Thursday, December 20, 2007

Doctor's Orders

In the October 2007 News Edition of American Laboratory (Vol. 39, No. 19), Dr. Dan Schneck's editorial talks about the difference between actual passage of time, r, and one's individual perception of time, n, in terms of how each can be biased to create the sensation that a day is 'dragging on' (r<n) or 'flying by' (r>n). FYI, he cites hyper/hypothyroidism; cellular metabolism; sensory, physiological, and energy stimuli like music, chemicals like caffeine and various drugs, and meditation; and other less quantifiable variables like one's innate n. The whole editorial is here (PDF format), in case you're interested.

This discussion brought my brain to something I read by another person who's out of my league when it comes to understanding oneself, Dr. Judith Orloff. In her book Positive Energy, part of the 'ten extraordinary prescriptions' is to find one's own personal pace. This is something like what Dr. Schneck calls n, though she doesn't go into the science of what makes n or how it can vary. Dr. Orloff says that, among other things, working at any other pace besides your own leads to being inefficient, sloppy, and dissatisfied, no matter what your perceived level of success, even if you're moving faster than your natural pace.

These two discussions, and the link between them, ring a bell in my brain and heart loud and clear. Here, I am starting to dig into a barely prospected lode abound with gems of inner happiness and success rivaling anything 'traditional' indicators might provide (college degrees, professional title, income, vehicle, zip code, etc.) I know that if I am ever to be effective and productive in this world, I must (MUST) get busy with the spadework. While I do try to be a simple man with a simple life, I know that this sparkling boulder sticking out of the ground in an out-of-the-way place in my life is only the iceberg tip of a treasure I am meant to discover, explore, and share. To what end I am not certain; maybe it will define my life, maybe it is only a means to a greater end, or maybe there is one person (probably a child) waiting to be shown a single iota of this wisdom, something that can only be delivered with a full understanding, and I am the designated messenger. The answer I only expect will become clear when this life has ended. Hopefully, that's enough time to fulfill the role that's been set aside for me.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


Inside here
is a world you can't imagine.
It is both wild, and ornate.
It is as cultured and refined
As it is spontaneous and chaotic.
It is draped with things of beauty
And rank with dis-ease.

Inside here
are things I long to share.
Music and pictures and words
to fill the soul a thousand days over
Flash in every thought,
Pure and childlike.

Inside here
Are things I cannot bear.
A Monster resides in the depths
poisoning the fresh waters of creation,
and goodness.

Beware as you enter
that you do not cross his path.
For his evil is lascivious and sweet and clever,
And taints the purest of things.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Welcome, Old Man Winter

CNN Story: 'Nasty' winter storms cause traffic deaths, delays

Of course by now, everyone knows we in the northeast-midwest US had our first real winter storm over the weekend. And let me tell was wasn't a doozey. It wasn't extraordinary. It wasn't anything different than what I've been waiting for the past six weeks.

Deaths are terrible and delays are regrettable, and accidents, sometimes tragic ones, certainly do happen. But this is winter. Can everyone above the 40th parallel PLEASE stop complaining about:
(1) the inevitable winter weather,
(2) the first sign of the season that the Earth is tolerating the dramatic change we're inflicting,
(3) a wonderful gift of beauty and fun for kids of all ages, and
(4) a fantastic excuse not to have to pick up semi-frozen dog poop from the yard?

Is it just me, or have the last 10 years or so been rank with whining about summer heat, spring rains, and winter snow and ice? Disasters notwithstanding, it seems to me that natural seasonal changes do nothing but piss people off, causing them nothing but inconvenience because they might actually sweat while working in the garden, or have to shovel the walk in winter. What is wrong with these people? Californians put up with how many months of drought (and then wildfires), Katrina victims are still living in fermaldehyde-ridden FEMA trailers, and we're upset because we've forgotten how to drive on a slippery road, or our flight was (for safety reasons, remember) delayed? Puh-lease.

Driving past the near-million-dollar homes I see on my way to work today, I saw no less than three luxury vehicles stuck halfway out of their professionally plowed driveways, and yesterday during the end of the snowstorm, I watched numerous 4-wheel drive vehicles with high-end brand names (including a Hummer) spinning wheels in the snow because the well-manicured ladies or silk-shirt businessmen behind the wheels haven't a clue how to operate them. Am I missing something, or has expectation of nature to conform to human comfort zones become the norm?

There are lots of things to be upset about, and lots of legitimate problems we have as individuals, communities, and a species in general, but it strikes me as counterintuitive when part of everyone's solution is the exact opposite of trying to fit into a natural order with the world. It's nice to have air conditioning and a furnace to keep the house comfortable, but when the ambient air temp falls outside your ±5° tolerance, do us all a favor and complain elsewhere. Even the French are probably less whiny than you.

As for me, what I'll remember most about this weekend's storm will be my little kids all bundled up with their kid-sized snow shovels, helping me in the driveway (or shoveling the grass around the tree, depending on their mood), little bootprints inside my own because the depth of the snow was higher than my daughter's legs, snow angels and giggling, red chapped cheeks smiling at me through the window because my son, cold as he was, was having too much fun to care about hot chocolate, and the slightly-achy feeling in my shoulders and back, and very satisfied feeling in my heart, after hanging my snow shovel on the garage hook and coming in myself. These memories will remain and feed my soul long, long after whatever might come of the activities I would have otherwise engaged in without the gift of snow we received.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Eleven Tuesdays, part 3

This Tuesday, 4 December 2007, my dad came home from the hospital. As of a late last week, he was able to get out bed and sit in a chair to watch TV, a near-miracle compared to previous weeks. I haven't been to see him yet, but he sounds good on the phone. It was nice to hear him talk about simply wanting to take a bath and go to bed. He has no more IV's and can wear his own clothes (technically, he never quit that--the man never once wore a hospital gown and insisted to be allowed to wear his own pajamas the entire hospital stay). I hope, maybe 99% in vain, that his home life now is spent so simply, taking in small pleasures. He will find out the status of his tumors in the coming days or weeks, and hopefully keep himself as healthy as he can. I sincerely fear, and disgustedly expect, to find him sitting in his chair when we visit, the smell of smoke still lingering and a red and white can in his hand.

Maybe I'm not giving the man the benefit of the doubt, or I'm underestimating any new appreciation of life he may have gained, or maybe I'm just being a selfish jerk, but a huge (HUGE) part of this whole ordeal for me has been the fact that, during my dad's hospital stay, he did not have any opportunity (Thanksgiving aside) to engage in his usual addictive behavior, i.e., smoking and drinking.

I do not think he has been clean this long my entire life. I believe it was probably scary: he probably had no idea who he was unaffected by his vices. I know I didn't. During my visits and conversations with him, however, I liked that person very much. He spoke of hope and sometimes faith. He talked evenly, even if it was sternly, without that unpredictable time-bomb of rage due to blow at any moment due to a disagreeable word or opinion. He shared himself with me in ways I cannot ever remember him doing, and finally accepted me as-is when I shared myself. I've always known my dad is a good man with a giving heart and soul and a sharp, critical mind, but I've only seen shadows of it beneath the surface of that smoky amber pool he lives in. During the last 11 weeks, I've met and gotten to know the man I always wanted to be my father. I am so desperately, vehemently afraid of who I will meet when I cross my parents' doorstep, that the man I grew up with will have once again taken over the man I met so recently. But I suppose all these things are lessons in acceptance, and I, of all people, cannot hold anyone's Evil Twin against him.

What the future holds for my family is beyond my understanding, something I am thankful not to have to carry the burden of. I will keep hoping, praying, and learning both about myself and my dad, whomever he may be, and loving him no matter what. I am not finished with any of the feelings, reactions, confusion, and sometimes turmoil I've experienced the last few months, but I do hope they make me a stronger, wiser, better person, and that I can make the most of each moment as a result.

Eleven Tuesdays, part 2

It was on another Tuesday, 6 November 2007, when my dad was admitted to the hospital because he wasn't eating or staying hydrated.

What we'd learned was that his cancer was stage IV, inoperable, and had spread to both lymph nodes, both adrenal glands, and his left hip. There were three tumors in his lung and three tumors on his femur which were interfering with the ball joint and making most movement involving legs very painful. They also found a blood clot in his lung which posed a more fatal, immediate danger than the actual cancer.

He was scheduled for radiation therapy and given morphine for pain, mostly due to his hip. He was still smoking early on. Over time, he went from a well-intentioned scaling back of his usual activities (smokes and Budweiser all day), to a few beers with his meds to help him sleep, to not being able to smell even an open bottle of wine without getting sick and puking up what little he'd eaten that day. His mood was deteriorating, and as his emotional state declined he became downright hateful to my mom. He would barely eat because it hurt to swallow. I suspect there was an huge amount of self-anger and self-pity in him, which is certainly expected for someone who learns he could be dead soon (and it's his own damn fault), but per his nature he hid all that behind an increasingly vitrolic wall of non-emotion.

It was partly this which led my dad to his hospital admission. He had driven himself to his radiation treatment when the doctor basically told him he had to go to the hospital and stabilize. An ambulance took him. I left work early to pick up my mom so she could bring his truck home. When I walked into the room, my father, a 62 year old man who'd inspired such fear and violence in me, broke down and reached for me as a child would.

