Category Archives: Memories

The 80’s and 90’s were weird to me.

The Incredibly Long and Sometimes Awkward Story of the Day My Daughter Was Born

The second time I wasn’t sure it wasn’t a dream; this had happened the previous night, too, at about the same time.  My eight-months-pregnant wife called to me from the bathroom in a panicked tone right when my body had just started to really fall asleep. Last night she noticed some bleeding; I had stayed calm and told her to call our midwife to ask for advice.  The midwife said that it was nothing to worry about and that she would see us at our already-scheduled appointment the next night.  Well, here we were several hours after said appointment and we’re at it again.  But why?  More bleeding? The midwife was confident that everything was okay, so why am I being woke again?

“I think my water broke.”

The movies do this a lot.  A pregnant woman’s water breaks at an inopportune time and then it’s a quick edit to stock footage of an ambulance and then a “new” baby (played by a 4-month old) lying in the hospital nursery being admired by extended family through a window.  That was movie fiction. Women’s water actually breaking isn’t actually a thing, is it? At least, not common enough that this could possibly be what happened . . . right?  We called the midwife again and this time she told us to go straight to her office so we could check.  On the way we rang Abigail, our close friend and doula, who met us there to confirm that, yes, Dona’s water had broke.  We also confirmed that since she was 36 weeks along–days short of “full term”–that our plans for the birthing center were out the window.  We were off to UW Medical Center.

We called the grandparents, went back to our place to pack while Abigail picked up some provisions, and then very unceremoniously bid farewell to our two-person-plus-cat family.

Dona was checked in and Abigail and I waited with her in a very small room with lots of scary hospital stuff everywhere.  She was tended to by a very friendly nurse that couldn’t have been older than 16 who did some initial checks to verify the status of the baby and prepped Dona for a sonogram to “make sure the baby was head-down.”

Well that was easy.  Of course Clara was head-down.  Every time the midwives checked Dona since the baby was big enough to feel, we were told that she was head-down.  Just hours prior our midwife had confirmed it again.  But looking at the sonogram, the nurse wasn’t so sure.  She went to find a doctor to confirm what she was seeing, and what she was seeing–it turns out–was that Clara was head-up.  I believe “breeched” is not the proper term for it, but I say it anyway.  The doctor very casually said that we needed to prepare for a c-section as quickly as possible.

My mind was racing a million miles an hour. We had heard all of the horror stories of doctors forcing c-sections on uneducated mothers because it’s easier and quicker for the hospitals; we had also been told that our best defense is knowing our options.  I needed to object, and fast, but what could be done?  The baby was head-up, and I knew that a breech birth wasn’t going to happen (nor did I want it to).  I’d heard about turning the baby in the womb.  Yes! That’s it! I’ll tell the doctor that we want to try to turn the baby.

As if she was reading my mind in the 0.4 seconds it took to process all of that, the doctor continued, “Turning the baby is not an option; since her butt is down, her head did not seal the cervix and nearly all of the amniotic fluid has come out; there’s nothing in there now but the baby.”

I was speechless. I didn’t believe that the hospital preferred by our midwife, precisely because they were so good at handling transfer cases from birthing centers, would lie to us. It all certainly sounded logical. So internally I accepted where we were.

The doctor seemed to be better at picking up non-verbal cues from my wife than I was, because she concluded with, “I’ll give you a few minutes,” and left the room.  My logic-based evaluation and acceptance of our situation did not take into account the emotional impact this was having on Dona.  As the doctor left the room, Abigail went straight to Dona to comfort her; seeing that caused me to snap into action, too.  In my quick processing of our situation, I had forgotten about the emotional impact that ending up at the polar opposite of our birth plans would have on my wife; she was about to be cut open, too.  That didn’t help. She cried and we prayed and then did our best to accept where we were, and to even focus on getting to meet our daughter earlier than expected.

Actually that part of it was hard to get excited about.  You see, we were planning on moving in just under two weeks.  We had the apartment packed up (with baby stuff buried, as it was packed first) and plans to spend at least our first week in the new place getting it ready for the baby.  Now we had no idea what we were going to do. But there we were regardless. Also, I had been unemployed for the previous four months and had just accepted another temporary contract with Amazon that afternoon.  I was relieved to be going into this situation knowing I’d have work when Dona couldn’t, and the miracle-like timing was not lost on me (or Dona), but it was far from ideal and I’d been turned down for some very good permanent jobs that previous summer, and now Dona going into labor was punctuating the frustration and helplessness of my ongoing job situation.

Quite a bit of the next few hours is a blur.  I know that at some point, Dona was put on a bed and wheeled off somewhere, and Abigail and I got some mad scrubs.579538_10152154034710184_386241894_n 2012-10-16 04.32.00Lots of different doctors came to visit Dona and go over various aspects of the surgery.  A pediatrician came to talk to us for a few minutes–a young guy, probably about our age–and at the end of his speech he asked if we had any questions.  Abigail said, “Yeah, I do–are you from St. Louis?”  It turns out they were in plays together back in the day and he had been good friends with one of her brothers.  That was a fun moment to relieve some of the mile-high stress we’d been under.  Eventually they wheeled Dona away to the operating room and Abigail and I soon followed.

The room looked much like I expected it to.  Cold, technical, full of strange smart people with face masks on.  Dona was lying on a table with her arms stretched straight out and everything from her chest down behind a curtain.  I sat next to her and kept my face next to hers as the surgery seemed to start almost immediately.  She was working overtime to keep herself from having a panic attack, and I tried my best to keep her focused on getting to meet Clara early.  At her request I told a silly little story I’d made up the night before (and told to Clara in utero) about the hedgehog-holding-a-strawberry toy we’d bought at IKEA months prior, to keep her distracted.

My memory tells me now that the surgery went very quickly, but I also remember at the time it seemed to take hours.  Finally, the surgeons told Abigail and I that we could stand up and look over the curtain–I wasn’t aware that we weren’t allowed to beforehand.  It was hard to decipher what was what, with all the blood and iodine and surgical cloths, but for a moment I was sure that Dona’s intestines were hanging out and put to the side.  I’m certain now it was the umbilical cord.

They started to pull Clara out of her mother, feet first, and somehow managed to get her head stuck.  Every possible bad outcome flashed through my mind during that struggle; I wanted to run around and do it for them because it seemed like they were seriously over complicating it.  But they did get her all the way out and I quickly glanced at the clock, and it said 5:11 a.m.  All of her documentation says 5:10 a.m., but darnit I know better.

I caught glimpse of her face as they carried her to the warming table.  Dona and I had many discussions about what she would look like.  Dona was afraid she’d be ugly; I assured her that no matter what, she’d be beautiful to her mother.  That never seemed to comfort her too much.  My first thought when I saw her face was that she looked like Dona’s family far more than she did mine.

The night we found out Dona was pregnant, we called all the grandparents-to-be to tell them the exciting news, and my mother-in-law said, paraphrased, “I knew you were pregnant; I had a vision of a little girl with a full head of dark hair.”  Well, it was a few months before this surgery that we’d learned that she was right about it being a girl; as they carried her to the warming table I saw that she was also right about the hair.

“Oh no, Dona.  She has a full head of dark hair.”

Dona knew immediately what I was talking about, “Oh great.”

Another good moment to relieve some tension.

I remember silence from the baby while she was on the warming table and what seemed like 30 doctors surrounding her.  I felt each millisecond that went by that she didn’t cry, but no doctors or assistants seemed to be anything but calm.  Finally, she started crying and the look that crossed Dona’s face was one I wasn’t prepared for.  All of the stress and panic was gone in an instant.  “Oh my gosh,” I think she said in a tone full of wonder. I don’t know why that reaction from her surprised me so much–maybe because I was so caught up in how I was reacting to it that it was shocking to be reminded that Dona and I often do things very differently.  Or maybe it was because I was seeing her as a mother for the first time.

