My wife

My wife, Tiffany, is hav­ing a birth­day today. It’s been a hell of a year, for a lot of rea­sons, most­ly good, but you know how rea­sons are, lots of gray in with the black and white. So on the occa­sion of her birth­day, I want­ed to remind her that I love her.

She is my best friend, the one I tell all the secrets to. We share the looks that mean this, the tilt of the head that means that, the ancient jokes, the life­time friends, the his­to­ry, the tears, the uncon­trol­lable gig­gling, the cold nights, the despair, and the heights of joy. We have the first house we owned togeth­er. We have the first dog we loved togeth­er. We have reams of old emails, and years of old texts. We have the books we love togeth­er, and too many sea­sons of guilty plea­sure TV. We have those things that we have knit togeth­er into our life, togeth­er. She is my lover. I know her, until I find new depths to won­der at, new resolve to envy, new whim­sy to dance with, and then I want to get to know her all over again. I am amazed by her, her strength even when she doubts, her love even when she hurts, her com­pas­sion even when she is tired. There is noth­ing I desire that she does not embody. There is no oth­er dance part­ner I fit. I am drawn to her, as to noth­ing else.

She is my part­ner. When I floun­der, she is there for me, some­times with a ten­der ges­ture, some­times with a kick in the ass. When there’s blood, she han­dles it. When some­thing smells bad, I return the favor. When I need to work, she shoul­ders the load. When she has one of those days, I want noth­ing more than to take it from her, that she can just enjoy what she loves. I would not have lived this life as well with­out her. I would not be who I am were she not here. I am in her debt, for all that she has made me.

She is the moth­er of my chil­dren. There is noth­ing more fright­en­ing than pluck­ing your heart out and watch­ing it walk around, play soc­cer, surf the inter­net, make friends, laugh, and cry. She is there for them, she is their friend, their part­ner, their love, their guide, their teacher. They would have half a life, if she were not there for them. I am a bet­ter father for her being their moth­er.

She is her­self. Incred­i­bly strong, but not with­out doubts. Con­fi­dent­ly com­pe­tent, but not with­out mis­takes. Com­pas­sion­ate­ly lov­ing, but not with­out needs. Curi­ous, but stead­fast. Com­plex, but forth­right. Beau­ti­ful, but intri­cate. Fun­ny, but sen­si­tive. Crass, but gen­tle. She is her­self, and noth­ing else.

She makes me cry when I think about her too much, because she is my every­thing.

Sweet­ie, I love you.

September 11

Today is my birth­day. I share it with a nation­al tragedy. I like to acknowl­edge both. For the birth­day, I share it with my friends and fam­i­ly. For the oth­er, I share it here.

On the day I turned thir­ty-one, ter­ror­ists killed 3,000 peo­ple in the Unit­ed States. It was a hor­rif­ic moment of awak­en­ing for this coun­try, a moment that those of us who had grown up over­seas thought we under­stood. I grew up with car bombs on the news and in my city. It had only been a mat­ter of time, I thought, before the Unit­ed States would have had to face it. Amer­i­can head­lines screamed that “The World has Changed!” and I remem­ber think­ing that was a lot of hubris.

I did not account for what the Unit­ed States would do in response. This was a moment that could have touched off a world-shak­ing dri­ve for peace, com­pas­sion, and a bet­ter future. Instead, we launched a world-shear­ing assault on “ter­ror­ists,” which has, in most rea­son­able esti­mates, been respon­si­ble for the deaths of almost 5,000 US ser­vice mem­bers in Iraq alone, and between 100,000 and 1 mil­lion Iraqis. The issue is not as stark as these num­bers make it out to be, the world is a mud­dy mess, even at its best. But that is a lot of blood spilled in vengeance. The world did change after all. And our coun­try was the agent of that change.

I’m not ask­ing to com­pare the three thou­sand vic­tims of 9/11 to the hun­dreds of thou­sands of vic­tims of the Iraq War. That is a scale that will nev­er bal­ance. Instead, I am ask­ing us to put ALL the deaths on one side. What goes on the oth­er side then?

For my birth­day wish, I would like us to reflect on these scales, and do what we can to see them bal­ance.

Where is this horse you speak of?

It has been a lit­tle over a month since I have writ­ten any fic­tion. Not a word. But I am get­ting back on that prover­bial horse.

