Fatherly Rage

No child is bad from the beginning… they only imitate their atmosphere.

Prince

Nothing in life is easy. Nothing. Especially the things that are good. Even things that are supposed to be natural, like parenthood.

Life is stressful enough without adding kids into the mix, and patience is always in limited reserves. Like any scarce resource, patience must be judiciously managed so that one doesn’t spend the last few hours of the waking day a simmering cauldron of rage.

This affects parents, no doubt. But this is not necessarily what has been affecting me. I am generally even-keeled and tend not to let my emotions overtake me, whether I’m at work or involved in something personal. This isn’t my natural disposition, though, but one borne through almost two decades of managing a legendarily short fuse.

And yet, I find myself getting angry at my son a lot lately.

He is four-and-a-half, very funny, and very energetic. This energy has difficulty being dispersed by nature of our having moved recently to a much smaller place in the city. This will change soon, hopefully, but I’m not making any guesses as to when.

So in lieu of being able to play outside, he has to deal with “indoor” stuff, particularly at night, when there are no playgrounds or parks or backyards nearby. And the indoor stuff soon gets boring for a kid who loves nothing more than being out in the open air. 

You can see where this is going.  Continue reading “Fatherly Rage”

Book Review: Emma by Jane Austen

I am four books into my read-through of the entire Jane Austen canon, and all I can say is that I enjoy each book more than the last.

So does that mean that Emma, the topic of this review, is a better book than Sense and SensibilityPride and Prejudice, and Mansfield Park? Only in the sense that I seem to enjoy whichever of her books I am reading at the time the most.

Everybody knows Emma, right? Emma Woodhouse, the matchmaker who cares so much about the romantic goings-on of others, and so little for her own, that a few early successes blind her to the romantic blunders she is making others step into.

This matchmaking aspect is a large part of Emma. But it’s not the only part. I am finding it difficult to say anything about the Austen oeuvre that hasn’t been said before and have instead tried to extract from them why I think they are worth reading aside from the entertaining stories. And two themes that I took from Emma are those of self-awareness and that people can change.

Let’s have some plot for context: Emma is the youngest daughter of the hypochondriac widower Henry Woodhouse. She is charming, rich, witty, attractive, and too clever for her own good. After successfully matching her sister Isabella to family friend John Knightly, she fancies herself somewhat of an expert on matchmaking. And that is where her trouble begins.

Emma is also flighty, inconstant, and never spends enough time devoting herself to the improvement of anything, as John Knightly’s brother George, who serves as her conscience, is so fond of pointing out. She is, in other words, a middleweight despite her obvious energy and intellect:

“She was not much deceived as to her own skill, either as an artist or a musician; but she was not unwilling to have others deceived, or sorry to know her reputation for accomplishment often higher than it deserved.”

What’s worse, many of her schemes to bring people together go wrong, with sometimes humorous, sometimes harmful results.Her friend Harriet Smith; the priest Mr. Elton; the farmer Robert Martin; Frank Churchill, the stepson of Emma’s governess; family friend Jane Fairfax . . . they are all on the receiving end of Emma’s machinations. The fun and poignancy of the story is seeing all of these little stories play out, and the effect that they have on Emma and her conception of self.

I won’t go into spoilers except to say that, as with all of Austen’s works, her characterizations are sharp and deep, her insights into human nature are masterful, and there is always that dialogue . . . some of the best written by anyone, ever, in the English language.

But Emma might be my favorite Austen character thus far, and here’s why: While clearly intended to be unlikable at the outset, she does what she does not out of malice, but out of what she thinks is for the best. So there’s a clear intention/outcome dichotomy, but it works because of Emma’s  willingness to change. Continue reading “Book Review: Emma by Jane Austen”

Even Michaelangelo Got the Blues: What Bill Russell Taught Me About Craftsmanship

I like to write.

In addition to this blog, I like to write poetry and music and fiction. Lately, it’s mostly fiction.

And writing fiction is fun, but damn it’s a lot of work.

That said, I did state that one of my goals for 2017 is to get some of this writing published. And since I’ve backed myself into a corner, there’s really nothing left to do but push forward with it.

I would like to get some writing published in 2017. I have one novel in the hopper ready to go, another almost done, and my NaNoWriMo novel to finish (it turns out that 50,000 words represented the first half of my story).

