Weeding the Garden in My Mind

This image is from, and linked to, Olofson Design (http://olofsondesign.wordpress.com/ and http://www.olofsondesign.com), a clearly very talented maker of wedding cakes based in London, UK. To the artisan – You do amazing work and this image was perfect for my post – if you have any concerns with my using your image, please let me know and I’ll be happy to take it down.

This year for my birthday, I’m weeding the garden in my mind:

  • I’m forgiving myself for the things I’ve attempted that didn’t quite work out the way I’d hoped.  I’m choosing to view those events not as failures but as (sometimes rocky) detours that led me to where I am, and I’m recognizing that without these detours I may not have any of the good people or things I have in my life now.
  • I’m giving myself the lessons I’ve learned from mistakes I’ve made and letting every other aspect of those mistakes go away.  I cannot live in a state of fear or paranoia.
  • I’m evicting the two tenants in my mind.  One constantly reminds me of the flaws in others.  One constantly reminds me of the flaws in myself.  Neither has ever paid a dime in rent.
  • I’m giving myself the ability to grow by letting go of anger and resentment; toward others, yes – but mostly toward myself.  Nothing good ever grows in piss and vinegar and what does grow is contagious.
  • I’m allowing myself to not give up on my dreams; No matter how unrealistic or distant.
  • I’m giving myself to right to appreciate the things I have. I will not feel guilty for having what others do not and I will not obsess over the things I still want. Things are things.
  • I’m giving myself the right to be proud of my five beautiful children.  Who are brilliant little sparks that need my care and my help to grow to their full potential.  I will not be apologetic for letting them be who they are, I will appreciate who they are becoming and I will focus more on encouragement and less on correction.
  • I’m giving myself the chance to appreciate my wife.  She is the most wonderful partner in life that anyone could ever hope to have and realizing that without her companionship, support and love, I would have burned myself away long ago.
  • I’m giving myself pride in what I have accomplished in my life.
    • I’m an Army veteran who served proudly in a unit distinguished throughout its history for its courage, flexibility, daring and skill.
    • I earned two degrees in fields I’m passionate about.
    • I have a house, a beautiful family, and make a good living working with some of the brightest minds in the country for a company I still believe in and I’m one of the ten best in the country at doing the job.
    • I’ve taken control of my physical health to the extent that I can and over the last few years I’ve gotten myself into great shape with a lot of hard work.
    • I’ve bounced from hobby to hobby and interest to interest since I was a young kid and I’ve been learning and storing knowledge all the way.  The unintended result is a good foundation of knowledge and experience with which I can usually tackle any situation.
  • I’m letting myself embrace the things that make me a nerd.  I love fantasy and science fiction at least as much as I love classic literature and poetry.  I’m a huge Woody Allen fan.  I have an active presence on almost every social network and I’d rather read than watch football.  I’m a hypocritical grammar nazi (which means that I love to point out others’ mistakes even while I make my own).  I still dig hair bands.  I can read a book and listen to an audiobook at the same time and enjoy both immensely.  I really enjoy legal research.  I have a goal of growing, gathering, hunting and raising all of the food for our family.  I love to tend my garden.  I watch politics like most men watch sports, and, nerdiest of all, for about 3 months a year starting in June, I drop almost everything and obsess about the reality show Big Brother.  I even watch the live feeds.
  • I’m giving myself a minimum of 30 minutes a day to write.   There are at least four novels and several short stories I’ve been kicking around in my head for the past decade – it’s time to put them on paper.

Oh, and I’m giving myself an opportunity to take my sons to see Star Trek at the theater.  Tonight.

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Memorial Day

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Not just today, but every day: to all of my fallen brothers and sisters, I thank you, I’m proud of you and I will teach my children about your sacrifice.

Airborne.

… and then I couldn’t breathe.

20130524-090220.jpgYesterday, I was really looking forward to my run. It was a short run day and nothing was hurting … not even stiff calf muscles. It was cool and not humid. The only thing working against me was that the pollen count was high and my allergies have been really bad this season.

