Saturday, August 31, 2013

Another trip around

I’m 47 years old today.

The big Four Seven.

Happy Birthday to me!

And today started at about 5 a.m. when the younger son couldn’t sleep and woke me up. I tucked him back in and he went to sleep right away and then, well, I didn’t. I just lied in bed for an hour before the dog came to the door and began her pity growl. I have to give her credit. She knows not to bark and wake up everyone. She knows how to do this kind of under the breath mini growl sound that just wakes up Lori and me. I was starting to feel myself almost be able to fall back to sleep but I knew I wouldn’t so I told Lori I’d get up so Dolly the dog could curl up on the bed with Lori. Which they both like.

So, I’m going to be tired for my birthday. Which I guess is another way that being 47 years old feels like being 46 years and 364 years old. Tired.

Let me stop right here because I know this sounds like I’m complaining. It sounds like a good set up for an “I can’t believe I’m really this old and tired essay.” And while there is some truth to that, what is more true is how full my life is. I say “full” because it’s hard for me to use the word “blessed” or “wonderful.” And even hearing the "happy" in happy birthday gives me pause. Those of you who have been reading along for the past several years know why. Three years ago I “celebrated” my 44th birthday; the first one after Amy died the previous April. I was rolling through the heavy rumbling of grief aftershocks and was very much unsure where my life was leading.

And yet here I am. With a full life.

I have to say it starts with my two boys. I’ve mentioned this to several people – had I not had those two boys I don’t know what I would have done after Amy died. It wasn’t like I ever made a conscious decision, it just happened. Instinctively I had to dust myself off quickly enough so I could continue to be a present father to them. It wasn’t overnight, and plenty of scotch ran through me that first year. But we made it through. And now I have a guitar playing middle school-er and a baseball playing 3rd grader. This past week was their first week back to school and, well, so far so good! They continue to amaze me in so many ways.

Then there are my in-laws. Amy’s family, that is. We could have chosen to lean away from each other. To let our grief and anger be directed towards each other. I’ve heard those stories. But that isn’t what happened. It was mostly, exactly the opposite and now I have what I have to believe is a rare thing: an amazing and loving relationship with my in-laws.

And of course my family and my extensive network of friends from all over. I can so easily remember middle school and high school and wondering if people liked me or not. Trying to fit in. Be cool. All that stuff. That was a long time ago and the shadow of that insecure adolescents has faded but still lingers and shows up from time to time. Objectively, though, I am rich with family and friends.

Then there is Lori. When I put myself out there to start dating again I really had no idea what to expect. It was all online and I felt nervous and guilty and excited and really very unsure of myself. I think I would tell people I felt “wobbly.” But I told myself I would find someone to date through the holidays. It would be good to have someone to be with since the holidays could be tough and after that we’d break up and then in the spring time or so maybe I’d start dating for real. That was the story I told myself.

Well, like a lot of stories I tell myself, that one didn’t go as planned. Instead Lori and I fell in love. There is more to this story, of course. Like how she and the kids got to know each other, how she brought dogs and cats into our lives. How she got to know my in-laws and how they welcomed each other into each other’s lives. How she joined a family still very much off-balance and accepted it for what it was and embraced it. Embraced us.

After we had been together for a few months and it was pretty clear my plan to break up with my holiday date was coming apart. I told Lori that I was waiting for her to come to her senses and go back to her life. Yes, of course I would be sad if she did, but I wouldn’t be surprised. And then more time passed and I would tell her that she must either A) really, really love me (us), or B) be crazy because no sane person would choose this life.

She kept saying it was A and whatever evidence I could find for B was not that strong and probably not as valid as the evidence she found for me to be crazy. And that was good, because I really, really love her too. Which is why I married her in June. And that puts me in yet another demographic: Widowed-Remarried. And yes, there is a Facebook group for us.

I could go on and on about ways my life is full: my amazing work colleagues, my church, the new venture Lori and I are creating. But I’ll stop and sum it all up with one concept. One philosophy that is becoming my religion: The enduring and healing power of Love. I view it not just as a human emotion but also as a natural force. Almost like gravity or the weak nuclear force. I fantasize that someday in the future some clever scientist will be able to show how subatomic particles bombarded with the love force behave differently and convey advantages to the host and then we’ll have certain proof of our singular purpose as a species. The one thing we can do that no other in the universe can: Love.

So, it is a happy birthday. I can say that. Though today I’m tired and have a slight fatigue head-ache, I feel pretty good. My life is full. Filled with love.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Twerk Respect

Dear readers,

Particularly you younger, Generation Y readers: Using my “blogger pulpit” I feel compelled to respond to the “Twerk-tastrophy” that has gripped the nation the past few days. Unless you are living in a cave, or are approaching 47 in a couple days, you know exactly what I am talking about.

But for you cave dwellers and late 40-somethings, I am talking about the VMAs, better known as the MTV Video Music Awards: the program where Peter Gabriel won 10 awards in 1987 for Sledgehammer. Yeah!

