Tag Archives: funny

How *you* doing?


Me? Over here?

Oh, you know, just having one of those weeks where it feels like every single thing I write or do or even think seems to me like a sentient pile of bear poop that is, itself, shaped like a bear. A bear with sharpened poop claws and poop fangs just waiting to slice into me for the crime of bringing its poopy mass into existence.

You know, a week where anything I create just gloms together into a seething, roiling mass of crapness. So much crap that it begins to collapse under its own weight, swirling and coalescing into a crappy black hole in my backyard; a black hole into which I might gladly toss my laptop, my current project, my other previous projects, and any and all potential future projects I might have thought about conceiving of. An entire alternate universe of projects that never had a chance of existing; those can go, too. Reality and possibility themselves bend around the gravity of my ineptitude.

Drive it all into the ocean and drown the world in the tsunami.

Douse it with gasoline and outshine the sun with the fireball.

Bury it underground and dwarf Everest with the displaced earth.

Ahem.

How am I doing?

Fine. Everything is fine.

How about you?

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Toddler Life, Chapter 148: Because It’s Hard


You don’t get much help as a parent. You can buy all the books — all the Idiot’s Guide to Parentings and How to Think Like a Toddlers you like — but when the rubber meets the road and you’re faced with the prospect of actually bringing up this fledgling human to be an actual human, you’re pretty much on your own. All that preparation goes out the window and you’re locked in with your lizard brain, fight-or-flight instincts to get through it.

Not only are you all alone at the stick, but there’s a fogbank closing all around you, the instrumentation is freaking out and giving you bad readings and it’s close to impossible to tell whether that dark shape in the distance is the runway you’re hoping to land on or a mountainside waiting to pulp your plane. Oh, and there’s a tiny person behind you who keeps screaming in your ear and placing their hands over your eyes — only they don’t fully understand how that works so it’s not so much hands over your eyes as jagged, flesh-rending fingernails thrust into your eyeballs.

It’s often hard to see what you’re doing, in other words — and doubly hard to see what sort of effects you’re having on your kid. And while most moments fly by and don’t make much of an impression, every now and then you find yourself in the midst of a Moment. A Moment that Matters. You feel the gravity of the situation fully, and somehow, through senses indecipherable, you see through time to the futures that could unfold as a consequence of your choices in this Moment.

A Moment, in other words, where you see that your choices could make or break your kid.

Such a Moment transpired last night.

The Sprout is in kindergarten, which means homework. Writing his name. Writing numbers. Practicing “sight words.” (Did they even have “sight words” when I was a kid? I have no memory of such a thing, but I don’t know if that’s because “sight words” is just a new buzzword or because education was just a leaky life raft in those days — it worked and we didn’t much care about how it looked or performed along the way as long as it got us there, which it seemed to. Also possible: my memory is less steel trap, more sleepy security guard.) Preparing for class presentations.

The teachers told us there would be homework on the order of about 10-15 minutes a night. Which is fine. But this week, it’s gusting towards an hour (10-15 minutes of handwriting practice, 20-30 of sight word practice — which feels more like two to three hours, let me tell you — and another 10-15 minutes of reading books about firefighters for a class dress-up day this week). And last night, it reached a head, and caused that Moment.

We went to a fundraiser night at a local restaurant, which had us getting home later than usual — just about 45 minutes before bedtime. And the kids have been cooped up all day, so we let them out to play in the yard for a few minutes while my wife and I take stock of the situation and figure out the plan of attack for bedtime (and if you think having a “plan of attack” for bedtime sounds a little silly, well, obviously you’re not a parent). So by the time they come in, we’ve got thirty minutes until bedtime. And in our house, much like Bruce Willis doesn’t miss his drilling depth even in an asteroid of alien construction, WE DO NOT MISS BEDTIME.

It dawns. We don’t have enough time to do Sprout’s homework. What do we cut? His handwriting is atrocious; he needs every rep he can get. And for every day we don’t work on his sight words, he forgets ninety percent of what he had learned. And the bloody firefighter presentation is tomorrow, so we can’t skip that.

