Friday, December 31, 2010

My New Year's Resolution

I will write next year.

I will take, at a minimum, fifteen minutes every day to write. Not at work, not while watching Oliver, not while watching tv. I am going to isolate myself and write for at least fifteen minutes every day.

The wisdom I've always heard is that if you want to be a writer, write. If you don't write, you can't call yourself a writer. I haven't been taking that seriously.

I wrote sporadically. I do it when I think of it. Sometimes, inspiration hits me. Or sometimes, there's a news story that I can't resist commenting on. But it's not a habit anymore. It hasn't been for a while.

I write, sure. I write tweets. I write on Facebook. I write as part of my job, which I love. But posts - long, prosaic, thoughtful posts - I haven't been doing this kind of writing very much this year.

I need to get back into fiction writing again, too. I have a novel in my basement that I started writing in college, in 1991. I think of the characters often. After 9/11, I thought I had the inspiration to start writing again, but it never lasted.

But I'm not going to set goals of finishing the novel, or x number of posts per month, or x amount of short stories. 15 minutes a day. That's the goal. That is the resolution.

The West Wing - Big Block of Retweets Day

I don't know when this all started, but one day I noticed that somebody I follow on Twitter had retweeted President Jed Bartlet. Y'know, the president from the West Wing.

Then I saw that President Bartlet was trading remarks with Leo McGarry's Ghost.

As I found one, I found another. Everybody from the West Wing is on Twitter, y'all. I mean, seriously, everybody. Here's the list of everyone I've found so far.

President Bartlet
President Santos
Toby Ziegler
Josh Lyman
Donna Moss
CJ Cregg
Leo McGarry
GlenAllen Walken
Lord John Marbury
Will Bailey
Sam Seaborn

There are more. There must be dozens of West Wing accounts. Who is maintaining these things? Whoever's posting for each character has them down pat - Bartlet is scholarly and irritable, Josh playful and pugnacious, Lord Marbury is ... well, Lord Marbury. It's amazing fun to see them all interacting with each other, having conversations just like the good old days. One of my favorite discoveries of 2010.

P.S. I just noticed, when tagging this post, that I have not ever tagged a post with "Twitter" before. How strange is that!

Not Failing

A month or so ago, I posted in my misery about the tough time my son was having in kindergarten. Since I posted that, I meant to post an update and let you know how he's been doing.

First, we started visiting a therapist with Oliver. The therapist is someone who's experienced working with kids, and who understands childhood anxiety really well. She's been wonderful with O, and he's grown to trust her very quickly. She's pretty certain that he's being dogged by anxiety, and has really worked on teaching strategies for dealing with it himself.

So we had a meeting. Both of us were there. Both of his teachers. (He is in two different classrooms during the day, so he has two different teachers who share responsibility.) The special ed teacher, the nurse, the PE teacher, the school psychologist, the principal, and a bunch of people I can't even remember. It was stunning to see so many people focused on our little guy.

We also had our therapist with us. And she was a godsend, people. Every time one of the people would start suggesting something that sounded off-base - hinting at autism or ADD or other scary stuff - our therapist pulled the conversation back to his anxiety.

In a lot of ways, it was reassuring for us to see that the teachers really didn't know Oliver. We told them that for years, we'd go to playdates and the other parents would tell us what a nice, sweet little boy Oliver was. He wasn't a hitter. He didn't spit at other kids. He didn't start fights. This was about him being overwhelmed in a new environment.

So the teachers have been working, since that day, to make the environment more welcoming for him, and to find ways to reward him for positive behavior. He has a little chart every day that the teachers fill out, so we know how he did during the day. Each part of the day has its own section, so we can see if he has more difficulty in the morning or in the afternoon.

The teachers have moved him closer during class, too. And this little change has made a world of difference. O was getting mischievous when he didn't know what was going on during class and when nobody seemed to be paying attention to him. So that little change of proximity has eliminated most of that issue.

He's blossoming in school now. He's always been smart - we saw his report card, and he's showing great progress in reading and in math. He can count and do simple math in Spanish and in English. He is reading now - short words, short sentences. But he's so proud to be reading, and he loves to show us how well he's doing. He's happier in school, and I know the teachers are happier now to see Oliver doing well. This is what we were hoping to see, and thank goodness everybody's been working together to get him to this point.

Clifford's Really Awful Soundtrack

Have you seen Clifford's Really Big Movie?