That was back in the day when MTV still showed real music videos.

And at this year’s “VMA” Billy Ray Cyrus’s little girl porno-danced something called “The Twerk.”

Ok, fine, so I had to google “twerk” to find out what it is. And I didn’t even know the VMAs were on until I started seeing other blog posts, and news articles, and Facebook statuses referencing this most recent Crime Against Humanity. And I didn’t even know what the VMAs were until I asked my wife, Lori, and she told me it’s the MTV awards show. Aha! MTV!

I wasn't even sure MTV is still on. I guess I skip right past it surfing from HGTV to ESPN. Whatever.

Of course wanting to feel connected to whatever it is that is pop culture these days I sat in front of my google machine and starting searching:  “VMA Twerk”, “Miley Cyrus Twerk”, and so on. And when I was sure no one was looking, I watched a YouTube of her performance.

Wow. And I mean wow!

All I can say is, “what is up with all the giant plushies? That seems kind of creepy.”

But also, this thing they call Twerk or Twerking - when did this all start? According to Wikipedia, it’s been around a while, about 15 years or so, growing up in the hip hop culture, which makes me wonder: Is it just because a white girl is doing this that we are all upset? Hmm. Maybe, or maybe that’s too simple. That’s for another essay.

What twerking used to look like!
But my real objection is this: There seems to be no respect or recognition whatsoever of the elders of twerking. The current generation of Millennials could at least acknowledge the heritage of their art form. And you know whom I’m talking about. The proto-twerkers from back in my day: Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Gray. And it was called Dirty Dancing then which is a far more accurate descriptor than The Twerk.

So, from the original slacker GenXers to the current slacker Millennials, give your elders the props they deserve.

I said that right, yes? Props?

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Goddamned Liberal Solar Panels!

Heeeere we go again! Another failed liberal president is trying to placate his liberal base. Everyone knows that Obama’s liberal energy conspiracy and these so-called "solar panels" are just a smoke screen to draw our attention away from Benghazi-gate, Snowden-gate, and Holder-gate.

Let’s review:

  1. Carter put solar panels on the White House, the economy tanked and American hostages were taken. 
  2. Reagan removed the solar panels, the hostages were freed, the economy became a juggernaut, the Berlin Wall fell, and the Soviet Union collapsed!
  3. Now Obama re-installs those failed solar panels. What next? I bet by 2016 we’ll all be speaking Mandarin! And what is Obama’s next trick? Rain barrels?

I rest my case.

Sorry. I couldn’t help myself.

Let me get to my question: When did solar power become a polarized liberal/conservative issue? Why is "alternative" energy something only blue-state people favor? The technology seems, well, a-political and could be a useful innovation to get us further away from despotically controlled oil. No? And solar panels are not really a new thing (see prior reference to 1970’s president Jimmy Carter). Its not like we aren't sure if they work or not. And when did we start having red states and blue states anyway? When I was growing up America had a rainbow of state colors: purples, greens, oranges, pinks. My home state, New Jersey, was yellow. Canada and Mexico were typically a pale shade of beige so we weren’t confused.

But we aren’t like that anymore. We are either one side or the other. And one side says wind and solar will save us from ourselves and one side says drill-baby-drill. And I don’t think either is actually the way.

But what really bothers me more than what I already hear from the red-state side yapping about Obama and his "mis-guided solar panel fiasco" and the blue-state side feeling all superior and smug about this is Obama’s lack of conviction on this. This should be big-time press conference stuff, but instead it just sort of slowly leaks out the side of the White House, like tar-sand from a pipeline, in the middle of the slowest Washington month, August, while Obama wraps up his Martha’s Vineyard vacation. Yawn.

But he could have used this to create a moment. He could have waited a month until 9-11, unveiled this little stunt, stood up and said something like:

"After 9-11 we had a moment. We had a moment when the whole country was one. We had been knocked down hard. We were sad and scared. . . and angry. I know I was. I remember it well. And I also remember we were ready to do whatever was needed. There was no red or blue America then. Just America and we had a moment when we could have said, 

'we are going to chase down and kill that sonnofabitch Osama bin Laden and we’ll stop at nothing to get him so you better not get in the way. But that’s not all. We are going to also say ‘forget about it’ Middle East. Just forget about it. You can keep your stinky oil and we’ll keep just keep our dollars and use it to convert our economy to one that runs on wind and solar and nuclear. We have spent trillions on our military to keep the free flow of your precious crude to the world. It may not have been perfect arrangement, but many have received the great benefits of that cheap oil and you, Middle East, have gotten filthy rich from selling us your stinky oil. Well, we are calling it quits. We will use our abundant gas and coal to convert over - you heard me liberals: gas and coal - but we’ll do it quickly so we don’t destroy our environment. It’s a big job, but we’ve created railroads, and airplanes, set men to the moon, and invented the internet. You think we can’t do this too? If you do, then you are sorely mistaken. For this is not your moment, this is our moment. This is our moment and we will seize it and we get the last laugh, not you, so thank you very much! And that goes for you too, Venezuela!'

