Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Invisible Man

In junior high school and high school, I tried to be an invisible man. With rare exceptions, I kept a low profile in classes; I talked to few students. I knew only a handful of people, and only a handful knew me. For some of those years, I was spending more time with middle-aged drug addicts than I was with members of my graduating class.

Aerie decided to finally hop on the bandwagon this week and join Facebook. As she was setting up her account and looking for people she knows, she scrolled through the list of people from her high school graduating class. She read the names and marveled at the people she hadn't thought of in years: "In know him! I remember her!" So I decided to do the same. I scrolled through the list of my high school graduating class. I only recognized two names. And one of those, I can't remember anything but the name. The picture rings no bells.

So I succeeded. I was the invisible man. Aerie said, "So go back and look through your senior year book." I don't have one. I didn't get one. I didn't go to graduation, either. I was ready for my school days to be over, and I didn't think I'd ever care to remember any of it. And now, I don't.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Rainy Day Picnic

The boy's got some separation anxiety issues right now, and I wonder: is dropping him off at child care at the gym a root cause, or is his dislike of the gym just a symptom of an age-appropriate behavior right now? I mean, did me leaving him with strangers for an hour 4 times over the last week make him freak out over the thought of me leaving the room, or is this just a developmental stage he's in right now?

I have to admit I was pretty proud of him on Saturday, though. He handled a completely oddball situation with patience, grace, and humor. We went to see BFF's dad do a routine at the 32nd Annual O. Henry Pun-Off World Championships. I considered leaving the stroller behind, because I usually just let the boy roam free. I'm glad I brought it. It was sprinkling when we parked the car. I put him in the stroller so I could put up the cover and keep the rain off his head. It was drizzling when we arrived at the O. Henry Museum. Then suddenly it was pouring, and we were huddling beneath a canopy, chatting with BFF's dad, waiting for the rain to move on. Actually, we were sort of under the seam between two canopies, getting soaked anyway.

Thumper pointed out several times that it was raining. He kept peering out from under the stroller cover to look at me, as if to say, "It seems like an odd thing to do, but OK." We waited. And we waited. And we waited. The rain slowed slightly, and I decided I'd take Thumper back to the car, dry him off, and picnic with him in the shelter of the vehicle while we waited for the rain to let up, and then we'd return to the museum.

BFF's dad, whom I have known since I was six, offered to watch Thumper while I sprinted to the car so that I could double park it next to the museum, thus saving the boy from a three-block sprint in the rain. Given our recent gym experiences, I wasn't sure how that would go, but I said OK and told Thumper I'd be right back. As soon as I said the words, he gave me a nervous, "Daddy...?" I told him again I'd be right back, and he started crying. So we sprinted back to the car together.

And that's when I realized that I was proud of him. Aside from the one moment of panic, when he likely thought, "Oh crap, Daddy's leaving me with total strangers again!" he not only handled adversity, he enjoyed it. When we got to the car, I put him under an awning while I unlocked the doors. As I turned back toward him, I saw a huge grin on his face. "Oh my goodness!" He said. "Wet! Raining!" I put him in the front seat while I fished the diaper bag and our lunch bag out from under the stroller and put the stroller in the trunk. When I got in with him, he was still grinning.

So we ate our lunch in the car while the rain came down and the windows fogged up. We chatted about the rain. He asked me what it was on the windows, and I told him it was steam. He told me it was clouds. He hasn't been much of a lunch eater lately, but he ate the biggest lunch he's eaten in weeks. Maybe months. We shared a pear. It was green. I tried to get him to talk on camera, but of course he clammed up.

Anyway, I try to remember, when I get annoyed at how clingy he is with me, when he's crying for me as Mama puts him to bed, when he's practically begging me not to leave him in that room while I go work out, that when I'm with him, he's remarkably secure, and admirably flexible. Thanks, Thumper. It was a pretty good day.