A lit­tle over a month ago, I was offered a half time job by a friend, and I took it. Thus a third, part-time career was born. I am writ­ing words for a small, local, mod­er­ate polit­i­cal orga­ni­za­tion. It fits me polit­i­cal­ly pret­ty well (I’m an unabashed Lib­er­al, but a reg­is­tered Repub­li­can), and there is a des­per­ate need here in Kansas for any­one with a mod­icum of sense to speak out. I am encour­ag­ing peo­ple to be get­ting on that. I write for our social media prop­er­ties (see, jar­gon!) and also “craft” our mar­ket­ing mes­sage. And I’ll be blog­ging once we get our new web­site up.

So, you know, get­ting paid to write!

And even if it isn’t get­ting paid to write my fic­tion, I do get to put words togeth­er, and that part has been fun.

But.

I’m here to do this. I quit my mod­est but bet­ter-than-this pay­ing job to write fic­tion. And this past month, I have not done that. It’s been the usu­al cock­tail of work I want to do, work I’m not sure I want to do, per­son­al moti­va­tion issues, Life Stuff To Do, and now Job that Must Be Done.

But.

I am up, and I am at ‘em. And it is five in the freakin’ morn­ing.

And I am writ­ing.

Ow

I am forty three years old. I have been bless­ed­ly healthy all those years, with nary a seri­ous ill­ness, a bro­ken bone, nor a hos­pi­tal stay. But yes­ter­day, I had the plea­sure of my first CT scan.

Let me back up.

Three morn­ings ago, I had a lit­tle back pain. Then the pain shift­ed around to the front, and became abdom­i­nal pain. Then it became very strong gas/bloating pain. And then I was writhing around on the guest bed, try­ing not to wake any­one up with my mewl­ing. I was retch­ing, and twist­ing, and curs­ing and in about as much pain as I have ever been. I final­ly woke my wife up, and not being in a hazy fog of agony, she sug­gest­ed med­i­cine. I took a gas thing, and the pain went away.

The rest of the day was fine. I had some plen­ti­ful but innocu­ous gas lat­er on, and I thought all was well. Yay, flat­u­lence!

Two morn­ings ago, I woke up fine, but my stom­ach mus­cles were a lit­tle sore. From all the retch­ing, sure­ly. After all, I’d giv­en the mus­cles a real work­out when I was busy dying the pre­vi­ous morn­ing. Then the gas came back, slow­ly, but sure­ly, and soon I was gri­mac­ing and stamp­ing about. At this point we decid­ed I was clear­ly in labor. Walk­ing felt bet­ter, breath­ing made it tol­er­a­ble, squat­ting relieved the pres­sure. Yay! A new baby! We laughed about that, I took more gas stuff and painkiller, and it went away.

Yes­ter­day morn­ing, it was back. The Inter­nets had been con­sult­ed back on day one, and while abject mus­cle sur­ren­der and gas were still the num­ber one choice, appen­dici­tis start­ed to rise in the ranks of prob­a­bil­i­ty. I prac­ticed my New Year’s res­o­lu­tion to curse more vio­lent­ly, and even the dog slunk away to hide.

And final­ly I decid­ed to see my doc­tor.

Turns out, I have a kid­ney stone.

Which is a great relief. Because, you know, peo­ple die from appen­dici­tis.

But I have to tell you, I antic­i­pate that there will be moments in the near future when I will beg for a nice hos­pi­tal stay and some surgery.

Plus, there’s a cer­tain cachet to appen­dici­tis. After all, there’s infec­tion, fever, surgery, maybe even an ambu­lance. It lends a very seri­ous aura to your suf­fer­ing. That is a mys­tique that kid­ney stones just don’t have, because, you know, “Ha ha! It hurts when you pee! Har!”

For the record, the CT scan showed this wee lit­tle rock to be six mil­lime­ters in diam­e­ter. Please find your­self a ruler and check that out. I have pain drugs, and I intend to use them.

Blistering barnacles!

I’m not much one for New Year’s res­o­lu­tions. After all, I am resolv­ing to do things dif­fer­ent­ly bet­ter all the time, not just once a year. Last month I resolved to write more, and a few days before that, I resolved to stop beat­ing myself up about not writ­ing more.

But I know it’s a sig­nif­i­cant arbi­trary date, and a lot of peo­ple use the first of the year to set new goals. To lose weight, to work bet­ter, to be hap­pi­er. Appar­ent­ly a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of peo­ple pick a word to define their hopes for a new year. “Focus,” or “Pub­lish,” or “Beardi­fy.” That seems like a lot of pres­sure for one word, on one date.

