Thursday, June 27, 2013

Stories Too Long for Facebook

Yesterday, Thumper was running off to do something in another room when I told him, "Come here and let me comb your hair, then you can do whatever you want to do." His eyes lit up, and he immediately, without a pause, said, "I can do whatever I want to do?"

Realizing my semantic mistake, I said, "No, I mean you can go do whatever it is you were going to do in there." Aerie immediately pointed out how smart he was to see the loophole, so I asked him, "Who's the smartest: you, me, or Mama?"


"Who's the 2nd smartest?"

"I'm sorry to tell you, Dad, but it's me."

"Well, am I smarter than the kitties?"

"Yes. You're 3rd smartest. Then the kitties."

So, at least I outrank the kitties.

We spent the afternoon today trying to entertain ourselves without any TV or video games. While I did dishes and changed the bedding around the house, he ran on the treadmill, jumped on the trampoline, and beat up the standup punching bag. Then we worked on learning chess. When he couldn't figure out how to beat me in less than 30 minutes, he wanted to move on, plus it was about time to start cooking dinner.

I went into the kitchen, hooked up my iPod to the portable speakers, and kind of bopped along while I cooked. I turned around and saw him in the kitchen rocking out. He works his hips, his shoulders, his head, his arms. He has rhythm. He's gone to Zumba classes with Aerie a couple of times, and people there commented on his rhythm. He jumps, bounces, throws in lots of variety. I can't begin to move like he does. But he inspires me to dance less self-consciously, at least when it's just the two of us. Maybe in time I'll dance in public like I don't care what you think.

I started this summer with difficulty, trying to remember what it was like to spend all day every day with him since he just finished his first year of school. I'm beginning to remember how to talk to him like a person instead of snapping instructions at him and yelling at him when he doesn't listen. I'm remembering how to appreciate him, his sense of humor, his charm, his perspective on the world.

We spent two nights and three days camping with four other families (an entire post of its own, if I ever get around to writing it). It was his first camping trip. I told him that for the entire course of camping, he could make his own decisions about what he wanted to do and what he wanted to eat as long as he told me when he was going into the lake and when he was leaving the campsite. With the removal of all expectations for him to behave in a certain way and all expectations for me to limit his choices, we both were completely relaxed. For the most part, he made good choices, was kind to the other kids and polite to the adults. It was so fun and so calming that I found myself wondering why I was stressed and angry and snapped at him so much. I suppose we all do better when we're treated like people and aren't yelled at.

Monday, June 3, 2013

The Professional

I like to think about story archetypes. One of the most appealing to me, for some reason, is the story of the absolutely unsurpassed professional, whose professionalism includes the rejection of personal relationships. Then, of course, he stumbles into a personal relationship that destroys his professionalism.

There is an aspect of this story that applies to other stories that I've loved: single-mindedness. I went through a period many years ago when I read Civil War histories, biographies, and autobiographies, and the characters I loved best were those that had a single-minded commitment to principle. John Mosby, Nathan Bedford Forrest, William Tecumseh Sherman, Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson... These were the men who were extraordinarily successful because they were committed to achieving their purposes to the exclusion of all other considerations. Later, I read about Che Guevara, and completely independent of his political views, I loved him because of his absolute commitment to what he believed.

I think my admiration stems from the complete opposition to myself that such commitment represents. I can't even say for sure what it is I believe, let alone commit to that belief with a passion that excludes all else. This is also why I admire military men and women. I could never imagine myself joining the military and committing my life to an ideal. There's not much for which I'd willingly die. My wife. My son. The circumstances in which such a sacrifice would be necessary are limited, though.

I started thinking about this again after watching Drive this week. Ryan Gosling's professional driver who is undone by his affection for a little girl reminded me so much of Jean Reno's professional assassin who is undone by his affection for a little girl in, of course, The Professional. Assassins apparently have a weakness for spunky girls on their own, as evidenced by The Man from Nowhere. This "assassin who lets a little girl into his heart" theme occurs again in The Warrior's Way, but the warrior isn't quite destroyed in that one. Sometimes, though, it's romantic rather than some substitute for paternal love, as with Robert DeNiro, undone by his affection for a woman in Heat.

I don't know where I'm going with this, but I like stories of pure commitment to a single purpose. And I like them better when that pure commitment is unraveled by love, even when the hero's death is the ultimate result.

What does that say about me?
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