the circular runner

Posts Tagged ‘culture’

being in LA without driving…and liking it

In life, observations, writing on October 20, 2012 at 7:38 am

I’m going to the Story World Conference in LA, my hometown.  And I’m getting there by train.  That’s normal enough in most towns, but did I mention this is LA?

This morning, I’m riding on a commuter train that is basically empty, which is an odd experience.  I am used to the morning hustle of the East Coast, specifically the trains in New York, which can be strange social exercises in that there are no other places in which you can be that close to someone without it being sexual.  But here in LA, people don’t seem to like that kind of morning intimacy; hence, the ghost train.

I almost don’t want to say this, but as I’m moving forward through the metropolitan Los Angeles area, it’s a good thing that this town is Democratic leaning.  I could just see someone like Paul Ryan grimacing if he saw all the open seats around me.  Of course, the dismay wouldn’t just be coming from the Right.  I could see a bunch of Left-leaning types getting up in arms about the waste of energy this empty train represents, a sign of the times: we just can’t keep going on like this, we just can’t keep raping the Earth.

I will table these concerns for a moment.  I’m actually experimenting right now.  I want to see if I can visit LA and not drive on the freeways, not drive at all.  I’m taking up this challenge in response to Alissa Walker.  If you’re from LA and you don’t know her blog, GelatoBaby, get yourself there.  And if you aren’t from LA, I’d still tell you to get over there.  It’s a must because she loves LA, and she certainly does love LA because she tries to see it for herself without falling back on clichés and stereotypes.  LA, I really think, can often be misunderstood.

she loves her gelatto, her Los Angeles, and walking while enjoying both

For the purposes of this post, the issue that I am most interested in has to do with Ms. Walker’s need to walk.  She does not drive, even though she lives in the heart of Los Angeles.  She takes buses, trains, and true to to her name, she walks a lot.  She makes the claim that this is possible.  And I’m going to use these next few days to see if she’s right.

 

9 Months & Out: Is It Better to Be Open or Focussed When Looking for a New Career?

In career, media on September 8, 2012 at 6:20 am

 

After too much deliberation, I am going to the motherland (Los Angeles where my mother does live, btw) in October, so I can join a lot of other writers/programmers/social media people for what I hope will be a learning experience.  Story World is not cheap, though it is not as expensive as some other professional conferences.  I’d tell you more about what the convention entails except that I’m not sure–not exactly.  The event is for storytellers who want to work across media and incorporate gaming aspects and social media into their narratives.  It’s not really about how to tell stories, as far as I can tell.  It’s more about how to use different media to create new ways to experience stories.

Apart from that, I imagine there will be a lot of trading of the biz cards.

In general, I’m of two minds about conferences. One part of me thinks they are a waste of time and money. I’ve gone to a couple for writers.  And it was fun to be around other members of the tribe, but I didn’t really get anything out of them, professionally or artistically.  How many times can you attend workshops like, “How to Sell Your Novel” or “How to get an Editor’s Attention”?  If it were all so easy, then there would be as many bad books published as there are crazy people writing them.

I’m hopeful that since Story World has a more technical component to it that the workshops will be a little more useful.  I also hope that since this kind of storytelling is mor collaborative than book writing that networking will be fruitful.

Still, I have my concerns.  If writer conferences are just a little too closed, a little too predictable, this kind of conference might be a little too open.  Story World is about new media and new media is so new and untested that it’s hard to know crazy from brilliant.  I think I can tell when a writer is being crazy: that 3,000 page tome about identity with detailed disembodied descriptions of the emotional lint is probably going to never see the light of day.  But who’s to say that some app that allows a person to put on goggles and see that lint for himself will not be the next great thing?

There’s an analog to my career quest. A year ago, I decided I would not pigeon hole myself about the kind of writer I would try to be.  I had tried to write a novel for 6 years because without much thought, I concluded that the novel was the only way to go as a writer.  But then I realized I had other interests: film, graphic novels, blogs, children’s books.  Hell, I even thought about trying to write for video games, which I still think would be frickin’ awesome.  Trying my hand at many different types of writing since then has freed me up enormously, and I think it has made me better.  I learned that I love to collaborate, that in the end, if I do get a book out and if it were to be read by any amount of people that I’d love that book to be a children’s book–one of those children’s books that adults could read, too.  But I also learned that I love to tell stories more than I love to write fiction books of a certain kind for a certain reader in a certain format known as a book.

