30 March 2009

Guest Postus Toastus: The Honor Is Mine

Hey, everyone! Hear ye, Hear ye!
Today I have the honor of guestposting over at The Dayton Time. The lovely Pamela a.k.a. 'The Missus' and wife of The Mister, graciously invited me over while they celebrate the birth of their 4th child, Elliott Samuel Dayton. So please stop by there, leave some love for them. Oh, and I wrote a post, too!

22 March 2009

Elementary Physics for the Wee Lass

I don’t know where she gets it. Okay, maybe a little because I’m a geek. Still, her recall for such things is astounding.

Wee Lass and I were on our way to day care the other morning, a very cold day in the aftermath of the 8” of snow we had received earlier in the week. The sun was out, very brisk and the breeze was plucking leaves and bending needles. She was watching the trees go by and chattering away about leaves and trees and snow and ice. Then she paused, and said:

“Daddy, what’s that two word?”
“What word?”
“That two word.”
“Two word? Two word for what?”

Wee Lass sighs. In the rearview mirror, I can see her staring at me with the same look one gives harmless but annoying idiots when they obviously have demonstrated their idiocy. She didn’t roll her eyes, but I swear I heard an exasperated sigh.

“You ‘member, the two word. For the water to ice, ice to water.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Daddy! You know, when the ice changes to the water, or the snow to the ice…”

Huh?

“…or the water to mist…”

She chattered on for about another minute until it finally dawned on me. She was trying to remember “phase change”.

Jay-zus, at a time when I am lucky to remember my own name, or how not to get lost on the way to the liquor store, er, grocery store, my daughter is calling up physics terms! What is even more astounding, I know she heard me say that phrase once when I was trying to explain ice to her. I’m a dork like that, can’t look at ice without thinking of phase changes. And I wasn’t even all that interested in physics in my younger days.

But she heard me say it once. Once. And that was probably about two weeks prior to this day.

“You mean phase change, sweet pea?”
“Yes, Daddy, phr-, phff-…phrase change!” she said with a big smile. Then she proceeded to explain to me all the things that had phase changes, which included the aforementioned ice and water and mist. Then she said:

“…birds hatching and like seeds to flowers…”


“No, dear, seeds to flowers aren’t a…” then I caught myself. Seeds to flowers? While a seed turning into a flower isn’t exactly the strict definition of a phase change (I told you I am a dork), the idea behind it is similar: something undergoes a reorganization of itself and turns into something else. Pretty powerful stuff for such a young person to recognize.


I’ll have to keep an eye on that kid, she could be trouble later…

17 March 2009

Whiskey, Jesus and the Search for Sensible Solutions

This post is dedicated to the good soul Braja Sevaki (Lost and Found in India) and her husband Jahnudvipa and the driver that was taking them to the airport. In case you had not heard, they were in a terrible car accident (see HERE). Please let us all continue to pray for their speedy recovery.

Persuaded, paraded, inebriated, and down
Still aware of everything life carries on without
'Cause there's one too many faces with dollar sign smiles
Got to find the shortest path to the bar for a while


The Universe is not a place conducive to life making sense, except in some limited ways related to basic physics and chemistry and other narrowed fields of study. A thrown rock will hit something, and something may be damaged. Fire will burn a lot of which it touches. Slamming the door on a hand will hurt. These are things that are known. But we understand physics and chemistry and most other things only because we limit the field of study, to make it easier to parse the information. Inevitably, the chosen set of information will be incomplete because it does not, and cannot, include every possibility.

This would seem to go a long way towards explaining why the agglomeration of events that we call life very often doesn’t make sense, no matter how hard we try to explain it.

There's a trouble around, it's never far away
The same trouble's been around for a life and a day
I can't forget the sound, 'cause it's here to stay
The sound of people chasing money and money getting away


The current Global Financial Economic Crisis serves as a good example. It strains credulity to believe that anyone, even alleged financial experts, truly understands what is going on. Things are so complicated, interrelated and intertwined. It is impossible to know with certainty the effects on the system arising from disturbances within the individual parts. Broad guesses can be made, but fine-grain detail is a whole other matter, and there are the effects of synergy to consider.

