Saturday, December 8, 2007

Formational Event #44

After reading my blog from yesterday, it amazes me how pompous I can sound sometimes, without meaning to. And honestly, I didn’t mean to. Sometimes writing the blogs is in itself an ego boost. But when the boost goes over the edge into ego-tism, it’s time to reign back, and change perspectives.

The key element of the previous formational event that I casually overlook is the fact that someone intervened on my behalf. Without my Uncle having spoken up for me, I could’ve cried ‘til the cows came home, making the others around me angrier and more upset, and setting myself up for a long and unpleasant cross country trip, I have no doubt. I inherited a stubborn streak from my mother. But the simple act of someone outside of that dynamic, made the difference.

And in fact, almost every significant achievement made “on my own” was, in careful reflection, aided by an outside party. I got my first job through a teacher setting me up with an internship, and my second major career change was initiated through my sisters actions. I went to school through my parent’s funding. And before that, I got a quality education through their actions to get me as one of the first students inducted into the Metco program, a fledgling program through which kids in urban areas were bussed out to suburban schools. Without that base, I would not have had the AP classes that enabled me to start college a year early, when the Regan administration was cutting funding. Without the funding, I would not have been able to afford art school. And so on and so on. I did the work, sure. But I got the start on someone else’s shoulders. So I wanted to take a moment to appreciate that, here.

I get by with a little help from my friends.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Formational Event #8

I’m writing something that is forcing me to analyze what I call formulating events in my character. These are key and significant junctures I can identify in my past which, for good or ill, have helped formulate my world view. Thought I’d start to share some of them, here.

I’m six or seven years old, and my mother and I are making her semi-annual pilgrimage from Massachusetts to Indiana, for a visit with her sister and her father, my aunt and my grandfather. It’s a long trip by car, hours of staring, bored, at the open road while she tried to engage her sullen son in conversation. Often I’d just curl up in the back seat and sleep.

The moment in question is at the end of the trip. We’re packing up to go, and the luggage which fit into the trunk on the way won’t fit there anymore, with the addition of presents and other various odds and ends collected from family. She, my aunt, and my uncle have all tried various configurations. With each successive persons attempts, I’ve watched silently, sure of the solution to the puzzle. Finally my mother gives up, ready to be on the road. Her solution is that we’ll fit the odd bag in the back seat, rather than take up any more of everyone else’s energy. But I want my turn to try. Aside from the fact that I’m sure I know the solution to the puzzle, the back seat of her little Toyota is my domain, my respite from the road, and I’m unwilling to share it with a bulky hardtop suitcase. Besides, again, I know how to make it fit.

My mother is tired by that point, and has already given up. She’s found a solution, and is ready to go. I’m being difficult, in her eyes, wanting to play a grown up game that will waste more time. She says no, moving the bag toward the back seat.

I burst into tears, last resort for a boy too big to do so, out of frustration at not being taken seriously. I had waited for my turn. And I was certain I could solve the problem. I could make it work. But I am being refused the opportunity. After a few anguished moments, my mother is finally talked into letting me try as the lesser of two evils.

I move the bags around, like the pieces of a puzzle, and slide the last bag into place,. The lid of the trunk closes quickly, to, as I recall, the astonishment of the adults surrounding me, in less than three minutes.

It’s a formational event because it taught me some things that I carry to this day:

First, no one will ever believe you have an answer unless and until you show them. One has to prove themselves every day, even to those you assume should know better.

Second, that waiting your turn will not cut you any slack, nor gain you respect. It’s fair, but as many parents teach pretty early, the world doesn’t often reward fairness. You have to make a choice sometimes between being rude and being right. I think the corresponding axiom goes something like, “better to ask forgiveness than permission.

Third, that squeaky wheels get greased. But as one gets older, I think how much one is willing to squeak goes down proportionally. It’s embarrassing, attention drawing, and potentially mortifying, to squeak too loudly. But when the alternative is silent frustration and turmoil, better to make some noise.

And finally, (while it’s not always the case) most often, I can do that which I believe I can do. That is to say, I will most often achieve what I set out to achieve, when such an achievement is a conscious effort, a goal. Whether anyone else believes in me, I believe in myself.

Hope to share a few more in the coming weeks. Invite others to do the same.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

The End (5 of 5)

Beer greases the wheels of conversation, and helps us get to truth. But too much grease makes those wheels skid all over the road. It’s like the Dirty Harry line: “A man’s got to know his limitations.” At least I think it was Dirty Harry. I kind of squint when I say it.

I was aware of what a crutch and potential hazard alcohol can be at these kind of events. At a previous reunion, I watch with fascinated horror as a few people drank too much, and a recently divorced classmate and her still-married ex-boyfriend reconnected on the dance floor, and later in the back of the room. It was a bit cringeworthy. I don’t think I saw them this time. I wasn’t anxious to duplicate that kind of performance.

I spent the first 20 minutes saying hello to people with a joy tinged with desperation as I tried to move toward the bar to get a beer. Having something in my hand just makes me more comfortable. I know what I’m doing with the hand, then, and can focus better on what I’m saying. Stupid as that sounds, I’m a keen believer in, and student of. body language. I know how to identify and project the signals that project the image I want. I didn’t need a glass for that. But also I needed the beer to give me a feeling of comfort, which in itself is a guilty admission. But I needed that familiar taste in my mouth to help me through the split second box sorting that I knew needed to occur. Which box to pull out? Which to put down? With that first glass in hand, I immediately started to feel better. I nursed that for the next hour and a half, but the immediate sensation of the glass in hand was what did the trick.

I rather thought I would have a point to this, when I arbitrarily decided there were five things I wanted to write about. But like the thoughts nearer the end are getting more random and disjointed. I think that’s because I fear getting to the point; the “what did this, or does this mean?” part. So, maybe I won't, here.

The wrap-up is this: I had a good time. It was an occasion to pause for a few seconds and see where I've been, maybe take a look at where I am, maybe get a handle on where I'm going. But mostly elements of the first. And that, I think, is the real point; to stop and look and say to all those people "Maybe you're not with me anymore, maybe we've moved well past each other, but still you should know, you are part of who I am."For all of you whom I have known in my life, all of you whom I’ve known, and yes, loved, and allowed to slip away, my apologies, my appreciation, and my continued good wishes. I do miss you. You are important to me.

Thank you for being a friend.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The flirt (4 of 5)

I’m a flirt. I think I'm what I call harmlessly flirty. And, for the most part, that’s one of those things that has gone into a box. In the context of a reunion, it seemed appropriate to open that box, and take it out for a while. But it also made me nervous.

To tell you the truth, I wasn’t really afraid of my own actions, or afraid to overstep boundaries, as much as I was relieved to have the opportunity. I’ve always had found harmless flirting a friendly release. I think it goes back to the influence of comics when I was growing up. To me, the cute banter between Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy, and more, the cute (and harmless) innuendo between Peter and Mary Jane while Gwen was alive, was a model of friendly intimacy. And calling the bad guys things like “Cuddles” as he was taking them down proved the banter was meaningless, just a way of communication. That was my model of ‘cool.’

But at the same time, what’s cute and appropriate for a high school or college age guy becomes lecherous and inappropriate for a middle-aged guy, and just plain sad for an older guy. I worked at an architectural firm in Baltimore for a year, where one of the principles was a fifty-ish guy with white hair in a pony tail, whose attitude toward women and style of flirtation I found offensive. I mean, I’m a guy, and I wanted to take a shower after hearing some of his comments. It made me want to smack the back of his head and make that dork-knob fly, and yell “Grow the f*#k up!”

So, opening that box also meant being open to the fear of being inappropriate, or losing that thin edge of cool flirtation, and moving into the realm of just a little sad. I didn’t want the back of my head slapped. And awareness of that risk is what makes one nervous about being oneself.

But I’ve had this internal conversation with myself before. I think that flirting is okay, if it stays appropriate. The rules for appropriateness have changed as I’ve gotten older. But the same basic ones apply:
• You shouldn’t flirt if it hurts the person you’re with.
• You shouldn’t flirt if it hurts the person they’re with.
• You shouldn’t flirt if it hurts the other person (if there’s possibility they could misinterpret, or respond other than as intended).
• You shouldn’t flirt if it hurts yourself (if you have strong feelings that are unrequited, or unresolved, and simply masked by the flirtation).
• You shouldn’t say anything after two beers that you wouldn’t have said with no beers. That’s the hardest one to judge. And one of the most important.
• You shouldn’t flirt where you work.

Those things being addressed, I’ve always believed that harmless flirtation is a healthy expression of intimacy and friendship.

Again, these are the thoughts that went through my head in the moments between leaving my car and walking into the room full of friends I knew from High School. The box was ready. And so was I.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Boundaries (3 of 5)

"You can pick your friends, and you can pick your nose, but you can’t pick your friends nose.”

For me, that goes down as one of the all time great truths. Seriously. What it says is, no matter how close you are to someone, there are still boundaries. There will always be things that keep you at arms length.

Those boundaries get more pronounced over time. Absence can make the distance greater.I’ve gotten used to that distance, and saying goodbye. I left friends in high school. I left friends in college. I left friends at Marvel, and at every job I've had since. And in so doing, I've compartmentalized a part of myself, putting it into a little box, enabling me, requiring me, to go out and reinvent myself once again. Do that many times, and you start to mix up the boxes, confusing them, not knowing precisely which part goes where, or is from when. You get lost. It’s good to look through those boxes from time to time, and put them in a context. That's another aspect that my high school reunion was good for. Through reconnection, and a reshuffling of the boxes, I got to see what parts of myself I value, and thereby what connections still remain with those parts. I got to see how strong the boundaries had become, and how difficult the connecting would be.