Of course, there’s a downside to all of this: namely, it can leave you a little directionless, as with Story World, all this possibility leaves me not sure if what I’m producing is crazy crap or crazy good, or worse yet, not crazy enough to be either good or bad.

So, in October, I’m going to a conference to learn what I don’t know.  Am I a fool?  Maybe.  But maybe, that’s all you can do when you’re starting out on a new path.  Keep taking steps and hoping that if you drop enough business cards along the way, someone will find you and tell you where home is.

cause it’s hard out here for a p…, i mean, reader

In career, life, media, Uncategorized, writers & books, writing on August 20, 2012 at 5:11 am

It’s a chilly night here in San Francisco, and I spent the evening catching up on some good old blogging-goodness.  Specifically, I came across a lovely post at Blood Ink Diary about books, owning them, reading them, not lending them–basically, loving them.  So if you love books, too,  I suggest you read the post.

As for me, I should’ve just enjoyed the prose and the message.  But I often do not do what I should do, and as I snuggled against my fleece blanket (I think San Francisco thinks it’s in the southern hemisphere), and read the post, I felt a shiver that was not caused by the fact that I live in a town that summer forgot.  Part shame, part remembrance of things lost would be the best way to describe what I was feeling.  The first because at some point as I’ve tried to write and write and get that writing out there, I’ve forgotten the power of great words, of slow-moving words for words’ sake.  It’s been months that I’ve read a book for joy.  A good half-year since I’ve read a long work of fiction.  Why?  It’s like I’ve become some kind of puritan who pooh-poohs the novel for its lack of “usefulness”.  Sure, my pilgrim brethren didn’t read books about branding and social media campaigns instead of reading fiction, but they dismissed the novel and the poem because they could not see the point to reading anything that didn’t build the soul–aka, scriptures.  Idle hands are bad enough, but an idle mind taking in words over the novel-version of the boob-tube, that was just too much.

It’s cliche, and I’ve already said a million times in this blog, but the Catch-22 of loving words enough that you actually want to string some along in new and weird ways for some imagined group of readers demands that you not do that creating very often.  It demands that you do a lot of selling, of yourself, of your concepts, and maybe, your body, which wouldn’t be bad except that I’m married–sorry ladies.

It’s an impossible situation.  That’s right, Joseph Heller, your little war book is nothing compared to the dilemma of the modern writer.  I was going to say that we writers trade our creative time for money so that we can write more words.  But the truth is that it’s not only the time; it’s also the head space.  To create, to dig the foundation of our imaginary worlds, one has to be kind of pure-minded.  You gotta be focused on the story, not on what that book might do for your wallet after it’s done.

I think that’s why the post I referred to above shamed me a little bit.  Its author is devoted to the words inside all those lovely books on her shelf.  She doesn’t care if they are useful or practical or if they fit the world and its ideas about utility.  A great book focuses the mind, and if you allow me a moment of operatic hyperbole, it focuses the soul.  The same is true of the writing process, of course.  And that’s what I have to remind myself of.  No matter what happens with career or my lack thereof, I cannot forget.  I cannot.

using blogging to let out the inner-party clown OR Ryan Holiday, you sad, sad man!

In criticism, media, Uncategorized on August 4, 2012 at 6:00 am

i’m not ryan seacrest, nor am i ryan anything!!!

As I mentioned in a previous post, this week I’m reading Ryan Holiday‘s book about manipulating social media for personal gain. I’m still not sure why I’m reading this. I’m too riddled by Catholic guilt or a strange sense of integrity to think I would actually implement some of what the author has done.  I’m just not a gamer of systems.  I make money teaching, for God’s sake, so you know I’m not that savvy.  But I guess I want to better understand this system that any of us creatives have to play (at least a little) in order to get our stuff out into the world.

