Friday, June 29, 2012

How are my tin words
more eloquent than one tree
swaying in the sky?

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The visual culture of Hunger Games is certainly striking. It's as if the capitol city has kept all the bright colors to itself, and left the provinces nothing but beige and gray.

What struck me the most, however, was that I walked out of the movie into a theater building strewn wildly with garish colors, with posters and screens all around promoting movies I haven't heard of, starring people I barely recognize, while the radio blares music I don't recognize by unfamiliar bands.

All it's taken is a couple of years as a parent of small children, and I'm experiencing the pop culture of my own country as if it were science fiction.

Monday, April 16, 2012

On introducing my daughter to woodworking

I want to show her
the wood planed smooth. Her hands are
drawn to the shavings.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

I'm OK. I really am. We all are.

But at odd moments, I get this flash of sudden darkness, the jarring sense of being thrown forward then back, the acrid smell of smoke, and everyone in my family screaming at once. My wife screaming for her kids over and over, and the kids just plain screaming.

Two weeks ago, we were on our way out to dinner. About a second after we stopped at a red light, a driver hit us from behind.  Based on what our car looked like after, I'd guess she was going about 40 mph.  There was no screeching of brakes, nor were there skid marks on the road behind us.  We're still waiting on a copy of the police report for more detail on what she might have been doing that led her to slam into a column of cars on a busy road at 5 pm on a Saturday.

That moment, all I knew was that the car was filled with smoke, and I had to get the kids out.  My door wouldn't open at first.  I threw my shoulder into it, and it still didn't budge. It turned out to be locked. Unlocked it and got out onto the shoulder. Went for the back door, couldn't get it open. Realized it was locked, too. Unlocked it, and got my daughter out.  She's almost four, and was completely hysterical. I give her a quick extremities check. No visible injuries, seems to just be scared.  She says she's not hurt. I set her firmly on the shoulder as far from the car as I can while keeping her in view, and tell her to stay there. I see Christie coming out the passenger door. She looks unhurt, but scared as hell.

I run around to the driver's side rear door. Locked. Shit. Should have thought of that.  Back around to the passenger side, crawl across my daughter's seat to get to my son. He's one, and is still in a rear-facing car seat. I get him unbuckled, and am cradling him close to my body when I realize that the car has started moving slowly forward.  Holding him firmly with my left hand, I lunge between the seats to put the car in Park. It won't go all the way, but it does go into Neutral, and stops rolling. That'll do.

I climb out onto the shoulder, and my daughter is crying for me to pick her up. I have my 1-year-old in my left arm, and my 4-year-old in my right, standing close enough to Christie for us to put her arms around us.  The four of us stand there, trying to make sense of what the hell just happened.

More soon.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A Taxonomy of Fears

Done to or done by?
Will she be well, will he be kind?
What sort of damage will they inflict on those they love
and on the world?

Acts of man, acts of god.
Is there a spark in the wall,
waiting for a finger or a flammable scrap
or a vapor that shouldn't be there waiting for a spark?
And the two come together like the opposite of a lottery ticket
and the house goes up in a woof like god's great dane warning off a prowler,
and that's it.

Diseases and other disasters natural, financial, and emotional.
Was that a cough? Is that rash chronic, or acute?
What slight signs of future calamity am I missing?
The wind is picking up.
I should have trimmed that tree in the front yard.
My boss. Arthritis. Malaise.
Was the kid who coughed on our groceries unvaccinated?
Are the squirrels back in the attic?
What am I missing?
Fold and pocket them carefully and listen
to the still house breathing in the dark.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

In which I discover the limits of my daughter's patience for the writing process

I'm a hair over 10,000 words into a novel, just finished Act One, and I am out of the area that I knew exactly what was going to happen, and I'm back into super vague world where I really just know the tentpoles. Still. I'm a writer, a storyteller. Which is why it drives me nuts when my daughter asks me to tell her a story and I come up dry. Last night after dinner, we were laying in her bed shining flashlights on the ceiling, and she said, "Daddy, tell me a spooky story. One about ghosts!"

And my brain locks up and I start going through all the ghost stories I know, trying to think of one that will entertain a three and a half year old without giving her nightmares. I ended up recycling a Kipper story about a ghost.

"Tell me another ghost story, but this time at Tiger's house."

