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Bliss by chance

Last week I wrote about a family tradition, one that my wife and I have carried out with an exacting precision that would make a German engineer proud. This morning, I find myself midstream of another, albeit a tradition that’s three-quarters unintentional and one-quarter “Sure, why not?”

Two-thirds of The Ham Fam slumbers this July 4 morning. Who could blame them? Yesterday was full and fun. Rain’s falling slowly, steadily, and (contrary to those slogging through the Peachtree Road Race a few miles away) seemingly unconcerned about making good time. Meanwhile, amid all this anti-activity, this third of The Ham Fam finds himself awake, unable to get back to sleep.

I could get up. Get a cup of java. Put a couple slices of raw toast in the toaster. Pull back the curtains at the kitchen sink. Appreciate the bric-a-brac on the sill. Look past it to take in the vernal view of our backyard. Maybe pop a squat on the back stoop and enjoy simply being there.

“Sure, why not?”

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Sitting out here, I feel a little Zen monkish…
Before enlightenment — eat toast, drink coffee
After enlightenment — eat toast, drink coffee

Typically, mornings such as this provide not so much excitement as they do quiet satisfaction. I think that’s kinda the point. I did, however, see (and hear) a sizeable limb fall in our neighbor’s yard. Pretty neat.

Songbirds sometimes get closer than is typical, taking a splash-bath in a puddle forming within a shallow exhalation in the concrete driveway, or maybe  searching for worms driven to the yard’s surface by the incessant rain.

Raindrops reach the stoop’s railing, sending small droplets to land on my bare legs and arms. It’s like Nature’s placing a hand on me, as if to say, “You don’t have to go just yet.” So I sit here. And enjoy it. And sooner or later I think to myself that I should start my day. So I do. Until next time, whenever that may be.

Proximate pitch

Ever since our son’s first birthday, we’ve had a little tradition in our family: We sing happy birthday to him at 8:54 a.m. each June 30, the time he showed up.

Today marks a decade of doing that. It’s also a mile marker of sorts since this is the first time we’ve done so without him here with us. He spent the night with a friend yesterday, but thanks to some telephonic coordination, our tradition continued.

Admittedly, it didn’t occur to me until yesterday that we three wouldn’t be occupying the same space when the time came for our tradition. And when it did, it felt… odd. The best i can give for why I feel this way is that we weren’t sharing the same space. We weren’t proximate. The more I consider it, the more that reason stands its ground.image

As an 11-year-old big boy (as of an hour ago), he’s moving so to speak into his own. Growing up. Filling out. Speaking up. Standing out. See… Even the words I scratch up to describe his journey reflect that.

It’s a far cry from a decade ago, leaning over the edge of a bassinet and quietly singing to a (thankfully) sleeping little boy for the first time. Proximate. Intimate. As close as you could get it seemed without actually reliving his birth. Family.

Ever since that day, there’s been change in that proximity. Not bad, mind you. And as we continue our little tradition, it will continue to change. And that’s OK. This year, it’s aloft thanks to the wonders of the T-Mobile network. And years from now… Who knows? There may come a time when singing to him requires calculating time zones and paying international rates. Still, I think we’ll continue to do it undaunted.

Today’s call was quick. His voice told me that he liked it. I could tell he was having fun with his buddy and wanted to get back to that business. Can’t blame him. But there’s meaning for me and his mama.

The irony of writing about National Screen-Free Week using a screen that I carry on my person at all times ain’t lost on me. At least it’s authentic irony rather than the veneer of irony that’s mistaken for wit these days.

OK that was kinda haughty. Sorry. Truth is, I’m having a hard time with keeping screen-free week screen free. And it’s beyond the fact I use a computer for my job. Maybe it stems from having an Atari 2600 Childhood. Maybe I’m hardwired so to speak. But I don’t think so.

At home, we don’t really watch TV. No computer games. Heck, not even phone games anymore. But I find myself reaching for my cell out of boredom, checking my Facebook or email, using it as a crutch. That’s not good.

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Don't kill it. Don't love it. Just cool it.

With all conveniences, I suppose that in using them, our (unspoken) task is to self-regulate. Otherwise we risk using them to our detriment,  opting for pixels over personal interaction or… gasp!… reflection. That sure beats using “the truncheon in lieu of conversation,” but in the long run I’m of the mind that the effect of both are similarly detrimental, making us more subjects than sentients.

Still, screens provide an escape. And that isn’t always a bad thing. But for me, for this week, going screen free is quite the challenge. Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit the fourth wall.