That said, I think Mr. Holiday might have gamed me.  In interviews, I’ve heard him say he gives away his secrets in the book, but apart from a few general examples, he doesn’t give many details.  He does repeat himself over and over again about how bad the blog-centric world of social media is and how easy it is to manipulate it.  After 250 pages, I can say that my biggest lesson from Ryan Holiday is that he is a sad man and makes his living doing sad things that even he feels bad (and sad) about.  He feels badly, he tells us, though not bad enough that he’s going to stop doing said sad things.  BTW, if you know nothing about Ryan Holiday, he’s the guy responsible for those American Apparel ad campaigns that verge on kiddy-porn.  You know the ones.  Middle-aged men tend to congregate around them at bus stops–maybe that will give you some context as to who this guy is.

So, now, 250 pages later, $9.99 poorer, I’m still wondering about blogging.  Specifically, why I’m doing it.  What secret hopes do I have for what I write, if any.  I enjoy posting.  Let me get that out of the way.  I have some really great bloggers reading me, and whenever I get onto this pragmatic talk about utility, they always remind me that blogging should be for fun and done for the sake of fun.  I agree. I certainly don’t think blogging is my way to fame as a writer. But still, I can’t deny that I’d like to express myself to more readers. But I want the writing to be honest and I want my concerns when writing to reflect writerly craft, not the need for page views. Ryan Holiday would say that’s a fool’s errand.  Well, whatev, Ryan.  I didn’t ask you.

I did, however, ask bloggers why they wrote, and Friday Jones, a reader of my last post and a blogger in her own right, left an amazing comment.  I will quote it here:

I have been wondering the same thing, but I think you as a blogger need to understand the purpose of your blog. For instance my blog is literally about me airing all of the dirty laundry of my life out as I tread the road of self discovery. It is an all over the place blog with a central focus. However what if you are like the the Ryan Seacrest of the boggersphere? Your topics would be broad and vast. If you as a blogger have the ability to let your personality shine through, then you are selling you as a brand versus a you as an expert on a limited subject. But if your personality get’s lost, then being “all over” will not serve you in the long run.

Friday Jones, you are a genius.  I’m no Ryan Seacrest, nor am I a Ryan Holiday.  (I don’t even really like the name Ryan unless it’s for a girl or a last name–just another issue of mine.)  But I think I let my personality show through.  And maybe that’s part of why I want to blog.  I’m like that shy guy in the corner at a party who wants to join in but is too shy.  Blogging lets me let my inner-party clown out.

What about you?  What does blogging do for you?  And do you all care about getting readers?  And if so, what would you be willing to do to get those eyeballs?

should a blog be focussed or should it be all over the place?

In criticism, media, observations on August 2, 2012 at 6:28 am

I’ve been reading Ryan Holiday‘s book, Trust Me, I’m Lying, and let me tell you, the experience is depressing.  In the book, Mr, Holiday not only talks about how he’s manipulated the media countless times, he also argues over and over again that the world of social media is not based on value or truth or quality writing; it’s based on tricking readers to view more pages.  It’s worth noting that as I read this book, I started to wonder if I was part of some kind of meta-experience set up by the author.  I wondered if the book itself was just a trick in that it repeated the same basic point over and over again.  Was my buying the book–a book that promises to describe in full detail the ins and outs of the media landscape–a trick?

But the most depressing part of reading this book has more to do with where I am than where the book or its author is.  I heard Mr. Holiday interviewed on Brian Lehrer‘s public radio show, and I bought his book because he said that in it, he would give away the tools of his trade. In other words, he would teach his readers how to manipulate social media.  I’m not saying that I wanted to do anything dishonest, but I was hoping to learn something I hadn’t known before–some trick of the trade that would help my blog, my career as a writer.  Kind of sad and lame, I’ll admit.

The only thing I really learned from the book is to ask this question of myself an of all of you bloggers out there.  Mr. Holiday repeatedly quotes big-time bloggers all saying the same thing: focus on one thing and become an authority on that one thing if you want people to come read you.  As a generalist, this troubles me, but at the same time, it stands to reason.  People like to know what they are getting, so if they want spots, they go to that blog or channel or whatever, and likewise, they want to know about food or clothes or relationships.  Blogs, so Mr. Holiday argues, are all about consistency.  That sells, by which he means, that’s what readers want.  Is that so?

