Saturday, May 16, 2015

One Thousand Gratitudes, Part XIX: 550-526

One more post and I'll no longer be able to talk about approaching the halfway point. After that I'm sure I'll reinvent a dozen different ways to refer to the proverbial home stretch.

The publishing of this entry puts me near the five-month mark in terms of the scope of this project and calling it overwhelming would be understatementish.

The hope -- as I begin to chisel away at the second tier -- will be to gain an appreciation of the challenges that others face in their lives, be they intentional or otherwise. I also have noted a bit of a perspective shift with regard to my own thinking and I wish for that to continue to develop.

If you're new to the series, you can find previous installments in the archives, and if you're curious about the impetus for starting it, it's this lady. To be fair, I haven't read what she wrote; I only know of her book through secondary sources, but the idea sounded pretty righteous. You can read a little bit more about her idea here.

Thanks, as always, for reading.

Five Hundred Fifty: nachos in general

      Forget about sharing them with Charlie Liebrandt and Joe Beckwith (or anyone for that matter). Nachos kick all the ass, and the best way to eat them is when I don’t have to share. As my wife likes to say -- and has made a broken-record effort to say so for about five years -- they are my “favorite food group.”

Five Hundred Forty-Nine: The Missouri River Runner

      One Friday in March we boarded the K.C.-to-St. Louis Amtrak for a weekend in the big Lou’. We caught the Blues game on Saturday; headed home Sunday. I find something soothing about the feel of zipping eastward atop iron tracks. I know I already inked an Amtrak gratitude. This one’s got more to do with this particular route, the mix of people that jump on it in Independence, Lee’s Summit, Warrensburg, Jefferson City, Herman, etc. Standing in between cars offers a real western-movie experience, not to mention a source of white noise for sleepy little ones. Easy to board/exit, casual travel style, and affordable, too. We’ll try to make the River Runner trip an annual deal for as long as our kids dig it.

Five Hundred Forty-Eight: Kevin Shattenkirk

      @ShattDeuces lands in my top three of favorite current Blues. He missed seven weeks recovering from abdominal surgery that stemmed from an in-game injury. While eastbound on the Runner, the Blues’ Twitter account announced his presence at that morning’s practice, yielding a high possibility for his return to the lineup for our game at Scottrade Center. He did rejoin and the applause from the fans made it even better to be in attendance.

Five Hundred Forty-Seven: my mom’s old couch

      My mom got a new couch about 10 years ago and I took her old one. And by “old one” I mean the piece of furniture she owned and had in her living room for about 17 years. I think a total of four people sat on it. Since taking ownership of it it has served as my grad-school living room couch and my man-cave sofa in consecutive basements. I have probably slept on it 100 times as often as I have sat on it. It’s a light-ish blue, floral-patterned thing with two broken legs (from high-school parties) and a cinder block holding it up in the back. When extended and wrapped in a fleece blanket, this sofa suits me like a caterpillar’s cocoon. Little in life makes me happier than a snooze on it.

Five Hundred Forty-Six: The Walking Dead

      When the zombie hype hit its apex -- and I do hope it has -- I scoffed at the whole thing, and even though I’m into a major source of all said hype, I still scoff at it. When I went through my horror-movie phase, I found all of the Night of the Living Dead films stupid (but still watched them, ‘cause horror films tend to have boobs aplenty). I don’t love The Walking Dead. I don’t believe some kind of zombie apocalypse could be thrust upon society, but I guess believing has never been a key ingredient in the horror-recipe archives.

      I do, however, enjoy the series. My buddy and I’ve developed a nice Sunday-evening tradition of watching the program together, and the show hooked me a few seasons ago. If I had to sacrifice a gratitude, this might be the first to go (so far), but I’m glad they made it.

Five Hundred Forty-Five: “Halfway to the Moon”

      I wrote plenty about Phish’s 2014 studio release here and spent some extra time on this track in doing so. I still find it medicinal, a cosmic journey through the heart and mind. From the soothing stream of Page McConnell’s lead vocals, to the delicate thunder sounding out from his piano, to the Trey Anastasio six-string whale calls, to the choral offerings of the female backers, I continue to find the studio version of this track worth an endless number of repeat plays.

Five Hundred Forty-Four: Louie

      When I saw an ad announce the new season of Louis C.K.’s FX series would begin in a week, I sat upright in excitement. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of anticipation that stems from knowing one of your favorite artists works at his or her craft in his or her corner of life, removed from the noise of yours. There’s something even better about carrying that anticipation and either forgetting about it or letting it go or having it drift into a dusty corner of your mind. Then you see the reminder for the debut of your artist’s new labor and the world drops one of those fresh, cherry-blossomy worth-the-wait feelings into your day, and that Forrest Gump feather of joy floats by, a recall that things are pretty good.

