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.