And The World Comes Crashing Down

I have two or three posts that I began and three away within the first hour of trying to get my ideas out. Unlike before, when it seemed easy and natural for me to just put words on the electronic page and shoot everything off to the blogosphere for the world to read, comment about, and just sit back and admire the wonder that was my blog, I find myself with an interesting case of writer’s block.

I call it “interesting” because, rather than a situation where I can’t come up with an idea worth writing about, I instead am having trouble selecting (and subsequently sticking to) a subject that I think should be published online for the world to see. You might think I’ve gotten cold feet all of a sudden about baring my soul to a bunch of strangers sitting in their boxers while eating cereal in the dark (I have a weird imagination about these things as you can see), but that isn’t exactly what is going on. In reality, there seem to be two main components to my recent inhibition to post online, and they definitely weren’t there when I was in the prime of my blogging a year or two ago.

First, I realized just how much some of my posts could have a negative effect on those who read them. In particular, I found out how much my posts could hurt those I care about if (in some cases) my writing was interpreted incorrectly, or (in some cases) my writing was interpreted correctly. Either way, despite the fact that my readership at its best rarely cracked the century mark, I hated having to wonder and worry about whether I would receive a “How could you?!?” message after pressing Publish. But perhaps even more importantly, I hated knowing in some cases that i deserved those messages.

Second, and more pertinent to the theme of this post, I started worrying about the types of reactions to my writing that I was seeking when I sent them out for the world to see. And further, I was concerned that the reactions I sought after were only superficial, in the way that many of the “Likes” people give and receive on Facebook can be. Or worse, that the true feelings of those giving me my desired positive reactions were actually the exact opposite of what was expressed for me to see. And it is this final point that I want to discuss further.

Let me begin the second and hopefully final act of this post with what I take to be two basic and true premises: all other things equal, (1) most people like being correct, and (2) most people like being liked. Obviously there can be exceptions to these general oversimplified rules, but for the purposes of what I want to talk about, they should work. If we understand these two premises to be valid, it should make at least basic sense why someone like me who constructs a blog post and publishes it online also is happy when I learn that people have read it and enjoy/find correct the things I have discussed in the post. Just how much happiness I might derive from being told that I am correct and beloved/brilliant/beautiful/some other positive sounding “b” word  by those reading my work is a different story, though, and I could easily imagine and agree with an argument that limits should be placed on my desire or expectation of these things if they are causing my ego to swell too much. But put those concerns aside for now, if only for the sake of whatever chance at brevity I have remaining after 612 words.

Allow me to enter in a third and fourth premise, based for the most part on what I’ve illustrated above: all other things equal, (3) people generally don’t like being lied to, and (4) to find out that you have been lied to about something that you initially were happy about (such as being told that you are correct and/or liked for your work) can be especially painful when discovered, particularly (as I brought up earlier) when the true thoughts are the exact opposite of what was expressed to me. Again, exceptions clearly exist, but I think these are reasonably fair given our present subject matter. And please, forgive the lame attempt at a formal logic proof–it just happens to look the most comprehensible to me when I write it this way.

I added these last two premises into my discussion because I think they provide the most basic explanation for why I have avoided blogging recently. Put simply, I have encountered–in my own life and in the observance of others–just too many cases of mean-spirited, conniving, and sometimes brutal lies told that could easily have been avoided. And I am not talking about deception “for the sake of the deceived” or even a lie told by a wrongdoer who doesn’t want to be found out. Those cases, despite their often lack of justification, at least can be understood in some sense. No, what I am referring to is the deception that causes someone to not only trust the deceiver, but also to a gain sense of confidence and self-assurance about herself from the (false) praise being given. To have this, and to have it all followed by a discovery that the deceiver actually believed the antithesis of what was portrayed, really hurts in a way that can’t be described but can definitely be remembered.

To be fair, my experience with this kind of pain isn’t completely related to blogging (though I have had some, to be sure). It has occurred in a variety of arenas within my professional and personal lives, and recently it just seemed to all come together to me in my mind. Hence the lack of blogging. Publishing one’s thoughts requires a fair amount of forced vulnerability on the part of the writer, and that hasn’t been too appealing to me over the past few months. What was appealing, however, was finding a way to express just what I found to be so bothersome about everything I spoke about above, and for that I am truly thankful to have this avenue of “conversation” at my disposal. This, plus the support of my wife and son and family and close friends, has allowed me to take the negative of these experiences and turn them into positive lessons learned for my future relationships and choices.

In closing, I want to clarify that this wasn’t meant as a “woe is me” about my recent past. In reality, the subject of this post was more an intellectual work in progress that finally reached a conclusion. I realize now that while it can be good to appreciate, and perhaps even seek out in certain instances, the praise and friendship of others, it is much more important to understand that at the end of the day, one must always be careful and selective in deciding the paths to pursue in one’s life. It’s really the only way to keep yourself whole.

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Newtown: In (My) Memoriam

Here is something I realized about myself recently: in the midst of major change, I tend to regress back to the basics in my life until I can handle branching out again. It helps me stabilize myself in times where I might otherwise go crazy, and it also allows me to be both mindless and mindful of my responsibilities as they arise. It doesn’t seem too problematic, so I allow it to occur and play out its own course as it needs to.

About a month ago I took a new job in a different city (Boston) that requires me to spend a couple of nights a week away from home in order to be in the office enough to get acquainted with the new processes, staff, workflows, etc. The goal is for my family to move closer to Boston within the next year in order for me to be in the office full time, but obviously that will take some doing in order to get all of our ducks in a row. In the meantime, every Tuesday morning I get up around 4:30 in the morning and drive the three-plus hours to my office, and then stay there (not in the office, but close by….probably something I didn’t need to explain but I’m too lazy to delete it at this point) until I drive home after work on Thursday night. Mondays and Fridays I work remotely from home in Connecticut. And so it goes until we move.

