Thursday, December 19, 2013

Love #1

If this is the sort of thing you enjoy, then enjoy this.  If it's not the sort of thing you enjoy, well, I guess I feel a bit sorry for you.  But I'm rooting for you nonetheless.

She runs guns.  There she go!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Gundlach #1

There's a lot of debate out there about group exercise classes.  I have no interest in participating in that debate, so I'll use my favorite dodge I got from a good friend on the Left Coast - I think group exercise classes are a wonderful thing and their critics are almost entirely correct.

I did a group exercise class for a few months when I was having trouble getting motivated to stay in shape.  The big advantage of the group exercise class - SEAL Team, if it matters - for me was that it got me in MUCH better shape than I realized I could be in.  It opened up a lot of possibilities for me because when I'm in excellent shape (as opposed to just "decent shape") I feel really 100% mentally healthy most of the time, which is a new experience for me.

One thing that rubs me the wrong way about a lot of fitness coaches is their relentless positivity.  I'm not into the whole positivity thing.  When someone is constantly trying to reframe stuff that sucks into something wonderful, or to redirect my attention away from what sucks, I find it extremely annoying.  I want to kick them in the head and say "There!  Enjoy that wonderful learning experience, did you?  Why not focus on the positive?  Think of all the people who DIDN'T just kick you in the head!"

As it happens my instructor for many of the fitness classes I went to was a big Australian named (I think) Gundlach, and I loved Gundlach and learned a great deal from him, including how to do positivity the right way.  He wasn't a chipper guy; he actually had kind of a sour affect.  But he had an optimistic worldview and the combination for me was perfect.

I thought of him today because I obviously failed to remember one of his constant refrains yesterday - "Hydration is not drinking a bottle of water in the car park on the way to your workout.  You're sipping on water," and here he would pause for dramatic effect, "throughout the day."  This morning I was very dry during my run and I'm sure it was because I didn't sip on water enough yesterday.

At the end of my run I thought of him again, because I had a weak time that wasn't very close to a new low, which I found dispiriting.  The "positive" response would be to say "The important thing is that you did it!" or something like that.  But Gundlach's answer would be more like this:  "The faster you get the more runs you are going to have between personal records.  So when I have a bad run I think "Good!  I'm one run closer to that next record."

If you wake up sore, you say "Good!  I can tell I'm getting stronger."  And on like that.  You don't have to talk yourself out of feeling shitty or "look on the bright side" in some superficial way.  Just do what you have to do to keep going and reach your goals.  That's the Gundlach way.  Thanks Instructor!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Writing #1

Short post today as I'm working on finishing a short story that I'm going to try to place in a quarterly.  One of my readers will recognize it - it's a fictionalized version of a leisurely evening I spent in a park in the West End of Henrico County with a close friend of mine whose name begins with "R."

I've been more productive with my fiction recently as a result of a wonderful class I've been taking from the talented, kind, insightful, brilliant Valley Haggard, who maintains her own blog at  If you're interested in writing, especially writing from your own experience, I recommend you check out her Creative Nonfiction class as it's a great sort of splash of ice water for the mind.

For me it's been especially helpful in getting to the really difficult things that I need to be honest about in order to tell my stories in an interesting way, the things that you don't want to write about because you're afraid that it will reveal something about yourself that you'd rather conceal.  But I think mostly the point of writing classes is to create a structure in which you know you'll be writing once a week and doing it with other people who can give you fresh ideas and encouragement.

So check out Valley's site, and sign up for one of her classes if you can; it's a great experience and you'll get a lot out of it.

Hopefully I can finish the R story tomorrow and get back to writing more substantive posts.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Football #1

I have a lot of readers who don't like football and who don't watch any sports on television at all other than cultural holiday-type events such as the Super Bowl and the Olympics, and from time to time they will ask me some version of the question "What is good about sports exactly?"

That's a hard question to answer because a lot of what's good about sports is pretty ephemeral.  And very often when someone is asking you that questions, they are not asking you that question from a position of neutrality; they have concrete experiences in their background against which they are going to weigh your answer.  Experiences like the ones that Jonathan Martin endured at the hands of Richie Incognito in the Miami Dolphins locker room.

If you're lucky enough to be unfamiliar with this story, here are the basics: a successful, wealthy player named Richie Incognito carried out a campaign of systematic bullying and abuse of a lesser player on his team named Jonathan Martin.  Martin did his best to tolerate the abuse, but after Incognito organized a "practical joke" of convincing the rest of the team to refuse to sit with Martin at lunch in response to some mistake Martin had made on the field, Martin's emotional state prompted him (thank goodness) to check himself into a hospital to be treated for an undisclosed psychiatric condition.