What I found was the joy of knowing that, between some, those boundaries dissolve at first sight. Sometimes, years fall away, and an embrace is as instantaneous as it is natural. That is true, and it is amazing, but it is not true not for many. It's a bond between a select few. You can feel it in the welcome, the level of natural warmth in the greeting, the recognition in the eye that remains unwavering and comforting and welcome.

There’s a way I like to think of it: in some peoples near-death experiences, they report walking into a light, and being greeted by dead friends, welcoming them. If life is like that in parallel, then your best friends are those you’d want behind you, alive, calling you back to them. Aside from family members, they are the people you’d most want to see and talk to, one last time.

And that was another reason that I wanted to go to my high school reunion. To see who among this mental group I would see again, and with whom that connection would still be alive. It’s pretty amazing when that bond can survive, and even a hint of it can exist.

You can’t pick your family, and hell no, you can’t even pick our high school. And when they tell you you can pick your friends, really what they mean is “from the available resources.” You make friends with those who you hang around with the most, right? It’s chance, and convenience, and the same kind of dumb happenstance like that which first brought together the raw amino acids that sparked life of a dead rock in space. Right?

Personally, I don’t believe that.

Take the idea of a soul mate. Some ridicule the idea that there’s one special person whose soul connects with yours in a way that can’t be explained; a person without whom you feel empty, and lost. Some say, even if such a thing is true, the chances are astronomical that you could find that living in your same generation, and living near enough to you and in enough time for you to meet them, and know them and connect.

But I believe in that ideal. I believe you can find that person, because there is a guiding hand involved. Whether you want to call it Fate or Destiny or God or simple hormonal chemical connection, or even invisible strings running through every living thing in the world, connecting ne to another. Whatever you choose to call it, I believe it, because it does happen. There is a reason, and an order to it.

And it works the same with friends. I believe you are led into concentric orbit with friends you are meant to know, who are meant to teach you something and share something with you. I believe you connect with people—specific people—over the course of your life because you are meant to. And connections are made that are unseen, and often unspoken, but nonetheless real. Connections that overshadow boundaries. You may subsequently be pulled in another direction, but the connection that is there means—requires—that you will reconnect one day, with those with whom you’re meant to. And when that happens, those boundaries of time dissolve, on contact, and you are drawn back into that connection, past the ideas and ideals of beauty and popularity, race and gender, to a real core of people drawn to each other because of who you, and they, really are.

Those are the people you pick.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Shuffle (2 of 5)

One of the things that bothers me about reunions is a little dance that I call “the Watchadoin’ Shuffle.” Everyone wants to know what you’ve been doing with yourself since the last time they saw you. That’s entirely reasonable. But the problem is, and always has been, how to respond. Which little dance to perform?

I mean, there’s the guy who has little success, and wants to play it up as larger than it is. Conversely, there’s the guy who’s had great success, and is out to impress, flaunting his success, rubbing their noses in it. Then there’s the guy who’s really successful, but who downplays it with false modesty. And of course there’s the guy at the end of the bar that keeps drinking, watching everyone else out of the corner of his eye, and studiously avoiding the dance, altogether. I honestly didn’t know which version of the dance, of that shuffle, I wanted to perform.

To understand my feelings approaching this, I should reveal that, from a young age, I had a sense that, being the youngest; I was my Mom’s “favorite.” I was a late life baby, in a lot of ways an only child, and her last chance at a baby. All my other siblings had to share my Mom with each other. I got her all to myself. And I came to value how important a thing that was, as I got old enough to appreciate it. That led to a constant downplaying of that important relationship with my siblings, throughout my adult life. Confident that I was in a good position, I had no need to flaunt it. But in more recent years, as my mother’s health has faded, and I’ve been farther away from her, what was a conscious downplaying of our relationship has become reality. Now I’m keenly aware of not being the favored son, a false modesty replaced by real displacement. Something was lost, through my lack of emphasis. It’s kind of jarring, making one appreciate what a stupid conceit false modesty is.

I noticed the same thing happened with my job, and my performance of the Shuffle, in describing it to others. At my first High School reunion, I had my dream job. I was working at Marvel Comics, something I’d wanted and worked toward as a dream since I could dream. I was golden at that reunion. So, naturally, I played my shuffle down. Yeah, I worked at Marvel. No big deal. No thing. While secretly, inside, I was a peacock strutting proudly, handing out those little Spider-Man business cards.

At the next milestone reunion, ten years ago, I’d been downsized from Marvel, and was working at a publisher in Western Mass that no one at the reunion had heard of. I liked the job okay, and I had as much responsibility. But what was really working in my life was that I was making as much money as I had been at Marvel, but in an area where I could buy a house and raise a family. it wasn’t New York, and I missed that, but I also appreciated it as a gift. I was living a rural lifestyle that I found idyllic. I took a lot of comfort in the simple joy of this, laying the false modesty on once again. Only by the end of the evening of that reunion, again, false modesty was replaced by real displacement. No longer did I have to downplay my success, because that success downplayed itself. The life I'd gained was too personal for comparison, and the loss of "status" was all that I felt was perceived. I didn’t have a great time.

So, at this reunion last week, time came for the shuffle, again. Now I’m actually employed at a company that my former classmates will have heard of, and more important, it’s a job that I love. It’s not my dream job, but it has a high potential of becoming such. Certainly it’s a greater challenge than I’ve had in over a decade, and a place where my contribution and my effort, is valued. And without money coming into it, which it shouldn't in the context of a tactful shuffle, it’s still more than I made at Marvel. I’m happy.

So what kind of dance would I do?

What I did was to downplay this success in the fact that, having this job means I’m away from my family for four days a week. Now I live nearer Boston from Monday through Friday afternoon, and spend four hours a week (2 hours each way) commuting to the area away from my home, where I love to live, and would like to die. The good balances the bad, but the bad is certainly there. I went with sincerity. I laid it on the table that it wasn’t ideal, but I loved what I was doing.

I started going into some detail, but after the second go through, I realized I was talking to myself, not anyone else. I wasn’t being falsely modest, I was being straight-forward, but forgot one important element in the dance—my partner. Being objective, nobody cared. At this stage of life and living, you are where you are, and you’re doing what you’re doing, and the question is asked as a point of reference more than to gain real knowledge. There were no subliminal comparisons going on. There were just people who used to know me, whom I used to know, who were just wondering how I was doing. And the answer “Fine,” was just …fine.

I suspect, as most things in life, the more you get good at something, the more natural and effortless it becomes. And consequently, the less important it becomes in occupying your mind, it’s not something you have to do, just something that you are. And the shuffle becomes as simple and natural as a walk in the park, with nothing to prove, and nowhere specifically to go. The shuffle becomes a stroll. And you finally get to see the scenery, instead of paying so much attention to your own two feet.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Five Things about my High School Reunion (1 of 5)

The weekend after Thanksgiving I had my high school reunion. I’m not going to tell you what number, for fear that it’d date me more than the grey in my beard. Let’s just say it’s the kind of anniversary where, if it were a marriage, some serious money ought to be spent.

Before I went, I had some trepidation. At first, I was, “of course I’m going. Absolutely.” But that unhesitant answer was re-examined as the event got closer. Why was I going? Was there anything to be accomplished? Is a high school reunion like a distant cousin’s wedding, something you go to because you’re invited and because there'll be drinks?

Of course, it’s not. We go, or as often we don’t go, because there's an emotional investment involved. Not going is as conscious a decision, often made out of anger, or fear, or anxiety or self doubt. I know many people who, once past high school, couldn’t be paid to go to a reunion and see “those people” again. Many probably abstained from attending this one. But with either choice having internal repercussions, I’d always choose (I hope I’d always choose) the one that offers an opportunity for growth. As nervous as I got as the day approached, and as many unanswerable questions as arose, I still knew without question, that I would attend.

See, my high school experience was unique from others in a lot of ways. Some I’ll go into in the future. But the tenth-story overview is that I had a good time in high school. I had an awareness that it was a golden time in my life, a period to be savored for its brevity. From a young age, I’ve been cursed with an anti-zen knowledge beforehand of the greatest moments of my life, of being able appreciate them really and fully only just before they came, and then again just after they’d gone, but barely able to experience the moments at all as they passed. High school was like that for me. But like that experience, I looked forward to the reunion as an opportunity to be savored, but one I knew I would not be able to experience as it passed, but only afterward.

But then, that’s one of the pleasures of blogging, isn’t it? For me, anyway. Over the next week or so I’m going to post some observations from that reunion. Five seems the magic number.

The first thing I’ll note about my reunion is vanity. Specifically, mine. Vanity is like a nail. It’s imbedded early on, and driven in daily by your own perception of how others see you, hammered into your self worth as you perceive yourself through others. I once heard an expression; “I am not who I think I am. I am not who you think I am. I am who I think you think I am.” That idea was formed, if not written, by someone in high school.

I was rather surprised by how many people told me I looked the same as I did in high school. I couldn’t agree less. Even when I pulled out an old yearbook that someone had brought, and saw a picture of me trying to look my coolest, and said, “See? That is not me, now.” I couldn’t get agreement. Maybe it should fall into the “take the compliment and shut up” category, but it bugs me, still. I barely recognize the guy in the photo as me. Part of me would like to be him. He looks pretty cool. But he’s not me. He’s just a fucking kid. A primping, prissy, kid. But he does look good.

I think everybody looks good at their reunion. Okay, as good as they can look in the one-month between getting notice that the reunion is coming and actually attending, anyway. The best looking guys at the reunion were the guys who looked like themselves, only older, more mature. One old friend looked great, but was taken aback when I said he looked the same, only older, like his own father. I really meant it as a compliment. But in retrospect, I can see how it would be hard to take it as offered. My point is, I don’t think I look exactly the same. And maybe that’s not so bad.

I made none of the vain primping efforts I might usually perform before big events. I didn’t get a haircut, to be as perfectly coifed as possible. I didn’t even shower and shave, just before. I had another party to go to, a friends Thanksgiving-for-friends, and after a busy day at Big T’s swim meet, I had no time. Time is at a premium these days. But I had no concerns about not being dolled enough for the reunion. I went prepared to be me, for good or ill.