So how, you might ask, does this story have anything to do with the title of this post? Good question. Allow me to explain. Since I began this position about a month ago, I have found myself pulling the usual regression to the basics once more. In this case, I go to work, go back to the apartment I am staying in, watch TV, play video games, read, go to sleep, wake up, go to work, rinse and repeat. Nothing too nuts. When I go home, I look forward to nothing more than seeing my son and my wife (and even my dog). Beyond that, I couldn’t really care less. That’s not to say I don’t go along with whatever plans my wife makes for the weekends, and it’s not to say I don’t enjoy them. It’s also not to say I live like a recluse when plans aren’t made–I still try and live a relatively social life when I am home. I only mean that, given the current circumstances of my existence, it is easier than ever to find and cling to the simple things in my life that make me happy. Family. Friends. Bed. Couch. Recliner. TV. Etc.

I mention all of this because this morning, as I was going through my usual (basic) routine of signing onto my work computer, drinking my coffee, opening email, and browsing Facebook, I came across a post originally put up by the parents of one of the children lost in the Newtown shootings. It was a picture of the two other children in the family touching the then-pregnant belly of the mother (who was pregnant at the time with the now-passed boy), and everyone was smiling happily. Basic. Simple. Joyful. And at the same time, in retrospect, one of the most heartbreaking things I have seen in a long time.

My first instinct was to copy and paste the picture I am referring to in order to better illustrate what I am describing, but on second thought, it seemed almost unnecessary to do that. This type of description could apply to any of the families whose basic, simple pleasures were forever destroyed by the atrocities at Sandy Hook, so there doesn’t really seem to be a need to narrow it down to the one I happened to see. Suffice to say, at least for the few moments I came across that picture and read the comments below, my simple, basic existence was rocked into something beyond the status quo that I have been enjoying over the last few weeks. And why? Because I became all too aware that no matter how comfortable you are, and no matter how much you put your faith into the normalcy of your life, things like this can and do happen sometimes.

I don’t say that to throw some horribly pessimistic monkey wrench into people’s morning, nor do I expect it to keep me down for the rest of my day. On the contrary, seeing that picture and contemplating about how all of the twenty children (and six adults) represented the core, basic, fundamental aspects of happiness that each of their respective families enjoyed when their lives were going through moments of upheaval and change, I find myself “regressing” even more toward the things in my life that keep me centered and help me continue to reflect on who I am, and who I want to be.

I have one son, a three and a half year old named Casey, and the thought of losing him–particularly in the heartless, mindlessly vicious way that so many were lost in Newtown–is virtually inconceivable to me. But knowing that others have experienced that kind of loss nonetheless makes me aware of how real that kind of loss can be, even if I don’t have emotional access to it myself. And it is in virtue of that knowledge that I will continue to focus on those basics, those fundamental values, even after this time of change has passed for me in my life. So in closing, maybe “regression” is the wrong way of describing what I’ve bean talking about, as I can’t think of anything more forward-minded than that, for me.

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Kids and Sports and Meanness

A friend of mine sent me an article to take a look at, since he knows I have a three and a half year old son to whom some of the stuff discussed might apply. The article was written by someone in cahoots with Sports Illustrated, and it was a (at least to me) surprising take on children and sports teams. The author, primarily because of how he perceived his older brother to have been treated when he was on a grade school soccer team in the early 1980′s, had serious issues allowing his kids to participate in sports teams for fear that they would experience the same sort of bullying that his brother had thirty years ago. The idea was simple but powerful: unless the children are either the most naturally gifted athletes in the world, or willing to spend the entire year practicing in order to remain competitive (and therefore get some actual playing time on the team), they are pretty much screwed. They will be made to feel like lesser beings because they can’t keep up with their more talented or polished counterparts on the field, and as a result, will develop internal feelings of inadequacy that will last with them for the rest of their lives. Presumably, just like they did with his brother. You can check out the article for yourself here if you like, but I think I did the author justice in my synopsis.

So after I read it, my friend asked if I would write a post about my thoughts on this topic, and here I am. My perspective on this is a little muddled, mainly because I have been on both sides of the coin. I know exactly how it feels to be “left out” of the mix in favor of more talented and practiced players, and on the flip side I know how it feels to be left in as a starter while other, less “ready”, friends remain on the bench for all but the required minimum of playing time in any given soccer game. Such was my life between the ages of seven and fifteen, and the memories still remain pretty vivid as I sit back and recall my feelings throughout that decade. Needless to say, they were mixed.

The truth of the matter is we have gotten far more competitive as a society over the last even twenty years than we were when I was that six or seven year old trying to figure out where on the field I was supposed to stand, much less remember advanced game theory and playmaking. There were always coaches and parents who were more loud and boisterous than others, and later on in life when I became a teenaged referee for youth soccer leagues, I just did my best to avoid running into them (especially when they were pissed at a call I had made). If I thought the world were similar to that world now, I don’t think I would have a problem allowing my son to throw on some cleats and learn a really great game at a young age.

Unfortunately, that world from my childhood just doesn’t seem to exist anymore. As I said to my friend in my initial comments, it would be one thing if we were only talking about the more advanced traveling teams where the kids were expected to have (1) played before, and (2) made it through a try out process in order to play for the team and the league in the first place. Under those circumstances, it wouldn’t surprise or bother me (as much, anyway) if coaches and parents demonstrated their relative passion for the game by expecting a certain level of excellence out of the players and refs on the field. It goes with the territory of competitive sports, even at a young age. You have to start somewhere, and I think it is incumbent upon the parent to be aware of whether his or her child is ready (physically, emotionally, and psychologically) for that level of play.

