End of the Year Recollections

The year is over. Pretty much. A nutty one here in Seattle for us, with moving and changes and planning of our future. 2009 will be the year of the Big Step, the beginning of our practice and our career, in essence. I’m excited and scared. Jaime is getting prepared, which is intense. I imagine if I were married to Eisenhower during the ramp up to the invasion of Europe, it would be startlingly similar to this. (Well, Jaime has nicer hair.)

This was the year of Arkaedi, in many ways. Jaime took off the winter quarter to care for her, Taviri had to adjust to the new baby. It was a tough couple of months, certainly, for everyone. Now that she’s a year old, everything seems like less work. My job has gotten easy. I joke that Arkaedi was for me, that I needed her. It isn’t really a joke, though. Something about her makes my life make sense. Taviri is my project for the world. I named him after someone who went out into the world and changed it, and that is his destiny. He doesn’t even feel like my son, he feels like a little warrior waiting for his tribe. I’m the caretaker who hands him over to the tribe when they show up. I can see the movie version now; the actor who plays me better have a great beard.

Arkaedi, though, is for us. It just feels like she is going to be present in a way that Viri won’t have the time and opportunity to be. Of course this may be totally wrong, it’s just my impression of them as small children. I’m not writing his biography or anything. But you do get a sense from little ones, even children who I work with at the daycare. I’m curious, looking back after a few decades, how accurate my impressions will prove to be.

I’m excited about 2009. We have a collapsing economy, a new president. I’m starting an enormous undertaking, with my typical optimistic zeal.

Jaime and I like to play a numbers game with events like holidays and important dates. We play “which number is this?”

This is my 32rd New Year, counting the one when I was two months old. My 16th New Year with Jaime. My 4th as a father. It’s funny when you put down simply like that. I have now spent half of the New Years in my entire life with Jaime.

Happy New Year 2009, everyone. Enjoy the year of the ox.


Get a Truck With Brakes!

Last night was a crazy one, a typical sick child insane evening. Taviri woke everyone up in the middle of the night vomiting and angry, and we had to clean and console and heal. I got the good end of the deal: me and Arkaedi holed up in the office with one of my favorite MST3Ks, “Space Children.” She fell quickly asleep and I watched a fun film with strange children possessed by a benevolent space blob.

This movie has one of my favorite examples of poor communication in film history. There is a scene where the children have magically disabled a truck, and the driver starts to lose control. The passenger yells, “Stop it!” in an annoyed voice as the driver starts to crash. Not helpful, my friend.

Servo helpfully points out, “Next time get a truck with brakes!” This has become an oft repeated phrase between Jaime and I. We have observed that a lot of fights begin with a ‘get a truck with brakes’ statement. So many fights between couples start with frustration that is not totally warranted. When you get mad at someone for doing something accidently, or mostly out of their control, you don’t really solve anything, just make them feel bad on top of the initial mistake. Sure, in hindsight there are things that could have been done differently, care could have been taken that maybe wasn’t, but in the moment it seemed sensible. I warn my friends sometimes to think for a second before being angry. Holding my tongue before shouting ‘get a truck with brakes’ has saved me a ton of little arguments in my life.
It’s odd where you get little life skills that serve a person well. Strange as it is, this silly movie gave me insight into communication that has yielded tangible results in my relationship with Jaime, and probably others. Sure I still sometimes make these statements, but I make an effort to think before I speak in a way I didn’t before seeing the film.

(I’m particularly bad about after the fact “be carefuls,” which are really only a passive aggressive “get a truck with brakes.” I’m working on it.)

I haven’t worked out how else a benevolent space blob can better my life, but if I do I’ll write about it.

After the Snow

We’ve finally returned to real Seattle weather here: Mid-40s, overcast, the snow on the ground all but disappeared. Feels good to be back to normal.

We could travel over to the PCC Co-op and grab a nice field roast bbq sandwich and a pint of vegan potato salad. All is well with the world.

I enjoy the holidays, and I enjoy snow. But I’m happy to return to my normal crazy schedule as well. Jaime and I have developed a fun west coast/ big city system in the past few years, and I’ve grown accustomed to it. I love Seattle, I really do. But there are some fun/silly/annoying aspects. I’m guilty of some of this myself. I wouldn’t be a true Seattle-ite if I weren’t.

The three secrets of being a west coast big city person, or WCBC for short:

1. Care about food. You don’t have to be vegan or eat all organic. In fact, an occasional burger at Johnny Rocket’s helps you, because it highlights your otherwise organic lifestyle. I talk about food more than anything else.

2. Complain about your city. This can be weather, growth, traffic or city planning. Preferably all three.

3. Revile the Democrats, but vote for them. (Bonus points if you worry about Obama selling you out before he is even in office while sporting an Obama sticker on your car.)

