Monday, August 29, 2011

First Day of School. First Day of Forever.

So today marks one week since I took my only child, all grown up, to college at the University of Pittsburgh.  After a week of orientation, she started classes today, where she will be taking writing, Japanese, psychology and biology, among other things, on her way to a degree in bioengineering.  Needless to say, I am very proud.  Needless to say, I miss her like crazy.  There is a hole in my heart the exact size and shape of her smile.

We've texted a few times.  I guess that's the way it's done these days.  I understand that her first day went well and that she likes her teaches so far.  She still is having a little trouble finding her way around, but that is certainly to be expected.  Seven days in a strange city does not make one an expert, and I hope she cuts herself some slack on that.

I did share with her some fatherly advice over the weekend.  I gave her five tips, some from me, some borrowed, that I think will add immeasurably to her chances of success.  They are, in no particular order:

1. Find whatever passes for a student handbook and learn the important dates.  Learn the last day for adding, dropping or switching to pass/fail.

2. At some point during the first couple of weeks of classes, find out your teachers' office hours and drop in to introduce yourself.  Only a suck-up waits until three days before midterms to do that.

3. Learn the etiquette of each professor's classroom.  Approach the class the way you would visiting a church.  Some ministers don't mind if you knit during the sermon but others take offense.  Each instructor will have different ideas about what is respectful behavior and you should learn what those ideas are for each and every class.

4. Take good notes and review them every day.  Rewrite them if possible.  The more you do that, the better the knowledge becomes fixed in your mind.

5. Get involved with the community and get connected.  Join a club, go to church, support a cause.  It doesn't matter whether you save the environment or join the College Anime Funnybook Chowder and Marching Society.  Find like-minded people and get involved with them.

And that's it.  Well, there is one epilogue of sorts:  Whatever happened in high school doesn't mean SQUAT now.  You have a completely clean slate and you have complete control over the identity you are beginning to create for yourself.  Enjoy it, experiment with it, and make it a good one.

Livi, if you read this, remember that your mom and I will always love you, and support you, and be very, very proud of you.

And I miss you like stink!!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

There. Safe.

Olivia is there.  She's safe and settled in her room at the dorm.

I miss her like stink.

I had this essay on missing her and cooking for one less person and so forth, all ready to go, and I came home to find that this blog had been hacked and hijacked by some a-hole in the Ukraine.

I have no idea what he did to my site before Google gave it back to me, but if you were here and were offended or victimized, I sure am sorry.  I have learned to change my passwords more often, for sure.

And I hope for something very special for my Ukrainian friends.

Monday, August 22, 2011

"Tomorrow. Tomorrow. I Hate Ya. Tomorrow."

"You're only a day a-wayyy!"  [Apologies to the musical "Annie."]  But tomorrow I drive my no-longer-so-little girl to Pittsburgh so she can begin her university career.  And I gotta tell ya, it's killin' me.

Like I said on my Facebook page, I am of two minds.  On the one hand, I realize that it's time to push her out of the nest.  I am not entitled to keep her wonderfulness to myself.  It's her turn to go out into the world and get her education and make her difference.  And I am sure that she will.  While I am by no means the perfect parent, nor she the perfect daughter, I am awfully proud of the woman Olivia turned out to be.  She is a very caring person, and truly has a beautiful soul.  She can engage with just about anybody, of any generation.  Why I have not been beating away young suitors with a large stick is a mystery I will never be able to fathom.

And on the other hand, I so wish I could just keep her around for a while longer.

I will miss marching for gay rights with her as much as I will miss watching "Doctor Who" with her.  I will miss our guilty pleasure dinners together on the nights that my wife has to work.  (My wife has a dairy allergy, so all of our other meals are made cow-free.  Only when Olivia and I are alone together can we indulge in pizza or mac and cheese, or cook with cream.)

I am so glad that we got to perform together at our annual church talent show.  (Little sidebar -- I'm sure that when I use the phrase "church talent show," you have a mental image of something very amateurish and silly that might make it onto "America's Funniest Videos."  Nothing could be further from the truth.  We have a brilliantly talented congregation that includes many musicians, singers, and performers of all stripes.  Our singers could easily make a living in the performing arts.  Once a year we turn our church space into a cabaret -- complete with stage lighting and sound -- to raise scholarship money, and believe me when I say that it's a very hot ticket indeed.  Getting to sing a parody song I had written with Olivia at the "Kaleidoscope" show -- and getting generous applause from that bunch -- was truly a once-in-a-lifetime thrill.)

I will miss her voice.  I will miss how she smells.  I will miss watching her draw.  I will miss seeing her be passionate about her causes, whether they be gay rights, environmental responsibility, or atheism.  But most of all I will miss our conversations, no matter how serious or silly.  And boy, can they be silly!

I hope she has an absolutely brilliant experience this freshman year, as she takes her first tentative steps into the adult world.  But I am going to miss seeing her in the back seat.