Advent Spiral

derekhambrick:

It’s that time of year again!
No, not rampant consumerism, running amok and foaming at the mouth, promulgating debt-driven spending traditions as artificial as the plastic that enables them.
In this time of holiday traditions, I’m reposting one of your favorite entries and one of my favorite traditions: The Advent Spiral!
What is it? Find out.

Originally posted on Heavy Mental ~ Derek Hambrick's blog:

This year witnessed our son starting kindergarten at the Waldorf School.  We knew that it was very much a step for our family in terms of involvement.  What I mean by that is that families – not solely the children – are a large part of the school.  This is exactly what we wanted: involvement.

Such was what we got this morning as we got to see our children participate in the advent spiral.  It’s a winter tradition, as I understand it, one that revolves around the theme of light coming from the darkness.  Illumination, in a word.

Some of you might be familiar with this tradition, but until a month ago, I wasn’t.

Our class’ advent spiral – like others – was a reverent activity. Picture a dark room, the floor cleared save for event’s namesake, wrapped in a cloak of soft lyre music and all but devoid of words. The advent spiral…

View original 259 more words

Stretching borders

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You are (not) here. And neither am I.

My childhood was happy with an asterisk.

Those closest to me – my immediate family and more intimate friends – provided the love and safe environ in which I could develop, explore, fail, and adjust without fear or at least without more than a healthy dose of it.

The asterisk is there to account for stronger developmental punctuations like separating-then-divorcing parents and the enduring accompaniment of grandparents’ Alzheimer’s/dementia. These things happen.  It’s part of this thing called life, I suppose.

Looking at these things, I see each circle – the inner and the outer – varying in the amount of control we have over them. The experiences from each are formative. Take the separating-then-divorcing parents for example. Now a parent myself, I’m set on making marriage work no matter what comes our way. Other things, like my grandfather’s Alzheimer’s … well, I can do little to stave off that, save health decisions of today, at least on a physical and mental level.

Focusing on the outer, unrefined landscape though, I recall something that recurred in my childhood around the age that Gabriel is now. We lived in Jonesboro, Ga., a great place for young boys: bikes and backstreets, camo pants and acres of woods, allowances and five-and-dimes. One by two miles, it was fun to grow up there, my brother and I having our run of the place … within limits … without my mom having to worry about much.

Next door to us though, in the back of the neighboring (and I use that term loosely) lot was a small house that housed a contentious couple, the daughter and son-in-law of the neighbor (ibid.) occupying the main house. They’d argue from time to time, frequently coming into the yard to do so. Frequently at night. Frequently around my bedtime. Apparently, they wanted to share it with everyone on our street. It bothered me, frightened me really, and I know it must have concerned my mom.

A few months ago, our neighbor, with whom we’re really close, had his son and daughter-in-law move in. Ironically, in the back of the lot, there’s a small shed, and we think they’re fixing it up to stay in. Hard to tell, really. Our neighbor’s a good guy – gone through some rough patches himself – but gotten through, smoothing out some of his own inner landscape in the process. Long story short, he’s great. His relatives, not so much.

Last night, after G was asleep, there was a household falling out of some kind. It resulted in the young couple’s walking out and heading down the street, trading expletives – in their outside voices – with the dad. Not good.

I try to take things like this and reflect a bit on why they happened, not so much in the secular cause-and-effect sense, but rather “Why am I meant to witness this?” (Yes, friends have told me I think too much, btw.) For me, I took it as a chance to ask myself “What am I willing to accept in my life?” I’m not willing to accept that kind of situation. It’s a unique blending of the outer and inner landscapes, yep, but I feel that to fully take responsibility of my family’s inner circle, I need to press out into the outer circle and ensure my standards there as well.

Our white picket fence needs a-paintin'

Our white picket fence needs a-paintin’

The ironic thing is that we’re making efforts to move, which would “solve” things. But instead of leaving the status quo well enough alone (as I’m wont to do to my frequent detriment), I need to step up and out. Hard task, but needed.

Have you experienced any situations that blended your own inner and outer circles? How’d you deal with them? Any lessons learned?

You are here. Enjoy.

There are times in your life when hard work and aspirations seem to crystallize into something beautiful, when things seem to, well … fit  … when they come together in a moment – or perhaps a series of such.  For me, this tends to prompt some realization. And usually that realization comes from reflecting lucidly on your circumstances. Sometimes you think about things, and other times things just come to you. Tonight’s the latter.

Either way, at such times, you’re able to reflect clearly on where you are, but more importantly where you were, and even more importantly than that how far you’ve come along your path. Once we come to these moments when we can look back and see our trajectory, it’s an amazing thing. Sometimes we can’t grasp their beauty, let alone their importance. Sometimes we do.