I made it through my work day, finishing up right on time and MamaAcorn and I loaded up the troops and headed to the old Army base near our home for some track time. I love track days. Sure, going round and round in a circle is monotonous, but I like that I can monitor my pace on each lap and that there are no hills. I really can’t stand hills.

I watched the baby while the other 4 kids and Mama ran. With the exception of the oldest, the kids were all in flip-flops – which they quickly dropped, opting to run barefoot. The kids were constantly bothering Mama, but I didn’t realize it at the time. They kept trying to talk to her while she ran and it was understandably driving her crazy – she’d been a little on edge, and I was hoping the run would help – but she finished near a state of rage and I felt horrible for not catching on and intervening. Truthfully, I was too busy playing with the baby and marveling at my two boys running.

My 12 year old’s form is atrocious, his arms are rock stiff and he’s hunched over most of the time, but he does distance running like it’s not even a challenge. He barely even breathes hard and I have yet to see him build up any serious sweat. I’ve got him working a 5k training plan on my phone and he seems to be enjoying it. It makes me proud to see how he doesn’t quit when he’s tired.

My 8 year old looks like he was born to run. He said he was going to do 3 miles and I laughed and suggested that he start a bit smaller. He did 3 miles. He walked some, but he never really stopped. We always joke around here that his volume level is either silent or screaming, there is no middle ground. He runs the same way. He would walk 50 feet or so, then take off at a sprint for 3/4 of a lap. without much of a complaint. Barefoot. On a hard black-top running track. The boy is a marvel.

The girls each ran about a mile as well, but they took a lot of shortcuts and stopped to do things along the way.

Then it was my turn to run and I hit the track feeling great. I did my first lap at a pace that would have given me a sub-6 minute mile and felt great. I was only supposed to go for two miles yesterday, so I had intended to go fast – but that was a bit too fast for me so I dropped the pace a bit and settled into about a 7:30. I finished my first mile around 7:15 and then things started going south. Halfway through my 5th lap, I started noticing stars. Not in the sky. Everywhere. Then the edges of my vision started to go black. I was worried I was going to black out so I stopped at the end of the lap … and then I couldn’t breathe.

I’d always imagined an asthma attack would feel like I couldn’t take in enough air. It was the exact opposite. It felt like I couldn’t push enough air out to allow me to get air in. I was gasping like a fish out of water and the muscles in my neck started to cramp from the effort. The stars weren’t going away, I’m pretty sure I blacked out for a bit – there is no memory there – and I. could. not. breathe. That is a really unsettling feeling.

I’ve always had a couple of post-run wheezing fits a year – usually the first run of the season. I think of it as spring cleaning for my lungs – getting rid of the cobwebs. But that usually passes in 5 minutes or so and I can run the next day with no problem. This was far worse.

10 minutes. No better. 20 minutes. No better. At 30 minutes, we decided to go to urgent care. An hour later, I could breathe again following a nebulizer treatment and had a prescription for two inhalers and my very own nebulizer.

So yeah … apparently I have exercise induced asthma … and I think that sucks.

Lessons learned:

  1. Cool days with high pollen counts are terrible days for people with asthma and allergies to run according to WebMD.
  2. You can develop asthma at any age for any of several reasons.
  3. My kids, especially the 8 year old, need running shoes.
  4. When you’re going to run or exercise, you should have your ID and Medical Insurance card on you.
  5. There is an urgent care clinic right down the street from my house.
  6. Breathing is highly underrated.

On the Menace of Gore – Part I

With Screen Free week coming up, I wanted to address some things about the screen. This is Part 1.

I’ve walked out of two movies in my life. The first was Natural Born Killers. The laugh track attached to a scene of forcible incest at the beginning of the movie was just too much for me.

The other was the remake of Evil Dead that came out this year.

I didn’t walk out of Evil Dead because it was offensive, and certainly not because it was scary (it wasn’t – I think Hollywood has forgotten how to be scary). I walked out because all I could think about during the movie was the fact that those hyper-realistic images of extreme gore are now forever burned into my brain and the more I watched, the more that would be in there.

