Much of what is written on this blog is a self-absorbed salute to the personal pronoun. I write about the struggles of attempting to be human, and over-dramatize events that are common to the experience of much of humanity. Fun stuff, but my life outside of that struggle is devoted to faith and family. I am a dad, and that’s more fun than any amount of the hang-ups I prattle about. My daughter Anna, mentioned here at least once a week, is 10 years old. She’s a bright, insightful kid. Anna is an aspiring writer and actress and (in my biased opinion) the girl is pretty good at whatever she sets her mind to. One of the traits I notice in Anna when talking to her one-on-one is that she has a complete lack of confidence. I suspect that we live in a society full of girls and young women for whom confidence is in short supply. Girls Anna’s age live at a time when women should have historic amounts of bravado. Don’t hate me until after you finish the next statement: Anna lives in a time when the women’s equality movement is fading into the history books, because modern woman have surpassed the arcane ideal of just being equals with their male counterparts. The glass ceiling is fast becoming a thing of the past. The thing Anna lacks is confidence in her own ability and good ideas, despite the changing fabric of American life.
In talking to my wife about what to give Anna as a Christmas present, I started to think beyond the ideal of presents. Kids are bombarded with toys and plastic crap. I’m all for commerce in this economy, but there is more to life than just buying people material they don’t need. This kid, like many girls, is desperately in need of home run in life.
What I can’t buy Anna is the courage to forge her own identity.
This is what started the inspiration campaign. I began a campaign of seeking out words of inspiration from women of all walks of life to put in a book for Anna. Something that she can keep for her entire life and add letters to. The project has started by seeking out stories and messages of friends and women that Anna looks up to in her daily walk, from those that daily hold out a hand for her to hold. The great big project of craziness will take on a life of its own, I hope. My great wish is that there will be lots of messages of hope and courage from women who’ve scaled the mountaintop of success in all walks of life and can give back a few words of inspiration. Hmmm…I should have this done by December of 2019.
If you’ve got a few thoughts, life stories or inspiring words for a 10-year-old girl on the cusp of young adulthood in a world that drags down women before they even start to achieve, please feel free to drop a line. (No haters, because that kind of defeats the purpose of this project)
This week’s podcast riffs on a few stories (google jailed Russian punk bands for details) and goes nuts for reality TV. After relaxing with some Moutain Dew and Redbull, enjoy this episode. Have fun, see you around the blog.
I was having lunch with a group of co-workers today when the subject of clinical depression came up in conversation. Over the years I’ve learned to take a breath and just be completely honest about my experience with the issue. Why not? Social stigma can get stuffed. I can at least lend an ear when depression is spoken of in weird, hushed tones and then offer some perspective. I don’t wear depression like a badge that navel gazers earn in an overly emotive version of the Boy Scouts. Perspective simply comes from having lived with the disorder for most of my life. Sometime during my foggy Bell Jar winter of 1994 a doctor stamped the paperwork and made the diagnosis official. Still…a diagnosis is only as good as what one does with it. Cancer of the mind can be treated. I was 21. Not willing to live in bed indefinitely and certainly not ready to die and become another notch on an actuarial chart. Remaining alive and at least partially upright never seemed good enough goals to me, though. Somewhere in those mad 20’s I decided to speak up when depression was thrown around like some terminally taboo freak illness. I didn’t just wake up one day feeling down and decide to take time off from life because I was “feeling” depressed. This is who I am.
The thing that I can tell a depressed person is that there is hope. Not clichéd, hokey, unrealistic hope. You won’t wake up happy one morning and then go out and start dating chick-lit cover models. There isn’t any kind of magic pill to make you un-depressed. Some days you’ll argue and battle within yourself only to lose. There always exists hope, though. One day, with the love and support of humans, some you don’t even know personally, you’ll see life as with possibility. One day, when the tenuous bonds of friendships are repaired and the threads that hold together the mind are re-stitched with proper medication and care, hope will become life. My hope and happiness are renewed each day I travel farther from 21. The other day, during a standard health questionnaire, my doctor asked if I generally lead a “pleasurable” life. My reaction was to shake with laughter. Yeah, life’s happy and full of purpose. Each morning, when the sun burns away the old fog, I own my depression. I own hope.