But the article I copied above was referring more to the normal, run of the mill style “anyone can play” leagues that we see in public parks and rec programs nationwide. There, more often than not there is no expectation that children (especially young ones) will have played before, and even if there is, the hope would be that the game is being played for the purpose of showing the kids just how fun sports can be. And I think I am not alone in maintaining that most six, or seven, or even eighteen year-olds tend not to derive a great deal of joy for being berated by coaches, or teammates, or parents for not performing at the level of a superstar in a league that was designed to accommodate everyone. That’s not what I, as a former player and as a parent, would want in my world.

So where do we go from here? Just accept the reality of the situation and keep our kids out of these leagues if they aren’t ready for the traveling team-style torment in every athletic environment? Or do we take a collective stand, as the parents on the sidelines who wouldn’t think to scream at their or other people’s children for not playing like the next Pele or David Beckham at the age of six, against those who lose their minds? Personally, I hope we can push for the latter option, if only because I think it would be a damn shame to have to deny my son the opportunity to have the good times that I once had out there on the field with his friends and teammates, even if he doesn’t always know what he’s doing. Because at the end of the day, that’s what sports should be about at the core: FUN. Not another opportunity for demented adults to engage in a vicarious pissing contest with each other by forcing their squeaky voiced child to choose between a hat trick or no dinner later that night. It just isn’t the way things should be done, and there will be plenty of chances in all of those kids’ adult lives to compete and destroy–as sad as that may seem. Let them have their childhood Saturdays for now, and let them enjoy them. I know I did, and I want a world where my son can do the same. But maybe I’m the crazy one.

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My Blog: An Apology

Something occurred to me recently. I haven’t posted anything on here in a while now, and I thought it was because I couldn’t think of anything good to talk about. But the more I tried to come up with something interesting to discuss here, the more I realized just how counter intuitive that very idea actually is. A blog generally exists for someone to provide information for the public to read (whether or not they actually want to read it is a different issue). Live chat settings aside, blogs aren’t exactly the environment for ongoing dialogue. The blogger puts out his or her thoughts, the reader reads at his or her leisure, perhaps weighs in with a comment, and the process ends. Rinse, repeat.

I created this blog a few years ago as a distraction for myself as I was trying to curb some questionable behavior patterns that were beginning to arise in my life. I thought maybe if I had an outlet to put my energy when the urge to drink, or get angry, or whatever, I would become a more constructive and positive father, and husband, and general member of society. And quite frankly, I think at least in one sense it worked–I look back now at the hundred some-odd posts that I’ve published since then and I can’t help but be a little bit proud at my own sticktoitiveness (sound it out). But in another, perhaps more crucial sense, I failed in my goal. I sometimes allowed this new found avenue of expression to become a public soapbox for me to use in moments when I was pissed off or indignant at someone(s). And the world being what it is, sometimes the someone(s) realized I was talking about them in particular.

But getting back to the initial thought I had recently about my blogging, it dawned on me that I wasn’t just distracting myself with some random writing assignment. I was disclosing the very things about myself that, to that point in my life, had either gone bottled up or created some sort of dysfunctional behavior on my part. It was a new a way to open up and cash out thoughts that otherwise would have remained fuzzy in my mind (and likely forgotten about, at least consciously, shortly thereafter). But it was also an apology of sorts, since much of what motivated my writing was the internal belief that if I didn’t let it all out to the world, I would continue on the path to selfishness and stupidity. Call it confessional for the agnostic.

Some have asked me why I didn’t just write all of these musings down in a journal or a diary, and until now I couldn’t give any intelligent answer to them. It wasn’t enough just to write down what was going on inside. I needed to put it all out there, for better or worse. Only then could my thoughts, beliefs, fears, egotistical ramblings, hopes, dreams, all of it–only then could it become real. That was the point of the whole thing: even if no one actually read what I published for the world, I gave the world the chance to read it if it wanted to, uncensored, and unabridged. That was the value of this blog, again, for better or worse.

And believe me when I say, there have been “worse” moments from some of the things I’ve written. I have managed on a number of occasions to really upset some of the people who have been and continue to be a part of my life. In the names of “honesty” and “real talk” and “brutal truth” I caused as much or more pain in others as I supposedly alleviated for myself. Typically I would try and apologize as quickly as possible to those who have been hurt or offended by my comments, if only to avoid the subsequent conflict or (worse) resentment toward me–justified or not. But this time I am really trying to find a good compromise not only for the so-called “victims” of my thoughts and ramblings over the years, but also for myself in my continuing quest to maintain some sort of normalcy in my life. So there needs to be a bit more depth to how I handle it this time.

What I can say for sure is the following: I am truly sorry if anything I have written here caused more pain or suffering to someone than would have been created if I had discussed the same exact topic with that person face to face. In other words, while I don’t necessarily feel apologetic or guilty about the actual thoughts and convictions I expressed in these posts, I am certain that there have been times where the public expression itself has been a conduit to more negativity than needed to exist in the first place. Often I would allow the frustration I was feeling in pondering some of these topics to propel me into a writing frenzy, and before I really thought through what my occur after clicking “Publish” the post was live for the world to read at its leisure. This is a true flaw of mine, to act and speak quickly, and rely on my intelligence and (lack of) experience to decide in the moment whether something should be said or withheld. It is bad enough in private, where I have had to remove my foot from my mouth with family, friends, and strangers more times than I would like to admit. But in a =forum like this, where I have the advantage of time and editing, there really is no excuse for something like that. So again, I want to apologize in the same public setting that has caused the unnecessary pain that could have been avoided. Despite what some may think, it really isn’t ever my goal to hurt someone even if it makes me feel better in the process. Even if the thoughts I am having are justified, and even if I can’t find a better way to express them. It is wrong. I am wrong, and I’m sorry.