These stories, even more than stories about NFL players with post-concussion syndrome or baseball players using steroids to gain an unfair advantage, make life very hard on those of us who love sports and think they can be a positive force in people's lives.  That's doubly true because, while the Dolphins organization has condemned Incognito's treatment of Martin, many football players believe that it is appropriate and even beneficial to treat teammates in this way.

This attitude unfortunately trickles down throughout sports even to the very lowest youth levels.  Parents and coaches bully and berate kids and tolerate bullying of weaker kids by stronger ones.  Many of them profess to believe that this makes the kids better at sports, but it doesn't.  It's just an excuse bullies use to try to avoid being called on their behavior.  In fact, this type of bullying can prevent kids from learning the most important lessons sports can teach.

Last Tuesday I played goalkeeper for a soccer team that needed a win over a superior team to advance to the spring tournament in a Richmond amateur soccer league.  They were much better overall but our guys outplayed them in the first half and we went into halftime up 4-2.  They made some adjustments at halftime and in the second half they came storming back.

If I had played adequately, we probably would have hung on to win, but I made several mistakes and we lost 6-4.  On the sideline my teammates were quietly encouraging, thanking me for my effort.  We all knew I hadn't played well enough.  There was no need to needle me about it.

Over the course of the next several days I had to put the performance behind me.  The most important job of a goalkeeper isn't to stop goals, it's to have a poor performance and let your team down, but walk off the field with your head up and get ready for the next game.  Having an important job means that if you screw up, it hurts.  But it's not the end of the world.  It's a lot easier to learn that lesson when the people around you are helping and supporting you instead of piling on and making it worse.

So if you point to something like this and say "this is why I wouldn't want my son/daughter playing team sports," I unfortunately don't have a rebuttal.  That makes sense to me.  I hope one day we can get this crap out of sports so we can all play together and have fun.

Your assignment is to find someone who's down and help them up so they can try again.

I had a reader complain that she doesn't like the assignments because she doesn't like to be told what to do, so whatever I say to do it makes her want to do the opposite.  For people like that here's an auxilliary assignment - spend thirty minutes thinking of all the things you're doing to screw up your kids and stunt their growth until you become so irritated and anxious that you snap at your spouse for doing something completely innocuous.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Attention #1


This week I made a stew called Green Bay Booyah which has short ribs and chicken in it.  It’s really fantastic, especially the third day which is what I’m consuming (sadly) the last of now.  If you have a Cook’s Illustrated online membership (or are willing to sign up for one) then you can find it here:

It’s kind of expensive for a stew recipe but it makes a ton of food.  

Your assignment today is long, so pay attention.

Before you do whatever exercise it is you do tomorrow, go get a writing journal of some kind, preferably handwritten but electronic is fine, open it up and write today’s date at the top of a page and then below the date write “Thursday Attention Exercise.”  Close the journal and put it away.  Go perform your daily exercise.  

While you are exercising, pay attention to your attention; that is, when your mind fixes on something, simply try to notice that your attention is on it.  Do this for your entire exercise period.  When you return home, go to the journal and make a list (as comprehensive as possible, but don’t get wound up about trying to remember everything), of all the things you paid attention to while you were exercising.  Don’t edit anything out even if it’s embarrassing or weird or disturbing.  Just write a list of what you paid attention to.When you are done with your list, read it aloud to yourself.  At the end of your reading, try to choose the one thing you think you paid attention to the most during the exercise period.

During your next writing period, write a piece about that one thing.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Birth #1

There comes a point, fairly early it seems, when you're writing a stay-at-home dad blog and you realize you're going to have to begin a post with a clause like "Once when my wife and I were in birth class together" and you panic because there is no way, with apologies to all the people who wrote the clause before I did, to write that clause without sounding like a James Spader-level douche.

The first problem I guess is the idea that you're in "birth class" together.  You are in a classroom together.  But it's your wife who's in birth class - you're confronting your art anxiety, or your abandonment issues, or your commitment issues, or whatever douchey bullshit you decided you were going to freak out about while your wife was preparing to grow a new human brain inside of her and then bring it forth and feed it and nurture it into a human being.

The pregnancy phase is a time when you become acutely aware of your own shortcomings as a man.  Since you have no persistent connection with the reality of the baby, the pregnancy presents itself as "Wow, my wife has been acting pretty strange for the last forty-so weeks, HOLY SHIT A KID!" which is not conducive to being any kind of adequate partner to someone who actually realizes on a gut level (AIW, FS) that there is a baby coming and that the two of you are going to have to take care of it until it gets into a car and drives away.  And then you still have to take care of it if it decides to drive back.

