Friday, October 21, 2011

The Edge of Frustration

Let me tell you what frustration is not. It is not the tiny, little infant currently curled up in my lap.

Let me tell you what frustration is. It is the tiny, little infant currently curled up in my lap.

Contradictory? Not in the least. Peculiar? Certainly.

Babies are weird, or rather, how babies make me feel is weird. You can go from being a sane, rational human being with everything ordered, planned, systematized and scheduled to a wild lunatic with hair disheveled, house a mess, and a terrible sense that not only have your forgotten something important, but that it will probably come and eat you soon. This is where I am tonight, sitting in the dimly lit office, typing away at the too-bright screen, and wondering when the--whatever it is--will arrive, and whether I'm just an appetizer or the main course.

Fridays are supposed to be quiet days, but we have had no such luck today. Our best plans were waylaid, and there was nothing that anyone could have done, said, or foreseen to forestall the derailment. The whole day was an exercise in frustration for me. Frustration to speak well in front of my classes, frustration to lead a discussion section, frustration to have a sense of what side is up and what side is down. I need one of those labels you find on the cereal box, or a package from UPS--open this side. Then, of course, there is the frustration of attempting to lay your child in his crib. He seems tremendously asleep. His breathing is fixed. His eyes flutter ever so gently, but then, just as you place him on that beddish surface, his eyes burst open, his face wrinkles in distaste, and he scolds you for being myopic. Bespectacled though I am, he still feels it necessary to remind me of my failure to sense his inner wakefulness, his need for yet one more trip to the bottle, one more change of the diaper, and one more agitating attempt at lowering him into his crib.

Maybe it is the lack of sleep. I've been up since 3:00 am this morning. Maybe it is the cumulative effort of teaching (bad day today), writing (ha!), husbanding (not doing enough there), and parenting (feels like a lot on Tuesdays, but never enough on Wednesdays), but I feel disorganized. I have lists, but trouble keeping them. I have notes, but trouble following them. I have tasks, and planners, and calendars, and programs, and timers, and alarms, and sundry other aids, but still I feel like Alice, except that I think I drank my Eat Me and ate my Drink Me. I am not sure what to do. Sleep, probably. The demons of exhaustion are the ugliest suckers, I know. But something more must be done tomorrow. I need to get a sense of equilibrium. I need to find a better balance. I thought I had it, and then the week before my conference, everything started to get shaky.

Hey, Reader, whoever you are. What do you do to find balance? Any advice for this father of two, dissertating, teaching, administrating, husbanding madman? Inquiring minds want to know. 

   

Curlilicious

Sparrow: Your hair looks beautiful today. Did you do something different?
Fox: I washed it.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Toddler Theology

Today, Thorn and I prayed over a snack:

Me: Shall we pray?
Thorn: Ok!
Me: Say with me: God...
Thorn: God...
Me: Bless...
Thorn: Bless...
Me: Cookies!
Thorn: Cookies! No way! Silly God.

Thorn giggles, ascribing humor to God. "Silly God!" he repeats, wondering why I'm laughing so hard, but eager to get extra applause. Later, as I munch a few grainy, gluten-free squares with my boy, I consider Thorn's clarity of vision. Even though the first cultural constructions have already begun to box him, his mind is still amazingly unfettered. He sees nothing odd about pouring tea on his soy yogurt, calling his Latino soccer player doll "mommy," or praying for his uncle's dog's knee. It has been particularly interesting to me to see his theological development. What is God to a child?

Papa: Where is God?
Thorn: In the picture.
Papa: No...where is God?
Thorn: Oh no! Missin'.

Thorn has always seen Jesus in pictures, and the similarity in how he is portrayed allows Thorn to point out "God" whenever there's an image in his picture Bible, framed on the wall, or in Sunday school. (Amusingly enough, the similarity is less in skin color and more in the white robe and red sash.) For Thorn, God has a definite shape. God is also a person, because Thorn talks to God, and expects to be heard. How, then, can God be there when Thorn prays, but missing when he looks for a visible presence? Then again, we're talking about a kid who thinks he's invisible if he covers his eyes...

What are your own experiences with young children and God?

--

Addendum from the breakfast table (Thorn calls himself "Tah"):

Me: God loves Tah.
Thorn: God loves Tah so much.
Me: Where is God?
Thorn: God follow Tah home in car.
Me: From church?
Thorn: Uh huh. God see mommy from back chair.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Time Boon Go Boom

I've divided my life into fifteen-minute increments, stolen here and there around childcare. Some exercise here, some laundry-folding there, some book-reading while feeding, some character development while in the shower--as I've said in earlier entries, you make it work, or you go nuts.

The boon is that I can now fit into fifteen minutes more than twenty-something me could have done in two hours. Heck, two days. I remember reading that Octavia Butler told aspiring writers to read when they were young, because they'd never have that much time again. Amen.

Fifteen minutes is all I need to accomplish most things. So what happens when both the toddler and the baby manage to sleep for two hours in the afternoon? First, of course, you don't know it will be two hours, and you go sneaking around, desperately cramming in all of the fifteen-minute things you can. I did tendonitis exercises. I put my legs on ice while finishing a book. Then, not believing my luck, I wrote one, then two, 1,000-page letters. I revised a short story, pausing to look at Kit's crib every few minutes. Mania increasing, I did the dishes. I read a poem my brother had written. I reviewed vocabulary, wondering how I'd construct THANK YOU GOD FOR TIME in ancient Greek. I sketched out ideas for a couple of characters. I read a commentary on the Biblical book of Numbers, and began reading a book on Mohammed.

By the time I got to the readings, the mania was becoming bewilderment. When would they wake? What could I do next? What would happen if, heaven forbid, I ran out of tasks? I was walking in an unexpected garden, but instead of admiring the plantlife, I had begun to worry about bees. Or if I'd lost my keys. Or where I'd parked my car. So I stopped. I sat down. I freaked out at the stillness, and then looked outside.

Trees. They're always there outside the window, but I don't look out, unless I'm giving Thorn some lesson on the weather, the seasons, or the rampant deer. I believe everyone ought to know their neighborhood trees as a courtesy, because they'll still be there, most of them, when we've gone. I made a pact with myself to identify the trees closest to the window. When the boys awoke in tandem, screaming, I bundled them out the door and into the grass.

The trees were wild apples. I confess this knowledge pleased me more than any other accomplishment today.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Life with Boys: Mornings with Kit

Kit is my alarm clock. Come four each morning, his little cries and groans, his demands for food, stir me from whatever dreams were nestled in my 3 o'clock brain. I rise, warm a bottle, and then hold him, rocking him ever so gently. Sometimes he drifts back into a restless sleep. Sometimes he screams. I much prefer the former. When the bottle is warm, and the water it sits in cold, I take bottle, baby, burp cloth, and make my way through our darkened apartment to the office. I settle into my chair, the marvelous boppy on my lap, and feed Kit his bottle. Most often he drinks heartily and competently. Other times he spits and fights, chokes and coughs, and makes a terrible mess of it. Then, understandably, frustrated from tiredness and hunger, he cries and screams, and fusses madly until exhaustion or some combination of soothing techniques works to settle him. I would take pride in my ability to soothe, but I have the sense that it is more luck, more fortuna, than any skill of mine. When successful, and the milk has settled in his wee belly, he smiles up at me. His little eyes search, disappointed in the yellow glare of my desk lamp, and eager for a familiar face. His smiles make me smile, and then my smiles make him smile. It is infectious; a disease I'm willing to partake of daily. Then, pressed close to me, pacifier in its lofty place, Kit is rocked, and rocked, and rocked, and snuggled, and rocked some more. At last the blue-gray eyes that defy our attempts to declare them grow heavy in their lids, and then close. We rock a bit more for good measure, until the pacifier is dislodged, and the brow relaxes, and the breathing grows steady. Sometimes we rock even more than that, but that is due to my own breath growing steady. It is not easy to stay awake at 4:45 in the morning. When, at last, sleep is sound, I rise, carry Kit back through the darkened apartment, settle him in his criblet, and restore myself to my own, now cold bed. I don't mind that chill, though. I am warmed enough. I have spent the earliest, quietest part of the morning with my littlest lamb. These days do not last forever, I'm told. I cherish them while they do. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Library Purge

115.

According to one reckoning the total number of lovers had by the Greek god, Zeus.

It also happens to be the number of library books that I brought back to the University this afternoon. I returned all the books that were not pertinent to the classes that I currently teach or to my dissertation project. Books accumulate in my presence, increasing like amorous leporids. I had books borrowed on account of old papers and old exams. Books written by speakers who visited the University several years ago, and who gave memorable talks. Books taken at a whim, for the pleasure of my reading them. Books, books, books. They filled a whole case in our living room, had grown like literary mushrooms upon the office floor, and were threatening to overtake my closet. Over the weekend, Fox and I decided that it was time to return these wayward volumes to their proper shelves. Library books, it could be argued, belong in a library, and I had kept far too many on my private shelves for far too long. Returning the books was not easy to do, as there were several that I'd barely cracked open. For some reason I had great cognitive difficulty with the idea of the library. My shelf or the University's the books would be there. When at last, and with much coaching from Fox, I broke the barriers, it was a simple matter to pile the texts into bags, drive the bags to the University, and deposit them in the large book receptacle. I did make a list of all the books that I returned, so that should I need reading material in the future, I'll know where to turn.