I was invited over to the warming table to cut the umbilical cord.  Clara was still crying; I approached her and let her hold my finger and started talking to her the same way I’d been talking to her nearly every night for weeks as Dona and I would go to bed.  She calmed down instantly.  They had the cord crimped and handed me the scissors and I started to cut it, and she started crying again.  They’re not supposed to be able to feel that!  Great, first thing I do to my daughter is calm her down right before hurting her.DCIM100SPORT

They weighed her and swaddled her and I carried her to Dona.  Again, I’m not sure why Dona’s reaction surprised me so much, but it did.  DCIM100SPORTWe only got a few short moments to take some photos, and then Clara had to be wheeled off to the NICU.  Thankfully I got to go with her.

I have video of this journey.  I won’t be sharing it here, though, as it’s mostly my feet on screen and the dialogue is me rambling on in post-panic fashion to the nurses about how my foot had to be put in a cast when I was born.

In the NICU they checked her vitals and noted that her body temperature was low.  Since she was a preemie she didn’t have enough fat stored up to insulate her properly.  They were getting ready to put her under a heating lamp, but all of the time we’d spent preparing for NOT having a birth in a hospital paid off here.  I asked if I could instead do skin-to-skin time with her.  The nurses looked at each other in surprise that a new dad would think to ask that, but they were enthusiastic about it. So that’s what we did.  I held Clara to my chest for at least a half hour, called my dad, tried to return some texts with one hand, and talked with the nursing staff.  This time much calmer.  DCIM100SPORTThe skin-to-skin time worked and Clara’s temperature was raised to an acceptable level.  She was swaddled again and we took her to the recovery room to Dona to try to nurse for the first time.

I know that Dona was completely exhausted, feeling a lot of worry over her recovery from the surgery, and keeping herself from getting to upset over how things turned out with the birthing process.  But the memory I have of her when I walked into the room with Clara was none of that–instead it was of a strong, beautiful woman far more ready to begin motherhood than I was to begin fatherhood.  She’d probably have disagreed.

We were eventually checked into our room, which became our home for the next few days.  They took Clara back to the NICU to allow us time to sleep.  It was probably around 9 a.m. at this point.  After some rest we finally updated Facebook, made a couple more phone calls, and I got my start date for the job moved back a week.  At this point my mother-in-law was already on her way to Seattle from Illinois and we had all the arrangements made to get her to us.  I felt guilty at the time, but I was relieved to have the nursing staff watching Clara for so much of the time those first couple days.  I didn’t have any idea what to do and having some professionals pace me into parenthood was a blessing.  Also the room service was nice.  What wasn’t nice was our second evening there, I was holding Clara and my back decided to go out on me.  Bad.  I’d been sleeping on a hard bench for two nights and walking around on hard tiled floors with no shoes for nearly 48 hours at that point, so my back was done celebrating, I guess.

Dona had checked into the hospital in the early morning of October 16.  We checked out and went home in the evening of October 19.  It wasn’t very long before I missed the nursing staff at UW Med.

Clara was on a strict 2-hour feeding cycle since she was premature, and apparently premature babies (far more than full term babies) are capable of sleeping through being hungry.  Which is bad for babies.  It would be a good thing for a bachelor, as this former long-time bachelor could tell you.  But babies?  You want to avoid that.  Let me assure any and all child-free advocates out there who have the audacity to compare their all-nighters to the sleepless nights of parenting–you’ve never experienced tired like caring for a preemie on a two-hour feeding schedule.  Especially a preemie that’s just not that interested in eating and would rather sleep.  You know what, little girl?  I’d rather sleep, too.  But more than that I’d rather you not die.  Thankfully despite being a month early, Clara was very good at gaining weight and was on to on-demand feeding within the week.

Looking back I’m not entirely sure how we made it through that, our move a week later, or the three months I spent working 50-60 hour weeks while Dona cared for an infant almost entirely on her own.  That’s a pretty cliche refrain, too.  “I don’t know how we did it, but we did.”  But we have so far.  To me, and to friends and extended family, this last year has flown by.  The first five months or so dragged like the first five months of third grade, but then things started to speed up.  I feel like I barely was able to blink.  Dona, on the other hand, has said that this year has NOT flown by for her; she’s felt every second of it.  Between the first two-and-a-half months of having to supplement nursing with formula, to the unpredictable sleep patterns Clara has gone in and out of, to needing to come off of her maternity leave a few weeks early to start working from home part time, I can’t say that I’m surprised it hasn’t flown by for her.

So what lessons have been learned? Well, I’ve learned that you should be ready for the baby by at least week 35.  I’ve learned that you should hold your birthing plans loosely.  I’ve learned that to a modern parent, Google is the best companion ever.  I’ve learned that hospitals are stupidly expensive and they’ll throw bills at you even nearly a year later.  I’ve learned that compliments on your baby’s best features can get pretty tiring coming from every stranger in the grocery store.  I’ve learned that having a kid gets more and more fun the older they get.  I’ve learned that while wanting to have “life in order” before having a kid is not necessarily a bad idea, taking a leap and just going for it works just fine.

So a big Happy Birthday to my little Clara Marie.  Despite me being unemployed yet again, I’m more confident about our next year than I was about our first and just as excited.

Abigail, our doula

Abigail, our doula

Grandma Charlotte

Grandma Charlotte

Grandpa Don

Grandpa Don

Grandma Marcia

Grandma Marcia

Grandpa Milton

Grandpa Milton

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On Being an Extrovert in an Introverts-are-Victims World

I’ve recently come across a blog written by a Kentucky-based talk radio host named Matt Walsh.  He’s young, opinionated, Christian, and fairly conservative or libertarian or something.  Whatever it is, reading his stuff is often like reading a much smarter, more articulate version of myself.  (What an interesting mix of surprise and not-surprise-at-all when I learned that he was a fan of Ron Paul).  I was planning on doing a blog post about how so many people, especially people without children, seem to consciously refuse to understand how children are and what parents can do to “control” them.  It was going to be based on some ignorant comments I got in an ill-advised, YouTube-based argument I had a few weeks ago, but I’m not going to write it now because Matt Walsh nailed it better than I could have.  So read that.  Then come back and we’ll proceed.

So he wrote a post that dealt with three different topics.  The first was homeschooling vs. public schools, then there was our society’s faux “diversity,” and lastly there was a discussion on his introversion and how it is to live in what he perceives to be an extroverts’ world.  This, as was the case several times before, was something that I’d meant to get around to writing about.  Except this time I landed on the opposite side of where he was coming from.  I’m a very extroverted person, and over the last year or so I’ve learned more about what “extrovert” really means other than just being a person who feels energized by socialization.  The more I’ve learned, the more irritated I’ve become at the audacity that so many “introverts” seem to have about how poorly treated they are by society, and how “extroverts just don’t get them.”  In a broad sense, I compare this to how Feminists have written the rules for accepted gender interaction in our culture over the last several decades, but will still blame everything on “patriarchy” and don’t stop to consider what kinds of issues men face.  Though please understand that’s an extreme comparison and I get considerably less angry by the introvert/extrovert thing.

Since Walsh so perfectly set up the kinds of points I was intending to react against, I left a lengthy comment discussing and defending extroverts such as myself.  It’s gotten a surprising amount of praise from both self-described introverts and extroverts, and I like it enough that I’m going to share the meat of it here.  What follows is a mildly-expanded version of the numbered points of my comment.