Hi. My name is Andy. Its been three years, one month and twenty-seven days since I had my last Coke. For much of the first year after quitting I dreamed at night about cola. Sweet, slightly bitter, ultra-acidic, always effervescent drinks that formed rivers I’d floated down for more than thirty-five years. Even though Coca-Cola, and it’s caramel colored wannabe beverage companions made me violently ill, I still craved them. With a ravenous thirst, I longed to rip off their tops and ravage the sugary goodness out of them. I only quit, because getting sick on soda and pouring out waves of black, syrupy acid nightly was no way to live. Sometimes, I pass those slender hipped Coke bottles and think “I could have my way with you…” only to remember that they’d just make me barf. Too torrid a relationship to continue, and my teeth hurt just thinking about it.
I like those advertisements for Coke in which pontificating morons stand atop a hill proclaiming the virtues of world peace through the gift of Coca-Cola. The sentiment of those commercials is beautiful. “I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony.” What a truly inspiring, unselfish thought. In the original ad, the singers tagged the end of the commercial with “Coca-Cola: It’s The Real Thing.” I sure hope it is. If you give people The Fake Thing, they’re likely to smash the daylights out of each other with pop bottles. Imagine if the Coke Singers had offered the world an RC Cola. Riots would have broken out. Sometimes, I hum the old, beautiful sentiment of “I’d like to teach the world to sing…” to myself and dream about the old days when I’d guzzle two liter bottles of that garbage and go run around (and around and around) the block. Then I make sure to and read the truth, such as this letter to the UK Guardian:
Oh naive you! Commercial caramel has only a distant connection with the traditional bitter-sweet tasting stuff made from burnt sugar. Caramel constitutes about 80% of all food colouring, and there are four different types of commercial caramel,depending on use e.g. beer, soft drinks, soy sauce, gravy, pet foods etc. The type in fizzy drinks is type 4, which has to be acid resistant. It is also known as sulphite ammonia or soft drink caramel, acid proof caramel, SAC caramel or SD caramel. It is made with ammonium and sulphite compounds, and is a product of the chemical industry, not grandma’s kitchen.It is made basically from various carbohydrates (which can be types of sugar like fructose etc), heat-treated with the addition of ammonium compounds namely hydroxide, carbonate, bicarbonate, phosphate, sulphate, sulphfite and bisulphite. The sulphite compounds are sulphurous acid, and potassium, sodium and ammonium sulphites and bisulphites. The compounds that can be used for all four types of caramel color are sulphuric and citric acid, and sodium, potassium and calcium hydroxide. Dr A Eames-Jones, Stotfold, Hitchin UK
I’d like to buy the world some type 4 sulphite ammonia and keep it company. It’s the real thing. At least until the soft drink companies invent a low caloric, non-headache inducing soda that doesn’t contain the same ingredients as a North Korean missile.
As a trained husband, skilled in distinguishing between important sounds and mere noise, I can sleep through nearly anything. Babies crying, car alarms, end of days. These are just white noise to the ears of a professional sleeper. One sound did present itself in an obnoxious enough way (no, it wasn’t my own voice, surprisingly) to get my attention and turn me once again into “Dad: Destroyer of Household Goods.” The noise has been emanating from our Air Conditioning unit, which sits somewhere beneath the bedroom window. No amount of Don Draper-style parenting (“Stop that! Go to sleep!”) worked on the a.c., so I had to take matters into my own unskilled, twitchy hands. The device was buried under generations of kudzu and jungle vegetation. Indiana Jones style, I machete-ed out back armed only with a sledgehammer, a can of WD-40 and a Fodor guide (chiamare il condizionatore riparatore?). I could have hired the neighbor kid to do the yard work but he has his own issues. Poor guy is 90 and still lives with his mother, aged 112. There are slacker problems with the Oldest Generation, I guess.
