Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Successful parenting?

Son 1 started a new job last week. For a variety of reasons I can't tell you a lot about it, but let me say that he is working for the government in the general area of security. (Actually I don't know a lot more than that, because there is so much he's not allowed to tell me.) He's still living in my apartment, though. 

Anyway tonight as he made dinner, Son 1 told me what little he could about his day. In particular he said one of his colleagues was going on at some length about all the different jobs he had had before getting into the field of security. Apparently he had a very colorful curriculum vitae. But at one point this fellow said, "In fact, I considered making a career in standup comedy, but there was only one thing that stopped me." 

Like a flash, without time even to think, Son 1 interjected, "You weren't any good at it?"

Well no, it turns out the "one thing" was that he didn't have the $400 for a seminar in How To Do Standup Comedy. But he acknowledged that Son 1's answer was funnier, and the timing was perfect.

I don't know what other Life Lessons he learned along the way, but Son 1 has learned comic timing, and how to be a smartass at someone else's expense. So I guess I must have taught him something, huh?

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Monday, June 10, 2019

Gosh, and I'm not even Millennial

Saw a link to this article today.

New York Post: "Millennial Dads have pathetic DIY skills compared to Baby Boomers."

And yet somehow I'm a Baby Boomer and I still have pathetic DIY ["do-it-yourself"] skills. Yes, I own a hammer and a set of screwdrivers. But no, I'm not going to rewire a lamp on my own if I can help it. Or fix my own car. Or any of that stuff. Not gonna happen.

Does this make me advanced for my time? Millennial avant la lettre? Or just hopeless?
Of course my dad was born just before WWII broke out and he was just as helpless with tools as I am. So I came by it honestly. You could call it a family tradition.

I'm going with "hopeless".

Monday, June 3, 2019

Visiting Debbie, 64 hours

It's Monday and I'm traveling home. Wait, shouldn't I be in the office? Well, the reason I was traveling in the first place was for work, so technically I suppose that I can consider today a travel day and still be on duty as long as I check my email during layovers. And planning my trip this way gave me a full weekend with Debbie: Friday afternoon to Monday morning.

It was delightful, like a sabbath from my normal life. It wasn't exactly restful, though. Debbie wanted to put in her garden this weekend, so on Saturday I went with her to the garden store to buy three cubic feet of dirt, plus one-and-a-half cubic feet of compost; also some plants that she was missing. There is some deep irony at work here: Debbie, Marie, and my mother are all seriously into gardening, and I cannot for the life of me see the attraction. Sunday after church we dug up her existing beds, put in all the new dirt, and settled into planting and watering. 

Wait, Sunday? What happened to the rest of Saturday, or did the shopping really take that long? No, we had her daughter and family over for lunch and a visit in the afternoon: "and family" means the daughter's husband and one-year-old baby. Also they have a new dog, since their old dog died a few days ago and they went right out to the shelter to get a new one. The new dog seems to have anxiety issues whenever they leave (and a huge urge to run away), so of course they brought her along. I tried to be nice even though I'm really not a dog person under the best of circumstances; also this one seriously freaked out on seeing me. Maybe I looked or smelled like a previous owner? Someone who beat her, perhaps? No way to know, because she doesn't talk; but I spent the afternoon trying hard to move slowly and non-threateningly.

Actually I spent most of the afternoon playing with the baby. I'm not sure how much I have to discuss with Daughter and her husband — that is, I like them (especially her husband) but they have a lot going on and what can I really contribute? — but I'm a sucker for babies. So he and I crawled around the living room a few times, pulled books off the bookshelf, and generally made noises to each other for several hours. The best part was that when he got smelly I could pass him back to his parents to let them change his diaper. 

Daughter and her family left after supper. Debbie and I decided to go see a movie, but the nearest theater was half an hour away and her Internet was out. So we couldn't check ahead what was showing, but just drove out on a lark. We got there exactly in time for a showing of "Rocketman," which was the only one that interested us. Couldn't have asked for better.

Sunday morning we went to church after breakfast, meeting up with Daughter & Family again. After the service was the church's annual meeting, which Debbie, her daughter, and her son-in-law all planned to attend. So I spent 90 minutes or so with their baby again, and on the whole it was time pleasantly spent. 

