Category: life

Thoughts on Impending Fatherhood

In January, God willing, my wife and I will be having our first child, a boy. We plan to name him Elijah.

I wonder a lot about who he might be, aware that we simultaneously have a lot and a little influence over it. We’ll prepare him for the world, teach him to interact with it in a healthy way, but no amount of teaching or preparation can really inoculate you against society. School may make him cynical. Other people’s beliefs may make him uncertain. There’s no controlling for the worst, just as there is no guaranteeing the best. All I can hope for, then, is that he can recognize one or the other for what they are and react accordingly.

The cliche is that when you have a kid, you develop all sorts of hopes and dreams for them. Sometimes unrelated to your interests, and sometimes so intertwined with your childhood dreams you risk living vicariously through your child. I don’t feel any of that. I honestly don’t care what Elijah wants to be. My only hope is that he’s a good person. I think everything else, any success or accomplishment (or lack thereof), will flow from that.

Lately I’ve found myself trying to picture the world through his eyes. Or, more accurately, remembering how I saw the world when I was a child. Colors were more vivid. The air a cleaner scent. I think about how Elijah will slowly develop nostalgia and wonder what it will be tied to. Sitting at our kitchen bar watching his mother and I cook and wash dishes? Watching the world from our front window, next to our cats, smelling the cold in the air as summer transitions to fall? Will he read with me in our basement study?

One thing that’s weird to me is that he won’t be a Buffalonian, as I am. He’ll grow up near Philadelphia. And he’ll be a suburbanite, no less! If I successfully indoctrinate him into my love of hockey, he’ll probably root for the Flyers and not the Sabres. His cultural understanding will be different than mine. He’ll say “soda” instead of “pop,” or “wooder” instead of “water,” or “creek” instead of “crik.”

Elijah won’t know the bitter cold that comes with the wind off of Lake Erie. He won’t smell Cheerios from the General Mills factory on his way to school. We won’t take him to our favorite spots–the Botanical Gardens, the Basilica, or the Albright Knox–instead, we’ll find new ones with him. And then he’ll find his own.

We’re privileged enough, now, that Elijah won’t grow up to want for much, as my wife and I did. He’ll have more than two pairs of jeans to wear to school. He won’t wear his sneakers until they’re falling apart and, even then, glue them together. He won’t have memories of his grandparents bringing bags of groceries to the house when the factory went on strike. My parents worked in that factory so I could eventually give this luxury to Elijah.

Unfortunately, Elijah also won’t know his grandparents well. He only has three to start with, and two are in Buffalo while the other is just outside of DC. Because of our location, extended family will be a foreign concept to him. But on the plus side, maybe that means he’ll get to choose who he considers family. And maybe he’ll do a good job of it.

I’m fascinated with the fact that he’s going to enter our home “tabula rasa.” It’s a huge responsibility to teach a child, to instill in them the values that will make them a good member of society. Not necessarily successful (although of course I want that), not necessarily respected (of course I want that, too), but good. Someone that cares for others. Someone that gives a fuck.

I keep telling my wife that I need to get my shit together. Build good habits. Because I need to model these things for him. I need to show him with my actions what it is to be curious, and healthy, and empathetic, and kind, and respectful, and charitable. When he’s young he’s going to watch me and copy the things I do, if only because there is no one else. That means picking up my flaws, too.

I used to be afraid of that. I don’t want to fail him. I probably will. But it’s also a challenge I’m excited to meet. I don’t fantasize about watching Elijah hit a home run or earn scholarships or anything like that. I fantasize about the conversations we might have. Listening to him figure out the world and helping him along where I can.

I feel most excited when I picture the small moments we’ll have together. When it’s quiet. When it’s still. When I can soak in who he is and feel awe at the potential of who he’ll become.

Re-Centering

I’ve felt overwhelmed, lately. Between the house, work, Covid-19, protests, and personal things I began to have trouble sleeping, was dealing with anxiety, and generally just felt stressed the fuck out.

So, I’ve taken the last three days off work to recenter. I do feel better, but I’m realizing that the things I would normally due to find my equilibrium aren’t possible in this environment. See, I generally feel at my best when I’m able to fulfill three parts of my life:

  • Work
  • Creative
  • Exercise or play

Work is a constant, and often is the reason I lose my handle on the other two. Creative pursuits are something I need to actively do, but if I’m disciplined and comfortable it’s usually not a problem. Exercise or play I take care of, in normal times, with hockey. Covid-19 has taken that away.

Over the past few days, in between taking care of the house (a pipe burst and flooded our basement, so it’s been constant contractors in and out) and trying to relax, I’ve been thinking about how to update my equilibrium in these strange times. What I’ve settled on, for right now, anyway, is to change how I treat myself and how I define certain activities.