I don't know what happened then. I cannot name the emotional or spiritual mechanism that caused it, but my heart solidified. I hugged my dad without thinking, sat with him and held his hand, asked him questions that allowed him to tell me things he needed to get out, and supported his crotchety decisions even when he raised hell with the nurses over his blood thinner. This was not a reaction like the one I experienced while driving to Benzonia, a patronizing reaction due only to my own fear and selfishness, this was 100% heart and soul love like I'd never felt it for my dad, like it was a natural thing I'd been doing my whole life, possibly even longer.

I visited or called my dad almost every day to ask about his meds, his treatments, how much he was eating and how he was resting. Over time, all the staff of his floor/section learned what I'd learned about my dad: that no matter how sick he is he's still a jerk when he doesn't get his way. My dad spent his 63rd birthday in the hospital, and when we took the kids to see him he was such an ass to my mom I wanted to slap him; I didn't care that he'd done 14 chemo treatments in ten days. He also spent Thanksgiving in the hospital, though he was allowed to come home for a few hours, during which time I visited with my wife and sister, and again he treated my mom so abusively I wondered why she bothered taking care of this man, dying or not.

After his return to the hospital, his blood pressure would not stabilize and he got an infection. The chemotherapy was killing him by this time and we all began to wonder if dad was going to ever make it out of the hospital. I could not visit my dad because they were requiring gloves and masks in the room, and I'd caught a cold. All of this, as well as a childish spat with my sister over the Thanksgiving weekend, put me into a spin I'm only beginning to recover from. But again, I'm being selfish.

Eleven Tuesdays, part 1

I know it was a Tuesday, but for some reason the date 26 September 2007, a Wednesday, sticks in my head. It doesn't matter which is right. That's the day I found out my dad has non-small cell lung cancer.

The emotions I felt that and the days immediately following were difficult to identify. There were pain and fear, to be sure, also other less son-like or familial feelings. There was anger (my dad's been smoking since his early teens and everyone, inlcuding him, knows full well the cause of his disease), admiration (the way my dad handled the news and discussion about his disease, treatment, future, etc., was so uncharacteristic of our past relationship it was actually a refreshing change), even relief (not related to the change in relationship, but something much darker and more selfish).

This news came early in the week preceding the annual salmon fishing trip with my dad (and occasionally my brother) in Benzonia. It was a sombre thing, preparing for this trip. Normally I'd be reserved and closed, ready to defend against any criticism or return any generic lashing out due to uncooperative hardware, physics, weather, etc., in kind. I typically become a different man when I'm with my dad out of habit and necessity. Due to the grave news of the week, however, this didn't happen. I was open and ready to help no matter how filthy the language or energy was that happened to be thrown my general direction. I was making an effort to remember that this man is my dying father, and it was damn near pathetic. I believed that this may be our last fishing trip together. It still may be.

Truth be told, it was refreshing and relieving to unchain myself from reactions to my father's life of ire. What I discovered was a fear beneath it, a very childlike fear. In my eagerness to spend such precious last weekends with him, I wanted to talk to him, to ask questions and hear answers, to learn who this man was who had raised me, or tried to as best he could. I made a very dramatic effort at discovery worthy of any Hollywood performance.

But I discovered something else, too. As we drove, despite my dad's frailty and sickness, he was still smoking at least one cigarette per hour (actually, a great improvement for him) and carelessly spewing his negative talk and occasional prejudices like nothing had changed. I was surprised, I was saddened. I was sobered.

What I'd discovered was that no matter how sick my dad gets, he is still the man I've known my whole life. He is still a mean old fucker when he wants to be. The news of the disease hadn't changed him the way it had changed me, and this was both disappointing (selfishness) and reassuring (stability).

Throughout the fishing weekend, his crotchetiness resurfaced in new expressions of father-son interaction. He practically called the National Guard when I failed to return from going to get food. He thought I meant McDonald's down the street when I'd actually gone to a local bar for a burger and beer, then scouting out the local bike trail. While visiting with his friends at another campsite the next night, we both had drinks, but he had the gall to criticize me for going back to party after I'd carried his drunk ass back to our camper. More than once, I had to remind him that I'm a grown man. By the time we drove home, I was content to read my book and settle for intermittent conversation between long bouts of silence.

So finally, I discovered something else: I must love my dad the way he is, no matter what. Whether he's sick or healthy, a saint or an asshole, he is who he is, and he's also my dad. True, he may be dying, and I must not waste any time, but to change who I am as a result of his cancer, or try to change who I think he is, would be to cheapen the relationship we've slowly built as grown men over the last handful of years.

I still do not know that much more about my father. I never got the stories about his Army days, or the girl in Panama he occasionally talks about, or the places he's lived, or his history with him mom and sister, or why he hasn't spoken to his own father in 30+ years, or the jobs he's had. But I do know much more about myself, and am much more accepting of who my dad is and what I do have with him. And for today, that will be enough.

Thursday, November 1, 2007


So I'm watching this movie, or something, and there's this guy in it. He's doing normal stuff, at his job, working around the house, interacting with spouse and/or kids...and then there's a conflict. I've seen movies before like this. I'm in this guy's head, I know what he's thinking, how what's happening or what people are saying is making him feel, and I know he could flip out any second. Part of me wouldn't blame him, would even cheer for him as he crashed the car into the divider, let the fragile kitchen light fixture fall to the floor because it just wouldn't go in right, turned and screamed at his wife right there in front of the kids.

Then I wake up to the realization that I'm not watching a movie, or reading a book, or witnessing a scene at a restaurant. It's not another man in the conflict, it's me. And it's not someone else's problem to solve, it's mine. And it's not another person for whom I have no responsibility on the edge of making a rash, potentially dangerous decision, it's just only me.

It's not a "what's he going to do?" moment, it's a "what am I going to do?" moment.

How I learned this kind of escapism I don't know, but what really puzzles me is what triggers it. I'll just be going along my merry way, tasks of varying ends and importance, and I find myself in that dream world. If I could solve that mystery, I would no longer have the momentary relief of wondering how this third person is going to reconcile this or that, or solve this or that problem, deal with this or that person, or get through this or that day...but I might, oh I hope I might, be able to better face the real life that I am living, love the real people I am with, and make the best out of every day I am given.

(written 7/7/2007)

Wednesday, October 31, 2007


There is something inside.

Sometimes I can just hear it rattling around, other times, it's like a stone preventing a wheel from moving. Sometimes, I nearly forget it's there, but others it's a malignant mass in my soul, threatening my very existence.

I cannot determine exactly where it came from; I cannot name it or the things it does. All I can see are the symptoms of sickness it lays upon me: moodiness, indecision, denial, depression, addiction. These things control my days and dictate my actions, and I am powerless over them. How can I ever get to their source? It is more than enough work to cover the tracks of this devious specter, let alone deal with the perpetrator himself.

There is, at times, peace. How and when it comes are functions of a dozen or hundred things, most of which I can only name in those peaceful moments. Those moments come and go and are only remembered like artistic scenes in a film I can't remember how long ago or with whom I watched. It is an endless cycle of chaos and a fruitless endeavor to make any lasting peace of my days.

Monday, October 29, 2007

The Rhoda Files

I had the odious pleasure of digging out several emails from an old teacher today, Ms. Rhoda B. Stamell.

I befriended Rhoda during my last attempt at finishing my bachelor's degree in spring 2005, in the World Masterpieces 2 course at LTU. Most of the other students were idiots anyway, but for some reason I, and a few others, stood out immediately. First I considered her a mentor, but her lack of boundaries and the flash-in-the-pan roles she assigns various people in her daily dramas confused the interaction considerably. I ate it up like candy.

She made no distinction between teaching and acting, and, accordingly, called her classes The Rhoda Show. Students are easily bedazzled by anyone willing to perform as eloquently and immersively as she can, and what inevitably developed was a sort of Stockholm Syndrome in which we all gave her glowing reviews in post-semester evaluations in exchange for her perverse use of our attention. During the course we had passing social correspondence, but afterward it really opened up.

I read some of her short stories; I bought her fat anthology; she gave me a rough draft of her novel. She was completely raw and stripped of any social facade or traditional boundaries between friends, or at least those between people with a 38 year age difference and the huge cultural gaps we shared. Our exchanges could be intellectually hostile and mentally stimulating at the same time. I thought that meant I was accepted as-is, but I was wrong.

Apparently, I am having trouble letting go of the wreck that came of our contentious friendship. Below are excerpts from past emails in which I expressed parts of myself as explanations of behaviors or comments she'd questioned. I think they reflect something I'm beginning to see more of and don't really like. Her words are not mine to share with you, so, with small exception, they do not appear here.

A few days after these emails were passed, she ended our relationship lock, stock, and barrel with four simple words. She rescinded an invitation for her 70th birthday party. The following April, however, when her book was finally published, she didn't forget me in the blanket notice she sent out.

I suppose I'm still angry about it. Comments on this post will be read, but may result in you getting flamed. Leave your email at your own risk.

* * * * *

It's a home-grown chaos I carry, but it dictates my sense of purpose and urgency. It's a foggy night that can't be rushed through, and the high beams only make things look worse. Not much of a serve, but it's what I do.

Right now I'm neck-deep in addiction and my greatest feat would be catching up on my VHS tapes of Stargate: Atlantis and Battlestar Galactica. I'm now 4 weeks behind. Despite how it sounds, don't call Child Protective Services just yet; I'm not a complete washup.


[Rhoda said: " is important to become fully involved in learning and investigating the world. The only way to do that is to become more educated and to step outside the narrow circle we all draw to make sure that we will feel safe. We aren't safe, of course, but the circle makes us think so.]


You should know that I have no intention of coasting through life on my existing education. I throw my own blocks down, I know, but kicking myself in the teeth for not being on the ball doesn't work to keep me motivated. I just have to work hard each day to do what's important.


