Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

The Bearer of Bad Tidings

My wife was recently approached by a high school acquaintance to help her promote a book she had just "published." I have to use quotation marks here because the book was obviously produced at a vanity press. Like so many books of this sort, it is a children's book with autobiographical storyline and inferior artwork.

Now, my wife and I are usually very supportive of people pursuing a dream, especially when it comes to getting a book published, and especially when someone undertakes to do the marketing of the book themselves. Our own experience has taught us that sales and marketing is hard, and most people have a pseudo-snooty attitude about it, like they are somehow above something as lowly and duplicit as selling, even though the entire modern world is driven by it. So we feel a certain moral obligation to help people who do it, especially for a good cause.

So . . . does ones moral obligation to help someone include crushing their hopes? It's obvious to us that this book is doomed. Only this woman's immediate family and friends will ever buy this book, and even they will only read about half-way until they get bored and then skim through the pictures and put it on the shelf, and then put it in a couple yard sales but never sell it, and then finally give it to good will. But how do you tell that to someone to whom you have a slim-yet-still-personal connection?

I'm sure there have been dozens of well-meaning friends who have encouraged and "supported" this woman in her endeavor, or else this book would never have made it this far. But my own philosophic and religious training tells me that this woman would be better served by hearing the truth.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Good Friday

My schedule is not especially tied to the regular workweek, and yet there is something absolutely irresistable about a beautiful, warm Friday afternoon. Were I still in grade school, it would be right about now that class would let out, and if we had been good that week we would be allowed to play on the playground for the last hour before the buses took us home. In our culture today, the spirit with which people receive their Friday afternoon is almost what the church fathers probably intended for Sunday -- a sense of liberation from the routine, a sense of "phew" that borders on transcendental. For just a moment, between the toil of the week and the exhaustion of sleep, we can let the sun shine on our faces, and feel the breeze.

Thursday, February 02, 2006


The most clichéd image of our century, the one that is the foundation of more television commercials than any other, is the Family Welcoming Dad Home. The image of 2.3 kids under 7 years of age rushing out the door, crying “Daddy! Daddy!” is about as standard-issue American suburbia folklore as it can possible get. I have seen it used to sell absolutely everything: cars, houses, financial products – Jesus, is there a life insurance advertisement that doesn’t have it?

The observation that this image is ubiquitous is nothing new. But how many people stop to wonder: why? Part of the answer, but only part, is because it is true: my kids really do come running up screaming “Daddy! Daddy!” So I suppose some of it you can chalk up to the image resonating with people’s experience. But what the advertisers know, and not enough others acknowledge, is how much men want it to be true. Men (and I am speaking only and specifically about men here) have a deep-seated longing to be enthusiastically received. I believe this to be the primary reason men have dogs. Dogs are the undisputed champions of the enthusiastic welcome home; I sometimes thing they specifically evolved the behavior to take advantage of us.

So why is this so important? I think it is one measure of the authenticity of the sentiment. Of course our family’s value the things we do for them materially, in the role of provider, father, husband, etc. But that’s just the role, and it’s a role that could be more-or-less filled by so many others. What we’re looking for is some spontaneous demonstration that these people love me for me – for merely me, not the role.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

A solid month of blog

By the way, I've just managed to go a whole freakin' month posting every single day. I had thought that it would have been much harder than it turned out to be. Yes, there were definitely times when I would rather have rolled over and gone to sleep, rather than getting up and dragging myself to the computer. But it turned out to be much, much easier than trying to meditate everyday, or even to pray ever day. What does that say about me?

Simple wins

Why is it that the simple things seem to have so much more traction in life? My son got all sorts of birthday presents -- books, CDs, a pogo stick -- but what are the biggest winners? A stuffed gorilla he picked out himself . . . and the small plastic dinosaurs that decorated his cake. Never underestimate the glorious power of the simple and the obvious.

I remember Greg Hohn of the Transactors providing similar advice about doing improv. "You would be surprised how funny it is to say the obvious. So many people get stuck in improv trying to think up some crazy twist on the situation, instead of just naturally reacting to what's been given to them by the other players."

I see the same dynamic playing out all over the place in my life. Instead of trying to cook up something thoughtful and deep to write about, I just write about what I'm really thinking about, which tonight happens to be toy dinosaurs. And surprisingly, toy dinosaurs work. Simple. Obvious.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Things the kids say . . .

"EE-aah" (Aidan.)
"EE-ahh" (Aidan's, the possessive form. Used to indicate Aidan's stuff, like "Aidan's bike")
"MU-mah" (Spoon. Don't ask me how he gets there. That's what it means. He used to have a spoon fixation, and carried one everywhere, even took it to bed, and woke up screaming when he couldn't find it again.)
"NO." (A big favorite.)
"Anya" (Anya the dog.)
"Anya" (hands, as in, "Let's wash hands")
"Anya" (hair, as in, "Let's wash my hands on my hair." Or maybe it's "Let's wash my hands on Anya's fur." I think this must be tonal language.)
"Poo" (Poop, as in, "I need to poop", or "I just pooped" or, "Look, there's some poop." He's not much for tense just yet.)
"Poo" (Boots. Little yellow ones that make you go Awwww.)
"Na-na" (Nurse. Could just mean, "I'm thirsty", but more with the connotation, "Jesus, I'm wiped out. I need a drink."
"Daddy. Daddy. Daddy. Daddy. Daddy. Daddy. Daddy. Daddy. Daddy." (Quit playing Scrabble and come out side and play.)

Monday, January 30, 2006

Sick of sickness

My son's fifth birthday is coming up in a couple days. So of course that's when everybody gets sick. The cousins all have running noses and are on Z-Paks. Grandma is fighting off some new dread disease. I just came down with something that leaves me barely conscious.

The only thing that makes it better is counting my blessings that this is the least of my problems. Thank God I only have to worry about whose going to show up for a birthday party, and not that my children might die from some common illness. Thank God my job lets me set my schedule enough to deal with such things, and that I don't have to suck it up and do a double-shift just to buy the medicine for the family.

Of course it doesn't change the fact that being sick really sucks. It just also has the side-benefit of making you a little more grateful.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Static in 1700

It's been especially dry this winter, so there's a lot of static electricity in the house. Often I will be pulling off my clothes in a dark room, long after the rest of my family is in bed, and I will see a shower of little static sparks as I pull off my clothes. It's cool to see, even when you know all about static electricity and such . . . but what I want to know is, what did people think of that in the 1700's . . . before anyone knew much of anything about electricity?

I mean, yeah, sure, there was lightning in the sky. But that was in the sky, in the heavens, removed from the earthly sphere and slightly easier to accept as a divine force in action. But little static sparks from wool sweaters in the middle of the night? That's daily life, right here and now. Did they think they were fairies, spirits, what?

It's stuff like that, that bugs me so much that I think it must have bugged someone in 1700 as well. In fact, I'm almost willing to bet that it was sparks off someone's sweater that inspired the first systematic research into electricity. I'll have to look that up . . .