First, I’m forgiving myself for not going the extra mile right now. If I miss blog posts, or if I don’t write a thousand words per day (or at all), that’s ok. I’ve lost my designated space, my mind is distracted with new stressors, and because it’s our busy season at work I need to stay as sharp as I can be to focus on that.

Instead, I’ve changed my idea of creativity to include “passive creativity.” Stockpiling knowledge and ideas for when I’m able to attack it again. I’ve committed to reading more non-fiction (starting with Kevin Kelly’s What Technology Wants and Ibram X. Kendi’s How to be an Antiracist to deepen my understanding of the things I’m interested in and that have profoundly affected my thinking recently. I’ve already felt inspired by both, for different things.

The last leg of the stool, so to speak, is exercise or play (work, the first leg, is a given). Hockey is more than exercise for me. It’s almost the entirety of my social life. That can’t be replaced. Due to my family situation and our low risk tolerance for anyone getting sick, until there’s a vaccine I’m afraid that’s a “c’est la vie” situation. Instead, I’ve settled for making working out as fun as possible for myself. When quarantine began I bought a set of dek tiles from a local rink to practice my game on and support the rink while it was shut down. In addition, I recently bought a standing punching bag to do cardio on (I hate running) and vent frustration. I had a hanging bag when I was a kid, and lost a lot of my form since then. I’m looking forward to getting it back.

Whether or not these changes in perspective and approach actually help or not, I won’t know for a while. This whole year feels lost in a lot of ways, and I think accepting that things will be different for a long time so an adjustment in perspective and approach may be necessary is helpful to me.

Once I get back onto a regular schedule with this blog, I think you’ll know I’ve made it out of the woods.

A Brief Update

A lot has happened over the past few weeks, so I wanted to post a brief update. But first:

BLACK LIVES MATTER

Shamefully, I’ve been quiet about this on the internet. So I wanted to unequivocally state where I stand.

Just over three weeks ago, when the justified outrage of George Floyd’s murder echoed through cities across the world, I wrote a blog post that tried to sum up my feelings on my role in the injustice and what voice in the discussion I might have. It was about how I’m a coward and how cowardice like mine is one of the root causes for the lack of change in our prejudiced systems. Ultimately, I decided not to publish it (reinforcing its thesis).

At least, not at the moment. While it’s true, it also frames a discussion of race around a straight white guy’s feelings on it.

Instead, I decided to listen, read, learn, and donate. My wife and I made donations to the Southern Poverty Law Center, We the Protestors Campaign Zero Initiative, and the Black Trans Advocacy Coalition. If you’re able, please consider donating to these organizations as well.

Personal News

I bought a house. I had to move into that house. That took some doing. And then, once we moved in, I learned that owning a house is, in itself, a lot of work. Some of it is ignorance from not owning a house before (we spent $100 deductible to get our washing machine repaired and it turned out to be a stuck button-easiest money that guy ever made), and some of it is just part and parcel of being in a larger space. I’ve spent more money in the past month than I could have imagined being able to afford (including dropping nearly a grand on a sick cat–don’t worry, she’s fine).

On top of these new responsibilities, my day job is ramping up for our busy season. I couldn’t manage updates, or any type of writing, while settling into the house and putting in long hours at work. If I’m not doing one of those two things, I’m trying to crawl back some “me” time.

Speaking of which, I’m not much of a gamer, but got some games on Steam that I’m excited about. Here are some games I’ve played and highly recommend for those that would like a little break from reality:

  • Firewatch – One of the first games I played when I got Steam a few years back, it’s beautiful and absorbing. Play it to get wrapped up in its mystery and storytelling, or just play it to enjoy the scenery and relax. Both are wonderful experiences.
  • Night in the Woods – At first this might seem like a cutesy sidescroller where you play as a snarky, anthropomorphic cat, but around the time you find a severed arm in the middle of the street you realize there’s more to the story than meets the eye.
  • The Beginner’s Guide – A series of games within the game, it’s a meta journey into the mind of a creator. It’s also beautiful.
  • The Stanley Parable – As evidenced by Every Day the Same Dream, I have a thing for retreating further into the things that cause me pain. This game is similar in that you’re an office worker, there are illusions of choice, and it’s a mindfuck. To say more would ruin the experience.

I also started playing Dear Esther, which is another gorgeous, thought-provoking game. So thought-provoking, you might see a story inspired by it sometime in the future.

You’ll notice a pattern with those titles, in that they’re essentially all story-heavy walking simulators. If that’s not your thing, well then you and I are different people, friendo.

***

I hope to be back on a regular schedule this week. With the way work has gone, and the fact that while we’re technically moved into the house, we’re nowhere near settled, and the reality we face that our country is a shitshow, I can’t promise.

But I’ll try.

On Becoming a Fully Formed Adult

The face of a fully functioning adult.