This is addressed to any introverts who think that extroverts don’t understand them, drain them, and/or confuse them:

1. In social situations I have a nearly-uncontrollable desire to be liked.

Not to be the center of attention–that person hogging all the attention is not demonstrating their extroversion but instead their insecurity. No, I just need to not feel like the other people around would prefer I leave. To the point that if, at the end of a given interaction, it seems that I’m not thought of well, it can haunt me for days and in some very real cases, years. As an introvert your reaction to this is likely dismissive, saying, “you shouldn’t care what other people think!” Save it. I’ve heard that since middle school and spent nearly two decades of my life feeling bad because other people’s impressions of me is something that I can’t help caring about. A lot. I can’t let go of that any more than you can just suck it up and learn to love meaningless small talk.

2. Extrovert is not synonymous with party animal.

When it’s said that extroverts need to be around people to feel energized, many introverts imagine someone like me needing to hop into a massive party and dance the night away to techno music while downing Jaegerbombs and filling the gaps with huge, steaming piles of useless, surface interactions. That could not be farther from the truth.  I can’t speak for all extroverts but I can say that large gatherings are worse than being alone to this extrovert. Recently my wife and daughter took a trip away for a week while I stayed home. I got sick right before they left and as a result spent several miserable days at home alone with next to zero interaction with anyone. By the end of it I felt some considerable depression settling in. Thankfully a cookout had been planned by a small group of friends and I was able to attend. I got re-energized in the best way possible by spending quality time with a handful of people I like, and we simply ate and talked. We talked about politics, pop culture, nerd culture, and personal stories and shared memories. If that gathering instead had been a large number of people interacting on only a superficial level, I would have been worse off than if I’d stayed home. I need interaction and socialization to feel energized, but it has to be real and meaningful.

3. Do you get exhausted by your extroverted friends? Guess what. . . .

I wish I had known more about all this introversion/extroversion stuff when I was in college because in those days my closest friends were at least in part introverted, in the proper sense. If I had my way, we’d have spent every possible second hanging out and talking and laughing both in large and small groups. Instead I was regularly made to feel awkward by these friends (and somewhat shameful, though not intentionally on their parts) because they would get “peopled out” and need to spend a weekend in or something. That’s fine for them but I always felt drained and abandoned at the sheer mention of this. We extroverts don’t always have a couple spare sets of extrovert friends waiting in the wings to spend time with us when the introverts need some alone time.  As an adult now I understand that this is just the nature of things when introverts and extroverts are friends and compromises need to be made for everyone. But the point is that if you feel drained by extroverts, understand that it goes both ways. (And which do you think is easier?  To insist on more alone time?  Or to insist that your friends spend more time with you?)

4. Extroversion is not synonymous with confidence.

I’ve been a socially averse and shy person my whole life. Not a great combination with extroversion, let me assure you. I’ve had plenty of people that I’m comfortable around make the incorrect assumption that I can walk into any social situation and own it, because that’s how I am around them. I’ve also been annoyed by people I don’t know who observe how quiet I am around them and assume that I “must be introverted and needs to be left alone.” This is currently a problem area for me because my church is one that is huge on being outward-focused, so a lot of emphasis is placed on meeting new people on Sunday mornings and not just chatting with your friends before and after service. But my shyness (and fear of not being liked or coming across as awkward–see #1) regularly prevents me from doing this. I’m still riling over a handful of terrible examples of such interactions that took place about ten years ago, too (see #1), so that’s another hurdle.

5. Extroverts often need to process externally.

Do you find that, in order to finish your creative or critical ideas, you need some quiet time alone? Well I have found that I can only ever get so far with a story idea, or a song idea, or with mapping out my thoughts on a social, theological, or political issue, by working on it by myself. I have to discuss it with someone else, or tell someone about it, and as I walk through it to them the ideas fall into place, I work out kinks in the logic, and I can begin to find some structure. I have a LOTR-style fantasy story I’ve slowly developed since I was 12, and the times I’ve filled in the biggest gaps and ironed out the biggest plot holes were the times I convinced a friend to let me tell them about it. The bands I had in the past–the best songs I wrote we’re ones that came about by interacting musically with my band mates. I’ve not been in a band for 9 years, now, and I’ve only finally been able to write again in the last two months. It took that long to figure out how to do it 100% alone. I’ve known songwriters who can write whole albums by locking themselves in a room for a weekend–take a guess if they were introverted or extroverted. So maybe that extrovert isn’t wasting your time, but is trying to work and process through something. That said I don’t defend people needlessly talking to strangers. That annoys me. Don’t get me started on strangers at work asking me about my lunch.

In conclusion, before you go off about how the world thinks that all introverts are creepy loners, take time to see if  you’re doing what so many others do and viewing extroverts as inch-deep blabber mouths who can’t get through the day without going energy-vampire on some poor, innocent introvert at the coffee shop.  Half of being understood is understanding those around you better.

Childish Things

The words going through my head today are more introspective and autobiographical than usual; I recently read some Donald Miller, so that might be part of the reason.  I’m going to write about what has been one of the largest crutches of my life, and most recently was the cause of my abandoning my blog once again.

Prior to age eight, I had a small handful of run-ins with video games.  Once with an Atari 2600 at someone’s house my family was visiting.  Another time, one of my younger brothers and I got to play another Atari 2600 when a slightly-older-than-our-parents couple watched us for a day or two.  (They had a pinball machine, too.  That place was cool.)  I remember we played the obscure Atari title Maze Craze until we were dreaming about it.  Yet another time we were at a family friend’s house and she had a teenage son with the mother of all video game consoles, the 8-bit NES.  She let us play it, but we had no idea how to properly use one, so we were swapping cartridges with the power still on, and of course not holding “reset” when turning off The Legend of Zelda.  When he came home he was remarkably calm, especially considering we ruined some of his games.

. . . no, it was like that when we turned it on.

There was no doubt a few more instances thrown in prior to the Christmas of 1988, when my two brothers and I tore open what seemed like the biggest box we’d ever seen in the sight of the loving and weary smile of my recently widowed father.  It was what we’d asked for: a Nintendo.  But this wasn’t just the Nintendo; it was the Power Set.

It came with the Power Pad and three games on one cartridge: the standard Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt, plus World Class Track Meet for use with the Power Pad.  I remember that Christmas was a Sunday, too, because I know we didn’t get go straight to playing it all day; we hooked it up and had to go straight to church.

I don’t think anyone would ever fault a dad for getting his boys what they really wanted for Christmas on what would likely be the saddest single holiday of their lives.  But in the years that were to come, my dad would come to regret it nonetheless.  And now, as an adult, I do, too.

My life for the years that followed mostly centered around video games.  Every birthday and Christmas that followed until mid-high school was the time to get a new game.  In grade school I did the trading thing with my friends at school.  It was safe for the most part, but one day I did notice that my copy of Super Mario Bros. 2 was missing, and I never saw it again.  (I don’t know who I lent it to or who swiped it, but my money’s on Mike Strader.) That was the only casualty, though.  At least for my games; I can’t speak for the games owned by my brothers.  By middle school, my closest friend was also a big video game fan, and he had a lot more stuff than I did.  So my leisure time was games, and my social time was games.

My life revolved around playing video games so much that if I wasn’t playing them, I was talking about them, drawing pictures based on them, or just plain daydreaming about them.  One time I really wanted the game Final Fantasy so I let myself become so obsessed that I read and took notes in the strategy guide I’d gotten a hold of for it, and even at one point spent an entire day of forced chores mumbling “Final Fantasy Final Fantasy Final Fantasy” etc., under my breath.  Yes, it was as nuts as it sounds.

Several months later, I bought it and in the few years that followed, I beat it probably 20 times or more.

The toll it took on the academics of my brothers and me was so great that my step mom would sneak the controllers away at the start of the school year and we wouldn’t see them again until June; unfortunately games weren’t the only issue there, but they were a very large part regardless.  In the summers from around 1991 until 1996 or 1997, my brothers and I worked out this incredible compromise to keep from fighting over the NES: a rotating, hour-by-hour schedule each day.  Written down on paper.  On one hand it kept us from fighting (mostly), but on the other hand most summers, sometimes days upon days, were spent in front of our TV in the basement.  To be honest, we preferred it.