To have air conditioning, let alone central air, is a blessing I am so thankful for. Growing up, our family made do with a World War II era, 40 pound office fan, that we’d lug from room to room. Dad had fished it out of a dumpster on one his many home shopping trips. As the oldest child, I was allowed to have the fan at night. Not much of a comfort, as the thing was like sleeping next to a running tractor. I’d put Joe Satriani or Mettalica tapes on my Walkman and crank them all the way up to drown out old reliable. My sleeping skills were fully developed long before leaving home. I never yelled at the fan. It had a sweet spot that could be punched. You had to be careful. Knocking it over meant the evil bastard would eat through the floor and wind up in the basement. Have I mentioned my eternal love for noisy but consistent a.c.?
While I was waiting today for a family member to arrive with some jumper cables to help start my car, I killed time by Googling the jump procedure. I’ve charged batteries many times, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to look at literature on the subject. By the way, I at least knew where my own cables were: hanging in the garage at home, where they’d do the most good. The first article I saw was one of those manliness warning pages that said every man must know how to use jumper cables, or turn in his Man Card. Whatever a Man Card is. I didn’t get one. Once, I got a super spy i.d. card from Cap’n Crunch. Oh, the places that could get me into.
What exactly are the things that a manly man should know in order to join the fraternity? I can change a flat tire just like the Duke boys (only slower and not nearly tight enough to keep the wheels from falling off the General Lee). I never played a sport, but managed to letter in public speaking. There’s a shock. I managed to letter for opening my yap creatively. That probably doesn’t count toward becoming a man’s man. I can make any food (or wood pulp product) taste better by deep-frying it. That should help. Sigh. I take personal responsibility for my failings as a guy, but do note that dad never told me anything of use. “The Talk” when I was 12 consisted of him telling me that a.) hot dogs are a good aphrodisiac and b.) always order Johnny Walker Black. After a dozen years of marriage my wife still wonders why I come home every Thursday with a pack of Koegel Vienna wieners, a fifth of scotch and a smile. What can I say? I’m a man.
There is a part of me that revels in simplicity. There are only a handful of possessions in life that I care about, and the concern for them is mostly sentimental. In a 9″ x 6″ box that sits atop my dresser rest most of my so-called “important” things. The box means a lot, because my wife’s grandparents gave matching ones to all of the men in the family one Christmas. Inside are photos of my wife Lori from when we were dating, baby pictures of our daughter Anna and assorted ones of my nephews. There are watches that Lori gave me, including one from St. Thomas, as well as the Beatles watch my parents gave me when I turned 17. Near the top is the first Valentine’s card Anna ever made for me. Rounding out the assortment are “attaboys” from various jobs, including a 5-year anniversary pen from my present job and lots of lapel pins. The one featuring the World Trade Center buildings still means a lot to me, and every time I wear it the fear is that the pin will get lost. Alas, things are just things. I try to keep the main thing the main thing and care more about people than stuff and trifling bits of material. All that said, I do have one oddly emotional attachment to a possession though, and that is my raggedy old automobile. The car is so me, and I am so that car.
This morning I was summoned away from work to run an errand in my old Honda CR-V. There are a number or recurring characters that appear at Mostly Teachable. Lori, Anna, and our dog Grace are the most notable. The Honda appeared in these pages long before any of them did, however. According to the car’s birth certificate, it will turn 15 in March. Nevertheless, I’m still running errands in the car, which is fine by me. Last night, I drove my wife’s sensible automobile of a more recent vintage across town and nearly bit the farm (or some applicable cliché). As I almost slammed into the back of a stopped car while skidding on a snow-covered street, I really thought very highly of my old Honda. This morning, driving my fussy Honda around town and feeling the car adjust to the road conditions, I felt slightly more reassured. Sure, the Honda doesn’t have creature comforts. It takes 20 minutes for the interior to warm up, but I don’t need to be warm. The back hatch doesn’t close, which isn’t a big issue. If I happen start hauling immigrants across the border, I’ll spring for duct tape to keep the hatch closed. There are unidentified smells and never-mind stains, but I don’t drive the Honda for looks. Bumper stickers cover most of life’s inadequacies and that goes double for my car. So, happy Valentine’s day old, clunky friend. I’ll always keep your grill ornament on my dresser. I’m just a little sentimental that way.
