Market Placed

Nothing makes you question your ranking in this game we call Life more than a hefty dose of judgement.  Not the simple parental judgement like you never measured up to your sister or you never fully committed to the clarinet but the self-imposed judgement that comes with putting yourself on the market.  Be it the job market or the dating market we open ourselves up to a level of critique that is tough not to internalize and impossible to ignore.  I’d like to think that I have a fairly solid sense of self, with a complete awareness of all my strengths and weaknesses, but then people keep telling me otherwise, so who’s a guy to believe?

While I’m certainly not in a good space to start dating again my return to the job market got me thinking about both pursuits with a classic exercise in “compare and contrast”.  With that in mind here are a few random thoughts about hunting for love vs hunting for jobs;

  1. When hunting for jobs you can proffer an impressive assortment of references and recommendations. When hunting for love it’s typically best to keep a separation between past and present partners.  Not to say all relationships end badly but few leave with a burning desire to fluff you with flattery in front of your next potential mate.  Likely any offered “constructive criticism” would be light on constructive and heavy on criticism.
  2. I’ve never been fired from a job, but I’ve certainly been “let go” of a few relationships. Wouldn’t it be refreshing if there was a corresponding concept of “collecting unemployment”; some form of lesser relationship provided temporarily to tide you over until a full-time position could be secured.  You did your time, you paid your dues, why feel guilty about getting back from the system?  Sure now that I write it down it sounds like state-sponsored prostitution but it started off as an inspired concept,… kinda like the Shake Weight commercials.
  3. There’s no negotiation for better benefits at the start of a relationship; Terms are typically vague or left unspoken. Benefits are offered spontaneously and generously during the initial vetting period… then drop off gradually with each subsequent anniversary.
  4. Relationships typically don’t require relocation and any required travel is usually a good thing. Invasive TSA screenings are more easily tolerated when you’re just hours away from umbrella drinks at a beach-side all-inclusive.
  5. Both markets offer convenient shopping sites online to assist with finding a good match. These sites help facilitate the connection starting with an email inquiry, moving to a phone screen and then finally to an initial meet and greet with the team.  Luckily neither one scores you with a Netflix rating system after the relationship is terminated.
  6. There is no “technical challenge” or “white board coding question” in a relationship, though you have to wonder if woman would approach prospects differently if there were; “you did a solid job in the cuddling and listening portions of the exam but we felt you lacked the depth of experience we’re looking for in the bedroom, so we’ve decided not to go forward with this relationship.” To which you’d think, with smug satisfaction, that it’s probably just as well since she had an annoying habit of speaking in the third person.
  7. When hunting for jobs working with a recruiter is a perfectly acceptable shortcut for finding the right position. When hunting for love though the idea of matchmaker feels old fashion and typically ineffectual in the long run, desperately misplacing you with only the small handful of leads they have at hand regardless of compatibility… ok, maybe they are exactly the same as recruiters.
  8. When hunting for jobs I feel I’m often competing against a much younger generation. When hunting for love at least you can target woman of the same age range. You’ll still be competing against a younger generation but woman will either be more subtle about their preferences, won’t show up in your search criteria or will be listed on a cougar-centric site that you’re too old to register for.
  9. Taking it a step further, when hunting for love we can be specific about not only age, but social class, faith, race and sexual preference. When hunting for jobs, all that crap would be illegal, at least on the employers’ side.  I do still have every right to steer clear of the faith-based radio stations and health care providers however, not because I have anything against them as an organization but because my digital resume would likely be blocked by blasphemy filters.
  10. When saturating the singles scene you very much want to find the perfect harmonic match. You want to be the “one”, without question.  When trolling the job market I’m not so hung up on such minutia; if we both compromise our idealistic views and settle in for a complacent yet mutually beneficial relationship,… I’m ok with that.

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Halos and Mickey Eyes

It was a typically beautiful spring day in Southern California; the skies were a clear, deep, blue and the soft morning breeze kept the heat at bay.   We had just entered the happiest place on earth, Disneyland, and paused to take our iconic picture in front of the Mickey flowers with the train depot backdrop.  I was filled with a sense of joy and nostalgia to be back on the sacred ground that held so many cherished childhood memories.  I turned around to share this joyous moment with my beloved children only find my six-year-old blubbering in tears.  She had been excited about the park in the days leading up to the trip and even moments before but apparently something had gone terribly wrong in the time it took to walk the 100ft from ticket booth to photo opp.  I leaned down to try and make out the soft mumbles between pitiful sobs. My sad little princess proceeded to tell me “there are no rides here, I want to go home”.  And thus our adventure began.

It was at the moment that I realized vacations are a lot like past relationships; regardless of the amount of grief you may have experienced at the time, it all falls away when you look back through the tinted glasses of nostalgia.   I read that for woman they describe a similar “halo effect” after giving birth.  Moms don’t actually forget the pain of delivery despite urban tales, but rather all the positive sensations that flood in following birth leaves a predominantly positive impression of the experience as a whole.  That, to a far lesser extent, is what happens on vacation.  Inching along perpetually winding lines in the heat of the afternoon sun for 60 minutes at a stretch feels downright torturous at the time, but once you finally board the boat and enter the swampy preamble of the Pirates of the Caribbean all that melts away and you’re left with the distilled thrill of Imagineering magic.

Of course when small children are involved the long lines become the least of your concerns.  I think I spent half of my time walking through the park backwards trying to wave my daughter along at a forced march; “Come on, keep walking. Yes, it’s a pretty butterfly.  No, you just had cotton candy.  Yes, there’s another bathroom just up ahead.  No, we’re not shopping for a toy.”  Though I must admit for all my impatience with her slothful speed she was the model of patience through those torturous long lines.  The questions “are we there yet?” and “how much longer?” were not uttered a single time in the park.  Lyft rides, yes, but park, no.