My ruined fourth semester of college was also due in large part to having free and open access to video games at any time, with me staying up until 4 a.m. sometimes playing my PlayStation (I had just gotten a TV for my room for Christmas).  Not long after I dropped the classes to avoid bad marks on my transcript, my parents kicked me out of the house.  When I got a place of my own months later, with no responsibilities other than work, I’d go 16+ hours playing video games sometimes.  Fast forward a few years to my first apartment with roommates for the summer prior my second and final year attending Southern Illinois University, I’d go even longer.  I once spent so many waking hours doing nothing but playing Grand Theft Auto III that one day, when I realized I’d left my phone in a gas station across town the night before, I got into my car and headed out to go get it and caught myself going 80 miles an hour on a 30 mph road.  That’s how I’d done it in the game for so many days, it was instantly natural when I was actually behind the wheel.  I think I first noticed the serious danger of the situation when my rationale overtook my instinct to run a slower car off the road.  Another time I practically locked myself in my bedroom and didn’t see my roommates except to eat and go to work so I could play Ocarina of Time; it took me about two weeks to finish.  In the years that followed, I had more than a few instances like that—game game game work eat sleep game.

So it continued on like that throughout my 20’s.  While sometimes I’d go as long as six months without touching a video game, without really even thinking about it, I’d always eventually get my hands on a new one, or get the urge to revisit an old favorite, and I wouldn’t walk away for months.  And that cycle was something I was content with and wasn’t a big deal until I got married.  The funny thing was, after I got married, I never did reach a point of boredom with gaming to where I’d put it away with nary a thought for a few months.  I couldn’t stop playing them.  That, coupled with entire evenings wasted in front of the TV for no good reason, led to the idea of the year-long “media fast” that my wife and I did.  It took a while for us to really get to the point that we didn’t sit around staring at a wall with nothing to do, but once we did, it was great.  I read tons of books, practiced guitar hours a day, ate dinner at the table.  Great stuff.

But of course it ended.  Funny thing—take a look at when my last blog post was.  September 20, 2011.  That was approximately one year after starting the fast.  At first, I had no desire to go back to playing games.  Dona and I had already began to enjoy evenings watching Seinfeld DVD’s over dinner, but I could take two episodes at the most and I was done.  I really didn’t feel like playing any of my FPS’s on Steam, but I did sit down to try and play Sim City 4, and the enthusiasm for that died within minutes.

“I’ve beaten this,” I thought.  After more than two decades of my life given over to ultimately useless, digital pursuits, I spent an entire year staying away alongside my wife, and had little desire to return.  Then I remembered a game I’d heard about in the year previous.

I knew that Minecraft was supposed to be addicting.  In fact, the first thought I had about playing the game was not a welcome one—I even went on Facebook asking people to talk me out of it.  But it was no use.  I tried out the free version of the game on Minecraft.net and subsequently spent something like 36 hours on it over the following three days.  I’m not stretching that number.  Since I could save nothing and had started over thrice, I accepted the inevitable and paid for the game and downloaded it.  At first I tried to restrict myself to an hour a day.  Then that became an hour on weekdays and three hours per day on weekends.  Within two weeks that was completely thrown out, too.

I would go to bed thinking about the game, and wake up thinking about it.  At work I would spend my lunch breaks watching Minecraft videos on Youtube.  I would get home and fight every inch of my being to resist going straight to the computer.  I’d sit down to play guitar, but get irritated over the smallest monotonies, and eventually just put the guitar down and turn on the game.  Eventually I wouldn’t even bother with the instrument at all.  It’s scary for me to remember what it felt like to turn on the game after hours of actively resisting the desire—complete euphoria.  My wife, not one to not let me know what she thinks, was constantly on me about playing too much.  Not so much because of how it affected her, though that was certainly a factor, but because she could see so clearly what it was doing to me and how Rational Braden would be very upset at the sight of that.  She was not treated kindly in response, I’m sorry to say.  Actually “sorry to say” is microscopic to how bad I feel about that now.

I had spent the months before Minecraft thinking out which books to read next, how to structure guitar practice time, or what to write about, or even early thoughts on how to start a business.  Once Minecraft came into the picture, I began spending almost every literal waking moment making plans for super railways, massive underground fortresses, mapped-out continents and oceans, and Nether-based transportation systems.  Perhaps most tragically, I actually found myself wishing for unemployment again, or for my wife to take a weekend trip somewhere, so I could spend days without interruption playing.  I had more than one weekend where I would put in more than 30 hours between Friday night and Sunday night.

Eventually I began to admit to myself under the surface that there was a problem, but it took the better part of two months for me to reach a point that I admitted to myself that I was truly facing a scary reality:  I would have to delete Minecraft and make a personal commitment to never get sucked into games again—even if that meant never playing another game for the rest of my life.

It’s interesting how that played out, because one morning just a few days after realizing that, I got up from my living room chair and sat in front of my computer and deleted everything I could.  I was still waking up a little, which thankfully impaired my rationale.  I did have some momentary freak-outs, since I was essentially deleting weeks upon weeks of “work” in that virtual world I’d lived in, but I went through with it and removed my access to my Minecraft account to the best of my ability (deleting fully is not an option Mojang offers).  Even if I were to get myself back into my account, all my progress would still be gone.  That actually becomes less of a hindrance the longer we go, because the longer it’s been since I played the game, the less I care about what I was working on prior.

But with all that said, I don’t miss the game at all and have no desire to return.  I didn’t like how that time felt.

Yet I’ve not completely beaten my video game bug.  I deleted Minecraft sometime in January, and due to some of my other games not running well in Windows 7, I was able to keep it under control for a couple weeks.  By then end of February, though, I was on Steam playing some of my inexpensive, dated, First Person Shooters, from Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast, to Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy, to nearly the entire Half-Life series, from Half-Life: Source to Half-Life 2 and its subsequent two episodes.  I’ve spent the last week working on achievements in Portal.  

So what keeps me here?  Why do I keep coming back?  For one, it’s very easy time spent on accomplishing what feels like a lot of things.  In the course of two weeks, I went from being a recently-hired theoretical physicist at an Arizona-based research facility to assisting a group of rebels fight a human-alien dystopian oppression.  I’ll say that reading books is ultimately a “healthier” activity, but no matter how well that prose is written, you can’t get immersed in a story the way you can in a well-designed video game, and Valve is undeniably among the best in their field in that regard.  Anyone who’s awed at how connected they get to Alyx Vance or furious they get at Wallace Breen knows what I’m talking about.  One of the most exciting story-based moments ever for me was the start ofHalf-Life 2: Episode 1 when the G-Man gets interrupted by the Vortegaunts block him, and he looks at you and says so seriously, “We’ll see about that.”  It’s hard to really appreciate out of context.

I love creativity; I love a great story.  Video games have evolved to the point that I can have both to my heart’s content and accomplish little else . . . the twist being, of course, that my heart will never be content and satisfied with them because I’m not sure that those innate passions were meant to be fully satisfied.

So here we are again.  Two days ago I deleted Steam and all of my progress of the last couple weeks.  It was a little easier than Minecraft, mind you, because all my Steam games are stories that I’ve finished.  I want to stand on top of a platform and declare that I’ve written off video games for the rest of my life, and that my passions for creativity and great stories will be channeled into music and reading and writing–but I can’t say that.  If Half-Life 3 or HL: Episode 3 ever come out, or when/if Portal 2 gets really cheap, I’m not going to last very long.  I just hope I can keep myself clear long enough to actually accomplish some things in the meantime.

Hey Man, Quit Wasting That Gibson!

Let’s open with a story.