I don't know what exactly your tone is, but things like "Really" and "And how do you like that, Lincoln?" make one thing clear: you're not enjoying our correspondence.

It's true: I am still young, have not seen much of this world, do not have a documented formal education, grew up wanting for material possessions, and hesitate because I fear failure. I have many faults. But our differences are not so great that I can't know you. My grandmother, my PhD'd colleagues, and the 3 year olds in my Sunday School class accept me despite any presumptions I make, correct or otherwise. Why won't you?

I know by now I've pushed you far over the edge, and maybe you'll even rescind your birthday party invitation. Maybe you'll badmouth me to your composition students. Maybe you'll say you never liked me to begin with. You don't like these arguments, not when I stand up for a contradictory opinion. This much I know, because you have taught me.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Free Lunch

There is such a thing; believe it. Especially when you go into Jet's for a slice and pop (who can beat that at $2.75?) and they're out. Well, except for one cold, lonely slice which was by far not the best example of what I've found to be the greatest pizza ever. They offered me the cold slice for free while I waited for a fresh one, but I declined. So I sat and messed with my phone for eight whole minutes, and when it came time to pay for my steaming, saucy, foil-wrapped treasure, the counter guy waved me off. "You're all set," he said, "thanks for waiting."

Who am I to argue?

Monday, October 22, 2007

On the Terrible, Embarrassing Ignorance of America

So apparently during a questions/answer period following a talk at Carnegie Hall, Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling revealed that Professor Dumbledore is gay.

Personally, I accept that homosexuality is as natural, healthy, and Divinely granted a trait as heterosexuality. Sure, it wasn't Adam and Steve(n), sure the Bible says 'abomination', but what I keep coming back to is that (1) if God made us all, he made us ALL, and (2) if God loves us all, he loves us ALL. Why can't we love each other?

Also, to all folks who compare homosexuals to pedophiles, I'd you to have a look at the sexual orientation of the last ten people you can find who were convicted of pedophilia or child pornography, or any other the thing you compare same-sex love to. ...was that enough time? What did you find?

Two people loving each other isn't terrible or disgusting only when they're opposite sex. It's an ironic statement about a society that condones heterosexuality with all its inherent gender conflicts, but condemns anyone seeking love and acceptance from a same-sex partner. Any two people loving each other is a beautiful and rare thing, and when any two people find each other who can love and care for each other throughout a lifetime, it's wondrous and joyful, regardless of the gender of those two people.

On Dumbledore...I could be wrong, but was there ever anything specific about his skin color? His hair color is white, and his eye color is blue, but are we sure he is Caucasion? What if, before the first movie had been cast, Jo had revealed that Dumbledore was in fact of African descent, and instead of Richard Harris, Sidney Poitier was the ideal man to play the troubled, fatherly old wizard? (Or Samuel L. Jackson..."It's the wand that says 'bad mother fucker' on it.") Just a thought, people.

The books are what they are, regardless of the backstories and histories the author envisioned for each character, and regardless of what she says about them now. As with every work of art, it will be viewed through the lens of the society that beholds it, in the context of the society that created it. As a fan, I applaud Ms. Rowling for answering a fan's question honestly. As a friend of gay people, I hope that the single largest effect this "revelation" has on us as a whole is to force us to examine our own hearts, our own presumptions about the world, and possibly, our own ignornace and prejudices.

Now, for your entertainment value, I present my responses to some comments following CNN's article:

* * *
jkarre wrote: "I do not want my young, impressionable child believing for one second that choosing that [gay] lifestyle is acceptable sometimes or any time. This is truly sad."

What is truly sad is the ignorance you are perpetuating in your children, and the hate they will pass onto anyone they meet who leads such a lifestyle, or any other kind aside from the one you've taught them to believe is right and moral. Shame on you and any parent who spreads intolerance.

* * *
William wrote: "If she really thought it was important, why didn't she incorporate it into the stories?"

Because it ISN'T important, any more than every character's implied HETEROsexuality is important in every other mainstream story, including this one. Anyone who's paid attention to a word Ms. Rowling's written or spoken about these characters will know that in order to create the HP world, she made them into real people with lives and pasts and issues--a necessary practice for any writer. This is especially necessary for Dumbledore, a central character mentioned hundreds of times in a composite story of seven volumes and thousands of pages.

* * *
Sue wrote: "The author's statement really makes the books and the movies deceptive and many parents wouldn't have bought the books nor let their children watch the movies had this come about sooner. Fortunately their was no outright homosexuality in the books or the movies to make matters worse."

Where is the deception? Was there some point in the text that secured your knowledge of Dumbledore's orientation as straight? If there was, I missed it. Also, where in any of the stories does any romantic relationship figure in, aside from husband/wife couples and teen crushes? Would you feel better if Ms. Rowling addended the novels now to include a list of women Dumbledore had been with in the past?

* * *
kat wrote: "JK rowling is an idiot." (and that's it)

Well look at the big brain on kat. Thanks for that wisdom.

* * *
D wrote: "You would have to go and ruin the Potter series by making the headmaster of the children's school gay. You disgust me now."

Do I really need to address this one? Poor D, such a victim. Think of all those wasted hours in seeming enjoyment and wonder! Imagine all the good quality stuff you could have been reading, instead of the evil, terrible gaymongering Harry Potter series!

* * *
Kirk wrote: "...the promotion of homosexuality in a children's book, even indirectly, is terrible. We already promote sex as something to do with whomever and whenever you feel like, to further teach our children that it's ok to be gay and that it's 'normal' is shameful. It's far from normal and everyone knows it."

Normal, healthy, unhealthy. What is healthy is knowing and being who you are without pretenses or falseness, especially based on fear of someone else's reaction. What's unhealthy is pretending to be something you're not, trying to live up to someone else's ideals of how your life should lived.

The concept of "normal" is the only one I vaguely identify with, but only as it comes to mean "average," "acceptable," or "socially ubiquitous." Guess what else is considered normal? Prejudice and hate.

* * *
Joe Smith wrote: "This subject does NOT need to be addressed in a book for this audience!"

Guess what, Joe, it wasn't addressed in any Harry Potter book. It is never implied, alluded to, referenced, or even (though you seem maybe to have thought so) denied.

* * *
bliss wrote: "wow on top of witchcraft now we add homo stuff wow its sad the series is over sales would have been lower"

i know bliss wow terrible that such an already sinful series of awful stuff makes the novelist the richest woman in england wow and now she decides to double the insult wow for shame (response edited to be better understood to the target individual)

* * *
Xysea wrote: "It doesn't change a thing. He's a beloved character no matter his sexual preference. Seriously, we've come much farther than that as a society. Haven't we? Haven't we??!!"

I'm afraid, Xysea, that we have not.

Friday, September 21, 2007

The B Game

Some days, you got it going on. You're on top of every task, diligent and taking initiative like nobody's business. You impress everyone with your punctuality, attitude, insight, and humor. Clients and bosses, coworkers and strangers alike everywhere you go just know when you shake their hand, address them by name, flash a confident smile, or just walk past: today is your day. You're on your A-game.

Today is no such day for me.

These other days are not so productive. You flub an explanation to a customer, misspell words on your monthly report, dump messy samples all down the workbench, and fall asleep during the safety committee meeting (while they're discussing the issue you brought up). These are the days you simply wait out the afternoon until it's time to go home, believing everyone should just be thankful you even showed up in the first place.

Today is one of those days. Today, I'm on my B-game.

I'm not knocking the B-game. Indeed, without it, you'd have no game at all on those non-A game days. And let's face it: the non-A-game makes up a majority of our days, unless you're Dr. Phil or Richard Simmons. We've all lived for weeks or months (or longer) at a time between A-game days, and gotten though it just fine. The kids get fed, the couch gets picked up (more or less), we still make it to work five days a week, and some way or another the remote control never disappears for more than a day or so. The long and short of it is, the B-game is the blue collar hero of our daily existence.

So I say we promote the B-game. Oh sure, those A-game days (and those damn people who always seem to have A-games, the A-Gamers) can have their glory, making the big sales and bringing home the gold-plated bacon, but I'm content to celebrate my B-game as a trusted mainstay, as an old friend with the loyalty of a beloved yellow dog, as something to be relied upon when that fickle A-game abandons us for greener pastures, as so often happens. Let's all raise our glasses to the B-game, folks. Hear hear!

Thanks, B-game, for standing by me no matter what.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

The IKEA Conspiracy

This is a warning for all civilized humankind. I have discovered a clandestine group of otherworldly beings who've infiltrated our society with the intention of overthrowing it. They will do this by flooding our homes with their devices which, initially, seem harmless and even useful, but will suddenly rise one day and overwhelm us through their numbers despite their size and cuteness.

The name of this group is the Intergalactic Kingdon of Euseless Accesorizing, or more simply: IKEA.

They have begun landing starbases all over the globe. Beginning in Denmark, IKEA spread rapidly throughout Europe and recently crossed the pond to the US of A. Maybe you've seen these starbases: large, gaudy things beside highways near shopping centers, they require a huge landing area painted with yellow lines. Once settled, the public flocks to these places of shininess and space-saving utility, eagerly entering the tens of thousands of square feet of neat little gadgets and cute little things, shelling out sometimes hundreds of dollars each* to bring these trinkets into their homes--INTO THEIR HOMES!