In closing, I want to make sure I am clear about a couple of things just in case anything has been left at all ambiguous. I am not apologizing for the feelings–positive or negative–I may have expressed throughout the course of this blog. I don’t say that with any conceited “I am always right” belief about myself. Trust me on that. Sometimes I am right, sometimes I’m wrong, and sometimes I’m just feeling something without an associated truth value. Regardless of the feeling in question, I have become comfortable enough with myself from an internal standpoint to know that apologizing just wouldn’t be genuine. I feel how I feel on this stuff, and even though I do my best to ensure that my feelings aren’t absurd at the core, I can’t rule the possibility out. So there we are with that.

What is most important to me is that the people–and you know who you are at this point, I think–who have been affected negatively by my public declarations of these feelings can rest assured that I know I should have acted differently, and going forward, I will try my best to do just that. We have enough real drama in the world today, and we don’t need my passive-aggressive confessional for the masses adding to the mix. If I feel negatively about something in the future, I will confront the person about it myself, in person, to deal with it like adults. And if I can’t do that, I’ll write about it in my journal. I have one now.


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Looking Down

Have you ever had an out of body experience? Not necessarily the “I was dead for three minutes and walked toward the light” sort of thing (though that would certainly count), but more in the “I’m here but not here” kind of way. I realized recently that this happens to me on a pretty regular basis, and when I become aware of it, it genuinely freaks me out–for a number of reasons.

I’ll give an example. My job requires me to be in a fair number of meetings per week, most of which involve me updating people in my department about whatever tasks I’m working on at the time. Almost without fail, I will notice as I am speaking about these things that the words coming out of my mouth aren’t mine. They aren’t anyone’s–they are essentially just an autopilot version of a human being speaking with other human beings. And as this realization sets in, I actually get to the point where I am watching myself speaking, hearing sounds being projected across the room, but not having any true conception of what is being said or why. And the craziest part is that if I am asked to repeat what I’ve said or expand upon something, I can almost always do it without trouble. Or rather, more words are produced by the robot below me that satisfy the people listening.

I can’t remember when I first started disassociating like this, but I can say it is a very good method for inducing panic in me when it occurs. No amount of history or practice can prepare me for the feeling of having “two” selves, the automated version of which is available to others. I wish it were as simple as a daydream that can take place when you are really bored with your surroundings, but there is a difference. When I daydream, I may as well be sleeping with my eyes open. I am not productive, I cannot speak or respond, and I certainly am not aware of it in some second-order way as it is going on.

It isn’t just something that can fly up when I am interacting with others. I can realize that I am doing something productive alone and begin to “float” over it just as easily. I watched myself read a book last night for ten or fifteen minutes. I can recall all of what was read, but I can also recall the realization that I was completely detached from the eyes and brain that were taking in the words on the page.

Maybe this all takes place because my brain is always running at ninety miles an hour, and isn’t capable of focusing on just one thing. But the thing is, it’s not as though the “floating” version of myself starts to dwell on something other than what the autoversion of me is doing. Most of the time I just watch myself, essentially as a passive observer, taking in the spectacle of a body participating in day-to-day life sans depth.

I realize that by putting this out there in the world I am not making myself look too good. I was asked recently why I feel the need to blog about things this personal, and the truth is, I don’t really know. Sometimes I just like getting my feelings on the page and then throw them into the cybervoid to see if someone else can relate. Sometimes I feel like publishing something makes it “real”, where it used to be only in my mind (and therefore not real). Sometimes I want to make a clever point and it can be an ego boost to have affirmation of that by someone else. And sometimes I just feel do it, Nike style, without a cause. Or at least one I am aware of. Beyond that, though, I know people could say I’m trying to characterize myself as crazy to get attention. Or they could say I’m trying to come up with an excuse for not giving people the proper amount of attention when I speak to them. Or they could just read this and not think or say anything. All are possible scenarios. At the end of the day, though, sometimes it helps in a completely non-descriptive way to take something that has been bothering me, write it out in the rambling, disjunctive method that I have developed here, and post it without reason or justification. Just because.

And it dawned on me at this moment that I am watching myself write this as well.

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21st Century Haterade

There is an epidemic circulating these days, and unless you live under a rock you likely will fall victim to it sooner or later (if you haven’t already). The relatively newfound interconnectivity people have with each other due to social media and the like has made it possible for dialogues that even ten years ago wouldn’t have been possible. Soccer moms can chat with other soccer moms on Facebook about how their kids are more primed for the big time than their coaches seem to comprehend. Wives to be can Pinterest their favorite wedding gowns and bridesmaid dresses to demonstrate for all the world just how superfluously tasteful they plan to be in the upcoming months. Sorostitutes can Instagram their favorite pouty poses and cleavage shots in Cancun to make Greek America jealous for a week or so. And so on.

But while these awesome new trends may seem reason enough to welcome ourselves happily into the new millennium, there is one facet of it all that makes this wannabe reporter cringe every time it occurs. The speed of our networking allows not only for people to express their views about whatever may be on their minds, but also for detractors, hiding in the cyber weeds ready to pounce, to tell everyone why the views are wrong (and make themselves feel that much smarter, cooler, and good looking in the process). Put simply, horses have never been as high as they seem to be these days, and quite frankly, it annoys the living shit out of me.

Here’s a recent example from my own experience. I’m currently reading The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. Why? Because I’ve heard it’s an interesting book, it has achieved canonical status over the past few decades in American lit, and because I fucking felt like it. If you will excuse my obvious annoyance at having to explain myself for the moment, hopefully the rest of this brief story will help it all to make sense eventually.

About a third of the way through what has so far been a very fun to read book, I came across a quote that struck me as both poignant and hilarious. So as a good disciple of the Internet age, I posted it on Facebook. Here’s what I wrote, verbatim:

“Keating leaned back with a sense of warmth and well-being. He liked this book. It made the routine of his Sunday morning breakfast a profound spiritual experience; he was certain that it was profound, because he didn’t understand it.”

Ayn Rand, putting pretentious pseudo-intellectuals on blast since 1943.