Some time ago, I hit upon a New Year’s res­o­lu­tion that seemed cheeky enough to be fun, but had a ker­nel of actu­al self-improve­ment with­in, and I have gone with that one every year since.

I resolve (once again) to curse more.

Until this year, I just meant that I should use col­or­ful lan­guage more, in con­ver­sa­tion most­ly, but also in my writ­ing. I should cuss and curse and use the full breadth that Eng­lish allows, to make my points. After all, if you don’t overuse it, curs­ing can be a very effec­tive accent to what you’re try­ing to say. Even curs­ing a blue streak has its uses.

But this year it occurred to me that real­ly, I could change it up by resolv­ing to curse more some­thing. After all, as it turns out, I’ve been resolv­ing to curse more fre­quent­ly, right?

I could also resolve to curse more elo­quent­ly. Or cre­ative­ly. I could repur­pose the non-curs­ing lex­i­con for cre­ative curs­ing, like Cap­tain Had­dock (“Blis­ter­ing bar­na­cles!”) or Sylvester (“Suf­fer­ing suc­co­tash!”). Or I could make up words that sound like bad words, like the writ­ers of Bat­tlestar Galac­ti­ca did with the not-so-pop­u­lar-any­more “Frack!”

And then of course, there’s the actu­al curs­ing. Hex­ing. Spit­ing. Eye of newt. I could do some of that. There are a lot of very cre­ative and fun ways to actu­al­ly curse peo­ple, though I’d rec­om­mend stick­ing to wordy curs­es, and keep­ing the hair gath­er­ing to a min­i­mum. The trick to wordy curs­ing (and bad-word curs­ing, too) is to do it in the flow of cir­cum­stance, not five min­utes lat­er, when nobody but your mom­ma cares. Years ago I con­cep­tu­al­ized a con­text-aware device I called the Portable Noel Cow­ard that would spit out time­ly rejoin­ders right when you need­ed them. Curs­ing might need a sim­i­lar thing.

Or I might just need prac­tice. Like a cross­word puz­zle reg­i­men for my wit.

So. I resolve to exer­cise my mind, to leave my com­fort zone, to push myself. I resolve to curse more, and may your warts grow warts if you don’t like it.

I’m unfriending you, Internet

My dar­ling wife alert­ed me to a post on Face­book, by a Friend of a Friend (so I can’t com­ment there, since I’m not Friends with the Friend… ugh), a post that began with, “This just in: ADHD also diag­nosed as ‘child­hood’” and linked to a blog post at the Psy­chol­o­gy Today web­site about how the French (of all peo­ple) don’t have any ADHD cas­es, because they (are enlight­ened?) diag­nose the root caus­es: mal­nu­tri­tion, poor par­ent­ing, dumb­ness, etc.

The com­ments on this post (to which I can­not com­ment) cov­er the range, but are most­ly fol­low­ing the lead of the orig­i­nal poster, fun­ny quips pre­sent­ed as insight, opin­ion mas­querad­ing as fact, and assump­tions pre­sent­ed as research.

I have a child with ADHD (inat­ten­tive, not hyper­ac­tive). He is bright, fun­ny, cre­ative and dis­tract­ed. He is on med­ica­tion, and it has done won­ders for him. At one point before he was diag­nosed, my bril­liant lit­tle boy came to us, after watch­ing a com­mer­cial on TV, and told us that he thought he need­ed to go to the Syl­van Learn­ing Cen­ter. The look on his face, that defeat­ed, but pathet­i­cal­ly hope­ful look, stomped on my heart.

If you know us, you know we do noth­ing with­out research. Our child was test­ed, diag­nosed, seen by doc­tors, sec­ond opin­ioned, and final­ly med­icat­ed. He has gone from being a reme­di­al con­cern to excelling in every aspect of his life, because he can pay atten­tion to the things that are impor­tant to him.

But the ADHD diag­no­sis issue is just the trig­ger that got me going this morn­ing. I now know a lot about ADHD, about the process of diag­nos­ing, about how it affects my kid, about the ins and outs of med­icat­ing my child, about the “cock­tail” need­ed to help him con­cen­trate then help him sleep. I see how he feels when he lets him­self down because his brain doesn’t work, and how he feels when he tops a test or a con­test or fin­ish­es a project or a book. I know what ADHD looks like, to me. This Friend of a Friend does not know what it looks like to me, but that did not pre­vent him from lump­ing every­one in togeth­er, damn the shades of grey, in the ser­vice of his clever com­men­tary.