Even my own modest home has begun this transformation. What started with a new cutting board quickly became a completely new set of silverware (which wasn't really needed, we were only missing a few things after the move) and has recently included new salt-and-pepper shakers (we sure weren't missing either of these) and some kind of cute little sugar dispenser (my ceramic bowl thing was working just fine, thank you very much). We also have cork trivets, spiral-wire laundry hampers and closet organizing things, these big butterfly-shaped hooks for kids' backpacks, and a plethora of furniture and accoutrements for my daughter's room.

The IKEA conglomerate has discovered our culture's penchant for their wares and is making solid use of it. They seem to focus their marketing efforts on our wives and daughters, offering quick, cheap solutions to little bothersome household mainstays and shiny, new alternatives to things we already have.

What we do not yet realize is that once IKEA have completely replaced all our furniture and kitchen tools and shelving and entertainment centers, these items will somehow be used against us to force our wills to do IKEA's bidding. This is when the mothership will arrive, and then we'll all regret replacing our very fine spoons and salt shakers and sugar bowls with the cute little glass-and-steel contraptions we have been duped into acquiring. Mark my words: we will all be sorry!

There is only one way to stop this infiltration of our relatively peaceful consumerist existence. We must rise up and fight this force that so many of us have so willingly allowed to take over our lives and fill up our homes. Go back to your old silverware, even if there are a couple spoons missing. Take your kids' shoes out of the hanging spiral thing and put them on the floor where they used to be just fine. Accept that you have to take the top off the sugar container and put a spoon in to get it out, rather than simply tipping the little chimney over your cereal. In short--rough it a little, folks, or one day we will all be commiserating in an intergalactic chain gang with the dozens or hundreds (who knows at this point?) of other civilizations the IKEA have overtaken.

This is my final appeal to humankind before it is too late. I already fear retribution for my discovery, already the cutting board and knife set are suspicious. I will do my best to update you on the fight, but I make no guarantees as I will be operating in the IKEA-free wilderness of traditional kitchen wares and big bulky entertainment centers without matching shelves for my media. Let's remember what makes our species great, and let's all fight to preserve it.

Yours Sincerely,


* IKEA is also an huge economic power. I will explore this later, but I think they are working with the Chilean Mafia.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Madeleine McCann

Just so we're all clear now, let's repeat for everyone's sake: you DO NOT leave a three-year-old (or even two three-year-olds) alone while you go out to dinner, no matter what people say about the prime rib.

You do not do this even if she is almost four. You do not do this even if you are at home, let alone on holiday in another country. You do not do this regardless of how much money you have and how secure you think your resort is. You simply do not do this. Ever.

I'd like to say the McCanns have learned this, but even if they have it's moot at this point. Their little girl is gone, and I believe the world will never know for sure what happened to her, just like Jon Benet Ramsey.

I was not a parent when Jon Benet disappeared, but the story seemed fishy from the start. We all know it. The news photo of the little beauty queen is a permanent image in all our minds, and so are the nagging questions that began from the start. Why would parents push such a young child so hard, for something the girl wouldn't even have a concept of? Just recently, we made the conscious decision in our household to withhold using the word 'pretty' as a generic compliment to our daughter. We never tell our boys how handsome they are when they try on something new, or do something cool. Of course my little girl is the most beautiful on the planet, but I want her sense of self-worth to come from being told how smart she is, or how nicely she follows directions, or hums music when she dances, or even how well she matched her socks and dress. Not just how 'pretty' she is. No wonder men rarely give two craps beyond if their hair is combed and women are valued by their looks and objectified not only by men, but by themselves and each other.

But there I go, off on another tangent. Ahem.

Anyway, clearly something is fishy here, too. And I'm a parent this time. Not only does this story strike me generally, it also strikes personally. I imagine how I would feel one of my kids disappeared. But it doesn't take a parent to recognize the fish factor. Nice family on vacation in Portugal, great. Tragic disappearance of a cute little girl, terrible. Parents so upset they cause a worldwide stir, refusing to go home until she's found, having meetings with the pope, and soliciting support from Jo Rowling and David Beckham...ooookay whatever. But has anyone besides me questioned what the hell the mom and dad were doing AT DINNER when their daughter disappeared? Of course, we all have! If there is a worldwide concern for the safety and whereabouts of Madeleine, why is there not a worldwide outcry at the abject negligence of Kate and Gerry?

Well, finally someone is asking the big 'what the hell' question. The Portugese police announced that both mom and dad will be named suspects. Big surprise? If you say yes, you're either biased or not paying attention. Or Forrest Gump. They were suspect from day one, tragedy aside, and now that Madeleine's blood has (allegedly) been found in a car the couple rented everyone ought to be withholding sympathy for the pretty, tragic woman we see in the news pictures pending her clearance by police. In any case, the 'outrage' Kate and Gerry McCann and their friends are expressing is blatant disregard for the loads of support they've received from millions of strangers. If they expect the whole world to care about what happened to them, they should be expected to face the inevitable with a little more dignity. One news source says "the family have been concerned that the tide of public opinion in Portugal has turned against the couple." Ya think??

Of course, we all hope Madeleine is found alive and reunited with her family. Nothing would make me happier in this situation than for me to be wrong about my suspicions and look like an ass for expressing them. None of us would like to think that any parent is capable of committing acts against children, especially their own. But we all know people, some of them parents, do commit heinous crimes against children--that evil does exist in this world. And I will reserve judgment on whether even these questionable parents fit into that group of wasted flesh.

For now, let us all hope and pray for the best. And please let's remember to never, EVER leave our three year olds alone when we go to dinner.

(updated 10/22/07 to remove erroneous references to Madeleine's brother Sean)

Thursday, September 6, 2007

My Jealous Mistress

I have solidified in my brain what I've always intuitively known: that no matter what else I become in this world, no matter what else I do, I must write.

How I came to this I cannot recall; indeed, it's kind of an old realization at this point. The beginning of 3:15 '07 I immediately noticed a change in myself after agonizing to create when the mind is supposed to be blank. Part of what I realized is that a sure sign of being gifted with an art isn't necessarily that you're better than others at the thing, but that engaging in the thing serves to lift you wholly, putting you in a better place emotionally and spiritutally.

That description sounds dangerously like the definition of an addiction, except addiction doesn't feed the spritual self. I figure it this way: gifts of this type are divinely granted, and following through aligns you divinely. Ergo, spiritual uplifting.

So here I am now, finally seeing what's been tugging at my sleeve my whole life: that I am a writer, for better or worse, like it or not, professional or recognized or otherwise. Me and this destiny are married, and that's all there is to it.

So now comes the hard part. This isn't the first time I've encountered a life-changing realization, then had to either make good on it or live the rest of my life knowing I'm falling short of my potential. Potential is so easy to duck when you're mired in life, unable or ill-positioned to see it. Success becomes a burden when you know your upper limits (if there is such a thing); ignorance, in this case, truly is bliss.

But of course this is counterintuitive. Ignorance is bliss the way malnutrition makes disease preferable to health: it only provides a convenient excuse for failure. And failure is the same whether there's a good reason for it or not. Although knowledge of one's potential doesn't empower one to achieve, it does enable one to grow more fully into that person they were meant to be. Despite the threat of looming failure once ignorance is removed, the rewards for success are far greater than the happiness ignorance offers in stead. Indeed, just knowing one's previously perceived upper limit is no longer there can be a boon in and of itself. Now you know, and as GI Joe says, "knowing is half the battle!"

So here I am, the already thin veil of ignorance gone, at the beginning of my own battle for success. This prospect is not welcome, I will stubbornly and hardheadedly say up front. Already I struggle with self-image, one more potential reason to fail is daunting. Already, my plate is full with life roles and ambitions, long-term and short. Of course, writing has always been among those ambitions, but now bills and mortgage and groceries and college funds are at risk, and those ambitions that would keep me gainfully employed have taken priority out of necessity.

Not, of course, that writing isn't a good paying trade. But as they say, it's nice work if you can get it. The artist's plight is that his life is defined by struggle until that moment of discovery, that Harry Potter moment that took a British single parent riding home late on the subway and made her richer than the Queen. I am no longer prepared to sacrifice my place in the world to wait for such a moment; though meager, I have much to lose, and so my art, my writing, must take a back seat to what I have become accustomed to calling 'real life.'

Somebody said art is a jealous mistress, and any mistress worth her salt will punish you if she's not getting her due attention. Polymnia is punishing me: make no mistake. Don't get me wrong, I'm not reluctant to give her due, I just...lose track. I do get mired, in many things, most necessary for my material survival. I am fed intellectually, but I know there will be a critical point when those other parts of me, the emotional and the spiritual, will demand equal attention, and then I must give in. Then, there will be no choice, and the transition will be painful and terrible.

So I make this choice now, incrementally and subtley. I'm woefully out of practice; my creativity levels are at an all-time low. Time-wise, I'm swamped. Thank God writing doesn't cost money. But one way or the other, I must indulge this need, appease this hunger. Or it will consume me, and the cost of that is one I cannot bear to imagine.

Appendage: I owe part of my inspiration for this post to Tony Woodlief. Thanks again, Tony.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Baby, Don't Ya Cry

So, I just got back from an advance screening of the movie Waitress. Now, I won't tell you that I've never seen a better film, or a sweeter film, or a more appropriate date movie. (Okay, scratch the latter; this may be the best date movie I can remember seeing.) But what I will say is that it was a pleasure to watch. It was funny without being cheesy, and it was not overly chic-flicky. It was just a damn nice movie.