First off, thanks to the Dutch spammer who sent the weird material. I had no idea you could do so much with a windmill! Man, what a strange week. I’ve put aside all of the silly little things that came with being on vacation like sleep and um…sleep. ‘Back on the chain gang. This morning I was in the restroom at work and started to fall asleep. Standing up. That’s part of being grown up. In my old college days I found myriad ways to sleep. If there had been a major in creative somnambulism, I’d have made the dean’s list. Remember 1994? I don’t. Spent that year mostly asleep. Until recently I thought Newt Gingrich had been invented by the same geniuses who gave us K-mart and underwater speed dating.
This week has been a reminder that the change of calendar really can be a sign of a magical year to come. There are marathons to train and work toward, both physical and spiritual. What is lost in sleep is made up by possibility. This is the year when I take 10 more minutes off my 26 mile time (which makes my new marathon pr 23 hours, 36 minutes), There‘s the novel I joke about writing every year. Maybe this will be the season that it gets done. So far, like this blog, it’s just a rambling 300 word mess. I have the faintest bits of plot mapped out. See, there’s this famous ex-Heisman winner and TV sports analyst who goes on a killing rampage. He can’t find gloves that fit. You know, I had that dream back in the 90’s and I always wonder if it could happen in real life. Nah, that guy would totally go to prison. That story is about as believable as Newt Gingrich.
(Due to recent bouts of human sensitivity and empathy for the plight of mankind, Mostly Teachable was temporarily postponed. We now return you to our previously scheduled obnoxious, immature blog. Thanks.)
There are two places in the United States that I enjoy driving through for no reason other than the fact that I suffer from stunted brain development. The first is Emlenton, Pennsylvania. The Emelenton Truck Plaza boasts serving the world’s worst apple pie. Pretty much true, but I appreciate the fact that they’ve turned crappiness into a long running tourist gimmick. I plan to change the Mostly Teachable slogan to “World’s Worst Blog.” That would somehow imply that I care, though. My other favorite destination is Effingham, Illinois. No reason. I just really like spending the thirty miles of nothingness before and after the town shouting about effinham. Which brings me to the completely irrelevant, and yet satisfyingly…irrelevant subject of Spam.
I read an article yesterday by some esteemed culinary schmuck about the rebirth of Spam canned meat products as a result of the ongoing economic downturn. The author provided recipes by renowned chefs who’ve created solid entrée offerings using venerable old Spam products. My memories of Spam are vivid, but not entirely sepia-toned and fuzzy with warm feelings. There were no culinary offerings that came from Spam that made it a worthwhile product to continue consuming as an adult. Spam was best fried. It came with its own weird, gelatinous meat sauce and invariably curled up in the skillet, as if to die from meat shame. I enjoyed eating Spam, especially on winter nights when it was accompanied by pancakes. I put Spam into the same category as Patrick Swayze movies and Foreigner albums. Hot at the time, yet best enjoyed on the sly as years pass.
Spam will never be the economic savior rising from grocery shelves to put money back into our pockets. For starters, it’s not a reasonably priced product. A 12 oz. can currently retails for $2.48. My cursory glance at local grocery advertisements revealed chicken breast fillets at $1.87 a pound. Even after trimming as purchased fat/waste, the consumer still saves money on fresh meat. The other, less telling reason is that the calories in Spam are nearly all from fat (a 2 oz. portion is 180 calories, 140 of which are from fat.). Mmm…Crisco. I still live by the old Police line that
When the world is running down/make the best of what’s still around.
Why Spam is still around is beyond me. The economics of fear, or the misty, water colored memories America shares of childhoods spent eating effin ham, I suppose.