We could have said that 12 years ago, but we said something different. But now, this day, I’m going to say it. And that’s why I am standing here while behind me technicians install solar panels on our house, the White House. Not because I believe these solar panels alone will solve our problems, but because they are a symbol. Just like the flag we pledge allegiance to is a symbol of our patriotism and our collective belief, as 50 states, in the un-dying American spirit, these solar panels symbolize American engineering, know-how, and innovation. We’ll not stand and wait any longer. We are rolling up our sleeves and getting to work. Thank you and God bless America.

That’s what I would like the President to say -- and it also scratches my speechwriter fantasy itch, or maybe it's my HBO drama-writer fantasy itch. But I don’t think he’ll say that. I’m afraid Mr. Obama will say little about it.  And I don’t know why, really. Is he afraid of pissing off John Boehner? Or the oil industry? Hell, give them the money to invent the kick-ass batteries we’ll need. Incentive them to leave oil in the ground like we did with tobacco farmers and their stinky weed. Toss money at the auto-industry like we did the banking industry to convert our transportation infrastructure to electric. We know how to do this and he has little to loose. He is a lame duck and it’s not like Congress is doing anything anyway.

Instead of getting bold we get blah.

At least the weather is nice. For August. I think I’ll have some ice cream.

Friday, August 9, 2013

On an Island

Sitting on the back deck of our vacation rental in Nantucket, I hear two birds in call and response:



A moment or two passes.


At one point the first calls out and there is no response. And he cheeps again. And again. Then finally after a curious several moments his mate responds.

Are they holding some conversation? Recounting last night’s events? Planning their day? Flirting? Or is it an instinctual signal to let them each know the other is near by. Safety in numbers.

What kind of bird is it? I have to know. I want to know. I should know. Even though I live in the inner suburbs, I pride myself with being in touch with nature. I have 4 bird feeders in the yard and can name off a number of our regular winged friends. I like to go hiking and camping. And I am a life member of the Sierra Club for crying out loud.

But I don’t know these birds. They are probably common on the island and anyone with any island cred would know what the bird is by sound only.

“Ah, yes, that’s probably a Bay-breasted Warbler,” the local would say.

“Wahblah,” would be how it’s pronounced. Bay-breasted Wahblah.

At least that’s what I imagine would be the conversation of the old-timer passing on his years of local knowledge to me, the outsider, trying to fit in and fit in by knowing just enough local knowledge and lore to sound intelligent and that I belong. Belong here on this island I’ve never been to before.

We are here with friends (family of 4) who rented a house for the week along with his sister and her family of 4. We were graciously invited and with our 4 we have 12 in the house (and at one time 16 when other friends visited for the day). It’s interesting, and sometimes amusing, and sometimes infuriating, watching the 6 kids (or 8) – ages 8 to 13 – negotiate on, well, just about everything. What to dig in the sand, who gets the shovel first, who is ‘it,’ who gets to deal the cards first, and so on. Then new games are created and there is the lengthy debate on the rules, and then new rules to the original rules, and how to apply a new rule and what is fair or not fair. It will be a real shame if none of these children become lawyers or judges. But with their game playing is the constant inner-battle of being included in the game or not, getting to set the rules or not, and being in position to be successful or not.

When I look back at my own childhood I don’t remember any of that. At least I don’t remember it the way I see it in my children and with the children they play with. But I’m certain that if I asked my parents, “was I REALLY like that?” they’d just shake their heads and roll their eyes in disbelief. And none of us became lawyers either.

Fareness. Rules. Fitting in. None of that really changes. Not much. I’m almost 47 and still aware of where I fit in and don’t. Whether on this island, at work, church, in my neighborhood, and so on. I remember after Amy died suddenly being aware, very aware, that I was no longer part of a married couple. My self-identity as a married person was taken away and there were times, in social situations, when I’d be the only person without a mate. In addition to feeling the terror and grief of her death, I was confronted with an additional question – did I still belong?  My identify as a “husband” had disappeared. What did that mean?

My older son is entering middle school. He seems socially adept. At least more so than I was at his age.  Or maybe it’s just a father’s wishful thinking that he’ll both a) worry less about fitting in, and b) fit in better. For me, it was the time when I first remembered having to figure out the social rules for inclusion. It wasn’t easy.

I have the advantage of 35 years of hindsight and the awareness that middle school and high school is awkward for most of us. It wasn’t just me. Strangely we all fit in in our collective desires to be part of the group. That’s my grown-up interpretation that I now file alongside the memories of that socially awkward time. And I probably fit in better than I thought. For now, here, on this island, I’ll just listen to the birds, whatever they are. Sounds like they have it all figured out.