Frenetic Pace

I’m writing this at the end of a long weekend, the Thanksgiving holiday weekend in the U.S. We’ve returned from a dinner marking the first Sunday of Advent. It was the first social event that I’ve gone out for since Thanksgiving day.

I’ve worked really hard to avoid busyness (yes, I know that’s only sort-of a word) since I finished grad school. Were I to go back through my posts from that time in my life, I’m sure that I complained about it way too often (if you were reading then and find yourself in vigorous agreement, I beg your forgiveness for putting up with that). I always thought that my time would be better spent writing than going back out after I was in for the evening. I felt that the hectic social calendars of many of my friends were a sort of sound and fury signifying nothing.

For the last few weeks, though, my evenings and weekends were filled. Having friends over for dinner, with all of the associated hustle and bustle involved, activities at our faith community, getting ready for Thanksgiving…all of these things made me feel alive in a way, as though I was getting to experience something that I normally avoided with such determination that the avoidance had become a habit of sorts.

Which was actually exactly what I had been doing.

Yet, in the midst of all of that, one evening I was getting our youngest ready for bed and was digging in her closet for pajamas, when I saw a backpack hanging there. Not just any backpack, mind you. This was what Karen and I affectionately referred to as “the essentials bag.” I remembered the Saturday afternoon in Raleigh when Karen and I picked it out.

You see, with both girls, we had one of these bags. It’s a specially outfitted backpack for outings with a baby. It’s neatly compartmentalized to carry changing gear, bottles, changes of clothes, etc. All of the essentials of which you will find yourself in need during any given excursion. The bag we had for our oldest fell apart from use, and we purchased a new one for the second baby years later. In retrospect, this was really more for me than for Karen. Somehow, having the requisite equipment helped me feel that I might be able to do the job of parenting, a job for which I have always found myself lacking in aptitude.

I remember each detail about that period in our oldest’s life. I remember the feeding and diaper routines, the morning rituals, the favorite toys. I remember as she progressed through the levels of her Pack N’ Play until she was too big for it altogether, when we had to buy her “big girl bed.” I remember reading the bed-time stories, checking out favorite books from the library over and over again until we eventually purchased copies because they were so beloved.

I don’t remember these details about our youngest. They’ve gone by so quickly. I was too busy to notice.

I’ll never be able to get that back.

So, as alive as this busy season has made me feel, or as thrilling as it was to be self-employed and successful in a new vocation, I need to find some sort of balance.

Then it occurs to me, however, that there are different types of busyness.

Because, as Karen and I were discussing the night that I write this about how much cooking and fun has been had over the last few days, I have felt it to be a slowing down. I found a rhythm outside of checking emails and consulting calendars. Cleaning up from holiday cooking, taking out the recycling…there’s something healing in the simplicity of these activities. Something relaxing. Something holy. Somehow, with all of those activities, the time multiplied, and I was still able to give piggy-back rides through the living room, read bed-time stories, and make breakfast.

Somehow.

And, as the weekend draws to a close, I approach the screen again with wariness.

Observing the Change of Seasons

Fall Leaves in New EnglandThere’s something comforting about the change of seasons. As we progress from one stage of the year to another, there’s a innate sense that this part of our journey, a few steps that we’ve measured in linear time, is coming to a close. There’s a feeling of completeness. I imagine that God designed it this way for a reason.

Summer vacations are a wonderful respite from the insane pace that marks our professional lives, but removing the air conditioning units from the windows is sort of a seasonal rite of passage in New England. Homes are rarely built with central air here because it’s only needed for about six weeks out of the year, so window units go in at the end of spring and come out at the end of the summer.

As we arrive at the end of fall, I clean the grill for the season as the evenings become too cool to cook out. By the end of October I’ve cleared our deck and stored the outside furniture away from the inches of snow that will eventually cover where it once sat. I also did this in when we lived in the South, although I often wondered if there was any point. In the South, everything is continuous, climate controlled. The months blend together, lose their variety. A blandness is pervasive as weeks and months and seasons pass seamlessly into one another with little noticeable difference. In New England, even during the dreaded winters that sometimes seem to last forever and threaten to extinguish the lives of those of us crazy enough to live here, there is a sense that things are as they should be. Air conditioners and deck furniture have given way to snow-blowers. Each season has it’s tool.