Five Hundred Forty-Three: having a recommendation pan out

      I don’t mean vouching for someone for a job, per se, but that can be cool, too. This has more to do with little things, like suggesting to someone you care about that they try something, and they do, and it works for them, and it means enough for them to thank you for it without your inquisition.

Five Hundred Forty-Two: the down-time perspective and the power of the mind

      I struggle with selfishness and time within the confines of the week. So much of my seven-day window gets consumed by work, and what’s left of it gets split between kids and social obligations. As a result an internal whine -- that sometimes gets verbalized -- drones in my mind about an alleged unfairness in life; the moments to myself occur too few and far between, as it were. It becomes, as my therapist might say, my story.

      Sometimes, though, we have moments of lucidity, a new light’s reflection on our life’s canvas that shows us a different angle on the picture we’ve looked at so many times.

      I touched on this in my country-roads entry, but I want to elaborate on it here.

      As I drive the occasional county road, I’m reminded of some of life’s simplicities. I’m reminded of how lucky I am to have a good job, a nice home, a wonderful family, and my health. I’m refreshed to be away from the city -- if only for a spell -- and the overwhelming sources of stimulus: the phone calls, the texts, the e-mails, the GPS gal’s voice, the Pandora, and the deadlines.

      I’m reminded that, if I let it, this can count as down time.

      And I am thankful for it.

Five Hundred Forty-One: South Park clip #6: “Aaaand it’s gone.”

Five Hundred Forty: Atlanta correspondence with Dad

      When our mom remarried and Steve’s job took us to Georgia, our dad gave me and Tiffany a home-made stationery set.

      “I’m going to write you every day,” he said. “And I expect my little munchkins to write their ol’ dad, too.”

      When we moved away from 2825 Kinnett Drive, a chunk of our basement possessions didn’t make it back to Kansas City with us. I know of a pair of bicycles, boxes of our school stuff, some Christmas decorations, and some pennants. The rest got left to the imagination 30 years ago. I imagine in that collection of the forgotten lies a significant number of letters from Dad, but some of them stayed with us.

      If you thumb through them, you will notice two primary themes: 1) Dad missed us, and 2) we weren’t writing.

      His idea for simplifying the opportunity for us to quote/unquote write: Record ourselves on cassette.

      He started it by speaking into a tape-recorder microphone and mailing the tape to us. Our end involved listening to it, taping ourselves on the ‘B’ side, and sending it back.

      We did this for a spell, and some of those tapes still sit nestled in his wife’s living room.

      We didn’t realize it -- via letters or tapes -- at the time, but the message became clear later in life: Through a divorce, two new marriages, and a move, our father would not forget us. His children would not comprehend his gesture until much later in life, a notion magnified by his passing.

Five Hundred Thirty-Nine: co-parenting with a therapist

      This gratitude poses significant challenges that I can summarize as such: Trying to raise a child with promotional-mental-health (as opposed to prohibitive) tactics in mind sometimes leaves me with the feeling that this forces the kid to wear a patient’s hat.

      Many of my wife’s clients fall under the Borderline Personality Disorder umbrella. I have no expertise with this population, but I do have some -- albeit dated -- experience with them. My guess: Extensive studies have determined various causes for the disorder. My theory: Mostly it happens because of early-life trauma. I don’t mean car accidents and falling down wells. I mean the disturbing and the grotesque, the stuff people do to a person.

      So my wife has this ever-growing mass of information and data and experience in her head and she sees how adults who grew up in dysfunction wind up dysfunctional (my take). Because of this, she wants us to validate our children’s needs. She wants us to give our kids the direct message that what they feel and experience matters. She wants us, above all, to let them know we care.

      I agree with this philosophy but am incapable of rolling with every meltdown about how either a sock feels on a foot or what it feels like to have your mother set you down for three and-a-half seconds.

      “Name it,” she says, “to tame it.”

      “Just ignore it,” she says.

      “Daddy!” she will say.

      What I have ascertained is this:

      A fine line lies between the accumulation of practice/study and gut instinct. This line has nothing to do with division, though, and everything to do with volleying.

      In certain situations, you have to use what you’ve learned; in others, you go with what feels right. I have the feeling my wife would say that you can train yourself to feel the way the studies and sessions have taught you about how the dysfunctional operate. You can, in a sense, erase the fine line.

      This, to me, seems to sometimes paint the child into the patient corner, to force the dynamics of the traumatized upon the minds of the so-called, so-assumed normal. It eliminates the intrinsic parental element. It also, I presume, shifts the parent-child power paradigm, perhaps leveling the playing field for the child in a way I can only label unnatural.

      What results has little to do with doing things “my” way, and should not fall under the because-I-said-so heading, but instead alters expectations. That is, the child begins to anticipate a form of pragmatism regarding each situation, circumstance, setting, emotion, and experience.