We start working. He’s writing while I sit next to him, and I’m watching the clock. He’s dawdling (go figure, he’s a kid), and I’m getting frustrated. The waters are rising, threatening to close over both our heads. He goes to erase a mistake and I stop him. I stop him. “Just leave it. Let’s get finished.” He’s confused and upset — do I want him to work or do I want him to be done working? — and near tears. It’s too much. Now I’m underwater, and I’m fuming. He’s five years old, for crying out loud. We shouldn’t be dealing with having so much homework he has to stay up late at five years old. This is insane. Just let it slip.

And then, the Moment. Because, see, in addition to being a dad, I’m a teacher, too. And as a teacher, I know what’s plaguing our youth and by extension, our future; it’s a lack of gumption. That thing that sends you out into the rain for a five AM workout when you’d rather stay in your warm bed. That thing that gets teachers staying late in the evening and going in early in the morning when their neighbors are working their 9-to-5’s. That thing that gets Rocky off the mat after Creed knocks him on his keester. (Kiester? Keister? Keester? Spellcheck recognizes none of these.) The thing, in other words, that recognizes that the job is tough, the job is unpleasant, the job is painful; but at the same time, the job needs doing, and if you don’t do it, then it won’t get done.

The urge was there. The thoughts were there. He’s only five. Why is he doing all this at home anyway — aren’t they supposed to teach him in school? What’s the big deal if he doesn’t do it? Not like he’s going to flunk kindergarten!

But it’s that kind of thinking that has classrooms across the nation filled with kids who don’t know the value — not just of homework — but of WORK. Who don’t have the patience to work at anything that doesn’t come to them almost immediately.  Who aren’t interested in trying something if it doesn’t already interest them.

This is a Moment, I realize — maybe not the moment (because after all, he’s still only five), but certainly a Moment — when we teach him that homework is just a Thing You Do, that school exists outside the walls of a government building, that Mommy and Daddy support and believe in and will even enforce the things he’s getting from his education. It’s not a thing that happens to him in a vacuum, separate from us. Not a thing we hear vague whispers of across a dinner table, in disinterested mumblings around mouthfuls of mashed potatoes. (“How was your day today?” “Fine.” “School okay?” “Sure.” End scene.) Not a thing we allow to slip at the first inconvenience.

That way would be easy.

That way is too common for too many parents of too many kids.

That way is not for us.

JFK said it best … we do these things “not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

And, okay, sure, there’s the added benefit that maybe, hopefully, these things will turn the Sprout into a decent human being one day.

So I gather him in for a hug and we back off for a few minutes and talk about doing the work and being ready for school the next day. We dry his tears. And we get back to it. I’m happy to say, we finished the homework. Then we got him down to bed a little bit late. And we talked about firefighters the next morning before we sent him off to school.

And he was smiling when he left the house.

I guess a few minutes of missed sleep didn’t hurt him. And for that matter, it didn’t hurt me, either.


A Beach Story


The scene: a beach at the height of vacation season. Surf music sallies forth from a jauntily tipped stereo. In the near distance, a volleyball game played by tanned and toned collegiate types. Farther down the beach, a handful of pasty kids slathered in sunscreen splash around in tide pools. Eventually, our focus tightens on a young girl of vaguely foreign lineage building a sand castle. It isn’t much, but she’s quite proud of it. She sticks a flag on the highest tower.

A shadow falls over her castle — a big one. She turns. The sun is eclipsed by a bulbous figure with flyaway coppery hair. She has to shield her eyes to look at him, and this was clearly his purpose. He sneers, chomps the last too-big bite of an over-condimented hot dog, and tosses the wrapper in the sand. Then he plasters a smarmy grin across his chops.

Bulbous: That’s a really, really nice sand castle. Just the best.

Vaguely-Foreign Girl: Um, thanks.

Bulbous: I mean it. I really mean it. I really want you to know that I support you, okay? Building this great sand castle? It’s what we need. Very good people. Sensational.

VFG: O…kay?

Bulbous: It would really be a shame if something happened to it. Such a shame. Terrible.

VFG: (a look of concern growing.) What?

It’s unclear if Bulbous actually hears her or not.

Bulbous: Here are the facts, okay? Are you listening? Here it is: In an hour or so, I’m going to come back here and kick this castle over.