Here’s what I want­ed to add to this guy’s Face­book post, but couldn’t:

Hi. This post is so insen­si­tive, thought­less, and knee-jerk that I am inclined to answer in kind. With­out know­ing you, your chil­dren, how you par­ent, or what you are like, I’d like to take this oppor­tu­ni­ty to be an ass­hole to a per­fect stranger, because online, there are no reper­cus­sions. Ready? Here goes. ‘I bet, since you’re so into respon­si­ble par­ent­ing, you beat the fuck out of your chil­dren if they mis­be­have. You cretin.’ What’s that? I’m sor­ry, did I over­step? Did I say some­thing with­out know­ing shit about what I was say­ing? Why, yes, I did. You’re wel­come.”

There’s been some dis­cus­sion online about com­ments on arti­cles, how they rarely add to a dis­cus­sion, being either trolled or face­tious or down­right harm­ful. I agree, and would like to add to that the sug­ges­tion that all of Face­book (et al.) is one big com­ment thread full of mean­ing­less pan­der­ing and hate­ful, irre­spon­si­ble, self­ish com­men­tary.

This is what is wrong with Inter­net com­ment­ing.

There is no space for com­pas­sion, for empa­thy, for under­stand­ing.

I know I am also guilty here of over­sim­pli­fy­ing the issue. The Inter­net is a tool, after all. There are places set aside for thought­ful dis­cus­sion and grate­ful heal­ing. There are nice peo­ple online, even on Face­book, and I like being con­nect­ed to them in a way I nev­er could in Real Life. I appre­ci­ate and love them.

But the rest of the Inter­net can seri­ous­ly fuck off. I don’t have time for you any­more.

Thinking about talking about churching

A strange thing has hap­pened to me.

Ever since join­ing our hip­py-go-lib­er­al UU church, I find myself men­tion­ing it in casu­al con­ver­sa­tion. For forty-odd years I haven’t ever talked about church, except when asked, and then only to indi­cate that no, I don’t real­ly attend any church.

But since join­ing SMUUCh, I find myself talk­ing about church. I’m not entire­ly sure why. I don’t bring it up out of the blue. Usu­al­ly it’s some­thing rel­e­vant to the con­ver­sa­tion, like about heck­ling Rep. Yoder at the 4th of July parade, or about the sto­ry the min­is­ter told at din­ner with age-alike church folk. Once or maybe twice I have crowed about some­thing the church does, like about their com­ing of age pro­gram (like Con­fir­ma­tion, except hip­py-go-lib­er­al). But usu­al­ly it’s just about some­thing I heard on Sun­day, or some­thing the church did, or some­thing they might do.

And it feels weird to hear myself say­ing, “At church the oth­er day,” or “My church is going to…” But good, too. I like talk­ing about it. I don’t feel I need to hide that I go, or what it is they espouse. I used to dread con­ver­sa­tions about church, I guess because I felt I had to play down my beliefs. My lack of belief? My cer­tain­ty that humans can achieve spir­i­tu­al great­ness with­out a Guid­ing Hand. I didn’t want to get into it. But being a mem­ber of a church, a big church with lots of mem­bers, it lends legit­i­ma­cy to my beliefs. It makes me want to talk about how awe­some they are.

Which leads me to rec­og­nize that I could come across a lit­tle smug (my church is bet­ter than your church!). But most­ly I think I am just proud to be a mem­ber of this inclu­sive lit­tle denom­i­na­tion that thinks like I do and makes me want to be bet­ter than I am.

It’s crazy, but I think this must be how oth­er peo­ple feel about their church, right?

Huh.

Part of a com­mu­ni­ty they are proud of, and want every­one to know about?

Makes me think I should, at the very least, respect peo­ple of oth­er reli­gions, despite my dis­agree­ment with their atti­tudes about race, gen­der, sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tion or whether I am going to Hell.

Every­one deserves respect. Even when my church is bet­ter than theirs. :)

Zoey’s new life

It’s been a bit over a week now since Mason died. In that time, our oth­er dog, Zoey, has gone from con­va­les­cent nurse to full-fledged com­pan­ion ani­mal. We got her four years ago to hang with Mason, to make his old age a lit­tle bet­ter. We did not expect him to live near­ly as long as he did, and as a result, Zoey’s life was maybe not as good as it could have been. She was always with Mason, and when he couldn’t go any­where (the park on a hot day, with the fam­i­ly on vaca­tion, camp­ing) then she couldn’t go, either.