But I kid you, Seattle! You’re a fine old town. Put in a decent light rail system and I’ll be yours forever.

Christmas Dinner and Assorted Fun

We had a wonderful Christmas day, with friends and children and fun. Jaime made a feast, there was food and chocolate galore… a delightful and festive day.

I understand why some people don’t get into the holiday season. It’s been shaped and co-opted by state and religion and corporate entity, it’s mixed up and silly and sometimes depressing. But my Christmas day reminded me of why I do enjoy it, and have enjoyed it thoroughly since Jaime and I got together: it’s a day off with friends and family, where we can all get together and have a good time.

This year we didn’t exchange any gifts, and we didn’t buy anyone anything. We just gave away a little food and invited people over to eat. We had a buffet of goodies, a noisy room of children with runny noses, and our company. Except for the runny noses, everyone enjoyed it.

We had our first experience of assembling toys for Christmas morning. I imagine I’ll grow tired of it, but I really had fun with it this year. I plan on enjoying the childhood Christmas with my kids, and when they get too old Jaime and I will holiday in New York City. When the kids get too old, it’s nice restaurants and room service for Christmas. Until then, I’m happy to play Santa.

Today we’re gathering donations together for Boxing Day. I’m thinning my bookshelves, and we’re donating a lot of strange reading and clothing to needy people in Seattle. I hope they like philosophy and science fiction. And little girl baby clothes.

Dark Knight of the Soul

I finally got around to watching this summer’s Dark Knight. It was interesting. Certainly well crafted. I have a soft spot in my heart for Batman, since he played a large part in my development for a fictional character. The movie was good, a little difficult to watch and (no pun intended of course) dark, but well written and acted.

The movie is very much The Joker Show, with special guest Batman. Which is fine, and as I said the well put together film gets a huge break for style. Heath Ledger generated a lot of interest with his performance here, and his death made a media circus out of the film. He does do a fine job, and is creepy as hell as the villain. This is the real strength of the film. The Joker is a great opponent for Batman, cruel and crazy and chaotic. It’s always a mistake to make him fun or amusing. Clowns aren’t funny to anyone not already psychotic. Clowns are evil and dark and sad. If we laugh at all, it’s because we’re relieved that we aren’t anything like them.

Batman attempts to bring some kind of order and justice to the world, and the Joker delights in madness. A strange and awful version of the prisoner’s dilemma is especially interesting. The message of the story is that while we get weak and afraid, we don’t always lose what makes us people. We may laugh at the clown in relief, but we aren’t willing to don the make-up and throw pies.

The plots of the Joker are evil and interesting. He goes a little overboard with the planning, however. The fear mongering tactics of the Joker are a weak point of the film, I think. (How many times does he pretend to be a police officer? Thirty?) One thing that diminishes fear is exposure. Look at how few of us have nightmares about Dick Cheney now. In 2001, he was terror incarnate.

The film does a good job with the mythos of Batman. Batman is the hero that can solve our problems by being outside of the system. He chases down bad guys without worrying about courts or lawyers. The character works because while we want to trust the system, most of us know we can’t always or even usually rely upon it to work. When the villain is buying off judges, it’s nice to know there’s a good guy who will punch him in the face. Making Bruce Wayne a billionaire is more than just a convenient way to alleviate worries about the price of gas for the Batmobile; it makes him immune to the kind of worries that more mundane civil servants have. He has a yacht and his own jet, what are you going to bribe him with?

I don’t think I’ll watch this film again. It’s hard to stomach the meanness and cruelty beyond the first viewing. But it’s an interesting movie to see, especially at night by myself. Nothing like a dark cold evening pondering the meaning of morality! I couldn’t help thinking of the Joker’s message of “there is nothing in the world but randomness” as a spiritual challenge. Seeing the meaning in life is the job of decent people, and the underlying order and beauty of the world are visible to those not blinded by their own image. Fittingly, the Joker makes everyone in his image: his henchmen and victims are copies of him. The ultimate narcissist is our villain. And the Batman fights him, but not as his opposite. His opposite is Jim Gordon, the family man, who cares about everyone more than himself.

Batman gets all the credit though.

ps. I have a new nephew today! An awesome little boy without any red hair at all, for which his parents are grateful.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Social Statement

As a follow-up to my post on Charlie Brown’s insane christmas special, here is a quick run down of the Rankin/Bass Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. This has always been a favorite of mine, for various reasons. Rankin/Bass figure prominently in my childhood, having done the wonderful animated version of The Hobbit that has brought joy for as long as I can remember. And this story is so odd and delightful, with funny stop motion animation and disturbing character voices that stick with you long after you forget the other aspects of the story.

