Christmas Sentiment

This year, I’ve had a nearly overwhelming sentiment to my family and the traditions we had when I was growing up. So when I heard this song by Tim Minchin on the radio on Eve’s morning, it struck home. Hard.

Minchin’s a native of Australia and is raising his family in England. Christmas memories for him are of Summer, a warm and sunny place. Though California’s not exactly in its hotter days of the year, it too is a naturally warm, sunny place. And I have as many family memories of Summers visiting family all over as I do from the holidays.

“White Wine in the Sun” is a feeling strongly infused with family for me. On those hot days, I learned from my grandma to just pop an ice cube in your white wine to keep it chilled, and it stays just as tasty. As we kids, my sister and cousins, grew up, it got easier to just enjoy one another’s company. Have a dinner, drink some perfectly pressed grapes, and revel in life itself. Nothing loud or overwhelming; my family is generally small and quiet.

Christmas got better as I got older, I think. The gifts were great, but they could wait. Waffles from scratch with a side of bacon were of utmost importance. We would see each other and eat meals together when we could. But even as a kid, I was just as excited to visit my cousins or my Auntie as I was to tear open those gifts.

Even now, so far away, my own family grown and active, it’s thinking back to my family times that warms my heart. Meatballs passed around my one grandma’s table, or cheese and crackers on my other grandma’s patio under the vine-covered canopy, those are my times. Those warm days, mentally or meteorologically, drinking white wine in the sun.

So I listened to Tim Minchin in my car, in the closed garage, on a quiet Christmas Eve morning. Tears in my eyes.

It’s tough being away from so many of my family. I love them. I miss them. They’re who I grew up with.

Merry Christmas. Mine is, and I hope yours is too. The sentiment is as lovely as the day itself.

The Pencil Jar

The pencil jar is the key to one’s success. Even though it is full of pens (the only pencil is the teal thing; yes really), it is rightly called a pencil jar. The duo of syllables are needed in the first word. Wouldn’t sound proper without them.

The right utensil for the right occasion is right at hand. No drawers to open. Everything good is in sight and out of mind.

And it has to be a proper jar. Ceramic or glass. The pen has to make a satisfying tink sound when it lands back in it. Metal doesn’t work right. And plastic? No. No no no.

That is what you need.

The only problem I have with my pencil jar? Missing a Sharpie. A basic, black Sharpie is the one pen you always need around and there is absolutely no substitute when it is absent.

Ten Years Later

[I’m going to go ahead and use a writing crutch: I am going to warn that this post is rather bitter. And also long-winded. And poorly edited. And has little to do with 9/11 itself, but more my long view of the aftermath. For a better, more direct story, this one is really good.]
This post falls into the inevitable category. The 10th anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks has been all I’ve heard about and read this past week. Frankly, I’ve been avoiding it almost entirely. Other than when I’ve needed to drive around and wound up listening to public radio, I have skipped over a large number of articles.

I was 18 at the time, waiting for a late start to college. I woke up to an email from my then girlfriend telling me to turn on the news. So I watched, shocked. My memories aren’t very vivid from that day. I do remember wondering what could be done, and realizing nothing, I tried to go about my day. I had slated to get a haircut, so that’s where I went.

It was just me and the old barber who owned the place. He cut my hair, slowly, while we watched the TV up above the doorway. We wound up sitting and watching for a couple of hours, I think. Again, my memory is hazy.

The most I remember is feeling very angry and vengeful, though rationality held back the vengeance response in me. After all, I was on the other side of the continent. And as more information came out about the attackers, I remember chatting with my friend, a Muslim from England. She asked if this would change my view of her, and I declared absolutely no. That fact has never changed.

Life continued on, and I started my studies at the university, eventually in politics no less.  So that immediate history became viewed through a lens of me taking in a great deal of information about the event itself, as well as chains of events leading to and from.

So then I became angry again, but not at the terrorists. They were just criminals. Ruthless pawns of a pointless ideology bent on simply trying to hurt forces more powerful than it. And they should have been tried as such. We’ve dealt with internal and external terror before, so the legal proceedings would not have been beyond our means.

Just as big an issue: 9/11 led to us invading Iraq. Even just writing it down right now seems utterly insane. I remember the pressures leading to it that were falsely proposed and constantly changed by our Executive. I had long called bullshit before the fact (our criminal mastermind was hovering between Afghanistan and Pakistan, after all). And it only became worse, the stretching of justifications after the fact.

Worse yet, our insatiable need for security turned not only on our own citizenry, forced to be molested before boarding planes: it made us torturers. We became beyond the negative stereotype the Al-Qaeda members saw us as even back then.

Now we imprison and torture using the more invisible methods of the USSR and the Spanish Inquisition. Our fear turned us into bullies. Bullies who hang fellow humans in stress positions used by Nazis. It used to be the weapon of our enemies. A terrible, useless weapon we did not bother with as a society.

Now here we are. 10 years later and we haven’t rebuilt much. We still stand astride the world as the greatest power humanity has ever known. Supposedly still the pinnacle of a society based on human rationality and free enterprise.

Rather than use that goodwill and patriotism to better ourselves and others, it became a tool against us. It became unpatriotic to question our leadership, and now it is considered unpatriotic to think of alternate plans to pull ourselves out of our own economic cesspool.