Monday, September 26, 2011

Traveling With Thorn and Kit

It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. My imaginings were terribly dismal. I envisioned hours trapped in a moving automobile with a screaming infant and a temperamental toddler. The four-hour drive to New York would last an eternity. I would live and die innumerable times before the New Jersey Turnpike released me.

It was not like that. Not at all. Well, there was a little screaming. But not as much as I feared. We made our first 'long' trip safely and securely, and it only took five hours.

My mother's birthday was Saturday, and as a gift, Fox and I decided to take the boys to New York for the festivities. Mom, Dad, and my grandmother had yet to meet little Kit face-to-face, owing to crazy schedules and my father's continued poor health. This was a wonderful opportunity, and so we took it. Fox and I had a bit of trepidation. We had mastered traveling with Thorn, or, rather, he had mastered traveling on his own, and we were the beneficiaries of his skills. Kit, on the other hand, is still in the stage where life revolves around naps and nipples. He is also not fond of the car seat, preferring warm arms and plenty of snuggling. Still, we wanted to do this, and determined we packed the car on Saturday morning and began the trip.

Kit did better than I could have imagined, and Thorn was perfect. He did not fuss. He did not complain or whine. He occupied himself with cars and trucks, and when automobiles lost their allure, he chatted with Fox and me. His conversational skill has improved dramatically. When he speaks of the cars he sees, or reads the letters on road signs, I am awestruck that less than a year ago his only words of note were 'dog' and 'dada'. So many words are spoken now, from simple things like 'book' to strange words like 'Narwhal'. And he gains more each day.

We had an excellent time in New York. Thorn enjoyed the cake that was made especially for him, and my mother seemed to have a marvelous birthday. Kit was adorable, and barely fussed at all. He traveled from one pair of loving hands to another, and was content in all. We left yesterday, and while the journey home was rougher than the journey to New York, I still have very little to complain about.

These boys were meant to travel. Next trip? Cincinnati.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Running Word Bowels

Most writers write a hell of a lot of crap before (and during, and after) they write something good. Regarding that crap: when I'm blocked, I often turn to my favorite exercise book, Brian Kiteley's The 3am Epiphany, and choose a page at random. Sometimes I work hard to make the exercise a creditable work, and sometimes I just write to get the thoughts flowing again. It works. Like Liquid Drano, it works. The words flow again. But there's still one issue to be conquered--probably the most pernicious. Perfectionism. I told myself I'd never post stuff here unless it was perfect. Well screw that. Here's my writing at its most unedited, slushiest form. About something trite and motivational. The exercise asked me to write 500 words using only imperatives. This is all I could come up with. A rushed loosening of the word bowels in my head.

---

Write. Take up the pencil and pad, or pen and parchment, or keyboard and screen, or lipstick and napkin. Make marks. Make a scribble, make a scrawl, make a right-slanted ladder with your southpaw. Don’t bother with calligraphy—that’s stalling. Turn the marks into your letters. Turn the letters into your words. Be an alchemist. See the paragraphs? Or avoid the paragraphs, but don’t avoid the kōan of grammar, syntax, punctuation, spelling. Don’t expect tomatoes without a trellis. And your tomatoes—your perky little red characters, scurrying around on your page, or your screen, or your napkin—make them your people, but also everyone’s people. Don’t leave your people eating the same soup and the same bread. Don’t give them the same trees, or the same bends in their moonlit paths. Don’t expect their adjectives to line up like ducks, waddling into padded cells. Forgive their individual preferences, and catalogue them. Make them suffer, make them die. Give them redemption. Suffer the purgatory of authorship. Cover the page: a blank place is an abomination, the writer’s hell. Follow Dante to your muse, but don’t expect bliss—this isn’t your Beatrice. Expect criticism. Better yet, welcome criticism. Encourage criticism. Practice ways of agreeing with criticism. Become the yogi of the critical. Get zen with your critics. Practice seeing the points of view from real people, and your imaginary people will become real.
 
Drop what you’re doing, but not the baby. Bounce the baby, if you must. Use its screams to enhance your frustration. Rock the frustration into the page. Lead your sentences with milk-sops. Give your wailing writing block an unwashed pacifier. Suckle your sweetest lines from the breast, before editors come with their five colors, their rice gruel, their cheap soy. Become sleepless, but don’t let your passage cry it out. Cradle your words: you can never give them enough attention. But don’t let the little mites walk over you—they’ll learn to do that, once they start walking. Behold your characters speaking on their own, doing their own blathering things, ruining your careful plots like self-important kittens in your yarn stash. Learn to twine red and green and find the compliment in it. Knit your characters socks for their oranges, their coal. Just don’t forget to fill them: an unfinished chapter is an empty Christmas indeed.
 
Watch how the lines begin to stretch thin, your hands and mind faltering. Continue shoveling fresh words onto your mound of slush, for surely an editor will leave you a few sentences, or a few words, untouched. Do not blame the editor, even though the public’s disdain of your writing is more her fault than yours. Go ahead and write what you feel, the blank page long forgotten—you’ve jumped from the ledge, and only a coward would waste time looking up or down or doing anything but experiencing the flight. Land eventually, and land on your feet. Let your editor decide if what you wrote will merit a trip to the hospital.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Work Stations

Kit has...paused. He needs some serious sleep, owing to the fact that he hasn't slept since he woke up this morning at 6:50am. Oh sure, maybe he has closed his eyes for a few minutes. That's it. He demanded constant motion on the partof mommy. I hope he sleeps for three hours. And Thorn, for that matter. I need the break.

A long morning. An impossible morning, in fact, if it hadn't been for two things: Sparrow's adoring notes in the office and dining room, and work stations.

I've come to the conclusion that work stations are essential for any stay-at-home parent. Like we keep toys in every room so as to amuse the boys, I keep some small bit of work in every room so as to make good use of time and limited energy. There are books in the bathroom, by the lamp in the living room, at my desk, and behind my pillow on the bed. My Christmas sock knitting project is on the coffee table. An ancient Greek textbook is currently at my desk, but it is usually at the dining room table by the omnipresent cup of tea. There are portable Greek flashcards to carry around with me. There's a handwritten journal near my daylight lamp. My story idea book follows me, but usually ends up in the office. And of course, the newly-minted sketchbook for character and map ideas. If I had all of these things at my desk, I'd never get any of them done. As it is, I can squeeze in an artistic-intellectual life around my toddler and baby. And that is the first step toward sanity, my friends.

Now to go and meditate until I feel normal again. And then to work on a problematic third chapter. I've playful thoughts in my mind that haven't had a chance to find paper. With mommy brain, it's quite possible they'll fly away before I capture them.

...or Kit could wake up. Arrrgh.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Thorn's Story

Thorn told his first story this week. He has steadily increased his vocabulary since the middle of the summer, and his skills of articulation have developed rapidly in the last few weeks. On Monday, Labor Day, we spent one more day in the loving company of E and Pha (as Thorn calls them - E is my brother by other parents, and Pha his amazing wife). We decided to go to White Marsh, where Red Brick Station is still one of my favorite eateries. Dinner was good, despite the presence of plastic bag in my salad. The nachos were good, and the cranberry loaf was adequate, if a tad too sweet. Kit slept through our meal, and Thorn played happily in his high chair. After dinner we decided to walk over to the local Barnes & Noble, where tea and coffee could be had, and we could wait for E and Pha's bus back to New Jersey. The weather gods had other plans. While it had been raining a bit all day, as we left the restaurant, the water was coming down in sheets. We determined that we could duck beneath awnings for much of the walk. All was well, until we were just before the Barnes & Noble. There, in the street, Fox took a wrong step and fell to her knees in a flood of water. Little Kit was bound to her chest by our brown wrap. Blessedly both Fox and Kit were mostly unharmed -- Fox did sprain her ankle, though not terribly, and she has recovered quite a bit since Monday. The event must have been remarkable enough to Thorn, because he etched in his memory. This Wednesday, while I was teaching at UMBC, Thorn told Fox the story of her fall on Monday.

"Mommy go boom. Kit go boom. E help mommy up. Pha hold Ta." When asked what Daddy did, Thorn answered "Daddy working." Which, while not accurate, was cute.

And so our Thorn's bardic training has begun. He can begin his memoirs with this tale. His first story.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Engaging the Millennial Learner

This has been a week of meetings, workshops, and orientations. Also a week of earthquakes, thunderstorms, and (soon) hurricanes, but I am less inclined than most to make much of meteorological phenomena. UMBC begins on the 31st of this month, but faculty and staff are already dashing about. Administrative work waits for no one. Today's workshop, Engaging the Millennial Learner, was exceptional, both in the clarity of the presented data, the charm of the presentation, and the energy among the very engaged participants.

As you can guess from the title, engagement was a central point of today's work. We, as faculty, desire to see our students more engaged with the material, and, even more importantly, with the work of learning as a whole. The enterprise of education and the life of the mind are what we find ourselves concerned with as we draft syllabi and establish assignments.