That said, I should note I’m aware that I’m a reasonably okay-looking guy, I think. I mean, I like me. And I’m getting okay with how I look, now. But frankly, I think I looked better as a young guy. I had a lot more confidence in my looks, then. I guess that’s in tandem with pursuit of the opposite sex. You want to look attractive to get women, or, at that age, girls. But as I grow older, that becomes less important. As an adult, it’s most important to remain attractive to a specific person, not all people in general. With that comes a degree of laziness, sure, but also comfort. I find that comfort..well, sexy in other people. I like those with a casual elegance, who look good in any light even when—especially when—they’re not trying. My love looks most fantastic when she first wakes up in the morning, refreshed and glowing, and would fight you tooth and nail to disagree if you told her so. If you were lucky enough to see her then.

But I digress. I was told I looked good, that I looked young, and that I hadn’t changed. Is that a good thing? I think I’d more prefer the compliment that I gave, better—to look good, but older, like my own father. A look that says experience, and confidence, and a bit of self-knowledge that even the most self-actualized teen can’t claim. Part of me believes that the sexiest, coolest, handsomest thing there is, is to be able to feel good about yourself, even if you don’t believe you’re perceived as sexy, cool, and handsome. That's a nail you can hang something good on.

This was made real in a conversation with one of the most beautiful girls in our class. With flame red hair, skin like alabaster, and eyes as blue as the bluest azure, she was so striking-looking that she always had people around her in school. She traveled with an entourage. One of those in the entourage, unfortunately, was her twin brother, who perhaps kept the guys at arms length. At the party, she talked about how she didn’t have any dates throughout high school, and how she felt ugly. I found that the saddest thing to hear, and was more surprised to hear her rebuking me for disagreeing. She is still a striking beauty, and her high school picture still shows how striking she was, even then. But she herself cannot see it, blinded by a nail that penetrated her soul and makes her feel rusted, blinded to her own physical beauty. She’s coming into her own, now, developing confidence in who she is, as much as I could tell in a five minute conversation. Yet it will always strike me that the vanity we have, or don’t have, in high school can scar us ever after. That nail can strike so deeply that the most we can hope for is to heal over it, and thereby disguise it.

But the one thing we guarantee in that healing, is that the nail itself will never be removed.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

What the hell I’m Doing-Summer edition

Well, shut my mouth, I have not blogged in a while. The reason is that my life has again been thrown into the spin cycle, and I’ve not had the opportunity. But here’s where that changes.

I have a job.

The idyllic thing about where I lived was that it was close to a reasonably well-paying job. But having left that behind, I found that the better paying jobs that offer the challenges I’m looking for are centered at the opposite end of the state. Specifically, I found a job in Avon Massachusetts, as an Art Director for a thriving retailer of childrens recreational toys. It’s a pretty exciting gig, that I’m looking forward to getting into. Today was my first day. But that’s the topic for another blog. My point today is that this job is 2 and 1/2 hours away from where I live. Not a commutable distance. As a result, I’m living a double life.

I’m living the week in a town called East Bridgewater, which is one of the satellites of Massachusetts’ mega-metropolis, Boston. East Bridgewater is a nice town, all things being equal. There are blockbusters, and too many Dunin Donuts, but there are also bunnies in the fields, and great public libraries with free internet access, open late.

I’m renting the attic space in a house from a woman with two boys, close to the ages of Big T and Lil T. For the time being, I will be renting space nearer to work, and commuting back to my home on weekends. That’s a big change for me, and likewise, the topic for another day.

I’m withholding a lot of comment on the living arrangements as of yet, because I’ve only slept here two nights. One thing I will note though-I’m no longer a city boy.

I was raised in Springfield, on a residential street that nonetheless had significant traffic all hours of the day and night. I’d find the soft whoosh of traffic outside my window soothing. A gentle rumble that would grow to a crescendo, and fade off to the opposite corner. No beeps or honks, just the soft sounds, like waves at the beach. I think in New York my apartments were higher up, or at the back of a brownstone, so I slowly got used to not hearing the noise of traffic. Now, where I am, there is quite a bit of traffic on the road. Again, no beeping or honking, but the noise is louder than I remember, and more immediate, almost closer, even though I know that’s not the reality. The guy down the street with the motorcycle who takes off every morning at 6:30, notwithstanding. (Why do motorcycle riders need the vrmmm vrmmm anyway? I know it’s an artificial adjustment that actually interferes with fuel efficiency. And at 6:30 it’s not cool, just annoying.) But the fact is, I’m no longer enured to the gentle sounds of traffic. I miss the crickets, who, jostled too often by the competition of traffic noises, are noticeably absent from the night chorus.

I miss living in the sticks. I miss being with my family. But this is apparently not as odd an arrangement in Massachusetts as one might think. There are apparently a great number of people who live in Western Mass, and commute to Boston daily, or (for the luckiest ones), commute to Boston three days a week, and work at home two, or vice-versa. Again, nice work if you can get it. I’m hoping, in a few months, or years, to be able to explore that myself, having made myself indispensable at my new place of employment.

So, that’s what’s taking up my time. The good news is that, without having the family to be with in the evenings, I will be able to dedicate more time to writing and drawing. I wish when I wrote that it sounded like a positive, but I’m just not there yet. But I am dedicated to making the time count for something. Given the choice, I’d rather be playing with my kids. But given the choice, I’d first like to assure that my kids have great healthcare, and a great place to live and grow up, and everything else they need. Including time with Dad. Even if it’s only on the weekends.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

The One He Didn't Love

Over the next several weeks, I will be posting the first parts of several of the short stories I've been working on, between other actual blog entries. Any feedback is welcome.

Corin Maloney is a recurring character for me, in 3 shorts so far. I think he's interesting, and this story intro doesn't get to the interesting part. But it starts to.
------------------------------------------------------------------

Corin Maloney stared at the pinched glass of Glenfiddich single malt 12-year-old scotch as it sweated onto the bartop. It was all he ever drank. He drank it because he liked the taste, and the familiarity, and the memories it evoked. He liked the smell as it melted the ice, and the hint of vinegar from the two olives he always requested. Mostly, he drank it because it reminded him of Alicia. He saw her soft angular face in the ice cubes, saw a sparkle of her eyes in the mix of the amber liquid. It was all he ever drank with her, she a Cosmo, he a Glen single malt on the rocks, two olives. It made him miss her with a tightening twist in his gut that the alcohol slowly loosened. And he was able to drink it slowly as it did so, so he could keep his wits about him, for what needed to be done, this night, or the next, or the next, by him, and him alone.

The door to his right opened, and his eyes alone shifted to regard the form silhouetted in the darkened bar by a blaring streetlight outside the door. His eyebrows tightened in recognition. She shouldn’t have come. His wife made her way straight to him, and stood to his right, hands on her hips, waiting for his acknowledgement. Though the seats to either side of him were empty, as were most of the seats at the bar, she didn’t sit. He motioned to her with the glass, as toasting a salute, before tipping the glass to his lips.

“You shouldn’t be here,” she said.

“Oh. Well then,” he said, a mocking gesture of response. His body seemed frozen, only his right arm pivoting down, ever in economy of motion, returning glass to bartop. His eyes stayed locked on it.

“You have two kids at home, waiting for you.” She said.

“Or you,” he said, “Who’s with them now?”

“Mrs. Laragioni next door is watching them for an hour,” she said, annoyed at the inference.”I wouldn’t leave them without making sure they were safe. I care about my family. I wouldn’t have left them at all, but to come down here and find you.”

“I wasn’t lost,” Corin said. “I told you where I’d be. Told I’d be home late.”

“Like you’ve told me every night for the last month,” she said. “You sit here and bend your elbow every night of the week, coming in at all hours and going right to sleep. I can smell the scotch and cheap cigarette smoke on you. And God knows what else. I gave up smoking for you. I don’t need you coming home smelling like it.”

Corin tilted the glass, gently. He liked to watch the ice cubes, the way the thousand tiny bubbles lay frozen at the center of the cubes, trapped until time and warmth freed them to make their way to the surface, and freedom.

“But do I come home,” he said. “Every night, I come home.”

Her lips tightened. “And I’m supposed to be happy about that?” She said, “Like that’s a big something?”

He shrugged. It was the most animation he’d shown since she arrived. It ought to be a big something, he thought. It ought to count that I’m still with you.

“What the hell do you come here for, anyway? We have bars in our neighborhood. Nicer places. Places you don’t have to take two trains to get to. So why here? Who do you come to see?” she said, scanning the darkened bar. Some of the patrons shifted uncomfortably at the review, shrinking more into the darkened corners of the booths that lined the walls. “Is it her? Does she meet you here?”

She had been the only way Mary had ever referred to Alicia, as the mysterious, disembodied her. It was a form of disdain that Corin chose to see as respect. Mary hadn’t appeared to have even known Alicia’s name. If only that were true. His head pivoted at the neck, to face her. His body remained solid and stock still. The ice in his glass was more animated.

“I come here to be alone, Mary,” he said. “Alone.”

It was a sad fact of Corin Maloney’s life that he preferred to spend most of it alone. It had almost been an aberration that he’d found a woman willing to put up with it, willing to marry and bear the children of a man who was so seldom present, and even when he was, so seldom actually available. But find Mary he had. And for ten year’s they’d been happy, or seemed so. He still had the erratic travel schedule that had him gone for days at a time with little notice, to locations where she couldn’t reach him, and she could not ask about. He said he was in sales, and that was the nature of his business. But five years in, five years ago, she’d recognized that for the half-truth it was. But in those ten years, he’d never been unfaithful. He’d tried to be a good husband, and a decent family man. He’d done the best he could. One does what one can, with the tools at hand, he’d often say.

