Sunday, December 27, 2020

So, like - um. . .

This morning Deb made a little curtain in front of her face with the bedsheet and it was the perfect setup for a hand puppet to make an appearance. I popped the puppet, opened the hand puppet's mouth and nothing came out. I just kept opening and closing my hand making nonsense noises trying to think of something, anything, funny for it to say. 

This is scary. I'm very aware of my cognitive decline. But, these days, the reminders are way too frequent. The bon mot, the obscure pop culture reference, that guy who was in thing with the thing - almost all gone. I draw these blanks that my kids or my wife or my smart speaker need to fill in for me. 

I'm hating this. 

Making relevant, relatable connections for other people is what I do for a living. If I can't come up with new ideas, I'm sunk. Having at least a toe in the current zeitgeist is essential. Look, I'm not saying that I'm "hep" or smart or even all that aware. I am saying that coming up with something funny for my wife's hand puppet is a good indication of whether or not I can manufacture ideas on demand. 

I keep claiming in these posts that I'm going to do something creative. Now, I think that I need to just as much as I need to get my fat ass back on my elliptical. I've got to invest some energy into 2021 otherwise I'm kind of useless to anyone. 

I need a makeover. I need to take whatever scraps of good stuff that remain and polish the crap out of them. I need to hone them to the point that I can at least fake it. You and I will know the foundation is crumbling. I'm hoping an effort might help hold things together, at least for a little while longer.  

And, while I'm on the topic of reform, Deb and I were talking about how little we volunteer anymore. Lately, filling bags with rice and soy for Food for Kids once a year is about all we do - and this year we didn't even do that (I could blame COVID but, not really). 

This all adds up to trying and fix mind, body and soul. 

Here I sit and, just like this morning, I got nothing. I have no ideas. I keep telling Julia that she needs to just do one thing to tackle a list of tasks that seems insurmountable. I wish that I could take my own advice but, I don't even know where to start. 

Being on the cusp of a new year is helpful. New beginnings and all that bullshit. But, maybe this is the year. After all, we're all so eager to shed the stink of 2020. Change should come reflexively. It should be natural. You know, like coming up with a decent line for a well-timed hand puppet. 

Monday, November 09, 2020


I'm tired. I didn't realize how tired I was until it became clear that Joe Biden will be our next president. 

Every evening we watch the news and wonder what new gaffe or display of verifiable racism, homophobia, corruption, lying and bullying we'll see. It has been exhausting and embarrassing. What's been hardest for me is there are people I love who helped get Trump into office. Those same people tried to keep him there. 

I don't understand it. It seems as if I should make an effort to convince them they're wrong. Unfortunately, we've all been gaslighted for four years and we've even learned how to do it to one another. Rejecting solid premises, denials of proof, demanding unnecessary expertise and refusing to provide the same quality of evidence - these are just some of the techniques we've learned from watching Trump's press conferences alone. And when we use them on each other, our feet become buried in the ground and we will not move. 

Maybe I'd understand the rigidity if it was just based on policy or even our fears about what our government can do to us and can't do for us. But, Donald Trump is a dick. A megalomaniac, serial liar who has given legitimacy to hatred and corruption. These people, who I love, wouldn't accept a man who behaves like he does into their lives without trying to help him or at least find a way to keep him from hurting others. Why would they vote for him?

I often hear that people were searching for a non-politician, a businessman who will shelter them from taxes and keep their 401Ks safe. Maybe they could overlook a stunning lack of character as long as we can reliably call 911 and the unborn are protected. They elected someone who will make sure their way of life (and I'm not really sure what that means) doesn't disappear. To a certain extent, maybe they got what they wanted by voting for Donald Trump - but at what price? 

I listened to Joe Biden's speech on Saturday. It wasn't extraordinary. There was no soaring language or revelations about who we are as a nation. It was just a statesman who spoke directly to us about unity and the things that make us strong like hard work and telling the truth. It choked me up because it was something I haven't heard in four long years. It reminded me of how tired I am. It gave me hope that soon, maybe I can even take a little nap without keeping one eye open. 

Friday, August 21, 2020

When You're Feeling Sad

I've been on vacation for a week. We traveled north to a cabin that sits on the shore of Island Lake in Winter, Wisconsin. We floated around the tiny lake in a rowboat, in kayaks, and a little paddle boat. We caught fish that were almost too small to wrap their lips around the tiny hooks we had attached to our lines. At night we laughed at and with each other. It was only a couple of nights. I could have used more time away. At one point we were all floating in our respective watercraft and I said, "I didn't realize how balled up I was."