I'm sure there are cinematic flaws and shortcomings, to be sure. I'm no expert on great movies, but I sure know that I was drawn into this story, into the characters and their lives. I was pulling for the good guys and damning the bad beneath my breath. Keri Russel had me from the get-go. The bad husband actor made a really great, pathetic bad guy. The two other waitress actresses, including Adrienne Shelley (RIP), were perfect complements to Russell's character. Nathon Fillion...let's not even bother with that justification: suffice it to say he's as good as ever.

All around, this movie more than stands alone as an artistic accomplishment. Never mind the fact that it was the big (mainstream) break of Adrienne Shelley, yes, who also wrote it and was murdered last year after its completion, and never mind the droves of disgruntled Firefly (and now Drive) fans that will flock to anything with Mr. Fillion just to prove to Fox that more than one executive needs his head examined. It's funny, it's witty, and it's touching, and I highly recommend it to anyone facing adult life's slings and arrows.

Especially if you're on a date.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

An Open Letter to CompuSystems, Inc.

To Whom it May Concern:

I attended Pittcon 2007 from Feb. 25-Mar. 3 in Chicago, a conference for which your company was contracted to compile contact data. According to your records, my badge was scanned at 23 vendor booths.

Initially I thought the badge scanning system was brilliant, but now I have a spam problem.

Maybe I neglected to read the privacy statement on the Pittcon website, or maybe the exhibitors are simply being unscrupulous. In any case, before Pittcon, my company's spam filter caught on average 5 unsolicted emails per month. After Pittcon, this number has jumped to as many as 10 per day.

When I say 'spam' and 'unsolicited email' I am not talking about services offered by vendors that did not scan my badge. In fact I seriously doubt any of these companies had booths at Pittcon, unless I missed the company whose domain names are,,, and I know spammers will typically fake domain names to make their emails seem more legitimate, which may be the case in,,, and

I assure you, none of these unsolicited emails are legitimate contact attempts being mistaken for spam. One clue is the array of rediculous subject lines. I will detail a few below:
  • Fahrenheit sunburn
  • follicle liter
  • Far east potency
  • By the time I rolled into Havana the next evening…
The list gets more interesting from there, and today included something regarding Brad Pitt's anatomy and his penchant for home video.

I do not know what recourse to expect, but I will say that I never once believed that the professional and efficient job of data collection done at Pittcon would jeopardize my privacy. What is clear is that someone who got my email address at Pittcon has sold it to spammers, and this is a clear breach in trust between your company, Pittcon organizers, and conferees like myself.

Unless this situation is cleared up quicly, I will strongly recommend to anyone who attends a conference with data collection by Compusystems that they create a disposable email account for vendor contact.


et cetera

Monday, March 26, 2007


It's official. I'm coming out of this closet, and announcing to the entire world via the World Wide Web: I'm a This American Life groupie.

(If you're totally clueless, I won't hold it against you. After all, the show was on for about seven years before I stumbled across it. But now you can no longer use ignorance as an excuse. Surf to and get with the program. Haha...the program. I kill myself sometimes!)

Some months ago, I wrote that I'd acquired a large number of mp3 files of past shows. The means are unimportant, given that you can listen to nearly every single show FOR FREE online (see aforementioned URL). And since that time, since that shady acquisition, I have listened to no less than four programs per week, going through nearly two year's worth of weekly hours filled with short story readings; expositions on common, everyday freakiness; tales of childhood wonder and lover's woes; of triumph and failure and fiasco...all padded and carefully packaged within the delicate confines of Ira Glass's soothing commentary. And all, no less, during my daily commute.

What is it that would make me give up my 89X morning shows? What is so wonderful as to knock aside winding down with Arthur Penhallow on the way home? Well, it's hard to explain. But I got some interesting perspective during a couple of theater visits.

The first time I stepped out of my radio with TAL was in Chicago, home of Chicago Public Radio station WBEZ, where TAL is made and broadcast from. I was sent there on business (my first trip; an extended journey of both distance and professional development...but that's for another post) and delighted to find that at 7:00 pm on my day of arrival, I would have the chance to listen to TAL live...well, not live, but as it was being broadcast on its home station. I was ecstatic. Nevermind that the reception in the hotel room, despite being a mere 12 blocks from Navy Pier, where the WBEZ offices and tower are located, was horrendous. I ended up listening via streaming media on the laptop. Which I can do from home, in the Detroit area. My enthusisam was unabashed.

This was an extremely fortunate night for me.

Turns out that, since I am usually working during the Detroit broadcast at 3 pm on Fridays, my TAL diet typically is composed of episodes a handful of years old. Yes, I have been downloading the podcasts as they become available, but figured I'd get through the old ones and then catch up with the new eventually. What I'd been missing is the announcement that the TAL crew WAS GOING ON TOUR, doing the show live in theaters across the country. Well, only six cities across the country, BUT STILL. And, as it turned out, their Chicago appearance would occur on my last night in the city.

O. M. G.

Of course I called Ticketmaster, the Chicago Theater, and all the discout ticket vendors I could find in search of a seat in the same room with Ira Glass, Sarah Vowell, David Rackoff, and Dan Savage, not to mention the hundreds of other fans that would be there. Allow me to digress further--nobody (NOBODY) else I know listens to this show. In fact, most people have never heard of it, and the ones that have sort of poo-poo it as artistic and/or liberal arts drivel. But finally, FINALLY, I would be able to talk about the show with other folks who enjoyed it at least as much as me.

If only there were tickets available. Technically, there were, but only in the wheelchair-accessible section of the theater. And they couldn't sell me those unless I, you know, was in a wheelchair. Which I'm not. I briefly considered the fact that the clerk on the phone didn't know me from Adam, and wondered where I might come up with a cheap or borrowed wheelchair for the evening...but that only lasted for about 0.0025647 seconds. I might occasionally search for illegal mp3 downloads, but I'm not that low. I conceded that I better listen to the new episodes more often, and decided to suck it up.

Pittcon came and went, day after day. I saw all the vendors and the technical folks and listened to all the talks and collected about a million pens and a laser pointer and a flash drive and some fake caribeaner keychains with little compasses and all sorts of coroporate convention swag. And then it was the last night. I rode the Metra back from McCormick Place and started walking. But not to the hotel. To the Chicago Theater. I just had to know if there were any seats--anywhere--that I might have.

Well, there weren't, but being that the show was a mere 3 hours away, they let me buy a seat in the wheelchair section.

What I can say about walking back to the hotel isn't exactly like floating, and what I can say about the few hours thereafter isn't exactly like being nervous, but I struggled to plan exactly everything. As it turns out, I didn't plan well for dinner and arrived way too early. But I got to stand there and listen to some of WBEZ's donors as they picked up their complimentary tickets, listened to a station executive talk about Ira Glass's reluctance to acknowledge his radio superstar status, and met a nice guy with bad teeth whose donor nametag said Ricardo Phillips.

The show was remarkable. I will not attempt to recount the flow of humor and emotion that flowed between the audience and the performers here; I will only say I should have written about it then. I met a very artsy woman with whom I couldn't quite connect, though we tried very much to be socially compatible. I visibly bristled her when I said that the value of art depends on its cultural context, and she recovered by saying she was a collector of professional jargon and asked me about the conference I had attended. She particularly liked the world 'spectroscopy'. An artsy friend of hers (who also bought his ticket that day and got in the third row...bastard) mistook us for a couple and his interest in me lasted only until he was told otherwise. But I still shook his hand and introduced myself. Suffice it to say I'm no social butterfly and never will be good at meeting strangers and treating them like old friends.

I won't forget the show for a good long time, hopefully not at all. The performances were just like on the radio, only read at a podium and microphone. Last Friday, bits of the New York show were played as the new episode (What I Learned from TV, #328), and a 4 minute film can be viewed here (though I don't know for how long). I laughed, I cried, and after about two hours, it was over.

What happened next was beyond expectation. As I was leaving, walking slowly past one of the doors into the theater, I saw Ira Glass come back on the stage. He was talking to some people on the side, who seemed to be waiting for him. Some seemed even to know him. I wandered back inside and watched, in a dumbstruck awe, while Ira had a conversation with a patron (who seemed to know something about Showtime). I stood only a few feet away. When they were done, I spoke up. I didn't know what was coming out of my mouth. I just said it.

"I just wanted to thank you," I said. And for what could easily have been 45 seconds as 8 minutes, I had a short conversation with Ira Glass. I had a short conversation with Ira Glass. I shook his hand, he asked my opinion on the excerpt from the TV show they were making, and he asked what I do for a living. For that brief few moments, were were buds, just like when he rides to work and home with me in the car every day, but I was doing some of the talking, too. And then he thanked me for coming, and I turned to leave. Only then did I notice there were a dozen, maybe more, people standing around there. Maybe they were waiting for the same chance to meet him, maybe they were just watcing. But they didn't even exist during that short conversation. Nobody else did. It was just me and Ira Glass in the whole room, and he gave me his full attention and was interested in what I had to say. And that made me feel incredibly good.

Of course I beat myself up for not saying XYZ, for actually allowing ABC to come out of my mouth, and for not paying more attention to the moment. I came to terms with the fact that I may have looked like an idiot, that he may have not actually thought I was best friend material, and all the other stupid facets of self-doubt one might go through after meeting a person one admires. And I was better for it.

So that's how that went. The entire evening, from stepping off the Metra to finding the open-late-deli walking back, was a whole package I will continually open and rewrap for myself.