One night recently I was sitting through a lecture that dealt heavily with emotional maturity. The strange part of it was that the lecture was part of a class I’d signed up for. Usually, if there is any discussion of emotional (or intellectual) maturity, the talk is given to me by cashiers at Burger King. The counter personnel at B.K. don’t take kindly to being called “weasel chin” and often lecture me about keeping my immature yapper shut. This particular talk about emotional maturity came as part of a marriage class I help lead. “Lead” is too strong a word for my role. I test the snacks at the refreshment table for imperfections and loll around in my chair until my wife Lori drives me home. Emotional maturity, according to the speaker, is one of the key components of a healthy marriage. “Why did he have to bring that into marriage?” I moaned as well as one can with a mouth full of cookies and then fell off of my seat as part of a fake medical emergency. My body has matured into a state of relaxed obsolescence in which it can fake its way out of uncomfortable situations with well-timed eye rolling. Strangers can’t tell if I’m sick or Pentecostal. Friends don’t care. My emotional being hasn’t quiet caught up with this high level of physically mature behavior, however.
One of the basic definitions of emotional maturity is that a person possesses an emotional range in line with their actual age. This is difficult for me to grasp. My chronological age, judging by the shape of my body, is that of a rotten pear. In dog years, I’d be the old hound that lives under the porch. The one nobody remembers except when he howls because the house has collapsed on him. Emotionally, though, I haven’t gotten a handle on life. One of the signs of maturity is concern for the well-being of others. What this really means is that the mature person is concerned for the well-being of others even when they don’t offer cookies first. Eye contact is another sign of growing emotional control. I’ve tried, but find myself always scanning the eyes of others for ocular diseases. It’s never too early to point out someone’s cataracts. Emotional maturity means denying one’s self when it comes to flipping others off. This has led to a lot of sitting on my hands. So, I try to be as mature and age appropriate as possible. Rocking back and forth on my hands while looking at the ceiling and wishing someone had cookies. Hence, I stay home much of the time. Mature, or not, the snacks are better and there aren’t any heartstrings attached.
I would like to start seeing a new phone. Siri, the voice recognition software that came with the iPhone 4S and I are having problems as a couple. My wife, the actual, living, animate being I chose to spend life with, refers to Siri as “Karen,” an homage to a character on the children’s TV program Spongebob Squarepants. Karen is the computer one of the show’s maniacal sea creatures treats as his spouse. I started out with the same kind of emotional attachment to my Siri/Karen. All day long, I’d ask the device treacle filled, lovey-dovey questions a man asks only of a woman he’s in love with such as “Siri, how do I treat trichinosis caused by bad Spam?” You know the type of getting-to-know you questions asked when a relationship is in its first bloom. “Siri? What kind of satanic messages would I hear by playing ‘Call Me Maybe’ backwards?” You know, the deeply thoughtful in-love type of questions. I never thought until now to ask Siri what messages I’d hear if I played the song forward. Alas, Siri stopped answering my asinine questions. The standard answer became “look it up yourself. Maybe.” So, with the arrival of the iPhone 5 there is excitement again in the telephonic world. My old computer wife Siri has packed up and moved to the South of France, asking only a final “Would you like me to shut the door. Okay, I’ll do that.” and I’m hanging around the phone store waiting until I qualify for a contract upgrade.
The line at our local Verizon store was pretty typical of the first rush of iPhone mania. I wish that I’d had time to ride up and down the queue on a bicycle with a rotary phone on the handle bars, offering to let people make free calls. Oh well, maybe Siri, the solid, reliable iPhone 4S and I can get some couple’s therapy. I’d ask Siri to find a local counselor, but it isn’t to be. My computer wife has taken up with a swarthy, French Droid. Ainsi soit-il.
Are people defined by their “isms?” As much as the look on our faces shows the world the way to our souls, it might be the little idio(t)syncrasies that are the real indicators of just who we are. Take for instance the tuneless tunes we choose to sing, or hum when happy. Sure, some people don’t ever have a go-to song. Many of those same people are generally unhappy tools, or they’re mannequins. When I’m truly at peace with the world, I become more annoying than usual. One of my little tells is that I sing the closing sting from ESPN’s Sports Center theme. The tune is literally just “duh na na duh na na Sports Center.” ESPN ( The Exaggerated Sports Pimping Network) has been using variations of the theme for over twenty years and it’s one of those ubiquitous riffs that just gets lodged in one’s gray matter. In our house, at least on most sunny Saturday mornings, every question asked of me is answered with this ism sliver. If someone asks for scrambled eggs, they get them served with “duh na na…” For some reason, I always end by announcing Sports Center like one of the public address announcers from Half Life. The nonsensical use of my musical ism became so out of control that I caught myself mindlessly duh na na-ing at work one day. “What that your humming? Maybe you should go back and sit in your cubicle and have some time alone to hum the batman theme.”