The requests that were ever-present were standard trio of hunger, thirst and fatigue.  Hunger was easily squelched with a backpack stuffed with store-bought staples, and thirst was managed by selling a kidney and investing a small fortune in bottled water.  But it was the fatigue that was hardest to deal with.  As an adult I’m thinking of vacation as an investment in fun and I had planned to suck every last once of fun out of the experience.  Wait, that doesn’t sound right.  What I’m saying is if it was up to me we’d be scurrying about the park from the minute it opened to ten minutes after it closed, having selected the most remote attraction as the final ride of the evening with a fleeting hope that we’d get locked in.  We’d stagger home, collapse into a dreamless stupor and wake up bright and early the next day to do it all over again.  With kids though I have to demonstrate a bit more restraint, lest my slothful rearguard become an unconsciously sack of potatoes.  Not only do we need to take breaks between rides but we also take mid-day breaks where there’s no expectations of movement or agenda and they can just veg quietly by poolside or bedside.  Once I see how much this recharging helps I realize how much we are taxing those little legs with an average of 25,000 steps each day; unless I want to do over a third of those steps with an unconscious sack of potatoes riding on my shoulders the down time is a minor concession.

Even with the rest stops we manage to rack up sufficient park time and all in all it turned out to be a really great trip; Ethan had memories of visits past and so got to enjoy the parks from a fresh teenage perspective while Emma had the height and the spirit to try every ride on our list, many for the first time.  After trying a warm up coaster in ToonTown we even tried her on Thunder Mountain.  This was quite a step up in intensity and I was worried it might be too much for her.  I needn’t have worried though; about half way through the ride I looked back to make sure she was doing ok and found her with arms waving in the air and a fierce smile shining on her lips.  The only hitch in the ride selection turned out to be the Matterhorn and the upgraded animatronics of the yeti; the previously laughable fuzzy dude originally only made a couple of appearances shifting stiffly from side to side.  Yeti 2.0 was transformed into a more terrifying threat jump-scaring around every turn.  Emma did not appreciate that one bit, and even Ethan thought it distracted from what was already not a thrilling ride.  I still liked it and one miss wasn’t such a bad thing.

We spent the final day exploring California Adventure.  At the suggestion of seasoned park goers we made our first stop at Fast Pass kiosk for the new Cars Ride (Radiator Springs Racer).  At the time we arrived, about an hour after the park’s initial opening, the Fast Pass reservations were already backed up to 6pm that evening.  Since we all had flights out later that night this was to be the last ride of the day.  Making good use of the Fast Pass system is key to optimizing your time in the parks, allowing you to alternate waits in the traditional lines with guaranteed slots in the express lines.  Even with the unexpected crowds filling the park on those non-peak Monday and Tuesday we still managed to hit most of the rides on our wish list, including two trips on the new and improved Space Mountain (now Hyperspace Mountain).  As the day wound to a close the only hold outs on our list were Peter Pan’s Flight and Toy Story Midway Mania.  What we did have though was a final golden ticket to one of the most popular new attractions in the park.  We returned to Cars Land a little early which was good because even the Fast Track lane was backed up beyond the ride entrance.   Progress was slow going and time ticked onward at a pucker-inducing rate; we still had to get out to the shuttle, back to the hotel, get a ride to LAX and catch the last flight for Sacramento.  As panic started to creep up the line finally surged forward and at last we were sitting in one of the shiny Car characters, looking around at the beautiful set design and anxiously awaiting the green light to race off into the desert scene.  Then we waited.  And waited.  And waited.  Until finally the announcement was made; the ride was out of service with no estimated repair time.  The lights dimmed, the musical score silenced and the power flickered as they rebooted the Disney magic.  We filed out with the rest of the stunned crowd with a palpable sense of disappointment.

The chaotic ending made for a fitting bookend to the opening drama, since everything in between was filled with a wonderful collection of new memories.   We didn’t get that final thrilling new experience to instill a lasting halo effect, but all the bumps along the road way will still melt away with nostalgia to leave vacation memories I hope my kids will cherish for a long time,… until they can bring their kids and have them burst into tears in front of the happiest place on Earth.  Seriously?!

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Open Door Closes

When one door opens another closes.  That’s how the saying goes, right?  Right?  No, it’s not.  Sorry, were you still thinking about it?  Anyway, the actual optimistic quote attributed to Alexander Graham Bell goes: “When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.” It’s meant to give us a warm fuzzy about the hope and opportunity always sitting just out of view.  Lately I’m starting to feel like the reverse statement is more fitting.  Every time I seem to approach an even keel with good fortune opening before me, a random door or two seem to close behind me.  Sure, in the spirit of optimism, I should probably keep my eyes front and center and continue focusing on the open door, but it becomes hard to ignore the nagging slams behind you, not knowing which ones have closed and what implications they will have going forward.  I might turn around to address a new issue and after some struggle find a way to open it again, only to have another slam shut behind me, perhaps the one I was just happily gazing through just moments before.

Recently the company I’ve been working for was acquired by a larger conglomeration.  The particular division that I work for was deemed to be too costly and ultimately redundant next to one of the existing organizations.  So this week we were told during a rather jarring conference call that they were generously offering 6 available positions at said existing organizations to the 9 employees who remained.  In my mind this played out like the scene in The Dark Knight, when Heath Ledger’s Joker proclaims that he has a job opening in his organization but “there is only one spot open right now, so <snap> we’re gonna have try outs” as he tosses the two unfortunate applicants jagged halves of a pool cue.  When the announcement was made everyone exchanged an awkward glance, knowing that our former colleagues were now our competition against future employment.

