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.