First Day at the Theatre

There’s very little that I remember with any degree of clarity from my early elementary school days. 4th and 5th grades, sure, but prior to that, not so much. That’s why the vivid recollection of one specific field trip is such a notable exception.

I remember looking forward to the trip with so much excitement as my parents signed the permission forms in the days preceding the event. I remember boarding the bus with my friends and driving the short distance to the nearby college in the adjacent town. The college had a quality theatre program, and I was going to see my first play.

Now, I can’t say that I remember the plot of the show. I remember being quite unsettled by the villain, and one line in particular as he prowled the front row, cracking through what I now know to be the fourth wall as he questioned:

“Do you know what’s in my secret formula? Well, of course you don’t!”

In short, I returned from that trip with a sense of magic. I had never seen anything like live theatre, and, obviously, it stayed with me as I’ve pursued that calling in various professional avenues from college forward, even though I’ve never made it my living exclusively. I’m so thankful that I was afforded the opportunity to experience that show. My experiences with the theatre have been amazing ever since.

This week, I was given an even more profound opportunity, a more amazing one. I had the opportunity take my daughter, with her pre-school class, to her first play.

The show was Peter Rabbit Tales, and she is already quite familiar with the original work of Peter Rabbit. She was thrilled, so excited as we counted down the days. I drove her to school, joined the caravan of vehicles that went to the arts center, and watched the traveling theatre group’s performance. Even more than the show, however, I watched my daughter’s face as she sat, literally on the edge of her seat, her eyes almost unblinking, never wavering from the stage.

I wonder if the enrapt expression on my face was similar that day so many years ago when I watched that play. I wonder if this experience will have the impact on our daughter that day had on me. I know that she has been impacted by experiencing this art in person, and I know that it was an enormously positive experience for her.

An experience in which I was able to take part.

This was one of the most amazing experiences that I’ve had as a parent, more impactful even that my first play. I am thrilled to have been able to join my daughter for her first play.

Against Doctor’s Orders

A few years ago, in what seems like a far away time, Karen and I had a really great apartment on the top floor of a building of really great apartments. The apartment had a sunroom. I was usually home from work early in the afternoon then, and I would often sit in the sunroom to read or pray or think. I remember watching the parking lot below, and seeing people returning from work later and later into the evening. They always looked tired, weary. I always knew that I really didn’t ever want to be one of those people.

I was…so naive.

At some point over the last three years, the un-thinkable happened. I became a workaholic. I know that it happened during our brief adventure in North Carolina, when I was freelancing for a living and keeping my skills up to date in a career that changes at a pace that is simply ludicrous. I was, however, prepared for this from much earlier in life.

My background, after all, is in theatre. For those of you who think that artistic pursuits are somehow cushy or marked by a lot of flexibility in time, permit me to dispel this myth. I worked 60-hour weeks in theatre. There was no such thing as being ill. We joked that missing rehearsal was only acceptable if you were dead, and that required a 24 hour notice. Even earlier than this, though, I observed my father working very hard. My mother chose to stay at home when I was young, and he took his responsibility to provide for his family very seriously.

Both of these experiences gave me a work ethic, and I’m very grateful for that. The thing about working for yourself, however, is that you work a lot.  60-hour weeks were again often the norm. And, while I love what I do, my family suffers.

Turns out they’re not the only ones.

I have a day job again since we’ve returned to New England, and I seriously intended to let that reduce the number of hours that I spend working. Of course, there’s always a side project popping up, but, for the most part, I was looking forward to a 40-hour week again. Occurring simultaneously, however, is our oldest daughter’s first year of school. This means that she’s bringing home various sorts of bugs and illnesses to which Karen and I succumb. A few weekends ago, she brought home the flu. The nasty bug made it’s way through the household, but didn’t stop there for me. Within two days, the doctor advised me that I had pneumonia. I had never had pneumonia before. I’ve heard that it’s bad, but I gathered that it can be treated like everything else. So, I dutifully finished my course of antibiotic, took a total of two days away from work, and dove back in. Then went out of town for a weekend with the family. Then worked a small theatre weekend project. Then went out of town again for a conference.

And then, basically, collapsed.

When the doctor said that it took a long time to recover from pneumonia, he wasn’t kidding. This recovery is taking a long time. Of course, had I listened to him to begin with and taken a week out from work instead two days, I likely wouldn’t be quite so hesitant to get off of the sofa now, nearly three weeks later.

So, I knew that I work too much, but it turns out that I really work too much.

The good news is that I’ve had a lot of time to catch up on my reading, which has been nice. It also means that I’ve had time to journal, and to reflect on things. One of my realizations has been that, in the evening when the kids are in bed, I’m a bit lost when I don’t have work to do. I have been for some time. That’s a sad state of affairs.

