Category Archives: Navel Gazing

Five Seconds of Fame

Thanks to my job I'm occasionally interviewed by local TV stations. It's cool in the "I never thought I'd be on TV" sense, but on the other hand it's a little like jumping off a cliff because you learn pretty quickly that the TV folks can make you look as good or bad, smart or stupid, as they want.

Last Friday I was fried. We had our annual banquet the night before and my brain was little more than Jell-O as a result. Luckily I had a light schedule so I was cruising through my day until the phone rang at 12:30. It was the local Fox affiliate looking for some background on a story they were working, and also looking for a soundbite if at all possible. Knowing I was in no shape for an interview I claimed a full schedule. Nominally true, but I really just didn't want to do the interview. Eventually the reporter persuaded me to talk and we set a 2:30 appointment. 

The result? A half hour of prep work followed by a total vapor-lock of the brain as soon as the camera was on. Luckily they took mercy on me and only used about five seconds of the interview, thus minimizing my on-camera freeze

To Be Thankful

One of the benefits of getting older is that you have the opportunity to experience good times, bad times and everything in between. Sure we've all had varying degrees of both good and bad experiences, but the older you get the more of each you've seen and the more you can appreciate the truly good times. It's hard to know what it feels like to be out of work until you've done it. It's hard to understand what true heartbreak is until the person you thought was the love of your life ends up not being the "one", and the relationship you thought would last forever goes down in flames. It's hard to understand true loss until you've lost a loved one to illness or accident. It's hard to understand the burden of being responsible for another human being until you've been a parent and had to shepherd your children through the tumult of childhood and the hell that is adolescence. In short, when you're young you don't know s*** because you haven't experienced much yet, and in turn it would be unreasonable to expect you to have the perspective necessary to know how thankful you really should be for what you have.

As a parent it's both frightening and bemusing to watch your children go through the process of discovering what good times and bad times truly are. Watching them learn that earning a "D" on a test isn't a tragedy, but not being able to go to school because your parents are out of work certainly could be. Seeing them suffer through a relationship because they don't understand that there are so many people out there who will treat them better, or on the flip side, watching them walk away from a relationship with someone who loves and respects them for who they are because of a short-term need. Or listening to them gripe about their crappy phone, and of course extolling the virtues of their friend's phone – you know, the friend with the cool parents who make sure they always have the latest and greatest – without ever considering how lucky they are to simply have a warm, safe place to sit and talk on their supposedly-crappy phones. It's bemusing to watch because we have the perspective that they lack, and it's frightening to behold because we know how much pain they'll need to experience to gain it.

If you've been on Facebook recently you've likely seen a new meme, or trend, that you could call the "Thankful" exercise; every day throughout the month of November people are sharing something for which they are thankful. Sure it's a bit hokey, but it's also useful to take a moment each day to remember how many reasons you have to be thankful. Of course I say this after having not participated at all to this point, so let me take a little of this space and your time to share just a few of the reasons I'm thankful:

  • First and foremost that I have a marriage that gives back to me so much more than I've put into it. Of course that means I have a wonderful wife – I'm not just saying that Celeste – but there are many marriages between two good people that haven't worked out, so I'm eternally thankful that ours has. As Celeste told me two nights ago, we're in a great place right now. I don't think we could know how great a place we're in if we hadn't had 20+ years of good, bad and ugly places up 'til now.
  • That I have three great kids who seem to still like their parents after all these years. Yeah, they do their share of weird and idiotic things, but they're great people and I look forward to seeing them gain some perspective.
  • That I have parents I can still call for advice and perspective – in particular a mother who calls BS when she hears it.
  • That I have a brother who I talk to as much as I ever have even though we live hundreds of miles apart.
  • That I have friends who have literally been with me for decades, through thick and thin, who know me better than I know myself and still let me call them friends. 
  • That I'm surrounded by aunts, uncles, cousins and in-laws and we all like each other.
  • That my grandmother has lived to the wonderful age of 93, and that my aunts are there for her – and that my aunts don't beat me up for not seeing my Grandmother as often as I should.
  • That I have a job that I truly enjoy and allows me to spend huge chunks of time with people I love and respect. 
  • That I've found a church that has welcomed my family and has made me feel at home. 
  • That I have a house/money-pit that has truly become a home – a vessel containing over eight years of memories with my family. 

I could go on, but I think you get the drift. Thanks for indulging me, and if you're so inclined please feel free to share what you're thankful for on this fine day.

Memory

Scott Adams, he of Dilbert fame, writes about his terrible memory and it sounds oh so hauntingly familiar:

In school, I could force myself to remember topics for tests, but it only lasted as long as the test. At home, we have a lot of conversations about what I might have heard or said at some specified time in the past and it almost never sounds vaguely familiar. Sometimes it feels as if someone else lived my life until this very moment and now I'm taking over.