Yet things happen when you're in birth class together, and sometimes you have to start stories that way.  Unfortunately I don't remember what story I'm going to tell.  I got off on birth.  I guess I'll just bitch about laundry for a few paragraphs and then call it a day.

I realized for the first time today that despite the fact that yes, you do separate by color (and I do!), you also have to make a some sort of effort to wash clothes on a "first in, first out" basis if you are ever going to tolerate more than a one- or two-day overhang in the laundry.  Otherwise older clothes jump the line and you have important garments people need regularly languishing in the bottom of some hamper without anyone knowing where they are.

My beautiful, patient wife is probably clawing her hair our over this because I'm sure she's been telling me this for 20 years, but for some reason it took me until age 37 to actually notice the way my approach sort of conditions everyone in the house to have the same dysfunctional relationship with laundry I do.

Now the question is, am I actually going to do anything about it?  Hopefully so, but I'll keep you updated Dear Reader; I know you're anxious to know more salacious details about the primitive laundry habits of the suburban male.

Your assignment is to thank your wife for providing you with the glorious gift of fatherhood, preferably not in a sarcastic voice while your five year-old is cackling in your bed at 9 p.m. and trying to rub his genitals on your iPad.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Sick Days

Ruby was out sick from school yesterday and today I'm recovering from a collision I suffered in a soccer game last night.  I'll be returning to posting tomorrow.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Filmmaking #1

Recently two people made related requests.  One person asked me if I could do a post about filmmaking.  The other asked if I could finally upload the movie I did for the Richmond 48 Hour Film Project this year, because it's only been seen at the screening and many of the people who worked on it haven't gotten to see it even though it's been months since it was finished.

Fortunately, these requests kind of go together because the 2013 48 Hour experience gives me something to go on in talking about making movies.

The first thing to know about making movies is that it is terrible.  You cry.  You shout at people who are trying to help you.  You want to crawl into a hole and die.  After you finish one, you get depressed and don't want to talk to anyone for weeks.  How can this be?  Isn't making movies fun?  Also, if it's so terrible, why do you keep doing it?

I'm not sure I have the answer to these questions.  They are certainly reasonable questions.  I've never made money off a movie - not a dime.  I've spent several hundred hours of my life making movies that range from fun-but-flawed to basically unwatchable.  I've repeatedly become so weighed down by the obligation of producing a movie that I never talked to the person I was making the movie for again.  It's been a more or less unmitigated disaster.  Yet I do, in fact, keep doing it.  It's rewarding in a way that's hard to describe.  It's much easier to describe what's terrible about it.

Zero-budget filmmaking is a process in which you come up with an idea that you think will be really great and fun and exciting and then you slowly watch as that idea is ground down by endless logistical problems.  The really significant part of film work is really just a bunch of list making and scheduling and paperwork, which are all things that I'm intensely terrible at.  The "creative" part, which is the part everyone wants to be involved with and help with, occurs in short bursts and often seems to be largely irrelevant.

When you have a budget you pay people to do a lot of the logistical preparations for your shoot, and this works very well because film directors do not tend to be great at logistics.  When you have no budget, of course you're relying entirely on volunteers and the logistical side tends to get neglected until everyone shows up the day of the shoot READY TO CREATE and then you realize you need some lists of things or else you're all just going to be standing around doing nothing all day.

The nice thing about 48 Hour is that you get one weekend to pack all this work in and once it's over it's over.  Except.  When you get done with the film often there is some aspect of it that seems completely unacceptable, and you tell people foolishly that you're going to fix that aspect of the film and then release a new cut for everyone to see and enjoy.  In my case this is always as mistake.  The new cut never gets done because once you get in to try to create it you realize there are real reasons the original film came out the way it did.

This year that particular detail had to do with a really great audio gag where we had two female voice actors come in and do various takes of distraught crying, which we were going to drop in over the beginning of three different funeral clips in the movie.  The takes sounded great, the women were really patient and understanding of my limited technical abilities, and just generally it felt really awful that in the scramble to get the movie finished we didn't get the crying in the movie.

Well, it turns out that for whatever reason when you drop the crying clips into the movie it doesn't work - it crashes when you try to render it.  I don't know what the problem is, and while I'm sure it can be fixed I am officially, today, declaring my involvement with The Death of Don Panini, Waterline Films' 2013 entry into the Richmond 48 Hour Film Project, to be concluded.  The good news is that despite a bevy of technical issues the film is pretty funny and enjoyable if you ask me.  I hope you like it.