Years ago a friend and I worked in a department store.  My friend was working one day and had to help cover the registers.  It was shortly after Christmas, probably January or December of whatever year it was (1999-2001).  My friend said he was ringing out a mother and her obnoxious 10/11/12-year-old son.  The son was whining about her not buying him something he wanted, and my friend got the impression that this kid often whined his way to getting his way, but the mother was, albeit sheepishly, resisting this time.  “No, I said!  We just had Christmas,” she said to him.  He returned, pouting, “Yeah, but I didn’t get nothing.”  Mom seemed a little annoyed, “A Gibson Les Paul is not ‘nothing.'”

My friend checked with me later, “Hey, are Gibson Les Pauls expensive?”

Yes, friend.  They are.

Pictured: Cha-ching

Wrapped up in that story is the essence of what I want to address here:  I really can’t stand seeing people own very nice (and very expensive) guitars (or any musical instrument, really) but not really USE them.  It is simultaneously irritating and stupid.  And understand that this isn’t just Gibsons (though they’re the most commonly abused as I’ve seen), but any nice,  high-end guitar or equipment.

Why?  Because those guitars were designed and built by people whose PASSION is guitar.  You can’t be wishy-washy about that instrument and make and sell one over which millions of guitarists melt over the sound.  Sticking with Les Pauls for this example–first of all, that’s the guitar designed by Les Paul.  The man was a walking legend by the time he was 30.  He INVENTED the electric guitar.  He played one professionally until he died at the age of NINETY-FOUR.  The guitar he designed has become synonomous with other greats like Jimmy Page or Frank Zappa or Pete Townsend.  You don’t get a job working in the American factory that builds $2000+ Les Paul guitars because you’re a layman needing work and you filled out an application.  You have to be an artisan.  It’s the same idea for any other high-end guitar, whether made by Gibson, Fender, Gretsch, Paul Reed Smith, or anyone.  Well . . . anyone but Jay Turser, but one really shouldn’t bring up Daewoo when talking about muscle cars.

I’ve known people with really nice guitar equipment that barely learned how to play, and really didn’t care too much to advance.  Look–if you don’t want to advance at guitar or any instrument, that’s your choice, but to have nice stuff and let it collect dust is shameful.  It’s like someone buying a professional-grade mixer and just using it once a month to beat eggs.  Imagine being a professional chef, or a even just a very enthusiastic cook and foodie, and visiting their home and seeing an amazing $700 piece of equipment sitting on their counter and learning that they really only know how to cook speghetti and scrambled eggs and don’t care to learn anything more; when  you point it out they chuckle, “Oh, yeah–that.  It’s nice, but I usually just order out, really.”  It’s close to the same thing for me when I see that Gibson ES-335 sitting next to that 2×12 Orange Combo amp in a corner in the room you never go in.  (note: I’ve never actually seen THAT, but you get the point.)  There’s a certain amount of honesty with ourselves that we should all have to be able to understand that we don’t need $2000+ of stuff if we’re going to use it twice a year.  That guitar and amp would be happier in the hands of someone who appreciates it, and you can go drop $200-400 from the sale on a Squier Telecaster and an 8-inch Peavy amp.  Everybody wins!

Now, to clarify . . . if you have that $700 mixer and don’t know how to cook or bake very well, but you got the mixer with intentions of doing and learning more–go get ’em.  So when a beginner picks up something like a $1200 Fender Strat, I still think it’s a bit of overkill for such early stages, but if they’re really going to work at it, I’ll happily keep my mouth shut.  Like the guy that I recently learned about (through sources I will not reveal in my blog) that spent $3500 on a Les Paul and is a total beginner.  Stupid?  Probably.  But if he sticks with it, what can I say against him?

Well that’s all on a personal level.  I have to KNOW someone before I’ll notice wasted guitars in their home, and if thats the furthest this annoyance went it wouldn’t be worth its own blog post.  But it keeps going . . .

😦

Okay, so the Jonas Brothers are very over-bashed in my opinion.  Not because they’re actually talented (from the little I’ve heard, I don’t believe it), but because before Justin Bieber came along, they were the popular flavor for the internet to hate.  So please understand that I’m not jumping on, nor trying to revive, that band wagon.  It’s that I’ve seen dozens of pictures of these kids around the interwebs, and in so many of them they’re “playing” guitars I’ve dreamed of owning for a decade.  Like lil’ scrunchy-face up there.  (And if you didn’t know what a Gibson ES-335 was when I mentioned it earlier–that’s it, in the hands of a child).  They don’t really USE them . . . do you think  he even touches that Bigsby arm, except maybe to move it out of the way?  It’s all for show, and that’s a waste.  But then again . . . the Jonas Brothers are owned by Disney, so they have the money to throw around.  What about bands that AREN’T funded by milti-billion dollar corporations?

A few months ago a friend commented on a video of the Plain White T’s song “Boomerang” (a band whose style reminds me, in the worst way, of that song “I’ll Never Let You Go” by Third Eye Blind; gross).  I had the video imbedded when I wrote this, but the account has since been removed.  He said that it’s ridiculous that three guitarists are all playing the same chord in the same voicings.  He’s right.  I add that it is also ridiculous that bands like this bother to buy such expensive equipment (they were playing a Les Paul, a Gibson SG, and a custom acoustic of a brand I didn’t notice) when they’re going to just play power chords and not try to do much else.

. . . for example . . .

I guess if you’ve earned the money, there’s not that much wrong with it (plus you can write it off your taxes if you make music for a living), and that leaves me with not much to say against it . . . except respect what you’re holding!  After having your band recording and touring for years, wouldn’t you want to improve your skills to improve your sound?  No?  I guess that’s just me.

A while back I saw a show with four bands.  The second of the four was who I went to see (named Moneen), and the opening band actually stole the show in my opinion (named Moving Mountains).  There were two Fender Telecasters and two Gibson ES-335’s between those two groups.  I should point out that the ES-335’s were VERY used.  Whether those guys bought them new or not I don’t know, but calling their appearance “weathered” is putting it lightly.  In both bands, the guitars were put to very good use; they were clearly loved and played often.  None of those guys are necessarily hair-metal-virtuoso-level guitarists, but they’re really good players that do a lot with their instruments.  You can click that link above if you want to look into Moving Mountains, here is Moneen showing skill and comfort with their instruments:

Then the first of the two headliners got on stage.  Eisley.  I have nothing inherently against Eisley.  Actually, after hearing the song in this video I might look into them a little more.  But take note of the guitarist NOT singing . . .

Since I’ve seen this band live, I can assure you that ALL of their equipment is top-of-the-line.  I was actually a little weirded out by how un-weathered their stuff was, but maybe they’d just done a shopping spree before the tour.  But did you watch the second guitarist?  That’s what she did most of the show, too.  I’m not saying she shouldn’t be in the band; I am saying you don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on guitar equipment if you’re going to play bare-bones basics.  In principle, it is a waste and, in some degree, an insult.

Then there was the headlining band:  Say Anything.  I don’t have much good to say about them in general so there’s not much to say about their equipment.

I think the last and primary point that I want to drive home with all of this is that we should remember that a guitar is a musical instrument made to make music.  It’s become such a symbol of so much else that even players like myself lose touch with that reality.  But what would be the result if people would learn to enjoy spending time with something like actually playing that expensive instrument they bought instead of refreshing Facebook or turning on Black Ops?  I can write some other time about the idea of not assuming that being good at an instrument means you have to join a touring rock band, but as I pull everything together that I’ve said in this post, that’s a large part of what I’m saying.  I think, anyway.  Or maybe I’m just jealous.

An Open Letter to George Lucas

Dear Mr. Lucas,

I hope this finds you well.  Up front I’d like to apologize for being yet another Star Wars fan coming along to complain about the prequel trilogy, but please persist as you may find my take on this a little different from what you’re likely used to.