The structure of today's workshop was twofold. First, the presenter defined the millennial, and I was surprised to find myself among them. Anyone born between 1982 (the year of my birth) and 2002 can be termed millennial. This is to differentiate the individual from Gen Xers, Baby Boomers, and earlier generations. Much of what we discussed began from the premise, backed up by research in both neuroscience and psychology, that individuals born in this period have had their minds shaped more by recent technological innovations than previous generations. What then to do to approach such tech-savvy students? Lots.

In an effort to get my posting up, and to have a reason to post daily, I will explore this workshop in great detail over the next few days. I hope you will join me.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Stretching the Mind

The worst part about pregnancy is the mental funk. Sure, women will complain about stretch marks and sleeplessness and a hundred other things far too TMI for this blog, but get beyond the superficial body complaints, and you'll find many women (and sympathetic husbands) lamenting the mind-fog inevitable with producing more human beings.

The sluggish pregnancy-brain killed my ability to work as an editor--at least temporarily. The good thing about this being our second child is that I know the fog goes away. A light--a beaming sun--atop the mountain, and I'm almost there! Right? Right.

Three weeks after my cesarean section, I've learned that the best way to get rid of the post-birth anxiety and mental foggery is to do something creative. Usually for me, "creativity" is synonymous with "words," but I've branched out of late. Witness the calligraphy: a two-dimensional medium I've dabbled in since middle school. And an apt phrase, don't you think? A veritable crusader's standard against pessimism and paranoia. Right in front of books about... um... sex and gender. Not exactly something the status quo will fix. Sigh. I guess I need another framed bit of calligraphy. "Real men get vasectomies"?

Another branch is into the realm of crafts. Despite a fairly good amateur eye at two-dimensional media, my crafts skills are competent, at best. All the more reason to practice! Since we're having Christmas at our home for the first time this year, and we want to be able to enjoy my tree for more than a day, we decided to make the tree as toddler-safe as possible: no breakable objects, no tinsel, and minimal wires. To that end, I've begun folding the first of about fifty origami animals for decoration. Seen here (with the adorable backdrop of Kit's footprints) are my first attempts: a goldfish and a seahorse. Thorn very much liked the seahorse. He pranced about while I was folding it, making up his own seahorse song. I may have to tape the seahorse and his pals to the tree so that I've some ornaments left, come Christmas!

The other Christmas project was envisioned, but never started, in 2006: knitted stockings. Back then, I had just started knitting and had no idea how long a project actually took. I designed stockings for every single family member on my side and Sparrow's. Ha! I'll be lucky if I get the basic four done by December. I've never knitted in the round, but my pattern says it's for beginners, so I may just make my deadline. Thorn and I will have green-and-gold stockings, and Sparrow and Kit will have gold-and-red ones. Thorn's stocking will be embroidered with a hawthorn tree; Kit's with a shield. I promise I'll post my efforts--once they begin to look like stockings, anyway.

My final series of mental exercises involves ancient Greek. I'm beginning...at the beginning...with the alphabet. Many Greek letters I already know, since the average English speaker references a few of them in everyday conversation (alpha and omega, for instance). Others are identifiable because they look the same as our modern alphabet, at least in capital form. My banes, right now, are Phi, Eta, and Xi: Φφ, Ηη, and Ξξ. Once I've got them down, it's on to the first vocabulary and grammar! So exciting. And not just because I'm married to the professor.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

St. Cuthbert's Gospel



The above is St. Cuthbert's Gospel. According to an article on The Economist's Prospero blog, it is the oldest, intact European book. This, ladies and gentlemen, is a bibliophiles dream, and it only costs $14.3 million dollars. But don't wet your quills just yet, the book has already been purchased for Britain. In fact, says Prospero, it has been on long term loan from the Jesuits to the British Library, and it seems that is where it will stay. At times when Borders is closing its doors, and news outlets are foaming over the death of the book, it is good to be reminded of the form's ancient and elegant history. I, for one, will take this as a hearty sign that books are still loved, and still have a place, if only in our history.


Friday, July 29, 2011

Getting to Know You

My eldest son, Thorn, is a whirlwind of personality. His imagination is vast. One moment he is driving his train-shaped bed on a journey to some personal dream space, the next he is lining up his cars in neat little rows, all the while chatting amiably with them, or with some invisible personage. This evening he dashed about, head cocked to one side, and engaged yet another invisible personage (this time far way) on an imaginary mobile call. Each day he surprises me with some clever new game or adorable delight. What is he thinking, I wonder, when he hunches over and swings his arms low? Is he a monkey? An old man? Me, after not enough sleep? I cannot always tell what he is doing, and certainly do not always know what he is saying. He is a cipher. I know him, and yet I don't. He is continuously reshaped. What he was yesterday, he will not be tomorrow. Like the proverbial river, I am faced with a new Thorn each time I see him. I love it. Watching as he grows, and stretches his mind to wrap it around some new concept, as words, both comprehensible and not, tumble from his toddler lips, is a tremendous joy. He makes me smile. He makes me laugh. I wonder what he'll be tomorrow, what journey we'll go on, and where our day will end. Oh, fatherhood, I do love you.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Contentment versus Complacency

Being content with the patterns of your life is a virtue. I strive for contentment. Finding a way to smooth out the rough bits of the world, folding them into some sort of order, and then smiling through it all - this is how I prefer to live my days. I cannot say that I always smile. I certainly do not. I also cannot say that my striving for contentment is always rewarded at the end of the day. But there is another difficulty, one that seems counterintuitive at first glance. You can fail to be content, or you can succeed. Success, however, can also be a failure. If, when achieving contentment, you fall into complacency. I am prone to complacency. I am guilty of believing matters to be settled, when they are not, of order to exist, when there is chaos, and to believe that if I am content, then so must others around me be. Complacency, as you may imagine, is difficult to end. You don't usually realize you are complacent until someone or something shakes you about a bit. Do not get me wrong. I think this shaking a very good thing. I am glad for it. It reminds me that striving for contentment in myself is only part of the work. Striving for contentment in others is also important. I was shaken tonight, and I am grateful. There are now new things to turn my mind to once again. So focused am I on certain, small things that I forget to look up, to cast my gaze around and view a world beyond my navel. Time to find a better balance between contentment and complacency. Where do you draw the line?  

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Purple Files

I own a small, purple notebook. According to the Ecosystem™ website, the color is grape. Fox purchased it for me, and for the past several weeks I have kept it as a daily and weekly guide. In the beginning I have my greatest ambitions, and in the back my weekly tasks. Correspondences dominate one side of the little task page, and actual work sits on the other. I think of it as my personal Purple File. For those who do not know the reference, and who obviously do not share my nostalgia for 90s sci-fi, Purple Files refer to documents kept by all the noble houses of Centauri Prime, the home of Ambassador Londo Mollari. Those mysterious folders held secrets. There is nothing secret in my wee to-do book. Instead, I try, sometimes desperately, to create a semblance of order. It is my hope that the more I semble* the closer to actual order I will get. I am always on the lookout for ways to increase efficiency. And this, my 100th post, is a sign that I'm getting there. If anyone out there has any special things that he/she does to increase efficiency and productivity, let me know. I've some things that I'm thinking about following, and I'll soon blog about them here. For now, it is time to read, and then sleep. Infants wait for no parent, and the morning comes too soon by hours if sleep is not prioritized early in the night.  

Monday, July 25, 2011

A Nation Without Borders

We crossed the threshold today of our local Borders. The great glass windows, which just a few weeks ago glimmered with glossy bestsellers, were plastered with huge, ugly signs: Everything must go. Inside: literate chaos. Bookcases were disheveled. Bargain bins full, bursting and ramshackle, greeted us as we passed through the doors. The smell was still there: books, paper, thousands upon thousands of pages, mingling with the very faint aroma of stale coffee. To the left of the entrance stood much-loved cork board. The spaces where advertisements of activities in the bookstore would have been placed were dark. The rest was faded from the sun. There were no advertisements. Nothing is happening in Borders ever again. Not ours. Not yours. If you haven't been keeping up with the news, the great bookseller, once the bane and terror of independent stores succumbed to the shifting needs and abilities of our technological age. Digital music and video crushed its DVD and CD segments. Amazon, the biggest fish in the pond, crushed its book sales. Indebted to publishers, authors, and others, Borders was forced to capitulate, and now, with no buyer in sight, it is forced to close its doors for good. 11,000 hard working book lovers are now out of their jobs. Book-selling, in general, is seen to be nearing a time of significant change (if not already in the midst of it with Kindle's and Nook's abounding). But today, Fox and I had little thought of the book industry. We were swamped with our memories. For the past eleven years of our relationship, Borders has been the sight of dozens upon dozens of our most loving moments. We would go, sometimes weekly, and browse, and sit, and read, and talk. The talking was the best. Surrounded by learning, literature, the vast outpouring of words, we would talk and teach one another how to be better lovers, stronger friends, and eventually closer spouses. I will miss terribly those moments. As we wandered Borders today, with our sons in tow, we could not help but feel torn. We were mourners at the funeral of very old and very dear friend. At the same time, as we picked through the tattered remains of the bookstore's collection, we felt like vultures, come to feast upon the carrion. Complaining about the meager sales seemed out of place, and so we didn't. We shopped. One last time we filled a basket with books from Borders: histories, classics, myths, and two modern novels. Thorn, too, received a bonanza of books, which he eagerly flipped through this evening in our living room. He will never remember a Borders. Little Kit, who entered the store with us today, spent his only half-an-hour between the venerable walls. My littlest son may not even have much of any bookstore experience, unless Barnes & Noble can survive the turnings of our times. We came home, bags laden, wallet lighter, and wistful for past experiences and pleasures. We will miss you, old friend. Our Borders. In our memories you will live on as a place where we laughed, sipped coffee, and read to one another. Thank you.