What do you all think?  Do you care if people read or if they comment? Do you write for yourself or are you trying to get your stuff read by as many people as possible? Do you force yourself to post about a limited amount of topics or are you all over the place?

i’m a loser, i’m a genius, i’m a loser: a writer’s dilemma

In criticism, humor, observations, Uncategorized on July 28, 2012 at 11:37 am

It’s a sign of age that things are not one extreme or the other. When I was younger, if I failed at something,  I would almost certainly tell people I sucked.  I didn’t mean, I suck at this or that.  I was trying to make more of an existential statement, as in I am a person who just lives in a state of sucking, i.e., a loser.

I was never so confident or clueless to say I was a genius when something went my way.  But I’ll admit that somewhere in the back of my head, I was hopeful I might find that thing I was amazing at. If I’m really honest, I’d add that I wanted to find something I was amazing at without having to put in bone-crushing effort needed to make amazingness.  Of course, even geniuses put in effort–I’m assuming this though I cannot say for sure since, if you haven’t figured it out on your own, I am no genius.  (I know. Big surprise.)

I bring all of this up because a couple weeks ago, I experienced a pretty big failure and a nice success back to back.  The first was a screening of my second short film (the trailer appears above).  The screening happened here in SF at a big theater as part of a festival that happens out here regularly.  As part of the festival, after the screening of each movie is over, the crew and cast go down in front and take questions.  Often the questions are pretty slight, i.e., why did you you use that logo for your production company; do you think you’ll make a sequel to that romantic comedy with the happy ending that couldn’t possibly go anywhere else because it is a short with a happy ending; I love chocolate, and the main character was eating some in that one scene, what kind of chocolate?  You get the point.

But when Cherise, my strange little Cinderella story in reverse, was done, it was like ghost town silence.  We went up and looked out into the vast audience (over 600 people) and you could feel the rampant indifference. What I would’ve given for a question about chocolate?

On later reflection and because my director reminded me of this, I realized that we made the movie we set out to make.  We wanted to make something that was lovely to look at.  We wanted to tell a story with dance and music and through minimal dialogue. We wanted a visual experience more than we cared about story.  Well, we hit those marks.  But still, there was a part of me sitting in that theater harkening back to my younger days, the younger me that often told himself, Jesus, dude, you suck the big one.

A day later, I had a reading. It was the first time I’ve ever been asked to be a featured reader, and I was excited.  But there was also a part of me that was fearful.  Would I suck at this, too?  Would the crowd, mostly poets, look at me and my little fables/fairy tales/ urban micro fiction about old ladies popping happy pills and would they reject what they saw? Would they get all aggro the way poets at spoken word events often do?  What is the opposite of snapping fingers and saying, groovy, man? As it happens, they did not hate me.  In fact, they were very enthusiastic. Some people might have even  snapped some fingers.  And for a moment or two that night, I felt like like I had arrived. I was a writer.

I’m no genius. That thought never crossed my mind even with the snapping, but I’m ok with that. The violins will never soar as I write the great American Novel. I’m no Mozart.  I’m not even Salieri. But with practice, I hope I write something that gets close to great. That’s a realistic goal–I hope it is.

As for the sucking part, the truth is I know I don’t suck, either–not in existential way.  But ironically, that’s almost more disappointing than not being a genius.  If you tell people you suck and you believe it, there’s always a way up.  There’s always room for improvement. And more importantly, if you fail at what you’re attempting, you can wrap yourself in the Sucky Blanket of Low Expectations.

You think I sucked that night?  You think my movie was shite?  Well, of course my dear man/woman, I suck.  I suck the big one.

NO MORE!  It’s time to grow the hell up. I’m just too old to be carrying the Sucky Blanket around. I need to work and not worry. I might die with nothing to my artistic record, but I’m not going down sucking, goddammit.

 

genius is like porn: I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it….

In media, music, writing on July 19, 2012 at 6:20 am

Recently, I heard an interview between Fiona Apple and Marc Maron.  It was on the WTF podcast, which I recommend listening to if you are interested in Apple or if you aren’t familiar with Marc Maron as an interviewer. I was excited to hear the talk because I love Apple’s music.  Well, I’m not sure I always love the music, but I’m always excited about her albums because I think Apple is a genius.

