I've been thinking a lot about liminal points lately. It's a concept I first came across in my classical mythology class back in college, having to do with the religious practices of the ancient Greeks. A liminal point, you see, is a point of transition, and for the Greeks these were a big deal. It was at these points of moving from one place to another that, they believed, you were most vulnerable to evil spirits, and so, for example, when setting out on a journey they would stop at the edge of their city to perform protective rituals. And it wasn't just literal transitions like city limits and national borders that were important, but also figurative ones, like the birth of a child or the passing from life to death. Each of these moments had to be properly respected, and proper precautions had to be taken to ensure everything would proceed smoothly.
It's not surprising that liminality would be on my mind these days, considering how much of my life is in flux right now. I'm in the process of changing my career, which both excites and terrifies me, not to mention keeps me so busy that I haven't had much time for personal writing--I've been spending between two and four hours a night working on either planning or post-production every night for the past several weeks.
And then, of course, there's the fact that in less than 60 hours, I'll have a daughter.
I've had over a year to prepare myself for the idea of having another child, counting from when we started trying. I still can't get my head around it. In some ways, it's harder to understand than it was when I was waiting for Jason to be born. Sure, there was a lot I didn't know back then, but it was easier to imagine. Sure, I'd never changed a diaper, myself, but I'd been around babies before, I'd rocked them and gotten them to laugh at me and even held one through the night. I didn't know what it would be like to love and be loved by my own child, but I knew what it was like to love my wife, my family, my dog. (I know it's not the same, the love you feel for and receive from a pet, but, honestly, it's really more a difference of degree than of kind--a huge degree, to be sure, but still.)
Oddly, it's the very fact that I do have experience as a parent that's making it so much more confusing this time. I know how it feels to look down at my sleeping boy and feel so much affection that it feels like I can't breathe, to want nothing more than to climb into bed beside him and hold him and feel the warmth of his breath on my cheek. I can't imagine feeling the same way about anyone else as I do about him--it feels like I'm at my capacity, my arms are completely full and I couldn't possibly stretch them any further to pick up anything else. I know I will love my daughter, but right now I can't understand what that means.
And I know, too, how to do all of the little tasks that are required in order to care for a baby. I know how to change her diaper, how to dress her, bathe her, feed her, burp her. There are a million things that I never had to do before Jason was born that are now completely familiar to me. But that very familiarity makes it that much harder to comprehend just how my life will be different with a second child. I know that things are going to change completely again, but I have no idea how.
And so, faced with the prospect of once again venturing into the unknown, I find myself engaging in my own rituals of liminality. I make lists, pack bags, go over my plans again and again. I check my camera batteries. I write. It helps a little. Soon enough, the liminal point will have passed, and maybe I'll be able to let out this breath I've been holding. I hope so.
What's In Your Wallet?
The typical man, eschewing as he does any bag or carrying case that could be mistaken for a purse, has a ton of crap in his wallet. Ask most guys to show you his wallet, and he'll pull from his pocket an inches-thick leather folder stuffed with old receipts, grocery store club cards, half-used gift cards, and the other detritus that wallets tend to collect. I'm no different, but recently I've been forced to re-evaluate the giant pile of paper and plastic I lug around in my pants pocket every day.
I should back up a bit and and give a little context, first. For the past several years I've been telling Juliette--at about one-month intervals--that I need a new wallet. My old wallet was too big, and I had never really intended to use it in the first place, it being merely a leftover that I put into service when the smaller front-pocket wallet it came with finally crapped out. Of course, inertia being so powerful, I continued to use that big crappy wallet for years, all the while annoying the bejesus out of my long-suffering wife.
Finally though, that wallet, like its predecessor, started to fall apart at the seams. Several months later, I bit the bullet and bought another one.
Picking out a new wallet, like picking out a new pair of glasses, is always difficult for me. This one is ugly, that one is the wrong color, this one is too big, that one doesn't have enough space in it. I nearly always find myself taking a turn through the wallet section when I'm in a department store, and I usually wind up throwing my hands up in frustration (and causing Juliette to roll her eyes).
This time, I decided to make a move to end this hassle once and for all. I've been eyeing the briefcases at Saddleback Leather for a while now, and it turns out that their wallets come with the same 100-year warranty as their bags. Problem solved! I'll just shell out thirty or forty bucks for one of those--not even that much more than a department store wallet--and never have to get another one ever again.
The new wallet arrived on Monday, and it's very nice looking and feels durable. I'm sure it will age as well as its manufacturer claims. But it did leave me with one problem: the new wallet only holds a fraction of what my old one did. What's more, since the leather is still new and stiff, the pockets haven't yet stretched to the point where they can accommodate even what the manufacturer claims.