My second foray into the flesh-and-blood world of This American Life was this weekend at Eastern Michigan University's Pease Auditorium. Ira Glass spoke on invitation of the Ypsilanti District Library. He was onstage all by his lonesome, and his talks were not specifically TAL-related. He talked about what it's like trying to succeed in the world of creative media, rules to set for yourself, roadblocks you should not sweat, and the marks of success, notably Pepperidge Farm Milano cookies. I dragged my poor wife, who was coerced by the promise of a nice dinner and a hotel-night out, not to mention the tickets were only $10 and "I already bought two, so you have to come with me."

I was mildly skeptical that she might not enjoy the whole ordeal, at least until the show began, after which I believe that she would see the beauty of the experience. I was wrong. She was not in the least resistant to the plan, made overnight arrangements for the kids and enjoyed it through and through. She is an artist herself, a writer with talents that I, the aspiring amateur, struggle with even a basic understanding of. Things I can only express in clunky, mechanical prose, she sprinkles and dazzles into each nook and cranny of her dialogue and the overall harmony of her pieces. She laughed, she cried. So did I, but not just because of what Ira, my old friend, was saying, or the clips of his days as an NPR reporter, or the way he laughed at himself and allowed us to laugh along with him. I did so because not only had I experienced this evening which so fed my creative center, but I was sharing it with Nancy, and her center was being nourished, too, with the same spritual and emotional food. And that's something we too seldom ever experience together.

So now, though I'll probably remain the only TAL junkie in the house, both of us now share something I once believed I would only enjoy alone. Now when Ira or any of the other TAL personalities come to town, I won't be alone as I once feared. Now, it won't just be me waiting at the foot of the stage for the chance to thank a somewhat obscure, shy Jewish reporter for the way his interpretation of life has affected my own. Now I'll be doing it with a partner.

Now we're both groupies.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


Ahem. Testing 1-2-3. Is this thing on?

Seems I've been negligent of late in being honest with myself and staying on task. That's what this is, after all, Dear Reader: it's for me to stay on the straight and narrow, keep hold of my dreams and remember both that I am mortal and must live each day to the fullest as well as remember I am only mortal and must give thanks for every morning I wake. It's not here for you. Sorry.

But feel free to enjoy it anyway.

Since I updated last I had another kid's birthday party, my first real trip for business, and a birthday of my own. The new house is still largely in the same state it was when I reluctantly agreed to move even though full repairs weren't finished, the old house is still full of crap we haven't spent the time or energy to pack or purge, and I've become addicted to crack. Well, World of Warcraft anyway, but what's the difference, really? Maybe WOW is cheaper, but I can't say for sure.

I'm certainly in no state to begin sharing details on those details just yet. I am goaded into action by bad news, news I want to write about but am out of practice in doing so. I am so completely disappointed with this cruel world. So. Terribly. Cruel.

I am trying every day to make a small difference, even if it is within my own household. And I do not know if I am succeeding. In some ways I am reaching out to others, mostly kids. In Sunday School with my 3-4 year olds, in Cubs with the Tiger Scouts. But I believe I could do more. I should do more. I should share more of what I have, even though it falls short of my own expectations. I believe I should be truer to what's inside.

I'm slightly more motivating just having said it.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

A Letter to My Son

Dear Brendan,

Today, my son, you are seven years old.

If you will, allow a father his ruminations, and trust that his own patience for them will sufficiently limit their length. It's hard to believe it's been that long, that you are so big, and growing ever faster. What you were the day you were born, what you have meant to us these last 2,557 days, and what you are becoming are never so sharply in focus than the morning of your birthday, when I stand at your bedside and stroke your hair while you sleep, or the night before, when I sometimes cuddle with you and whisper how special and precious you are.

You and I both know we don't see eye to eye. I'm willing to accept that we may never share so much common ground as your siblings and I. But as we occasionally joke, I love you no matter what: when I'm angry, tired, crabby, happy; whether you're screaming or smiling at me; whether you're respecting Mommy or not. The things that make you different from me, from your brother and sister, are the things that make you more special than I ever could have hoped before I held you in my arms.

I've said before you have the biggest heart of anyone I know, and I don't think that will ever change. You are so like Mommy in your pure capacity for love and compassion, in your temper and sense of justice. I see so much of her in you.

You and I have had our share of troubled times. Unable to feed you as an infant, as I was your brother, I think I lost many precious hours. The day you rolled off the bed and fractured your skull, you were in my care. I didn't know you could roll so well, and thought there was time to brush my teeth before you needed anything else. You have always been stronger than we thought. In an effort to step over you into the bathroom (you weren't yet walking) I kicked you with my heavy work boot one day. You test my patience more than any other child I've known...or at least it fails the most with you. And last summer, we were out climbing, sharing a special afternoon together in Virginia, and you fell off that rock because I failed to catch you.

I thought I'd lost you that day, Brendan. It is the most real fear I can ever recall in my whole life.

I am so sorry for all these things.

Despite my difficulty bonding with you, I think we are a very unique pair. I think that over these and future years we will develop a respect and understanding for each other that many other father-son pairs take for granted, including the relationship I will have with your brother. I think that you will grow to be a man who understands what it is to love in the face of difficulty, who knows the purpose of a struggle in life and sees it as a challenge rather than a road block.

Today you will get a glow-in-the-dark junior sized football because I know nothing about Pokemon cards (and let's face it: neither do you) and I cannot (as I have explained) afford a RoboRaptor. I think you will like the football, but in case you don't I will allow you to throw it to me just so you can muscle me to the ground right after I catch it, or fumble it on purpose so you can recover it and make the winning touch down, even though I know you'll know I did it on purpose.

I think it's really cool that you have the first birthday in the new house. I will enjoy showing you off and asking about your school day in front of grandparents. I will enjoy talking about our Cub Scouting together. Today I hope that, through simple things, you will know that I love you.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Teaching Self-Victimization

A few nights ago we all sat down to watch the US-Mexico soccer game. We crammed into Santos' room, since he is, after all, the only real fan of professional soccer in the house, and were introduced to the world sport that we, as Americans, really have no appreciation for or understanding of. I have to admit we may be missing out on something quite cool.

So we six sat...well, except our oldest, who has even less interest in soccer than your typical adult American. The rest of us engrossed as we were, we took little notice of his disinterest. I asked if he'd like to sit down, and he indicated that he the seat I was occupying.

Here is where the scene freezes, almost. My initial response was that no, I'm sitting in this chair. As he left the room dejected, I realized what he was truly after: attention.

His request wasn't meant to find a comfortable place for his rear end, but to get throw a minor wrench in the works and be noticed, and hopefully get someone interested in doing something else with him. I was the person he came to for this.

Now of all the good things I am, something I am not is a model parent. I really have no idea how to handle most of the more subtle aspects of parenting. My first reaction to this situation is that I do not allow this child to dictate my actions, and therefore if he wants to sit with us he will find another place to do so, and if he does not he will do something else in another room. My next reaction is that he is only eight years old, and is already lacking in proper confidence and means by which to express himself and his feelings (courtesy of his parents, who also lack these things in varying degrees), and did his very best to say what he needed to me, his father. So I sat in a quandary for a slice of a second.

I decided that offering him my seat would probably have the greater effect of showing him that I noticed and cared about his feelings, and possibly also of encouraging him to spend this time with us, which I knew, as bedtime was quickly approaching, would only amount to fifteen or twenty minutes total. The scene resumed, I made the offer (which was accepted) and I squeezed in next to my wife. In hindsight, I should have offered him my lap. I'll beat myself up about that later.

After a few moments, I realized that my plan had failed. I think he perceived my concern for his feelings, but that was only good enough for so long. Now he was in the chair he asked for (not because he wanted that chair, mind you) and he was stuck doing something he really didn't want to to. His plan had failed too--that is, his plan to get someone to spend time with him. So he started hemming and hawing, doing all the unconscious things we've taught him to do that trigger concern in other people, and prompt them to ask, "What's wrong, Anthony?" And so like Pavlov's dogs, we did.

"I'm bored!" he exclaimed with an agonized voice. Here the scene changed again, skewed by the lens of our frantic dysfunctional reaction to our son's alleged distress. Right away, my wife and I reacted. It's sad and comical, really. We concern ourselves with our child's welfare so deeply that we do not even want him to be bored. Intuitively, I know that letting him alone to deal with boredome will teach him to self-stimulate, solve problems, and ultimately think on his feet. But I am very well trained, and reacted immediately before even thinking.

My brain kicked in mid-consolation, as my mouth was offering him a list of things he could do rather than sit here in the room with us. "It's okay if he's bored, honey," I said, feeling almost guilty that despite all my ideas about coloring or finishing that chapter or turning on the other TV of having a snack, here I was abandoning my firstborn child in a desert of nondiscovery. And as terrible and rediculous as it felt before it came out, suddenly the scene changed back to a linear simplicity once spoken. The lense quickly dissipated in a giant sucking sound, and all was well again. Even Anthony. Although slightly distressed at having been given free reign over the last ten minutes of his night, he just got up and trotted out, and found something to do without a fuss, which, by the way, he was quite happily into by the time we asked him to brush teeth and say goodnight to everyone.

I don't honestly know how often these scenes occur in my house every day, but I'm willing to bet it's more than I could count on one hand. Obviously, I react...we all react...with subconsciously predicted precision each time. I don't really know if this is contributing to the self-victimization of my children, but I don't feel it's healthy. I do not want them growing up waiting for someone else to tell them what to do or how to handle conflict. I want them to know what they want, get it for its own sake, and be able to deal with problems as they come. I don't want them to isolate, but I want them to be independent. By the reactions I saw in myself and my son that night, what I'm really teaching him is if someone else doesn't provide a solution for you, you can blame your negative feelings, and the consequences of actions you take because of those feelings, on that person. And I am appalled at that.