It is this far-reaching uncertainty, this inability to completely make known the unknown, and having to act without knowing that drives people into the arms of anxiety. Or even mad in some cases. Understandable, really. Humans like problems to have tidy solutions. They like information in neat, discrete packets that are easy to understand and digest. Pity, really.

Life just isn’t like that. The significant events that shape us, good and bad, often leave us wondering just what the hell happened. Or more importantly, they leave us wondering WHY the hell did things happen. The death of a loved one. A broken marriage. A horrible car crash: these are the things that wound us, take our breath away and leave us in a heap trying to make sense of the nonsensical. This is where we get desperate for solutions.

In between the dirt and disgust there must be
Some air to breathe and something to believe
Liquor and guns the sign says quite plain
Somehow life goes on in a place so insane


Solutions. Desperate people will grasp at anything that seems to offer a solution to the problem of their pain. Since their respective inventions, alcohol and religion have been hugely popular among humans in general, as potential solutions to their problems. It is not difficult, at least in the United States, to get access to both. It also isn’t hard to see their appeal. Both offer at least the appearance of a solution to one’s problems. On a temporary basis, this is true. Indulgence in one or both can temporarily numb a person to past awfulness or impending doom.

There is always a morning after, when the head is pounding, the mouth full of cotton and the body shaking from whatever substance had been swallowed the night before. And then the remorse sets in, and the awful knowledge that the source of your pain, the problem, the thing that didn’t make sense before is still there. Sitting on you. Not making sense.

This is not an endorsement or a condemnation of any set of solutions. Whiskey is arguably more fun than Jesus; on the other hand, it might be said that Jesus has more salubrious effects on ones’ health. In the end, too much of either doesn’t make sense, just like the Universe.

Jack Daniels and Jesus Christ: odd bedfellows it seems. As a permanent solution, each path seems just as nonsensical as the universal problems they purport to solve. They can only offer temporary solutions to permanent problems. That’s okay, too, they don’t have to work forever.

They just have to work for Now.

A long way from happiness
In a three-hour-away town
Whiskey bottle over Jesus
Not forever, just for now
Not forever, just for now

(Italicized lyrics from “Whiskey Bottle” by Uncle Tupelo, from the album No Depression)

03 March 2009

150 Lumps O' Goodness: A Sesquicentennial Of Sorts




I know what I said yesterday about being tired and pulling back, but truly this was too good to pass up.

The Family Unit and I went out for dinner at a nearby pan-Asian eatery. They put ‘diner’ in the name, but I have to believe that the Chinese equivalent of a US diner would be a very, very different creature indeed. I doubt Toto or Kenny G would be the music of choice.

One thing they do have is these big bins along the wall, under the condiment racks, containing big piles of fortune cookies. As part of the evening’s entertainment for Wee Lass I took her over to the fortune cookies so she could pick out some for us.

And lo, look at the fortunes I found! How about that for a tweak on the nose from the Universe?

Sitting there in the light of the table lamps, the “designed-to-make-everyone-happy-so-noone-ends-up-enjoying-it” type music, the clatter and blare of the open kitchen hard upon my ears, my vision narrowed in on those fortunes. It was an illuminating moment.

Combined with the common human fascination with round, even numbers, the fortunes served as the perfect base for this, my 150th blog post in 150 days. Given that my 100th post was a bit of a fireworks display, I thought something more sedate would be nice.

150 posts. Wow. I know there is a lot of hard work involved in that. But I have also had lots of good luck as well. I won’t try to figure that out, I’ll just ride the wave, and have another cookie.

Happy 150th, everybody! Thank you for giving me some good cookies!

02 March 2009

That Collar Looks Smashing, Don't You Think?

T-minus 7 days and counting.

I am preparing for launch. The wheels of the Universe have turned in their own mysterious fashion and through whatever machinations of Fate, it has happened.

