Wednesday, May 15, 2013


I had several things on my to-do list for today, so naturally, I did none of them and spent almost all of the elementary school hours reading old blog posts. It seemed like a self-indulgent thing to do, but I couldn't stop. 2007 and 2008 were two of the most complex and fulfilling years of my life. I was struck by the difference between the me of five and six years ago and the me of today. I was engaged. I was excited. I thought deeply about what I was doing and wanted to tell people about it. I was smart and funny, and I loved my job, even when it was hard and confusing and exasperating. Looking back at him, I liked that me. A lot.

That's why I think I really need to get a job.

Aerie and I agreed when Thumper started school that there was value to me staying home even with him in school. It lets out at 2:40, after all, and a couple of times a month at least there's a day off for a holiday, a teacher work day, a bad weather makeup day. I was excited that it would give me time to pursue other interests, particularly writing. The Great American Novel would at last be finished started. The house would at last be clean. Additional money would be made from all those work-from-home hours I'd be putting in.

But mostly I've been watching TV and movies, reading books, and listening to audiobooks. I haven't even kept up with my exercise and diet routines. I look back at how engaged and excited I was, how every developmental stage was thrilling and new, and I realize how removed I am from that kind of energy now.

I need to get a job.

Summer's almost upon us, so I think we'll do a last hurrah on the whole stay-at-home dad thing. We'll revisit the dads' group play dates. Though the cast of characters has changed somewhat since we were regulars and Thumper is likely to be the old man of the group, it will be nice to see old friends again, both his and mine. We have another friend who has grand plans for play dates and cooperative child care to fill in the days between kindergarten and first grade, and we'll throw in with them as well.

There's a job that I've been waiting and hoping to see open itself to me like a a flower in the morning sunlight, but it hasn't yet, and there's no telling if or when it ever will. If it does miraculously hand itself over to me this summer, I'll happily take it and make other arrangements for Thumper, but if it doesn't, when school starts again in the fall, I'll start looking for work again in earnest.

I'm not being the best me that I can be, and with complete freedom, with no pressure from my incredibly loving, understanding, and patient wife, I can't seem to push myself to be better in the ways that I know I need. It's time that I got back to work and contributed to the family in more tangible ways, like income, and retirement benefits. And not spending entire days doing not a damn thing.

Friday, May 10, 2013

I Don't Hate You, But I Kind of Do

A few days ago, a friend linked to this video based on an excerpt from a commencement speech given by David Foster Wallace. I usually sigh and roll my eyes over internet videos longer than 3 minutes or so, but this one is worth every second of its 9 1/2 minutes. I've been thinking about it all week. I can't fathom how I can be so inconstant myself (sometimes deeply in love, sometimes deeply annoyed, sometimes kind, sometimes selfish, sometimes patient, sometimes incredibly short of temper) and yet so unable to remember that other people are no more constant than I. The guy who cuts me off in traffic is no more permanently defined by his moment of selfishness and impatience than I am by mine when I occasionally do the same, and yet I immediately classify him by that action: "Jackass!" If my son learns any obscenities from me, he learns them in the back seat of the car when I'm driving.

These past couple of weeks, I was listening to Alexander Adams read A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway. Hearing Frederick Henry and Catherine Barkley gush over each other in their small, quiet months together amidst the chaos of the world around them, I felt even more deeply in love with my wife, more grateful for her as a sanctuary. For a time. But a moment later, despite years of history, I am suddenly, disproportionately annoyed as hell by some inconsequential action. Knowing long before it comes just how the story is going to end (because how can it not? But maybe it won't. But how can it not?), I feel closer to my child and the undeserved luck of his healthy birth. But still, I'll snap at him all day long for small irritations. Why?

I also watched God Bless America this week, a mediocre movie that is just as sensationalistic and dehumanizing as the the pop culture that it purports to criticize. While watching it, I thought, "But there are no people that deserve to die!" even while chiding myself that yes, there are some people that deserve to die. Not Kardashians, certainly, but maybe someone that would kidnap teenage girls, keep them captive for years, raping them over and over and over again, yes? Deserve to die? And yet human. With thoughts and feelings and history and circumstances.

I want very much to be a better man, but for some reason, there is no such thing as ever after.

Mr. Wallace, who not insignificantly decided to end his own life, points out that it is a choice to think of others as just as human as yourself, and yet, I can't understand why making that choice is so hard, and never gets easier, day in and day out. It's a choice that must be made again and again, ad infinitum, and so many times in any given day, it's easier, or at least more appealing, to choose dehumanization.

And why is it so much harder to make that choice while driving, or while tediously working one's way through the grocery store?

I don't want to hate you. I really don't. But sometimes, I kind of do.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Living in Suburbia with a Sociable Child

I was interviewed this afternoon for a potential "featurette" or some such thing in a local fitness magazine. They're planning a Fathers' Day theme for their June issue and are focusing on my stay-at-home dads' group. The focus is dads staying fit with their kids. Or something.

With my up-and-down weight loss/gain history, I'm probably not the best guy to interview about staying fit, and I found myself answering her questions about how the group has affected my life with how I've learned to be more sociable and open to strangers. Much of that has to do with Thumper and his love of talking to anyone and everyone more than it has to do with the group, but some of it is related to meeting new people with a common thread to their choices and lifestyles. There is value in relationships developing from the "we are pre-made friends because we belong to the same group, so we might as well talk to each other" aspect of strangers coming together because of similar choices.

Perhaps some of it is living in a neighborhood with a relatively high percentage of resident owners vs. rental properties, where the same people see each other over the years walking, driving, checking the mail, swimming at the neighborhood pool. Perhaps some of it is Thumper entering the school system, and parents seeing each other again and again at school drop off and pick up, volunteering, and other school events.

But honestly, with no disrespect to friends and neighbors: I sometimes miss the complete anonymity of living childless in Boston. For my morning commute, I would put on headphones and sunglasses, put my nose in a book, and have absolutely zero expectation of engaging in small talk with strangers on the subway. I would go to the grocery store and never run into friends of friends or acquaintances. I was invisible, unknown, anonymous, and it felt safe. Secure.

It could be lonely, too.

Now I have friends, neighbors, acquaintances. I have a network of people that I sometimes help and that sometimes help me. We share childcare. Our kids play together in backyards and playgrounds. We get together for potlucks, drink beer, and watch our kids ride bikes and play the didgeridoo.

Well, OK, that didgeridoo thing's only happened once. So far.

Looking back on the play group, and the journey so far with my son who is so much more outgoing and confident than I remember being when I was a child, I've moved quite a distance from the awkward 13-year-old who was sure that everyone else in school was working with a script that he never received. I chat with strangers at the park. I make small talk with friends in the grocery store parking lot. I introduce my wife to the parents of Thumper's classmates that we run into at the pool, and my heart doesn't stop, the world doesn't end, I only want to hide a little bit, and everything is pretty much all right.

Invisible still appeals to me, though.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Red State

If you came here from Google because you just watched Kevin Smith's Red State, and you can't for the life of you figure out what "why did you shine the direct?" means, I'm hear to tell you that I did the same thing, and then suddenly had the epiphany that it was "shy on the direct," as in, "why did you balk on following the direct order?" The interviewer is asking John Goodman's character, "Why didn't you follow orders and kill everyone?" to which John Goodman replies with a long story about two gentle old dogs who fight to the death over a turkey leg? And maybe he also resigns after getting a promotion? I don't know. This is the only Kevin Smith movie I know that's not full of strange, unnatural, high-speed dialog. I didn't hate it, though. Also: Michael Parks is awesome.
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