VFG: Why would you do that?

Bulbous: Listen. We’re making the beaches great again. I’m not doing it now. Nobody’s kicking over your castle now. But, okay, in a little while, right? An hour. I’ll be back. With the kicking.

VFG: But I worked really hard on this. I’m not hurting anybody.

Bulbous: I get it. I get it. And these guys over here? (He gestures without looking behind him.) They’re going to build you a better one. The best. Believe me. It’s up to them.

She looks. The guys in question seem to be engaged with the sand in every way except building castles, or in fact building anything. Rather, they are shouting at each other, throwing sand, crying; making a whole lot of noise and accomplishing nothing. There is not a grown-up in sight.

VFG: Them? They don’t look very capable.

Bulbous: They’re with me. Well, kind of. Well, maybe. I’m not sure. We’ll see.

VFG: That one is dumping sand in the other one’s shorts.

Bulbous: Yeah, I’m not too sure about him.

VFG: And … that one’s eating the sand.

Bulbous: Him either.

VFG: And that one? The one pouring sand into his own eyes? He looks like a turtle.

Bulbous: The important thing is, it’s up to them.

VFG: It’s just that they’ve been there all morning.

Bulbous: Uh-huh.

VFG: And they haven’t built any other sand castles.

Bulbous: (quickly losing interest) Uh-huh.

VFG: And they haven’t shown any interest in building any sand castles. In fact — I don’t even know what they’re doing over there.

Bulbous: Right, right.

VFG: So … what makes you think they’re going to build one, for me, in the next hour? I mean, I don’t even know them. And I’m pretty sure they’re playing over there so they can pretend I don’t exist.

Bulbous: Believe me.

VFG: Believe you, what?

Bulbous: Believe me.

They stare at each other for a moment. It’s tense. But then, suddenly, Bulbous seems to forget about her entirely.

Bulbous: Well, I’ve got to go meet with some of the beach authorities and see about putting a tax on all this sunshine.

VFG: This is cruel. What did I ever do to you? Do you just hate me?

Bulbous turns to her and smiles, and behind his eyes is the confidence of a man who knows he will get away with any lie he chooses to tell.

Bulbous: I love everybody. Nobody loves everybody more than me. Now get the hell off my beach.

*********************

It bears saying again: the people who voted for this guy and aren’t working to stop him from all his evil — today it happens to be throwing out of the country people who have committed no crime and have no ties at all to whatever country he might send them to (sorry — not throwing them out today, throwing them out six months from now) — those people are complicit in all of this.

 


Metaphor Monday – PBV Syndrome


Since buying our van a few years ago, and having now driven it all over, I’ve noticed a phenomenon. It’s not tied to me, as far as I can discern — rather it’s a phenomenon that occurs in other drivers that seems to happen when I’m around.

I call it PBV (Passed-By-Van) Syndrome.

The phenomenon is this:

We’re driving in the van, and we approach and slowly overtake another vehicle. Before we can fully pass said vehicle, it begins to speed up, matching our pace and disallowing our passage. It continues to match our speed — oftentimes in great excess of its original speed — sometimes for miles. This continues until the driver decides that they really don’t want to be going quite so fast and they fall off. Occasionally, though, the opposite will happen: the other driver will speed up even more to pass us again, gaining a little buffer of roadway in front of us before it returns to its former speed and the process begins again.

I should note, too, that neither I nor my wife drive at particularly excessive speeds. At most we go maybe 5-10 miles over the posted limit, which by Atlanta standards means we might as well be standing still, given that speed limits in Atlanta are more often taken as baseline minimums to be left behind at the earliest opportunity than as legal maximums. Yet still we pass people, and still they try not to let us pass.

I have yet to conduct double-blind studies, but the most frequent afflicted seem to be trucks and SUVs. However, any driver of any sort of vehicle seems to be susceptible to PBV — I’ve seen it in fancy sports cars (why are they driving slowly enough to get passed by my hulking van?), ridiculous little Smart cars (if the purpose is good mileage, why are you trying to “beat” me anywhere?), and even other minivans (what happens if two drivers afflicted with PBV find themselves passing each other? Does spacetime disintegrate and collapse on itself?).