RIP Borders - b. 1971, d. 2011

For further information on the Borders situation: PBS news on Borders Liquidation

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Closing Borders

We had our first date at a Borders, Fox and I. The bright lights, the galleries of books, the faint and charming aroma of new pages yearning for someone to read them called us back often over the last eleven years. So many of our books came to us through a Borders, and so many more were hoped to follow. Now comes the news that the book-selling giant has fallen, brought low by the inability to shift rapidly with new markets. The great competitor, Barnes & Noble, remains, and may even be buoyed by the collapse of its rival, but I cannot help but fear that the age of large-scale bookselling locations is near its end. Some people say that niche shops will remain, and that some may even return. This is glorious, but I will miss the opportunity to wander from fiction to history to science to gardening to cooking and back. The hours that I have spent in Borders' stores were happy ones.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Odysseus and Infinite Variety

I am reading Zachary Mason's The Lost Books of the Odyssey. Introduced as lost fragments of the epic tradition, Mason's novel is a collection of vignettes. Every few pages we are treated to a new episode, and to a new Odysseus. For while the character is always recognizable, Mason is not content to leave him unaltered. But, like the myths of the Greeks themselves, the Odysseus of The Lost Books is acceptable in all his varieties. The contradictory decisions, the twisting of tales, and the subversion of established and expected tradition are all tools of the postmodern novelist. What I find striking is that they were also tools of the ancient poets. The ancient Greeks, in many respects, would have appreciated our postmodern philosophies. Ideas that shift the locus of authority from author to text to something beyond the text would sit well with the poets at least, even if tut-tutted by the philosophers. Mason's novel is a delight, and I am pleased that I assigned it to my classes this summer. I think much can still be made from myth, and more importantly from the idea that myth is contradictory truth, told differently by each teller and yet recognizable by all.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Fatherhood 2.0

I never thought I'd ever be a dad. Children were a mystery to me. I kept them at arms length, even those cousins who might have been dear. I had no sense of their language. They were utterly foreign, and utterly incomprehensible because of their alienness. When Fox and I decided to have a child after four years of marriage, I was terrified. How could I be a dad? I'd never changed a diaper, never held a bottle, and had not the merest notion on how to communicate with a child. Then Thorn was born in the spring of 2009 and I was a dad. No schoolroom, no textbook, no certificate. Just me, a baby, and things that had to be done. I learned to change a diaper. And then I learned to change one quickly. I learned to hold a bottle, to burp an infant, and to settle one when he cries. I learned that I loved children, and that I could communicate with them, could speak to them, and could understand what they wanted to say to me. My son gave me that. He gave me fatherhood, and I am better because of it. Now, I am home. Thorn sleeps. I have tucked him in...twice. I have kissed his lips, his nose, his eyes, and his forehead just below the curls. Kit sleeps, too. My littlest son. My baby boy. He sleeps on my lap as I type this. I am a father for the second time, and I have come to understand at last how much fatherhood has given me. I do not think it has made me wiser, though I hope it will. It has given me more patience. It has given me more stability. Fatherhood has given me eyes to childhood, and to a whole language that I thought would always be barred to my understanding. Thorn's curiosity in the smallest details. Kit's little face when he frowns at a too-bright light. These things bring enlightenment. These things bring contentment. I don't know how my work will go, or what tomorrow will bring, but I do not that tonight I am a father, and that feels very, very good to me.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Feeding Kitling

Fox's milk has begun to come in, and little Kit has taken to it quickly. After a long nap (right now they are all long naps) he wakes and his face is a round o, searching for food. Sometimes he latches on to his sleeves or the edge of his shirt. He rarely cries. A part of me knows that this is still very early, and that we ought to be cautious making judgements about future behavior. Another part of me is desperately hopeful. Maybe these days are signs of the future? Could be. Worth hoping for at least.

I generally feed Kit, although sometimes Fox does, if she is not pumping at the time. I fed Thorn most of the time as he grew, and it is one of the best features of fatherhood. Kit is a gourmet, a term used by the lactation experts to describe an infant who feeds for a brief period, pauses to gather in the sights and sounds, and then, when he or she feels like it, resumes feeding. When mothers nurse this type of behavior can be irritating. Since Fox pumps (exclusively - see earlier posts from Thorn's day) it is only a matter of holding the bottle and waiting for that o to appear. Delightful now. Mildly annoying at 2:00 am, but then everything is mildly annoying at 2:00.

We have one night left in the hospital. The vicodin seems to be helping Fox. We can only hope that it continues to do so through the night.

Always the Unexpected

We will not go home today. Although Fox had a decent night off the epidural, she did not have a good morning. Ibuprofen and acetaminophen are not cutting it in the pain management department. The doctor came in this morning, and he ordered a stronger medicine: House's infamous vicodin. We will see if that alleviates some of Fox's discomfort. We can only hope so. Tomorrow is the last official day that someone can stay in the hospital for a normal childbirth, and Fox very much wants to get out of this hospital. For her it has been 17 days now.
Little Kit is well. He eats beautifully, sleeps well, and has been transitioning very well to this second and longest phase of human life. We look forward very much to taking him home tomorrow, and for introducing his brother to him as soon as possible. I miss my Thorn a lot, and I long for the chance for my family to be all together under one roof.
I have noted that we say stupid things when someone is in pain.
"Everything will be okay."
True, but knowing that does not always help in the moment of discomfort.
"Most people feel better by now."
Okay, but only one person is in pain right now.
And those were the highlights from this morning. When someone is in obvious pain, if our words cannot offer immediate succor, perhaps we should be silent, or let our conversation drift away from pain.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Last Night Under St. Joe's Gaze

Saturday slips away. This may be our last night in the hospital. We are blessed with the most fantastic of nurses, and Kit will spend the next few hours in the nursery. Fox and I will try to get a few hours rest. We both need it. Especially Fox. Her wounds are healing, but even the simplest of movements brings pain. Still I think she is doing better than when Thorn was born. We were first-time parents then. The second time is a bit easier. Example: diaper changing - I know how to do it this time. Bit of a learning curve that was.

It has been a long stretch, but there is probably no better place than St. Joe's to be if you have to be in a hospital for the better part of a month. Fox has barely experienced July, seeing it only through the shifting sun of her windows. We will bring her home, and hope that the weather holds. We also hope that our infestation of wasps gets destroyed this week, so that we have the opportunity to use our balcony. We have had a hive of the yellow-backed beasts tucked into the upper corner of our sliding door since late April. Several calls to the Leasing Office did nothing, and the last visit by the exterminator did even less. This time they will arrive on the 19th, and I hope they blast the stinging pests to an early rendezvous with Hades. So that Fox, Thorn, and Kit can enjoy our balcony for what remains of the summer. I am not one for balconies, but the family will delight in it.

The family. We are a family now. I mean, we were before, but now there is a sentiment of perfection. The family is complete. All its members have been assembled. Fox and I do not intend to have more children, at least not biologically. If the baby bug does bite again, adoption would be our preferred route. So far, however, we are content in our house of four. I have always liked even numbers.

Drove up to campus this evening. Needed to gather books, which tomorrow I will organize for this week's work. Always lovely in the summer, Hopkins, and I wish I had more time just to sit among the trees on the quad. Someday I will. Perhaps when I am more gray than now, more bald, and more advanced in years. Right now, it is time to dash and time to catch what sleep I can. Tomorrow night is for home, I hope. What sweeter dream than that? None, I say, none at all.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Kitling

He is here. Two weeks of waiting, worrying, and wondering all fulfilled in a little, healthy, baby boy. Kit was born this morning at 10:07 am. He was delivered by Cesarean section by Doctor D., and by all accounts it was a successful and uncomplicated operation. Kit was 6 lbs and 12 oz at birth. Now, he sleeps comfortably in the maternity wing's nursery. He is bundled tightly in a blanket beribboned with pink and blue stripes. To my eyes, he looks just like his mother. Same nose. Same lips. Same troubled frown.

Fox sleeps. She has needed to for hours, but excitement kept her awake. Now while Kit is cared for, she can rest, and begin the arduous task of recuperation. Our nurses continue to be excellent, and our physicians the very best that one could hope to have. The family has received word of Kit's birth, and the glory of Facebook has spread it around. My paternal tasks for the first day are done.