One interesting thing I’ve discovered is that the writing itself, while time-consuming, isn’t the difficult part. What struck me is that the blood, sweat, and other substances that hard work brings out of you really flow during the revisions.

In other words, for the book I am working on now, revising the sucker is taking forever. Or at least it feels that way, even if the math doesn’t make sense. Let me explain:

It took me ten months of writing, plugging away between work and family and travel, to finish my first draft, the final period put in place this past January. At 800 pages, it actually only represents the third-longest thing I’ve ever written.

If you’re into word count as a metric, Microsoft Word puts it at around 168,000 words. Please do not ask me for any more statistics.

Okay, here’s one more: Since January, I have edited, revised, rewritten, deleted, rearranged, polished, and spit-shone 211 of those pages.

It sounds like I’m moving at a pretty good clip right? And I am. But why does it feel like it’s ten times harder than writing the damn thing in the first place?

It’s all relative, and at this rate I should be done with my second draft in a month. But let me tell you, the level of effort required to refine this book is intense.

But as I go through this second-pass at my book, a word keeps bouncing in my mind, a word that seems to perfectly encapsulate what I am doing and, most importantly, why.

That word is CRAFTSMANSHIP.

Recall, if you will, that I wrote about my growing disinterest in professional sports not too long ago. But just because I’m not watching sports on a regular basis doesn’t mean I can’t admire great athletes and the lessons that they teach.

One of my sports heroes is actually a thinker who just so happened to be really tall and ended up playing basketball: Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell.

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Mr. Russell is an incredibly interesting man. While he was not the first black athlete drafted in the NBA (that would be Chuck Cooper, drafted by, ahem, the Boston Celtics in 1950), Russell broke many other color barriers, including being the first black coach in NBA history–a role he performed while also playing.

But Russell isn’t famous only for his civil rights work. He is also famous for being one of the most successful winners in sports history: In the 13 seasons he played, he won 11 championships, including an unmatched run of 8 in a row. He also completely revolutionized the game of basketball, single-handedly changing the way the game was played, particularly on defense.

He was also a damn good scorer and gobbled up a hell of a lot of rebounds.

Anyway, as if the guy wasn’t gifted enough, Bill Russell is also smart as hell. He’s well-known among basketball fans as being one of the smartest people ever to play the game. Seriously, he’s like a basketball philosopher-cum-scientist who can dissect the game in ways you never thought possible.

But more germane for our purposes, he is adept at relating the game of basketball and the lessons he learned playing it to life. Continue reading “Even Michaelangelo Got the Blues: What Bill Russell Taught Me About Craftsmanship”

True Truthiness

Today, for both Eastern and Western Christians, marks the start of Great and Holy Lent, the 40-day fast culminating in Easter Sunday and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

But this post is not about religion per se, and is intended for a universal audience regardless of your religious proclivities (if any).

I’m inclusive like that.

You see, what strikes me about Lent and Easter is its thematic link to most other major Christian holidays in that they all seem to be about renewal and rebirth.

From Christmas–the conception and birth of Jesus–to Epiphany–the baptism of Jesus Christ by John the Baptist–to the Transfiguration–the Revelation of Jesus’ true nature to John and James and Peter–these events involve humanity being able to overcome its fallen nature and put on a new form, new wine in new bottles.

But if this isn’t a religious post, then why am I writing about religion?

Because this focus on rebirth can also be seen as a quest for truth. And as a blogger I very much enjoy named Insanitybytes22 put it recently, absolute truth is difficult to come by, but us Christians like to think we have a starting point:

However, human flaws aside, objective truth and Absolute Truth are still real things in the world. Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” -John 14:6. The truth is important in the Christian walk, and it is an objective, tangible thing, outside of and beyond ourselves, our feelings, and our sentimentality.

This is what I try to use as my starting point as well: If you are going to have a standard, it’s better for that standard to be as immutable and true as humanly possible. And since “humanly possible” is not always best, I think the teachings of Jesus Christ–who us Christians consider to be God on Earth–are a good place to start.

This all still sounds religious. Where am I going with this?

I am going to a place that may seem disproportionately mundane when compared to the resurrection of the dead: My own life.

Specifically, my purpose.

Specifically, what am I doing here.