I know my only way out is to learn better how to parent myself and transfer that to the parenting of my children. I'm as guilty as anyone of self-victimization, and I need to learn to recognize the signs and stop them before the automatic action-reaction machine kicks in. So I'll be working on that, and asking for help. And hopefully, as Mr. Woodlief points out so very eloquently in his SitG post More Light, I can overcome myself and teach my children to be better, more whole human beings than me.

By the way, the final score was US 1, Mexico 0. Viva Estados Unidos!

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Stranger Than Fiction

Alright, let's talk about Lisa Nowak.

I know, I know. She's all the buzz on the national media scene. I'm usually resistant to pop news stories, especially ones that run dozens of stories per day on mostly voyeuristic subjects. But this one has me by the short hairs, so indulge me. Or not (that little 'next blog' button up top there is just for you today).

The synopsis: Lisa Nowak, a married (separated) Navy officer and NASA astronaut, drove 900+ miles in ~14 hours to confront the girlfriend (single Air Force officer Colleen Shipman) of another Navy officer and NASA astronaut (divorced William Oefelein) with whom she is known to have had at least a one-sided romantic interest. Yes, 'love triangle' is big in the news. It's better than a movie.

Truth, as they say, is stranger than fiction. Cries of wonder abound in the news coverage about what could have happened to such an accomplished woman that would drive her to such ends. We as a nation are aghast that one of our heroes has done something so unthinkably...ghetto. That's right: I think what most alarms us is that a member of this elite corps of Americans is now overqualified for an appearance on Jerry Springer.

Fact is, this is a very sad situation, and it has nothing to do with the rest of America. It has everything to do with the three adults involved and the Nowak family. If we as individuals insist on being affected by this situation, a requirement for opening our mouths (or columns, or blogs) to speak on it should be first asking ourselves why we hold certain people to higher standards and assign hero status to such folks.

While I'm not refuting that some people ought to be held to a higher standard and/or be granted hero status, I am simply saying that we need to examine the reasons before we spout off or feel betrayed.

Here are my thoughts. What Lisa Nowak has accomplished in her life is very admirable. Her bio is here, and we can all agree it's pretty impressive. Certainly anyone would be praised for wanting to achieve the things she's done, moreso for completing them. Even admission to a military academy makes one elite, let alone finishing and being granted a commission. And let me straighten out a fact: she's identified as a Navy Captain, which most folks don't realize is equivalent to Colonel in the other services--that's just one rank below General.

Maybe I'm engaging in a little hero worship of my own here. So be it.

At the end of the day, what this whole story proves to me is that no matter how accomplished, how educated, or successful we may be, none of us are immune to our humanity. We all have feelings and emotions and things that send us into childish fits. We all have weaknesses and are prone to bad judgments and mistakes. Lisa Nowak had such a fit, and made such a judgment. She was caught and put in a cage, paraded down Main Street, and is currently on display at our American Town Square. Just check your favorite news site every 10 minutes.

Before we feel sad for ourselves over our lost hero or national pride, before we feel sorry even for Captain Nowak, we ought to first consider what this has done to her family, namely her son and daughters, for whom this will be probably a life-altering, maybe life-defining, event. Lisa Nowak's greatest struggle following this will not be going to trial, possibly prison, possibly being dishonorably discharged...but reconciling with her children.

And before we blame Captain Nowak (she'll get what's coming to her, rest assured), let's take a close look at what the media is doing. True, the words I've read in the news stories over the last two days have been pretty objective and cleaned pretty well of anything human or emotional. But I have a serious gripe with the use of her mugshot as a comparison to other photos. On one side we see her NASA publicity pic, a pretty smiling woman, a woman who has done more with her life at age 43 than most people will in their whole lives, and on the other the dark haggard face of a...what are we supposed to see anyway? A criminal? A freak? A homewrecker? A skank? What does a person look like who carries these labels? Like this? Because the woman in that picture is still the 43 year old senior Navy officer with a Master's degree in aeronatical engineering who's been aboard the space shuttle. Seriously, guys. Comparing anyone's best to their worst will yield the same results. It just won't usually tear down public opinion on what we believe is a 'common' American with normal standards of behavior.

What a lot of us are looking for here, including NASA, is a cause or trigger, something they can point to and say "yes, that's what we missed, this is what we need to do differently next time." I've got news for you folks: the problem was there all along, and can never be taken away. No matter what psychological screening process astronauts are put through, every one of them will have the same issue: they are human, living human lives, with marriages and families and credit scores and debts, with qualities good and bad, with flaws and strengths.

The tragic irony of this story is that without these human qualities that make us what we are, we are nothing more than machines. Those that would hide their vulnerabilities are not brave, they are running away from something that defines them. We hold high such figures that present us with stories of unmatched dedication and perseverance, that have accomplished things in their lives we think mean something, and then we tear down those same people when their humanity emerges from behind the veil. The only time we recognize this is after we realize that a fallen hero was, in fact, just like us. How many examples do we have as a culture of the officer-president-hero-JFK's who we quietly acknowledge, after the fact, was a womanizer?

We must not take this, yet another chance, to tell ourselves that being or doing makes one person better than any other. We must resist the compelling urge to hold ourselves higher than this woman who left her family and career to do something that could potentially (and probably will) ruin the whole life she's known. If we feel better than Lisa Nowak the obsessive philanderer, we should be scolding ourselves for putting Lis Nowak the hero astronaut above us before we realized she was human.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

The Color of Love

This morning, per my habit, I looked at a couple news items online. Like most internet users, I grow increasingly immune to the various means of advertising placed on websites of all kinds. My eyes scan past the banners, the Flash animation, the cute little games, and the free iPod offers with automatic precision. Today, however, one ad did catch my eye.

It was a Sprint ad, and the first frame said something like "the colors of love." What followed were pictures of phones in the three prominent colors. I shall detail them for you:

"Forgot our anniversary" silver
"Spent too much on golf clubs" pink
"Thursday is poker night" espresso


So what have we seen here? Nice phones, yes, in admittedly attractive colors.

And what have we learned?

First, we need to assume that these phones are being marketed to men with female partners. Then we can make the following conclusions:

1) only men make such mistakes as forgetting anniversaries, or do so with characteristic frequency

2) one good way to make up for spending too much on one thing is to make a completely unplanned additional purchase

3) it is a bad thing for a man to plan to spend an evening away from his partner

4) men can make up for their boyish folly by buying their partners stylish and expensive gifts

5) women will accept such gifts as restitution for the named transgressions, and possibly many others

This is yet another example of our social understanding of men as simplistic baboons and women as fawning materialists. Is it wrong to be disgusted at these assumptions? Yes, we are all simple creatures with primal urges and instincts. But if we're going to communicate on that level, let's not pretend it's all we are. If you want to sell me a phone, I'm more likely to listen if you begin appealing to my sense of utility (a basic male quality in my opinion) than the guilt I feel at having 'wronged' my wife.

This ad is funny in the way that the Super Bowl Snickers ad was funny. There's enough media attention on this issue that I needn't go into why it was inappropriate. I admit I didn't notice any distasteful content, being the straight middle-class WASP that I am, but reading comments and thinking more I realize the truth. It's not exactly gay-bashing, but how many boys who might be questionong their sexuality were sitting on couches with their fathers, brothers, uncles, and friends, and had it confirmed that yes, being gay is an awful thing, to be remedied only by stupid acts of "manly" prowess? How many of them laughed with the crowd and were secretly crushed at seeing how the men who love them would react to a possibly inevitable truth? (And just how manly is it to rip out one's chest hair, anyway?)

Disclaimer: This whole rant might be one more example of me taking myself too seriously. If it is, then I have misjudged the world around me and the lot of you may continue living your lives, no matter how superficial, judgmental, consumerist, or shallow I might think they are.

Friday, February 2, 2007

Dirty Ball Blues

An original song by me:

Oh, I got the dirty ball blues

Every time I move my mouse
It gets stuck on the desk
If I use a pad it don't help
Makes me feel so bad

Oh I got the blues
Yeah the dirty ball blues
It's been such a long time
Think I been paid my dues

Used to be I could mouse
All around that pad
Don't matter how much or where I went
I di'n't ne'er feel so bad

Well now I bang my mouse
up and down
on the desk
I go to town
with that thang
don't do no good
seems to me
like it should


Can't make no good man
Put up with such a po', po' thang
So I fin'ly got to Best Buy
Spent me a little twang

Now my mouse is happy
It's got a lil red light
It glides around the mousepad
And feels so, so right


Thursday, January 25, 2007

Swing Low

I'd like this to be one of those blogs where intelligent men ponder their lives using wit and humor: reflecting on their successes and an occasional failure, describing their relationships with their children in glowing anecdotes, going on about the blessings of marriage, critically yet poignantly discussing world events and how their unique understanding would help us all.

But this won't be one of those blogs, because I'm not one of those men.

While it is true that I have successes and failures, beautiful children, a lovely wife, and strong opinions that I am not afraid to discuss, I am missing something. I do not hold my head high as other men do. Even those with less fortune in life, even those who live in perpetual ignorance, even those who are bitter and resentful...these men I do not feel at par with. These are men I feel inferior to.

It was said that "if a man makes himself a worm, he must not complain when he is trodden upon." I'm not complaining. But I am wondering what makes me different. It's not humility, not anymore. I used to be content to be a man who didn't toot his own horn, who knew his limits and lived within them, who was satisfied with modest blessings in life and happy to begin each day fresh. But of late, things have change. Or more accurately, I have changed.

