Analog Holidays

Do you think about New Year’s resolutions in advance? Maybe I’m alone in that. I tend to consider them before Christmas of late, not because I want to craft resolutions that I know I can keep (although the temptation is great there), but more because I want to give some consideration to what I really want to accomplish in the new year.

So, if you’ve been reading here long at all, you know some of this back story, and the back story is that there’s a story…a novel, in fact…that I started before our first daughter was born. That was back when the writer in me took precedence over most everything else in my free time, and this story was something that I really wanted to tell.

I still want to tell it, but life sort of got in the way for a few years. I changed careers, I went to work for myself, we’ve moved too many times to count, we’ve had a second daughter who is now only days away from being a year old. All the while, pacing in the back of my mind like a large cat wanting free from it’s confines, has been this story, desiring to get out. I want to tell it…and other stories, as well…but the only outlet for words that I can seem to find time for is this.

Really, though, this is a symptom of the problem. Writing, at the end of the day, is the result of ideas, and one can’t have ideas if one doesn’t have time to think. Thinking often requires peace and quiet for me, or, at the very least, time to read and reflect and let my thoughts formulate into something that can become coherent. And to have ideas, I need other outlets. Every creative is this way, I think…one creative pursuit feeds another. So, the problem-solving with code that I do in my professional life does, in fact, feed my creativity because it’s a very creative pursuit, but I also need some other things, lest I begin thinking exclusively in arrays and methods with no hope of recovering any prose from the inner workings of my brain.

Knowing this as she knows everything about me, Karen surprised me with something for Christmas that I’ve been wanting for a very long time: a drum kit. It’s an electronic kit, one that I can play with headphones without disturbing children, and perfect to get myself back into practice with something that I loved years ago.

Putting the kit together was contemplative for me in an odd sort of way. In my high-school days, I could put assemble and disassemble a drum kit in my sleep, just as I was proficient in hanging lighting equipment and handling audio gear in the theatre. Lately, because my days seem to revolve around a keyboard, I have lost my patience with manually assembling things. This makes assembling a drum kit a remarkably spiritual experience in that it’s an exercise in patience-building. Who knew?


Something else that Karen and I have been discussing lately, and that sort of require assembly, are traveler’s notebooks. They have a devoted following of users, and we began watching videos from users who invest significant time and attention to customizing their notebooks with inserts and accessories. At first, I thought that this was a novelty for which I wouldn’t really have use. After all, I could count on one hand the number of times in a given week that I actually pick up a pen. The more that we considered it, however, the more attractive an idea it became. I suddenly could picture this permanent repository for my reflections, my ideas, my inspirations.

So, I opened my new traveler’s notebook this Christmas.

Analog holiday gift: a traveller's notebook

What I don’t want this to be is a materialistic thing. I’m not looking for retail therapy. I want this to be something that contributes to our (Karen is planning a traveler’s journal adventure, as well…she’s particularly enamored with bullet journaling) spiritual development.

As I wrote my first collection of ideas in the journal on the same morning that I’m writing this, I found myself slowing down. Hand-writing takes longer, after all, and the action of it seems to force a deeper consideration of the words being recorded.

So, I guess I’m shifting to a more analog way of doing things in my free time. Perhaps this was inevitable as my working life is entirely in the digital sphere. Hopefully, next year, I’ll be writing here about all of the positives that this change has brought about.

Happy New Year to you all.

Retrospective of the Purple Wall

The Purple WallOne Saturday morning around three weeks ago, I woke up in my daughter’s room.

The movers had come and gone, I had been through a crazy week of flights and orienting to a new job, and all that was left in our house were a handful of things that we needed to last a few days: an air mattress and similar sleeping gear for the children, luggage for a week, and the handful of small items that you don’t trust the movers to handle. We had moved all of these into our daughter’s room to compartmentalize the process of packing and loading of the house, and so that is where our entire family slept that night.

Days before, I had sat in the same room, already devoid of furniture, and talked to my five-year-old about the house in which we had lived for two years, the exciting new adventure to come, and what she had liked best about living there. I had always liked the way that the hallway in that house and turned unexpectedly at the end, giving the corner room (our daughter’s) a sort of quizzical geometric shape. She explained that what she like best, and what she would miss, was her pink wall (its actually purple, but she insisted).

Two years before, some friends had come to help us begin the work of getting the house back into shape. Karen had chosen wonderful colors, and we painted both our daughter’s room and the master bedroom with an accent wall. Ours were beach colors. Our daughter’s was purple (she still insists its pink). She really liked that.

There were really great things about those two years. We caught up with life a bit. Our daughter grew, and even gained a sister. There were very positive aspects to our life there…I almost exclusively worked from home, which allowed me so much more time with the family. Our daughter still talks about how much she misses the back yard, and how she could run and run there with nothing to get in the way and slow her down. She misses that.

On our final day, as we loaded a small moving truck with that last handful of things from our daughter’s room, we were all tired, hungry, and irritable. We argued a bit about the logistics of the next two days (we had to be in New England in around 72 hours, and hadn’t firmly planned a route for the drive yet). Before locking the door, I walked down the hall, enjoying its quizzical and unexpected turn one last time. I looked into all the rooms, closed and locked the door behind me, and we drove away with the For Sale sign in the front lawn, a picture from a movie, almost. I hope that the atmosphere of that house wasn’t in any way tainted by arguing in our last hour there.