To the two women who gave their time and talent only to see their work cut out of the movie, and to everyone else who helped on this very challenging project, thank you from the bottom of my heart.  As always, I hope next time I can be a little better director, and that a little more of your work and talent can make it onto the screen.  Until then, I hope you enjoy The Death of Don Panini.


Thursday, October 24, 2013

Running #1

Thursday means four miles.  Chilly at nine when my soles hit the street.  Starting out I know I'm overcooking it, I always overcook the first mile when it's cold.  They talked about it during the Series last night, in the cold your hands don't work; your feet don't work.  Nothing works right in the cold.  So you overcook the first mile in the cold.

It's all right.  I've overcooked it before.  I cross the first of the two east-west arteries on the route in front of a trucker whose eyes get big when he sees I'm not going to stop, but I don't even have to sprint to beat him.  Down along the quiet streets by the old boys' school, past the tennis courts and the manicured lawns, drifting down toward the college.

Now I'm really cooking, but this part doesn't count as overcooking it because the hill helps you.  After I skip through the weird traffic on Three Chopt it's dead downhill to the lake so you just lean forward and spin your shoes like a pinwheel.  "Free speed," my fitness coach used to call it.  "Ain't nothing free," I'd always remind him, which he didn't like.  He thought it was "negative" to think that way.  I never did see eye to eye with too many a fitness coach.

There's no one on the road as I hit the campus; sundress weather is over so it's no great loss.  There aren't even any geese to dodge as I round the lake, but I realize I'm starting to get tired.  As I always do when I'm overcooking it, I had started to believe at the end of the downhill "maybe I am in this good a shape; maybe I can run like this forever" but that shit ain't the truth as we've discussed before.

I lose myself as I cross onto the bridge to the gazebo and for a while I am nowhere, nothing, a pair of legs skittering along the edge of a tiny lake in a tiny city, getting smaller and smaller as I ascend to the sky, not in any kind of esctatic way, this is no "runnner's high" just a feeling of being far away, unconcerned.

Snap back to reality as I run by some poor girl on her way to class and I see alarm in her face because she's glimpsed the man I don't show anyone, the sweaty-toothed madman red-faced and grinning and relentless and she begins to fuss with her phone, her generation's version of clutching one's books to one's chest, and quickens her pace.

I continue on but I can't help imagining how tired I'm going to be at the bottom of the hill, before I've even begun my ascent out of this hole in which I find myself, the price of Instructor Gundlach's "free speed."

By the time I hit the bottom it's as bad as I feared, and worse - there is a pain starting in my side.  The price of too much coffee, too much breakfast, and not enough water the day before.  "Hydration," I hear Gundlach say in his charming Aussie accent, "is not drinking a bottle of water in the car park on the way to your workout.  Sipping on water," and here he would pause for dramatic effect, "throughout the day."

Which is what I did not do yesterday, it seems.  And now I have a cramp.  I realize now, in this moment, what I'm doing when I'm overcooking that first mile.  I'm leaving myself an out, an excuse if it gets too tough.  Now I've got a cramp, it's cold, and I'm out of gas.  It's excuse enough to quit, so I do.  Most days.

But not today.  Ratatat's "Loud Pipes" is on and it's inspiring enough that I at least give it a go.  I start up the hill, which really is a very steep hill, and try to think about soccer.  I try to think about how running hard up this hill will make me a better soccer player by waking up my fast twitch muscles and all that crap, but it's not working.  My thoughts devolve into imagery, much of it crudely, painfully Freudian.  I am a giant pillar of rock being forced up out of the earth.  The world is a woman lying on her back and I am standing astride her, sweating.

At long last I make it to the top of the hill and again cross Three Chopt.  Now even the drivers are scared of me.  I can see them trying to decide whether to ask if I need help or speed away as fast as their giant champagne-colored cars will carry them.

I'm on the bell lap now, and I look up at Karen for the first time.  Karen is what I call the sun when I'm running.  She is bright today but not hot, and I smile openly at her.  In the fall we are good friends.  I see now, just as I always do, why it is that I am so prone to overcook the first mile on this course - it starts out on a long, slow downhill, thus finishing on a long, slow uphill.

It doesn't feel uphill, and though there's a breeze in my face it doesn't feel into the wind.  It's just one of those days.  My smile broadens and I try to pick up the pace, to go into my kick, but suddenly the cramp is back and it's bad now, I'm doubled over, I'm done.  I check the GPS to make sure I haven't perhaps already finished four miles somehow, but no, of course not, I have over a quarter mile to go.  Well, three and three quarter miles is just as good as four.