I have somehow found myself gainfully employed. The fittings for the collar went swimmingly, and on Monday, March 9th, I will once again be captaining an ergonomically correct, full-motion and probably black or dark blue desk chair.

I cannot confirm the color, because I have not seen the actual chair yet. But I have seen enough of them in nearly 20 years of architectin’ to be very familiar with the type. My workstation was not complete yet, but I have been assured that it will be ready by the time I show up. I have no doubt that it will be. The workstation will have the accoutrements of modern business, the usual suspects: phone, task lamp (maybe), computer. I hope to have unlimited access to Post-Its.

The company I am going join has a good reputation, does some interesting work and is stable. I thoroughly enjoyed my interview, and they reciprocated with interest. It looks like I will be getting my hands on work that has interest for me, and should keep me suitably engaged. I am hoping to fully utilize the skills and talents I think I brought to the table. I believe I’ll have the opportunity to perhaps create some good work. Plus, this job makes some other things possible.

In a week, I will be back to the singular pleasures and subtle delights of the regular workday. I will have a new commute, twice as long as my old one, through the heart of Charm City. My new workplace will not be as easy to get to as my previous place of employment. Perhaps this will be offset in part by access to an even broader array of eating/drinking establishments. There is the typical pizza place, a burrito joint (I like burritos, especially with pinto beans), and at least one place that has free Wi-Fi access. I expect I will be availing myself of their hospitality to do some Internettin’ away from the office and in the relative anonymity of a busy café. Also nearby is an Irish pub/restaurant, within easy walking distance. It has a decent reputation; I am eager to determine how well they handle the pouring of a pint of Guinness. Professional curiosity, you know.

For obvious reasons, a significant portion of my time will have to be dedicated to making my new position a success. It has to. Given the current economic situation, I would be foolish to not do my best. And I have always striven to do my best, no matter what I am engaged in.

I don’t know exactly what this means for my presence here on Irish Gumbo, other than to say I will have to pull back a bit. I need to do that anyway, because of my desire to develop some book ideas, do some marketing for publishing and that sort of thing.

I also need to pull back for some personal reasons, and because I am low on energy. I have been putting a lot of myself into the blog, occasionally more than I should perhaps, and it is catching up with me now. To be candid, I am approaching exhaustion. But I will not be giving it up. I can’t. I’ve learned too much, had a lot of fun and made some wonderful, wonderful connections.

Whither Irish Gumbo? Give me a moment to catch my breath. Then let’s figure it out, you and I.

01 March 2009

Tidbits: Lessons In Humility

Ah, Sunday, another day of rest. In so far as it is possible to really rest trying to keep an eyeball or two or a four-year old with more energy than the Sun. It is a bit unfair to blame all my current malaise on Wee Lass; she is an innocent in all this. Sometimes I think if she were a story the title would be “The Accidental Vampire”.

The primary reasons why I am feeling an overused Coppertop is…well…everything else. Keeping up with the blog and all the great bloggy friends I have made and looking for a “real” job while trying to write enough stuff to jump start a budding writing career and deal with some profound personal changes: all this has depleted my reserves to an all-time low. Life right now seems a bit like watching a really exciting soccer match between two great teams, but not having enough energy to do more than say “yay”. No stomping of feet, no jumping out of my seat, just “yay”.

There are some notable exceptions, a few of which I will share herein, this my randomish Sunday post for the first day of March.

REASONS TO BE HUMBLE

People talk, you hear things. More accurately, people comment, they blog things. Recently, I may have blogged some things that apparently had a deep effect on some nice folks of my acquaintance. They were kind and generous enough to let me know. Witness this from That Baldy Fellow at Nick Nack Blog Attack/The Tales Of Squire Kirk the Elder, on “Books, Unwritten”:

I wasn't going to comment as I can't think of something adequate to say that does justice to this post. But I didn't want to not comment and leave you thinking it hadn't been read.So I'll simply say that it's another post that makes me wish my own writing was a lot better...”

He is a fine writer in his own right, so this was complimentary, indeed!