The phenomenon isn’t limited to my van, either — before we upsized, we had a tiny, sporty little Toyota Yaris, and we’d get the odd pacer there as well. Nothing like what we get with the van, but significant enough to notice.

Motivating factors are difficult to fully determine, but the assumption is pretty simple: some people just don’t like getting passed by a pansy vehicle like my minivan. Because we still live in a society where, somehow, your status on the road and in your vehicle is inextricably fused to your notion of self.

In other words, if you’re getting passed, it’s because the other guy has a bigger, uh, engine than you.

WHICH CANNOT BE ALLOWED TO STAND.

Treatment: well, none, really. Perhaps a bit of introspection. A little consideration of why your foot tends toward the gas when you see a minivan creeping up from behind. Do you really, suddenly and for no discernible reason, just feel like getting more quickly to wherever you were headed? If so, why weren’t you driving faster in the first place? Did my van somehow make you realize you were running late?

If it’s about “beating” the van somewhere, that’s foolish — we almost certainly aren’t going to the same place. And even if we were, the difference in travel time from me going a few miles per hour faster will make a difference in arrival time measured in seconds, not minutes. Ridiculous!

If it’s about a van going faster, then why get uptight about a van over any other sort of vehicle? Again I fall back on the perception thing. Vans aren’t “manly” (but what is “manly” anyway, when it comes to cars? Truck and sports car commercials would have you believe it’s about horsepower and maneuverability, towing capacity and “sleek lines” whatever that means, but again I say: if you are drawing more than a modicum of your personal identity from the vehicle you drive, you are probably a bit of a jerk), therefore getting passed by one makes one ultra-unmanly. Of course, that assessment comes up short, too, because I’ve seen a fair share of women afflicted with PBV.

So.

It’s Metaphor Monday and all, and that means I’ve got to tie this weird phenomenon to writing, and to life in general.

But it’s not that hard to see, is it?

You’re driving on the highway. You see this dinky little minivan creeping up on you, about to pass you, and something in your lizard brain says “DON’T LET IT HAPPEN.” You’re paying attention to what the other guy is doing instead of focusing on the road in front of you, which is all that should really matter anyway. You’re comparing yourself to somebody else when no comparison even makes sense. You don’t know where I’m going. You don’t know if there’s an urgency for me that doesn’t exist for you, or vice versa. You don’t know if I’m late to a meeting for backyard lawn darts enthusiasts. (My new backyard would be so choice for lawn darts.) You just want to beat me there.

And what’s the internet, but a big ol’ information highway, with writers to the left and the right? Internet’s lousy with writers. Some of them driving souped-up muscle cars and churning out thousands of words per day. Some of them puttering on mopeds, coughing up maybe a thousand per week. And you look at somebody’s website — let’s call it, I dunno, a minivan of a website — where she talks about having a full-time job, two kids, a spouse, all those things that you have. And he further claims to be getting two thousand words a day.

You just got passed by a minivan. What are you gonna do about that?

You’re gonna stomp the gas, is what — after all, they have nothing going on that you don’t have, and they are getting it done. You deserve everything they have coming. And you need it now!

Except, as my dad used to tell me (or maybe it was merely a construct of my dad as I tell myself I remember him — you can never tell), it ain’t always that simple. Sure, the stuff you can see is comparable, but you don’t know what’s going on in their life, what’s kicking around between their ears. In short — you don’t know why their minivan is going faster than you. It just is.

As long as you’re writing, you’re making forward progress. You spend the unmitigated bulk of that time slaving away in silence and solitude anyway — what kind of good does it do to compare your slaving to somebody else’s? It’s a good way to burn out. Get frustrated. Get disillusioned.

And when your brain gets disillusioned or frustrated or burnt out, well, your whole vehicle breaks down, dunnit? And when your whole vehicle breaks down? Everybody passes you. Even that grandma scooting around on her moped.

The point? Don’t give in to PBV syndrome.

Stay in your lane. Eyes on your own road.

Let the minivans pass.