I now await the pediatrician's arrival. He is going to give Kit a physical, and then I can ask him about my other baby: Thorn. Poor Thorn - yesterday he came down with something nasty, and the folks at the clinic prescribed an antibiotic. Alas, the medicine was worse than the illness, and Thorn's grandmother called me today, letting me know that he was having quite a bit of abdominal stress. We stopped the meds, but we need the pediatrician's guidance on what to do now. We shall see what he has to say. Good things, I hope.

For now, while Fox sleeps, this Sparrow will watch his Kit through the nursery window. He sleeps sweetly, and I love him already.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Final Night of Waiting

<p>&lt;p&gt;Tomorrow is the big day. Tomorrow my son is born. Fox and I are nervous. Especially Fox. Needles, pain, and recovery await her tomorrow and for the next several weeks. Anyone would be afraid. All we can do is hope that everything goes as smoothly tomorrow as it can. If that happens, recovery should go relatively smoothly, too.&lt;/p&gt;<br>
&lt;p&gt;Wee Thorn is with his grandparents tonight. He and I had a difficult day. He awoke this morning lethargic, sweating profusely, and as pale as a porcelain doll. With Jase-Ra's help I took him to the Patient First center down the road. Tonsillitis was the diagnosis. Thorn is much better now, and equipped with antibiotics I think he will do just fine. It was scary, however, to see him there upon the floor, looking up at me with heavy-lidded, glassy eyes. I hope that never happens again.

Time for bed, good world. Tomorrow is my son's birthday.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Almost There

I write this from home. I have had to return to the apartment. Thorn needed looking after, and since Fox's health was good, I was persuaded to stay with him. Thorn has a cold, and so we didn't get to visit his mother today. We did talk to Fox on the phone, which was good for the boy, less good for me. I do not like leaving her in the hospital, even though I know she has the best of care. I miss her terribly, and I worry. Her physicians have scheduled little Kit's birthday for the fourteenth of July. That means he and Fox may come home on Sunday. I do hope so. And I hope that their health holds. I will bring Thorn to his grandparents house tomorrow, and then I will return to the hospital. The morning of the fourteenth brings many procedures, needles, and other stresses for my lady, and I want to be there when she needs me.

I taught the first section of my (second) Classical Mythology course this afternoon. The first session ended last week. It is strange to teach a course back to back without a pause. But I'm glad to be done with the night class. I was not at my best between the hours of 6:00-9:00 pm. I do much better earlier in the day. Since this new section is at 1:00 pm, I'm feeling just fine and full of energy as class starts. I also like getting home in time for dinner. Tonight Thorn and I had chicken and cucumbers. Tomorrow we'll make our way through the broccoli and asparagus that I purchased on Monday. Green food! The tastiest, you know.

Our waiting is almost over. We look forward to the end with great love. Very, very soon we'll have a new brother for Thorn, and a new son, and a newly formed family.

Life is still good. Waiting still stinks.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Friday Night Quiet

Fox has gone to bed. I should be there myself, but I cannot sleep. Hours tick by on the big clock in Fox's room, the sun shifts just outside her window, and the nurses enter three times a shift. It is peaceful. It is dull. We try to fill our day with work and small amusements, but we are both afraid. Not over the health of our baby, who has been so strong this sluggish week, and not over Fox's health, which continues to be rosy. We fear the unknown. We fear more waiting. Will there be labor, or, as the doctor said this morning, will Fox have a Cesarean Section? If the latter, we know the date: Bastille Day - the 14th of July. But, will Fox's recovery be as difficult as it was last time? The doctors suggest it will not be, and part of me wants to trust them, but part cannot.

Routine is an essential component of our lives. Fox and I live well-ordered existences, and we are weaker than we ought to be when faced with imminent and difficult change. This is especially true when that change is preceded by unexpected disruption. I hope we can find the energy to reorder our days when they are no longer defined by a hospital's schedule.

I am also afraid, because I will need to leave Fox in the hospital on Sunday night. Fatherhood calls, and Thorn needs me. It was a difficult decision, but we did not have any choice. We will make the best of it. Fox's computer works better in the hospital than mine. We will attempt a Skype connection that will remain open while I am at home and she is in here.

Do not worry, I tell myself. Do not add trouble to today from tomorrow. Today is trouble enough. And, more, there are worse troubles than ours. All are healthy. All have food and shelter. Our problems, blessedly, are first world problems.

Now, to read about another world, another time, and the grueling lives that lived in it. Pearl S. Buck's The Good Earth will see me to my sleep. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Still Waiting

Little Kit did not grace us with his presence on the Fourth of July. Independence Day went without a bang, except in Baltimore where a man was stabbed and a four-year old shot. So nice to be far from the country's sixth most violent city. Well, not so far, but within these hospital walls we feel very far indeed from the maddening crowd. As I reentered the building after teaching my evening class, I was struck by the utter silence of the place. Not a soul as I wandered, burdened by bags and tea, from hallway to hallway, and then up the elevator. The waiting room just outside the maternity wing was, as always, bright and loud. Two families sat, watching the television and waiting for news. I wait, too, but I do not expect any change tonight. I have been wrong before, but I feel that we are here for some time more. Best make what we can of it. Tomorrow morning I crack open my to-do book and figure out where I am on several projects. Tonight I'm reading Zach Mason's The Lost Books of the Odyssey. My class is going through it, and we'll have a discussion about it on Thursday. So far, I find it excellent. It plays delightful postmodern games with Homer's epic.  

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Odious Waiting

I will not say that our stay in the hospital has been anything but peaceful. Quiescence is the rule. The nurses come and go in an expected rhythm. The machine hum of monitors and IV drips provide ambient white noise. We read. Talk. Write. And wait. Oh, the waiting! Is there anything as odious as waiting and not knowing when the waiting will end? Does Godot arrive in this play of ours? Kit's heart rate continues to show strong whenever they wrap the monitors around Fox. He reveals no hint of his infantile intentions. The doctors say it could still be anytime. Maybe tomorrow? Is our Kit especially patriotic? If so our lads have a red, white, and blue sense to them - with Thorn born around Memorial Day, and Kit potentially born tomorrow on the 4th of July. No one can say. Not for the first time have I wished prophetic powers. Alas, I am too squeamish for entrails, and I haven't the patience for birds. Knucklebones? But we all know that the bones will tell us nothing.

We are comfortable. We have food, books, and a pleasant nighttime nurse who doubles as a yoga instructor. Fox has learned some 'stuck in a bed' yoga moves, and they seem to help her relax. My mother, brother (by one reckoning), and his wife watch Thorn for us. I know he is in the best of care. I hope we can share a baby brother with him soon.

I will share more soon.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

48 Hours

We humans perceive time in such funny ways. Days always move at the same rhythmic pace. An hour on Earth is an hour. Never a second more. Never a second less. And yet, there are times when we distinctly feel the movement of time as being slower or faster. This is one of those times for me. As I wait now in the hospital with Fox, and as I watch the hours drift, it strikes me that this is longest span of days I've ever experienced. We are waiting for something, anything to happen, and all that does is hospital routine. Nurses enter. Nurses leave. Equipment gets hooked up, and then detached. The day pulses by, but it never speeds up. If time is a river, then we are stuck in a muddy outflow. Sluggish, brackish water swirling aimlessly, hoping for direction.

The doctors are not fortune tellers or oracles. Apollo might sometimes look over them, but with his gifts he is sparing. Prophecy only goes to the unlucky darlings who catch the dashing god's roving attention. Our doctors are all too lucky, but that doesn't mean they have all the answers. How long we will be in here, or when we can expect the baby are unanswerable. We can only wait, and that is what makes time seem to crawl. Time dilation at its worst.

Time for bed.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Fox and Institutionalized Food

Hospitals are not restaurants. The food that they serve is meant to sustain life. It need not please the palate. But we did wonder - with the state of current knowledge on nutrition, why is so much of what Fox received today pure sugar? I guess sugar is easy and relatively safe, but Fox wanted to know why, after so much time and energy spent eating well for the baby, when she gets to the hospital all she gets is sugar? It seems strange. Any thoughts? I need something to occupy my mind right now and this seems as good a thing as any.

Kit's Sneak Attack

We find ourselves on a beautiful July 1 in the labor and delivery section of our local hospital. Last night Fox's water broke, signaling that Kit was ready for the world. A little ready anyway. Fox is not in labor, and the doctors hope to hold Kit in the womb for a few more days. No matter what happens, our baby will have to spend time in the NICU. We are scared, but our physicians are amazing, the nursing staff top notch, and the hospital the nicest we've ever seen. Maybe our roguish Kit will be born on the 4th of July? Talk about fireworks.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Seeing Kit

When a friend's mother told us that you can begin to tell how different your children will be while they are still in the womb, I did not really believe her. How much personality could there be in a being confined to a uterus, lost in darkness, listening to otherworldly sounds from outside? Well, I find myself changing my mind after our most recent ultrasound of Kit. Perhaps it is coincidence? Maybe random chance. I cannot discount that, but the ultrasound experiences that I have had with my two sons are strikingly different. Thorn was bold, always visible on the screen, hamming it up (or so it seemed) for his parental audience. Kit is reticent, hiding his face. When we saw Thorn on the monitor, we were able to detect the slightest of clefts in his little chin. Not so with Kit. We have never seen his face. He hides it away whenever we come looking. I cannot say yet what this will mean once he arrives in our bright world, but I do begin to wonder about the origins of personality. What do we bring with us as we grow from two cells?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Twenty Week Balloon

Twenty weeks pregnant. My baby is the about the length of a banana, but I have been feeling more like a balloon. I weigh less than I did with Thorn at this stage, but my tummy is larger. The dreaded swelling has already begun. I waddle a bit more, I sleep a bit more, I heartburn a lot more, and bending over is like... well, bending over a balloon. So I put on a red shirt today. Because if I must be a balloon, I will be an AWESOME RED balloon.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Preemptive Plea

First-time mothers can be silly in a lot of ways. One of the worst ways, in my case, was to avoid taking much of the help people kindly offered me. So I'm going to preemptively beg, in this case:

Since Sparrow won't have nearly the same amount of time off after the Raspbaby is born, I'll be stuck alone with a new baby and a toddler, trying to exclusively pump while recovering from a c-section. This is a recipe for depression.