More recycling, this time with Tiger discovering a hidden room in his house, where the ghost has prepared tea for them to share. Okay, not bad. Slightly original, even if all the pieces were sort of recycled. The ending sucked, but those are always hard.

"Tell me a spooky story about dragons!"

There followed a story about a dragon who lived in a cave in the tallest mountain at the top of the world who was very scared of mice, thought he heard one squeaking in his cave, but it turned out to be a kangaroo riding a bicycle, and everything was okay after they oiled the kangaroo's bike, which had been squeaking. I was pretty proud of that one, but the response was, "Daddy, tell me a spooky story about a dragon with a mouse, but this time it's really a mouse."

Okay, that one was harder to end happily for everyone. But I managed to cobble something together.

"Daddy, tell me another dragon story!"
That is not a lot to go on. I decided the best thing was to involve her in the process a bit: "Okay, so where does the dragon live? In the mountains? In a cave, or in the forest?"

"The forest!"

"And for it to be a good story, he has to want something. What does he want? Treasure? A friend? Some food?"


"What kind of food?"

"Broccoli, and cauliflower, and smoothies, and brownies!"

"Okay, and if it's going to be a good story, there's got to be something that keeps him from getting the food. What's keeping him from getting the food? Any ideas?"

"Daddy, just tell the story!"

Which is what it all comes down to eventually, isn't it?

Friday, January 20, 2012

Men as leaders in feminist organizations (at least in college)

When I was in college, I worked at the Women's Resource Center. I was friends with one of the directors and needed scholarship work hours, and they needed someone who knew desktop publishing software and someone they could give the scut work that volunteers weren't necessarily interested in.  Also, the director I was friends with was trying to set me up with the other director, but that's another story. I ended up on the board of directors.

How did I, as a man, newly associated with the group, end up a board member? The short answer is that they asked. I said no, and they asked again. I said I didn't feel qualified, and they said, "There isn't anyone else who'll do it" and I gave in.

I believed then, and still do believe that the role men should take in explicitly feminist organizations is a supporting one, not a leadership one. Be there, be helpful, be visible, and be listening. I can't speak for all men (for one thing, I don't really get sports), but staying silent isn't really my strong suit.  When I was on the board, I did my best, but I can't tell you how well I succeeded.

In retrospect, I wish I'd pushed back harder on the issue of being on the board. As a middle class white guy, I had been given loads of leadership training throughout my childhood even before high school. Some of it was implicit, but some of it, like the Boy Scouts, was very explicit training on public speaking, group coordination and leadership. The women who volunteered at the Women's Resource Center with me for the most part had not. Yes, I was asked, repeatedly. But I was willing to step forward because taking a leadership role was a comfortable thing for me to do. In retrospect, I was taking a place that could have been someone else's first step into a lifetime of leadership.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Troubleshooting automation

Mostly I'm writing this to leave a note for my future self in case I run into this problem again, or for someone else who might be having the same weird problem.

Trying to automate anything on a Windows machine is an exercise in frustration. That's probably the case for any GUI, but Windows is the one I know best and therefore butt heads with the most.  Anyway, I had this piece of automation that downloaded some data, processed it, and then sent out an email with the results.  I inherited some automation software along with written macros for them, but that only worked about half the time.  Gradually, I've been transitioning to command line work automated through batch files set up as scheduled tasks, and that's worked really well for things like downloading data, running reports, etc., but I could never find a way to make it work with our email client (Lotus Notes).

Recently, I've been working on adapting a VBA module written by a coworker to generate and send an email with a file attached.  I could get it to work by calling the VBA code from an Access macro, and I could call that macro using a desktop shortcut, and I could call that shortcut from a batch file.  That's the approach I've used many times before, and it worked fine up to a point. To be specific, it worked when I ran the batch file directly, and it worked fine if I created a scheduled task and played it directly as a test. But it would not work if triggered at a specific time.

I tried everything I could think of, but what finally worked was ditching the desktop shortcut, and instead using the actual command line interface for Access to open the database with the macro name following a /x. Hopefully it'll work tomorrow, too.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Nice quote from Barney Frank: "One of the great lies people say is, 'Oh, I don't like to say I told you so.' Everybody likes to say I told you so. And I have found it's one of the few pleasures that improves with age."