Let’s first mention that the prequels, in my opinion, were terrible.  I really liked episodes I and III in the theater, but upon seeing The Phantom Menace on VHS, and after a few months to think about Revenge of the Sith, I realized just how awful and poorly put together they were.  For posterity, I’ll mention that, though I didn’t want to admit it to myself, I thought Attack of the Clones  was awful while I was in the theater.  Seeing THAT one on VHS a year later only confirmed my feelings and I’ve not seen it since.

I’m not completely convinced that you and many other people out there really understand how big of a deal it is that those movies were so bad.  I loved Star Wars as a young child, and upon entering my adolescence discovered that nothing could have been cooler than spaceships and lightsabers.  I read several expanded universe books (the one I remember the best is The Truce at Bakura, if you happen to know that one).  I ate up the comic series Tales of the Jedi, which told stories of Jedi 4000 years before Luke Skywalker was even born.  It was really cool.  I watched the original trilogy so many times . . . I’d rather not try to count.  It’s easily over 100 viewings for each movie, and I’m completely serious.  I can still quote entire scenes from memory, and watching them even today I can’t help but say the lines right as or right before they happen, like listening to a song I’ve known for years.

“Darth Vader!  Only you could be so bold.  The Imperial Senate will not sit still for this; when they hear you’ve attacked a diplo–”
“Don’t act so surprised your highness, you weren’t on any mercy mission this time.  Several transmissions were beamed to this ship by rebel spies; I want to know what happened to the plans they sent you.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.  I’m a member of the Imperial Senate on a diplomatic mission to Alderaan.”
“You are part of the Rebel Alliance and a traitor!  Take her away!”

I could keep going with that scene without even having to pop the DVD in or looking it up online.  All the way through the part where Threepio cries out to the Sandcrawler from the Dune Sea. “Oh-vah hee-uh!!! Hey!  Heeeeeey!  Help!  Pleeeeease heeeelp!”  I hear the music intensify and see the screen wipe as I type that.

You could ask me anything about those movies, and to a degree about the expanded universe, and I could answer without hesitation.  And if someone said I was wrong, then I kindly informed them that their information was off–and even now at age 31 I say with all confidence that I WAS right in those situations.  I KNEW those movies.  I KNEW those characters.  I KNEW that story.

Now, I noticed pretty early on that the 1977 Star Wars was numbered “Episode IV,” and that this meant that there MUST be three more movies on the way.  I’d date this discovery on my part at around age 12, or 1992-1993.  And then the prequels were announced.  It was right around the time that the original trilogy was remastered with THX and re-released.  The magazine article I read mentioned that the titles at the time for the three movies were “The Clone Wars,” “The Wrath of Darth Vader,” and “Fall of the Republic.”  Granted, this was like 1994 or 1995 (putting me at age 14), and I understand that early in the creative process of film making titles are thrown around, but those names shaped what I was expecting from the future movies.  I spent lots of my free mental time daydreaming about the plots and the scenes and the emotional climaxes, and how certain story elements can be used to “set up” the original trilogy so that all six feel like a single unit. I’m not kidding–I spent a lot of time thinking about it and internally getting giddy with anticipation.

Come early 1997 when the special editions were released, people loved to talk to me about how there are three NEW Star Wars movies coming soon, and I’d tell them, “Yeah, I’ve known for years.”  I was a pro, George; make no mistake about it.

Star Wars, and by connection the anticipation of the prequels, defined a very large part of my adolescence.

And now . . . well.  I don’t need to nit-pick what was wrong with them here.  If you’re still not sure, Mr. Lucas, get right over to Red Letter Media’s site and watch the three reviews there.  He sums up everything and says it all better than I could have hoped to.

Do you see the problem here?  I am someone who spent countless hours not only watching your classic movies and reading the books, but discussing the trivia and in-universe hypothetical situations with other fans (and plenty of non-fans).  Then you answer every childhood dream I could have ever had by moving forward with those three new movies to complete the story, and everything seemed perfect in the world.  Everything that I said my adolescence was like prior to the Fall of 1998 when the first trailer for The Phantom Menace was released–first online and then before the Will Smith/Gene Hackman spy thriller Enemy of the State–was intensified exponentially, day after day, until I cheered with the crowd at the 12:01 showing (at which I was 3rd in line, by the way) at the top of my lungs when those yellow letters appeared on the screen and a few seconds later we saw words scrolling that we had not yet seen before in that context, except in our oldest and wildest dreams . . .

Episode I

And then the movie, George.  The movie.  Like I said, I liked it at the time, but it had no lasting power.  Each subsequent movie punched the fanboy in me in the gut a little harder.  Now here I am, six years after the last one came out (has it really been that long?) and I couldn’t really give two hoots about Star Wars.  Oh sure, I can still discuss it, but I like nerd and pop culture trivia discussions.  I can still sit through the old movies once in a while, especially with friends, but I like good movies (and they really are good, George).  I still like many Star Wars video games, but that’s really just because I like video games and a decent amount of the games based on or inspired by your film.  I plan on someday finally reading the Timothy Zahn book trilogy, but at this point that’s because I like reading and I own them.  But the true excitement that Star Wars gave me all those years ago is completely gone.  There were other things I loved back then, too, and coming across them or discussing them still give me warm feelings.  But not Star WarsStar Wars is essentially dead to me.

It was those movies.  Those movies and then that last kick-in-the-balls The Clone Wars animated movie.  That’s what did it.  So much of what was great about the original movies was knowing that the story of episodes I-III was going to be completely amazing, but what we got was pure crap.  And the part that hurts the most is not that “it turns out the story wasn’t that great after all,” but that the story COULD had have been great if you’d just TRIED to make it make sense instead of filming your first drafts.

Do you see?  YOU ruined it for me, George.  Everything that Star Wars was to me is now nearly completely lost.  The blood is on your hands.  You made those movies, you completely ran the entire creative process, you have no one else to blame for their awfulness and their devastating impact.  My Star Wars fandom and obsession is GONE.

Thank you.

Thank you so much.  I’m so glad it’s over, and if it took three terrible movies to finally snap me out of my daze, so be it.  I’m on the other side now and I’m loving my freedom.  I’ve seen guys over 30–heck, over 25–that despite everything are still completely in love with Star Wars, and it’s pathetic.  I’m not one of them anymore.  Sure, I can still carry on a conversation with them, but I’m not one of them.  Star Wars is officially just a “thing,” something that exists.   I cannot say with confidence that had you done the prequels well that I would be where I am, but things as they are, I know what got me here, and I’m glad it did.

You’re not entirely off the hook, especially after Indiana Jones 4, but I felt you should be given some recognition for inadvertently rescuing this deeply obsessed geek.  Once again, thank you.

Now quit making movies.

How Being Lazy Got Me Where I Am Today

Five years ago today I set out on my life’s second-greatest adventure.  The first is getting married, in case you didn’t figure that out on your own.  But on August 2, 2006, I left my college town and home of four years, Carbondale, Illinois, for Seattle, Washington.

Ahh, home. Well--"home" is actually about seven miles back and to the left of where this photo was taken. But I'm sure you knew what I meant.

It’s a pretty big deal to me that I’m here at all.  I could bore you for a long time and discuss how there was a time when I had so much uncertainty about my future that I was kind of afraid I’d end up in some small Illinois town for the rest of my life.  (No hate if that’s where you are and prefer it–it’s just that I really didn’t).  But that wasn’t what God had for me–turns out I just had to listen to him and take some risks.

What’s interesting is how I ended up being here in the first place.  I sometimes wonder if there were a single, seemingly trivial event or action in my past that set me on the path to not only moving to Seattle, but getting married to my wife.  For a while I thought it might have been if I’d not heard punk rock in the summer of 1995 . . . but I might have heard it and loved it at a later time.  Or maybe if I’d gotten a car other than my Mazda 626 in January 2002 . . . but who knows what car I would have ended up with otherwise?  It all seems like I was headed this way no matter what–but the other day a memory struck me and I realized that my entire present hinged on a single moment of laziness and apathy over thirteen years ago.