I know many of you have suggested you would like to come to see us. I ask two things:

First, that you avoid coming to the hospital. With Thorn, our room was over-filled most of the day, and while I loved everyone there, at night I paid for it in exhaustion and panic attacks. If you must come, I'd love to see you, but limit your time, and then take Sparrow out for dinner so I can sleep. :P

Second, after you've given us a few weeks to recover, by all means, come visit. Come in droves. Come and STAY. I'll need the help and the company! Especially in September.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Screwing the Little (Wo)Man

I got this email the other day from a supervising manager. Basically, it suggested Logos move me to a freelance capacity rather than my contract capacity. Reasoning wasn't given, and the only thing which would change, the manager said, would be my method of reporting completed projects. The manager went on to say that I was not in trouble and that I couldn't call until two days later.

In my work as a manager and sub-manager, and this was one of the worst combinations of polite wording I've seen. Never mention anyone is EVER is trouble, even if they are. This isn't preschool. Unless we're talking theft from the company or sexual harassment, the only "trouble" one can be in is in terms of less productivity or worker interaction. Those aren't trouble issues: those are communication issues. You can't solve them with email.

Second, don't treat your worker like an idiot. If you're not mentioning the reason for the change in contract, it's clear you don't want a record because something uncomfortable is involved. Moreover, anyone who knows anything about freelancing knows that it carries a 25% tax rate. I'd consider that more of an inconvenience than how the work is reported. It's why I ask for a higher rate of pay when I freelance.

I called the manager today. I was told 1) that work on the project was winding down, and she wasn't sure there was enough work for me to do my forty hours anymore; 2) that she had noticed I had been doing less work of late; 3) that my freelancing was more convenient for them.

The last statement was undoubtedly true: Logos employs innumerable writers and editors as "freelancers," which is another way of saying, "poorly-paid university students with no benefits." I have virtually no loyalty to this company, being a project-only editor myself, so mentioning that it benefits the company only increased my perception that it was screwing me for their bottom line. The first statement was either a lie or sign of a misinformed manager. I know that the editor directly above me has had no shortage of work to give me. The second statement I cleared by telling her I was sick last week, as I emailed her, and that I've never had less than a forty-hour week since I was hired, even doing unpaid overtime to meet deadlines. I also told her that I would prefer to quit than have the inconvenience of a 25% tax rate for the mere three weeks left in my contract.

She got quiet. She said she'd talk to my superior editor. And (no surprise), she wrote back saying that my contract would remain the same for as long as there was work of the current level on the project.

I've a distinct feeling they tried to pull one over on me.

Turn off the Tube

T.V. Turnoff Weeks this year are April 25-May 1 and September 25-October 1. In anticipation, I offered a cake to anyone who would turn off the television for a month and didn't end up happier as a result. No takers thus far.

I used to watch television avidly. I share, with others of my generation, various cartoon references to Smurfs, Thundercats, etc. I watched Star Trek: Next Gen with my family as it aired, as well as DS9 and some episodes of Voyager. I've seen a whole corpus of old films through Turner Classic Movies. And for a time in my late teens, I was obsessed with the Weather Channel.

When I moved out of my parents' home, I took a television with me. I didn't hook it up. Suddenly a whole world of other things became available. As I went through therapy for panic disorder, depression, and agoraphobia, I began to articulate my life goals. I realized how incompatible they were with television-watching.

When we got married, I convinced Sparrow to avoid hooking up the television, keeping it for games and DVDs. When our first child was born, we were faced with tiny bit of precious time in which to be alone together. It wasn't going to be spent in front of the tube! This past year, I can count the movies we've watched at home on one hand, mostly done in a group with the D&D guys. Our living room is filled with books, and the television is hidden in the office.

Our son never sees television at home. Grandparents have their own rules, however, and my respect for them is such that I wouldn't snap off the set as soon as walk in the room. I'd like to, especially with eventual dementia concerns, but it's a different generation, and they are adults who make their own choices. I hope, perhaps, that viewing this blog may help them understand why I am so adamantly against television.

In a policy statement by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), children under the age of two should NOT watch television. I have repeated this to other parents, to grandparents, at the doctor's office, and at my church nursery. Few people take it seriously. After all, most people watch television, and few of us are really harmed, right? One woman even stated, as she flipped on a screen for the "benefit" of two-year-olds, that I shouldn't believe everything I see reported television.

Heads up, lady: I don't watch television. And here's a list of reasons why:

Regarding Adults

1. Multiple studies have linked television-watching with depression, either in developing it or lengthening it in those already depressed. Unhappy people watch an average of 20% more television. If you or an immediate family member has a history of depression or depressive tendencies, it's best for everyone if the tube is gone.

2. Watching something interesting on a screen lowers a person's blink rate. A lower blink rate late at night can lead to episodes of insomnia.

3. You burn more calories doing anything other than television-watching except sleeping. A study limiting the amount of time a group of adults watched television found they were passively burning more calories than the unrestricted group. And I need not cite the endless studies linking television-watching with obesity, not only from lack of exercise, but from food product marketing.

4. Like your news programs on television? Research has shown that periodical readers are significantly more informed than television viewers. (With stations like FOX and MSNBC, are you surprised?) Moreover, less television-viewing is associated with more community involvement. Translation: You want your neighbor to turn off the tube, too!

5. Marital intimacy can be maintained better through virtually any other medium. Discovering and participating in mutually enjoyable events, from exercising to writing together to cooperating in a game, have the benefit of interaction. Even writing a letter to an absent spouse is better for intimacy than sitting side by side watching the tube. Some couples say they speak when they watch television. Afterward, yes, but during? All I've been witness to are shallow one-liners. That isn't intimacy. You could be commenting to a wall. It's also multi-tasking. No one can argue that texting while driving is as alert as driving alone, nor that talking to one person face-to-face and another on a cell is going to be as in-depth.

6. On the subject of marital intimacy, adult television is frequently full of sexist stereotypes reinforcing discursive power about what makes a "man" or a "woman." The more you watch, the more you are likely to agree.

7. More television means less reading. While society emphasizes teaching children to read, it is just as crucial to keep mental alertness into adulthood. Television watching is associated with various forms of dementia in the elderly.

8. Not watching television frees you from a bulk portion of materialist societal pressure. Now I know what you'll say: what about billboards, shirt logos, magazine ads, etc.? My answer: turn off the tube. A month later, have a fashion talk with a friend. You'll see what I mean.

Regarding Children

1. Research has shown that even in the presence of television as "background noise" for children ages 1-3, parent-child interactions were less frequent and child attention spans were shorter. This would translate, as reported in the American Behavioral Scientist in children ages 1-6, to less verbal skills, reading skills, and greater propensity to watch television than read.

2. Television shows and commercials lead to distorted thinking and behavior in children and adolescents. Research reported by the AAP cites television as having negative effects on sexuality, self-image, nutrition, substance abuse, and aggression, among other things. Children as young as two have shown brand preference based on commercial viewing, or will avoid objects others portray as negative on-screen. There is a correlation between television-watching, substance abuse, and early sexuality in adolescence. Metabolic rates for children watching television are lower than for children at rest.

3. Watching television teaches children to be passive absorbers of information, not analytical thinkers. There is no interaction: a child cannot ask a question of a program or challenge what he or she is seeing. Young children have virtually no life experience to tell them that what they're seeing isn't how things are in the real world. This requires parental interaction, and in households were television is on most, parental involvement is least. Many parents admit to putting children in front of the television so they can have personal time.

4. Television-watching can lead to poor sleep quality in children, not only from the low blink rate issue, but from nightmares. Over a quarter of parents report their children upset or losing sleep over an upsetting event on television.

5. Children's shows have more violence than any other form of programming. Much of this violence is made "cute," with few consequences shown for a violent choice over a non-violent one. According to the AAP, children's shows average twenty acts of violence in an hour. I know many people who despise equating television violence with real violence. Frankly, there are now too many studies in desensitization to avoid the connection. The AAP goes so far as to state that, " as much as 10% to 20% of real-life violence may be attributable to media violence."