As of this writing I’m not sure how this will all play out but suddenly I find myself potentially back in the job market.  Like my previous hiring ventures I have growing concerns over my growing age.  Not to say there is a prevalence of ageism in the workplace, but there are some factors that certainly work against you in the young hip world of small software startups.  Even if I was the same pizza gobbling video game addict I was at the age of the office population, I’m simply not that same person now.  I can no longer hold my own in a FPS blood match and pepperoni gives me heartburn,… and it has nitrates, a fact I’m sure the gathered youngsters would love having me point out.   As much as I might want to consider myself hip or cool, I don’t even know the right words for hip or cool these days and when I watch fast food commercials I don’t even know if the pitch person is an athlete or a rap star, having practically no exposure to either.

And then we come to the education vs experience factor. The software engineers coming out of college these days have state of the art equipment and applications at their disposal.  They have industry professionals as mentors encouraging them to push the technical boundaries of computer science. You end up with a mini-me genius willing to work for free pizza and FPS couch time, running against me who has actual dependents, a private living space and more than six items in the refrigerator that are not connected by plastic rings.  While I could safely say to the other candidates that I’ve forgotten more coding knowledge as a programmer then you will ever learn, I not sure if that speaks to the wealth of my knowledge and more to my sketchy Etch-A-Sketch memory.  On the other hand I do still know all the words to “You Can Call Me Al” by Paul Simon, but if I mentioned that in my defense during an interview they would just look at me funny, having no idea who Paul Simon is.

Another consideration is the possibility of returning to an actual office environment.  I’ve gotten much accustomed to my current commute to the home office.  I can go the duration of days without seeing another living soul or finding proper motivation to put on a pair of pants.  And that’s not in the same glamorous way I may have done it as a bachelor with those pizza fueled gaming marathons.  This is work, followed by more work, uninterrupted by any reality check or social contact.  Okay, there are still distractions; Distractions of cleaning and laundry and children and pets and shopping and napping and,… well okay maybe that last one is non-essential but it’s still an occasional distraction.  What will I do if I have to put pants on and stay somewhere other than home for 8-10 hours a day?  Who will do my laundry?  When will I have time to clean?  Where do I keep my wallet?

I’m taking it all in stride though.  Perpetual change makes for a youthful mind, right?  I don’t know, I just made that up.  But regardless of the current state of my “doors” (or my youthful mind), I need to appreciate all the opened ones and consider all the closed ones as potential for more openings.  I will step right up this closed door of employment, open it with bold certainty and declare to the hiring millennials on the other side “I’m not old, I’m prepackaged with experience!”

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Just the Rants, Ma’am

A while back I came across an article that stated that a majority of automotive accidents took place within 25 miles of home.  This little factoid was presented as a significant revelation that should shake the foundation of your entire belief system.  At the time I wasn’t sure what to make of it.  I do however think about this now each time I exit the store parking lot and struggle to get my seat beat buckled before arriving at my driveway just around the corner.  That in turn made me think about how utterly ridiculous this statistic was!  As with my micro trips to the grocery store, how often do you drive beyond a 25 mile radius in a given day? Looking at statistics, about 85% of commuters travel less than the 25 miles to work, and it’s unlikely that any of them will go further than that to find a good cup of coffee or buy a gallon of milk.  Anything in the 30+ mile range will either be reserved for a less frequent time slot or skipped over as non-essential.  So if no one is actually driving beyond a 25 mile range in any given day wouldn’t it stand to reason that any accident we might be involved it would be similarly limited to that 25 mile range?  Did we really need an insurance company to point out the limits of our daily terrain?  More importantly was that revelation actually meant to provide vital information or merely introduce a shiver of fear into our subconscious thus triggering a subliminal desire to review our policy coverage or have our brakes checked?

When I took Speech and Debate back in college I remember how we learned to question any and all information that we might gather for an argument.  The classic example was the popular commercial claim that 9 out of 10 dentists recommend a particular brand of toothpaste.  We were taught to question this on every level; how was the questioned framed?  How were these ten dentists selected?  And most importantly, what the hell did the tenth guy say?  If he suggested mayonnaise as an alternate oral abrasive we might reconsider the initial selection process.  And in that scenario why did the other nine guys recommend this brand of toothpaste when only given mayonnaise as an alternative?

Still these proclamations are made all the time to further endorse the perceived value of an advertised product.   Do we really need that added fiber, bleach, or vitamin D?  In this over marketed world are we filling a deficiency we didn’t even know we had?  Some clever additions seem less like an intentional innovation and more like a simple side effect of manufacturing.  A good example was found on my daughter sidewalk chalk that proudly proclaims their “anti-roll” technology because the chalk was square shaped to better fit into the packaging.  Though I’m sure this comes in handy when rendering your masterpiece on a 25% grade slope, how many people have gone out of their way to seek out this particular feature.  It’s all about value added, and the value perceived.

What are the limits of spin when building these perceptions?  Pharmaceutical companies spend millions of dollars to promote catchy names and acronyms for diseases you’ve never heard of and they blur the lines with the facts they present, the facts they omit, and the facts you wish they’d omit.  For example I’d never heard of Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) until I saw the frequent ad for Requip during the evening news.  While I understand this could be a serious neurological disorder, in our family it was simply called “spilkes”, but I’m guessing that would be harder to sell a cure for.  And speaking of “harder” we can thank former senator and two-time presidential candidate Bob Dole for introducing us to Erectile Dysfunction (ED) and the magic blue pill.  Again a worthy remedy for those in need but despite Pfizer’s altruistic claims a good chunk of their income comes from users without any clear signs of ED or any honest concerns for erections lasting more than four hours.  But we ask ourselves if these things are necessary.  Will that magic pill change my sex life?  Will knives that can cut through a soda can make me a better chef?  Our practical mind assures us that none of this is necessary, but then our dreamy hopeful mind perks up with a persistent “sure, but, what if”.  This all comes back to the question of what level of alternative facts or false facts are acceptable in the world around us? Which ones are we willing to accept?