If you can’t see why I found this hysterical, you need to get your sense of humor checked out. It’s a good quote, it makes fun of people who in my mind deserve to be made fun of, and it’s easy to understand. So I threw it online for people to enjoy it along with me. That was it. Story ends, right? Not even close. Within minutes I had a response comment from a former colleague in graduate school saying:

“Good thing her argument that A=A entails that all truths are necessary is understood by her followers.”

Jesus Christ. That was my first thought, anyway. My second thought was to explain what I thought should have been obvious–namely that my finding a quote funny shouldn’t implicate me in the funny person’s philosophical agendas from the following decades. But rather than do that, I went back to my trusty standby and responded snarkily without ever really taking the comment seriously. Sixteen messages later, the discussion was over (but not, I might add, before the commenter plead with himself on his own page not to get into “fights with friends on Facebook.”)

The point of this is not to belittle my social media detractor. I don’t hold any ill-will, and I hope he doesn’t either. But the fact that I can’t be sure whether he would “forgive” me for something like this is exactly what I’m talking about in the first place. Why in the hell is it more fashionable to try and rip someone apart than to leave it alone, especially when doing so requires twisting words in the first place? How is this gratifying? Who was being harmed by my quote? If this is what it takes to win intellectual pissing contests, consider me a dribbler.

And even when supposed “harm” might be involved in inspiring someone to sip the haterade and rant, it seems that the usual assumptions of, say, using facts in your argument have gone out the window. Here is another example of what I’m talking about.

“Kristen,” a friend and former grad colleague as well, is the writer and editor of a blog that focuses in large part on the legitimacy of home birthing and doula relationships. Here’s what I know about what it takes to give birth: not much, beyond having my hand almost ripped off by my wife when she was having our son. Here’s what I know about home birthing: not much, beyond reading Kristen’s entertaining stories. Here’s what I know about being a doula: not much, beyond reading Kristen’s entertaining stories. And finally, here’s what I know about Kristen: she’s incredibly smart, obviously a great mother, obviously a beloved doula, obviously a great writer, and has been nothing but supportive to me in my blogging and other similar endeavors. (Check her stuff out here if you’re interested.)

I mention all of this because just recently, a well-known blogger named “Dr. Amy” decided–apparently on her day off no less–to dedicate an entire post to the dangers of Kristen’s ideas and ideals. Fair enough–giving birth is a serious and potentially dangerous ordeal, so if you truly believe that home birthing is problematic, that warrants a response. But here’s the problem–interspersed in the out of context ramblings against Kristen’s posts, Dr. Amy decided to throw in comments like this gem (about Kristen): “YOU aren’t radically unique. You are the gullible, woefully undereducated woman who thinks reading books for laypeople is ‘research;’ who has probably never read a single scientific paper in its entirety…(and are) the typical homebirth advocate, risking her baby’s life for no better reason than your personal experience.”

Damn. Pretty harsh stuff. Except for one small problem: none of it is true. The fact that Kristen is where she is in both the blogging and doula world makes her pretty unique, especially given where she started. Which was by getting her doctorate in philosophy. Which, last I checked, kind of negates the whole “uneducated and never reading research papers” thing. And while I can’t speak directly to her level of gullibility, I can say that she is savvy enough to pay her children off in order to have ten minutes to get it on with her husband. So that has to count for something, right?

(Very) long story short, there are too many people out there who would rather spend their time attempting to create stupidity in others and exploiting it than creating something positive of their own and honoring it. This bothers me, especially as a true hater of stupidity in my own right. There is plenty of real nastiness out there to show off your medula oblongpenis with. Don’t waste your (and my) time with the rest.

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Rights, Guns, and Newtown

Like most of the country, I was absolutely appalled at the tragedy in Sandy Hook high school this past Friday. To the point that, after trying to figure out which link I wanted to put into this post for informational purposes of what happened, I decided on nothing at all. I honestly can’t handle looking at it all again. So if you have been under a rock for the last few days, just Google “Newtown, CT” and you should find everything you need to get back up to speed.

I haven’t written here in a while, and rather then spend my return discussing the disgustingness of what took place–which has been done and undoubtedly will continue to be done ad-nauseum for the upcoming days and weeks–I thought I would venture into an area that I have been interested in for years, but never had the guts to discuss in public forums until now.

The oft-debated “right to bear arms” is understandably at the center of the recent media firestorm, and it is clear that both sides of the political universe are trying to find ways to use the events in Newtown as a catalyst for achieving whatever goals they have generally on this topic. And while I usually find myself somewhere in the middle of the spectrum when I think about people’s rights concerning firearms, I thought it might be a good opportunity to go back and look at what is actually stated in the Second Amendment, and go from there. Here is the text:

“A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

As is common in the rights ascribed by the Bill of Rights, the forefathers made (at least in my mind) a conscious point to remain as ambiguous as possible in the details while still affirming the conceptual importance of what was being discussed. In other words, because the idea of the Constitution was to provide the framework upon which to found the nation and guide it through its various future iterations, the writers had the good sense to understand that getting into the nitty-gritty of the time period in which they lived would provide little help for American citizens living in the more technologically advanced future. Hence the ambiguity. People have the right to keep and bear arms, and that right cannot be infringed by government. What should count as “arms,” however, is (again, understandably) left out of the document, and left up to the individual generations of government and citizens to interpret on their own.

So the question for today remains: How well have we done in this interpretation of what the founding fathers were pushing for two hundred plus years ago?

Rather than get into a complex conversation about the difference in scope between federal and state laws, and who should govern what, etc.–for which I wouldn’t have the competence or background to do well anyway–I just want to consider the big picture for a moment. As to the first question of whether people should have the right to keep and bear any firearms (and I should point out that at this point in time, “arms” can’t realistically be considered anything less than guns), I would give a conditional “yes, they do.” I don’t have a problem with someone keeping a well-protected and maintained gun in the house for the purpose of self-protection, or protection of his family. That alone doesn’t concern me. However, even that potentially benign example, in my view, should require a more stringent licensing process than appears to exist in many parts of the country today. Greater time elapses, stronger requirement classes, psychological evaluations (on a continuing basis), and frequent renewal exams all seem perfectly reasonable to me for those who wish to own a firearm at home.