I was able to unwind for a bit. It didn't last long. I'm back home and the inconsiderate neighbors, the back-to-work blues, Allie returning to campus, Julia applying for college, my health, the pandemic, the economy and the myriad of thoughts that had me wrapped up tightly never went far away. This morning they came to a head and I snapped at Debbie for something minor. Then I realized I'm not angry. I am sad and anxious. 

I can cope. I'm old as hell and that means I've uncovered at least a few tactics that I can use to soothe myself. Here's a list (some are a little less self-destructive than others):

  • Listen to music
  • Eat all the things
  • Do something that makes me sweat (lately, that means long bike rides, hikes, elliptical instead of the tennis or squash that my knees no longer seem to be able to handle)
  • Create elaborate plans for self-improvement that I never enact
  • Immerse myself in cleaning, yard work, car maintenance or any project that allows me to see that I made a change
  • Clean and groom myself
  • Stare at my smartphone
  • Buy things that I don't need
  • Sleep
  • Journal or blog
It occurs to me that this list is entirely made up of singular activities. I suppose that reaching out to a friend or family is much healthier but, I don't seem to be built for that. As much as I love them, I know that my moods are contagious, and like coronavirus, I see no need to spread the infection. 

I'm looking at the list and thinking that I've done everything on it and I still feel sad. As grateful as I am for all the ways my life is incredible I'm still struggling. I can't stop paying attention to my ego. I can't quiet the voices that tell me that I'm going to lose everything and that my family will suffer. And the ennui of risk aversion is starting to really chip away at whatever personality or character I may have.  

The future is out to get me and it's arriving so incredibly quickly. 

Things aren't quite so bleak. Like I said, I'm just sad. I know you get sad, too. Maybe you should listen to a little music and treat yourself to a Little Debbie Zebra Cake? You should probably just go for a very long walk with your earbuds blasting whatever makes your head nod uncontrollably (but those Zebra Cakes are like crack so, good luck). 

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Black Lives Matter

I could look up a bunch of talking points and recombine them here to make myself seem informed. When it comes to the topic of systemic racism, I want to figure out what I really believe. Echoing more eloquent words of like-minded people isn't a bad thing, I just think it's important to say something out loud and straight out of my head. 

I had an IM chat with someone on the topic of white guilt and what it takes to be an ally. I told him that I watched the local protests late into the night on TV. I didn't get off the couch. I didn't drive downtown and find a place to park. I didn't get out of my car and walk toward the noise on the street. And when the protests came to my Main street, I drove by and waved. I didn't pull over and stand with them. I didn't even honk my horn. 

This is the behavior that makes it difficult to change things. My horror and outrage at watching George Floyd's murder are meaningless unless I do something beyond pontificate to my family at the dinner table.

I have sought out many clips of police violence against protesters. The amount of cellphone video evidence of police violating individuals' rights in and outside of the protests is staggering. And yet, I still have difficulty reconciling the fact that I expect the police to protect me. And when I've had to deal with law enforcement, I've always been helped or at least been treated fairly. 

The fact that a white male just typed those words is not lost on me. 

The fact that I've never been worried about being pulled over for driving black is not lost on me. 

I was going to write that the police are just a symptom of the broader issues that contribute to racism. That's bullshit. And as much as I know we demand that police serve us in ways that they shouldn't have to, they are the ones shooting rubber bullets, yanking innocent people out of their cars, shoving old people and placing their knees on black mens' necks. 

I have no friends or family who behave like racists. I can't think of anyone in my circle who would treat anyone differently, let alone negatively, because of the color of his or her skin. However, if you are reading this and you want to respond to protests by saying something like, "all lives matter" then you, at the very least, have some reading and listening to do. If you are attributing looting and destruction solely to the protests and equating those acts with the message driving the protests then you are mistaken. And if you are someone, like me, who has always felt the need to back the badge, right or wrong then it's time to revaluate what that means and how that attitude is actually killing people. 

If I didn't write this, I am part of the problem. And after writing this, I am still part of the problem. Nevertheless, here's what I know: I know that racism is taught. I know that racism is systemic and that social and economic barriers are real. I know that the paradigm for policing in this country is deeply flawed. 