That word gets overused.  There are very few geniuses.  I tend to think of them the way one should think of a Pegasus. As in you’re walking down some country road and over to the left, you see a pasture and some horses race by.  If you’ve ever seen horses run, not being ridden but just running, then you probably know that the sight is awe-inspiring.  Horses are beautiful animals.  The power, the speed, the grace.  But these animals, as amazing as they are, are not geniuses.  The genius is the white horse running in the opposite direction from the rest of the pack.  The one with the wings.  The one that now is flying toward you.  Jesus, you’re thinking, horses don’t do that.  You might be scared at seeing this.  You might want to get up close and touch this crazy horse.  Maybe you want to do both at once.

Well, damn skippy!!!  Your reaction is natural.  Horses don’t fly.  Neither do writers nor singers nor painters nor fill-in-the-blank.  But occasionally one of these people does the impossible.  That’s the genius.

Listening to Apple sing makes me feel like I’m seeing a Pegasus.  Again, I’m not always loving the music.  But I want to understand it.  I want to know how/why a thirty-something singer gets away with putting out an album with a title that’s got so many words that you have to use an elipsis.  (The most recent title is The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do)  Is it pretentious? You might want to say so but I’m not sure.  Mind you, this is an album that has a song on it called Hot Butter, which I kid you not is a pop song that uses kettle drum, piano, and voices in counter-point.  How does Apple pull this off?  How is this not some kind of crazy art song?  How is this song popular enough that it plays on a Starbucks speaker system, which is how I first heard it?

It’s the power of genius, my friends.  You might not like the song, you might not like her music, but you know that Fiona Apple has wings.

edging towards something spiritual in the wee hours…

In life, observations, writing on June 20, 2012 at 6:15 am

It’s late and yet I blog.  I have to.

If you’ve been following me at all, you know I’ve been filling my head with nonsense about branding and career stuff.  I call this my Obsession #1.  According to the nonsense that I am reading, which makes me even more nonsensical for actually quoting it, I should try to blog every day–some books say every few hours.  I don’t know how anyone could do that, in all honesty.  I mean, I guess if I got paid to do so, which leads me back to the whole obsession with career.  Jesus.  I need to stop.

Before starting this post, I was reading some other blogs–as advised by the nonsense books even though I don’t think reading blogs is nonsense at all–and I came across a couple things that are sticking with me right now. The first, a blog called Diary of a Quirky Girl, was featured on the WP mainpage and I guess the blogger got tons of readers and was taken aback by the attention.  I am linking to her reaction not to the post that was featured because there was something genuine about her joy.  She writes at one point (I am paraphrasing) that her father asked her why she started the blog in the first place, and she said it was to connect.

I can relate, and hence, I blog though I’d like to sleep.

I used to live in Boston. I went to grad school there, and it was one of the sadder periods of my life.  I didn’t fit and I was angry and all assholey all the time.  But I would listen to a show on WBUR, and the intro would start with a little hip hop song and the host would do this little rap-like thing, which always ended with the phrase, “Only Connect,” an epigraph from an EM Forster novel.  In its own way, that phrase was a life line and a reminder that I was doing quite the opposite.  My motto in grad school was more like, only repel.

It’s odd how things work out, but tonight after discovering the Quirky Girl, I then came a cross a photo blog in which the blogger went out to explore his hometown at 4 am.  I love that idea and I love that time of night.  I am a night owl by nature, and in grad school, I took that tendency so far that I would’ve made any vampire proud.  Sometimes I wrote my boring (and truly nonsensical) term papers at night, but mostly, I would walk.  I didn’t go to hot spots.  I usually went to supermarkets or to a 7-11-type convenience stores called the White Hen Pantry, or to a donut shop near my apartment.  And like this photographer on the blog I just discovered, I found that 4 am was the perfect time to explore.  The party crowd was long asleep, and the hard-core business/office types were still in bed for another hour before they started their power-smoothie powered power-walks.

One thing I noticed was that the people who worked at 4 am were often disfigured.  This was especially true at the Star Market I walked around.  There were more cleft palates and people with glass eyes or mangled hands in that store than one would ever see at a more regular hour. I don’t know why I hung around.  I guess I was trying to connect with other people who felt unattractive.  Looking back, I think the impulse was condescending.  I have no idea if those people worked the third shift because they were ashamed or because their bosses were or because it was just the only job they could get and they needed the money.  Who the hell was I to create a story for them?  But at the same time, I felt like a freak and I wanted to be around people who, at least by mainstream definitions of normalcy, were a little freakish, too.   (I will admit that lurking about at 4 am is not the best way to connect with others, but I was young and Romantic and…dumb.