(I will remind you that I have Netflix and a five-year-old, so our house has been victimized by that movie multiple times.)

The movie itself isn't too bad, but the music is absolutely atrocious. I think they commissioned two songs for the movie. The music is mindless, the lyrics are insipid, and you hear them during the entire movie because they play them OVER and OVER and OVER AGAIN all through the movie. They have slow sad versions, they have fast happy versions, they have instrumental versions. It's a lot like what they did with Simon and Garfunkel's music for the Graduate, except in this case the results are horrible.


My wife has a sister who used to run marathons. Years ago, I asked Mrs. B if she ever ran, and she looked at me as if the question was "so, have you ever done any Satanic rituals?"

"No," she said with disdain. No, I'm not one of those people. One of those runner people.

My wife is now one of those runner people. Three days a week, she straps on her fancy runner shoes and goes running five or six miles along Alki Beach. She went for a run this morning, when it was 28 degrees outside. She said she ran an extra mile, just because it was so clear and beautiful outside.

Yep, she's definitely one of those people.

Part of her motivation is restlessness. Specifically, the elliptical machine we have in our office drives her crazy. The idea of running for 30 minutes indoors, staring at the wall, is unbearable to her. So much so that, sometime around April, she announced she was going to start running outdoors.

And she's done it, bless her heart. She started out slow - there was a training program she picked up for non-runners that she followed. So at the beginning, it was like 2 minutes of running, 8 minutes of walking. She's now doing 11 minutes of running with a one-minute walking break. Some days, she just runs the whole distance.

She's run a few 5Ks. She recently ran the Jingle Bell run in Seattle, when it was pouring rain and the wind was howling. She crossed the finish line soaked from head to toe, but jubilant. We were waiting at the finish line for her. (I wish I could say we stood outside the whole time, but we spent most of the time in a coffee shop, watching people's umbrellas blow inside out.)

She's going to be running a half-marathon in June. I'm so proud of her for keeping it up, three days a week, week after week after week. She didn't start running until this year, in her forties. We were in Oregon recently, visiting in-laws, and she asked me to drive her to a nearby town so she could do her Sunday run. It's what she does now. She has her running playlists, her little runner's cap, her armband for her iPod, a group of other women who run with her. My wife is a runner now.

10 New Year's Resolutions I Will Not Be Making

  1. Give up caffeine.
  2. Begin using "sock it to me!" as my new catchphrase.
  3. Give Glenn Beck the benefit of the doubt.
  4. Master the Moog synthesizer.
  5. Find out what this Brazilian wax thing is all about.
  6. Get that eyebrow piercing I've always wanted.
  7. Launch a rave club in my basement.
  8. Find out if I really need to shower more than once a week.
  9. Launch a Tumblr blog, because Blogger is so totally 2005.
  10. Shave all the hair off my body and begin dressing in black suits and hats.

Sunrise in Seattle

It's freaking cold outside.

Hard to complain when it looks like this, though.

One of the most breathtaking sunrises I've seen in Seattle. I used to think that the best sunrises and sunsets happened in Colorado, where I lived for several years. But Seattle's had some beautiful ones, this year especially.

I should add that it's also hard to complain when I'm inside a warm toasty house. Mrs. B is out running in the 28-degree weather. More on that later.

Brace Yourselves

I don't know if I can do this, but I've been given a challenge.

The charming and witty Adria Richards is holding a contest for bloggers. The challenge: write 25 blog posts in 24 hours.

There are prizes and stuff, but really, the contest is about getting busy. Too often, I-and most bloggers I know-have lots of ideas floating in our heads that we never write down. With Facebook, Twitter, instant messaging, chatroulette, etc., we've lost that instinct to take our ideas immediately from inspiration to blog post. I want that spark back. Thanks, Adria, for a clever way to reactivate the blog.

If I get stuck, I see Adria is keeping a running list of her own blog post ideas. I might steal some of those. We'll see how quickly the well runs dry. (Although I don't do the work she does, and I'm not nearly the social media butterfly she is, so maybe that idea won't help.)

It's already 7:19, so I've missed a few hours. (Darn sleep.) One down, 24 to do. Yikes.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Jesus Has a Birthday, or, Three Magi of Very Little Brain

Jesus sighed.

"Pathetic," he sighed. "That's what it is. Pathetic."

He rolled over to the other side of the manger.