Now, I know, this is practically the Platonic ideal of the First World Problem. Clearly, nobody is going to die or even be seriously inconvenienced--not even me--just because I can't carry around fourteen different loyalty cards anymore. But because I am ever-so-slightly eccentric (this is the polite way of saying I am completely obnoxious and a royal pain to live with), the thought of arriving at Boudin Bakery without my Boudin Frequent Buyer Card (and, thus, with no way to redeem my $5 Frequent Buyer Reward) makes me feel a little panicky.
And it's not just the possibility of missing out on discounts. For some reason, my collection of wallet flotsam seems like an extension of myself, as though I am at least in part defined by the stack of crap in my right pocket. It almost feels that by cutting out part of that stack, I'm cutting off part of my body. A small part, admittedly--one that I don't really need and hardly ever use. The appendix, perhaps.
I'm committed to the new wallet, though. This new wallet is going to be like my new best friend, the one that comes along with me on all of my adventures; through thick and through thin, come Hell or high water, my new wallet and I are sticking together.
So, after a long session spent winnowing down the mass of nonsense from my old wallet, this is what I'm left with:
- My driver's license and auto insurance card
- Medical and dental insurance cards
- FSA debit card
- AAA membership card
- Two personal credit cards
- Two personal debit cards
- Business credit card
- Business debit card
- Costco membership card
- Library card
- Season passes to the San Diego Zoo, the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center, and SeaWorld
- A "what to do if your child is missing" info card with a recent picture of Jason
- Four business cards
- A sheet of first-class stamps
I've abandoned all of the store loyalty cards. I won't be getting any more free popcorn at the movies, but that's OK. I came to terms with the fact that I wasn't actually going to spend the $1.17 left on the Macy's gift card I got for Christmas two years ago. The old receipts were trashed or filed. Or put in the pile of things waiting to be filed. My right pocket is lighter than it's been in years.
But even now, after all that, my wallet is still crowded and I'm still carrying around stuff I don't really need. Have I ever actually gone to the Science Center on the spur of the moment, without being able to grab my pass beforehand? And that second bank account has about $50 in it--when am I ever going to need to take money out of there without going home first?
These questions have been niggling in the back of my mind all week. If history is any guide, I'm sure I'll have them resolved before Jason goes off to college. Probably.
Reese Witherspoon Is Not That Much Older Than I
As I was watching How Do You Know last week, I found myself thinking that Reese Witherspoon was looking a little old. I suppose my mental image of her is still stuck in the days of Election and Legally Blonde, even though the latter of those two is now nearly a decade old. Still, when I think of Reese Witherspoon, I think of the fresh-faced, perky young woman she played in those movies, so seeing her now in a movie that really dwelt on the extreme close-ups, I couldn't help but see the little lines starting in her face and think about how time marches on for all of us.
Of course, I realized very quickly after that that she and I are more or less the same age. She's 34, I'm 31. The difference is pretty negligible at this point. That realization was quickly followed by another: that my mental image of myself is also stuck in days past.
I don't actually think of myself as a kid anymore. No, seeing teenagers at the mall, for example, or college kids in the beachside parks, I don't actually feel like I'd fit into those crowds anymore, nor do I have any particular desire to do so. But more and more often I keep having these weird moments where my age kind of hits me in the face.
Like the other day, for example, I was watching this clip of Marc Maron on the Letterman show, at the end of which he talks about how one way he knows he's getting older is how teenage girls see him. It's a funny bit and I laughed, but later I realized that he was 33 at the time, and, yeah, that's pretty much where I am right now, too. (To quote Maron, "Now, don't misunderstand what I'm saying, I'm not saying I want to have sex with teenage girls, I'm just saying, 'Hey, throw me a bone.'")
Or when I was watching the Rose Bowl last weekend with my uncle and realized that not only am I way older than any player on that field, but I'm actually older than the vast majority of pro sports players. I pointed that out to my uncle and he burst out laughing.
Mind you, I know I'm not actually old. I did find one gray hair in one of my sideburns a while back, but I just keep my 'burns shorter these days. But, no, I'm not saying I'm old. It's just weird to think about how I'm not actually young anymore either.
Mad Men and Me
One of Juliette's and my favorite shows--indeed, one of the only shows I still care about watching--is Mad Men. It's a wildly successful show, of course, both popular and critically acclaimed, and I like it for most of the same reasons that everybody else does. Still, you'd think that the fact that I have no particular nostalgia or longing for the 60's--nor any desire to drink and smoke at work or cheat on my wife--would mean that some of the appeal would be lost on me. There's another facet, though, that helps pull me in, one that's very personal and that I didn't realize until just last week.