We also now have entire media organizations who declare suspicious a billion far-flung people as “The Muslim World”. We don’t see the old Western powers as “The Christian World”. The term doesn’t exist. As well it never should, especially in our immigrant-built, free-believing, make-your-own-way pinnacle of human civilization.

Insecurity is a price we pay for it. Those who died, died for that reason. Because we believe people should move about our 50 states without issue or worry. Al-Qaeda never had a chance to bring that down. That possibility was never there. They are myopic criminals, bent on havoc, nothing more.

It was our greatest mistake to turn around and grant these thieves of lives the rank of Stalin or Hitler. They are hardly above Timothy McVeigh (oh yeah, that guy.) They deserved to be tried and imprisoned until their deaths. Not turned into comic book level evil masterminds.

Those people hurt us that day. All the pain since has been self-inflicted. I’ll always remember this as a day we turned into the weakest form of ourselves. A true tragedy it was.

The Adventure

To the Adventure, my friend!

I immediately thought these words were a perfect toast. The Adventure can be a simple euphemism for living one’s life. Life is an adventure, enjoy exploring it. Daily living can be frightfully dull at times, often for great stretches. So, “To the Adventure” reminds us to look at the new-to-us parts of life that let us know we are on a personal journey.

It can also be an epitaph. The Adventure is life’s journey, and toasting to it is to celebrate it. Here’s to the Adventure you underwent, and that we could journey together will make me happy the rest of my days.

But, as any little boy can tell you, the Adventure is everywhere. Imagination fueled by Star Trek and Indiana Jones, whole worlds of danger and knowledge stretching out to be found. “To the Adventure” is the rallying cry of the epic. And with the Adventure, the journey is the purpose. Though there may be an end goal (even if nothing beyond wondering what’s there), the point is to get there by wit and will.

So, Gentlemen, raise your glasses, steins, flagons, canteens: To the Adventure!

Carry On Wayward Son

Keep Calm and Carry On
The past six months have been a trial by fire for me. I have never worked so much for so long before. There were numerous times through college where I would work several 14 hour days in a row, but never went beyond a fortnight. And of course never with my own kids to raise while doing so.

I have been moonlighting at a local pizza place since March. My wife would pull tight hours so we could hit the relay as soon as she got home and I would walk out the door. Then I would work until 10 or 11 at night.

Then even when I first started my contract at my new gig, I would work weekend nights. For a month and a half, I had not a single day off. Either I would rush home to barely see the kids before bed or I would have to leave before dinner during precious weekends.

Last night I finished my final shift at the pizza place. The work was fine, the kids I worked with were pleasant, though so obviously green in life. Their views of the world are amusingly different. But I’m glad to be done. I’d ramped myself up to having 3 different employers, and finally, finally, I am down to one.

I’m still amped up, strangely tense and feeling as though I have somewhere else to be. It’ll probably be a week before I finally relax and feel that I’m home once I come home at the end of the day.

It’s exciting to also feel like I have my time back to work on what I want. Along with household projects that got put on hold this summer, this site is at the top of the list. Time and energy and focus to write has be noticeably absent. I have so much room to to refine here, and so very many fountain pen refills and blank notebooks that need to be filled.

I made it through. My feet have been a bit calloused, but the walking on coals has been conquered. And as a bit of a catharsis, I threw out the nasty old shoes I wore while working in the kitchen.

Onward and Upward

It feels like a long time coming, writing this.
After five years, half a decade (to make it sound more impressive), I’m bidding farewell to my school and am working in the private sector. The new gig is at an ad agency in the city, where the hip people are. I’m still doing IT support, but then again I’m going to go way beyond that. There are opportunities to wield computer systems in ways I’ve only speculated on before. I’m going to become the second in a two-man team to keep these systems running. It’s very cool, geeky stuff.

I found this gig through Craigslist of all places. To add to the utterly coincidental nature of it, it was using an utterly unprofessional cover letter. They hired me on for a month of contract work this summer. Following some very kind compliments, I was offered to stay on full-time. After much deliberation over the weekend, on Monday I accepted the offer and submitted my resignation to the school.

Still, so many years and misplaced ventures are being left behind. I will miss some of what I used to do, but oddly most will have nothing to do with my job requirements. The computer work was fine, but stagnant. Working with the kids, though, was great. Between the occasional snot-nosed punk were huge swaths of good-natured, budding minds that were as insane as they were delightful. And I learned so much from the good people who stood in front to show them their world.

I’m glad to be moving on. Very glad. There is a lot of ground to recover for them, and I wish them all the best. But I’m happy to move to a place where I am the one learning so much and getting inspired again. I’m surrounded by incredibly creative, savvy people and I can only image what I will glean from them. Hopefully they won’t mind me asking questions about their work.

It has been a long, bittersweet day. I’m not a very sentimental person, and I loathe goodbyes, so I’m glad the school was nearly empty as I carried my banker’s box out.

I’m not one to believe in signs either. But after loading my box into the back of my little station wagon, buckling up, and turning the ignition, the classical station came on. It was in the middle of playing Shostakovitch’s Festive Overture.

It felt appropriate.