Sparks! (and spiders)


Yesterday I wrote about the occluded flow of viable ideas making it from my brain to the blank page. Here’s why I think my particular eclipse might be waning:

In the past twenty-four hours I’ve had a couple of ideas penetrate the mental fog, strike me as amusing, and stick around for more than a few moments (of late, the ideas strike and then vanish again into the ether like Batman knocking out a criminal and disappearing into the night). Both spurred by simple real-life situations that could easily have been left alone and forgotten about!

Situation 1:

I’m at work. I get no cell service in my building. So if I receive a text, it doesn’t usually land until I’m in the parking lot, leaving school. As it turns out, I receive a text from my father as I’m pulling away from the building. It’s time-stamped around 2:00: “What is happening?”

I reply “not much” and don’t think of it again until the following morning. A response never comes. Now, it must be asked: who sends a text to ask “what is happening” without that being pretense for actually asking something more significant, a la “let’s get together for dinner” or “are you going to be available on Saturday” or “do you still have the shovel and duct tape and garbage bags and lye that we used for that one thing that one time, I kinda need them right this minute”? Nobody, that’s who. You ask somebody “what’s happening” so that you can talk to them about something else and you don’t know how to begin the conversation without a banality. And, by the way, you say “what’s happening” like a human, not the more formal “what is happening” like a robot.

But there it is. Just that question — “what is happening?” — and nothing to follow.

Right around the time of the eclipse.

Then, in my head, the scenario plays out: the eclipse has come, the sky is dark, and my father rushes out into the yard, beseeching the heavens (and then also texting me, because of course he would do this): “WHAT IS HAPPENING?”

Read with the proper inflection and emotion, this makes perfect sense. All it needs is a second question mark to fit perfectly — ooh, or perhaps the saucy interrobang. The world needs more interrobangs. Doesn’t it?!

Ahem.

And why no response? Well, that’s easy. He was taken by the lizard men, obviously, and spirited away to their space station on the far side of the moon.

This is much more palatable than the probable actual truth, which is that he just sort of wanted to check in with me.

Right. Situation 2:

I was out for a run this morning. Gorgeous one, actually. Starry sky in full glory, perhaps trying to make up for being overshadowed (haw) by the eclipse yesterday. I’m plodding on, eyes skyward, when I tear through this massive spider web.

And I do mean, massive. The web happened to be strung across the gap between a football fence and the bleachers behind it: a four-foot gap, and right at head-and-chest height. I’ve got strands in my mouth, on both shoulders, even trailing the tops of my knees. I’m pulling webby gunk out of my eyebrows, off the back of my hands. The dog is freaking out because I’m stumbling all over the place like a drunk trying to pick a fight with a bar stool.

While we’re on the subject, have you ever run into a spider web while bald? I can’t say I recommend it.

Of course, I don’t stop running while I’m trying to de-web myself (NEVER STOP RUNNING, the demons will catch you). So about fifty yards later, when I’ve collected my thoughts a little bit, the real horror strikes. What’s unpleasant about spider webs is not the webs themselves, but the spiders they conceal. And now I have to contend with the possibility that a spider is on me right now. Worse than that, massive, human-sized spider webs are not woven by tiny house spiders. This web was a doozy, which means the responsible spider is a doozy by proxy and I know spiders don’t always just sit in the middle of their webs but SOMETIMES THEY DO OH MY GOD HELP.

But I can’t feel the spider, despite lots of swiping at my face and neck and back and various other parts.

And I figure that means I’m okay.

Unless the spider is one of those weird anomalies of nature like that parasite that takes over an ant’s brain and drives it onto the top of tall grass at nightfall to be devoured by a cow. If it were, couldn’t it conceivably have wiped out the past twenty seconds of my memory, when it crawled up through my nose and buried itself in my brain, and only made me think that I hadn’t found the spider?

Couldn’t it, then, be driving me around like a meat puppet right now?

Could I really be the spider right now? Thinking spidery thoughts that just happen to be the thoughts that spiders would think if they found themselves embedded in human husks?

We can’t be sure that I’m not.

So I’ve spent the past several hours wandering in and out of a dreamland in which my father was abducted by eclipse-riding lizardmen and I was being piloted by a mind-controlling spider. Which is a weird headspace, but not a narratively unfertile one.

Still, it’s got my brain percolating, so that’s good. Even if a spider is to blame.

(Spiders are usually to blame.)


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