To the many who argue for the priority of freedom and liberty over potential security, I can only give my staunchest disagreement. This isn’t about the denial of liberty for the sake of governmental control. This isn’t big brother at play. This is about ensuring that those who wish to invoke the rights ascribed in the Bill of Rights are capable of doing so in a competent, safe fashion. And while it will undoubtedly be pointed out that even the best security checks will not stop people from obtaining weapons through beating the system or utilizing the black market, that alone doesn’t provide the justification for abandoning the protection of law altogether. We aren’t anarchists, no matter how imperfect the structure of law may be currently.

Consider the security checkpoints existing in many of the airports throughout the country today. Putting aside the legitimate concern of potential profiling in who is actually checked the most, let’s look at (again, from a big picture standpoint) why these checkpoints became so stringent ten or so years ago. Prior to 9/11, it was pretty easy to get through an airport and onto a plane carrying items that could provide the means for causing the atrocities we saw on September 11th. Now, while it is clearly not impossible to get a weapon onto a plane, it is damn hard. And while I am among the many who get annoyed in the moment when I have to take off my shoes, wait in long lines, and have my liquids kept to a certain small quantity before boarding, at the end of the day I am willing to sacrifice the “freedom” of keeping people from seeing my socks for the sake of having my plane take off and land safely. Just a little quirk of mine, I guess.

Getting back now to the question of what should count as legitimate “arms” for a citizen to keep and bear, in my mind we should take a common-sense approach to this. In other words, what would it take for the average person, who is not in combat, to protect himself and his family while in his home or (less importantly to me) in public? Would a knife do the trick? Well, maybe not if the person attacking you is carrying a gun. Or, worse yet, if the person attacking you is actually a group of people instead. So under these circumstances, what would suffice for your protection? How about a pistol or two, each of which carries, say, twenty rounds of ammunition? That must be enough, right?

I have yet to hear a good argument for the average non-military citizen’s right to develop and maintain an arsenal in his home. What purpose would this serve, beyond simply honoring freedom and liberty for the sake of freedom and liberty? And more importantly, what are the costs of allowing this type of freedom and liberty to exist? As we saw in Newtown, and as we’ve seen in other similarly horrible situations, the damage an assault rifle can cause is massive. The purpose, as I understand it anyway, of an automatic weapon is to provide the user with the capacity to fire multiple rounds as quickly as possibly without the burden of reloading. Add to that the extended magazines, etc., provided in these types of weapons and one has the obligation to ask what do you really want to do with something like that? When is the ability to wound or kill five, or ten, or twenty people in seconds really and truly applicable to self-protection, except perhaps in the most imaginative of exceptions?

The fact of the matter is that while people may indeed have a right to protect themselves with firearms, that right needs to be limited to something a reasonable and rational person would agree to. And while I may not be the paradigm of either, I cannot for the life of me understand why a weapon designed primarily for military warfare is needed for the average person looking to defend himself and his family in a worst case scenario setting.

A final point concerning an analogy that has been–inappropriately–used by many in support of an open-ended right to bear arms. Drugs are illegal, and people obviously continue to have access to them. Abuse is present, and crime persists because of it. But these facts, while tragic, do not imply the necessity of complete deregulation of drugs in America. A change in regulation, perhaps, but not deregulation. And that’s really what we’re talking about here, isn’t it? Your “right” to something doesn’t in any way imply that I have a subsequent obligation to just hand over whatever you want without first offering up some realistic expectations and restrictions. Even the hardcore libertarian has to accept that while government shouldn’t get involved in restricting his freedom, that freedom simply cannot result in the illegitimate harm of others.

Give me liberty or give me death. Well, in this case, giving you one may give me the other. And I’m not ready to go quite yet.

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Posted in Serious by as980098. 3 Comments

“Yeah, but…”: The Average Person’s Guide to Me

Someone sent me a website to look at this morning with the prior request that I let him know what I thought of it. It was a site dedicated to stopping false accusations of crimes, and he thought I might find it interesting. So I took a look. Within the first minute I found myself conjuring up reason after reason why the testimonials provided were nonsense, and justification after justification for why the site was bogus overall. And then it hit me: I couldn’t have cared less about false accusations or the supposedly innocent people who were being screwed over by a faulty system. I had no emotional investment whatsoever in either side of the debate. My counterpoints just “happened” in my head, as though set off by some mystical philosopher demon whose only purpose in life was to prove you wrong. And yes, I mean you. So I deleted the comments I had constructed in an email to my friend illustrating how stupid the website was and sat back for a moment to ask myself that age-old question: What the fuck is wrong with me?

Now, hours later and on a forum about as lame (sorry bloggers) as Facebook or Twitter, I find myself coming to the same conclusion over and over again. When it comes to my opinion on most worldly topics, I am just a sociopathic malcontent. Which is to say, if you ask me what I think about something “relevant” in the social stratosphere, it will be more likely than not that I simply won’t care one way or the other. Thus the sociopathy (I may have created that word). But it doesn’t just end there. Regardless of my ambivalence about the subject matter in question, I will almost always immediately default to the contrary position of whatever has been argued. I will become the opponent, the adversary, the fly in the ointment. In essence, I become the asshole you should avoid.