And by “here,” I mean blogging. Writing. Anything. Continue reading “True Truthiness”

Words Are Not Wind


“Words are wind…”

Anyone familiar with the book series A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin or the television show it inspired, A Game of Thrones, is doubtless familiar with this phrase


“Words are wind…”

But what does it mean? Is it suggesting that all words are airy, insubatantial, and meaningless?

Perhaps. Or perhaps just words with no action behind them. Or perhaps that we should always “trust, but verify” what we hear, especially if we want it to be true. 

If you’d like to delve deeper into this, and don’t mind spoilers (HINT: Everyone gets murdered), OverthinkingIt.com has a good analysis, including the distinction between the spoken word and the written word.

I’m more interested in the idea that words somehow do not have power. I’ve written before that words by themselves are not magic and cannot do, or make people, do things on their own in the legal realm.

But let me tell you…I’m starting to change my mind on how much power they actually have.

The right words–written or spoken–can unlock what is already there in people, or make them think things they otherwise might not, inspiring them (hopefully) to good ends. 

If words were just wind, what of Jesus? Buddha? Moses? What of Homer? Plato? Aristotle? What of George Washington? Thomas Jefferson? Martin Luther King, Jr.?

Yes, there are also dark forces who use words for evil purposes (do I really need to give examples here?), but I would say, to clarify my previous, more legalistic interpretation of this phenomenon, that words tap into latent feelings that just needed a spark to ignite. 

Words, in a way, are one of the most powerful things humanity has ever created.

Think about stories in general…

Words can make us do one of the most difficult things a person can do: They can make one look at things differently.  Continue reading “Words Are Not Wind”

Old Friends Anonymous

We don’t understand our own minds, really. Thoughts come unbidden, and often at the strangest times. And what triggers this is as mysterious as any of the other inner-workings of our oh-so rational brains. 

See, I have a confession to make. My thoughts have lately turned towards an old friend of mine. Maybe because I don’t have too many anymore, I don’t know. But whatever the reason, the desire to reach out to the guy are real and they are strong. 

Weird, right?

This friend and I started hanging out in the fifth grade or and became as thick as thieves, concocting plans and schemes about all of the things we would do when we were adults and the world would be ours for the taking. 

We were going to conquer the world, you see. But not with the power of armies at our command or anything as predictable as that. 

No, we were more ambitious than that. 

We were going to conquer the world through the power of music. 

As I said, we were weird. Although we didn’t feel like it at the time. 

The power of those vibrating air molecules we call music is pretty powerful, as are the connections that it can form. What is music, after all, l but another form of communication, another language?

We learned how to play and write music together, him on guitar and me on bass, through our mutual love of bands like Pink Floyd, Nirvana, Led Zeppelin, Metallica…a brew of 90s mainstream and classic rock. 

Up where we lived in those pre-Internet days, you see, the more “hip” stuff never reached us. 

Through this, through the bands we’d form (with a Spinal Tap-ian rotating cast of drummers), we became more than friends. We became partners-in-crime. We became brothers. 

It sounds ridiculous and overblown–because it is–but it’s the kind of bond that only young boys can have, earnestness and ambition in those heady days before cynicism got its claws into us. 

Into me, at least. My friend was a pretty happy teenager. Perpetually dating the prettiest girls in our school will do that to you, I suppose. 

Anyway, as with most people from small, isolated rural areas, college shattered our coterie, which had grown to include about eight of us, a band of brothers who would never let anything come between them and the world. 

Nothing but growing up.  Continue reading “Old Friends Anonymous”

The Great Unveiling

Psst! Pay attention. These are exciting times! 

People are asking questions. Big questions. Challenging things that nobody challenged before. 

Did you ever wonder why things seem to work the way they do? Have you found yourself scratching your head at the mountain of bad decisions made by the powerful among us, those we may in a fit of charitable sentiment call “our leaders”?

They can’t all be that stupid, can they? They’re not all short-sighted and venal. Right?

Right?

We’re all familiar with The Wizard of Oz and the great and terrible wizard’s admonition to “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.”

I know, I know: The analogy is too obvious. But things become cliche for a reason. 

I think we’re on the verge of seeing something similar. It’s kind of exciting. 

But “exciting” doesn’t always mean “pleasant.” Continue reading “The Great Unveiling”