I check the pace.  HOLY SHIT.  I can't believe it so I check the clock, but it's right.  I put my phone back into my pocket and my earpiece back in.  I start to run.  The earpiece falls out and I leave it out.  I say "I've switched off my targeting computer!"  Then I realize that's a stupid cliche' from a kids' movie and I put my earpiece back in.  It's "Clubbed to Death" from the Matrix.  Of course it is.

I pound the pavement and it pounds me right back.  My legs are done.  My lungs are raw with the chill.  The cramp in my side has found its voice and it is screaming, so I begin to scream too.  My neighbors poke their heads out and make the "should I call the police?" face?  The screaming starts to screw up my breathing so I have to stop.  With every step I grunt like Butch going out to beat Marsellus Wallace's house fighter to death in Pulp Fiction.

The cramp has come to life now and is pounding on my liver with constant Mickey Ward left hooks.  I can't go another step.  I check the phone.  4.03 miles.  31:27.  My goal of four eight-minute miles, back-to-back-to-back-to-back.  Done.  Done.  Done.   Done.


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Staying Home #2

“Cover the mirror, look to the sky”

Right now I’m sitting at my desk because I told myself I would, that I’d sit down and write even if I didn’t have anything to say.

“Saturn is orbiting nothing” is the phrase that usually starts to rattle around my brain around this time, that is when my wife has been out of town for a few days.  It’s a mostly-nonsense phrase from an REM song, the natural habitat of many mostly-nonsense phrases.  I’m not sure what the metaphor is supposed to represent in the song but in my own mind it’s me, the way my I spin off into darkness when I’m alone with my kids without her.

There is a concept in physics called entanglement, when two photons come into contact and become part of the same system.  It’s tedious to try to explain why (and there really is no coherent arm-waving argument that can describe it anyway) but the entanglement of those two particles is the building block of what we call “time.”

Time does not exist until two entangled particles are observed separately by another observer.  Until that happens, the system is static, unchanging.  Once the observer becomes entangled with one of the particles, time begins.

This is all nonsense, of course.  It is the hanging of a human philosophical concept like “time” onto things that are in reality nothing but numbers and measurements and equations.  Nonetheless, it appears to be accurate, and has recently been experimentally confirmed.  Go figure.

There is a picture on my wall that my wife’s mother drew, many many years ago.  It is a picture of a man draped over the shrouded body of another person, a loved one.  We cannot see his face but his posture tells us he is distraught, devastated.

The man is wearing a watch on his left wrist.  His watch has always struck me as the point of the piece - his relationship with time has been changed forever.  He no longer has the luxury that I have, to wait for his love in scattered anticipation, wondering what will be left of her when she returns.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Voice #1

I bought this book.  I'll let you know.
Wake up to your alarm.  It is pitch dark and a voice is telling you "Don't get up; it's not even dawn."

Get up, get dressed, go downstairs, make coffee.  A voice is telling you "It's too much trouble to make breakfast; have some Honey Nut Cheerios."

Cook breakfast, eat breakfast, clear up breakfast, get the kids to school.  When you get home a voice is telling you "You don't need to run today; your legs hurt, you didn't get enough sleep, you can run tomorrow."

Start to run.  A voice is telling you "This sucks, let's just go by the coffee shop and get a pastry."

Halfway through the run you feel fantastic and a voice is telling you "You are invincible!  Run faster!  Run Longer!  This feeling will last forever and there will be no comeuppance!  You hear me?  No comeuppance!"

Run home.  Sit down to write.  A voice is telling you "This is a waste of time.  You never finish anything.  You're only pretending to be a writer to get out of getting a real job. Might as well just fuck around on Facebook."

As you move the pen across the page, you wait for inspiration that never comes.  No rising action.  No spark.  A voice is telling you "Look, you've wasted another hour writing something that's not worth reading.  Bravo."

As the evening winds down, your wife is going to bed.  A voice is telling you "Stay up, have a glass of wine, watch a Tarrantino movie.  You deserve it!"

Go to bed with your wife.  Read a book.  Fall asleep.

Wake up to your alarm.  Somewhere in your house there is a paper containing what you wrote yesterday.  Find that paper.  Read it.  On that paper is your voice, telling you, as best it can, who you are, what your condition is, and what may happen to you as a result.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Death #1

A photo, downloaded from Facebook, of a piece of landscape art by Peter C. Allen of Bend, Oregon.