The way I perceive the act of creativity while it happens in me is as a process of forgetting, not a process of creating. The mind is not capable of having zero thoughts, so when you flush whatever is in your head at the moment it creates a sort of vacuum that sucks in a new thought. In my case, that process of forgetting and then sucking in a new thought happens continuously. My memory isn't "sticky," so what comes in slides right back out in a nanosecond. Sometimes a new thought is worth writing down, which I either do right away or lose it forever. Usually the new idea is random garbage and it passes quickly, making room for the next idea. My mind feels like a slot machine that I can't stop pulling. Sometimes the diamonds line up, but not often.

Late Bloomer

There must be something about turning 46 that causes men to question where they find themselves in the arc of life achievement, because a piece written by a soon-to-be-46 venture capitalist certainly resonates with this soon-to-be-46 year old. Maybe it's the beginning of what they call a mid-life crisis. From the piece:

most of the time I think of myself as a failure.

when I’m optimistic, I think maybe I’m just a late bloomer.

I went to college early, and found out that performing well wasn’t always based on being smart. hard work and regular, consistent effort was also required… and I wasn’t really very good at those things. I also had a lot of trouble in college with too many fun things to do… many of which didn’t involve school. I got really good at playing foosball, pool, frisbee, and going to lots of parties and making friends, but I kind of barely made it to graduation. altho I did make dean’s list later in college, I was also on probation a few times, and I spent a lot of time doing “recreational activities” (ahem) which caused a lot of pain and hassle for me, and probably even more for my family. I got through those times, but I started to think about all the things I was supposed to be, and the reality was that I wasn’t quite getting to the goals that had been expected. I didn’t become an astronaut, or an astrophysicist, or a great singer or dancer or pianist, I didn’t end up in politics, I didn’t join the peace corps, I didnt get a Phd or even a masters degree…

it would have been easy at any point in this journey to rationalize my limited success, and accept being a small cog in a bigger wheel, at likely much better pay and much less stress. but I was still hoping I had a little fire in the belly, and maybe some gas left in the tank to make something more of myself, before I ended up with just a broken spirit and a comfortable life.

I don’t mean to whine or bemoan my lot in life – I’ve been far more than lucky, and I’ve had a great time on this planet. I have nothing to complain about, nor will it be the end of the world if all I get to do in the next 30-40 years is to breathe in the air. all things said, it’s been a wonderful life.

but I’m not giving up yet.

I’m still betting my epitaph will read “late bloomer”, and not “failure”.

wish me luck 🙂

In Which I Make Fun of Myself

SNL hasn't been consistently funny for a while so I stopped watching, but I'll tip my hat to this skit.  It's funny and spot on even if they do make fun of people who have eponymous websites.  For the record I didn't double major in poetry and clowning, I never got a participation badge/trophy, I have been punched and I truly do realize I suck at most things I try to do:

Confessions of an English Major

Over at his blog John Robinson shares a great quote about English majors:

“That left a large contingent of people majoring in English by default. Because they weren’t left-brained enough for science, because history was too dry, philosphy too difficult, geology too petroleum-oriented and math too mathematical — because they weren’t musical, artistic, financially motivated, or really all that smart, these people were pursuing university degrees doing something no different from what they’d done in first grade: reading stories. English was what people who didn’t know what to major in majored in.”

Sadly the quote and some of the comments on John's post hit close to home.  I must admit that I majored in English Lit mainly because:

  • I really didn't know what I wanted to do with my life and I'd heard that English was preferable to "undecided" and that it was a good major to prepare you for various forms of grad school, including law school.  If I'd bothered to physically meet with my advisor before the day I needed him to sign my paperwork to get my degree he might have told me differently.
  • Every other major just seemed too hard.  They would have required studying and who wants to do that?
  • I kind of enjoyed proving that someone could get a BA in English Literature without even a rudimentary grasp of grammar.  Ask me to identify a prepositional phrase and I'll just drool on a piece of paper.
  • Last, but not least, it wasn't lost on me that I would be one of maybe five guys in the entire English Department at GMU. I thought the approximately 500-1 female/male ratio was great until I was called a misogynist by a member of a study group.  After looking it up in a dictionary I didn't join any more study groups and refrained from any classroom discussion involving the role of gender in literature which means I never once spoke.

And thus were planted the seeds of greatness mediocrity.

Navel Lint

Fair warning – some of you might consider this a TMI post.

My wife is constantly amused by the lint that can occasionally be discovered in my belly button.  I have a pretty significant "innie" that's proven to be a pretty efficient lint collector.  I honestly can't tell you why lint will sometimes appear, but it happens every once in a while and whenever she sees it my wife laughs at me.  When I was growing up it never occurred to me that I'd have to do regular "lint checks" to avoid being laughed at by my mate, but then again I never thought the top of my head would burn if left uncovered for more than 10 minutes either.

So what prompted this little episode of, well, navel gazing?  This post about the world record holding collection of navel lint. That's seriously strange, but who am I to judge?