(Hermey the Misfit Elf is particularly odd– an effeminate elf outcast for his preferences? Really? Okay it is 1964, a more innocent age perhaps. But are they trying to say something with this?)

One thing that really struck me as a child still is very much evident as you watch the show today: Every male character is a jerk. Rudolph’s father shuns him, Santa mocks him, the coach of the reindeer games actively encourages the other reindeer to exclude Rudolph. The women fare better, at least. Although they are pretty excluded from the Christmastown power structure. Santa calls Donner’s wife “Mrs. Donner.” Mrs. Clause is of course basically unseen, except when trying to get Santa to eat. (Does she have a first name either?)

There is Clarice, Rudolph’s girlfriend. She’s nice from the start, though I’m wondering why as I watch it now. Is she trying to get at her parents? Why does she instantly fall for the oddball? I understand not mocking him or shunning him, but love at first sight? Maybe she’s just a friendly doe.

The real cultural high point of this is the Island of Misfit Toys. It gets better every time I see the show. It’s so dark and funny and sad. Some of the things are not even the toy’s fault. A water pistol that shoots jelly? Just don’t put jelly in it, kid! It’s no one’s fault but yours! The high craziness is definitely saved for the island. The king is a flying lion (?) named Moonracer. Wow. I mean I was not raised in an incredibly pop culture savvy household. Christmas involved Santa, assorted elfs, reindeer… the Christian aspect had Mary and Jesus and wise men. Flying Lion King Moonracer did not factor in anywhere. God bless you, though, Rankin/Bass!

Yukon Cornelius carries a six shooter throughout the show as well. I loved that.

As always the best thing about these sixties cartoons is the random dialogue scattered throughout the show:

“I’m off to get my life sustaining supplies: Cornmeal, gunpowder, hamhocks and guitar strings.” (I’m sure my grandfather used to say that.)

“No! This is man’s work!”

“That silly elf song is driving me crazy!”

“I don’t have any dreams left to dream.”

“Rudolph existed as best he could.”

“They realized the best thing to do was to get the women back to Christmastown.” (I will say this to Viri in reference to Jaime and Arkaedi every chance I get from now on.)

This is the day to be in watching cartoons, too. It is winter death storm outside.

We’re loving it. It’s rare we get a snow in Seattle. I’m glad it’s here. I’m also glad, however, that it’s rare.

Have a Medicated Christmas, Charlie Brown!

Viri and I enjoyed watching Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown today. He was a little confused by it, and well he should be.

I’m not sure if Charles Schulz himself was insane, or merely chronicling the adventures of a group of insane children and a dog with human characteristics. But oh boy is the cartoon crazy. The basic story is familiar to everyone in my generation, I imagine: Charlie Brown is outcast and unloved, but after hearing the true meaning of Christmas from Linus, the children band together, shun him slightly less, and sing. The message is that even though Christmas has become commercial, it’s still nice. Oddly, the only example of commercialism pointed out is the fact that Snoopy decorated his house. I don’t think commercial means what you think it means, Chuck.

Linus has his problems too, of course. He carries a blankie everywhere, sucks his thumb, and is deathly afraid of Sally, all in spite of the fact that he appears to be ten years old. A ten year old with a blankie? That’s pathological. He does do a good rendition of the nativity story. He’s a savant of some kind.

Which leads me to wonder: Can Snoopy really ice skate and dance and decorate his house, or do the mad children of this town imagine it? It certainly appears possible.

Still, this is a really fun cartoon to watch. The quotes alone are worth the time.

“All I want is my fair share. All I want is what’s coming to me.”

“We all know Christmas is a big commercial racket. It’s run by a big east coast syndicate, you know.”

“I just don’t feel what I’m supposed to feel.”

“Boy are you stupid, Charlie Brown.”

The insanity even extends to the end credits, where a dozen or so people are credited with “graphic blandishment.” Excuse me? Did you just make up a credit?

One of the things I love about the holidays is this kind of cultural phenomenon. I genuinely enjoy it, and I think a lot of people my age do too. But there is no denying its bizarre, fragmented themes or existential meandering. I wonder what it is that got this kind of thing made in the mid-sixties? And why did we enjoy it?

For me and other people born after the sixties, maybe it’s simply a nostalgic connection to the first half of the century. Or maybe the themes resonate somewhere in our own crazy minds that imagine dancing, decorating dogs who fetishize World War One.

I hope it’s nostalgia.

Ryan’s Ability to Enjoy Everything

It really is amazing how much fun I had with this. Check out the lamp falling on him towards the end; low comedy done beautifully, that’s the Muppets.
I hope my kids can find pleasure in life with little things, it’s a nice skill. I credit my mother for instilling a sense of wonder and joy. Thanks mama.