched a certain number of people I know, including very close friends, divorce. Some of them married early, while others married late. None of them involved infidelity, they just had relationships that used to work and didn't anymore.
And the flip side is that it's really damned hard to date in your 40s. I can't even imagine. It was hard enough in my 20s, a minor miracle that we found each other and neither one of us screwed it up before it reached critical mass.
It's a reminder of what a precious thing it is to find someone that you can imagine yourself growing old with, someone for whom you could take many 3:00 am trips to the airport if that's what they need. It's not something you think of when you're dating or proposing or making your vows, but it's as much love as any feeling you have along the way. It's love as a verb--a humble, workaday verb.
Friday, December 9, 2022
How lightless are your branches...
It’s a pre-lit tree and the lights have been gradually going out the past couple years. Probably we should make some effort to replace bulbs or add on some new strands, but honestly this is more emblematic of how we roll through life.
If you look closely, you may see the cat, Zen, who thankfully is not inclined toward Christmas tree destruction. He does think the tree skirt is his bed though. The one dog bed pictured is the one of the three Brutus has available that he doesn’t sleep on. It was really Beaker’s bed, and more her size.
Weirdly, as soon as I typed this, Brutus got up, went to Beaker’s bed, did a turn, then went back to the bed he was on and acted like he wanted to dig in it (it is very much not a diggable bed). After a few circuits and a few attempts, he lay back down.
Thursday, December 8, 2022
I knew in advance that this would be a strange Thanksgiving. My wife's family made plans to go down to Florida to celebrate Thanksgiving plus her aunt's birthday, but with Mom in assisted living, I didn't want her to spend the holiday alone, so L and the kids went to Florida and I stayed home. It also meant two fewer days to take vacation, and I rather like the occasional time to myself.
But on Monday, I talked to Mom and she was sick. Like, destroy the bathroom sick. She also has dementia, and her brain rejected merely being sick. Instead, she told me, someone was poisoning her. Oh boy.
By Tuesday, she had an elaborate fantasy concocted and she knew exactly who was poisoning her. And not only poisoning her but also sneaking into her apartment and moving things around. That's part of her dementia as well--if she can't remember where something is or how it got where it is, the answer is that "someone" moved it. She's told me in the past that there's "a man" living in her apartment with her, and also that there are college students (no colleges in her town) who are living in her apartment. But anyway, she was convinced that she is being poisoned and her apartment broken into.
The thing about these delusions is that there's no arguing someone out of them. No facts will make so much as a dent in her explanations for why she doesn't feel good or can't find something. I try to focus on mitigation instead. "Drink plenty of water, it will help flush out whatever you've got." "Take some Tylenol." "Try not to worry too much, I really don't think they can get in, the doors are always locked and the people at the front desk would never sign in someone so disreputable looking."
By Wednesday she's saying that she wants me to take her away from there. She believes that she won't be poisoned while she's with me. And a pit of dread opens up in my stomach.
Don't get me wrong--I'm glad she has faith in me. But is it going to make it worse when I go visit and she's demanding I take her away and I don't? Because that would not be helpful. The anxiety has been growing steadily in the background all week, and now on Wednesday it's getting a bit overwhelming. I talk with my wife though and decide that I'll check on her Thursday morning and if she's still nursing this delusion, I'll make an excuse and not go visit for Thanksgiving.
I go out that night with a friend to hear some live music, and it's really nice.
In the morning, I actually don't feel particularly good. A little bit of a hangover? Or just anxiety doing its thing? Either way, I call Mom and she still feels sick and is still in this delusion, so I tell her that I'm not feeling well, that I'm feeling sick. I'm not even fibbing.
In fact, I spend the next several days feeling progressively worse. Mild nausea, stomach ache, headache, achy muscles, chills. A little extra gastrointestinal discomfort. It didn't leave me feeling very thankful, let me tell you. Finally by Sunday, as my family returned, I started to feel better. Felt perfectly fine Monday and Tuesday, then I got a sore throat that progressed over the next few days to congestion and all that.