A few weeks ago an old friend of mine died in a house fire. I hadn't seen him in many years, but as I often discover when someone I once knew dies, his friendship had a great impact on me. In the days since his death I've thought a lot about the duty we all have to carry something of him forward into the rest of our lives. He was a brazen man, proud of his own quirky, self-destructive, passionate approach to life, and I know that it would have pained him to know how much I hide parts of me from the world because I feel ashamed of them.

In his honor here is something I want to get off my chest: I have a deep, unironic love for Facebook.

I hate being available to people. I hate phone calls, I hate emails, I hate text messages. I hate my electronic calendar with its constant reminders about things I've named so lazily and sloppily that when the reminders pop up I know how long until I'm late but not where the fuck I'm supposed to go. I'm terrible at all types of correspondence and look at "keeping in touch" as the most crushing of Sisyphian tasks. Yet for some reason I love Facebook. I think I love it for all the reasons that, objectively, I know it must be terrible. I think it facilitates the haunting loneliness that defines modern life by giving us a simulacrum of communication and togetherness and community that keeps us inside when we should be out building the real thing. I think it creates a disturbing temptation for middle-aged people to leer at young people, and that a byproduct of that temptation is a constant stream of guilt-tripping of the young by the middle aged for being too damn young and sexy for their own good. I think it makes it too easy to stay up late and reach out to your storybook lover instead of going upstairs and going to bed with the real thing.

 I think I like all of that. Facebook is the dead skin and dust bunnies of human interaction, assembled in the middle of a big common room for everyone to see. The aspects of human culture that we would most like to pretend don't exist are all too apparent on Facebook - our narcissism, our greed for attention, our pettiness, our sanctimoniousness, our frustrated passive-aggression. There are plenty of wars on Facebook, but I think what we see most days is the process of our worst selves making peace with one another. And that, ugly as it is, is a beautiful thing.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Vimeo of the Week #1

Blue Season from Katrina Christensen on Vimeo.

Woke up feeling like I never wanted to do anything ever again except maybe snap at my loved ones and sit on the couch watching Breaking Bad with the commentary on.

Fortunately on my birthday a prominent Richmond writing, theatre and film family provided me a gift of a $30 contribution in my name to Starbuck's Campaign of World Domination , so I was able to trick myself into going for a run to redeem my Victory Coffee rations.

I felt much better when I got back so I'm trying to capitalize by doing some laundry.  In lieu of today's lesson, here's the Vimeo of the Week, Blue Season, which is a short documentary about the Vegas hip hop scene by Las Vegas independent filmmaker Katrina Christensen.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Cleaning Day #1

Today is cleaning day, not in the sense that I clean but in the sense that I am one of the great shamefaced multitude of stay-at-home parents who pays other people to clean my house for me.

If you're unfamiliar with this phenomenon, here's how it works - you do a crappy job cleaning your house for some significant period of time, until you come to a decision as a family that it would be best for everyone if someone actually cleaned the damn house every once in a while, and so you hire four members of some marginalized socioeconomic group to clean up after your privileged suburban ass.

Which sounds great until you realize that the reason you never clean anything is that every surface in the house has a two-foot layer of debris settled on top of it, made up of, say, clothes that may or may not be clean, pieces of construction paper with a cat's face drawn in marker the same color as the paper, half a jigsaw puzzle spilling out of a box that can't hold a jigsaw puzzle because some hairy neanderthal stepped on it, not even really by accident but more out of depraved indifference to the fate of the box, that sort of thing.

So obviously when your house is in that kind of condition no one can clean it, not even very dedicated, hardworking poor people.  So before the cleaners get there you have to clean up all the shit that is the whole reason you never clean (the cleaning part is actually rather pleasant once you get down to it, in my experience), and it takes hours and will show you exactly how out of control your entire living situation has gotten when you try to put away the fabric markers and you find that there are four separate bags of markers, each containing some part of three different sets of fabric markers, and also those bags contain things like pencils and hair ties and small bits of plastic that don't seem to do anything at all but are definitely an important part of some thing or other that little Daisy definitely needs in order to realize her potential as an artist or fashion designer or whatever the fuck.

So you get the picture, I would think.  It's a hard day.  A day of reckoning.  A tiring day.  And yet I care about you, Dear Reader.  So I stay up after putting the kids to bed to bring you this blog post.  And also to watch a bit of football.

If you're not a football fan, as I think many of the readers of this fine blog in fact are not, you may not even be aware of Thursday night football, which is only a few years old.  There is a game on Thursday nights that's not on TV and features two teams that just played four days ago, so they're all injured and sloppy and the game sucks.