Over five years ago I wrote a blog post titled, pretentiously, “The Ceaseless Onslaught of Adulthood or Pretension and the Act of Leaving Childhood Dreams to Children.” It’s about my feelings of getting older as a creative, and the push and pull between doing the responsible thing and doing the fulfilling thing.

Well, in the last five and a half years, I’ve further entrenched myself into adulthood, culminating with the purchase of my first house just two days ago. It’s a strange feeling, like a happy ending to a movie that you know is the middle chapter of a trilogy. I never had a clear distinction in my mind of what 33 year old me might be up to, but if 13 year old me did this probably wasn’t it.

There’s no way I could have imagined that I’d be married to who I’m married to, with the job I have, making the money I make (especially making the money I make, even if it’s not nearly as much as this sentence makes it sound like it is–growing up poor definitely put a cap on my conception of a good salary), and now living in the area I live with my own house.

Even ten years ago, around the time I first met my wife, I was making $10k per year through Americorps, working at an after school science program. I could barely make rent, had very few prospects, and felt like I was never going to escape my hometown. I was writing then, and had even just finished production on a movie I wrote (you can watch that, if you want), but was ignorant to what sort of writer I wanted to be, let alone how to become one.

Things wouldn’t get much better for a while. When I was 24 I did escape Buffalo. The next three years were hard. I was never able to get a foothold in my career, didn’t know how to make friends as an adult (actually… I still have trouble with that one), and spent almost as much time on unemployment as I did working. Luckily, I had a good support structure–something I know many others aren’t as fortunate to have.

I continued to write, entering screenplay competitions (and doing well in some, although never winning outright) and doing some freelance work to make ends meet. Still, no traction.

Fast forward to now and I’m by most metrics a successful adult. Wife, job, cats, house, car, etc. And I’m still writing. Still haven’t met with much success (as we covered last post). Sometimes the dream feels really far away, but more often I can still see it like a green light across the bay.

I initially meant for this post to say something about the act of getting older and turning pages in our lives. Maybe discuss nostalgia and what it does to us. But as I reflect on where I was at any other point in my life versus where I am now, I don’t feel much nostalgia. Beginning a new chapter feels natural and right, just as it did when I chose a different high school than my best friends. Just as it did when I left Buffalo, or when I followed my then-girlfriend (now wife) to New Jersey so she could pursue her Psy.D. Just as it does now, having closed on our first house.

The dream is still there. Maybe it’s evolved. Maybe it feels smaller now when compared with other life milestones. But it’s there. And it’s not going anywhere.

Knowledge is the Antidote to Fear

Gates Chemistry Library at the California Institute of Technology in 1944, courtesy of WikiCommons

I want to talk broadly about anti-intellectualism. But first, allow me to state clearly something I wholeheartedly believe and think others should adopt:

Knowledge is the antidote to fear.

My wife didn’t like monster movies. Gave her nightmares. To help, we began to watch behind-the-scenes featurettes on makeup and creature effects. Then we got really into the SyFy show FaceOff. Now, when we watch monster movies she spends more time in appreciation of the craft behind the monsters than being afraid of them.

It’s a simple concept. The more we know about something, the less we need to be afraid of it. Spiders are scary, right? But what if I told you that most household spiders don’t even have fangs large enough to pierce human skin (in the Northeast, anyway)? And that spiders actually protect us from other, more dangerous insects that might get into our homes by eating them? For me, learning these things have made spiders less frightening and has helped me to distinguish between those insects I should be careful of versus those I can pay no mind.

While that’s just one example, it’s always been true across every area of our lives. Disease was terrifying and mysterious until we learned about viruses and developed vaccines. Things like drought were thought to be the acts of gods we had to appease until we learned about weather patterns and climate and adjusted our crop cycles accordingly. We no longer had to be afraid of starvation when we could time our yield for the rainy season or move to more fertile areas.

Although I find this fact–that knowledge is the antidote to fear–to be common sense, there is a strange strain of anti-intellectualism prevalent in our society. It started with forced ignorance, where only white men with property were afforded education. Today, though, I’d argue ignorance is more often than not a choice (recognizing, of course, the very real and very limiting disparities in access to quality education for minorities and poor people). We see this in children, where kids deemed smart are targeted for bullying. It’s instilled at a young age that to be perceived as intelligent is to be perceived as weak. Culturally, we reinforce this with geek vs. jock and beauty queen vs. bookworm narratives. Not only is it wrong–it’s dangerous.

Knowledge is strength in anything for which it’s applied. The reason we’re able to live safely, far past the lifespans of our ancestors, is because of advances in our collective knowledge earned over centuries. To be purposefully ignorant tells me you have no interest in basic survival.

We should celebrate curiosity and learning. Raise those with special interests and skills to the top of our culture so that we can all benefit. Most importantly, we should all strive to better ourselves. Not because of any internal (emotional, spiritual, or otherwise) motivation, but because it will make us safer and stronger as individuals and as communities.

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