Then there is this lovely sentiment from one of my favorite bloggy/doggy friends, Henry the Dog at Henry the Dog Blog, on “Taken down a Peg”:

“…To be honest, you're sometimes much too intellecutal for mum and me (and I'm going to leave the transposed spelling of that word 'cause I think it's funny given the context of my comment) and so we don't always 'get' you. But we 'get' you more often than we don't and anyway even when we don't 'get' you - the sound that your words make is nice, like music.

It isn’t everyday that a wonderful little dog can make me all misty, but Henry did it. “Music” he says. The musician in my heart weeps with joy at such a high honor!

And then there was this one, from Jan at Jan’s Sushi Bar, on “I’ll Stop the World and Melt”:

“….I just sat and cried while I read this. No, really, bawled my fucking eyes out. I've got a companion piece coming. Sort of. It's about feeling overwhelmed, anyway.”

The lovely Jan did write that companion piece here, and in it she linked to my post. And if you haven’t seen it yet, READ IT NOW. It is a well-written and powerful (and when I say powerful, I mean it made me tear up) account of confronting some uniquely female issues. If you are a woman, I suspect there will be some “amen, sister!” responses; if you are a man, I sense some enlightenment in your future. Her honesty and candor and deeply heartfelt essay will stick with you. Not unlike some of the tasty-sounding recipes she has posted, mmm, mmm.

It isn’t an exaggeration to say that comments such as those leave me gobsmacked. I am thrilled that people are interested in what I have to write, and I am also deeply humbled that something I have said could have such an effect on people. It is a needed reminder of the reach of the electronic medium we inhabit, and of the potential we have to affect someone else. The computer screen has a way of making us forget that there is someone else on the other side of it. All the fermentations of the brain that we pour into it end up somewhere, whether we remember it or not. I am fortunate and deeply grateful to have a method of effectively emptying the flea market/brewery/dance hall/wildlife sanctuary that is my mind. That there is someone returning the serve I’m dishing up, well, that is tasty icing on a very nice cake.

There a whole bunch of good folks I need to think, and many of them know who they are. I’ll get to you, my pretties, I just need to rest a bit, get some energy back…

MORE INTERESTING THAN CSI: POUGHKEEPSIE

Speaking of people I need to thank, I want to direct your attention to the debut of an interesting new website/magazine called The Open Case, devoted to solving unsolved crimes. According to the creators, it is “Part magazine, part social networking site, part private investigator, the site is a cross between Facebook and America's Most Wanted.” That description alone is reason enough to spend some time on site. I do have an ulterior motive, in addition to that. See? Motive? Pretty good for a crime-related site, yeah? Hehheh.

The motive? Well, one of the contributing columnists is a gentleman by name of Rich Shea. Rich is, unlike myself, a professional journalist and writer (and a good one, I can tell you!) and is writing a column/blog entitled “Popular Forensics”. This debut edition for Rich revisits Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood”, which is coming up on its 50th (50th!) anniversary later in the year.

I, uh, have not, um, read “In Cold Blood” yet. *shame* It is one of those books that is perpetually on my To Read list. However, after reading Rich’s very fine explication of the book (and the movie based on it) I am inspired to bump it to the top ten on my reading list. I was familiar with the story, but Rich illuminated it in a whole new way for me, one that made me want to read the book and really understand it. It’s a pretty safe bet that you will too. So please, drop by The Open Case and check them out. Who knows, you may have some useful information on one of those cases…

Disclosure: In addition to being a fine journalist and writer, Rich is also my former neighbor* and current good friend. Rich and I have had numerous discussions about writing professionally and all that it entails. We both are also pursuing creative writing avenues, and have shared stories and volunteered editorial time critiquing each other’s works. His advice and guidance have proved very valuable to me**. Seeing as he is a professional and has the credentials to back it up, that is another example of the icing on the cake.

*The reasons he is a former neighbor have nothing to do with me. Really. He and his family simply needed more spacious digs. Besides, the records were expunged, so you’ll never know, will you? Hehheh.
**Such as teaching me the value of disclosure. It can save a lot of hassle in the long run.