This question is most crucial when it comes to sorting out mixed messages of an individual, specifically an individual we voted into public office (or failed to vote against).  Politicians of the presidential persuasion often master the art of spin in their pursuit of office (and some continue beyond election, until the day they die).  In recent months the very news we rely upon has been called into question.  The free press is being labeled a societal evil for challenging the views of an eccentric egotist who is constantly parroted by a pandemonium of yes-men and one yes-woman (ironically “pandemonium” is the proper and fitting term for a flock of parrots – go figure).  The free press questions the facts of the administration and they in turn protest the fake new being reported about them.  So where does the truth lie?  If all facts are called into question, who can we believe?  Who is worthy of trust?

To this day, there are still people out there that passionately believe the government faked the moon landing.  Personally I don’t buy it; I’ve seen enough proof to convince me of its validity; how else would they have found that crashed Transformer ship from Cybertron.  But, on the flip side, can I prove that the government DOES NOT have alien life stashed away at an Area 51 type facility?  No, I cannot.  I think the likelihood is extremely low, and I have seen enough debunked UFO sightings to question the substance on which the urban legends are based, but I have no way to definitively discount the notion as fake news.  Unless a disgruntled janitor comes forward because his dental plan was denied how would I even hear about something like that?  Some secrets are simply above my pay grade.  Even if I feel, optimistically, that a free society should have no secrets, I know that’s simply not possible.  There are issues of national security and public safety that prevent complete transparency in government.  The civil servants must constantly manage the perception of its citizens.  We’ve seen it hundreds of times on every political drama ever made where a story needs to be twisted for mass consumption or to aid flagging approval ratings.

On a smaller scale there is the frequent “he said, she said” scenarios, such as recent sexual allegations against certain fancy foxes.  Unless you are a fly on the wall or a bug in the Towers you don’t have a firsthand account of what really went down.  Who’s telling it straight and who’s bending the truth?  While we don’t want to be insensitive to real victims it would be naïve to think that every allegation ever made was fair, complete and accurate and never motivated by greed or anger.  A case is made for either side, though it’s admittedly a hard sell to paint the accused as a victim.  Biases exist.  Emotions are manipulated.  Truth is forces down into a submissive role not unlike the original accusations.  From there, judgements are made.  We pick the innocent like we pick our sports teams and cheer when justice is done.  But can we be certain that justice is done when the issues remain raveled in spin?

As Mulder put it “the truth is out there”.  We can search for the facts and try to make informed judgements on what we believe and what we do not.  We can pick our sources, pick our media outlets and pick the political flavor we want it rolled in.  Sometimes it’s the pure firsthand accounts that comes with the satisfaction of reliability.  Sometimes it’s the once removed “other sources” or “unconfirmed reports”.  Sometimes it’s random nuggets from the internet like my son sometimes interjects even while acknowledging them as suspect.  The free press is meant to protect society by holding everyone accountable including those in public office… especially those in public office.  By the same measure we must hold the press and all they report accountable as well.  Even reported facts have 50 shades of gray (just with less bondage) between pure truth and pure rubbish.  The best we can do is keep questioning from both sides; never take a fact for a fact, or fake news as a falsehood.  Try to see through the spin and recognize when our information is unreliable or incomplete.

We many never know what the tenth dentist said.  We may never know if the G-men have little grey men stashed in freezer bags. We may never know if Trump was bugged by Obama or bedded by  Russians.  Sometimes it’s enough that we that we just ask the right questions and sometimes we might be satisfied just not asking questions we don’t want the answers to, like whether or not sushi has more calories that a Big Mac;  Really, I don’t want to know.

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Pretty in Ink

A couple threads of unrelated mental floss have recently intermingled in my brain.  On the one hand is the dissection of comedy at the hand of Steven Kaplan’s book “The Hidden Tools of Comedy”.  One of the concepts the book explores is that of the non-hero who, lacking sufficient skills to succeed, struggles against adversity but never gives up hope.  Lacking skills can be something as simple as not having the necessary knowledge to navigate a given situation like not being aware of something that’s plain as day to the audience but hidden from the poor chump in the story.  Mixed with that is a fictional piece I was working on which asks the question if you could go back and change certain aspects of your life, would you?  I think back to the various situations in my childhood that essentially fulfill all the requirements of a proper comedy, and left me mortified in the moment.  Little things like the time I walked into the plate-glass window at a mall that I was certain was an automated sliding door or the time I walked into the non-automated sliding screen door at my aunt’s house that I was certain was nothing but an open doorway.  In both instances I felt like a proper idiot at the time, lacking both the minimal perception to avoid the collision and the dignified grace to recover from it.  So I panicked.  Like any good introvert, I would rather peel off my toenails with pliers then draw unwanted attention to myself.  Had I been a quick thinking extrovert I might have hopped quickly to my feet, bowed with exaggerated flare and declared “tah-dahhhh” with a flourish of jazz-hands.  Instead I tried to swallow my head with my shoulders and quickly fled the scene trying to pretend as if nothing awkward had just occurred.  Of course after the horror had subsided it’s hard to deny the comedy of the situation.  What must I have looked like on the other side of that plate-glass window at the moment of impact?  I envision a pigeon, drunk on pyracantha berries, running into the bedroom window with a face flattening thud.  Do I wish I could have avoided that bit of theater?  Absolutely.  Would I chose to have those events expunged from my memory?  I’m not so sure.  These become defining moments in our past to be groaned about with friends over a beer or commiserated about with a therapist over a lumpy couch.  They add precious flaws to our developing personality.  They instill us with compassion for the foibles of others.  They make us more vigilant about plate-glass windows.