      It fosters a justification of I should be able to act this way because…instead of the sometimes-necessary, We don’t act this way -- be it here or now or both -- because it’s not right. To make an extreme extrapolation, it has the potential to alleviate the culpability of certain perpetrators, people who acted a certain way because of the environment forced upon them. If you place a child in an alleged position of power in each emotional backdrop, they may attempt to navigate their path based on the very emotion that got them to the starting point.

      I find this tendency dangerous as it sends a confusing message to the child in two distinct ways: 1) Times will arise when the world presents the little person with definitive rights and wrongs; we don’t hit at school, or in public, and -- we would hope -- at home. 2) If one parent operates under a different guideline than the other, then the child must learn two sets of behavioral expectations, which I imagine can be both confusing and exhausting, especially with both parents present at the same time.

      To take a step back, I imagine every set of parents out there has differences between them, that it’s normal for children to learn that what mama expects is different from what daddy expects. That said, I think this raises the bar a notch, making each moment and each interaction all the more intense, an ever-present sense of combustibility.

      Nevertheless, I see the value in the approach. I find that it’s important to validate a child’s feelings. I can’t do it every time, though, and maybe even more important: I won’t do it every time.

      My struggle then, involves determining -- more often on-the-fly than not -- which scenarios dictate the need to foster the child’s needs and which demand some resolve. To do so requires minimal knee-jerk reactivity and patience, neither of which reside in my wheelhouse. Having made a long story longer, the gratitude is this: Without my wife’s intelligence, experience, compassion, and love, I never would have known that the fine line I claim exists exists. I just would’ve rolled with the gut-instinct angle.

      I know that millions of people have raised millions of people with this and only this in their arsenal and -- to quote every generation that went before -- those kids “turned out fine.” I’m thankful, however, that my wife has illustrated the other side of the coin to the people under our roof. It’s up to us now to manage each flip.

Five Hundred Thirty-Eight: Avett Brothers Radio on Pandora

      Already gave shout-outs to both the artist and the site. Now I’m doing so for the wonderful artists the combination of the two have shown me.

Five Hundred Thirty-Seven: co-worker news

      Several weeks ago I received news that someone I work with, someone with whom I have a lot in common, suffered a major setback in life. It really freaked me out and while I gave thanks that it hadn’t been me, I could not escape the idea that it could have so easily been me. I haven’t had my cage rattled like that since my last mini concussion in rec’-league hockey. Holy shit.

      I’m happy to report that my colleague stuck a feet landing, but man…

Five Hundred Thirty-Six: my daughter’s current emotional-development phase

      My wife and I have struggled of late to find the same page, to do what might be best for our daughter in the current stage in which our daughter lingers.

      I’m not even sure what to call it. Post-three assertiveness? Pre-five aggression? A recipe for the rest of her life?

      To summarize it, she gets upset. Like, mean upset with abrasive tones and elevated volume and frequent tears. She’s calmable, but sometimes it takes a few attempts to soothe her. And sometimes, she winds up buried in remorse in the aftermath, apologizing and stating how she doesn’t want to act that way. The other night she claimed that she didn’t “want to die soon,” which might have been a tipping point for me.

      I mean, she’s freaking four.

(Sugar and spice and all things...)

      I know that every parent feels like their child has some sort of special gift, and we are no exception. Our daughter has intelligence, intuition, and a pretty good understanding of how the world operates.

      I have confidence that this phase will pass, and that we will traverse it a stronger family unit because of it.

Five Hundred Thirty-Five: clean laundry

      Sure. The universe owes me an imminent lameness for posting a gratitude about dryer sheets and a separate one about clean laundry, but I associate this one more with the likes of task accomplishment. I find the chore of laundry a four-part endeavor: getting the dirty downstairs, washing and drying it, folding it, then putting it away. I love completing the process, though. Closing that final drawer lifts such a weight from my shoulder, and I’m always thankful for that. I associate a touch of silliness with that thought, though, as I always feel thankful that we -- all four of us -- have so many clothes that I can slack on laundry and the worst to ever come of it looks like picking clean articles out of unfolded baskets.

Five Hundred Thirty-Four: comfortable underwear

      Need I elaborate? I think not.

Five Hundred Thirty-Three: the humbleness that comes from knowing there are some things you’ll just never be able to do right

      Most times human beings struggle with something they go one of two routes: a) practice it until it improves, or b) run from it, avoiding it forever. I find myself choosing the latter most times, but when I don’t, I do usually get better at whatever the thing is, and that’s a great feeling.

      Sometimes, though, I keep at a thing. I discover new tactics for approaching the challenge, I study my previous mistakes, and I try -- pardon the cliché -- to think outside the box. On occasion the efforts pay off; on others I can only smile.