You can watch the game if you either have NFL Network (which most people don't) or if you go to and watch it online.  Except instead of actually showing you the horrible game online they just show you random bits and pieces of the horrible game and the rest of the time it's two guys just talking about the game in a cheap, tiny studio, or ads for stoner food like pizza and taco bell (that may just be my ads.)

So anyhow, I'm going to go watch that now, because I have no taste.  Enjoy your evening.  Your assignment is to not watch this awful football game.  I mean, what are you doing with your life, Dear Reader?

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Birthday Boys

Today I went for a long walk instead of a run to rest my knee and give myself a treat for my birthday. I very much enjoy long walks as they give me a chance to think things through without distractions intruding on what I’m thinking about. Distraction is a terrible problem for a stay-at-home parent because there are always little emergencies happening everywhere all around you. Then if you get done with the emergencies for a moment there are a dozen little maintenance/drudgery items to take care of, many of which are things you’d rather not do. So you look for something to do that seems a bit more stimulating than scraping cheerios off a bowl with a fork, and you remember you need to pick a restaurant for your birthday dinner and follow up with the babysitter, so you sit down at your computer and suddenly it’s 2:30 p.m. and you’ve wasted the entire day having important cultural discourse about whether or not Hannah Montana should be allowed to go on television and pretend to fuck a giant foam “We’re #1” Finger. Obviously this is a problem for everyone, whether they work at home or in an office or at the fire department or wherever it is. But when you’re a stay at home parent those things you were supposed to do are going to be staring at you for the rest of the day, and your wife is going to come home and see them, and your kids are going to complain about them, and your friends are going to see it when they come over and you’ll be embarrassed, etc. etc. It’s a very visible form of failure when you get distracted and get behind on your work. This affects your self-image, obviously. One way to counteract this is to have a group of male friends you can go out with, who won’t care if you didn’t do the dishes and forgot to call the plumber and can’t even remember where you left the vacuum cleaner it’s been so long since you plugged the damn thing in. Stay-at-home moms might be gasping a bit at this. I get the feeling a lot of them wouldn’t think of going out with friends when the dishes are piled up in the sink and there are legos everywhere and there is a load of sour laundry mildewing. That’s probably a healthy way to be and I applaud that, but I’m not that way. It can be easy to sort of forget to have male friends as a stay at home dad, but you need them. Most of all you need people you can be honest with about important emotional matters that are hard to talk to your wife about, like which of the other moms at your kids’ preschool has the best ass. Notice I say “other moms.” A lot of what I’m going to say on here presupposes something very important which is that you find your wife insanely attractive, miles more attractive than just about any other woman you’ve ever come into contact with. If you married someone who is not a “10” on your personal sexual chemistry scale, you’ve wandered into a difficult place and I don’t envy you. I certainly do not recommend becoming a stay at home dad. It will not end well. So your lesson for the day - as you make your mom friends, reach out and make dad friends too wherever you can. Your friendships that will work the best are the ones where all the adults in both families are close and can talk to each other openly. If you don’t have that, problems can become very big before everyone who’s affected by them is aware of them, which is a recipe for resentment, mistrust, and worse. Your assignment is to have dessert, call your buddies to set up a boys' night, and remember to look at your wife and say "damn that is one fine woman."

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Staying Home #1

(Even if you weigh 300 pounds and have a face like Jerry Quarry, when women see you taking care of your kids they see this fellow right here.)
The other day at the pumpkin patch my friend Leigh (all names fictionalized) asked me if I had a blog, and when I said “not really” she said if I had one, she would read it.  

I guess I should have asked her what sort of thing I was writing about on my imaginary fantasy blog, but it didn’t occur to me, so now I’m here with no real prompt.  

I glance over at my friend Hunter’s blog to see what kind of things he writes about.  He’s another stay at home dad/Browns fan/writer/longhaired deadbeat type like myself.  He has three boys - one of them recently got his hair cut, it seems, but that’s no help to me.  I’m not really into that sort of thing, as a writer.  Also my wife takes the kids to get their hair cut and takes the lead on most hair-related matters.  

I find the nuts and bolts of parenting, and life in general I suppose, to be pretty boring.  I like writing about sex and pain and death and revenge and things like that.  It would be a strange beat, the sex/pain/death/revenge/stay-at-home-parenting beat.  I’m not sure what quarterly I’d submit my work to.  

Sex is a natural fit, I guess.  I could be the stay at home dad who just writes about sex all the time.  Sex, sex, sex.  Sex in the morning, sex in the night, sex every single moment of your godforsaken life.  