Oh, I'm not so fundamentally different a man than I was a year ago, five years ago, even ten. I've grown, matured, to be sure, but as years pass the gaps in my person I expected to fill with experience and wisdom remain empty, even have grown deeper. This is disheartening, and sometimes, on days like today, maddening.

* * * * *

Those words were written on a different day, and I declined to post them, primarily due to fear of criticism, or perhaps revealing too much about myself, my problems, and my sensitivities. Fact is, I'm going to encounter criticism anyway, if for nothing else than my lack of attentiveness or job performance. Fact is, I'm going to reveal my weaknesses with the sudden absence of strengths--strengths everyone in my life are accustomed to.

The kind of man I am does not come to light through one blog post, one workday, or one encounter with a stranger or friend. I do believe I have more low days than I ought to, and I really can't waste time lamenting faults or mistakes or omissions of character. I need to find my way back to the path.

The kind of man I am demands that I do justice to my true self, that purer simpler self who struggles in a busy crazy confusing world; demands that I satisfy my curiosities; demands that I be honest with myself first. But what I've learned about humans tells me the Self is most often the person we lie to.

I've done a fair bit of lying to myself, but also have I seen many truths. Obviously there is still work to be done; I can only hope I am granted enough days to do it.


Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Pet Peeve

CBC News writes (here

"For at least the second time this month, the U.S. has sent one of its heavily armed AC-130 gunships to strike what are described as suspected terrorist targets in southern Somalia, the Washington Post reported on Wednesday.

"The AC-130, based on the same airframe as the workhorse Hercules transport of the Canadian Forces, can lay down withering fire from side-firing cannons and machine guns while circling ground targets."

* * * * *

Wait just one minute, CBC. The Hercules transport is an American aircraft, not Canadian. We were gracious enough to allow other countries to purchase them for their own militaries. Not just yours, and not just this aircraft. Dozens of governments fly the likes of the C-130, F-16, and KC-135 every day in defense of their own airspace, all thanks to the generosity of the American military.

So do us a favor, and if you're going to criticize America, her military, or her role across the globe, do try to refrain from taking credit for the airframe of one of the most versatile aircraft in use today--at least when it's of American design.

Oh, and you're welcome.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Balance and States of Well-Being

When I was a kid, possibly early teens, I embarked on the extraordinary effort to learn how to qualify life. I'd heard about the trendy biorhythms and emotional IQ and such, and while it seemed kitschy, it also struck me that there must be some way to measure one's internal prosperity.

What I came up with were what I called the states of well-being: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. I know these are all over now; my physical therapist brought them up in conversation one day, and my wife attended a work conference where they discussed them (as well as a fifth: synergistic, but I don't buy that one yet). But honest to God, when I was just a lad, I discovered them all on my lonesome, and for a long time I was sure nobody else knew beans about them. I guess I should have published a pamphlet or something.

Anyway, in my amateur philosophizing, I concluded that to establish what I called Balance, each state of well being (SWB) must be attended to. I aligned them on a plus sign, with each pair of complementary SWB's across from the other: physical/emotional, and mental/spirital. I arrived at the conclusion that there was a spiritual SWB not really by observation, as with the others, but by an absence of the thing. I knew people who were healthy, smart, and had it together, but who still weren't happy. I didn't know exactly what was missing, just that something was. I even resisted labling it spirituality for a long time, steeped as I was in my logical view of the world, but it's what fit, so it stuck.

Once I had a basic scheme, I tried to figure out ways to quantify each SWB. I really couldn't, not in a traditional numeric sense anyway. All I concluded was that one had to keep working, possibly improving, in order to maintain that state. But what to work on? That was my next question.

I compiled lists of things that a person might do and/or achieve to keep up with each SWB. The physical list wasn't exactly a no-brainer, I actually used the US Army Physical Fitness Manual for much of it, but it basically is stuff you ought to do to stay healthy and fit. The mental list was more work; it basically says that while you don't necessarily need to earn a PhD, you do have to do your brain justice and keep learning a variety of new things, even mundane stuff, for its own sake. Emotional well-being wasn't an easy list to populate, being very short on it myself (especially at the time) so I filled it with things I thought emotionally healthy people did. Turns out I was right on some accounts: relationships with family and friends, maintaining a personal code of conduct (I later referred to the Air Force Core Values), character, and honesty with yourself are all things I thought might be required. The spiritual list remained blank for years (actually, it's still blank on paper) until I learned about healing arts, body energy, and other such things that usually makes people roll their eyes at me.

Well today I am at the realization that I really need to get back to work on my Balance. I've had too many ups and downs the last several (insert your favorite time interval here; they all apply at the moment no matter how small) to ignore my overall health any longer. Ironically, what I need to work on the least, at my second discovery of my SWB system, is my spiritual self. The rest is buried beneath layers of dysfunction and self-neglect.

So if anyone's reading, send a nice thought my way today. I could use it in a big way. Thanks.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

A Life Without Beauty

Long ago (in high school) I had a Stagecraft class that was taught by the guy who ran the theater program. Now, let me first explain that this was no ordinary school. This is a very prominent private college-prep type school. I was a boarder on scholarship from an inner-city environment, and it was kind of overwhelming. There is a dining hall that looks like the Hogwart's Great Hall in the Harry Potter movies, statues overlooking lakes, a founding manor with a mansion and accompanying gardens and fountains, world renowned architecture, the whole works. So our school had its own performing arts building.

Now, let me explain something else. I was not a very art-minded person, which is ironic when you consider the school. This class appealed to me specifically because of the building aspect. I had to have an art class, and weaving just wasn't my bag (we had our own studio complete with a few dozen looms). Our main job in the class was to build sets for the school's productions (3-4 a year, I think) and, when showtime came, set up risers and chairs, take tickets, man the snack booth, and perform all the various technical things necessary for such an event. My specialty was spotlight.

Dr. Charles Geroux was the teacher's name. In addition to teaching us that you can build anything out of 3/4" plywood, 2x4's and drywall screws, he tried his best to present us with a world full of splendor. He assigned us speeches and presentations. Once per semester he'd bring a banjo and sing us folk songs he hoped we knew, though we never really sang along. He was a thespian, and he did his damndest to bring out the thespian in all of us via the medium of lumber and handywork.

One day during a discussion, the point of art for art's sake was brought up. Finally, I'd had enough. I did not understand the point of it all, and said so. Why does something have to be appealing or decorated or look pretty or invoke thought if it already does the thing it's supposed to to? Fountains, okay. Statues, sure. Paintings and music, brilliant. But bridges? Fences? Furniture? Give me a break.

Doc Geroux smiled calmly. You know the archway between Marquis and the Dining Hall? he asked me. Yes, I think so, I answered. Take a walk up there and read it, and come back and tell me what it says, he instructed. Of course he knew what it said already, why couldn't he just tell me? Nevertheless, it was a nice day, and being given permission to walk the campus during class was nothing I would argue with. So I walked up there, strolling casually the brick walkways, under limestone archways, past the Gateway of Friendship, through the fountained quad, between the statues of twin greyhounds near the courtyard entrance to Marquis Hall, and to my destination. And there on the arch were the words "A life without beauty is only half lived."

Now, all the arches (and there are plenty) are carved with quotations by great thinkers and such, and I'd taken very little notice during the whole of my time there. In fact, the quad, with its central fountain, the bricked walkways, the tower overlooking the campus, the green copper roof of the campus across the lake, the serenity of the gardens, had all escaped my significant notice. I know this now, but walking back I probably felt indignant, resisting the realization that was struggling within, knowing full well the lecture I was sure to receive upon my return. I did not stroll back casually as I had on the way there; I had no interest in enjoying some free time during the rigorous eight-period schedule.

When I did get back, I was asked the phrase, which I repeated. The Doc was an even better teacher than I realized. He didn't lecture me. He didn't present my folly to the class as something punishable or to be scoffed at or rejected. He allowed me to dwell on the experience, he let it soak in.

I recall very little of my childhood, even at the age this occured, but to this day that memory has never faded. I've never had to sit back and tap my chin trying to recall the phrase on the archway between Marquis and the Dining Hall. And since that day the way I saw the campus, and the world, changed. The way I lived my life changed.

Which brings me to today's tangent, a news story titled "Parents question plan to replace school tower." Atop a Dearborn middle school sits a beautiful clock that has fallen to age and disrepair. The district has already approved $416,000 from its building maintenance fund to replace the clock, and yet some parents don't think it's worth it. In one parent's words, "It's not necessary for the students. It's not really important."

What would Doc Geroux say? I think he would be appalled. Honestly, the thing is beautiful. It's even mostly still functional. I give serious kudos to the person who proposed using district funds to replace it, and to those whose approval was necessary to make it happen. The article says that even though the money to repair the clock "come[s] from the district's budget for building maintenance...some parents say they would rather spend the money on something that directly benefits students."

How is this thing not benefiting them? The money is reserved for stuff like light bulbs and contractors, not books and teacher salaries. If the clock isn't benefiting them, what about marching band, or choir? What about the sport's programs? Are they benefiting the students in any way? Sure they are. Are these ways measurable? Absolutely. Turning our kids' brains into calculators is not education. Teaching them to think critically, to see the world and call a kettle black without losing hope, to be charitable and expressive, to better humanity--this is education. Art helps provide that. If parents at Woodworth Middle School realy want to know how their majectic clock might potentially--directly--benefit their kids, they should take more than traditional academics into account.