"Just as I suspected," he muttered to himself. "Straw. Just the same as the other side." He sneezed from the hay dust, and glumly rolled back to the first side. "But nobody minds. Nobody cares. Pathetic, that's what it is."

There was a shimmering noise outside the stable, and the angel Gabriel peeked in.

"Good morning, O Lord," said Gabriel.

"Good morning, Gabriel," said Jesus. "If it is a good morning," he said. "Which I doubt," said he.

"Why, what's the matter?"

"Nothing, Gabriel, nothing. We can't all, and some of us don't. That's all there is to it."

"Can't all what?" said Gabriel, rubbing his nose.

"Gaiety. Song-and-dance. Hallelujah and all that."

"Oh," said Gabriel. He thought for a long time and then began singing softly to himself.

"Angels we have heard on high,
Sweetly singing o'er the plains.
And the mountains in reply,
echoing their sweet refrains."

"That's right," said Jesus. "Sing. Rum-pa-pum-pum. Here we go gathering Nuts and May. Enjoy yourself."

"I am," beamed Gabriel.

"Some can," said Jesus.

"Why, what's the matter, My Lord?"

"Is anything the matter?"

"You seem so sad, O lord."

"Sad? Why in heaven should I be sad? It's my birthday, Gabriel. The happiest day of the year."

"Your birthday?" said Gabriel in great surprise.

Jesus rolled his eyes, trying to resist explaining that he wasn't anywhere the night before, and how he was here, and so that meant he was born, and so this was his birth day. Gabriel sometimes could be so ... so ... well, he could be sometimes.

"Yes, it's my birthday, Gabriel. Can't you see? Look at this festive decor. Look at all the presents waiting for me." He waved a tiny hand from side to side. "Look at the birthday cake. Candles and pink sugar."

Gabriel looked - first to the left and then to the right.

"Presents, O Lord? Cake?"

"Can't you see them?"

"No," said Gabriel.

"Neither can I," said Jesus. Gabriel stared at him blankly.

"Joke," he explained. "Ha ha."

Gabriel scratched his head.

"Well, a great happy birthday to you, O Lord and Savior. Many happy returns of the day!"

"And many happy returns to you, Gabriel."

"Oh. But it isn't my birthday."

"No, it's mine."

"Yes. And many happy ..." Gabriel paused, unsure where to go next, and decided to step out of the stable before he became more confused. Jesus was alone again in the manger.

"Pathetic," he said again.

~ ~ ~

Melchior ran towards Jerusalem, excited. In his hands he clutched a vessel containing a large amount of myrrh.

"Oh, won't he be so happy?" Melchior thought excitedly. He had never met the Lord before - Jesus had only just been born - but he would love myrrh. Myrrh was such a soothing balm, and had so many uses. What would he wish to do with so much myrrh? He thought. Maybe he would burn it for the wonderful fragrance. Maybe it would be used as a balm to soothe His Holy skin. He wondered if he, Melchior, would be allowed to rub it onto His skin. And he thought about this, and about myrrh, and how sweet it smelled, and of a time when his own mother had rubbed his back and arms with myrrh. And running along, and thinking how pleased Jesus would be, he didn't look where he was going ... and suddenly he put his foot in a hole and fell down flat on his face.


Melchior lay there, wondering what had happened. At first he thought a great wind had blown him off his feet, and then he wondered what part of the world he had ended up in. He would have to find the star again to get his bearings again. But no, wait, here was the star, in the Eastern sky just as it was before. Unless he had been blown clear to the moon and was looking down onto the star from the moon. He wondered how he would ever get down from the moon and see the Lord again.

And then he stood up and saw that he was still in the same land where he started.

"Well, that's funny," he thought. "I wonder what happened? And where's all my myrrh? And why is the vessel filled up with sand now?"

He raised it to his nose to smell it. It smelled of myrrh. Myrrh-scented sand.

"Oh dear," said Melchior. "Oh dear, oh dearie dearie dear! Well, it's too late now. I can't go back, and I haven't any more myrrh, and perhaps Jesus doesn't like myrrh so very much."

He walked on, rather sadly now, and down he came to the stable where Jesus was, and he called out to him.

"Good morning, O Lord," said Melchior.

"Good morning, Melchior," said Jesus. "If it is a good morning," he said. "Which I doubt," said he. "Not that it matters," he said.

