Sunday, May 8, 2016

Mother's Day

I admit it, I'm preoccupied by the way life comes into our Universe. I don't think I can understand its inception from a merely scientific perspective. But for that matter, I can't understand how the religious explain it, either. It's a miracle and a mystery that defies whatever intellectual or spiritual lense I endeavor to view it with.

All I can say is that the existence of life is amazing.

Setting aside, for a moment, the question of where it comes from, I'm equally floored by the way living things tenaciously refuse to be squashed by a supremely lethal, merciless Universe. That delicate creatures of any species can survive for any length of time in a reality that sprouted, as far we know, from a pinprick of ferocious heat and energy that defied even the laws of physics - - well, it's just too much to internalize. These are dots that I do not know how to connect, but that obviously, somehow, do connect.

Which is all to say: Mothers, I don't know how you do it. But keep up the good work.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Dad 2.0 2.0

I just returned from my second Dad 2.0 Summit (Dad 2.0 2.0, if you will). Last year I spoke on a panel about creativity and parenting, which was both horribly intimidating and exciting. This year I was able to skulk about a bit more, unobtrusively slipping in and out without quite so much pressure hanging over me. It was good to see a bunch of upstanding dudes intent on participating both at an intimate level in their own family, and on a larger scale in society, as men who value fatherhood and resolve to be better fathers and encourage others to do the same. I don't usually get sucked in by pop cultural movements or icons, but my wife shared this song by Kelly Clarkson the other night, and it tugged at my heart:

I have a great dad, so the song isn't specific to my own family life . . . but Lindsay and I have been talking a lot lately about what we can do for kids in need. It's a topic I'm sure I'll treat in more detail in this space in the future.

Meanwhile, during my free time, it was cool to walk my old haunts. I stopped by my favorite Smithsonian museums, and snapped a picture of the Andy Goldsworthy installation at the National Gallery for my friend Bill:

And the night before I returned home to our California mountains, I planned an 8-mile walking route through the monuments and back to my old neighborhood and alma mater.

And I took a picture of the tree beneath which my wife and I first kissed.

There's something special about revisiting origins, and I'm glad my family supported me in doing so. Thanks guys.

Monday, December 14, 2015

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away . . .

Sorry for the Spoilers. Also, poor little Duke. #NeverForget

Saturday, October 31, 2015

So Penseroso, as told by a grumpy five-year-old


There's just something about Autumn and the waning of the light and a general chill in the air that makes all my strange grumpiness seem seasonally appropriate. I like these months, 'cause it's like the whole earth wants to just withdraw into itself and hibernate for a while, and not be disturbed. Summer is for extroverts. Autumn and winter? They are for me.

My daughter's an extrovert, but her eagerness to get into character for our third annual Halloween poem truly warmed my heart. In a chilly, curmudgeonly way. My dad used to tell this poem to us when we were little, especially when we started getting sulky.

So Penseroso

Come, megrims, mollygrubs and collywobbles!
Come, gloom that limps and misery that hobbles!
Come also, most exquisite meloncholiage,
As dank and decadent as November foliage!
I crave to shudder in your moist embrace,
To feel your oystery fingers on my face.
This is my hour of sadness and soulfulness,
and cursed be he who dissipates my dolefulness.
I do not desire to be cheered,
I desire to retire, I am thinking of growing a beard.
A sorrowful beard with a mournful, dolorous hue in it,
with ashes and glue in it.
I want to be drunk with despair,
I want to caress my care.
I do not wish to be blithe,
I wish to recoil and writhe.
I will revel in cosmic woe,
and I want my woe to show.
This is the morbid moment,
this is the ebony hour.
Aroint thee, sweetness and light!
I want to be dark and sour!
Away with the bird that twitters!
All that glitters is jitters!
Roses, roses are gray,
Violets cry Boo! and frighten me.
Sugar is stimulating,
and people conspire to brighten me.
Go hence, people, go hence!
Go sit on a picket fence!
Go gargle with mineral oil,
Go out and develop a boil!
Melancholy is what I brag and boast of,
Melancholy I plan to make the most of.
You beaming optimists shall not destroy it,
But while I am at it, I intend to enjoy it.
Go, people, stuff your mouths with soap,
and remember, please, that when I mope, I mope!*

~Ogden Nash

*There are other (slightly longer) versions of So Penseroso floating around, but this is one that I liked.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

On Mothering and Things Falling Apart

My dictionary describes "entropy" as
the degradation of the matter and energy in the universe to an ultimate state of inert uniformity
It's a definition that's both simple, and sobering. It suggests that as time goes by, the differences between things erode and degrade until everything is composed (or decomposed, as the case may be) of the same useless materials. It is a scientific inevitability. My own ridiculously cluttered household is sadly its own anecdotal proof. I swear I'll clean tomorrow (or the day after), but in the meantime entropy has reduced our once-tidy home to a container filled from end to end with useless stuff. Why? Because my domestic skills are in desperate need of leveling up. Perhaps also because fundamental laws of the universe conspire against me.

The first law of thermodynamics expresses the conservation of energy in nature. At first blush, I'm pleased by the symmetry in the idea that matter is "neither created nor destroyed." The second law, however, adds the observation that natural processes have a preferred, destructive direction of progress, and it's in application of this second law that entropy rears its ruinous head.

Entropy demands that things fall apart -- that complex or delicate structures inevitably crumble, their significance and potential effaced by the ravages of friction and time. We're too short-lived to see the way mountains erode down into hills, or stones into dust. But in every city, if you look in the places where people have given up their Sisyphean effort to repair and beautify, you'll find abandoned buildings, folded in upon themselves like the dried carcasses of spiders. The ruins of any ancient city are proof on a larger historical scale.

And entropy isn't merely physical. Chinua Achebe wrote about a kind of social entropy in his modern novel Things Fall Apart, as did Gibbon centuries earlier in his historical work The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. There are those who assert that all cultures and civilizations are doomed to dissolution, sooner or later. Forces dragging us down, individually and collectively, are a ubiquitous part of the human condition. It doesn't take long watching the news to see the truth of that.

And yet despite the quiet but inexorable forces of entropy, here we are. Making art, traveling to the moon, raising families. Distinctly creative, productive activities. There are those who argue that the very existence of life in the context of the complexity-squashing laws of thermodynamics is a miraculous paradox. Physicist and Nobel-laureate Erwin Schrödinger, for instance, grappled with the seeming impossibility in his provocative book, What is Life? In efforts to explain our emergence from a chaotic, "primordial soup," we quest for our origins through science, or through religion or through philosophy . . . but no matter the method, there's no denying the inexplicable marvel of each of us flaring bright like a match in the immense dark of an inhospitable Universe. It seems impossible. And yet here we are.

I started this essay thinking about motherhood, though you might never have guessed it. The thing is, nothing has ever felt quite so incredible as the birth of my own child. The moment that squirming little creature came to rest in my wife's arms, it felt like something absurd had happened, something that defied reason. The idea that we created something so amazing, something so complex and fragile, yet so full of possibility is, frankly, still hard for me to grasp. I can't explain how we managed it. And my wife's role in that, carrying and growing this little seed for nine months, is equally difficult to articulate. When she gave birth to our little girl, it was like she had battled the Universe and won.

So here's to all the mothers out there. You don't have to be a mother, or even a parent, to fight the tide of entropy. But there's something about what a mother can do that is powerful beyond explanation, beyond articulation, and it's worth commemorating. Anyone, parent or not, might make the world a better place by taking to heart the example of women who do the impossible.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Dealing with hard things

I probably need to remind myself of this even more often than reminding my daughter.