Then, a year ago, he’d met Alicia. He never expected to fall for her, so far, so fast. He never considered himself the type. Corin was a coldly logical man, a problem-solver who examined every question from all sides, analyzing with quick efficiency. Considering all angles was what had made him so good at what he did. That, and acting with the speed of a snake. Alicia had changed all that. She made him act without thinking. She’d made him feel. She’d seen a side of him that no one else had, a side, prior to knowing her, he hadn’t known existed. It was as if being with her made him a different man, a better man. And he’d loved her for that, most of all. He missed that man, almost as much as he missed her. They’d met in a place much like this one, but not this one. He was here for a different reason, than to remember Alicia.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth.

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

—Robert Frost

And that's why it doesn't matter, even if nobody gets me. Even if.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Zig Zagging

When Big T was a toddler, and we first went to the local amusement park, he had a blast. Later we also went again, after Li’l T was born, and despite the fact that 80% of the park was out of their range, again they loved it. We spent most of our time at the water park, anyway. Later, Big T would ask when we could go to “Zig Zag’s” again. I pondered it for a while, and couldn’t remember a friend or a restaurant or a playground he would’ve called “Zig Zags”. After a humorous game of “remember when we...” it finally dawned on me that this is how he heard “Six Flags,” or at least how the strange name (which, when I consider it, makes no sense to me either) made sense to him. I mean, it’s got a coaster that zigs and zags, and lots of other rides that throw you all over the place. Why not “Zig Zags?” So that became what I called it, too.

Today we spent Father’s Day at Zig Zags. It was the boy’s choice, as I had too much on my plate to contemplate the question of how I’d like to spend Father’s Day. Frankly, I was also a bit lost in my own role. I love my boys more than life, but lately, with some of my choices—namely abandoning ship on my career cruise, and unwittingly throwing my family into the same life raft—I haven’t felt like much of the provider or paternal leader. I haven’t wanted to think about Father’s Day for some time, because I felt like a Bad Dad.

And maybe they sensed some of that. Maybe an outrageously extravagant day out was what they needed to feel like the center of attention again in a family thrown off kilter. And who was I not to go along? The least I could do was follow their bliss. Mine didn’t seem to be going anywhere, too quickly.

The day was great. A big brunch on the way was followed by a non-stop day of riding and swimming and laughing. Even the long lines for some of the rides didn’t dampen the spirits of the little ones, something I remembered as soul-suckingly traumatic from my childhood. And their excitement and joy was so contagious that it soon turned my mood around as well. There was none of the whining, none of the pushing, none of the buy me that, let’s do that why can’t we do this” stuff that I saw around me, or even that I remembered from them on other days at other events, from the boys. Without my having said anything, or cautioned them in any way, they were on their best behavior. And it wasn’t the kind of best behavior that you get with shifting eyes to Mom and Dad to make sure they’re doing okay, like they’d been warned to be good. It was the joyous, happy, good behavior of happy kids having a great day, and having nothing to complain about because the sun was shining, the belly was full of good food, the energy was high, and life was good. It’s the kind of day I used to dream about giving to my kids, before I had kids. And they were giving it to themselves, with me along for the ride.

They'd already given me my "official" gift earlier this month, so the trip to Zig Zags was a bonus that I considered as much a gift to them. But this was the real gift, this day. This day. Maybe sometimes you need a little zig-zagging to appreciate that the road you’re on, however rocky and twisty and uncertain and tumultuous, has some nice scenic spots. You just have to slow down from time to time to enjoy them.

Happy Father’s Day.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Googled and Oogled

Okay, this is a petty, selfish, whiney rant. But it’s all mine.

I’m neither seven years old, nor do I have two Moms. My parents are not a lesbian couple, I’ve never lived in Louisiana, and I know how to spell “bad word” without a “u”. But none of that stops my name from coming up with all these attributes after a Google search.

See, I share the same name as seven-year-old Marcus McLaurin in Ernest Gaullet Elementary School, in Lafayette, Lousiana. He became national news when he told a classmate that his mother way gay, and a zealous teacher made him stay in from recess to write that he shouldn’t have used that “bad wurd” in November 0f 2003. As a result of the coverage, a Google search for my name will result in equal parts location of my website and some history, and Wikipedia, but mainly multiple mentions of this kids story.

What really sucks is that this happened in 2003, and it seems since then the references to the story have multiplied, while the Google references to my career and history are thinning faster than my hair. I’m there on the first page, sure, but then not mentioned again until the sixth. And let’s face it folks, how many of us look through the Google results to the sixth page?

This whole thing started because I read an article that said, as part of a job search, one should Google oneself (which sounds slightly dirty) to see what comes up. The idea being that prospective employers are likely to do so, so it’s important to be forewarned and forearmed. But the article mentions nothing about what to do if you don’t like what comes up.

Anyway, I’m not sure why I should care, but for some reason I do. In this digital age, ones fifteen minutes of fame may well be translated into fifteen bytes which seem to live forever. And right now it feels like I’m sharing seven of them with a now-11-year-old boy with two Moms who is perpetually remembered for a punishment he received four years ago. I hope America has grown up a bit since then. Okay, maybe I should, too.

I’m sure by this point he wishes all the hype would go away, or it already has, except for the news archives that Google pulls up. Maybe for him, it’s ancient history, and would be until one day someone does a Google search for him and comes across the fact that he shares his name with an Art Director in Massachusetts who sued Google to have his name legally changed on all their internet servers to “The other Marcus McLaurin.”

And lost.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Adobe CS3 Creative License Conference

The Adobe Creative License Conference is coming, and you can find out about it here.


I’ve been drooling over Adobe CS3 since it was introduced at the PhotoShop World in Boston, and anxiously await my opportunity to upgrade in a month. Now I’ll be attending the Creative License Conference in New York, June 25-26th, (that’s Monday-Tuesday) giving me more opportunity to look enviously on those who already have the upgrade. I hate upgrading early for much the same reason that I won’t see blockbuster movies the first two weeks after they come out. I want to avoid the hype and the buzz, and go to the ones that earn it, and let the rest fall by the wayside. I know it's a big hype machinewhere, unbelievably, marketers have figured out how to get consumers to pay to be sold to (but then again, what else are comic book conventions, at their heart?). That said, I’ll still take the leap for the opportunity of free training and other freebies available at cattle calls like this one. Plus, the networking opportunities are rife for me, at a time when I’m searching for more opportunities. And it is only $199 for two days, and I got a 25% discount off of that through my NAPP membership. Yet again, that membership pays for itself, and once again, I recommend membership. I just wish the old maxim of finding things to spend money on just when you have the least money, didn’t ring so true.

Now, nearly everyone I know in NY either is not interested in this conference, or not in New York anymore. Luckily, there’s a left coast version in LA as well. But if you’re going to be in NY around this time, you can drop me a line!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Snuff

Over the next several weeks, I will be posting the first parts of several of the short stories I've been working on, between other actual blog entries. Any feedback is welcome.

Here is the first part of another longer story, about a broadway play that skirts the edge of a live snuff film. It's also about love.
------------------------------------------------------------------

“So, you’re comparing yourself to a torture victim,” she said. A look of disbelief twisted her features, wrinkles above her nose adding character to Emily Natchez’s otherwise flawless face. Too flawless, Paul had once told her. She could use the character of a couple of wrinkles. He’d been hoping to hurt her with that. He could never say exactly why.

“No, not…I’m not saying…” Paul stammered, his hands moving around and framing his thin, stubble-darkened face. “Look, I’m just saying …”

He took a breath. He hated that she could still fluster him this way. He considered himself pretty articulate. It was a skill gained over countless cups of coffee in their East Village java hangout after film class, and years more after graduation. It was one of the few skills he took pride in, and became known for in their small circle. Since those days of being one of the golden boys of the class of 92, pride hadn’t taken him far. Lately he’d been subsisting on film reviews and other small journalistic bones from former classmates while he worked on yet another screenplay that he couldn’t sell. He was an excellent craftsman, or so he’d been told. But he was always just waiting, and looking and dreaming of that great idea he could craft into something epic. Instead, he’d found a series of almosts, a love that broke his heart, and a life that left him uninspired. Still, he considered himself a good writer, and a fairly good speaker. But being around Em seemed to wipe all of that away. She knew how to cut him off at the knees, making him feel preposterous and every bit of that insecure freshman who had first fallen in love with her. Running a hand over his forehead to smooth back stringy brown bangs, he tried to regroup.

“Torture victims…people in the military… that, you know, liked war movies or action flicks before…before whatever happened to them? After they’d had an experience in real life like that was—you know, where they really experienced that kind of violence? They’d say they couldn’t watch that kind of movie again. The reality, like, taints the film experience. The more real it seems in the film, the less they can stand it. You know?” He paused, anticipating a nod of understanding from Emily as his cue to continue. Instead, she tilted her head to one side. That gesture always reminded him of his old pet parrot, Ronald Mac. Paul had taught the bird only three swear words before the unclipped parrot skirted the bars of a partially opened window and took to the skies of lower Manhattan, never to be seen again. Emily’s gesture heightened Paul’s annoyance.

“What I’m saying is that love stories hit me the same way. I can’t stand to watch them," he said, gesturing absently in movements that reminded Emily of shucking corn. “ I just... It’s too raw, too...”

She folded her arms, head cocking in the opposite direction before bouncing into a nod. “You’re comparing yourself to a torture victim. “ she said.

He surrendered, flopping back on the worn cloth convertible couch that served as his living room and guest bed. Lately that was here he spent most nights, in fact, not bothering to fold the metal frame out, instead just flopping back onto the sofa cushions, fully clothed, to sleep off his nightly toxic elixer of scotch and coffee. To sleep, perchance to dream. Aye, there’s the rub. For in that sleep, who knows what dreams may come?