      One example really stands out: folding a fitted sheet.

      I did this as a kid. I did it as an adolescent, and I do it now as an adult. Hell, at one point it was even part of my job as a housekeeper to help in laundry when they were shorthanded.

      No matter how I try, though, I cannot get this thing to not look like a lopsided trash bag full of uncrinklable plastic carryout containers. I’ve used the stretch-it-out-on-the-bed routine, the pretend-the-length-of-it-will-fit-between-pinched-fingers-and-a-chin-against-the-chest approach. I’ve used the tops of the corners, the bottoms of the corners. I’ve made the mistake of trying it widthwise. I’ve tried to smash it down like an overloaded suitcase, but still my folded fitted sheet looks like an obese man’s soiled Depends shamelessly abandoned in the park. It’s okay, though. I always put it underneath the folded top sheet, hiding my bulging Santa sack.

Five Hundred Thirty-Two: wellness exam

      I took one of those insurance screenings in March and got the results a couple days later. Things look good. Not great, but good. I’m grateful for the knowledge that I haven’t totally ruined myself, that I can come back from this level of mediocrity. If I choose to.

Five Hundred Thirty-One: losing your stomach

      Remember that? The hilly-road belly drop in the car as a kid? Good times.

Five Hundred Thirty: Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks

      If you never had the misfortune of slogging through my Bob Dylan top-25-album project, don’t bother now. I’ll drop the spoiler alert no one cares about and tell you that gratitude number 532 took home the heavyweight championship belt, and it did so for good reason. This album delivers an audio version of what shamans used to conjure with their bare hands and nature’s elements. It alleviates depression and helps reduce symptoms of Restless Leg Syndrome. This 1975 record digs into your innards, surfacing with all of the reasons you have for weeping, then comforts your steaming forehead with a cool rag, a chilled beverage, and a clearer vision of the universe herself.

      Life. Nobody described it with such aptness before Bob Dylan wrote this record. I don’t know who I have to thank for the stars aligning in the way that they did so that this album fell into my lap, but I’m a lucky man, I tell you. A lucky man.

Five Hundred Twenty-Nine: Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti

      I didn’t get this record at first. I knew “Kashmir” of course, but the rest of it was too big. Too deep, too dark, and too mysterious.

      As Dylan said on Blood on the Tracks, “One day the ax just fell.”

      It hit me.

      It probably sprung me from my bed. Or maybe it kept me from getting into it.

      I don’t need to delve into the details of this monster double LP, but I do have to give thanks for the fact that it got recorded, then found my ears some 15 years later.

Five Hundred Twenty-Eight: Led Zeppelin IV

      This record walked into my life and said, Hey. That stuff on the radio…those hits on the charts…that ain’t where it’s at. My musical life hasn’t been the same since.

Five Hundred Twenty-Seven: the idea of shame and what it looks like when pitted against the fleeting moments wherein I realize that my wife isn’t perfect

      I’m not sure of the precise measurements, but I know that a lot of what hinders me hinges on levels of shame I’ve accumulated across my life span. Some of it has to do with being a child of divorce. Some of it has to do with not being a mental genius. Some of it centers on being short. Some of it clings to the idea that I’m ordinary, and some of it resembles an aggregate of all the aforementioned.

      I brought all of this to our marriage and it affects most everything we do. She’s smart. She’s in charge of lots of stuff. I’m the dude. I’m the dad. I do the normal things like cut the grass, the quote/unquote strange things like fold the laundry. It’s like I married into an inferiority complex that would’ve existed regardless of spouse.

      Thus, when my wife errs -- which is seldom -- I feel good about myself. I feel normal. I feel better than less. I feel human. It’s a twisted thing, but it’s good to feel good about yourself and in those moments -- twisted as it may be -- I give thanks.

Five Hundred Twenty-Six: the State of Kansas Department of Transportation

      Nothing says you live in Missouri like cruising along in your vehicle and discovering that a road-construction project is underway in your lane about 30 feet in front of you.

      Thanks for the notice, Missouri.

      I bet Missouri road-crew members make about $239 an hour because three out of every four die since drivers never know they’re there until it’s too late.

      How ‘bout some signs? Maybe a cone or two?


      I’m just gonna ride right over that nine-foot pothole and see the “bump” sign as I go through it? Awesome.

      Same goes with snow removal.

      Somebody once told me that the Kansas Department of Transportation pays people to run around during blizzards and catch snowflakes with a special net.

      I believe it.

      Every winter I’m amazed at Missouri’s drunken-uncle ran-out-of-gas-in-the-plow-so-fuck-it-I’m-going-home approach which is so painfully illustrated when you drive across that one street. What’s it called?

      Oh, yeah: State Line Road.

      What an embarrassment.

      So, thanks, KDOT, for leading by example.

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