A quick word about the so-called “Devil’s Advocate”. John Stuart Mill famously maintained that there is a place for contrary views on just about everything, if only to avoid what he called the dead dogma of those who forget to think about what they believe after a period of time. Specifically, he pointed out that even “…the most intolerant of churches, the Roman Catholic Church, at the canonization of a saint, admits, and listens patiently to, a ‘devil’s advocate.’” So you might think that I am simply performing a public service by telling people how wrong they are to believe whatever they are spouting off to me. But sadly, that isn’t the case at all. I’m not being contrary to maintain some sort of academic living truth. I’m doing it because most opinions annoy me to the core.

Hence the malcontent. I can’t be satisfied in just listening to someone talk or argue or preach. Just can’t do it. Some synapse in my brain causes the wheels to turn immediately with the sole purpose of finding the flaw that I can use as a response, often with the (fake) fervency of the most adamant of pro-lifers standing outside of an abortion clinic as poor young sixteen year old Jill tries to walk in so she can continue her life in peace. See what I mean? I can’t even provide an analogy or metaphor without becoming irritated with both the ridiculous imaginary picketers who refuse to spend their imaginary time getting imaginary jobs, and the made-up teenager who couldn’t get laid without subjecting an innocent made-up fetus to death because she wants to remain a cheerleader in her made-up high school.

“Yeah, but…” is my stock response to something that I don’t care about but don’t feel like staying quiet about either. The two words form in my mouth faster than you can imagine, and are followed by a counter-argument that probably has holes in it but looks good at first glance. That’s the gift and the curse of being smart but not brilliant. I can start a hell of a lot of nice sounding projects without having the brain power to see them to their fruitful conclusion. And it also doesn’t help that I get bored easily.

Even now, with this post, I feel the appeal of writing about my predispositions of contrariness and assholishness wearing off. I am becoming annoyed at my annoyingness, not so much because I don’t want to be annoying to people, but more because it is getting boring to write about it. I am thinking of reasons why this post would not serve the purpose I initially intended it to, which is basically just to tell a (remarkably unapologetic, as it turns out) story about my argumentative nature. So with that, I will sign off by saying that whoever you are, whatever you think, you are probably wrong. And remember, no matter how passionate I may appear when I tell you how wrong you are, deep down I probably don’t even care.

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Posted in Serious Stories by as980098. 3 Comments

In Five Years…

When did I reach the point of my life where I stopped caring about the future and only worried about the present?

Rhetorical question obviously, especially since I might be the only one in the world who could possibly answer it. I’ve never been one to have a hardcore “life plan” for myself, but up until a couple of years ago I always had at least a few things that I wanted to accomplish in the not-so-distant future. They ranged in size and subject, not to mention feasibility, but they were always there….at least in the back of my mind.

Some examples, beginning with the earliest I can remember:

  • I wanted to have a girlfriend–1993-1997
  • I wanted to get into a decent college–1993-1999
  • I wanted to be a doctor or a lawyer–1995-2001
  • I wanted to fly on an airplane–1993-1999 (not joking…I didn’t go on my first flight until I was 19)
  • I wanted to live or work in New York City–1995-2008
  • I wanted to go to graduate school–2002-2003
  • I wanted to travel out of the United States–2001-2006
  • I wanted to get married–2004-2007
  • I wanted to get a PhD–2003-2008
  • I wanted to own a home–2008-2008
  • I wanted to have a child–2009-2010
  • I wanted to write a book–2010-2011

As you can no doubt tell, these are all general “life goals.” They are big deals and I imagine most people share some (if not all) of them too. I was lucky enough to accomplish most of them, but in doing so I’ve found that I no longer really aspire for anything tangible. I don’t have any other life goals that would rival those past ones. Why? I tell myself it has to do with the stress of the moment and nothing more. For instance, here would be the things I want to “accomplish” in my life right now:

  • Make more money
  • Get out of debt (by making more money)
  • Save for Casey’s future (by making more money)
  • Sell my condo and live somewhere more affordable
  • Get a car with better gas mileage

Catch a theme in there? When did I become like this? I’ll admit again I was never the most pie in the sky person when it came to future goals, but this is ridiculous. Of course it is practical to want to save, and make money, and get out of debt, but these are things that dominate my consciousness to the point that almost nothing else can come in. I’m deteriorating. To put it eloquently, it fucking sucks.

The problem is, whenever I try to get beyond my stressors and come up with some better plans for the future, I generally only get as far as the most initial stages of thought before something inevitably comes along and smacks me back to reality.

Here’s an example. When I was a senior in college a couple of my roommates and I were really into movies. Not just new releases, but the classics. One of my roommates had the idea to put of the AFI Top 100 Movies of All-Time list on our living room wall and watch as many as he could throughout the year. For no reason other than because it seemed like a cool thing to do. I joined in when I could, and had a great time in doing so. About a month ago I remembered how much fun it was and decided to try it again, only this time with a more regimented and scheduled approach (for obvious reasons). I looked up the newest list, downloaded as many movies as I could from #100 on up, and decided that I would watch at least one movie a week for as long as it took until the list was complete. One a week–two to three hours max. No problem, right? Even in my crazy life I should be able to pull that one off, right? Wrong. Haven’t even started yet, despite the fact that the movies are right there in my queue, ready to go. Pathetic.

The funny thing is, I have never felt old a day in my life until now. Despite the fact that I’ve been actually young so far, I’ve always looked even younger than my age. Baby face syndrome I suppose. But regardless of how I look now (and trust me, I feel like I look decades older than I used to), I am really starting to fear the stagnancy that goes along with forgetting to improve myself. And that means having goals. Future goals. Big deal goals.