Being forced to slow down has been a good thing for me. Difficult to cope with, but a good thing. I hope that, when I’ve recovered, that I can stay…recovered.

We’ll see.

Data-Driven Mystery

There’s a phrase…I’m certain that you’ve heard it…that says something to the effect that magic is simply science that we don’t yet understand. The underlying premise of this statement is that we can explain everything if we try hard enough, if we think logically enough. This is a premise that leaves no room for the unknown, that makes failure to understand something wrong, perhaps even difficult to forgive.

I’ve been really drawn to the fact that Marvel’s on-screen adventures, both large and small, have began to explore paranormal characters of late, largely because these characters are in such stark (pun only slightly intended) contrast to the technology-driven and scientifically altered characters that have dominated the broader audience’s exposure to these heroes to date. Part of the reason for my affinity toward these paranormal adventurers is that they are a metaphor for something beyond the physical, a deeper part of our existence that is outside of what we can measure, touch and feel, something so far removed from my profession.

As Lewis told us, the physical part of our world is only a part of the whole, and so much less real in so many ways than the spiritual.

When I was young (read: I’m totally still this way), I used to love post-apocalyptic stories in which science and magic co-existed in the world that had emerged from the ruins (think the world of Thundarr the Barbarian, as an off-the-cuff example), because they symbolize the truth that the physical and the spiritual work together, complement one another. Without either, humanity doesn’t work. To abandon one, or to minimize one in favor of the other, is to set the stage for us to be less than intended. As much as I love my toys, I’m reaching the conclusion that technology ultimately leaves us empty, because it focuses exclusively on the realm of the physical. Technology is our own finite creation. We’ve built it, we can know everything about it. Technology leaves us in the role of God, but pre-supposes that we are gods over a tiny kingdom that appears to us so much larger than it actually is.

Working in technology is creative, don’t get me wrong…as creative as any of my other pursuits. I get to write code that builds some really cool things. Technology, however, takes a poor view of mystery, because mystery implies something that we do not understand. Software can’t (or at least shouldn’t) be released with things that we don’t understand, so not understanding is weakness. If mystery remains in a project, then it is removed and replaced with a different approach that does not contain mystery. Technology is physical, and not only can it be quantified and measured, but must be. The spiritual cannot be. It must leave room for mystery.

Mystery, in technology, cannot be permitted to exist. Interestingly, we view technology as an extension of our lives, lives in which we thus have a perceived need to measure and quantify everything. We don’t want to permit mystery anywhere else, then, either.

Yet mystery is beautiful, because it helps us to understand the limits of our own lives. The fact that our control is illusion, that we are not, in fact, gods.

Because when we understand that, we begin to recognize that there is something so much bigger than us, something beyond our physical world, something that we cannot measure. What we don’t know is as beautiful as what we know, because what we don’t know leaves room for belief.

And belief leaves room for faith.

And faith leaves room for us all to be so much more compassionate, understanding, and…human…than we currently seem to be. I’m sure we can find data support that.

 

Layered in Snow

Layered in SnowA few weeks ago, before an uncharacteristically warm few weeks in New England, I was driving home on a route that had been my evening commute for some time when Karen and I lived here previously. As it was still winter, there was a good deal of snow still piled on the sides of the road…I’m guessing a couple of feet, or so…when I stopped at a traffic signal on the final stretch of my drive home.

My drive home now is nearly identical to my drive home then, and, as this particular traffic signal takes a bit longer than one would expect to change, I have often found myself observing the surroundings on either side of the intersection. I did then, and I do that now, and those snow banks sparked memories for me.

I felt as though, even after having been gone for two years, that our old lives were hibernating in that snow, suspended somehow as though we had never been away. I had been so homesick for this area for our most recent two years in the South, and, upon our return this summer, we fell so easily back into the rhythms and routines that had marked our lives before we left.

I can remember when Karen and I first explored this town. We drove around, looked at an apartment, had a picnic on the common and discussed if we could live here. It was small to me, but there was something about it. We took the apartment, and stayed. When we knew this summer that we were moving back to New England, there was very little discussion…indeed, almost the assumption…that we would live here again. In our short time here, there was so much about our family that solidified in my mind. Somehow, it felt as though that would all just resume when we returned.

Except that so much has changed in two years. Our daughter isn’t as young as she once was, and Sunday afternoons of Daddy-daughter time watching Kipper and Thomas the Train aren’t so much her speed at this age. She’s moved on. I’m not working the theatre gig I worked on weekends when we were here previously. We have two children now, not just one. Our faith community no longer holds a service on Saturday nights. And those are just the differences that I immediately noticed.