“Okay. I’m comparing myself to a torture victim, “he said through his hands, “and you’re the head whipmaster, Em.”

“That’d be whip mistress,” she smiled.

“Doesn’t matter how much you shame me, I’m not going.” He said.

“Paul, it’s just a play, for Christ’s sake.” She said. She absently checked her watch, gauging which argument she’d have to pull out to get her way in the...thirty-two minutes, twenty seconds...she had left before they had to be at the theater, “it’s a free play, past that. You haven’t been out of this dump all day, your skin’s turning to parchment, for crissake.

“I have a bit of work to do, Em,” he said, “an interview to transcribe and polish, and then two other reviews to write for tomorrow’s…”

“But what’s the point of writing reviews if it stops you from seeing the art? Come on, Pauly, the reviews are just an excuse for free invites, anyway!”

“Beg to differ, darlin’,” he said.

“And if you only review the big movies," she said, not allowing him to interrupt, “you lose out on the inside track to these kind of small art pieces, which was your purpose in getting the review gigs in the first place! This tiny, little, important play has been sold out for weeks, and you’re about to let free passes go to waste.”

“Big flicks pay the big bills. We don’t all have a loaded boyfriend to take care of our every need. Some of us work for a living."

All of us work for a living. And Clive isn’t my boyfriend. Not anymore.” She said, checking her watch again.

That got his interest. His eyes went wide, before he caught himself and looked away. But she’d seen it; the interest, the surprised mix of curiousity and possibility, and the subtle shifting of will. Nothing escaped her. But his worry now was how to cave, slowly and without obvious intention, to her will.

“Okay, small play, small venue, but big buzz. Not bad for a show with no apparent advertising budget. And a one-night shot to get the inside scoop. Maybe worth peek,” Paul said, eyes drifting over the passes on the coffee table between darts at Emily’s face. “If it means that much to you, maybe I could sell it to one of the downtown art papers.”

Emily pursed her lips. Twenty-eight minutes. Plenty of time. She still had it.

Paul picked up the tickets distractedly, to give him something to look at other than her stare, those blue eyes that seemed to pierce to his core. He studied the play’s logo at the center of each pass, with intensity, willing the flush on his face to disappear. And, for the first time, he read the title.

Snuff.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Dream Big

Over the next several weeks, I will be posting the first parts of several of the short stories I've been working on, between other actual blog entries. Any feedback is welcome.

Here is the first part of a longer story, really a series of interlocking vignettes that connect in the final segments.
------------------------------------------------------------------

The night was dark, and the bedroom lights had been off for a half an hour when Jay spoke. Like always, the streetlights outside the window cast just enough light through the gauze of the threadbare curtains to half-illuminate their back bedroom. So it was never pitch black, just shadowy. It was sort of like a nightlight, though at ten-years-old, he was, of course, way beyond the need for such things. Really. He kind of enjoyed the suburban half-light all night for sleeping, but he did like it quiet. But slightly more than silence, he liked getting the last word in.

“Anyway, dreaming of elephants is silly,” he said.

“Why? Why is it silly?” his little sister said, from the other side of the room. Jay heard, more than saw, Cally sit bolt upright in the pitch black as she spoke. It was for dramatic effect, he was sure. But her preschool mentality didn’t appreciate that performing in the dark cut the drama. They’d shared this room from her infancy, within the confines of their small house on the outskirts of their small town. Her bed diagonally across from his since it was a crib, Jay had put up with her crying, her nightmares, her bed-wetting, and in recent months her late night philosophical conversations on the nature of moon and why cheese was stinky, but whipped cream smelled good. He even put up with her middle of the night screams when her bed nudged out from the wall, and shed fallen into the small space between the bed and the wall, rudely awakened and terrified. Jay had been the one to make a game of it, calling that space her “hidey-hole” and making it fun to the point that Mom had to stop her from ducking into it every morning when she was supposed to be getting up. Jay had gotten in trouble for that one, too. But older brothers can only be asked so much, and it was getting to be a bit much. Still, he loved her, and acknowledged his responsibility as the oldest to educate the poor thing. Without opening his eyes, he indulged her.

“Well, you need to be careful what you fit into your dreams, for one thing,” he said. “Elephants are way, way big. You shouldn’t dream things too big to fit.”

“Elephants can fit in my dreams,” Cally said. “I can fit very big things in my dreams. I like to dream big things. Once I dreamed a whole entire house in my dreams, a big mansion!”

“Yeah, but you dream a room at a time, and really, then, only a part of a room at a time, like a dresser, or a table, or a closet. It just feels like a whole house. But you never see the whole house at the same time. So, really it’s not that big.”

Jay heard the wet smack of Cally’s lower lip popping out in an angry pout. Or maybe he imagined he heard it. Either way, he was sure the pout was there. And he heard a rustle he assumed would be her folding her arms. Through it all, he kept his eyes closed, determined that he would go to sleep before he got sucked into another late-night debate with a five-year-old.

It had begun simply enough. Tomorrow they were going to the circus, and they hadn’t been to a circus in years, not since Cally was an infant in a carrier. By Jay’s limited recollection, she’d slept through it. So when she said she was excited to see the elephants again, Jay had challenged her, saying she’d never even seen an elephant, outside of television. She argued that she had, that she’d dreamed of elephants. Jay has said no she hadn’t and she said yes she had, and Jay said she always made up stuff that she dreamed about, rather than really remembering, and she had said that she was the boss of her brain and not Jay, and anyway Jay was a stupid head, and Mom had shut down the conversation.

“You just ought to be careful, is all I’m saying.” Jay said, a bit petulantly. “Dream too big, and something might get stuck there, and you might not be able to get it out again. Remember the cowbell?”

Cally remembered the little brass bell; something her parents had said was a favor from their wedding. It had a large ring at the top of it, meant to be a handle by which you could manipulate the leaden weight inside to produce the soft tinkle, which the kids called the cowbell. The ring was much too small for an adult finger, but to a three-year-old, the cowbell ring seemed ready-made for wear. Cally had slipped it over her middle finger, and run away from Jay, to a soundtrack of metal tinkling and giggles, calling that she wouldn’t be milked, not today, not today! When it had come time for them to go to school, Cally had been terrified to see that she couldn’t get the cowbell off. She’d hid it behind her back all that morning, and on the bus ride in, so it had been her teacher who first noticed his additional appendage. The school nurse had been unable to remove it, and parents had been called. A quick trip to the emergency room, a few swipes of a metal cutting tool, and the ring atop the cowbell was no more. Now it was a crescent shape atop the thick brass bell. Cally looked at it with a hint of sorrowful remembrance nearly every day. Yes, Cally remembered the cowbell, and how her finger seemed to go in so easily, but then was impossible to get out again. She let out a heavy sigh.

“Do you really think an elephant could get stuck in my dream?” She said, looking at the dark outline of her hand before her face.

Jay finally rolled over and, finally, looked at his little sister, or rather her partial, darkened outline, with exasperation. He always had to explain the simplest concepts to her. Being in second grade was already such a burden; Cally’s late night sessions didn’t make his life any easier. Mom never had to listen to Cally, safely tucked in her own room upstairs, and never believed Jay’s stories about how chatty Cally got at night. He looked forward to next summer, when Mom had promised he’d get his own room in the basement, and be able to sleep the night through without the late night Q&A.

“Why do you think they have a thing called brain surgeons, silly?” he said, “It’s a doctor that has to operate on your brains, and try to get out stuff that sticks there. They have to saw open your skull, and sort of reach into your brains, and look for a hard spot or something moving, like a stuck elephant.

“What happens to the elephant when they get it out?”

Jay paused for a minute, eyes shooting up to the ceiling as he thought. “Oh, once it’s out of your brain, it just vanishes, like all your dreams do when you wake up. It’s only getting in there and getting too big, that sticks it. But it costs a lot of money to get it out. You remember how mad Mom got when they got the bill for getting the bell off? Well, it’s a lot more money to hire a brain surgeon. You don’t want to go there.”

With that statement putting a final period on the conversation, Jay slumped back onto his pillow. Conversation over. And the room was silent for a good minute.

“Does it hurt?” Cally asked, timidly. Jay let out another deep sigh, puffing both cheeks out. Tomorrow would never come, he was sure. He would sit up here and talk to Cally all night, and the sun would come up, and it would be the next day but without any sleep Jay would feel like it was the same day, and tomorrow would never, ever get here. And then he would fall asleep in Ms. Leary’s class, and get sent to the principles office, and have to bring a note home, and probably get in trouble, when it’s fault in the first place for putting me in the same room with Cally anyway, and it just wasn’t fair.

That’s when he heard the glass breaking.

The room was dark, and the night without even darker with the new moon and slightly overcast sky, so it was only another silhouette that Jay saw. At their window. Breaking their window. Jay saw a large gloved hand reach through bottom pane and grope for the knob that would unlock the window.

Jay rolled out of his bed and onto Cally’s, whispering a quick, quiet shsssh into her ear as she sat, transfixed. The hand found its goal, and twisted the lock open. The lower pane began to rise, slowly at first, and then once the hand found purchase underneath, quickly up. Jay wrapped his arms around Cally, and pushed her back into the corner.

“Hidey hole,” he whispered, as he pushed the bed frame away from the wall with one foot, and she slid noiselessly down to the floor. Jay slid over, nearly on top of her. But there wasn’t enough room to conceal them both. From his position, face down on the edge of her bed, looking down into the space where he imagined Cally must be quivering, Jay reached a hand down and found her face, and placed a finger gingerly on Cally’s lips. Shhhh, he said with his hand, and his mind there in the darkness, and would have said with his eyes, if she could have but seen them, if you’ve never been able to be quiet before in your life, please be quiet now.

