Monthly Archives: October 2016

Someday Never Comes

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Some of you may already know already that my day job is not a day job. It is, in fact, a nights & weekends job. I’m one of those lucky perpetual adolescents who can make a living doing theater. This means none of my pants are new, I know which Ramen is the good Ramen, and my work schedule ebbs & flows like the leak in my water filter. Once every other month or so I work like a madman for 2 weeks, then we open the play and everything settles into a routine, and I work more like a congressman.

For those two weeks of crazy, everything gets put off like a supreme court nominee. Sleep? After opening night. Dishes? After opening night. Laundry? Well, look who thinks he’s the queen of England. Shall I fetch the stain stick your majesty?

All this is by way of saying that I’m professionally suited to putting stuff off. To everything there is a season. And that season is after opening night, dammit.

This life-triage gets plenty of use as a parent. Except instead of “after opening night” it’s either “after he goes to sleep” or “sometime in the next 20 years.”

I remember that first month back to work after Little Man made his entrance (or, technically, his exit) into the world. If I showed up to work on time, fully dressed and functionally awake, everything else could wait.

And now for something completely different.

A few months ago there was a huffpo article making the rounds on the facetagrams and the chatsnaps. It basically told all the creative types to chill out. If you’re having writer’s block, then relax, wait, you’re inspiration just hasn’t come. If you’re struggling with a painting that’s not coming together, then it just isn’t the time. The planets – the article said, in so many words – may not be aligned for you know. Don’t worry about it, the article said. Things will get better for you, just wait. The article said.

Which is bullshit.

As a writer, I’m going to tell you something and I want you to hear me when I say this: never, ever give a writer an excuse not to write. We have those. We have all of those already. If you’re having writer’s block, the last thing you should do is not write. What you need to do is not think. Copy somebody else’s stuff for a couple pages, write stream of consciousness, write what you’ve already written backwards. Work the muscle lightly till the cramp clears. If you don’t think your novel is any good, then write a bad novel. Write the worst novel known to literature. Because, unlike waiting for your inspiration, at the end of the process at least you will have written a novel.

And I’d extend this to painting, or wood-turning, or seed-portraiture or whatever discipline you’re in: if you’re struggling while making art, then make more art. Make crappy art fast and in great quantities for no one but yourself. Life will change – whatever circumstances you think are blocking you will change eventually. But then something else will come up, and instead of developing habits and routines and tricks that keep you creating you’ve been waiting for the damn planets to align.

Which brings us back to parenting.

There is no excuse like a baby. Especially for the introvert home body. Hygiene, appearance, courtesy, coherent speech – failures in any or all of these areas can totally be excused by a baby. Basically, a baby lets you look and act like a homeless dude.

And you can ride that train. It’s there. You earned it. But I found, as I was out in the world, interacting with other humans, that patience, like toilet paper, will eventually run out. And, like toilet paper, it never happens at a good time. There is no answer to the baby card once it’s played, it is the crane kick to vanquish all cobra kai. But only a jerk walks around in crane stance waiting to drop people.

There comes a time for every parent when the kid can no longer be an excuse for not having your act together. That time can be when the kid’s 18. Or when he’s 8. Or when he’s 8 months. There’s no right answer here, but, as with creating art, if you’re waiting for things to get better, they won’t. You’re always gonna worry. You’ll never have enough sleep again. The list of household chores, and emails/texts/calls to return, the pile of dishes – it never gets shorter, not for more than a few hours. It’s not about the circumstances changing, it’s about you. It’s about digging deeper, adding 5 minutes on to your allotted commute to make sure the stains are small and mostly out of sight. It’s about taking time after work to hang out with your coworkers even though you’ll be up in 4 hours. It’s about being a guy who supports the people around him rather than someone needing support.

And it sucks. And it can only be accomplished in tiny, steady steps.

I think what that huffpo article was trying (and failing) to do was teach people to forgive themselves. I think, as parents, we come to drown ourselves in the needs of others, in the expectations of lists and bills and obligations. It’s a drastic thing to completely surrender the idea that your life is about you, instead of this other little person. And eventually you do catch up to yourself, and then you try to implement these changes that I’m talking about. You try to return to some semblance of functional adult. And I’m just gonna tell you now: you’re going to fail. You’re gonna fail a bunch. It’s gonna be like junior high again. But it’s okay. Forgive yourself. Everybody fails. Batman failed, like, lots of times. Try again. Keep trying. Everybody’s trying, nobody really has it figured out, they’ve just been trying for longer.

But don’t wait for the perfect set up. It’s not coming. Anybody who tells you different is over 40 and does their parents’ laundry for an allowance.

 

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I Always Feel Like Somebody’s Watching Me

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Whenever I watch one of those Marvel SHIELD movies with the flying command centers and the jive talking robots I always cringe. But not in the places you’d think.

Anytime Samuel L Jackson talks to the computer, or somebody monkeys with some touchy-glass-holographic-interface-thing, I just think what a bitch that must be when it freezes up. You gotta turn it off and then wait a few seconds and then turn it back on again. Meanwhile Hydra’s gone and… the dark elves are…or, um aliens, I forget who’s gonna destroy the world this time. Or you say “shields!” but the newest upgrade has a bug in it and thinks you said “Biel!” and so does a search on Jessica Biel. On like, Bing, because who’s got time to reset the factory default?