prettyink

That got me thinking of other moments I endured during adolescence that fit the bill of a non-hero struggling against adversity, lacking sufficient skills to succeed but never giving up hope.  One such event occurred just before my senior year of high school.  It was summer vacation and I was nursing some sort of stomach bug.  I had been popping chewable Peptos so I was feeling ok.  When we got back from the doctor I remembered that some of my swim team friends, including a girl I had a crush on, were doing the summer league around the corner from my home and they had a swim meet that afternoon.  School had been out for about a month, and while I can’t say absence made the heart grow fonder in this case, it did at least make my heart grow bolder.   With a dose of this uncharacteristic boldness percolating in my system I worked up my courage, and made the short trip to the pool.  The smell of chlorine brought forth a wave of nostalgic memories and my stomach flip-flopped with memories of meets past, nervous energy and lingering intestinal issues.  I took a deep breath and waded into the assembled teammates.  I did my best to be charming and in good spirits as I worked my way through the crowd.  I had a good visit overall, even getting some quality time to talk one on one with the girl of my dreams.  I returned home feeling pretty jazzed about the outing.  The euphoria, however, was short-lived.  Upon my next trip to the bathroom I looked in the mirror and discovered, to my horror, that the Pepto-Bismol had turned my lips bright pink all over.  Not just a little color around the corners of my mouth, but full on clown-faced pink lips.  Pink lips and no one says a word.  Numerous hours and conversations and not a single person was kind enough to point this out to me.

At the time I remember obsessing about the envisioned aftermath and how I was certain to be the target of everlasting jokes and insults for the remainder of my high school career.   It doesn’t take long though to realize that this type of embarrassment doesn’t last forever.  I could have faced far more embarrassing moments (and I have a few that I may or may not share), and a minor one such as this is quickly replaced by the next snafu that someone else will inevitably make.  Put in perspective the sting faded as summer rolled on.  In hindsight though, as a moment of my life, I wouldn’t give it up for the world.  Not only does it provide a great retrospective chuckle, but it was an instance of rare bravery that I am still proud of to this day.  That same introverted nature that would rather remove toenails then attract attention is not one to generally wade boldly into a crowd of people, friends or not.  This was an exception to be celebrated despite the outcome.  And so it is with many of our memories of embarrassing moments.  Each story offers insight into some significant aspect of ourselves.  Something we did.  Something we learned.  Something that changed.  If you removed every embarrassing thing you ever did in your life what would your past look like?

Another quote from Kaplan’s book is “Drama helps us dream about what we could be, but comedy helps us live with who we are.”  These memories keep us grounded by our imperfection and keep us hopeful from hardships endured.    Humor is vital for maintaining our happiness and keeping our sanity in a constantly crazy world.  So while we aspire to sophisticated greatness and unbridled bravery remember to smile at the painfully playful memories that made us who we are, bright pink lips and all.

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Dolled Up

Last night I almost got lucky with a doll.  No, it wasn’t that kind of doll and it wasn’t as unseemly as it sounds.  It was an ordinary school night and I was enjoying some after dinner playtime with my daughter.  As a rare departure from the typical Ponyville excursions this session featured the dollhouse and its miniature suburban occupants.  I was cast in the role of the character known simply as “daddy” (I’m apparently a victim of type casting) and was living in a spacious house with my young toddler and my ever-present mother who was there to help with the care of the baby and assist with the cooking duties since “daddy” is notorious for always burning things – I tell ya, burn one marshmallow topping on a sweet potato casserole and you’re marked for life!

Anyway as the story picks up we are anxiously awaiting the arrival of “the new girl” and are doing our best to tidy up the house and repaint the exterior in the hope of impressing our guest.  Lucy, the young woman, is a school friend of my mother’s; I can only assume that mom has returned to school in order to get her masters in child development, in order to maintain her personal growth and lord over me with how to best raise my child.   Lucy is quite charming on first impression and very friendly to both junior and me.  She offers to take the little one for a walk to the park, so I decide to tag along in order to better acquaint ourselves and show off my mad skills as lava monster.  The outing is a success and I invite her to stay for dinner.  Mom, in a rare display of trust and encouragement, allows me to prepare the meal, though prompts me several times to be sure I don’t burn everything.  So while Lucy continues to play with junior I make my way to the kitchen to whip up a special dinner for all of us.  We have cherry pie, of course.  It’s cooked to perfection, because mom reminds me yet again to take it out before it burns.  Lucy is so impressed with the meal that she decides to spend the night.  I see this as a very good sign.  She heads up to the bedroom, and falls fast asleep.  Being the gentleman that I am, I let her have her space and go sleep in the bathtub.

The next morning we surprise our special guest with breakfast in bed.  This time mom isn’t taking any chances so she makes the strawberry waffles herself and sets it all up on a tray with tea for me to deliver to the bedroom.    The meal is delicious, and the entire 24 hour “date” ends on a high note.  Lucy is so impressed that she asks if she could stay with us forever.  It seems a little forward but who am I to deny a pretty girl.

The following day starts with a joyous milestone as the toddler learns to walk for the first time and also how to climb walls, and the day ends with an affectionate hug from Lucy.  All in all a pretty darn good day. As evening approaches I decide to take a big risk and try to move things to the next level.  I head up to the bedroom, intending to innocently claim the bed in hopes that Lucy might repeat her previous routine and join me there.  Unfortunately as I lay there waiting breathlessly in the dark, I am instead spooned by my mother while Lucy sleeps downstairs on the couch in order to take care of the baby and make sure she doesn’t start climbing the walls again.  Rats, foiled again.  It’s a disappointment but I figure I would have plenty of opportunities in the future considering Lucy was now a permanent resident.  All that is left to do is figure out a way to gracefully ask my mother to move out.

dolledup

I wouldn’t have the opportunity to attempt any further shenanigans or parental displacement however as things started to decline sharply from there; the next morning Lucy woke up with food poisoning, apparently due to the fact that daddy was allowed to prepare another gourmet dinner – really I’m a good cook, I don’t know where she gets this stuff!  The situation was dire; we needed magic and we needed it stat.  So obviously we called two magical pony doctors who flew in for a magical house call and magically took care of both Lucy and mother who was stricken with the same sickness later that day.  I won’t go into details but thanks to the diligence of those medicinal ponies everyone was restored to perfect health in a few short days.