Early in the summer 1998 I was at Lincoln Land Community College taking a series of placement tests so I could get signed up for classes.  I wrote an essay and did some basic math and answered some science questions and probably some on history.  The last test I had to do was algebra.  Well, I was kind of tired of taking tests, you see.  I had an unlimited amount of time for each question presented to me by the computer, and I had the option to re-do any question before completing the test, and I may have even been told if I got an answer right or wrong when I submitted it.  The point is that this should have been an easy test for anyone that knows how to do algebra (which I did).  But I was bored and feeling lazy and wanted to get home to probably play video games or something, so I just selected random answers for the last two-thirds of the questions.  I got most, if not all, of those wrong.

The result of this act of impatience and laziness was monumental.

I was given a class schedule of Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., no breaks.  I was placed in a zero-credit math class due to my performance on that assessment test.  The math class was at 11.  In this math class, I became better acquainted with a guy named  Aaron, who was the saxophone player in a local, Christian ska band.  Within a week or two, I also met a guy nicknamed “Skippy,” who I got to know that semester as well.

Well Aaron asked Skippy and I if we wanted to play in a swing band he was trying to start up.  Skip also played saxophone, and trombone was my primary instrument at the time.  We both said yes.  By the end of that semester, the band we formed had dissolved but a strong friendship between Skip and myself had formed–so strong that my circle of friends had almost completely changed by that point from what it was the previous summer (high school friends, mostly) to people I met through Skip or people I met at college, along with Skip. Point being, my social life, interests, and activities after that semester would be shaped because I was friends with him.

Around nine or ten months after that band fell apart, Skip borrowed a bass guitar from a mutual friend and started playing.  He called me on his first night with it and said, “We’re starting a punk band.”  I had been playing a little bit of guitar for a few months and was sure I could handle power chords in punk songs, so I claimed guitar and vocals for myself, and then mentioned another friend of mine to Skip that played guitar that could join us (named Aaron, but not the Aaron from before).   The three of us started the band the fall of 1999, had a drummer by early 2000, and the band came apart early 2001.  But the four of us in the group were still good friends.

So good, in fact, that Aaron and Skip simultaneously decided to attend Southern Illinois University at Carbondale starting the spring semester of 2002, and they made sure they were roommates.  When the fall semester of 2002 came around, it was my time to move on to a University.  I had picked SIUC precisely because Aaron and Skip were already going there.  I originally wanted to go any place OTHER than SIUC.  Carbondale is next to Murphysboro, which is where my dad’s entire family lives.  Sure, I love all of them, but I originally wanted to attend school in a place I wasn’t familiar with and had no connections to.  To start fresh.  However, being the social person I am, of course I followed friends when that opportunity presented itself.  And almost as if to secure my decision, I had some serious money-for-school problems arise by the summer of 2002, so it was a bonus that I had grandparents and extended family that lived in the area.  But the decision to attend SIUC began with my friends going there, and the fact that I still got to go despite money issues was secured by the fact that I had family in the area.

Well, the fall semester started and–skipping the gory details–my friendships with Aaron and Skip didn’t survive the first few weeks of school.  It was a tumultuous four months with lots of uncertainty, but by the start of 2003’s spring semester, I was fully involved with a local church in Carbondale now called “The Vine.”

By the next fall semester (2003, still), I had met a pretty young lady at my church named Dona, and we started becoming friends.  Right about the same time, the lead pastor of The Vine announced he felt led by God to start a new church in Seattle.  By the following summer, he and a large team of people from our church moved to the Pacific Northwest.  Not quite a year-and-a-half later, I felt strong conviction from God to move to Seattle, too, and be part of that church.  As I said before, I moved on August 2, 2006 and arrived 2 days later.

Nearly eleven months later, under almost entirely independent circumstances, Dona also moved to Seattle.  We were engaged just over a year later and married two-and-a-half months after that.

So there you have it.  I am married to the woman of my dreams and live in Seattle all because I was lazy one summer day at a community college and didn’t feel like finishing an un-timed test.  Had I finished that test honestly, I guarantee I would have passed it.  I knew algebra well enough to get most of them right, and those placement tests weren’t designed to be extremely harsh.  Therefore I wouldn’t have had any reason to get to know (the first) Aaron any better, and wouldn’t have met Skippy under the same circumstances, if at all, and wouldn’t have been close enough to Skip to be the first person he called when he wanted to start a band.  Therefore Skip and (the second) Aaron would very likely not have met and wouldn’t have been roommates at SIU, an arrangement that provided encouragement for me to follow them there.  Had I not ended up in Carbondale, I would have not started attending Vine, thus not being around for, knowing of, or even caring about the church plant in Seattle.  And I submit to be the most important: I would I have met my wife.  Funny how that works.

Oh, sure, you could argue that all of that stuff would  have happened one way or another because it was God’s plan, and I would agree . . . but it’s fun to look at it this way, and to make a case about laziness having a positive impact on someone’s life.

I’m Going to Talk About My Cat

There wasn’t much mentioned about it at the end of 2010 because I had most of my last posts scheduled a month in advance, but my wife and I got a kitten in December.  She was 5 months old when we got her, which means by the time you’re reading this she’s very close to a year.  It’s a fun, cute story about how we ended up getting her, so I’m writing it here for posterity.

Above: The central character and her fish.

My wife kept wanting to go look at cats, because we had agreed to get one now that we live in an apartment that allows them.  We went to a place in Seattle’s Greenwood neighborhood called Paws: Cat City.  It’s moved, now (actually it moved only a week or two after these events), but the place was/is a great place to find a cat.  There’s a couple rooms with a bunch of rescued cats of all ages just chillaxing and playing, and you get to go in and pick one out.

Well, technically you’re supposed to fill out paperwork and talk with one of the volunteers first (they’re not a pound that’s trying to get rid of the cats as quickly as possible to avoid euthanasia–they have some very specific rules you have to agree to before you can take anything home, such as an agreement to not de-claw and being able to reasonably prove that you have the means to care for the animal).  Well, it was a Saturday, and we showed up about 15-30 minutes before they closed.  Since, under those circumstances, we couldn’t adopt that night anyway, they let us just go in and meet the cats.  After a bit, we both fell in love with a mostly-white, blue-eyed, 4.5-month old kitten that the shelter named Dori.  We left with warm fuzzies in our insides, excited to go get her the next day.

The next day was a Sunday, so we had church, and then we were also on to watch kids during a teaching series that afternoon, and THEN we had to rush to Best Buy to purchase a vacuum we wanted because the sale was ending, and we finally got to Cat City again by 4:00, an hour before they were to close.

I immediately noticed something was wrong . . . Dori’s paperwork was gone from the bulletin board.  So was the paperwork for several other cats from 24 hours prior, mostly those of the kittens.  There was just as much paper work there as before, actually more, but it was for mostly new cats, brought in that day.  I asked about Dori and they looked, “Hmm, yeah a couple came in this morning and were getting ready to take one cat, but then saw her and decided they wanted her, too.  They were the first ones out today.”

My heart broken, I bitterly filled out the paperwork with Dona and scowled at the volunteers as they explained to us that our work schedule was not “conducive” for caring for a young kitten.  “You shouldn’t leave a kitten alone for very long–the rule of thumb is one hour alone per month of age, so a three-month-old cat shouldn’t be left alone for more than three hours, unless you have another cat to be with it.”  I’ll point out, too, that these people mentioned that other shelters wouldn’t care so much, but they’re very picky about to whom they give cats.