You see, it turns out that Don Draper is just about the same age as my mom's dad. Sally Draper, his daughter, is almost exactly the same age as my mom. John Slattery's character, Roger Sterling, is just a couple of years younger than my other grandfather. And characters like Peggy Olson, Joan Holloway, and Pete Campbell are right around the same age as my father-in-law.
Granted, the resemblance pretty much begins and ends with age. One of my grandfathers was a career Army sergeant, while the other came back from the war to become a farmer--neither of them led lives that were anything like the Madison Avenue life depicted on the show. My mother, unlike Sally Draper, was born in Italy and lived in Japan, Okinawa, and several places up and down the Pacific coast. And while my father-in-law was a New York businessman in his younger days, he was never the sort of ruthless son of a bitch that Pete Campbell is.
Nevertheless, I've come to realize that watching Mad Men makes me feel some connection to those people. I know so little about what my parents' and grandparents' lives were like back then, and I can't help feeling some sense of recognition when I see the world that these characters inhabit--even if only for the context of the historical events.
For a long time when I was young, my dad had this old Takamine six-string that occupied various corners of his house. The funny thing is, I don't remember ever seeing him play it. In fact, apart from a few old photos that were, I think, taken before I was born, I can't recall even seeing him hold it. No, it just sat around, sometimes in a closet, other times leaning against the wardrobe in his bedroom. Eventually, it went with my older brother when he went back to his mom's house at the end of the summer.
Oddly, it never really struck me that my dad didn't play it. That guitar was just part of the furniture at his house. It wasn't until my brother took it that I even thought about it, and then only because my brother talked about it so much. To be honest, the idea of my dad playing an instrument has always seemed kind of unbelievable to me, despite the photos and even despite the fact that one of my grandmother's favorite stories about him when I was a child was how he played the French horn in high school.
For some reason, memories of that old Takamine came bubbling up this morning as I was listening to Morning Edition on NPR--one of the music breaks was a singer-songwriter-ish piece that featured some acoustic strumming, though why that would make me think of that old guitar is a mystery. It also made me think of my own guitars. Yes, guitars. Plural.
I have three guitars. One is a crappy classical that I picked up at a dorm auction during my freshman year of college--it cost me all of $21. Another is my Danelectro 56-U2. And, finally, there's the Washburn steel-string that my dad gave me for my 30th birthday. I love every one of them but I rarely ever play. In fact, I'd barely even say I know how. At my best--maybe ten or twelve years ago--I could manage some decent rhythm guitar, but even then my best instrument was harmonica. These days I've gotten terribly rusty. I can still remember a few chords on the guitar and a few riffs on the harmonica, but it's been so long since I stretched myself that I'm essentially a beginner again with both.
It makes me wonder whether Jason will come to see those guitars in the same way that I saw my dad's Takamine. And maybe he always felt the same way I do now--meaning to play, wanting to play, but never getting around to it. Who knows? Maybe Jason will some day put these strings to better use than I have.
What Was, What Will Be
The first time we got The Question was probably shortly after Jason's birth. You know the one I'm talking about: "When are you going to have another baby?" Man, I thought to myself, give me a chance to get used to the first one first. Of course, now that Jason's second birthday has come and gone, it's pretty much open season for The Question, and the associated theories on optimal spacing.
Neither Juliette nor I have made any secret about the fact that we do plan on having more children--at least one, maybe two. And, yes, now that Jason is no longer an infant--or even a toddler, really--we've come to a point where we realistically could start thinking about it again. It's no surprise, then, that people are asking. It's what people do at times like this. Now, you might think that I'd find The Question annoying, and at times I do. Lately, though, I've been feeling more sad than irritated when I think about having more kids.
I mentioned this to Juliette, and she asked "Sad for Jason?" And, yes, that's certainly part of it. Right now, Jason gets nearly all of our love and attention (Cooper gets some, too, of course) but once he has a little brother or sister, he'll have to share us for the first time. He may have a hard time with that or he may not--at different stages he's been both very independent and very needy--but either way it will be a big change for him, and the thought of putting him through that change does make me feel sad for him. Still, he'll also be getting something back from it: a sibling. He may not appreciate it right away, but I know that while both Juliette and I fought with our sibs when we were younger, those relationships have grown to become among the most important in our lives.
So, yes, I am a little sad for Jason, but more than that I'm really sad for myself. Because as much as I can gripe about my job or how little sleep I get, and as frustrated as I can get sometimes with Jason or Juliette (or even Cooper), I'm actually really happy with my life right now. I'm happy with us, just the way we are right now, and having another child would mean that I wouldn't get to have this anymore. I'd have something else, something that I'm sure I would love, and that I would wonder how I could ever have gotten along without. But I wouldn't have this life anymore, and a part of me mourns the idea of that loss.