The shape was in the room now, and moving toward Jay’s bed. Darkened hands patted at the pillow and still-warm sheets, tossing them to the side in frustration at finding the empty bed. Then it turned toward Cally’s bed. It grabbed at the sheets again, stopping when he felt Jays foot at the head of the bed, at the corner from which it protruded. An instant later Jay felt two strong hands at his shoulders lift him from the bed.

Cally, looking up from her hidey-hole saw the change of light as her brother left the opening above her. But she stayed still, moving her own hand to replace Jays, placing her own finger to her lips as Jays had been. Shhhh, she thought. Shhhhhhhhh.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Shock of the New

I’ve been looking into online degrees for the past week. New, old territory. Scary stuff.

The going to school isn’t really the scary part. I can handle that, and I’ve always intended, since the day I graduated college, to return to school. I will get my Masters, before I die. The two I’ve narrowed it down to are AIG (American Intercontinental University) Online and The University of Phoenix Online. Both offer Undergraduate degrees in Visual Communication, in the specific areas I’m interested in. My plan is to get the basic groundwork in the undergrad degree, and then advance beyond that to a Masters, through my next employer. If anyone has any recommendations of one over the other, I’m all ears. I’m looking at starting with one or the other in July. So the clock is ticking.

But that’s the interesting part, the challenging part, the, let’s face it, the fun part of all this. It’s not the scary part.

The scary part is money, the single thing that’s been scary for me since I left my former position, to focus on improving my skills, abilities and marketability in the first place. Going back to school is hard enough. Doing it while working to support a family is insane. But that’s what I’m doing. I’m looking hard for freelance work, and have a few nibbles that will make life reasonable for the short term. In addition, my wife will be adding support to our family financially in addition to her continuing role as main caregiver to our two boys. We’ll both be working twice as hard, for half as much. I’m also looking hard at scholarships, fellowships, and grants in the short term. But it is a full time job looking for jobs, improving ones skills, getting an education and searching for scholarships all at the same time.

Given my competing priorities over the next several weeks, my blog entries here will be necessarily short. I want to savor the fun part, the interesting part, the challenging part. But I’ve got to get over the scary part first.

I remember a movie I saw a while ago, Holy Man starring Eddie Murphy and Jeff Goldblum. Maybe I’ve mentioned it here, before. The message it had sticks with me to this day, though—maybe especially these days. The message was about not letting fear hold you back. That letting go of fear being the greatest freedom there is.

Fear is a self-imposed mechanism, created to prevent us from doing something stupid, from petting a lion or touching fire. But as highly evolved creatures, we also have a highly developed sense of fear. We are afraid to disappoint our peers. We are afraid to be revealed as frauds. We are afraid of a dozen, dozen different things that we have no reason to be afraid of, have no reason even to consider, and which consequently and constantly hold us back. So we compromise, and stick with the status quo, and settle, and conform. We "go along to get along," and to avoid that panicy feeling one gets in the pit of ones stomach that says “Uhh…a little outside the level of comfort, here… danger, danger Will Robinson.” That’s a feeling I’ve been cultivating lately, for some ungodly reason. That’s the feeling that’s been driving me.

But just acknowledging this isn’t enough to get past the fear. Being honest, I’m living with it every day. But I’m also backing it up with the certainty that I’m heading someplace better. And maybe that’s the scariest part—that I know exactly what I’m doing; with a keen awareness of what I could gain, but also what I’m risking to get there. And I’m doing it anyway.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Split personality

I’m of two minds. In rethinking what I have posted here, and what I need to have (and alternately, need not have) posted on my website, I’ve opted to develop a split personality. I want to keep this blog going. I want to have an outlet where I can discuss things with friends, and share thoughts. But I also need to have a more professional side, which is the one I put forward to the world while I’m in the midst of my job search.

Therefore, I’ve opted to create a second blog. This second blog, digital distractions (mmclaurin.blogspot.com) is the one I am linking to my website. This blog, (idmx.blogspot.com) is becoming my personal blog, and will no longer be linked from my website (though you can still go to there from here). So, I hope those of you who have this keyed to blogarithm updates can still follow. I’m trying to resist the more drastic measure of putting a password on the idmx blog, as I think that makes it all a lot more pull than I think most are willing to bear. But maybe you can let me know your thoughts.

And, for those of you of a mind to look into my more professional mind, the other blog may be an interesting read, from time to time.

Peace.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

The Hush

The most memorable part of an old-fashioned rollercoaster ride, in my humble opinion, is the climb to the top of that first peak. The jerking motion, the click-click-click as you rise to the top filling you with anticipation, and the momentary pause as, sitting in the first car, you feel the interminable pause at the summit, just before you plunge into the unknown. That yawning chasm of silence was often more dramatic than what came before or after. These past few weeks of silence on the blog has been an echo of that silence. And now, the last click has sounded, and I’m over the edge.

All of which is to say, after a proud association of 11 years, I’m no longer with the Channing Bete Company. I’ve left those fields for other pastures that are perhaps less green, likely more barren and rocky, but entirely my own. I leave with a very nice recommendation, and constant butterflies in my stomach. I’m following up some freelance opportunities for a bit while I scan for a new position, dealing with COBRA issues and other changeovers from being the single support of a family of four. But with the love and support of my family and friends, I’ve taken the plunge and started the next leg of the roller coaster ride.

There are uncertainties as I seek determinately for a position that is better than what I had, which is my ultimate goal, and which I was having no luck pursuing part-time. Scary uncertainties, sure. But having this time gives the opportunity of discovery. One of the things I’ve already discovered in tackling my first hurdle, reworking my resume, is that I’ve done a hell of a lot. I have a pretty solid resume, which you’re free to check out here, mostly in print media. Beyond working in comics (and I’ve worked on and directed some pretty neat books there…), I’ve designed entire magazines, and graphic identities for nationwide programs. I’ve designed logos, and am close to getting Adobe Certified Expert status in PhotoShop and InDesign. I’ve done a lot. But it’s not close to what I know I can accomplish, and that’s been a bit frustrating.

If I want to get into the new media of Flash and Action scripting and web design however, I’m not going to be able to do that part-time, around my other commitments. It’s going to require real work, full time work. It’s going to require expanding my horizons beyond Western Massachusetts, into Boston and Hartford and, yes, perhaps even back to New York. I’m just not sure yet. But I’m figuring it out, fast.

Those of you who’ve been reading between the lines of this blog for the past few months will see this as the culmination of subconscious of unconscious acts. Those of you who know me well will not see this as a big surprise. Others, about now, are giving their screen the head to the side, furrowed brow, puppy dog look. To them I can only point to a sheet of paper I’ve had tacked up beside my desk at home. I found it at Marvel, and had it where I could see it every day. Recently, I found it again in cleaning up my home office, and placed it high where, again, I’m reading it daily. It says:
"The most unfortunate thing that happens to a person who fears failure is that he limits himself by becoming afraid to try anything new. Give yourself a chance.”

This certainly hasn’t been an easy entry to write, as I typically like to feel like I end these explorations with a bit more certainty than I’m evoking here. But, sometimes, that’s the nature of the start of the roller coaster ride. You know where you get off—that’s the certainty, that it will end at point X. It’s the in-between stuff that’s scary. But that’s what you pay the price of admission for, isn’t it?

And so, the last click sounded, the ride begins.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Jumping the Shark

Everybody is the hero of his, or her, own life story. You run through the script every day, living up to your character, maybe throwing in some twists and turns and major and minor motivations. You try to bring the story a little closer to its conclusion—hopefully its happy ending—daily, page by page, frame by frame.

When I was a little kid, I’d look at life like that, as a Star Trek episode or an episode of The Wild Wild West, with myself as the main character. The only thing that annoyed me about every episode of those shows was how the lead would develop a love interest through the course of the story, and get her at the end, but then never see or mention her again in subsequent episodes. They’d been through so much together, how could he just let her go? That was just one of the several elements of the undefinable hero-ness that I never seemed to get. It wasn’t always and ever about just me, and frankly, I didn’t really want it to be. Series that are about just me; The Prisoner, The Fugitive, The Hulk, are inevitably depressing.

So maybe, I thought, it was better to look at myself as part of an ensemble cast. Some episodes of the Brady Bunch focused on Peter, some on Jan, some on Marsha and Greg. And though they started every episode fresh, there was also the development of relationships, and continuity. But then there was the downside of the ensemble cast-the fact that sometimes you were just there as a supporting role, and when that support became your main role, where were you left, then? Whatever did happen to Tiger, anyway?

Seriously though, when I was younger, I would wonder about that. Would I be the hero, the one whose adventures the readers wanted to follow, or would I be the sidekick, able to step forward into a solo role from time to time, but mostly the Robin supporting the Batman, the Kato to someone else’s Green Hornet, the essential, but also essentially supporting, character to the heroes quest, without a quest of my own. And I didn’t like that idea very much. It became a sort of paradigm that I’d hold my life up against, from time to time-am I the supporting character in this episode? I mean, I want to support the cast. But by the same token, I don’t want to be easily able to be written off—not without the possibility of a strong spin-off series of my own as follow-up.

Prince Valiant, the classic soap opera daily strip, continued to follow the life of Val well after he was married and had kids, but increasingly the stories began to focus around the kids, to the point of their even taking over the main plotlines from time to time. Maybe that’s the inevitable progression of the storyline, that it passes onto a new generation and they become the heroes of the piece, with our acting as support, supplanted in the feature role, and willingly so. But while there’s something life affirming in that continuity, there’s also something a little sad. We haven’t even come to the main climax, yet, the one we’ve been working toward for decades, the promised “this one changes everything” d√©nouement. And it is coming, isn’t it? Mustn’t it?