And that’s just how it will break, that’s not even getting into Mr. SHIELD computer presenting Samuel L Jackson with different eyepatch manufacturer options based on his previous orders.

All this “smart,” cloud-based tech, all this business of your phone talking to your car or your fridge or your pants, it all just peppers me with angst, reduces me to a pimento loaf of misery. I’m not overly given to paranoia, but I shudder at the thought of all the eyes and algorithms keeping tabs on me and my browsering.

Of course, this whole fear of constant observation is a little odd considering I’m a parent. You want constant observation? Live with a baby.

The first time we sat little Man down at the table, he picked up his little spoon in his little paw, he scooped up some mashed avocado and popped it into his mouth. No one taught him that. No one explained it to him. They are always watching, cataloguing, filing away those things you do unconsciously so they can try it out later, when they have full control of their fingers.

If you’re lucky, if you’ve done the hard work on the ground, your kid might listen to you, might do what you say. But whether they listen to you or not, I absolutely guarantee that they will do what they see you do.

I see it in myself, a mixed-trait smoothie of both parents. If you can’t see it in yourself then you haven’t looked.

It becomes quite a rabbit hole, entirely apart from the nature vs. nurture discussion. Just the question of how far back, exactly, does my nose-picking tendency go? How many of my grandfathers before me didn’t answer questions if they were thinking about something? Is there some county in West Ireland where it first occurred to somebody to martyr themselves by not letting anyone else do any dishes?

But so listen, though. Reality is reality, and whatever it might do to your great-great-granddaughter’s ability to negotiate the sale of her start-up, the Little Man’s gotta have pants on if he’s going to get on the bus, on way or another. We can’t become paralyzed by the generational ramifications of every dumb tic we have. At the same time, our choices, our words, our actions all have effects, sometimes far reaching. Abuse begets abuse, self and otherwise.

My son is watching me when we’re out in the world. How I, as a man, treat women will influence how he, as a man, treats women as he grows older. If he has a son, then how I act towards women here, now, will affect how women are treated 50 years from now.

This kind of responsibility can be overwhelming, but then with great responsibility comes great power. All the dickish behavior I see in the world, all manner of pettiness and stupidity, it’s all within my power to counteract. If I show my son that I’m not a victim of my environment, if I teach him to act, not react, not to make excuses and not to give anyone else any either. If I can do this, then maybe my grandchildren can look back at my time with the uncomprehending disgust with which my generation views Jim Crow America.

And so, now that it’s almost 2am, and Little Man’s asleep. I’ll just watch a quick episode of Jersey Shore and then delete my browser history. I have to be the man I want him to be.

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Be Prepared

When I was a younger, more fiscally solvent man I spent a year teaching in Bangkok, Thailand. I was just out of college, full of debt and pretense but largely free of stuff. Moving from dorm room to dorm room for four years doesn’t encourage a fella to accumulate much beyond tolerance for squalor.

When I moved across 2 continents and an ocean for no less than a year, I traveled with 2 big duffel bags and a guitar case. There’s something exciting about traveling light – a little scary, a little bold. Every pair of underwear you leave at home gets you closer to Rambo.

If I had it to do over again, I’d pack even less. Like towels. I brought towels. Why did I bring towels? Thailand has towels. I can confirm this. One thing I didn’t bring was a first aid kit.

I don’t think I’ve ever packed a first aid kit on a trip.

I bring this up because I was on a trip to the University of MN Landscape Arboretum recently and we’d packed a first aid kit. And we needed it.

Here’s the story – Little Man’s first grade class was on a field trip. I was given the honor of chaperoning. One of the kids to a spill and did a face plant into gravel. Bumps occurred, bandages were administered, and the day was ours

This all drove home a fact which I’d often observed but never articulated: I moved to Bangkok. Bangkok. For a year. And I did it in 2 duffel bags. Today, my family of 3 will go for an overnight at the grandparents’ in the same amount of luggage. If not more.

It’s easy to be distressed by this until you realize it’s all a matter of expectation, a matter of what’s reasonable.

When you’re an adult, traveling alone or with other adults, it’s reasonable to expect that you won’t be bleeding from your head. Unless you’re going to Syria. It’s also reasonable to expect that neither you nor your companions will poop your pants.

When you travel with someone who only recently needed two hands to show you their age, it is not reasonable to expect such things. It is not advisable. You are courting disaster. Don’t f**king do it, is what I’m saying.

You pack differently depending on what you expect. How you pack for work is not how you pack for the zombie apocalypse. Even if you’re resourceful, you want to be prepared. If MacGuyver and Jason Bourne had a kid they would have a diaper bag, at least one change of clothes, (for the kid, maybe a shirt for themselves), a wet bag, a snack, a few towels/rags, the requisite toys, and coffee just to go on a grocery run.

Any parent will testify – you don’t have to be a boy scout, but you damn well better be prepared.

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