As I write this, dusk is falling earlier, and the trees surround us with shades of gold and red. Leaves are painting designs on the pavement, and the nights (and now days, as well) are crisp. Pumpkins adorn stoops. It is time for apple crisp and cider.

And, despite the senselessness, and occasionally the tragedy, of the world around us, seeing this somehow means that all is well.

 

Signs of the Times

Sign stating "store closed."This summer, while driving back from a day trip to the beach on our vacation, Karen and I passed a closed business in a small town in New Hampshire. The scene was what one might have expected. The storefront looked hollow, the windows dark and seeming like the eyes of a person who had seen tragedy…detached, too troubled inside to fully comprehend what they see externally. The parking lot empty. The sign still advertising, forlornly, the business that was no longer contained therein.

I found myself wondering why it is that businesses, when they close, leave their signs?

I pass old storefronts like this periodically, mostly when we’re traveling, that have closed but that still have their old signs in front, or on doors, or both, even though everything else looks abandoned. I’m always struck by a certain sadness when I see this. That was someone’s livelihood lost, devoured by a merciless system, perhaps leaving lives in its wake, certainly trailing dreams and hopes lost, unfulfilled.

I’ve worked for myself, but never owned a physical storefront. I have no referent as to what that might be like. Perhaps, when a business closes like this, it is too expensive to remove the sign? I wonder how the owners feel when something else goes into that space and removes their old sign?

I wonder what the new business owner feels like, replacing the old sign with their own? Does the sense of loss pass on to them, a warning of what could be in the future?

The sign left behind adds to the sense of tragedy in many ways. A document of sorts, a monument, almost, that a good thing once stood here. I’m sure that many times my feelings about these scenes are melodramatic. Certainly, businesses move, close after a good many years when the owner retires, and other perfectly normal scenarios.

Sometimes, though, I’m right. Sometimes, something was lost, and, for whichever times that fact is true, I empathize deeply.

Image attribution: Chris Chan under Creative Commons.

Sharing Perspectives

Picture of a seagull at the ocean.Karen and the girls were recently out of town for a week. When these sorts of trips occur, because I’m an introvert, I look very forward to the uninterrupted quiet time in the evenings. Usually, it’s quite the utopia for about the first two days, after which I find myself missing the controlled chaos that accompanies having children.

While she didn’t show the signs early, our youngest has turned out to be another Daddy’s girl. She can barely control her excitement as she rushes to greet me if I’ve been gone for even an hour. This is actually nice timing, because our oldest has entered a phase where she’s stand-offish about that sort of thing, so at least there’s balance. On this last trip, our youngest would wake from her afternoon nap every day, find Karen’s phone and bring it to her, insisting that she wanted to talk to Daddy. As Karen was quite busy with the purpose of the trip, she would start the FaceTime call and let our youngest carry the phone around for a bit to talk to me.

Two things struck me about these conversations. The first was that her end of the discussions consisted entirely of “Hi, Daddy” with various inflections for 30 minutes. The second was that, as she toddled around other people in the room, under tables and around chairs and other obstacles that I would otherwise not even notice, occasionally holding the phone so that the camera pointed forward, I had the opportunity to see the world from her perspective. She was sharing her point of view with me, without even realizing the extent to which she was doing so. She was allowing me to engage in her world even as she tried to engage in mine. She hugged the phone at the end of one of these conversations, the closest that she could get that day to her daddy across the miles of distance between us.


Last week was our family vacation for the summer. One afternoon we were walking along a rocky coastline in New Hampshire, and Karen took our oldest to look for shells. I sat with our youngest, now in the developmental stage in which her words are just beginning to form, and she grasped two of my fingers in her small hand as we watched the waves break on the rocks for a few moments. She took in the majestic scene before her with wide eyes, soaking in every detail. “Birdie,” she pointed out as the seagulls flew overhead.