We’re excited to be back in New England. There are things that will be notably absent, some seemingly big things…I don’t work from home as often, and our apartment doesn’t have a spacious back yard in which our daughter can run…but we’ll find new things from which to make memories here. I remember that house fondly…I have always been an apartment-dweller, and had never lived in a house that was mine before…and sometimes the thought of someone purchasing it makes almost sad.

Almost.

Unexpectedly good things happened during our two-year adventure there, and now we are back home.

Although the concept of “home” begins to become somewhat more relative.

Moving Forward

Moving forward. A Pods container used in our latest moving adventure.A few weeks ago, some of our family from New England came to visit. There were three children in our (small) house, as well as several adults, and it was noisy in the way that family visits are. For an introvert such as myself, it’s a bit nerve-wracking at times, but still…it was good being around family that we hadn’t seen in person since last summer.

The day that they left, they backed out of our driveway early in the morning, pulled slowly to the end of our cul-de-sac, and began their journey home. I walked to the end of our house and into our daughter’s room, which has the best view, and watched them drive away. I was thinking about how remarkably quiet the house was now. Too quiet at times. While it was soothing to my introverted nerves, I still missed our visitors.

That was three weeks ago. To say that things have taken an unexpected turn in those three weeks would be the definition of understatement.

Karen and I have been aching to return to New England for some time, especially now that the New Year’s addition to our family means that we have outgrown this house. We didn’t expect that to happen so…unexpectedly. An unexpected phone call resulted in an unexpected phone interview, which resulted in an unexpected trip to Boston to meet a team that resulted in an unexpected job offer. It felt so good being back in Boston, if even for a day, and now that will be a much more permanent state of affairs.

We’re moving in just three weeks.

With moving, of course, comes carefully orchestrated chaos as planning and organizing, phone calls and paperwork become interspersed with the day-to-day complexity of life. Things become progressively more…interesting…as more and more items become packed into boxes. No matter how well one plans, there will still always be that moment when you say of something that you need, “Where I did I put…oh, it’s packed.”

Karen and I have moved multiple times in the last few years. This will be our third major move up (or down) the East coast in just four years. While I am eagerly looking forward to this new part of our adventure, I find myself doing what I always do when we move.

I remember.

Now, this isn’t the overly nostalgic sort of remembrance to which I was (all too) prone for a bit, but rather a learned focus on recollecting the good things that happened during the phase of your journey that is ending.

When Karen and I moved (quite abruptly) to take care of this house, I felt as though I screeched to a halt. I had been moving at a breakneck pace since finishing school, and now found myself without a job to go to. This made time for unexpected things. We had been watching the Harry Potter movies before our move (I had never seen them, and Karen rightfully took it upon herself to remedy that tragic situation), and we had quiet evenings to finish them. I had time to pause and learn new technologies for my profession. Because we made several stops during that move and consolidated items that had been left behind at parents’ houses since we were married (or, in some cases, since we had left home for undergrad), we now had all of our stuff under one roof for the first time. I spent several evenings going through old comic books and novels that I hadn’t seen in years. While there was pressure involved (I was essentially beginning what would become two years of earning a living as a freelancer and contractor), it was relaxing for those first few weeks.

Of course, life became incredibly hectic again, and I had the opportunity for some really fantastic professional achievements here. There were several moments of renovating this house that I will hold quite fondly in my memory. We had the chance to frequently visit some of our closest friends from before we moved to New England the first time, and I am so very grateful for all of these opportunities.

I am more than ready to leave the South. As things become more quiet, though, I have more of a chance to remember. The contradiction of moving is that, while many things begin to move at a frantic pace, others slow down paradoxically. There is a huge importance, I think, to making space for the spiritual discipline of remembering these good times, these positive events. While I become less tolerant of moving as I get older, I find that these moments of reflection are gifts that only seem to occur as markers in these sorts of occasions.

For everything that has frustrated me here, there has been so much good, as well. I am grateful for every moment, as well as for every unexpected turn that our adventure together has taken, and for the family that we’ve become as we’ve embraced them together.

Moving forward is frantic, but there are tiny moments of quiet involved. Those moments hold beauty when you listen.

Grasping for Hope

Of the challenges that I’ve encountered during my life, being a parent is by far the most difficult.

I don’t mean for that to sound as though I’m some wise, ancient guru or something. Certainly I’m not, as anyone who knows me well will happily attest. Still, I have had some experience at life, and, relatively speaking, I haven’t encountered an experience as difficult as parenting.

I also am not writing from the perspective of the things that you generally think of when you think of parenting challenges. No, diapers, cuts and scrapes, temper tantrums, cleaning up after projectile…sickness…all are inherently challenging in their own right, but I’m referring to something more…well, more metaphysical than that.