After that, Debbie and I went back to her place and did the gardening I described above. But we worked for only a couple of hours, because Daughter & Family had invited us to their place for dinner. So we showered and drove to their place. 

The whole visit was somehow sad. Afterwards Debbie said that the family seemed anxious and discouraged. Certainly I felt a kind of anxiety the whole time I was there, as if there were something contagious in the air. And they have plenty to be stressed about. Their baby is healthy, and developing well and on schedule; but a baby in the house always adds stress. My recollection from when my own boys were little is that the stress can be mitigated only somewhat by a fixed clockworklike schedule, to which any guests (even well-known friends and family, to say nothing of semi-strangers like Grandmother's recent ex-boyfriend) are an interruption. 

They have money worries. Daughter is a new professor at some little college in a town that makes Sticksville look cosmopolitan. Son-in-law was going to be a professor, but never finished his Ph.D., so now he is offering summer school classes in the department and looking for work in the "real world." Unemployment is supposed to be at record lows, but he's not finding it. So their household income is ... I don't know a number, but low enough for them to worry. 

Then there is the new dog, whom they have owned less than a week (if I heard them right), who seems to have major anxiety issues, and who shat on the living room floor while we were there. (Thank God it was on the hardwood and not the carpet.) Son-in-law took her outside very deliberately while Daughter cleaned up the mess; then he explained in a soft, low voice that he hadn't beaten or punished her. 

For whatever it is worth, I have no idea what he did do, much less what one is supposed to do in a case like that. But I think I recognize the tone of voice. It sounded like the tone I heard from myself, back in the days when both boys were very young, back when we still owned a house and our own dog (plus a parrot, God help us!), back when Wife had recently left work on disability and was at home spending money crazily online, back when my job was closing and it took me almost two years to find another — back when I controlled myself very carefully and responded very deliberately every time Fate kicked me in the ribs yet again, because ... well hell, why not? Fate had whipped and cowed me; what was there to gain by screaming or rebellion? And besides where would I even have started?

Sorry, I've suddenly made this all about me, which it shouldn't be. But I think I recognize Son-in-law's tone and his whole demeanor. And I wish there were something I could do to help. Can I even tell him it gets better? It got better for me, but only through ways I couldn't have imagined at the time. And it took years. He's a young guy, and there is plenty of time for him to take a totally different path to some totally different and unforeseeable end. 

After dinner Debbie and I came home, finished the last bit of gardening and watering, and had banana splits for dessert. Then I showered, packed, and went to bed. She stayed up to call her mother, and then talked to her sister for a while ... partly about their mother ("Does it sound to you like Mom's been drinking again?") and partly about Daughter's new dog ("You've had a lot of dogs, so WTF?") This morning we had breakfast, in and around Debbie calling her daughter ("Sis says dogs with that much anxiety rarely get better, so think about whether you are really prepared to deal with all this in the long term.") and fielding urgent calls from her work. We packed our respective cars, and then hugged goodbye in her driveway: a long and tender hug with a couple of light kisses. "Hosea, I'm so glad you came." "Debbie, I always love seeing you." And we drove away; she to work, and I to the airport.

In my post on Friday I made a flippant remark about our reading Walt Whitman together, suggesting that there might still be a sexual dynamic at work between us, but I don't really believe it. Or rather, I think it will always be there at some level, as a kind of fuel for the relationship. But I no longer think we have to work at it to keep the relationship non-romantic and non-sexual. That's just how it is. In some ways I'm a little wistful about it. If this were a thing that Debbie and Marie could both accept gladly I'd be happy if we were still on terms of intermittent fuckability. But at this point it's less that I want genital ecstasy than that I'd like to be allowed to hold hands when we walk alongside each other; I'd like to be allowed to drape an arm around her waist when we stand next to each other; I'd like to be allowed to kiss her seriously, not with a quick peck on the lips but slowly and deeply inside her mouth. I haven't asked after any of these liberties, of course; and I understand that even these trigger strong, deep emotions. I'm still wistful.

Oh well. Sabbath's over. Time to come back to the world.

I still think I will always love her.

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Friday, May 31, 2019

Visiting Debbie, 3

It's almost exactly a year (within a week) since the last time I visited Debbie, and here I am again.