In the end it was an interesting exercise in imagination.  I often wonder how my daughter experiences the non-traditional family structure in a house divided.  She may have been too young to remember the start of her mom’s relationship but she has experienced a couple from my side of the equation.  What must that role look like to her? What is it like from a child’s perspective to have a new grownup tossed into the family unit?  In all honesty I don’t think the relationship between Lucy and daddy even registered.  Lucy was just a friend of mom’s who came over to take care of a little one.  From my perspective though, it was still an interesting bit of role-playing.  I’m not ready for another relationship and even if I were I have no idea how I’d approach the idea of dating again.  All I know is that whatever path I might choose it will never be as simple as having a beautiful woman delivered to my front door, have her unequivocally adore my kids in a non-creepy fashion, and then decide after couple of extended dates to live with us happily ever after, no questions asked.  That’s all about as likely as a house call from a magical pony doctor,… or a magical doctor, or a pony doctor, or a magical house call or a,…. Well you get the idea, it’s not likely.

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What a Part Meant

Somewhere in my twenties, while away at college I was first introduced to apartment living.  At the time it wasn’t much different than sharing a house with friends, which had been the rental yardstick from which I measured life beyond my childhood home.  In both situations you had your own cramped messy room and shared a more cramped and much messier common area with your fellow roommates.  If anything the move to an apartment was a step up at the time since the first rental house was located in ghetto central, while the apartment was biking distance from the college campus, so less theft and vandalism, more coeds and beer consumption,…. Ok maybe a tie on the beer consumption, but the apartment was clean (when we moved in), the area was safe (no police dogs chasing suspects through our backyard,… yeah, that happened), and most of the appliances were both free and functional; perfect for cooling off your beer and cooking up your Rice-a-Roni.  What more could a young bachelor desire?  We didn’t care how many square feet the unit had, or read through the list of property amenities.   We weren’t concerned about the floor plan or how we were going to fit in all of our furniture.  At that age, having real furniture was like having a carton of cigarettes in prison, you had more sway as a roommate if you owned a comfortable couch; currency to hustle for the larger bedroom or purchase loyalty for future disputes over the last Pop Tart.  That single bit of furniture could become the inspiration piece on which all other home décor would be built upon.  That is if there were any home décor to speak of.  In the pre-Ikea era we filled in the gaps with creative arrangements of plywood and cinder blocks.  There were no picture frames, area rugs or accent pieces.  If you couldn’t eat on it or sit on it then why own it.  The apartment wasn’t so much a sanctuary as a safe place to pass out, and keep your post-hangover food stash.

Throughout my twenties and thirties I waffled between house rentals and apartment living.  My last apartment residence was at a place called “The Cowbarn Apartments” for reasons unknown to me, though considering the location and prevailing smells it could easily have been the previous predominant structure.  The Cowbarn had the distinct advantage of being located at the base of the hills surrounding the Broderbund campus, where I was working at the time.  I had a studio apartment with maybe three feet between the foot of my bed and the back of my couch.  My computer desk was where the kitchen table should be and other than my weird rattan basket chair from World Market the remainder of my possessions were stuffed into the walk-in closet that was about the size of my only bathroom.  A small folding chair sat on the balcony next to my bike to offer the option of outdoor living and a stunning view of the parking lot.  It wasn’t much, but again, at the time, it was all I really needed.

Fast forward roughly 15 years and I find myself in the surreal position of returning to apartment life after having graduated to home ownership for most of those formative years.  Even immediately following my divorce I was able to exit on a more graceful timeline and with the help of my aunt and uncle get a new home a couple of miles away.  At the time I remember coming across an article that stated that kids that grew up in a parentally owned house were more likely to attend and graduate from college than their apartment dwelling counterparts.  That had been the extra kick I needed to commit to home ownership again even though my career was imploding at the same time my escrow was finalizing.  I ended up with a house that was bigger than I needed, more expensive than I hoped, but centrally located by friends and conveniently equipped with every major appliance I was lacking.  It was two-stories, with four bedrooms and a fully open concept kitchen and living space.  It might have felt a bit empty when the kids were away but we really grew to love that house and made it our home for two years.

From there we had up-sized to a house with 5 bedrooms, twice the square footage and a corner lot yard complete with play structure and swimming pool out back.  The space felt expansive but with 5 more people and 3 more dogs, that house never felt empty.  Transitioning from that back to a two bedroom apartment, was jarring to say the least.  Not to say there weren’t some benefits; for all the lost space there was a proportional reduction in chaos and dog hair.   These trade-offs were somehow fitting, in the spirit of rallying the troops.  It was time to take stock of where we’d been and consider carefully the next step forward.

So with careful consideration I gathered up said troops, and started the search for a new home base.  Unlike those earlier, less discriminating years this time around I was all about weighing the options.  There was the balance of location and property rental prices, finding something affordable closer to schools than meth labs.  There was a balance of square footage and layout in the floor plans.  One place had an extra 100sqft but distributed it unevenly into a double-wide bathroom at the expense of a living area only slightly larger than a well stuffed beanbag.  There was a balance of amenities from necessity to trivial.  Would you rather have the in-unit washer dryer, with the clubhouse that smelled like sautéed jockstrap or the enclosed garage with the frothy lukewarm hot tub?  There was even a more subtle balance of presentation and security.  The one I picked lacked the unsightly iron bars on the front door but does require a half-dozen keys and a security card to get around the complex, not to mention the random guy in the hallway eager to provide a TSA style pat down,… I can only assume he works here.