6. Watching television marketed for young children can actually lead to developmental delays. In an article published in the Journal of Pediatrics in 2007, babies aged 8-16 months who watched Baby Einstein videos were harmed, not benefitted, by the supposedly educational tool. For each hour spent watching the videos, there were 6-8 fewer words in the children's vocabularies.

7. In one study regarding language development, children learned better from a real adult than from a video of the same adult demonstrating the same thing.

8. Television is an excellent way for children to pick up sexist attitudes about gender relations.

9. Areas of the brain which activate through creative, imaginative thought are under-used in children who watch too much television. (Too much being defined as ANY viewing under the age of two, and over two hours in older children.)

10. More television means less reading, for you and your family. The television-viewing habits of parents and siblings most greatly influence a child's eventual viewing habits. If you want your children to read more and watch less, model the behavior. Reading for yourself where your child can see you for only fifteen minutes a day can have positive repercussions on that child's view on the importance of reading.

There you have it, or at least as much "it" as I can write in an hour. There will need to be more studies done regarding passive media in other formats, which is increasingly popular in the younger generations. Many friends of mine do not watch television on a T.V. set, but on the computer or phone. Passive watching on the Internet is increasing.

Reading about television usage over the last decade has convinced me that turning off the tube is a good first step to intellectual, emotional, and societal health. But why take my word for it? Do some research for yourself.

Sparrow's ADDENDUM: This from TEDxRainier on how babies learn language.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Platforms for Participation

Fox posted a video to Facebook wherein Michael Wesch, a professor of cultural anthropology at Kansas State University, discusses the classroom and its faults. His lecture is thick, full and heady with the possibilities and the pitfalls of so-called 'new media'. I was struck in particular by his comments on the structure of our classrooms, which reflect limited diversity across universities. The university classroom is structured with a space or a stage for a lecturer to speak from and a series of desks or rows of chairs where listeners assemble. The chairs all face a chalkboard, whiteboard, or, in some of the newer classrooms, a screen for the display of digital presentations. It had never struck me before, but the room can be read as a binary (thanks Claude): authority (lecturer) and governed (listeners). Most classrooms do not facilitate discussion, and if they do, it follows the binary system. A single listener can direct a question to the lecturer, but not, generally, to a fellow listener -- unless an openness has been permitted to the system, and the binary has been relaxed. The thing is that while this model has served as the bulwark of university education for centuries it fails to provide us (the faculty) with the type of students we want to see our schools produce. We want free thinkers. We want collaborative thinkers. We want critical thinkers. This means that authority must be questioned, and not simply for the sake of agitation, but for the sake of developing cognition. When we read, we must question. We must, to go postmodern for a minute, deconstruct. To do otherwise is not to read critically, it is not to question, it is not imagine how the authority could be wrong. We want our students to imagine that, and more, speaking now as an historian, we want our students to pull together disparate threads and to make connections. We want them to see how economic pressures coupled with political motivations combined with material availability can lead to conditions that precipitate social change -- as an example. The presentation of information without the inclusion of the tools needed to process and criticize that information is dated and useless. I am reminded of a recent, fictional history teacher -- Cuthbert Binns of Hogwarts from the Harry Potter series. The only ghost who teaches at the university, his lectures are dry (almost) ramblings of facts and dates -- nuggets of digestible material that students must successfully regurgitate when asked. This is not, however, history, though it is what our discipline has become for many. History is investigation. History is critical thinking. History is innovative, dynamic, and absolutely essential if we are ever to answer the question that Michael Wesch poses to all of his students: Why are you here? We cannot afford to be ghosts. We must interact with our students and have them interact with one another. We must restore dynamism to the classroom. If we don't, we shall be irrelevant, just like Binns, relegated to the back corner of the student's busy mind.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A Thorny Week

Thorn is in bed, though not asleep. Some nights, if he is particularly cheery, he'll sing the "dadada" song, a vaguely verbalized homage to the old man, before he goes to sleep. This may be coupled with coos and vrooms as cars get in on the action. Not that I give him cars to sleep with, but one always ends up in the bed. Maybe toys do move when you're not looking...

It has been a momentous week for little Thorn. He has grown gastronomically and verbally.

As you may know, our child is a picky eater which, when compounded with his many allergies, makes Sparrow and I nervous wrecks at mealtime. Thorn will eat any green vegetable and all sorts of veggie-derived milk products, but it has been an uphill struggle to get him to eat fruit and meat. This week, as always, we tried a few new contenders. Not only did we discover he will eat kale like candy, but that he'll eat chicken if it is made succulent through Sparrow's genius. Coupled with jerky, Thorn is actually getting a non-soy protein for once! Another problem was solved in the fruit arena: red pears are apparently wonderful. Poor kid thought an apple I was cutting up today was a red pear. I should say poor me, because I got to clean up the results!

Even more exciting for us was Thorn's sudden verbalization of two new words this week. His first two-syllable word, "nummy," applies to all non-liquid food, and he now uses it a thousand times a day. A differentiation much appreciated! Even better was his sudden identification of me as "mama" this morning. I had begun to wonder how much longer I would be "dad" or a noncommittal grunt. I'd almost given up, but Sparrow was diligent, and it was he who got the precious "mama" out of Thorn's mouth. Preen, Sparrow, preen.

We took Thorn out today to our 13 week prenatal appointment. He was very charming, offering all and sundry items from his bag of gluten-free Cheerio alternatives. He sat between my legs and watched Dr. B curiously as she rubbed down my abdomen with various instruments to find the Raspbaby's heartbeat. These were ultimately to no avail. We were sent downstairs for a sonogram. While an active, headstanding Raspbaby was a great relief for Sparrow and I, such an image did not impress Thorn in the slightest. The bright red biohazard box did, though.

Afterward, even though we were getting into his naptime, we went to Red Robin, which Thorn loved. He watched everyone come and go, rocking and pointing at the enormous carousel horse decorations. The only food he can have much of there are the fries, but he did tolerable justice to them. I feel as though I am projecting the image of a bad mother, with my son sitting there eating fries with water. I want to explain to every passing frown that he's actually thin for his height. That he eats asparagus at home! Ah well. Strangers had best forgive what they don't know.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Winter Weather

Classes started at the University this week. Or, I should say, they were scheduled to start. The blanketing of snow that has turned the lot behind our apartment building into a winter wonderland (complete with bounding deer and comic squirrels) also managed to get most of my classes cancelled this week. I taught one section of the Women and Gender in the Classical World course, but did not have the opportunity to launch either The Roman Republic or The Roman World courses. In lieu of actual start-ups, I've decided to record some podcasts explaining the syllabus and my expectations. This way I won't lose valuable class time. I must cut out so much in order to fit the courses into the semester, I'd hate to lose another day and have even less time for actual, historical content. I downloaded Audacity, a bit of freeware that I hope will help me make decent-sounding podcasts. I tried to use the built-in software that came with my laptop, but it picked up too much background noise, and there was no way to edit around it. I haven't given the software a try yet, but I'll plug in my mic tomorrow and have at it.

On the home front, Thorn is better, but Fox is still ill. They both have antibiotics. Thorn started his first, and so that is probably the reason for his improved health. Fox started hers yesterday, and, as Jase-Ra tells me, she should feel better by tomorrow evening -- that being after the requisite 40-hour period. I felt a bit ill this morning, but I think it is the lack of sleep catching up with me. I slept very well last night, but I think I still need a bit more rest after the late nights this past week. Semester's start always leaves me wired, and I can never settle my mind down at a decent hour.

My father had surgery this week. He'd been suffering from CTS (Carpal Tunnel Syndrome), and the pain in his right arm was excruciating. The operation went well (according to the surgeon) and dad's home recovering.

Finally, I made another breakthrough on the dissertation, but as it is still rather raw, I'll wait to post on it. It was, however, relatively momentous for me, and so I couldn't let me news roundup end without a mention.

This weekend we are staying home, although maybe tomorrow we'll dash over to the nearby Barnes & Noble. Thorn needs new books. If I have to read Go, Dog. Go! one more time, I think I'll lose what is left of my addled mind.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Books, Books, Books

I am a bibliophile. Aside from the occasional desire for a piece of new gadgetry, the only shopping pleasure that I have is for books. I don't care much for buying clothing, though I will when I must. I don't have a fancy car, nor do I play video games (unless they are Fox's, at which point I might be tempted for an hour or so). Books and food are the essential purchases for life. Alas, I am not a wealthy man. If I were, I'd give large chunks of my fortune to charity, and the rest I'd spend on books. Since I am not a wealthy man, I do make good use of my university library. Today I took out nine books on a variety of topics. Most were on Roman topics, as they usually are. One was on the philosophical underpinnings of the modern and postmodern movements. I'm really eager to jump into that one. Another was a new Oxford World Classic containing stories from all three* Brontë sisters, and some contribution by the one Brontë brother. Since we may have an occasion to use Brontë as a middle name for the Raspbaby, I thought I might as well see how wide the family range was. At present, however, I'm working my way through books on women in antiquity. I grabbed my edition of Camille Paglia Sexual Personae off the shelf this afternoon. I think I may assign part of it to my students in the course I'm offering at University this spring. I also went hunting for a German book this evening, with the help of a friend. My mentor/advisor at Hopkins made a brief mention of a new book, but as he could not remember the title or the author, it has proven tricky to track down. Still, we made a go of it, and we've some contenders. We'll see if any of them pan out. Tomorrow is another book-filled day. Time to get my syllabi all wrapped up. Many thanks to Fox for editing my earlier drafts. As for tonight -- time to get back to Women in the Classical World. 