I had another week working at the plant in Sticksville, a very tiring and difficult week. And then another 3-4 hour drive down here. And now it's bedtime and I'm going to sleep in the guest room.

But it seems like each time my visit gets a little longer. The first time I spent one night. The second ... I forget, but I think it was two nights. This will be three nights: Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, flying home on Monday.

We cooked dinner together, did dishes together, and went out to buy groceries for the weekend together. We talked about the troubles at our respective works. As we sat down to eat she said she was really grateful for my visit — well sure, I'm grateful for it too — and then added that it's special because I'm the only one who has ever come to visit her and stay here. Late this evening she opened up a volume of Walt Whitman that she had bought because today is his 200th birthday, and we took turns reading stanzas to each other ... all about his nakedness and his "man root" and how much he loves for his friend to kiss his chest near the heart.

But there's no more sexual undertone between Debbie and me, of course.

I'm expecting a quiet visit. After a week like this last one, I look forward to it.

It's time for sleep. Debbie was about to turn in too, and then got an emergency call from work. (She's on-call 24x7.)

Night night.

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Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Another six-word memoir

"Sooner endure than confront or change."

I thought of it this morning and it summarizes neatly a lot of the things I've talked about.

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Monday, May 20, 2019

If failure is freedom, then freedom is failure

You've heard me argue that failure means freedom.

It works the other way too. Freedom means failure. More exactly, getting things done requires focus; focus requires constraint -- looking here and not over there. Freedom means a lack of constraint, … which easily devolves into a lack of focus, … which means getting nothing done. Which means failure.

This was the pattern of my father's life, once he got out of the family business. He had lots of great ideas of stuff he was going to do, and he accomplished almost none of them … because he didn't have to, because nobody was making him do it. So it was easy for him to plan to do it tomorrow.

And largely it's how my life is going these days.

I've been thinking about this since last week, when I went to a meeting of the local chapter of my professional association (which I only joined last year, after two decades in the profession). One of the other members was giving a talk about an aspect of the field about which I know nothing. And one of his first slides introduced himself: his academic background, his jobs in the field, and all his professional accreditations. He's got a slew of them from this association itself; he's also got a lot of continuing education, including degrees earned while he was working. All in all it was an impressive list. And of course I've got nothing like it. I've taken a lot of internal training classes here at work, but I've done nothing on my own time.

Why not? It never occurred to me. Maybe because I never took my profession seriously enough. Years ago I would have said that I was too busy keeping the family together, parenting two school-aged kids, and acting as a buffer between Wife's craziness and the world; but obviously none of that is true any more. But no, I'm 57 going on 58 this year and I have none of that admirable stack of professional development to brag of.

Maybe I've accomplished other things? Well … there's this blog, though it's not under my real name and for exactly that reason I can't show it off in real life. I've had ideas for a number of things that I'd like to read if somebody else wanted to write them, but I've never gotten the actual writing done on my own. Last year I was actually discussing one of them with Marie for a couple of months, and got quite a few notes written … before I just stopped. God knows why. Maybe it was because I was going to write a book about an innovation I developed at work a couple years ago. Never did that either.

Then there was the time back in September when I asked Marie to keep me accountable for a project to clean up the stacks of paper I've accumulated over years. That one lasted some months, at least until Son 1 moved in with me after Christmas. But it has been hard to keep at it since then. Also I needed to buy a car. Haven't done that either. Son 1 has a car now, but that's because Wife called him one day and made it happen the next. See, when other people make you do things you really can get them done.

Maybe that's why we praise the Great Achievers of the world so highly -- because it's so bloody rare to make yourself do anything at all. Or maybe it's just me who is that sluggish.

Anyway, if A=B then B=A. If failure is freedom, then freedom is failure. Nice to know, huh?

Saturday, May 18, 2019

On inspiration

It's truly said the Muses will not speak 
To those who will not listen — that's to say
The ones who cannot trouble to attend, 
Who're mindful only of the mindless World.

It used to be a trope, back years ago,
Romantic poets sighing would bemoan
The loss of their inspired poetic gifts
That left them mumbling prose like mortal men.

So maybe this is just what poets do,
To grouse when they have nothing else to say,
To strut and preen and pose like mannequins 
And puff their nothings full of empty wind.

If that's, then, all it takes, why every dog 
Can call himself a poet — even I!

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