After being here a few months I must admit there is a certain appeal to not having the added burdens of home ownership.  There is no yard to maintain.  There are no projects long neglected.  I have fewer reasons to frequent Home Depot.  I can vacuum the entire space from a single outlet.  The heater has been obsolete, even with my windows open in the dead of winter.  My commute to work is now even faster by one flight of stairs and a hallway.  Ok maybe that last one doesn’t really belong in the win column but all things considered the only two unacceptable compromises to apartment living so far are electric stovetops and noisy neighbors.  As a wannabe chef I cannot abide the use of non-responsive coils that slowly heat to the fires of hell and then slowly pitch down from there once everything has been suitably scorched.  More troublesome though, as a normal diurnal dwelling homebody I also cannot abide inconsiderate people.  I think of myself as a fairly tolerant person and have, over the years, had many a noisy roommate.  Granted, my current neighbors might even be excused their heavy footed stomping about if it were confined to daylight hours but for reasons incomprehensible to me he/she/they seem to stir into action around 11pm each evening and continue to prance about like a herd of drunken wildebeests until roughly 6am when they either collapse into slumber or go out to annoy people elsewhere.  I think it’s this unexplainable nighttime activity that bothers me the most.  I simply can’t understand what someone would be doing awake at dark o’clock.  If you worked the night shift, then shouldn’t you be at work,… and if you worked the day shift, then shouldn’t you be asleep?!  And if you worked the night shift, but worked at home, shouldn’t you be sitting at a desk the whole time like normal people?  That’s normal, right?!

Anyway, noisy neighbors aside I’m trying to make the best of apartment life while it lasts.  For my kids it’s like the excitement of going on a vacation and staying at a cool new hotel,… except all your toys are here.  For me it will serve as a transitional airlock helping me to decompress into a new space; any place I go from here will feel huge by comparison, and anything I’ve managed to live without during this time probably isn’t necessary going forward.  Either way my whole attitude towards ownership has shifted over the years.  No longer is there that pride of ownership I used to have when I was younger.  Back then you wanted to show off your new car or your new house.  It was a representation of who you were and how you’ve grown.  It reflected your personality.  Sharing it with others was like sharing part of yourself.  Most of my friends have had their homes for years, visiting them is like going to their folks place when we were kids.  It still represents who they are, but who they are is grownups, with established lifestyles.  Functionality has replaced fashion.  Those homes are like the worn comfy couches we used to prize during the college days, the ones you didn’t want to get up from for fear of someone taking your place.  There is no substitute for that subtle ass-imprinting aging process that settles into a joint.  I, on the other hand, continue to reset complete with new couch and new carpet smell.  I still have very few picture frames, area rugs and accent pieces.  My place represents me as a bachelor, which doesn’t have the same shiny quality it did even a few years ago.  Now it feels dangerously close to crazy old cat lady or whatever the male equivalent would be minus the cats.  Optimistically I could say this expresses my personality as a blank slate, ready for a rewrite, and not just a repeat loner with a growing list of failed relationships, but it’s hard to squeeze optimism into 1000sqft.  Maybe a new home will rekindle my nesting instincts and provide a fresh perspective. Best to get all this angst out now, tuck it tightly away in my little cramped apartment and leave it all behind along with the nocturnal neighbors, the coils from hell and the inevitable deductions from of my security deposit.

 

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In Printed

I may not be a fan of New Years resolutions,  but it is a good time to dust off the ol’ bucket list.  One of the top items on my bucket list is to be credited both as writer and illustrator of my own published piece; likely a children’s book but who knows, illustrated spy dramas may become all the rage.  I’ve always thought that this would be the ultimate creative outlet for me despite what all publishers and submissions guidelines may say to the contrary.  They make it repeatedly clear that writers should steer clear of submitting artwork since they have their own collection of darling in-house artists to choose from.  To which I say “you’re not the boss of me.  I play by my own set of rules.  I write my own rulebook complete with illustrations drawn by yours truly.” To which they reply with resounding silence or a short, mildly polite rejection “Thank you for not following our submission guidelines.  Have a nice day”.

It would seem I need to be more professional in my approach.  I need to prove to them that I can offer value on both sides of the creative playing field.  I often wonder if they initially rejected the Wimpy Kid books because of submission guidelines or suggested Jeff Kinney’s clever stick drawings be redone by an in-house illustrator who previously specialized in cover art for trashy romance novels.  Now eleven books later with Mr. Kinney’s ability to essentially print money any time he needs a new boat, or a house in the Hamptons I’m pretty sure he’s given full creative freedom despite the fact that Greg and the rest of the crew bear no resemblance to Fabio or his bodice bosom counterparts.

Now a secondary bucket list item which is closely tied to the first is to read in print any reference to me or my creations with the phrase “wildly popular”.  There’s just something about that expression that tickles my sensibilities; “wildly popular”.  Not “mildly popular” or “really quite popular” but “wildly popular”.  It’s as if “scathing report” and “inflammatory remark” had a love child from an angry bout of make-up sex resulting in “wildly popular”.   I’m not sure if that’s better than going viral but it sounds a great deal more sanitary.

I am not under the delusion that everything I write or draw is solid gold masterworks worthy of worship.  This is still all a work in progress and the rants and ramblings contained herein are merely an exercise in creative expression.  My 5 views in a week is not “wildly popular” by any metric.  The ice cream man can achieve 5 followers by cruising the park on a mild spring day.  No, I may be just screaming into the void (which is slightly preferable to pissing into the wind and still more sanitary then going viral) but I can dream that one day the numbers will pick up and the small handful of views today will snowball into a wildly popular number,… like maybe 16 for instance.  And then, once I have my “wildly popular” blog to shove in the publishers’ faces they will have no choice but to bow to my demands and happily offer me a three book publishing deal for my series “Clifford the Big Red Spy Dog”.  Until that happens, I resolve for the New Year to either get at least one piece of fiction or two articles published by the end of the year,… or reach 16 followers, whichever comes first.