"Many happy returns of the day," said Melchior.

Jesus raised his head and stared at Melchior.

"Just say that again," he said.

"Many happy returns of the day."

"Meaning me?"

"Of course, O Lord."

"My birthday?"

"Yes," said Melchior.

"Me having a real birthday?"

"Yes, my Lord, and I've brought you a present."

Jesus rolled to the other side. "I must hear that in the other ear," he said. "Now then."

"A present," said Melchior very loudly.

"Meaning me again?"


"My birthday still?"

"Yes, and I brought you myrrh."

"Myrrh, you say?" said Jesus. "You did say myrrh? That lovely stuff that smells so nice, and that you rub all over and it makes you feel nice. Gaiety, tra la la, here we are and there we are?"

"Yes, my Lord. But I'm afraid- I'm very sorry, my Lord - but when I was running along to bring it to you, I fell down."

"Dear, dear, how unlucky! You ran too fast, I suspect. You didn't hurt yourself, dear Melchior?"

"No, but I - I - oh, my Lord Jesus, I spoiled the myrrh!"

There was a very long silence.

"My myrrh?" said Jesus at last.

Melchior nodded. He handed Jesus the vessel, which was filled with sand.

"Here it is. With - many happy returns of the day."

"Is this it?" said Jesus, a little surprised.

Melchior nodded.

"Thank you, Melchior," said Jesus. "Well, well." He sniffed a bit at the sand. "My favorite," he said to himself sadly. "Well, well."

Caspar and Balthasar stood now at the door of the stable, and Caspar called out, "Many happy returns of the day!"

"Thank you, I'm having them," said Jesus.

Balthasar called out, "Many happy returns of the day!"

Jesus didn't say thank you this time, so Balthasar started again. "Many happy returns..." Then he remembered he had already said that, and stopped himself.

"I've brought you a little present," they both said at once.

"I've had it," said Jesus, looking at his vessel of myrrh-scented sand.

Balthasar handed Jesus a lovely gold urn. "It's a Useful Golden Pot," said Balthasar. "Here it is. And it's got 'A Very Happy Birthday to the Child King' written on it. That's what all that carving is. And it's for putting things in. There!"

When Jesus saw the pot, he became quite excited.

"Why!" he said. "I believe my myrrh will just fit into that pot."

"Myrrh?" said Balthasar, confused. "Oh, no, myrrh is too sticky and gummy, and it needs a special type of pot. What you do with myrrh is, you take the myrrh-"

"Not mine," said Jesus proudly. "Look, Melchior!"

And as Melchior looked sorrowfully round, Melchior picked up the sandy myrrh and poured it in a great long stream into the golden urn.

"So it does!" said Balthasar. "It goes in!"

"So it does!" said Melchior. "And it comes out!"

Caspar, who was standing at the door with handfuls of frankincense in his hands, said nothing.

"Doesn't it?" said Jesus. "It goes in and out like anything."

"I'm very glad," said Balthasar," that I thought of giving you a Useful Pot to put things in."

"I'm very glad," said Melchior happily, "that I thought of giving you Something to put in a Useful Pot."

Caspar, having nothing to say, placed his frankincense at the foot of Jesus' manager and continued looking like someone who cannot think of anything to say.

Jesus didn't say anything at all. He was pouring the sand into the golden urn, and back into its vessel, and back again, as happy as could be...

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Three Questions in My Head

A few days ago, my son and I were sitting at the kitchen table, eating breakfast. He turned to me.

"Daddy, I have three questions in my head right now."

"All right," I said, bracing myself. Questions about monsters? Volcanos? The sun? God?

"How many hours are in a day; how many minutes are in a day; and how many seconds are in a day?"

Math. He had math questions in his head.

This is a boy who is made of me. I loved numbers when I was a kid. Loved clean multiplication, loved the spiraling Fibonacci numbers, loved adding huge numbers in my head, loved doing squares and cubes. 1, 4, 9, 16, 25, 36. 1, 8, 27, 64, 125, 216. 132 is 169. No mystery, no guesswork. It is what it is.

I still use math to go to sleep. I count squares, sometimes. Usually, my mind starts getting fuzzy around 172 (289), and I fall asleep before 202 (400).

I pulled out a sheet of paper and a pen and showed him how I calculated the numbers. The answers, before your own child asks you, are 24 hours, 1440 minutes, and 86,400 seconds in a day.