Of course, I don't have answers for any of these issues. But, these are the things I wanted to say, out loud and straight out of my head because, not saying anything at all is wrong. 

Saturday, April 25, 2020

New Keyboard for a New Normal

A new normal? I used that term in some language I was drafting for work. I don't really know what I'm talking about. After more than a month of pandemic-related isolation, we've all found a "new normal". Here's where I put a full stop to typing another word about being stressed when I see images of cars lined up for food distributions and people fighting to get their unemployment benefits. Let alone the daily life and death struggles for anyone infected or caring for the infected.

Still want to read about my new keyboard? I didn't think so. But, that's not going to stop me from reviewing my new Karura2 gaming keyboard from Reddragon. $27 is what I spent to get a comfortable and quiet keyboard. It's not as quiet as my laptop keyboard and the pressure for different keys is inconsistent. BUT - the keys are illuminated with any color I choose and it's nice to have a larger footprint and a (123456789) keypad. For $27 this thing is a bargain. 

Another suggestion for your home office set up: a cheap laser printer. Julia has been printing a ton of worksheets for school and our old Epson inkjet was costing us $50 a page. You know that's a huge exaggeration - but is it? Every time I ran out of cyan or magenta, it wouldn't let me print just black. I know I could have set my print preferences to grayscale but even after the thing sat for a bit I'd still have to clean the print heads and that cost me half a cartridge, it seemed. For the price of two full ink refills, I bought a laser printer. Now I don't have to clean any print heads and we're getting 1,000 sheets per toner cartridge. I just bought a replacement cartridge for $21. I'm not doing the math - all I know is I have on-demand black and white printing at a fraction of the cost. 

That was the dullest thing I've ever written for this blog. I should be punished, somehow. 

The cat, Simon, sits behind me on the buffet and puts his paw on my back until I pet him. He obviously has become accustomed to having us here all the time. He has developed new needs and habits based on unlimited human attention whenever he demands it. He's now looking at himself in the mirror. He finds himself fascinating. I just gave him major pets. I feel better. I hope he does, too. 

I just had a text conversation with Davin. Now I'm thinking about making wine in my basement. This setup, below, looks like something I could hide in a prison cell. Perfect for my needs. 

I should get started. It'll only be a few weeks and then I'll post after I've sampled it. 

I can't wait. If you thought me going on about laser printer cost savings was interesting, just wait until I drunk post. I just know I'll have some real insights then. 

Saturday, April 18, 2020

I Was Gonna Go Deep

I'm sparing you. You, dear reader, don't deserve what I was about to unleash on you. I went for a walk tonight and during that time I thought of a theme and a loose outline for this post. I had big plans. I was going to hit you with some truth and it was so profound your mind would be reeling for weeks. 

I started by looking up "Memento Mori". That should give you some clue where I was headed and why I decided to turn around. 

It's not as if I wouldn't have a decent excuse to bore the shit out of you with my ideas about the transitory nature of life. I'm living through a pandemic after all. The news I'm seeing, the statistics I'm hearing, the masks, the gloves, the weird looks as I move six feet away from someone on the sidewalk or at the store. I have an excuse. 

But, now that I'm here typing away, my appetite for serious reflection is gone. Now I'm thinking about all the jellybeans I've been eating lately. You see, I take a tiny pill every day that blows open my capillaries and veins so I don't squirt blood out of my tear ducts whenever I bend over to tie my shoes. The prescribed pill is smaller than the jellybeans I've been eating. I just ate 40 jellybeans. Am I naive enough to think that this 40:1 ratio isn't impacting my health? I've done my reading. I know that sugar is basically poison. So, why can't I stop eating them? Even the goddamn grape ones. I don't like grape but, I'm popping them in my mouth at an alarming rate. 

It doesn't matter. It's not important. 

I'm going to go to be and dream my weird, social distancing dreams. I posted to Instagram about dreaming about being trapped in a daycare owned by Don Rickles. It was called "RicklePals". I have a feeling I'm going to have quite a few more tonight. The pump is primed. 

I should just keep this post as a draft because it's worthless. But I just spent ten minutes typing so. . . 