So what now? Where do I want to be in five years? What do I want that involves something other than dollars and cents? If I had to come up with a list right now, I’m pretty sure it would be much weirder than my first one. But the hell with it, why not give it a shot:

  • Become more financially stable (sorry)
  • Stop being so dependent on my obsessions (and compulsions)
  • Learn to just be, and not always do
  • Be a better role model for Casey by not sweating the truly small stuff
  • Continue to be ambitious at work
  • Write, and then write more
  • Read, and then read more
  • Travel again, with and without family and friends
  • Be experimental, and don’t fear looking stupid in doing so
  • Forgive the past, even if I don’t know exactly what I’m forgiving (thank you)
  • Smile when I’m happy
  • Learn to accept that pain will exist in life
  • Don’t try to fix everything, especially that which cannot be fixed (by me)
  • Take (calculated) risks
  • Don’t become bitter
  • Love as much as possible

Cheesy? Trite? Couldn’t care less. Too much of my life, including the years I’ve spent writing here, have been based almost entirely about trying to please. And something I’ve realized lately is that trying to please can itself be an incredible selfish pursuit. If I try to make people happy because it makes me happy, or because it alleviates my pain, or fear, or stress, how altruistic can I really consider myself at the end of the day. So going forward, if I were to have one more goal for the future, it would be this: Do for me, but in such a way that the world around me can be happy with what I’ve done. It’s a lofty goal, I know, but why not shoot for the moon here? It’s only my life we’re talking about…

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Posted in Serious by as980098. 2 Comments

Siblings

A friend of mine made a claim recently that got a group of us into a sort of debate for the next few days. After reading about the difficulties associated with caring for older parents with medical issues, he argued that parents should, wherever possible, have at least two children because of the support that they could provide both for each other and their parents once they required it. More was said on those lines, but I’m leaving it at that for the purposes of what follows.

As some know, I am a father of one son (Casey). He is about two and a half years old, and he is the love of my life. I am also the oldest of four children, two boys and two girls, ranging in ages from 16 (my youngest sister) to 31 (myself). So at this point in my life, I have experience both with having siblings, and bringing up a child who does not. Also at this point–and my wife is aware of this–I really have no intention of having more children. I can say this for a number of reasons, including:

  1. I don’t know how I could possibly split my attention between Casey and another child.
  2. I don’t know how I could possibly love another child as much as I love Casey.
  3. I don’t know how another child could possibly be as awesome as Casey.
  4. I don’t know how I could possibly provide the support (financial, emotional, and otherwise) that would be required for helping another child to flourish in the world.

You may note that only the fourth item involves something tangible–$–where the rest essentially have to do with my own states of being. And while I have heard other parents say things like “You think you can’t love another child as much as your first, but then you have one and it always works out,” I find myself coming to the same response over and over again. Namely, even though perhaps I could find it in myself to love another child and split my attention between them, I just don’t want to. So with that in mind, I return to my friend’s statement and ask whether this makes me a selfish asshole. Does it?

My friend’s point relies on two premises that may or may not be true for all people. First, it implies that all parents (or at least most) will become elderly and require emotional, physical, and financial support, all of which can be provided more easily by multiple children than just one. Second, it implies that all siblings (or at least most) are able to provide emotional, physical, and in some cases financial support to each other. In my friend’s personal case–from what I can see anyway–both of these implications would be perfectly natural for him. He was raised in a closely knit family with loving parents, under the umbrella of financial stability, and accordingly has developed a good relationship with his sister. Makes sense, at least to me. But the problem that I see in his argument rests on the fact that while he may see his situation as the norm, in reality it may be closer to the exception than the general rule. And if we looks at things with that caveat in mind, his argument becomes less applicable than one might have originally thought.

Consider my case, for example. As I said above, I was raised with two parents in a middle class home with three siblings. My parents were well educated, appeared to make decent salaries, owned multiple cars, and were able to send me to a private high school. So at first glance, you might think that my situation would be the spitting image of the type of familial nexus that my friend seems to be relying upon for his point. In reality, though, it really wasn’t that way at all. My parents did make decent salaries, but they were also constantly struggling from a financial standpoint because of issues with credit, big bills, etc. I did go to a private high school, by my parents had to scrimp and save every penny they had to make it happen. We did have multiple cars, but the payments were often ballooned and late because of problems due to financing. My parents did love us, but they had a very rocky relationship themselves, and this often spilled over into the interactions that had with each other and the four of us.

The point I am trying to make here is even situations that appear to “work” for the type of stability that my friend needs for his argument to go through don’t always have it underneath it all. I speak with my siblings every so often and I believe I am on good terms with all of them. When I see them I am able to have a good time, in spite of our different personalities and lifestyles. But would I classify us as a “tightly knit group” who will definitely provide the requisite support needed if and when my mother becomes elderly? I honestly have no idea. I also have no idea whether we will be able to provide support for each other during this time, if only because times like that–in my experience anyway–tend to be just as likely to cause rifts in relationships (because of opposing desires concerning what should be done, how things should be handled, etc.) as they are to create and maintain emotional closeness.

So getting back to the original question of whether it is better to provide your child with a sibling than not, I think the best possible answer would be “maybe.” It depends on the circumstances, and not just financial ones. Perhaps a better way of looking at it would be to flip the question around and ask it this way: Is it ever irresponsible to not provide your child with a sibling? And for my money (no pun intended), I can confidently answer “no”. There are no circumstances under which a parent should consider having another child out of obligation, or fear of being irresponsible in not doing so. That thought seems utterly foreign to me. I can, however, think of plenty of circumstances where I would find it completely irresponsible for parents to have another child, and I imagine others can as well, whether or not they would be willing to admit it in public.

Having children is perhaps the most important and gratifying experience a person can have, for a multitude of reasons. But the decision to have children is not one that should be based on anything other than free choice. You know why? Because we already know how decisions made by way of coercion (and let’s face it, telling someone that it would be irresponsible to not have another child can be pretty coercive to the decision making process) don’t often end up with positive results. And if we want to take seriously–as I definitely do–the idea that raising a child to flourish in the world requires a great deal of time, attention, love, and positive role-modeling in order to succeed, we need to make sure these components are available and desired completely before we discuss whether having siblings is a good thing to do.

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Posted in Serious by as980098. 2 Comments