Monday, May 11, 2009

An Informal Introduction

For those of you keeping score, first I freaked out because my longtime friend discovered and was enthusiastic about Landmark Forums. Then I thought well, hey, maybe he's getting over it. But he didn't really. He periodically calls me as part of finishing another seminar or invites me to attend one. At one point, he told me he didn't want me to do it just for him, only if I wanted to, at which point I said, well, I don't. And I thought that was the end. But it wasn't.

He offered two sessions at his home of an "informal introduction" to Landmark. He offered food. He offered child care. He offered two different dates. So I said, sure, I'll come to one. And I did. I still have no interest in Landmark, but I thought if I finally actually attended a Landmark event, he'd stop asking me. And this one was free, so I'd never have a better opportunity.

I was nervous, because I had no idea what to expect. Would there or would there not be a professional "facilitator?" Would I be the only one to show up?

I went early, for lunch. He grilled squash from his garden and burgers not from his livestock. We chatted. He's added two emus and a beehive to his little farm. The emus are supposed to be protective, driving coyotes and other predators off from the chickens, sheep, and goats. He borrowed a donkey for awhile for that same purpose, but it was noisy and under-appreciated by his neighbors.

Then two guys showed up. They turned out to be the volunteer facilitator and the volunteer assistant to the facilitator, who didn't say much but was there to keep the facilitator "on script" and on time. Hmm. And then, thank God, another of BFF's friends showed up, someone I'd never met before but who turned out to be friendly, outgoing, and talkative. I wouldn't be the only one in the probing glare of the bright Landmark lights!

So how did it go, and what was said? Oh, I don't know. Before I went, I thought I was going to do this whole big blog entry about it, but I don't know if it's worth the energy. I don't feel like it's quite as culty as I originally did. It's certainly big business, though. What's most amazing about it is the fervor it creates in its (members? followers? attendees?). The facilitator and his assistant insisted that they were there on a volunteer basis, receiving no compensation or incentives for being there. The facilitator was passionate, as was BFF. Even the nearly-silent assistant to the facilitator opened up at the end with an extremely impassioned speech about the power of Landmark and how it has changed his life.

So what's the gyst of it?

"In this giant pie chart, this little sliver is what you know you know. This little sliver is what you know you don't know. And THIS giant chunk is what you don't know that you don't know."

"Your past has nothing to do with who you are. Your past has nothing to do with your future.... If your past has nothing to do with your future, then why does your future look exactly like your past? Because you are living your past into your future."

"You are hearing and seeing everything through filters that you have installed over a lifetime of experiences."

"On day three, we teach you a technique for completing your past and taking it out of your future and putting it back into your past."

"Create a possibility for yourself. Become that possibility."

etc., etc. Essentially harmless pop-psych aphorisms that under a three-day intensive pseudo-group-therapy experience that's guided by a strong and doubt-free personality, with lots of shared stories of pain and humiliation, personal epiphanies start popping around the room like flash bulbs and many people begin to believe that they've lived through a powerful experience.

Since my first exposure to Landmark two years ago, I can't helping thinking of Sybok whenever I think of Landmark. Of course, you know who Sybok is, right? Of course you do. He's Spock's half-brother, the one who hijacked the Enterprise in Star Trek V in order to fly it to go meet God. He builds an army of followers by freeing them of their pain. If you're an impatient sort, jump to about 2:10.

Even Dr. McCoy becomes a devotee after being forced to share his memory of being unable to cure his father and subsequently euthanizing him. By sharing his pain with Sybok, he becomes free of it. But Kirk won't give in. He insists that his pain is his own, part of what defines him, and he doesn't want to be free of it.

Or something like that. I'm going on my memory of a movie I saw 20 years ago. Anyway, that's Landmark. I participated in the shortened version of the Forum that was the "informal introduction." I was honest in sharing something personal. I explored it through their worksheets and discussions just as they wanted. And then I didn't register. I told them that Landmark's heavy focus on recruitment made it suspect in my eyes. I told them that to me, that kind of personal exploration and discovery was part of a lifetime's journey and couldn't be achieved over a weekend. I told them I didn't think there was a magic pill for freeing oneself from one's less-pleasant memories. I told them I quit my job and don't have hundreds of dollars to blow on a self-help seminar.