It's not enough to make me want to change our plans; we will have another child at some point. And, plans or no, change will come sooner or later--nothing in life stays the same. I guess I'm just surprised. I always knew that, at the least, I'd be a little daunted by the prospect of more sleepless nights, but sadness isn't a reaction I expected. Funny how life tends to sneak up on you like that.
P.S. Just in case it's not clear: no, Juliette is not pregnant. Trust me, I wouldn't beat around the bush about news of that magnitude.
My Latest at Life As A Human: Every Picture Tells a Story
Over the past six months or so I’ve been reconnecting with my love of photography. It’s been an exhilarating time, learning different techniques, practicing composition, and shooting, shooting, shooting. In order to develop my own style, one of the things I’ve been doing is to study the work of past and current masters, and what I’ve come to realize is that the images that resonate the most strongly with me are those that tell a story. With that in mind, I’d like to tell you the story of one of my recent photos.
Getting to Know Me
I started this blog over eight years ago, but until Jason was born my writing was sporadic at best. There are a lot of reasons that I got serious about writing regularly at that point. I wanted to have a record of this time in my son's life, of course, so that I'd be able to look back later and more easily remember what life was like. It was also right around then that I started thinking about actively pursuing writing as a second career. I've talked about both of those before, I think. What I may not have mentioned, though, is that I also wanted Jason to have a way to know me, know who I am and how I think.
You see, I realized a while back that although I spent my entire young life around my parents, and although I have come to know them as an adult, there's a lot about their lives that I don't know. I know some facts--dates and places of birth, for example, and the names of their high schools. I've even heard a few stories from their youths and young adulthood. But I have only the barest impressions of what their lives were like before I was born. In fact, I can't even really say that I know much about what was going on with them before I graduated from college nine years ago. When I was a child, I wasn't aware enough to see or understand what was going on around me, and when I was a teenager I was, like most teenagers, too self-absorbed to care.
As I finally took steps into real adulthood, I came to know my parents for who they are now. I think I can say that I know who they are and what's going on with them as well as I do anyone who doesn't live in my house. But there are still big gaps from before that I wonder about, and even though I've mentioned this to my mom, I haven't ever really sat down with them and asked them my questions. Somehow, the idea of interviewing my parents, as though I were going to write their biographies, just seems too awkward.
I don't know if Jason will feel the same way. Maybe he'll know me well enough, or maybe he'll never think about it. But I know that I want him to know me, and if he feels the same way, I don't want awkwardness to be an obstacle for him. I missed my chance with my grandfathers, and I find myself wondering about their lives all the time.
I haven't previously done much writing here about my past, so I hope that those of you who read this blog now will bear with me from time to time as I share a few anecdotes. Hopefully the stories will be interesting enough to be worth your while, but if not, please just keep in mind that I'm really writing those for a very small audience, one that won't even be able to read these words for some time to come.
The Perils of Office Toothbrushing
Are you a work toothbrusher? OK, so that's not a particularly elegant turn of phrase, but you know what I mean. Are you one of those people who make sure to get in a good brushing after lunch every day, even at the office?
Well, I'm not. I happen to be blessed with particularly strong tooth enamel, such that even though I only brush once a day (in the mornings), I'm still always lauded by my dentist for my good oral hygiene at my semi-annual checkups. So, I don't have a lot of motivation to brush more often.
I'll tell you what, though: I do kind of admire those mid-day toothbrushers. It seems like it must take a fair amount of dedication not to just remember to brush so often, but to be willing to put up with bad office toothbrushing conditions in order to do so.
I mean, at your typical office you've got one of two choices: the kitchen/break room or the public bathroom. The kitchen offers no privacy at all, since office kitchens tend to receive some of the heaviest traffic of the entire company. I don't know about you, but I prefer to be alone while I'm fighting plaque. It's bad enough that my son always seems to want to strike up a conversation in the middle of my morning routine. Having a grown up start talking to me when I've got a mouthful of toothpaste seems more awkward than I'm willing to deal with.
On the other hand, unless you happen to be blessed with a workplace with single-occupant restrooms, if you opt to brush your teeth in the office bathroom, you run a serious risk of having someone come in and start pooping while you're brushing. The idea of having to deal with someone else's bathroom stink while trying to clean my mouth just completely grosses me out.
I just don't have the fortitude of stomach or strength of self-confidence to cope with work toothbrushing, but I know a lot of others do. So here's to you, work toothbrushers of the world. You are better folk than I.
My Latest at Life As A Human: Making Your Mark: Your Signature and Yourself
Over the past ten years or so, pens have sort of managed to fall out of my life. Grocery lists, appointment reminders, and personal notes have largely migrated from paper notepads to my smartphone. And I'm certainly not writing this post with a pen. I even do my crosswords online nowadays. There is one thing I do still regularly use a pen for, though, and that's for signing my name.