Friday, April 10, 2020

One Month In

What struck me last night, as I thought about what I needed to accomplish the next day, was the fact that I know where I'm going to be. No unexpected travel for business. No plans for dining out. Should we check out the new Bond movie? I know that every workday I'm going to be sharing the dining room table with Deb doing my job. I know where I'm having dinner and pretty much what I'll be doing at 8:00 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. and where these activities will occur. It's not that I'm unaccustomed to a routine - a rut, even. What is unusual is the almost absolute certainty of it.

Last night I suggested we go for a drive and the four of us got in my car and wound up in Troy's driveway. It was a lot further than we expected to travel but, it was good to feel like we were free to roam where we wanted. We shouted at Troy from our as he stood on his front porch looking really confused and totally unprepared for company. We shouted at him, "We're here to play Twister!" and, "What's for dinner?!" Then we rolled up our windows and drove away. 

Allie goes to work tomorrow at the grocery store. I found an N95 mask and was insisting she wear it. She said she would feel self-conscious wearing a mask that should be worn by health care providers during this time. Her mother and I simultaneously told her, in a rather blunt way, that we didn't care about perceptions and wanted her as safe as she could be. I'd prefer that she stay at home. Allie doesn't agree. I'm hoping the middle ground is a decent mask. 

I wore a mask out for the first time last night. I stopped at Walgreens for a few things that we could live without but wanted. I was a tiny bit self-conscious as I was the only person in the store with the mask but, I also appreciate that the CDC would endorse my behavior. I'll wear one later today when I head out to the grocery store to get food for this weekend's Easter dinner. During our car ride, we decided to have corn, sauteed green beans and mashed potatoes with our tiny little ham. 

The Easter Bunny is still coming. I have a sense about these things. 

Monday, March 23, 2020

At Home. . .

Last week was our first complete week working and going to school from home. Allie was the exception because she was on spring break and spent most of that time working at the local grocery store. When we weren't occupied by our jobs, we spent the time looking at our phones, watching TV and cooking. Occasionally we made trips to the store but, because Allie was working at the store we'd just ask her to bring home what we needed.

When we did go shopping ourselves,  I noticed some bare shelves and signs that limited people to two cans of soup or one package of toilet paper. I watched a cashier let a customer know he could only have a single box of tissues. I stood in line with people who had multiple carts brimming with frozen foods, canned goods and anything that might last longer than items from the produce section or deli. 

Just as Julia was adjusting to virtual learning she's on spring break this week. And just as Allie was getting into a routine here at home she insisted on going back to her apartment as classes resume today. My argument that the University of Wisconsin closed its campus for a reason had no impact. Her argument that she's paying rent and wants to retain her independence for a long as she can is flimsy. It must have been convincing enough for her, her mother and me to allow her to go back to Madison last night. 

I don't want to write about our portfolio. Its value is the same as everyone else's - frighteningly diminished. 

I'm not unaccustomed to working from home. It should feel the same. It doesn't. I don't see any kids at the bus stop from our dining room window. Traffic is almost non-existent. And I know that even if I wanted to go someplace and do something, it's more than likely canceled or closed. That's the sensation that's the most prevalent this morning. I can go for a walk. I can get in my car and drive. But, there's no place to go and nothing to do, really. Not that I do all that much. It turns out that buying stuff I don't really need and eating out are/were my primary hobbies. 

I'm spending a lot of time thinking about my family. I just sent a group text to try and cull some info about how they're doing. So far, only Pam has responded. She's still going into her office but they're asking people to drop off their taxes and then go away. She says she's spraying her hands with Lysol. I thought she was joking. Turns out she wasn't.

I just heard from everyone, via text. It was important. Significant. 

Plus side? The house seems cleaner. Laundry is always done. Small projects are getting completed. I feel close to my family and they are, for the most part, nearby when I get the impulse to torment them in loving ways. The cats have awesome self-esteem as we compete for their attention. I've been exercising every evening so I've dropped a few pounds. 

The virus has disrupted our thoughts and routines so we seem to be thinking about ourselves and others in different ways. Learning how we and the people in our community react to emergencies has been both disappointing (hoarding) and encouraging (volunteers popping up everywhere). 

The message I'm hearing most often now is that we're in the early stages here, in the U.S., and that it's going to get much worse before it gets better. I'm really good at creating scenarios in my head of what "much worse" will be like. I don't think it'll be as bad as my imagination tries to make it. I'll try to post again next Monday and let you know what the reality of "much worse" actually was.