There’s an angst, for me at least, that comes with knowing that there are two small human lives for which I am responsible. This is angst born of the desire to somehow protect them from harm, to keep away that which would do them wrong at all cost to myself, as impossible a goal as that is. As frustrated as I have always been at injustice in the world, I am doubly so now, because I find myself sometimes feeling an overwhelming guilt about bringing our children into a world in which there is a seemingly constant state of war or power-mongering or profit at someone else’s expense.

Of course, when either of my daughters smile at me and express a desire for my time, this all goes away, because I know that I can only do my best within my sphere of influence. Still, when the emotional onslaught makes its presence felt, it is a force to be reckoned with.

The reason that it is so overwhelming is because it is rooted, I think, in a feeling of hopelessness. I see violence and hate growing around us, and I feel that I have no ability to stop it, despite my intentionality of choosing to not engage in it. I know that both of my daughters will make poor decisions, likely decisions that will harm them at some level, in the future, and that I will be unable to prevent this, as well, as much as I would give anything to do so. A lack of hope is a dark place, indeed, and the smallest glimpse of hope in a dark situation is cause enough for the fiercest struggle.

Except, sometimes, the hope that I’m missing comes, seemingly, out of nowhere.

I was in a coffee shop a few days ago, waiting what in my Western mind was an unacceptably long time for my over-priced drink, and I watched an older couple come and go. They were traveling, is my guess…passing through as this particular Starbucks was right off a major Interstate. I watched them interacting with each other, their talking and their smiles, and my imagination began to weave a story around them. How had they met? How many children did they have? Where were those children now? What insurmountable odds had they faced at various points in their life together?

Certainly they’ve seen more than I have, and overcome more than I could imagine simply by virtue of their age. I wonder what pain and grievous moments might have interrupted their joy at being parents, either by decisions made or by the actions of outside forces over which they had no control. I wondered when they had felt powerless, as I sometimes do.

And I concluded that, whatever their story, whenever and however these events had occurred, that they were here now, enjoying time together, having made it through whatever challenges they had faced.

And there, in my imaginative wandering, was the hope for which I sometimes find myself grasping. They made it through.

And we will, too.

Not without scars, of course. Life gives us those regardless of our best efforts, but it is by those scars that we learn.

I don’t know those people, their names, or their stories. I very likely will never see them again. We do have friends, however, in the same position, friends who have been through more life than we have, and that, with only their presence, give the same hope.

I wonder if, one day, someone will see Karen and I in a Starbucks (that part, at least, is very likely) and think these thoughts. Because I know that we will have made it. I know that our children will have made it, that, in the end, everything will be okay. Not because things around us got better, but because life is created to survive, and because Light is created to overwhelm the darkness.

If we’re open to it, the hope will find us. Sometimes we have to force ourselves to be receptive to it, and that’s okay. That’s a spiritual discipline in itself. When revealed, though, the smallest hope will always bring us through the most crushing of obstacles.

Hope, by definition, will always point us to faith.

And hope is always, always more powerful than hate.

Always.

Moment to Moment

This weekend, I attended a funeral for a college student who left us entirely too early. We’re close friends with the family, so it was a weekend (and, indeed, a week) fraught with a myriad of emotions and events that, while healthy and necessary to experience, leave one exhausted at their conclusion.

Something said during the service was a tribute to the deceased young man’s love of life, how he lived every day that he had to its fullest, and how he lived it to the good of those around him whenever he could.

When confronted so harshly with our own mortality, it is normal to question the application of these words to our own lives, to consider what sort of imprint one would leave behind. There’s a natural tendency as a parent, I think, to understand the often experimental nature of raising your first child. That’s to say, it’s not a question of if you’ll make a mistake, but a question of minimizing the seriousness of your mistakes as you guide your child into adulthood. A tendency of mine has been to shrug off the moments when I haven’t handled a situation well…when I’ve minimized my daughter’s feelings, or been inconsiderate of her emotions, or raised my voice in frustration when I could just as easily have taken another deep breath and reasoned things through. I’ve assumed that these moments would be lost to her young memory as she grew, and that I would just get better at what was happening as I gained experience.

I’m not sure that these events are, in fact, lost to her memory though, and, as she’s now four, they’re not currently even if they once were.

Her quality of life, and the kind of person that she grows into, depends very largely on my actions and reactions during these years, and, while this is something that I understood in theory, the weight of it in practice is something entirely unanticipated.

Added to the fact that I’ve been unable to forge any depth of connection with our youngest daughter, this means that I’m leaving much to be desired in each moment that passes. Those moments are no longer just mine, if they ever were. They are impacting two other young lives in ways the depth of which I may never understand.

As I sat in the warm glow of stained glass windows this weekend paying tribute to another life lived, I considered the love of life and the importance of making it count in each moment. And while, yes, I understand how cliché that may sound, I think what strikes me here is redeeming the time…redeeming each moment…not for my own sake, but the sake of my daughters. To expect to handle every event, incident, and interaction perfectly is a superhuman expectation that I couldn’t hope to keep any more than anyone else can. What I can do, though, is do better. I can be more conscious of each moment, and how those moments carry repercussions into the lives of others.

If I do that, perhaps it won’t make any difference on my own life, but that isn’t the point. The point is the impact that will make on my daughters’ lives, and, perhaps, on others as well.