Monday, March 31, 2008

Who's In Charge Here?

It occurred to me a moment ago, as it does from time to time, that I am a father. You may reasonably ask me where the revelation in this is, being that I have two children, the oldest of whom is six. Fair enough, but it’s not that simple. Or maybe it is.

I become accustomed to things very fast. This can be both good and bad. I go to a hotel in another city for a weekend, and on the second day, I feel like I’m home. That funny smell in people’s houses? It doesn’t bother me for long. These are good things.

But I am usually in a state of anxiety about parenting. From time to time I catch myself just kind of rolling with it, taking it as it comes, and this feels good, although not in an entirely conscious way. Then something hits me, something reminds me of how foggy and uncertain life is, and the weight gets piled on. This is such a moment.

My wife and I just got finished watching Gone Baby Gone . We had spent the whole time trying to figure out who the killer was, and were both kind of surprised how we had misjudged the whole point of the movie. The ultimate meaning of the movie--at least insofar as we could tell--was that good and bad decisions are not always so clear cut, and that the world can be a scary place.

This tapped into an anxiety I often carry around with me. I am someone who wants yes or no answers on everything, and yet I have very few. In spite of myself I believe in God, and yet I find it hard to believe anything anyone (including myself) tells me about he/she/it. I certainly have not received any discernable revelations. I don't trust people who wear moustaches.

This inability to accept received wisdom and to follow the lead of authority figures without question has left me,uneasily, with the conclusion that any meaning that is to be found in my life must be carved out by myself. Which is unfortunate, because I am not that experienced with a knife.

I know it’s trite, but I’m starting to understand where my parents are coming from. There is no one that can tell you for sure how to do things. You kind of have to play it by ear in the parenting game, and none of us have all of the equipment to make the right decision all of the time. Does anyone really know what they are doing?

It gives me some comfort to know that everyone is operating on their own best guesses to some extent, with the shoddy equipment found in their own rusty toolboxes. This is mildly alarming, but it makes empathy a little easier. It makes it easier to ease up on yourself a little too: Woody Allen is fun to watch in movies, but he's not as fun when he's perched on your shoulder all the time.

I have no idea what I am doing, and yet I am in charge of this most important project, and overall, things seem to be going well so far. My kids are intelligent, creative, compassionate, and well adjusted. So maybe the kind of uncomfortable soul searching that I do is appropriate for the role I've been given. I don’t know. I’m just going to assume that God is better at making appointments to high office than George W. Bush is, and try to act in good faith towards my kids.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Sign Test

I have squared myself.
I am six standard deviations from the mean.
The bell has cracked.
The bats are coming in.
The road is skewed. My tire has a flat.
When you make it to Grad school,
Send a car for me.
AAA isn’t returning my calls.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Swimming With Winston

I've chosen Martin Gilbert's Churchill:A Life as my spring break reading material. I was reading it the other night in bed, and had decided that I'd turn in after 'the next paragraph'. The next paragraph contained an excerpt of some of Churchill's writing that contained some really good imagery.

He and his brother Jack had taken a boat out on a lake in Ouchy, Switzerland. This was while he was on break from Sandhurst. They had jumped from the boat to swim, and a strong wind took the boat away from them. Churchill tried to catch up to it, but it kept getting blown away. The boys were getting tired, and this is how Churchill described the scene:

"Up to this point no idea of danger had crossed my mind. The sun played upon the sparkling blue waters; the wonderful panorama of mountain valleys, the gay hotels and villas still smiled. But now I saw Death as near I believe as I have ever seen him. He was swimming in the water at our side, whispering from time to time in the rising wind which continued to carry the boat away from us at about the same speed we could swim."

I got a chill when I read that. I don't know if it had anything to do with the tumbler of scotch I had imbibed, or the late hour, but I know that I smiled at the good writing, and then took a cursory glance around at the shadows in my lamp-lit room.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Easter Reflection

John Marks provided the most appropriate way for me to herald in Easter this year, with an essay about Dracula on All Things Considered.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

lawnmower season

I'm pleased to let you know that a piece I wrote called Lawnmower Season is currently on display at Eyeshot. Thank you to Mr. Klein for posting it.

Monday, March 17, 2008


Good news: my first e-book--a collection of poems entitled Mule and Horse--will be available for free download from Why Vandalism April first.

In the meantime, there are a few things I've written for their march issue, so please help yourself to those. While you're there, be sure to treat yourself to a look at the e-books available from Chris Major and David Mclean, both of which are worth your time.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Parachutist In Love

For E.G.