All these years later, I’m less young, but….It’s late and I’m tired. I don’t quite pull the same hours I used to, but I’m writing tonight for the same reason that I walked the streets of Boston ten years ago.  That need for connection is, I think, a spiritual need, and it’s a need I still feel.  I’m too tired to parse that connection between writing and spirit and connection.  I need to get there, but not tonight.

Instead, I’m thinking about the Star Market and The White Hen Pantry in Cambridge, Mass., and the donut store with the baker whose face was scarred worse than I’ve ever seen.  And I wish the people in those stores a very good night and I wish all of you the same.

Only connect.

praying for prayer?

In humor, life, observations, writers & books, writing on June 19, 2012 at 6:43 am

I have a few obsessions–at least I do when blogging.  My career as a witer (or lack thereof), my sense of speeding through life and the counter-need to slow down, and…goddamn it…I don’t have any other obsessions.  Jesus, I can’t even come up with three.  Three is so writerly, and I can’t come up with a third…

I’m not very obsessive, I’ll admit it.  I’d probably be better off in my career if I were.  (OK, I hit on obsession #1–check.) 

And as for obsession #2, I’ve been thinking about God today.  Well, I started thinking about God because I was listening to this somewhat ancient podcast of Fresh Air.  It was about a scholar spending time with some evangelicals who believe they have personal relationships with God.  By relationships, I’m mean hanging out with the Almighty, having a cup of coffee, taking things out.

At one level, I get a little weirded out by the sound of these people. But there is another part of me that doesn’t really think there’s anything weird at all about believing that God is all around you.  I studied Religion, not theology (there’s a difference) in college and went on to grad school, as well.  There are very few Religious Studies majors in the world who choose that major strictly out of some intellectual need.  We all have issues with God or religion or both, or at least a fascination.  I would fit in the latter.

I’m a believing Agnostic or an Agnostic believer.  I tried to explain my beliefs once already on this blog, if interested, please see this.   If you are still here, I commend you: good choice.  Let’s live in the present.

So, as I was saying, today, I was listening to Terry Gross and this scholar talk about people who have relationships with the divine, and I started thinking about my own relationship to God.  I realized right off that I don’t really like that term, relationship.  I’m old school, I guess.  I like imagining that there’s something mysterious and wondrous about this entity we call God/Yahweh/Allah etc.  It’s not something I want to imagine having a relationship with the way I have a relationship with some dude at work.  That’s how the people being discussed today see God–He’s like their buddy.  Where’s the majesty in that?

And this leads me to my point: why don’t I pray anymore?  I used to pray every night–mainly petitions.  There was a point that it was almost like a superstition, maybe even a superstitious obsession, which I could add to my poor list of obsessions if only I were still obsessed with prayer the way I used to be. Back then, I needed to pray for everyone near and dear to me or I feared  something would happen to them. I guess that’s the downside to not seeing God as buddy.  Buddies don’t smite your second cousins in Uruguay if you fail to ask for his protection. There’s something childlike in believing that God would smite your family if you piss him off, but even so, I wonder if it’s not a bad sign that I don’t make the time to talk with God at night as I used to.

It’s not guilt, mind you.  I think it does have something to do with being too much in the world.  Look, there’s a reason why as a writer of fiction, I gravitate to the surreal/magical.  I think there’s truth in that stuff.  I don’t know if I can get myself to capture some of that magic, but I think that’s my goal as a writer, and maybe, just maybe, it’s my goal as a person, a spiritual person, too.  I once told a friend of mine in grad school just about the time I decided that I wanted to write and not be a scholar of religion, that I saw writing as a spiritual exercise.  She thought I was daft at the time.  But I do.  I have to explain how next time.

For now, I’m curious.  do any of you see God/the Force/some spiritual force in your writing? Do you speak with the Almighty even writing the most Earthbound family drama?

some thoughts from a new father

In life, observations, Uncategorized, writing on June 17, 2012 at 7:03 am

 

My father is crazy.  And by that, I do not mean that he is certifiable and needs to be locked up.  But I also don’t mean that he is a harmless eccentric, either.  The word, “crazy,” is often thrown around.  I hurl it at people all the time, often playfully.  Can’t say the same for my dad, though.  He is crazy, and that craziness is harmful. But where does it come from?