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Craving Oranges

This pregnancy has been different from the last. Not very different, but different enough that I've needed something of satifying sameness, so that I could be assured, in my irrational pregnant way, that this pregnancy is as normal as the last.

Things which were different:

* This morning sickness came earlier and hit much harder. It also hasn't lasted as long, fading around the twelfth week. I was still sick nineteen weeks into my last pregnancy.
* Pregnancy brain has started earlier. I'm as forgetful as a... a...
* A much more intense sense of smell.
* I haven't put on nearly as much weight as I did in the first trimester, last time. Probably due to the morning sickness. Or running after a toddler.
* I don't have this sense of impending change. Partly because this was such a surprise that I'm still in shock; partly because I've done this before.

But never fear! One thing is definitely the same. I'm craving INSANE amounts of oranges. At least one every day, and juice. And anything citrusy, like pineapple on pizzas, blood orange sodas, grapefruit, even lemons. And I know this is because of pregnancy and not just because of this horrid infectious disease I happen to have, because normally? I despise oranges. Especially in juice form. I'd eat a thousand grapefruits before I'd touch one orange. I'd even eat a lemon in the raw before an orange. And yet here I am, devouring the things like candy. If the pregnancy didn't sink in before now, this is the turning point. I can't crave oranges and not be pregnant. No can do.

NYC Love


I forgot to mention some good news. I'm going to speak at a conference in May in NYC. The topic is education in the ancient world, and I'm presenting a paper entitled: Defensor Magistrorum: Quintilian's Institutio Oratoria and the Place of Public Education in the High Empire. The conference paper was born out of one of my dissertation chapters, and I'm really excited to have the chance to present it in public. My last conference experience was not all I hoped it would be, so I'm putting the nose to the grindstone to make sure this one lives up to its full potential. Going to NYC also means stopping at some of my favorite places, like Alice's Tea Cup and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. And, of course, no trip to NY would ever be complete without seeing my folks. I will probably stay with them for the duration of the conference, and just use the train to get back and forth -- save Hopkins or the University a bit of money. As we get closer to May, I'll apprise you of my status.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Sleepless Nights II

(Written last night, but not finished. I have decided to post it regardless, as I cannot recall what I was planning to add.)

Poor Fox. She's sick. Quite sick, actually. Medieval medicine would judge her phlegmatic. I'm not sure what remedy the resident humorist (not the funny kind) would recommend. Strong tisanes and green tea help a bit, and humidity, too. We don't have a strong enough humidifier to warm and wet the outer rooms of our apartment, so we resort to a large lobster pot, full of water, set to boil slowly on the stove. It isn't the most efficient method, but it does the job. You can't ignore it, though. We've already ruined one pot on account of distraction. I think that the apartment owners wouldn't be keen on a kettle-caused fire. The weekend will be the judge for Fox' health.. If it is restored, we move on with our lives. If it isn't, then it is off to the modern physician -- who, unless pressed, will not prescribe leeches or opium. What does all of this mean for Sparrow? No sleep. Wide awake, actually, and I switched to drinking herbal tisanes hours ago. I probably shouldn't sit at the computer (all the guides tell you not to do that when you cannot sleep), but I needed to write.

  

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Sleepless Nights

My oldest friend used to say (and probably still does) whenever some part of his GI tract would disagree with the rest of his body that "my guts hate my guts." My turn, tonight, Jase-Ra. I was trying to go to bed early. Classes start in a week, and I wanted to be on the "school" schedule. My body, however, had other plans. I've taken my pills, which means that now I just have to wait. I realized I hadn't written an entry, so why not spend my time somewhat productively, rather than scanning through the same twelve email messages in my *starred file.

I'm still working through syllabi. I've three this semester. Fox is editing them. I've ditched the discussion boards. Blackboard's system is just too clunky. It isn't easy to read through the entries, and while you can search for individual students, that leaves you lacking the greater trends of the thread. I've a new lead on a possible non-Blackboard blog site, but I'll reserve comment until I set one up and am satisfied by the results. That leaves journals, which I will keep on Blackboard, if only for the ease of it, and because I don't want my inbox full of student submissions. The fewer files that I must keep track of the better, and with my dissertation at full steam and two articles in the works, I've more than enough to worry about.

Since this is an incredibly random entry, I'll close with a list of the books on my desk.

Women in the Classical World, by Elaine Fantham, Helene Foley, Natalie Kampen, Sarah Pomeroy, and Alan Shapiro

Ancient Warfare (VSI), Harry Sidebottom

Roman Women, by Eve D'Ambra

Feminism (VSI), by Margaret Walters

The Arabian Nights: A Norton Critical Edition, selected and edited by Daniel Heller-Roazen

The Past as Text, by Gabrielle Spiegel

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Fatherhood Saga

Thorn was born in May of 2009. He will be 20-months old a week from tomorrow. It isn't a lot of time. My own lifetime encompasses over 330 months, after all. And yet, it is as if I've lived through several lifetimes with my child. He changes so much from week to week, and sometimes even from day to day. At first he slept, ate, and evacuated. That was all. Life was simple, though we didn't get much sleep. Then he started to move a bit more, to pay attention whenever he was awake, and to make gurgling and giggling sounds. Now, of course, he walks, he runs, he climbs, he jumps and dives, he tosses balls (and can even catch them with a little coaching and some parental finagling), and he follows directions when it suits him to do so. He doesn't speak much. Only a few words. He prefers to use gestures. Dozens of gestures, and they grow more complicated daily. I'm having a hard time interpreting them now, which I suppose is when the language gears will jump, as he finds it necessary to communicate with me. Still, I am fascinated by his non-verbal, linguistic talents. I wonder if these gestures will fade away as words replace them, and if so, will I remember them in the days and years that (I hope) stretch before us? We want our children to grow up so that our work is less and our pleasure greater. We want to be able to communicate with them. But I will miss parts of this time. I will miss the hand motions, the pointing, and the elaborate physical twists that Thorn uses to try to convey messages to me. I will miss the excitement he gets when given his bottle, the little happy dance that makes me feel warm deep in my heart.

I do hope you grow up, but not too quickly, little Thorn, not too quickly at all.    

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Aristodama

It is one of the cruelties of history that many of the works you'd most like to hear, see, or read have been lost. For example, in the Hellenistic period we know of several women poets whose work inspired cities, achieved prizes, and awed listeners. Little, if anything, of the works of these women has survived. At least we know from other sources, like this dedication from Lamia, that they lived, that they wrote, and that they had place in the literary culture of their age.

From the Sylloge Inscriptionum Graecarum 3 532.

Decree in honor of Aristodama of Smyrna, 218-217 B.C.E.

Of the Aitolians the strategus is Hagetas, a citizen of Kallion. With good fortune. Resolved [by the city] of the Lamians. Since Aristodama, daughter Amyntas, a citizen of Smyrna in Io[nia], epic poet, while she was in our city, gave several [public recitations] of her poems in which the nation of the Aitolians [and] the People's ancestors were worthily commemorated and since the performance was done with great enthusiasm, she shall be a proxenos of the city and benefactor, and she shall be given citizenship and the right to purchase land and [a house] and the right of pasture and inviolability and security on land and sea in war and peace for herself and her descendants and their property for all time together with all other privileges that are given to other proxenoi and benefactors and Diony[sios], her brother, and his descendants shall have the rights of a proxenos, citizenship, inviolability.

(translation: Women in the Classical World, Fantham, Foley, Kampen, Pomeroy, and Shapiro - 1994)

Monday, January 17, 2011

Cleopatra

Cleopatra VII was the last of the Ptolemies to rule in Egypt. Her suicide in August of 30 BC ended the Hellenistic era, which had begun with the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC. At the University there has been a bit of talk about someday bringing to life a Hellenistic history course. An elder colleague had first suggested it several years ago, but then abandoned the project. The Hellenistic, he found, was unwieldy. Now that I'm in a place where I can begin to think about future courses, I think I have a way bring the Hellenistic under control. My plan centers on Cleopatra. Begin the course not with Alexander, but with the last queen of the age he (without perhaps meaning to) founded. I think it would provide a very different tenor to the class, and one that more directly focuses on the social and cultural aspects that so define the Hellenistic. Cleopatra is also one of those historical figures that everyone is sure they know something about, but certainly know less than they think. That makes her a wonderful candidate for those "wow" moments you delight in as an instructor, as students shake off preconceptions and the accumulated debris of History-channel specials, New York Times articles, and Turner Classic Movies. I won't have time to draft a proposal this term, but over the summer I think I'll have a moment or two. Dissertation first. I just want a record that I thought of it now. The historian in me demands good records, after all.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

On Reading the Koran - Lesley Hazleton at TED

This was absolutely lovely, and as a textualist, I found it inspiring. Read before you say you understand, read again before you say you understand, read a third time in the original language before you say you understand.