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Runequest Cover

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Today’s creation was inspired by a friend who was packaging up some home-brew Runequest rules (RPG geekiness if you’ve never heard of it), so I recreated the original Runequest cover illustration in my home-brew style.  Some bits may not exact but I’m happy with the overall feel compared to the original.

 

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Lock Picking Love

When I was young the key to my heart was a crude thing, made with a single rough groove fashioned to unlock an equally rudimentary lock.  In all honesty it was more like a simple deadbolt that anyone interested could open with an easy twist,…   heck, I let a few people in who weren’t even interested.  After a few false starts with that so-called security system I learned to upgrade my lock to something a bit more complex, like one of the those old fashion tube keys with two or three predominant teeth at the end; I had formed a rough idea of who I wanted and what it would take for that mystery person to find more permanent residence within my heart.  I was ready for the big league; dating.

Regardless of whether you’re starting out in your youth or jumping back in well into your adulthood, the predatory nature of dating seems to encourage a different approach to unlocking the hearts and minds of potential mates.  When you put yourself out there you are presenting the perfect package you perceive yourselves to be.  Like a well-padded resume you may inflate some aspects of your personality while compressing some aspects of your physique so tightly into that sexy outfit that your legs fall asleep from lack of circulation.  You navigate the online pre-date banter and the coffee shop small talk in order to better size up your new acquaintance.  In reality the goal of this interaction is to discover how this person ticks.  Does she love kids? Does she love cats?  Does she vote liberal?  Does she watch FOX?  Does she like wine?  Does she chug whiskey?  With every bit of information gathered you get that much closer to learning how to unlock that person’s heart.  You take it on faith that the person you’re sharing your life story with will use that information for good and not for evil.  You have to trust that the baby kissing, dog-owning, liberal wino she is presenting is a true representation of her personality just as she has to accept that your positive reception of her responses are equally truthful and not just a juvenile attempt to lock-pick her heart or shop-lift the pooty.  For me it was this firsthand experience with how to unlock another heart that taught me the most about what it takes to unlock my own.  Over time that rough idea solidified and through trial and error I added, removed and replaced various locking mechanisms with more refined iterations.  And then I got married.

When you find “the one” the lock is discarded, having served its purpose.  There is a certain degree of relief knowing you’ll no longer have to fiddle with your lock or find your missing key.  You accept the love you’ve found as permanent and make concessions to keep your heart happy while keeping it available to your new partner.  While the old lock may grow rusty your heart continues to grow in size and complexity.  Through that long-term relationship the concept of love evolves far beyond those original crude notions.  You grow in directions you hadn’t even considered.  At times you struggle with the concept of self while you try to become who your partner wants or who your children need.  Where does one heart end and the other begin?  How have all of these relationships changed you?

When you lose “the one” the lock snaps back into place without notice.  In addition to that lingering rust of disuse there are the new levels of complexity that have evolved over time; more pins in the tumbler requiring a more complex arrangement of corresponding teeth.  Not only have you continued to learn what you like and dislike in love, but you’ve also quietly learned what it was about yourself that you surrendered or suppressed in order to make those lasting relationships function.  You have a greater sense of self which requires its own measure of security and consideration.  Now a double-sided key is required to perfectly hit every spring just right.

Dating at this point becomes a challenging pursuit.  While we may develop an appreciation for our own sophisticated complexity, we don’t account for the statistical unlikelihood that we’ll be able to find a suitable key-bearer, and even if we do manage that much there’s still the question of being the proud owner of a reciprocal key.  It’s like one of those games at the fair where contestants line up at a locked door and selects a key at random from a bucket hoping to unlock it and win the prize.  You stand in line again and again trying in vain to find the lucky key.  After countless attempts to gain entry you finally have the satisfaction of opening the door, but rather than being met with some glorious prize you find instead a second door, like the adjoining rooms of a hotel, and realize there is an entirely different line of people standing behind that door trying to do the very same thing that you are.  You return to the back of the line increasingly dejected and start the process all over again hoping by some miracle that you and your perfect mate will somehow manage to open the doors at the same time and share your new communal space.

Frustration becomes your new companion.   Dating prospects come and go, leaving only a pile of discarded keys in their wake.   Are the good ones all taken?  Are only the freaks remaining (present company excluded)?  Is it you or it is them?  (It’s you).  You focus overly much on finding someone to unlock what lies within. You primp and polish the lock to a shiny luster, not bothering to go any deeper, since the deep stuff will likely go unseen,… like wearing ugly underwear on the first date as a guarantee that no one will ever see it.

Once the dust settles though you consider a different approach.  What if you unlocked your own heart?  Open it up with the sole purpose of sharing it with others with no expectation of reciprocation.  An open heart is easier to love and more accessible since the lock is no longer in the way.  You do what you love.  You be who you are.  You are open to everything (some limitations and exclusions apply in considerations of introverts; see manual for complete details on proper care and handling).  It would be like opening the door to your hotel reservation to find the adjoining room already wide open for you to spread out in.  No barriers.  No restraints.  At the very least you have more nooks to explore, and more freedom to enjoy yourself.  If you happen to discover your soulmate waiting in that adjoining room, then all the sweeter,… if it’s not your soulmate you should probably call management because that would just be creepy.

The point is there’s no guarantee I will find that perfect match.  I think there’s something to be said about young love.  It seems so simple in retrospect.  There were so many growth experiences personal and professional that became shared experiences, and so many shared experiences both good and bad that became precious memories.   I cannot replace those memories, just as I cannot recapture my youth.  Any relationship now must deal with that complicated heart regardless of how it evolved, and I must accept that any heart I encounter will be equally complicated by its own evolution.  So, for now, I’ll just go back and focus on opening my own heart,… if I can just remember where I left my keys.

 

TUNE IN NEXT WEEK FOR: “Hot-wiring Your Sex Drive”

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Tales from the Mid-point