So yeah, it was a fairly strange and unhappy Thanksgiving, and it kicked off a solid week and a half of illness.
But by Saturday Mom was saying that she thought her poisoner had left the area and "I don't think we'll be seeing him again," so that was something. And while I was ill, she was back to her baseline levels of dementia. Which is sad but not overwhelming. There's that to be thankful for, I suppose.
Here’s the standing desk where I spend a significant portion of my day:
A few notes:
Before I started working in tech a few years ago, I was totally good with the single screen of a laptop; now it’s so hard to too anything with fewer than two!
The music keyboard was added just yesterday. It’s totally irrelevant for my work, but I had the space there and I thought it would be a nice prompt to bring a little musical creativity into my day. Btw, that keyboard is probably 35-ish years old—it was a delightful birthday present one year (now it’s a barely adequate instrument for, really, any purpose; but there it is!).
The Freddie Mercury funko pop figure on the right was a Christmas present in 2019, when I’d just started a cubicle job. Poor guy was stuck in an office I never went to for two years until he was finally recovered this summer. Do you recognize his band mate?
The picture above is all three of my kids around age 2, each with a dandelion. Our nanny took all of the pictures over the years and gave us the set when we moved away (she was such a treasure).
The picture taped to the monitor is from a Zoom meeting with some of my god college friends. One of them took the screen shot and printed it out and mailed it to each of us because he thinks it’s good to have physical mementos of things. We started having weekly Zoom meetings in March 2020 because it was a COVID thing people were doing. We’ve had this meeting almost every week ever since. Two and a half years and counting of connection with old friends.
The notebooks to the right are Rocket Notebooks: erasable pens and integrated with an app to photograph, save, and organize your pages. It’s pretty neat.
Wednesday, December 7, 2022
Okay, so here's how I like to approach Holidailies. Step one: write something every day. Straightforward enough, if not necessarily easy.
Step two: post that entry on Holidailies.
Step three: go read other people's stuff on Holidailies (be the change you want to see in the world).
Step four: comment if I feel moved (and honestly, I make at least a minimal effort to be moved--see again being what you want to see).
But here's the thing, step four seems like it's gotten unnecessarily hard this year.
The first blog I wanted to comment on, it had three options for commenting, all of which appeared to require me signing up for something that I didn't already have. Ugh. I made a cursory effort to figure out one of them, but the documentation was more daunting than I had time for.
Then another blog that's on the same platform I am on required Google sign-in... but then wouldn't take my Google sign in. I was eventually able to finesse it by switching from mobile mode to the web version, but why did that have to be so complicated? And another website that wanted me to sign into Google, it turns out I couldn't do th same workaround, because I couldn't find a link to switch from the mobile version to the web version.
It just sucks because I would like to feel like part of a community of bloggers at least this one month of the year, but I feel like a part of that is interacting with my fellow bloggers, and I want that process to be friction-free (at least technically speaking). It's hard enough to invest the time it takes to write and read and comment, but when you have to jump through hoops to do it, and it seems like every blog has some kind of hoops to jump through... well, it's disspiriting.
I’m a little late for the Holidailies party, but better late than never, especially when it comes to writing. There was a span of years where I wrote in a pen-and-paper journal daily. A year or more where I blogged every day and many years where I came pretty close. A fee Novembers where I cranked out 50000 words.
But all of that is years in the past. And I can’t help but think that my life is poorer for it.
Maybe this will fizzle out after December, or even sooner, but I suppose a day with a bit of writing is better than the alternative.
Zen here has been with us eight months now, and he’s well beyond the skittish new kitty phase. While he is absolutely A’s cat, he lets me feel like the favorite when the rest of the family is away at school (not every day, but some days—I’m sure he doesn’t want his attention to go to my head).
Perched on a stool in my third-floor office, he is the majestic lion, king of all he surveys, tail lashing with murderous intent, the squirrels and birds he spies living only on his sufferance (and that of a pane of glass).
That’s basically writing in a nutshell, isn’t it? A lofty vantage point from which to observe, a bit of distance, and natural constraints against action.