I might be able to get away with it because I’m not that guy who has sex all the time.  That annoying fucker, the one who’s like “you’ve got to keep the magic alive with little touches like roses and massages and get her some nice bath lotion” or whatever the fuck.  Eat a dick, asshole.  

Or worse, his wife, some successful novelist whose work the New York Review of Books says “simmers with the savory broth of greatness” or some gushing poppycock, who writes an Op/Ed in the Times about how to be happily married and make time for your man and keep the spark alive and blah blah blah.  Fuck you, too, bitch.  

This isn’t going well, I feel.  I don’t think this is what Leigh wants to read.  I imagine she was thinking I’d be writing about how to listen to your children and respect them as people and put your family first or some crap like that.  I’m falling asleep just thinking about it.  Let’s get back to the sex stuff.

Sex is the key thing that makes stay-at-home fatherhood hard.  The rest of it is really very easy.  Not easy in the sense of, easy as falling off a log.  I mean, it takes work.  There are butts to be wiped (h/t - Hunter) and dishes to be washed and endless, endless laundry that never stops because kids like to wear four different outfits every day and shit their pants regularly and aren’t even embarrassed about it.  

It’s easy, though, in the sense that for cultural reasons there is a very low standard of success for stay-at-home dads.  Where stay-at-home moms have this ceaseless passive-aggressive competition that’s constantly hanging over every aspect of their lives every waking minute of every day, stay-at-home dads are exempt.  The shame that Kate Winslet feels having forgotten her kid’s snack for the 47th time at the playground in “Little Children” is not really present for a stay-at-home dad, at least it needn’t be.  No one expects you to remember to bring a snack, or sunblock, or a change of clothes.  The moms fall all over themselves trying to help you out, and trying sincerely to make sure you know that these things happen to everyone, and we’re all in this together, right?

A stay-at-home dad can walk out of the house, two kids in tow, with a diaper crammed into his back pocket and figure everything will pretty much work out ok.  In fact not only will it be OK, he’ll be such a hero other dads start to hate his guts because their wives won’t shut the fuck up about what a great dad he is.  And what did he do that makes him so great?  Nothing.  He talked his kid through some stupid tantrum about what color sippy cup he brought, and how whatever was in it wasn’t exactly what the kid expected.  For this (something all stay-at-home moms do every day) women will build you a nine-foot marble statue and put it on the capitol steps if you let them.  Which you shouldn’t because you won’t get invited to poker games.  

So now, once you’ve settled in and gotten used to this treatment and made your first real stay-at-home-mom friend, you’re going to realize the situation you’re in, which is that you’re spending a lot of time with a woman who has an unaccountably high opinion of you during the day while her husband is at work.  You’re developing nice wholesome relationships with her kids, which by the way if you’re ever trying to seduce young mothers is the beginning, middle and end of the playbook, and she’s opening up to you about the problems in her marriage and how she’s not sure it’s working out.

I slipped that last one in on you.  DO NOT LET WOMEN DO THIS.  There is nothing to be gained by listening to a woman complain about her husband.  The way you do not want the conversation to go is as follows:

My husband leaves his dirty dishes all over the house.

Yes, my wife does that too.  It makes me feel so unappreciated.

YES!  It’s so nice that there is a man who understands.

This is DEFCON-1 level seriously bad shit right here, my friend.  This woman is starting a fight with her husband about this TONIGHT.  Take it to the bank.  And even if your name doesn’t come up, it’ll be hanging in the air like a stale fart.  

Let’s try this again, but with a slightly different response from our hero, the SAHD.

My husband leaves his dirty dishes all over the house.

Yeah, I still throw my dirty socks at the hamper like a goddamn chimpanzee.  Drives my wife crazy, makes her feel so unappreciated.

Wow, I guess all men just fucking suck.

I’ll drink to that, sister!

See what you’ve done there?  If your excuse for the previous exchange was that you just wanted to be there for your friend, validating her feelings, well, here’s your chance, Romeo.  Validate her in a way that 1) reaffirms how much you appreciate your wife, even though you don't always show it and 2) closes down any stray thoughts she might have about how maybe you’d be a better husband than the one she’s already got.  

Well, my writing time for the day is up.  Your assignment for the day is to Google “Hot Dad-on-mom sex” (in quotes like that) and look at what comes up.  Yep.  This page (once the spidering is done) and one other page that says “It turns out that there wasn't much enthusiasm in the room for hot Dad-on-Mom sex either.  Go figure.”  

Go figure indeed.  Til next time, Dear Reader.