So this is Middle Age, years into the popular top ten hit, and we hit the point where traditionally the series will try to Jump the Shark to keep up viewer interest. All the major conflicts having been resolved, and newer subplots slower to develop, and something needs to change. This is the time when the writers who have been here from early on start scratching their heads for new direction, maybe the time to bring in a new creative team to shake things up a bit. Such a course could create brand new excitement, or it could derail a series and lose all interest. This is the time where everyone looks forward to a season retrospective, and collectively ask, what next? It’s a time when I look over the series a bit dispassionately, as dispassionately as I can in a series in which I’m so intricately involved, and ask; am I still the hero of this story? What to do, what to do?

Sometimes I wish life could be a movie adaptation of a series. In that, you can look back over the whole life of the thing, and craft a specific story, set that story up really early and start to pay it off spectacularly. Watching Spider-Man III (and I will!), you'd never know that Mary Jane Watson was an after-thought girlfriend, brought to center stage when Peter Parker's real love interest was killed tragically by bad and ill-conceived writing. That's because the movie has the entire storyline to pick and choose and pull from, discarding the meandering ideas that went nowhere, and the years of bad writing, to create a new central core of solid story that gives the illusion of intent, and meaning, and a sense of destiny. But something is also lost by eliminating the meandering. I still remember you, Gwen Stacey, and as you were, not as the revisionist current comics are painting you. I still know you were the love of Peter's life. And I still know how important that is.

Anyway, only half of this entry is tongue-in-cheek. Sometimes I really do review my life as fiction, trying to figure out what the current twist means, and working to pull meaning out of disconnected events. Because there has to be meaning in there. somewhere. There must be. Mustn’t it?

Tune in next week, for another exciting episode. One hopes.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

How NetFlix is killing my soul.

The place in Greenfield, Video To Go, which had the 7 movies for 7 days for 7 dollars deal I’ve gone on and on about here is going out of business, I found out yesterday. I’d done my level best to support them, but the word is that the market penetration of NetFlix is such that it’s shot their business down by 40%, and they can’t stay afloat. It’s so sad.

So, having just found out yesterday that they are going out of business today, I took advantage of their deal to rent any and all movies for just $1 each, overnight. I rented Superman Returns, which I hadn’t seen yet due to negative reviews, but knew I would see one day. I rented The Devil Wears Prada, and Art School Confidential, another movie based on the comic by Daniel Clowes (and which I anticipated finding more interesting as I bleive it's tangenetially about my art school which Clowes attended) and some computer animated kids faves (the flavor of the day for animated fare) like Flushed Away and Everybody’s Hero. Some of these we watched last night. Some of these we watched today. But since it was nice out, and I had no intention of staying in all day in front of the tube, some of them were unwatched when I had to return them this evening.

The atmosphere at the store was a bit somber, as was to be expected. It was like some great failed experiment, except that for me it was a success. What’s more troubling is that I’ve recently begun noticing this as a trend. Mom and Pop video stores are going the way of all things, even though they offer great resources for browsing and access to movies that you otherwise wouldn’t see on a NetFlix or certainly not at a Blockbuster. I mean, I miss being able to browse through an entire section of old black and white movies, or zero in on some film noir titles, or see a good romantic comedy from the seventies, or sixties. Looking through a vast list of titles on a shelf by alphabetical order is an adventure, and you find treasure that way. Stuff you’d find no other way. I mean, big box store paranoia is one thing-I think there’s room for price competition, and feel when people can pay less and they choose to, that is a free market at work. But this is marketing to the sedentary. These stores are going out of business because people can’t be bothered to interact with a human being to rent a movie, and can't get a video back into the store in the week alotted, for a measley buck. We pay more, to do less. And that’s just sad.

Maybe I’m not giving NetFlix a chance. I checked it out about five years ago, and signed up for an account, and had fun rating a lot of different movies I’d seen. I was aware that I was building a preference list in some hi-tech algorithm that I hoped that might help them to help me find titles I liked, that I didn't even know—kind of like what Amazon does. Then, on the trial, I ordered the first part of the first season of The Sopranos. And it promptly never came. The problem came when they started charging me, and I informed them that I had no intention to pay when, for the trial period, I’d received nothing to try. They zeroed me out, and I wrote them off.

So today I went onto the website again, and went looking for my five-year-old account, that I'd spent all that time indicating preferences for. And found it non-existent. And found no clear section to search for film noir titles, or films by Director, or staff picks, or any of the other intuitive (for me) ways that I’d go treasure hunting at my local store. Maybe I’m not giving them a chance. Likely I’m not, in fact. But they’re starting this relationship with two strikes against them, and the signs are not encouraging.

Video stores are becoming the new dinosaurs, the next Mom and Pops to go out of business, and I wouldn't care if it weren't for the fact that they're not offering something more, just something far less, that's just easier. And easier is killing what's fun for those of us that enjoy getting off our @$$ to hunt for something interesting to watch when we're sitting on our @$$. And that's not easy.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Making up for it

I’ve been lax. I’ve been lazy. I’ve been distracted. Mostly, I’ve been elsewhere. And I am making up for it.

I’ve been involved in life for the past couple of months, and life demands. It demands a lot. And when you have nothing left to give to life, when it leaves you exhausted in a heap in the corner, wondering what day it is and how the hell all your hair all got shaved off, it’s time to take a break and get back to what makes you happy. So I’m taking that time. One of the things that made me happy is communicating, and blogging what’s going on. I’ve missed it. But I’m missing a lot of things lately.

Anyway, due to recent events, I’m trying to make a conscious effort to be where I am, at least for a while, and get back to those things I consider important. As part of that effort, I’m making the commitment to blog every day for a week. Some of that week will be weak, and meek, and with little of which to speak. But it will be something I’ve committed to, as Pharoah said in the epic The Ten Commandments, “So shall it be written, so shall it be done.” It’ll be written, anyway. There's something freeing about self-imposed constraints, calming about meeting your own imposed guidelines and expectations. It's like saying, "I don't know what else life will throw at me, but I can do this. I can make sure this is done."

A while ago, when I first started getting into this, my friend Steve wrote that one way to get people to respond to your blog was to be consistent, and post a lot. So I tried to do that, and was pretty successful. At that time, and for a while following, I had a lot to say. I mean, I always have a lot to say, and since I’d reached a stage of my life where I no longer say it, I subsequently had more to write. These days I write a lot more than I talk, though I don’t know how that’s happened. It just has. But, truth to be told, blogging is a valid means of communication, albeit one-way, There’s something terrifying, and a little sad, about sending messages out into the ether in a digital bottle that may or may not wash up on friendly beaches, and may just as easily shatter against some foreign reef, words lost to the silence of the endless deep. But I think they will reach their intended shores, nonetheless. I know they do. So at the same time, there is something freeing. If you can hear me talking to you, then they have reached their destination. These are but the first words of many, the first bottles of a legion of empties. What will these words be? I can’t be sure until I’ve written them, and read them, and finally, not erased them and begun again, as is so often the case.


All of which is to say, there’s lots I can talk about which is around and subordinate to what’s really going on in life that I can’t talk about. But I am talking. And will continue to, for the next seven days. Now, six.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Movie Night

“Friday night is movie night,” Little T announced with enthusiasm.

It was something he learned from cable advertising, a pitch to encourage purchase of pay-per-view fare that was aimed at families on Friday nights. Apparently successfully. But not entirely. I turned the ploy around, as I had rented seven kid-friendly movies a week ago for Big T’s birthday sleep-over, which the kids then all unanimously opted not to participate in. The local video store has a seven movies for seven nights for seven dollars deal, and being cheap, I mean, frugal, I was determined to watch these movies rather than return them early. So, I agreed, yes, Friday night was family movie night. Pizza for dinner, microwave popcorn for optional dessert, kids all showered and pajama-ed early, we were set for Friday night family movie night.

Both Big T and Little T are on this kick about pie. It’s apparently something they saw on a cartoon on Cartoon Network, where a brainless character wanders around a cartoon muttering “I like pie” as a non-sequiter that they find irresistible and unstoppably hilarious. As a result, they’ve been muttering “I like pie” whenever they don’t want to answer a question, alternately funny and infuriating. So, what movie do they want to see first? “I like pie.”

We’d already seen Brother Bear 2, the latest in Disney’s ill-conceived factory-movie mentality assembly line offering. I became aware while I talked to a friend who worked at Disney a decade ago that this was their plan. They had the talent and the expertise on staff after years of developing each feature film offering. And they utilized the same expertise in terms of drawing. Backgrounds, color and voice for a follow up to each successful feature film. Never mind that the story wasn’t there. The story is what Disney spends years, sometimes decades developing before it comes to ink and cell reality, for each multi-million dollar feature. It’s number one for that market. But it seems more like number three for each direct-to-video sequel. Seems a shame to follow up a steak dinner with a hamburger sundae, but in their infinite (or increasingly, seemingly limited) wisdom, Disney has done so with Lion King 2, Lion King 1-1/2, Tarzan 2, Atlantis 2, and now Brother Bear 2. Ugh.

More successful offering was Sinbad. This DreamWorks special was remarkable for a pretty cool story featuring Sinbad as a cool anti-hero. I’m a big fan of anti-heroes, guys with failings as large as their features, just as likely to disappoint as amaze and enthrall, yet somehow manage to tip the scales toward heroism at the nth hour. The only failing of this film was the voice of Brad Pitt as Sinbad. In this, I finally figured out what my big prejudice against Bad Pitt is. I’ve had a brief discussion on this, with a woman who told me why she though Brad Pitt was hot. But he doesn’t do it for me, and it’s not just because I’m not gay. Really. It’s that he doesn’t have a hero's voice-he has a punk's voice. Brad Pitt is the perfect voice for the Artful Dodger in an animated Oliver Twist, or even Peter Pan or Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream. But as Sinbad, he left something to be desired. He carried the right cavalier attitude, but didn’t have the strength of bravado to make me believe he could scale the mizzenmast and hoist the mainsail and avast ye hardies and all that. Sosueme.