I am new father, my own son will be two months this week.  That and the fact that it is officially Father’s Day as I write this, has made me pensive about what it means to be a dad–well, both of these things combined with the fact that last weekend my father came up for a visit, and it was one of the more disappointing experiences I have had in a very long time. In the grand scheme, my father was a good role model for me.  I was a sensitive kid, some might say soft.  But my dad, a man who grew up fending for himself on the streets, was ok with my softness.  He encouraged me to be who I am.  If I think of one gift my father gave me it was that permission to be who I am, to define for myself what it meant to be a man.  I hope to teach the same lesson to my son–hopefully in word and in deed.

In general, I try not to change the people around me.  My father’s acceptance of me taught me to be that way.  But there are limits.  So, like I said, my father came to visit last week, and it was odd.  No, it was sad.  Yes, sad is the right word, and crazy, too.  My father-in-law who lives across country, flew in the week after my son was born.  My father waited nearly two months to visit though he lives in the same state.  This is disappointing.  More so after his visit, which was short and odd and…crazy.  When he arrived, he sat down in the kitchen with my mother, and he seemed tense.  I know this because he didn’t really talk, and when my mother asked him what was wrong, he got defensive.  “You two are talking English, what do you want from me?” He asked in a voice too loud for the situation.  My father’s been in the US since 1964.  He has college degrees from schools in the states.  He’s a smart man.  Yet, as he’s gotten older, he speaks less and less English.  He’s also hard of hearing but refuses to wear a hearing aid.  So, unless you are willing to scream in Spanish, communication is difficult.

My mother absorbs the difficulty.  She always has.  Which means that like a snowball, he keeps growing as he rolls on.  So he comes to the house, gets pissy that my two-month old son is nursing and not “ready” to receive him.  He goes out back and sits in the garden.  He acts like a child.  He acts like…a crazy man, by which I mean, he acts in a way that seems contrary to what he should be: a joyful father and grandfather.

I know how my father is, and I have always tried to accept it, as he accepted me. I guess I had taught myself not to expect joy from him.  But last week, when he acted like a sulky child and sat in my backyard instead of talking to me, and when he repeatedly wanted to leave early even after my wife brought my boy out, a sense of disappointment hit me hard.  I imagine it hit hard because though I can accept my father’s joylessness regarding me, it’s an insult when pointed at my boy.

It’s impossible to know for sure, but I think my father’s biggest problem, the root cause of his unhappiness, is that he expects too much from life.  This might sound…crazy, but really, don’t they say that the flipside of every romantic is a cynic?  I think my father enters every situation with an idea of what should happen.  Most times, life doesn’t work out that way, which is especially true in my dad’s case since he probably is always being a little too unrealistic.  So he gets disappointed and hence, he misses the joy in front of him.

I’m sure that my mother was telling the truth when she told me later that he had been excited to come see my boy.  But when the reality hit.  When the boy was nursing in the bedroom instead of cooing in wait of him, the disappointment was too much to recover from.

Does this sound crazy for a grown man?  Should he just grow the fuck up?  Yes, I’d say.  And yet at the same time, I am also aware enough to know that the apple doesn’t fall far.  I spent the today, the day before Father’s Day, quietly with my wife and the boy.  I napped. I ate. I held him. I walked around the neighborhood with him and his mother.  The day was great, but there was this part of me that wanted to gnaw away at my contentment.  It wanted GREATness.  It asked me if I wouldn’t be better off doing something else, something less domestic, more dramatic.  I can’t tell you exactly what that other more dramatic thing would’ve been. And though it’s true that going to Whole Foods at the end of the walk with all the other yuppy dads and ordering an ice-coffee is ver ordinary, not GREAT at all, it is great all the same.

I think today was a microcosm of what I hope for with my son.  I hope that we will have a great relationship.  There will be disappointments and there will be moments of amazing happiness, and there will hopefully be joy throughout.  But more important still, there will be joy for the all those middling moments in between.  I guess I can thank my dad for that wisdom, too.  Even if he doesn’t follow it himself.

 

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