Well, a second cat was absolutely out of the question, so we were stuck with an older cat.  I angrily shuffled into the rooms with the cats and looked at all the fat, lazy felines lying around on pillows and cat trees that couldn’t care less that I was there.  Well then I can’t care less about them.  To compound the problem, only minutes after walking into the cat room, there was a couple that was there before us that decided to adopt the 6-month old black kitten that my wife really liked from the night before.  Now, I’m not much for owning a black (or all-white, or all-grey) cat anyway . . . they just look boring . . . but that was the only backup I could think of.  And now HE was gone.

After about ten minutes of getting angry at all the older cats (for being lazy AND some of the slightly better ones that were “bonded” with another cat, so you couldn’t adopt one without adopting the other one to which it was bonded), I walked into the separate kitten room against my better judgment.  A little 3 1/2-month old grey kitten I stooped down to pet climbed up my leg, leapt onto my shoulder, and then took hold there, even when I stood up.  That guy was awesome.  But 3 1/2 months?  They’d never let me do it, and I couldn’t lie about what kind of time we had to spare to spend with a cat.  I looked at some of the other kittens, all of them about 4 months, a few I recognized from the night before.

At this point I was figuring my wife could come home on lunch breaks, if it was that important, to be with the cat just to save us from getting a 3-year-old “Ms. Fatty-kins.”  I proposed this and Dona accepted.  Then I looked over to a plastic chair and saw a slightly older kitten, a grey tabby with white and yellowish highlights, relaxing by herself.  The name on her collar was “Tribeca.”  I petted her and picked her up, and she immediately laid her head over my arm and relaxed.  After about a minute I put her down to look at the other kittens some more, and Dona picked up Tribeca and she did the same thing.

This is the one we want.

Right about that time I heard the workers there tell another customer that they would be closing in 20 minutes and would not be doing any more adoptions that night.  “We can put an adult cat on hold, sure, but its against our policy to put a kitten on hold.”

Dona was playing with Tribeca and didn’t hear any of that.  A few minutes later she gave me the look that said, “I want this one!” and I told her what I had heard.  We were sunk–losing two cats in one weekend.  I stepped out into the office area to look at their hours.  They would be closed on Monday, and would open from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. on Tuesday.  There was NO way Dona or I would be able to make it back until the next Saturday, and if ONE kitten we liked was gone that quick, this one would certainly not last past lunch time on Tuesday. I double checked, “so you guys won’t put a kitten on hold?”

“No, sorry.  We’ll put an adult cat on hold, but the younger ones go too quickly to justify it.  Will we see you on Tuesday?”

“No.  With your hours we can’t come back in until Saturday.”

The lady nodded in a mildly sympathetic fashion, as if to say, “Yeah, that’s unfortunate.”

I was furious.  I demanded contact information for a different shelter, trying not to be a jerk but let it be shown that I’m very upset about their policies.  She politely handed me the information and we walked out, taking the long way around the building to our car out back so that we wouldn’t have to walk past the window of the room with the kittens in it.

Dona didn’t completely understand why we couldn’t get her.  I think she was expecting some kind of logic when in reality it was a series of arbitrary rules.  Now, I have known my wife for nearly 9 years.  We were very good friends, not just acquaintances, in the years prior to us dating and getting married.  I know her better than probably anybody (though my mother-in-law would probably object to that).  I’ve seen her in a wide range of emotions, and Dona is not one that puts on shows.  I will never–NEVER–forget the look of complete heartbreak and despair in her eyes when it became clearer and clearer with each step that we were not taking Tribeca home–not tonight, not ever.  She was not furiously letting go like I was trying to.

“But I don’t understand.  Why can’t we get her?”  Her voice was almost shaking.

“It’s their rules!  I don’t know why they won’t let us put her on hold, but that’s what they said.  It’s stupid.”

“Did you push?  Did you insist?”

“What? No!  They have their policies, and they’re ridiculous.  We’re not coming back here; I’m not dealing with this again.”

“But I really liked Tribeca.”

“I did too, but we can’t get her.”

“Can we push?”

“I don’t want to deal with them right now.”

“Can we please push?”  That was the key moment–the moment when looking at my wife’s face I knew that I was either going to forever regret walking the last 50 feet to our car, or I was going back in there.

I made a straight cut across a back lot and came around the corner and walked in just minutes before they locked up for the evening.

“Oh, hi!  Is there something else we can do for you?”

I thankfully remembered to not open it up on them, but to stay calm before I spoke.  “Yeah, look–we came in and the cat we wanted was already gone.  Well now we’ve fallen in love with Tribeca and due to work we can’t make it back in until Saturday, and since she’s a kitten we can’t put her on hold.  We’ve already discussed how we can work out our schedules to come home for lunch to spend time with her during the day.  Is there any way we can work something out?”

The woman who was obviously in charge looked at the other two women, clearly touched.  One of the other ladies, with much the same expression, asked, “Have we put away the paperwork for today?”

She checked, “No.”  She looked back at me with a smile, “Okay, we’ll stay late for you.”

Dona walked in right at that moment and I gave her a knowing look.  We breathed a collective sigh of relief.  The lady who had handed me the information on the other shelters came near me to get the cat’s paperwork from the bulletin board and whispered with a big smile, “I’m glad you came back.”

We did the rest of the paperwork, paid the fee, they demonstrated how to clip her claws, commented on how well behaved she was, and got everything ready for us.  We were very happy.  Funny how one’s mood can change so quickly.  That was a pretty fun walk to the car (and rather triumphant, too, in a husbandly sense.)

So obviously the name “Tribeca” had to go.  We already had a name picked out for the previous cat, so we gave it to her.  “Aurora.”  But “Rory” for short.  The name is simply the name of the street that Dona and I first lived together on.  Or off of, rather.  Just something that was significant to the both of us and also worked as a name.  (So no, it is NOT a Gilmore Girls reference; I’ve never even seen that show).

I’d like to avoid the sappy happy-ending epilogue about how “she’s been such a blessing to our lives” and how “we couldn’t imagine life without her.”  That stuff is true, but c’mon, that’s cheesy and predictable.

So in the months since, we’ve enjoyed a cat trying to take over our pillows at night (usually Dona’s), waking us up in the morning by playing with her tail in the curtains or batting at the power cable for the alarm clock.  We’ve lost a significant amount of toilet paper, kept boxes and plastic bags and newspapers and wadded-up pieces of paper on the floor of our living room for way longer than we ever should, and wasted dozens of gallons of water by setting the sink faucet on a trickle to keep her entertained as we take showers.  She loves it when our neighbors stop to say hi to her as they walk by our first-floor-apartment windows, loves to go for rides on spinning chairs or on a rug or in a laundry basket dragged across the floor, and gets excited when we leave a blanket hanging over a couch or pillow so she can have a fort.  She has managed to learn to open sliding doors and the cabinets under the sinks.  She loves sitting in front of my computer monitor (which, ironically enough, she didn’t do at all as I wrote this).  She enjoys chasing that thing you just threw down the hallway but doesn’t know what to do when she catches up to it.  She meows endlessly at closed doors as if she deserves to go in there.  She’s not a lap cat (yet), but she’ll lay near us when we’re reading or something and reach out a paw to touch us before she falls asleep.

I never minded cats to begin with, but I’m 100% sold on this one.

I could include some pictures, but honestly wouldn’t some videos be better?  When I became unemployed again in March, my time at home early on consisted of being endlessly amused by Rory.  Add to that a new camcorder and a wife at work who loves getting photos of the cat from home to help her get through the day, and I’ve got a sad little collection going.  So go ahead and think whatever you want to think of me, but enjoy the videos.

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Since, at the end of everything, I have nothing but good things to say about Paws, I feel like I should provide some of their information.  So here’s their website:

http://www.paws.org/

Just be sure to get there in plenty of time before they close.