Since Mason died, her life has got­ten bet­ter. In this last week she’s gone with us in the car on errands, been to the dri­ve-in movies with us, and gone on long ram­bling walks. I’m pret­ty sure she miss­es him, too, but she seems to be doing okay.

Here’s a pic­ture of her (the best pic­ture I think I’ve tak­en of her) in the back of the mini­van at the dri­ve-in.

Zoey at the drive-in

Zoey at the dri­ve-in

Mason, 1998–2013

Mason, our Stan­dard Poo­dle, died Fri­day night. We got him from his breed­er when he was ten months old, and he was our dog until he died, just one month shy of his fif­teenth birth­day.

Dur­ing his long life he sur­vived inflam­ma­to­ry bow­el dis­ease, a par­a­lyzed lar­ynx, can­cer and a cou­ple bouts with pneu­mo­nia. We were pret­ty sure this last round of pneu­mo­nia would do him in, he’d lost an alarm­ing amount of weight, and showed lit­tle inter­est in his food. It took him a long month to show signs of recov­ery.

Iron­i­cal­ly, it was his renewed inter­est in food that killed him. Fri­day night he grew increas­ing­ly uncom­fort­able and unset­tled. By mid­night, it was clear some­thing was wrong, and we sus­pect­ed bloat, a con­di­tion in large breed dogs where exces­sive gas caus­es the intestines to twist and tight­en, trap­ping the gas and caus­ing expan­sion of the bel­ly and ribcage. It requires imme­di­ate surgery to cor­rect.

I took him to the emer­gency vet­eri­nar­i­an, and they con­firmed the con­di­tion. We chose not to put him through the surgery and the long recov­ery, an ordeal he would not like­ly have sur­vived, and which would have extend­ed his help­less­ness, pain, and mis­ery.

They gave him a seda­tive for the pain, and I got to vis­it with him for a lit­tle while. He couldn’t lift his head, but his eyes were open, and his tail wagged a lit­tle. I’d always imag­ined whis­per­ing to him in his last moments that he was good dog, but he’d lost most of his hear­ing the last few years, so I rubbed his ears instead, which is what Poo­dles love best. I cried a lot, and wor­ried that I was upset­ting him, so I asked the doc­tor in to end it. I was there when he died, I caressed him, and I cried some more. After it was over the doc­tor told me I could stay as long as I liked, but Mason wasn’t in there any­more, so I took his col­lar and went home to my fam­i­ly, to grieve with them. That was 2:00 am Sat­ur­day morn­ing.

He spent his whole life with us, and fif­teen years is a long time for a big dog to live. He came to us as a crazy, ener­getic pup­py, always run­ning and chas­ing, hunt­ing bun­nies and squir­rels. He nev­er caught one, but not for lack of try­ing. His favorite game was chase, usu­al­ly start­ed as an attempt to get him to play fetch, trans­formed by his pref­er­ence for keep-away. He got so excit­ed when peo­ple came to vis­it, we had to train him to put a toy in his mouth so he wouldn’t nip. I don’t think I noticed when he got old enough that he stopped doing that, and it stopped being a prob­lem. It just did. He nev­er suf­fered sep­a­ra­tion anx­i­ety, but when we were home he liked being near us. He’d fol­low us around the house, set­tling where we set­tled, even after he’d grown old enough that stairs were more than an incon­ve­nience to him. In the last months, we would car­ry him down to be with us while we watched TV, then car­ry him back up. Bloat may have done the deed, but old age is what killed him.

It seems like he’s been with us for every­thing that’s been sig­nif­i­cant in our lives. He was our first child. He was there when our first son demot­ed him back to dog. And he was still there when our sec­ond son demot­ed him even fur­ther, and when our sec­ond dog put him in his place. He lived in every house we owned. He went camp­ing and canoe­ing with us. He vis­it­ed grand­par­ents and friends, from Min­neapo­lis to Wichi­ta. He was in a fam­i­ly reunion pho­to four gen­er­a­tions deep. He was our fam­i­ly before we had a fam­i­ly. And he was part of our fam­i­ly when we did.

I loved him.

He was a good dog, even if he couldn’t hear me say so.

He can run and play and chase like he used to now, in our hearts and minds.