The Parachutist’s ripcord is malfunctioning. He is aware of this piece of information, and finds it duly disturbing.
You see, were the Parachutist on ground, in his plane, lying in his bed, sitting on the toilet, eating eggplant parmesan at his favorite Italian restaurant, bedding a young vixen, bedding a few young vixens (one slightly older than the other), practicing the clarinet, making a shopping list, or even playing volleyball (again with young vixens) at the beach, becoming aware of such a piece of information would be easily resolvable. Being however that he is currently falling from a very great height, the information about the ripcord is pertinent.

His instinct is to curse, but not being the swearing type, he decides to pray instead: Praying turns out to be harder to do mid-free fall than one might expect, so he curses.
Being a person who has read a book or two by Deepak Chopra, he attempts meditation: He is going to die. This is evident. He attempts to clear his mind by focusing on the snowy mountain tops that cap the quickly disappearing horizon. Also difficult: Consider G-forces.

What about the man in the colored jumpsuit with goggles and helmet?

The Parachutist’s favorite joke is one that usually only garners polite laughs when he tells it:
Q: How many surrealists does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Two: one to hold the giraffe by the neck, the other to fill the bathtub up with clocks.

He has a picture of his nephew riding a horse on his coffee table at home. The picture was taken by his brother, on the boy’s twelfth birthday. The boy’s name is Cody. The Parachutist has tried to teach the boy how to play chess several times and has failed. Once, when Cody was about six, a little marble pawn showed up in his stool. The Parachutist has quit trying to teach the boy chess.

The Parachutist closes his eyes, takes a breath, and then opens them back up again. The earth is very beautiful, and very small from where he is. It is getting larger quickly, which is vaguely alarming. The Parachutist decides it would be better to misinterpret this alarm as exhilaration. ‘Whoop!’ he says.

He’s over a piney region of Alaska. The tree line spreads far and wide, and there are mountains in the distance. The Parachutist tries to imagine himself crashing down through the evergreens. Every snapping twig that he foresees, were he to write a blog about this episode, he may call it ‘Returning to the Earth in a very real way’, and the post would be very spiritual. The Parachutist is a very spiritual person in his own way. He has read books by Deepak Chopra, and always plays Prince music when he beds young vixens.

The Parachutist is pleased with how easily he turned the whole tragic affair into a philosophical one.
He imagines the earth wrapping around him, his body becoming thin and embedded, and he begins to relax his muscles as it all becomes very near, the whistling becoming increased, and the mountain view becoming out of sight. He thinks about the terrain, and tries to picture it without trees. A parking lot. A desert. An ocean. A pile of feathers.

To the ordinary wild porcupine, the grass is gentle and high, and the soil is agreeably moist. It easily absorbs the creature’s small footprints as it pads and sniffs it’s way through the sweet smelling forest, looking for whatever it is that porcupines look for.

Some kind of small bug, I would imagine.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Blackwater Shot Our Dog

Thank you to Zygote In My Coffee for posting a poem I wrote called Blackwater Shot Our Dog.

The poem may actually be called Blackwater Shot My Dog, but I can't remember, because I don't have a copy in front of me right now. The poem most likely has one of those two titles, although there is a remote possibility that it is called Kubla Khan.

I got the idea for Blackwater from the newspaper article I quote at the beginning of the piece. I got the idea to look in newspapers for poem ideas from John Updike, who starts many of the poems in his book Verse with quotations from newspapers. I admired his resourcefulness, and decided to copy it.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Making Salad For Abby

My wife was on her way home for lunch today, so I made her a big, pretty salad. I took a big scoop of spring mix lettuce leaves from a plastic tub we had bought at the store the other day, added some wasabi-ranch fritters, a few green olives, two cherry tomatoes, some bean sprouts, a drizzle of sweet Italian dressing, and the rest of the crumbled gorgonzola cheese.

I paused before I put the cheese on. My parents are coming over tonight to watch the kids for us, and I always like to have the fridge and cabinets stocked with food and drink, so they know we are flourishing, and that they did a good job raising me. In my mind, my mom would open the fridge and see the gorgonzola cheese and say, oh, wow. Gorgonzola cheese. Spencer must know more about jazz than we thought.

But I decided I loved my wife more than I needed my parents to think I was sophisticated, so I put the rest of the cheese on the salad. I didn’t tell her all of this when she walked in; Instead I said, look at this gorgeous salad I made for you? Isn't it beautiful? Don’t you just want to have sex with it?