Finally, and as a topper, was a movie with Kurt Russell and Dakota Fanning in a horserace epic, Dreamer. The tagline boasts “Inspired by a True Story,” which is shorthand for “This basic idea is from something that happened, which was absolutely nothing like what you’re about to see.” It think it’s frankly hard to make an exciting movie about horseracing, as horse races are about five minutes long, and as exciting as marbles IMHO, and very difficult to sustain over an hour-long period. You need a lot of fluff over the course of an hour to make you care about that last five minutes. The fluff here was a lot of father daughter stuff, which tugs at my heartstrings as I never had and always wanted a daughter. So I snuggled up with my boys, one under each arm until the youngest abandoned me for Mom, and hugged them, and enjoyed being their Dad. I hardly get enough of that. In fact, I never do.

At the end of the movie, I quizzed Little T about what the movie was about. I mean, he was awake for most of it, right? And it had in-depth themes of family and belief in the impossible, of dreaming and achieving amid loss and tumult. Something of significance may have filtered through. But before he could answer, Big T blurted out “I like pie!,” which, of course was then all his little brother could say. So maybe I’ll never know what he really thought. I covered Big T’s mouth and tried to prod Little T further, to get a hint of what he might have said otherwise. Meanwhile Big T shouted muffled cries against my hand. Finally surrendering on getting nothing more from Little T, I released my hold on Big T, to see what gem of wisdom I’d been squelching. It may be something significant, something properly penitant, something reasonably insightful, right?

“I like pickles on pie,” he said.

Pickles on pie. Yum.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Town meeting

Last night we attended town meeting. Town meeting is always a trip, and one of the unique pleasures of small town life. Once a year, around April, we get a town warrant in the mail, filled with reports and budget items for the year ahead. It’s the kind of thing that, in larger cities, town council or city council would address. But in small towns, the townspeople gather for a town meeting with the selectmen, to vote for things like the school budget, and whether or not we should buy a new snowplow, and whether curbs on development should be instituted as law.

I missed the first one when I moved to town, about ten years ago. But the second one I attended, out of curiousity, and a growing sense of wanting to be part of the community. Mostly I attended due to the hot-button topic of the day (of which there always seems to be at least one). See, the local high school had it’s football team named the Redskins, and a local Native American group had requested they change it. Being part Native American myself, I was curious about the debate, and though I saw both sides of the argument, I definitely had an opinion. I wanted the name changed too. Growing up as one of the few black kids bussed out to an all white school, I was aware of all the ways kids can be made to feel different. Before a kid gets the internal strength to embrace those differences, a key element of maturing, it’s easy to have those differences become sources of embarrassment. And having a team name that’s essentially, though subtly, about denegrating one of those differences is wrong. It’s not about political correctness. It’s about kid’s self esteem.

The town meeting is run by parliamentary procedure, with a lively moderator who keeps things moving and jokes and quips often. It’s a form of entertainment, really, a live show that also happens to be a form of government. We get past the housekeeping stuff, and the school budget approval, etc. And then we get to the juice. The school in question was shared by three local towns, in budget and responsibility. So, all three towns would need to vote for the change, for it to happen. But my town was the first to have its annual town meeting, so what we decided would likely set the tone for the others (“They didn’t vote to change, so there’s no point in our debating it…”). Several older townspeople stood up and made stands for tradition, and made arguments for how the name was an honorific, and indicative of the history of the area. Others made the case for the overabundance of political correctness, and how outsiders to the community were the ones who were asking for the change, when it didn’t even affect them. Still others spoke simply of the cost-of uniforms and banners that would have to be redone at significant expense.

The final speaker of note was one of the people who had requested the change. I can’t remember his name, but his bearing struck me. He was a large Native American man with long black hair and a western hat. He’s hung out at the back of the room for the entire meeting. As a point of order, someone in town had to recognize him, and ask the chair for him to be allowed to speak. He spoke for a very short time, telling of how he was raised off reservation in schools that didn’t teach him about his native American heritage, and raised in a world that called him a redskin as a way of putting him down, at the same time as they plastered the name across their favorite football teams. He made his case effectively, and the vote that followed elected to change the name.

At the end of the vote, an older woman, clearly a towny from way back, shouted out to the crowd in anger, that we were “changing everything. I hope you’re happy now.” I felt like saying, "Yes, I am. Thanks for asking." But I was silent. It seemed an odd end to an emotional, but until then quite civilized discussion. Weeks later, the two other towns followed suit.

So, I was hooked, and haven’t missed a town meeting since. They’ve not all been as controversial, or even internesting. But they’ve all been about how things are changing. Everything changes.

And once in a while, it’s for the better.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

In Search of the Golden Egg

Today we trekked to Grandma's house for Easter lunch (or, as Big T would call it, Linner) and a big Easter Egg hunt outside. Okay, the Easter Egg hunt was a surprise that I wasn't expecting. We'd already had one of those yesterday, in our town, provided annually by an incredibly generous local family and families (including ours) who volunteered boiled eggs for other (older) local kids to color and hide. It's a big community effort, and one which the whole town enjoys, and costs no individual a penny, beyond the time and effort and the cost of boiled eggs. The event this morning had as it's goal the discovery of two golden eggs, which were essentially regular eggs wrapped in gold foil. Though no different than any other egg in essence, the key is that they are percieved as different. And that made them so.

The climax yesterday came when all the eggs had been found, except for one of the golden eggs. The adult in charge pointed in a general direction, and all the kids, baskets in hand full of just-counted eggs, took off in search of that final elusive prize. I took off with Lil T in tow, to his sad lament that he wouldn't be the one to find it. That made me a little sad. I know we've all been there—wanting the thing that seemed just out of reach, and, fearing the wanting too much, telling ourselves in advance that we wouldn't get it, before we're even out of the gate. It's a safety mechanism, a self-preservational tool to avoid disappointment. But it's also a trap for low expectations, and a too-easy pattern to fall into.

I pushed him a bit, trying to imagine the ego boost he'd get from finding it. "You can do it," I said,pulling his hand along, trying to transfer excitement, "You can be the one to find it as easily as anyone else. Don't give up. It's not over until it's over." He was boosted by this, and energized to run faster, look harder, and believe, just for a few minutes, that maybe he really could find it.

Until he didn't. When the cheer came up just four yards from us that a little toddler had found the egg, Lil T was deflated, but also, as disconcerting to me, justified in his own mind. He said, almost proudly, "I told you I wouldn't find it." He wasn't sad about it, just confirmed in his initial assumption, and I think that shook me a bit more than if he had been sad. I let it go at that point, planning on talking to him later about it, after the rush of the initial hunt. I mean, there were all the eggs that he did find to count and appreciate, and the significance of that was beginning to dawn on him. I didn't feel it was exactly the right time for a teaching moment, and the moment, like all important moments, passed too quickly.

Fast forward to today, this afternoon, after a fun morning and breakfast on the road to Grandma's. And a second hunt. Here, there were only three kids in the hunt, Big T, Lil T and their cousin J, but also, unfortunately, only one golden egg. When Grandma announced this, I was a little concerned. I mean, typically, when there are three grandkids, the grandparents provide three prizes. Not my rule, or even my choice, just something my wifes parent's have adopted. This can be annoying sometimes, as I'd sometimes prefer the two boys to share the same toy, rather than having them engage in parallel play constantly, and subsequently either have to deal with tracking two sets or waiting for one to break so we could get more awkwardly to the point of sharing that we should have been at in the first place. There's something bonding in taking turns.

But in this instance, three golden eggs, with a rule that you can only find one, would have been preferable. But that wasn't the plan, and it wasn't my house. And also, part of me was harkening back to yesterday, and the missed teaching opportunity—something like, "sometimes you get the golden egg, and sometimes you get the golden shaft"—came to mind. I laid back to see where it went. Maybe Lil T would find it, this time. Ah, vainglorious hope.

Again, he approached the game disarmingly, saying he certainly wouldn't find the golden egg. I've said before to him and his big brother-if you think you won't succeed at something, you'll be right 100% of the time. If you think you will, you'll be right more like 50% of the time, and increase your odds as you go along. You always have a chance to give up, but don't do it at the start. You've got to give yourself a chance. And the game started off great, with the kids scrambling for the eggs in equal measure. And then Big T found the egg. And Lil T literally fell to his knees, heartbroken.

Scooping him up amid sobs of "I never find the golden egg," I found my opportunity. We scrambled around it a bit, but I think I imparted the three bits I had sorted out for him.:
1) That sometimes you don't get what you want, but it's always important—no, more, essential—to try.
2) That sometimes you will get the golden egg, and when you did, it will feel great, but it doesn't have to feel proportionally bad not to get it. It's just this time. You just didn't get it this time. And
3) That he should look at all that he had—a bag full of eggs, a fun day at Grandma's, the love of his family surrounding him—all topped off with his Dad holding him in his arms and carrying him back to the house out of the cold afternoon. What he had was worth so much more than what he didn't. All of this was his golden egg, and, again, it's about noticing what you have not focussing on what you lack.

By the time we were back inside, the tears were dried, and he was remarking with smiles on how, after he cried, his skin felt all crinkly where the tears had been, and isn't that interesting. The sadness had evaporated with the tears, and in seconds he was excited about the eggs he had found again.

So, this all left me thinking about the golden eggs we all search for, in life. Sometimes we get it. Sometimes we just miss it. And sometimes, we see it, just a second too late, just before it's snatched up by another. Maybe, we think, we'll never find that egg. Maybe we'll always be just a little too late, a little too slow, a little too unlucky or unskilled, or unprepared. Maybe we ought to just settle for teh otehr colored eggs that life provides, and stop trying so hard for that special something. That's we've got to have that faith that it will be our turn one day, that there is a golden egg out there for us, or a turn to find it in our future. We have to believe that in order to continue, and more, in order to make that prediction truth. And it must be truth.

For A mans reach should exceed his grasp, else what's a heaven for?

Happy Easter.