Keep goingAs a writer, I think that it is my duty to try to capture these moments, when they’re mine to hold. I have ability, even if sometimes I don’t have the inclination to be the chronicler of these moments. I’ll admit it: Writing is hard – that’s a truth that even appears in that classic on the craft, On Writing Well. So maybe that’s the reason I don’t write these moments down. And maybe that’s a cop-out.

That aside, tonight is such a night of reflection. This moment is such a moment. In my capacity as a writer (in the professional sense) I’ve been able to write about our company values insofar as they were embodied by and recognized in – 12 individuals out of 50,000 in the Americas Region. Writing about them wasn’t a tough task – as I told one of the speakers after the award ceremony tonight, “It’s hard to screw up talking about someone who’s so spectacular.” Regardless, it’s an honor to be a part of some high-caliber, small-gathering event like our firm’s Chairman’s Values Awards.

The silent cynic in me might protest that while the video scripts I wrote turned out pretty dang nicely, some of the speakers avoided the talking points I wrote like a vegan avoids bacon. But that’s fine. Regardless, it was I whose words formed the foundation of the festivities. I’m not gloating, but rather acknowledging what I’ve done – how far I’ve come. That’s important and a hard lesson in itself for me.

Recognizing that, I am here and I am grateful. This is one of those moments. This is one of those times I can stand on the mesa, turn around, look down, and see how far I’ve climbed. But like the words I penned for the CVAs, even these words have to change because I don’t believe in mesas. I don’t believe in plateaus. I do believe in effort and the occasional waypoint that affords you a brief time to look back before looking – yet again – ahead. So tonight, French-cuffed and heady on prose and Guinness – before turning my eyes to what’s ahead of me – I have the capacity to look around, look back, and be grateful before setting sights on the un-trod incline.

Well, not really. But believe it or not, I stumbled on an interesting similarity.

A good friend and fellow scribbler recommended a book on writing. Authored by Steven King, On Writing provides a kind of narrative illustration of writing. It’s in the book’s first section, dubbed “CV” by the author, that I found a little crystal of similarity between an author whose tomes I’ve never cracked and an education that’s dear to me.

On writing

How’dya like this guy to read you a bedtime story? Sheesh.

It goes a little like this:

“… TV came relatively late to the King household. And I’m glad. I am, when you stop to think of it, a member of a fairly select group: the final handful of american novelists who learned to read and write before they learned to eat a daily helping of video bullshit.”

I can’t apologize for the decidedly non-Waldorfian language; King certainly doesn’t. Yet I can applaud his honesty. He continues:

“This might not be important. On the other hand, if you’re just starting out as a writer, you could do a lot worse that strip your television’s electric plug-wire, wrap a spike around it, and then stick it back into the wall. See what blows, and how far. Just an idea.”

I think that he’s talking about TV as an anti-creative. I’m not saying that TV isn’t creative — and I suppose that he’s not either. I really think that it’s an art, TV. At least an artistic medium. And so it demands creativity — to be good at least. After all, it took creative minds to write and produce all those episodes of M*A*S*H and put together a show like “Whose Line Is It Anyway.”

Ironically, Decatur has a Waldorf School.

Ironically, Decatur has a Waldorf School.

But TV offers creativity in the same way a frozen entrée offers you gourmet fare: you may get it, but it’s not your creation. That’s where Waldorf comes in. The idea behind the education — at least as far as media and screens are concerned — is not to shun technology, the oft-misunderstood intent, but rather to delay its introduction into a child’s life so that (and here it comes … forgive the 4-line sentence) creativity can develop on its own.

Give it time, in other words.

Something else that Steven King included in this book rings true with the Waldorf approach:

“I’d like to suggest that turning off that endlessly quacking box is apt to improve the quality of your life as well as the quality of your writing.”

A blog post is too short a span to expand on Waldorf’s concurrence with that statement. But let me say that the benefits of limiting screen time are tremendous.

Before this book, I’d not read any King novels. While I don’t like his preferred genre (’cause I get spooked easy!) I might pick up Stand By Me or Shawshank Redemption also written by that master of macabre. But I just have to wonder, if, when I do read the latter, will I hear Morgan Freeman’s voice in my head since I saw the movie first?

2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 2,700 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 5 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

Swiing (left) and Jolt (right) say hello and good-bye

I’m losing a friend today, a friend of the four-wheeled variety.  Swiing is my Saab 900S that has been with me literally through good and bad patches.  I donated him to the Children’s Miracle network, so, as he’s done for me during the last 13 years, he’s going to keep doing somebody some good.  Imma miss Swiing.