Life isn’t static. It doesn’t sit still. We can’t just resume where we left off, as much as I would sometimes like to do so. Because it’s not as though Karen and I didn’t experience some really difficult times when we lived here before. We did. Like most of us, though, I tend to hold on tightly to the positive memories and lightly to the bad, a coping skill which lets nostalgia get the better of me.

So, I guess I’m only doing what all of us do, walking in that dissonance between knowing we can never return to the past while still holding onto it in the knowledge that it shapes who we are in our present. Those years weren’t as glowing as my memories would have me to believe, but each of their combined experiences, good and bad, have come together to make me who I am now at some level. All else being equal, I would much rather walk in this dissonance than forget that past altogether.


I walked downstairs to the kitchen for a lunch break last week. Our youngest was down for a nap, Karen was working quietly on a project, and our oldest daughter, as though in a flashback to weekends of two years ago, was laughing joyously at an episode of Kipper.

And I smiled.

Perhaps we haven’t diverged quite as much as I thought.

Image attribution: niXerKG under Creative Commons.

Avoiding the Conflict

There seem to be only two sides lately. I say “seems” because I don’t really find that to be a true state of affairs, but the power of rhetoric has convinced many of this perspective.

Like many others in America, I feel a good deal of angst, of frustration, and mostly depression. Like everyone else in America, I have strong feelings about what is going on.

Many of my colleagues and friends, or at least those with whom I talk on a daily basis, feel the same as I do. I regularly read tweets and hear opinions from people with the same perspective as mine. There’s no friction when we talk, but rather a shared angst. We’re in our own space, free of disagreement.


A long time ago, I had a dear friend. I always found us to have a great deal in common. We performed together, walked through life together. We had very candid discussions about very uncomfortable things, the stuff of a real life and of human beings trying their best to work through it. Late one night after a tragic event had occurred, even though we hadn’t seen each other for some time, this friend called me and we met for coffee to try to make sense of it, to try to cope.

It’s not like we always agreed, my friend and I. We had different opinions on things, we agreed to disagree at times. The things that we had in common, though, were a much stronger binding agent than any differences which we had discovered.

I should pause here and recognize that any friendship suffers a bit when one person moves any distance away. Karen and I have moved a lot in the past few years, and keeping up with friends has proven a challenge at times. Still, when I re-connected with this friend, we did what old friends do: we caught up, we mused about the things that had changed with each other, we laughed about the things that were the same.

This friend and I fell on opposite sides of the great political rift that has split our country. Conversations became heated at times on social media, but never un-civil. At the end of the day, we were still friends. Until the social media connection…which was really the only consistent means of communication that we used…was broken.

Because I still follow this old friend, I read what is written at times, and I feel a flush of frustration and anger. I want to respond succinctly, or even vehemently, to what I perceive as a course of logic in which no educated person could seriously believe. The old friendship, though, holds true, and so I ultimately just avoid the situation, making no response at all.

Neither is the correct solution.

You see, I don’t for a moment believe that our problem is the political climate that edges us closer to civil war again. I don’t think that the underlying current of hatred and bigotry is new, or somehow more powerful than before. As frightened as I am to raise my daughters in this atmosphere, the factors which normally receive the blame aren’t the core of the problem.

The issue is that we, all of us, for a long time now, have surrounded ourselves with people who are in the same space as we are. We speak with people who think as we do, who share our opinions. We feed off of that, we become encouraged. And then we become cast in stone, our opinions set. We won’t entertain other ideas, other thoughts.

We won’t have discussions with those who think differently, regardless of how close a friend the other person may be. Differences of opinion cannot be tolerated, will not be entertained. Opinions other than our own are simply wrong.

My freshman year of college, I had an introductory communications theory class with the chair of the department. This was slightly intimidating. She introduced us to a quote during that semester that has remained with me ever since. I have no idea to whom this quote could be attributed…perhaps it was to her…but I remember what she said verbatim:

“Civilizations advance or decline based on their ability to talk about their problems.”

We haven’t been able to talk about our problems as a society, as a culture, for years. Civil discourse eludes us, and public debate becomes a challenge to yell louder than the other person. All sides of the divide resort to violence. The basest of emotions drive our decisions, drive our actions, drive our beliefs.

We do exactly what I do with my friend on Twitter. We avoid.

Our avoidance has brought us to a dangerous position. We cannot talk. And so we are declining. Perhaps fatally.

You see, I’m not certain that our country can recover from this stagnation in discussion. I think that it’s likely too late, and that only cultural disintegration and chaos will follow. Hopefully, I’m mistaken. What I know for a fact is that, if there is any hope that our future will not become the bleakest of scenarios, then we have to stop avoiding.

We have to begin talking.

And before we do any of that, we have to listen.