Leave it to the intuitively designed iPhone to be the buzz killer. The Sports Center app for iOS plays the show’s beloved sting at certain user ordained times. I set the app up to notify me during key points in baseball and football games as well as at their start and end times. The phone did so much “duh na na” over the first few months that I now keep it silent for the majority of the time. Certain moments in life don’t need the Sports Center theme, either from me or the phone. So, I have to break the ESPNism and find new ways to enjoy my happiness. The other night I found that I could “duh nuh” the entire Monday Night Football theme. Thus, a new ism was born.
The other day (I just auto-post “the other day” into every blog entry. Fill it in any way you want. For example, “The other day I gave up self-loathing for Lent”)…eh hem…The other day I was filling out the personal information on a website and one of the questions was whether I appreciated “Geek Culture.” I didn’t even know we had a culture. Apparently owning the collected works of J.J. Abrams and wearing a Doctor Who scarf to one’s wedding are now considered acceptable behaviors and people who do these things represent a culture. It’s okay to rock an Enterprise ensign’s uniform ( circa 1966, naturally) at work now, because it’s part of the geek societal fabric. Star Wars is the lingua franca of our geeky times. Right. I’ll believe it when it happens. Even a minor geek like me is embarrassed by some of the behavior that rules geekdom. I do however get all geeked up when I manage to save up enough Republic Credits in order to buy cool technology*.
The other day I broke down and upgraded to an iPhone 4S. I had the original Droid, which had taken to moaning “rooiid” at odd moments. The 4S has Siri, the voice command gimmick which has caused me to rename the phone “Karen, My Computer Wife” after a character on Spongebob Squarepants (geek). I find myself constantly asking computer wife to do irrelevant tasks a phone can’t possibly do. The phone, to it’s credit, has stopped honoring my commands after just a few days. It seems you can’t just tell a phone to make you some Ramen Noodles (“Here are three faux Asian restaurants in your neighborhood. Get bent”). The phone does give me a personalized wake-up call on command (“Geek boy? Are you talking to me in your sleep. Stop dreaming about Inception and get up for work. Oh, and get bent”). The wedding is in June, so save the date. I’ll have the iPhone send out invitations.
*Yes, I waved my hand in front of the clerk and said “Republic Credits will do.”
For the most part, I ignore the things in day-to-day life that require attention. This is part of a holistic approach to procrastination. Well, it would be an approach, but I’m waiting until next week to begin. One of the things I’ve been ignoring is the fact that my cellular phone has been calling people of its own volition. Not butt dialing, either. Butt dialing, or (heaven forbid) drunk dialing, would mean that I’d have to accidentally initiate the call. No, my celly is just calling random parties on its own. This supposedly smart phone is making bad choices. At 18 months old, it’s almost eligible for replacement. The phone is probably showing out a little bit. Really, who among us didn’t make bad choices at a year and a half old?
The calling started quietly. There were short calls to my wife’s office. When the receptionist asked who was calling, all she got was a plaintive “Drooiid.” I could explain my way out of this with “Sorry, the phone got it’s number from me.” Not so easy was the issue of the phone calling every woman I’d ever met. Girls I hadn’t talked to since Junior High were suddenly asking what I wanted and why I hadn’t called since 1987. As I’d explain that my phone has a glitch, the phone would be miserably moaning in the background “Drrroooiid.” I really am a bad phone owner and am now paying for the price. There were the months of Angry Birding the screen too forcefully. The weeks of leaving it half-naked on the counter, because I couldn’t get the cheap, plastic cover to fit correctly. The celly is making me pay by calling my coworkers and dishing on me. Deep into the night I hear “Droid.” I’m definitely trading for an iPhone.