“That’s the ocean!” she finally exclaimed, missing the occasional consonant.

There was no distance between us in the moment, and we were sharing the same experience, the same perspective, as it occurred, the first such moment that I can recall.

We did a lot of fun and relaxing things that week, but in that moment, my daughter and I were not sharing our worlds with each other. We were inhabiting the same one, together. That moment was priceless beyond words.

Dr. Who and Girl Power

TARDIS from Dr. Who. Image used under Creative Commons.As a rule, “gender-swapping” characters really annoys me. Marvel comics has been the worst about it of late, finding annoying ways to make characters like Thor and Wolverine female, and then wondering why they aren’t playing well with audiences. Surely audiences want strong female characters, right? As someone with two daughters (one of whom loves Wonder Woman), I can answer resoundingly yes, but re-purposing a male character into a female character does not a strong female character make. Rather, it shows a complete lack of creativity and belies the heavy hands of marketers relying more on their data than on common sense and dedication to the art or the medium.

I grew up with Dr. Who. My family watched it on PBS every Saturday night for as long as I can remember. The recent announcement that the Doctor will be regenerating as woman (while it was set up sloppily in the dialogue of this most recent, poorly-written season) makes sense to me, though. Is that symptomatic of a cognitive dissonance on my part? Not really. I actually think these examples are two entirely different things.

The Doctor was an ingenious character when written decades ago in what is now referred to as the “classic” series, in that a Time Lord‘s regenerations make him infinitely adaptable. Subtle quirks and personality shifts in each regeneration make for endless possibilities. The Doctor (or any other Time Lord) remains who he is at his core, but is a slightly different person each time, accompanied by a completely different physical appearance with each regeneration (although, to be fair, David Tenant and Matt Smith always looked remarkably similar to me, but I digress). The key to what this imaginative, fantastic twist to the world-building accomplishes is the perpetual opportunity for a writer to explore “what if,” to ask what it would look like for this character to have a different set of personality traits while still drawing on the experiences of being impossibly old, to show us what would be different if this character were an old man or a young Millennial. There are a nearly infinite number of possibilities in the Doctor, and this has made Dr. Who one of the most original concepts in science fiction, as well as one of the most enduring.

So, if the Doctor can regenerate from young to old, why not regenerate as a woman? This sort of just makes sense, as a Time Lord (and pardon my descent into geekery here) is essentially a shape-shifter at the time of his or her regeneration. The writers have even more possibilities to explore now as they can enter into the question of what a feminine dynamic will bring to the character. We’ve seen something similar done creatively (if not explicitly) in good science fiction before, after all. The character of Dax in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine springs to mind.

These sorts of spins are the result of creative pursuits of the story, not poor editorial direction, as is the case with Marvel’s recent gender swaps.

Even DC Comics’ more traditional take on strong female characters is wanting in comparison. Characters such as Supergirl or Hawkgirl were often afterthoughts, a forced editorial choice to make a female version of a male character in order to gain readers. Not that this doesn’t ever work (I personally have always loved the strength of the character of Batgirl), but, in comparison to an original, strong female character such as Wonder Woman, the efforts fall short.

My point is that, if the writer’s intention is to create a strong female hero or protagonist (something more of which our literary landscape desperately needs), then do just that: write a new character. The genius of the Doctor is that he now has the ability to be an example of how this is done well, while drawing on decades of other great writing to build upon.

My hope is that this will be approached as creatively as the BBC has time and again displayed it’s ability to accomplish, with the notable exception of the tragically poor writing of this most recent season. I say that this is my hope because if this decision is reduced in practice to merely a gender-equality move…more “girl power,” as it were…then it won’t work. It will last perhaps a season, and be remembered as an ill-fated blip in the history of the Doctor.

If, however, it is left alone…if the story is served and the creative legacy of Dr. Who honored…then these nuances will occur naturally, and we’ll be left with an even richer speculative universe, asking all of the questions about ourselves that such a universe brings.

Here’s to hoping.

 

Image attribution: Mike chernucha under Creative Commons.