They told me that yes, the recruitment aspect puts a lot of people off. They told me it wasn't a magic pill, it was a set of tools. The assistant facilitator told me, and yes those quotes are intentional, it was "the quickest and easiest path to spiritual evolution." I did not tell him that to me, "quick and easy" and "spiritual evolution" aren't compatible concepts.

So there you go. With this technique, I am completing my experience with Landmark and putting it into my past.

I Needed a Bump

Since Aerie's foot surgery, some things have fallen off the priority list. She's doing much better now, and I'm trying to get myself back on track, but it's hard. I've gained a few pounds; I can't understand how that happened since I more or less stopped working out and ate and drank whatever I wanted. When I did work out, back pain really affected my intensity and my motivation to do it again anytime soon. I wanted to find a yoga class to help with the back pain and refocus my attention on health, but cost and childcare were both stumbling blocks. So I started looking into yoga studios and gym memberships. Yoga studios didn't have childcare. Austin Kula Yoga had a toddler class at the same time as an adult class, but that doubled the cost, plus it's a long drive.

I was surprised by what I found at the YMCA, though. A month's membership costs the same as five classes at Kula, and it includes much more, like child care, and Aerie can take advantage of it, too, whenever she stops hobbling. So on Saturday, we joined the YMCA!

Thumper and I made our inaugural trip today. Yoga classes didn't fit into our schedule for today or tomorrow, but I should be able to give that a try by Wednesday. Today I stuck to weights and cardio. Thumper and I talked about going to the gym! He was excited about going to the gym! Let's go to the gym! Of course, he had no idea what going to the gym meant. I've never just dropped him off with strangers and then disappeared for an hour, so I wasn't sure how he'd handle it. When I came back he was sitting by himself, sucking his thumb and staring off into space. I caught his attention, waved and said hi, then stepped to the counter, out of his sight line, to sign him out. In those five seconds, he completely lost it, turning into a sobbing wreck. I asked how he did, and the woman at the counter said, "Not too bad, for a first-timer." I'm not sure what that meant.

For me, it felt good to get back into a gym. I had a Gold's Gym membership years ago, but I let it lapse because of the expense. I've been working out at home on my own ever since, and it felt good to be in a roomful of equipment along with a bunch of other like-minded people. I was a little surprised how crowded it was at 11:00 a.m. on a Monday. I'm looking forward to experimenting with times to find out when is my best shot of not standing in line waiting for a bench to use with the free weights.

Motivationally speaking, I'm hoping this will be a good thing for me. I need it, before I gain back all the weight I've lost. When I was sticking to the Weight Watchers, I had my most successful weight loss, but I really didn't like doing it at all. And psychologically, I think it should help me with the drinking, too, because I'm rationalizing the monthly expense by telling myself that the booze portion of our budget has now been re-assigned to the gym membership, so I can no longer afford to blow all that money on booze. That way we can afford the gym membership because we won't actually be spending any more than we already are. Win-win!

Saturday, May 2, 2009


No wonder it's only playing at one theater in the entire Greater Austin area. I mean, Jesus. You're going to be all particular about sticking to the details of the comic in so many little ways, and then decide to totally go off the reservation when it comes to the single most important plot point of all? Really? I mean, what the hell? Why, why? You couldn't devote 15 more minutes to exposition on the entire raison d'etre? I mean, it's like adapting MacBeth and deciding to leave Lady MacBeth out of it entirely. And while the casting of Dan and Laurie and Malcolm and even Rorschach were perfect, who the hell picked Veidt? And Big Figure? Is Danny Woodburn the only little person working in Hollywood these days? Man. Disappointing. And almost so not disappointing. Except for, you know, the single most important plot point in the entire friggin' story.
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