We’ve always had “gore porn” in horror movies, but I don’t remember an effort to make it hyper-realistic until about 10-15 years ago and it seems like they have become quite adept at it. The last gorror movie I watched before Evil Dead was one of the Saw movies and that was about a 3 on the 1-10 scale now redefined and dominated by Evil Dead. I had no idea how far behind I was. Gore is so much of a focus now that the scripts suffer for it and it is stomach-turningly realistic.

But so what? You could say the same thing about morphing when it first came out as a special effect, or the rotation shot from The Matrix. The current thing is 3D. They’re remaking movies that were only mediocre when they came out twenty years ago just so they can redo them in 3D. When new effects are developed, movie makers exploit them with the same abandon as kids who have learned a new word that makes them feel smart.

The difference is that the gore desensitizes us to the value of human life. The more realistic it is, the more effectively it does that. The current generation of teenagers has seen a level of violence that most of their parents can’t even comprehend. Their brains are so full of horrific images that they’re not even shockable anymore. If you’re a parent of a teen and you think I’m exaggerating, go see the new Evil Dead and then realize that your kid probably wouldn’t even flinch.

I’d argue that it’s physiologically and psychologically impossible to have seen human beings die in hundreds of ways in an “entertainment” setting (and therefore take some sort of joy from watching) and still value a human life at the same level that you did prior to seeing all of that.

Your brain is an electro-chemical machine. When you see something, your brain’s response is an electro-chemical one. If you are scared, you get a hit of adrenalin. Your respiration rate increases, your pulse goes up, you may start to sweat and you’ve learned to interpret this response verbally as fear, disgust and/or excitement. That’s part of the fight or flight response and it’s important. But it also expends a lot of energy and the brain seeks efficiency. So, when you see similar things hundreds of times, your brain learns to adjust its response (and that of your body) for efficiency. You no longer get an increase in respiration, adrenalin, pulse, etc. You are no longer as afraid, disgusted or excited.

Now think about that – if the spectacle of a human being being ripped to shreds in a realistic and graphic way no longer concerns you, do you still value human life as much as before?

Video is powerful. That’s why the stuff on your TV is referred to as programming.

I’d argue that if you want to try to explain the mass shooting phenomenon, you should look to Hollywood before you look to the gun shop. The primary problem is the fact that the shooters were willing to kill in the first place, which method they chose and how they got it is a secondary problem.

Another way to think about this …

When you sit down to watch something, whether it’s a movie, a TV show, the news, a commercial or a school play – realize that that thing is “programming” and then ask yourself what it’s programming you to do.

Boston News Coverage

Dear News Talking Head People:

I really wish you would stop trying to give the terrorists a cute name.  They are not “Boston Bombers” or “Beantown Boomers,” nor are they “Marathon Bombers,” “Chechnyan Childkillers,” “Finish Line Fanatics” or even “Radicals on the Run.”  Stop it.  They are terrorists.  Misguided, radical, heartless killers who don’t deserve to share the air on this earth with the rest of us.

I don’t care what religion they are, because it’s irrelevant to what they did.  I don’t care what country they immigrated from, because that’s irrelevant to what they did.  I do care whether they acted alone and whether the other one we know about is dead yet.

Also, I think it’s perfectly acceptable to say “We really don’t know anything more now than we did 10 minutes ago.  We will now return you to your mindless local programming.”

Finally, I know that people say stupid things when they’re asked to speak non-stop for a given period of time and not allow any dead air.  I get that.  Heck, I’ve even done that.  But one comment from Richard Engel on NBC this morning was really disturbing to me.  The Uncle of the bombers gave his statement to the press and the news people started talking about it afterward and Engel said something like “He certainly was outraged … or at least he wanted to project outrage … it could have been fake.”  I find that comment despicable.

Take a step back for a minute and imagine that same treatment being given to almost anyone else.  “We just heard a statement delivered by the mother of the young teen driver who it is believed caused this traffic accident because she was texting while driving.  She was very upset … or at least she seemed upset … she may have been faking.”

The man was outraged.  Two members of his family committed a heinous and horrible act of senseless violence against innocent people for the purpose of causing terror.  It brought shame and suspicion to his family (and his religion and his ethnicity).  He wasn’t faking it.