Saturday, I got a new friend.  His name is Jolt, a 2012 Volt.  Like Swiing, I’m his second owner.  Imma enjoy Jolt.

This rainy morning, I parked him on the street to make room for Swiing’s last drive down the driveway.  The following conversation (quite possibly could have) ensued.

Swiing: Hey there.
Jolt: Hey!
Swiing: So, I guess you’re the new ride, eh?
Jolt: Yep, that’s me!  My name is Jolt.  What’s yours?
Swiing: Swiing. With two I’s.
Jolt: <raises windshield wipers inquisitively>
Swiing: The “S” and the double I come from “Saab” … the “wing” part comes from Star Wars.
Jolt: How’s that?
Swiing: Derek’s had a tradition of naming cars by tweaking the names of Star Wars vehicles. His Chevy Suburban was “The Imperial Car Destroyer,” and his mom’s tiny, green Geo Metro was “The Millennium Frog.” He even dubbed a sleek rental car “Pave 1,” nodding to Boba Fett’s ride.
Jolt: Ha, nice!
Swiing: Sooo … Jolt?  Is that a departure from the norm?
Jolt: Jolt?  Nah … he and Gabriel settled on it this morning. J is for “Jedi.” Morph that into “Volt” and there ya go.
Swiing: Yep, I’m with ya.  Cool.  So you’re electric? That’s sweet.
Jolt: Thanks.  I’m electric- and gas-powered. The best of both worlds you could say.  Derek’s talked about how good your gas mileage always was.
Swiing: <perks up as much as an 18-year-old car can> Thanks!  Yep, great gas mileage and sporty.  That’s me!  So, I guess you heard that he’s donating me today.  The driver should be here within the hour.
Jolt: Yeah, he mentioned that. Couldn’t sell you, right? Wait … that came out wrong.
Swiing: Hehehe … not a problem.  He’s put a lot of work into me, that guy.  Says his dad inspired him by the way he cared for his Buick Electra. He dad kept it for years … at least three decades!
Jolt: No kidding?
Swiing: No joke! And people would stop at lights and ask him if he wanted to sell it!  You should know that when D’s dad passed, selling it was a tough decision. It’s one that he kinda regrets.
Jolt: Wow.  No kidding?  That’s funny — yesterday, Gabriel told his dad to take care of me so that he could have me when he gets old enough.
Swiing: Aw, that’s rich!  I can see that.
Jolt: I think that Gabriel enjoys me as much as Derek.
Swiing: As much as you look like something out of Star Wars, it’s not hard to guess why.
Jolt: Thanks.
Swiing: You know, you’ve got to take care of him, all of them.
Jolt: I know.  I will.
Swiing: He took care of me the best he could.  And when circumstances were such that he couldn’t do the service that I needed, that was hard for him.
Jolt: Must have been rough.
Swiing: Yeah, but we always had fun.  You will too. You look like you’ve got enough pickup to scare the bejeezus out any unsuspecting passenger.
Jolt: Well, yeah.
Swiing: Good. He’ll enjoy that.
Jolt: He already does. Gabriel too. Carmen not so much.
Swiing: That makes sense. Well, looks like he’s coming to move you to the driveway to make room for the tow truck.
Jolt: Yep.
Swiing: Well, be good to them, you hear?
Jolt: You got it. Take care of yourself, Swiing.
Swiing:
Ditto.

None of the above

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Georgia Voter sticker, lapel, morning sunshine.

It wasn’t exactly romantic, but it was fun to do together: C & I voted this morning.

We had some spare time, and we both disdain lines at government agencies. So instead of making googly eyes at each other over a few blueberry muffins and a café au lait before work, we exercised our right to vote. Awwwww, sappy.

Dang it was worth it.

You’ll not get anything here about for whom to vote or any political leanings. All I want to say is this: Please vote. Vote for the people you want. Dems. Repubs. Indies. None of them? No problem. Write in, baby. Write in. Just be sure to spell my name right.

The lines in Downtown Decatur were not long at all, making the occasion all the sweeter. And the fact that someone had stuffed the parking meter full of 82 minutes worth of change was a nice surprise. I added a quarter for the next person.

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Nathan Hudgins. For a brighter, sillier tomorrow.

Casting our votes was invigorating, a feeling that matched the crisp October air that met us on the sidewalk. C drove off to meet her day. I walked down the street to plug in at a local coffee shop and start work, feeling a high that was somewhere between seeing Testament live and reading some Thomas Paine.

Go git choo some, Amurica. Vote!

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