Guess I'd better enjoy it while it lasts as we drive to the 'Burgh tomorrow morning.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Thank You, Doctor Who

If you've known me for any length of time, you know that, for better or worse, I am largely defined by my illnesses, both physical and psychological.  Crohn's Disease and my other autoimmune illnesses limit what I can do physically, and depression often limits me psychologically and emotionally.  The physical and the psychological are certainly inextricably linked, but after 45 years I have come to largely understand what is going on with my various physical illnesses.  I know when I can leave the house, I know that the first thing I need to know about a new place is the location of the bathroom, and so forth.  I recognize that I am going to spend most of each day in pain to varying degrees.  It may be abdominal pain to rival appendicitis.  It may be neuropathic pain which has no basis in reality apart from feeling quite real to me.  It may involve painful joints from arthritis, or it may be some combination of everything.  With a migraine for the cherry on top.  But pain is always there, and it never, never, never goes away.

My point is that I can almost guarantee you that the level of my depression will directly correlate with the amount of pain I am in.

I try not to let it dominate my life.  I try to keep it from my family, and for the most part I am, I think, successful.  They know I have pain, don't misunderstand me, but I like to think that I'm able to keep the actual level of pain to myself.  I'm probably delusional; they probably know exactly how badly I am hurting.  But it's easier on me if I don't "know" that.

When I am one straw away from the camel's back breaking, when I am sorely tempted to just go upstairs and take that entire bottle of pain medication so that I can just be DONE with it...I put on a DVD of "Doctor Who."

Yes.  "Doctor Who."  The long-running British children's science fiction programme for which there should be a countdown clock somewhere off to your right, right now.

People think that science fiction often has no heart.  Or no relevance.  My parents used to make fun of "Star Trek," wondering why on Earth I was wasting my time watching grown adults run around in their pajamas.  I could explain the appeal until I was blue in the face, and they would never, ever get it.  I often run into the same thing with "Doctor Who."  Yet I can honestly tell you that the Doctor keeps me alive.

I defy anyone to watch the episode about Vincent Van Gogh and not be moved at the end, when Vincent comes forward in time and hears the curator, played by Bill Nighy, explain how he is not only the greatest artist who ever lived but also one of the greatest human beings.

I defy anyone to watch "Don't Blink" and not be astounded at the quality of the writing, and the acting, and the casting (Carey Mulligan!  Carey freakin' MULLIGAN!  And did I mention Bill Nighy?)

And I defy anyone to watch Neil Gaiman's episode, "The Doctor's Wife," and not be touched when the Doctor's "wife" says, "Hello."

I can't tell you how much I look forward to this silly little British show.  How much I count on being moved by it to remind me of what it means to be human.  How much I count on it to give me hope.  Thank you, Russell Davies and Steven Moffatt and Matt Smith and Karen Gillan and Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant.  Thank you for saving me, and for giving me something to look forward to when the last thing in this universe I want to do is go forward.

Is "Doctor Who" solely responsible for me not joining the choir invisible?  Of course not.  I know, most days at least, what it would do to my family and friends.  They certainly keep me going when the going is hard.  As does my writing, including what I write here, and as does music.  I am sure that getting to sing with friends has played a huge part in my sticking around.  But "Doctor Who" is certainly a lovely little bonus.  And when I'm all alone, and things are pretty rotten and desperate, there's always that Blu-Ray of "Vincent."

Try it sometime.

Monday, August 8, 2011


The reason I haven't had a new post in almost two weeks is that I've been away.  My wife and daughter and I went out to Nevada for my mother-in-law's 85th birthday.  We stayed for the first time at a hotel on the Vegas "Strip" (albeit one without a casino) and had some wonderful meals and a lot of time with Mom.  I especially appreciated the connection being re-made between Mom and my daughter Olivia.

But for me, the highlight of the trip was the night we went to see Penn & Teller.

If you don't know who they are...shame on you.

The show was fantastic.  Jazz pianist Mike Jones entertained the audience with live music during the pre-show, accompanied on string bass by Penn Jillette.  (Is there NOTHING this man can't do??)  While the piano played, the audience was invited up onto the stage to sign an envelope and examine a wooden box.  Hardly anyone even noticed that Penn was playing bass incognito.  When I was a few feet away from him, he caught my eye, and it was clear that he knew that I knew it was him.  He gave me a little nod as if to say thanks for not blowing his cover, and didn't miss a note.

The entertainment was a great mixture of classic stuff from their TV and Broadway appearances as well as new illusions.  I think my favorite moment was when Teller -- silently as usual -- invited a woman up from the audience, and sat her with a goldfish bowl on her lap.  He rolled up his sleeves and proceeded to fill the fishbowl with coins produced seemingly from nowhere.  Then a stage hand brought out a large aquarium filled with water.  Teller scooped up the quarters and as he threw them into the larger tank, they somehow became living goldfish.  At least sixty of them.  How one palms a living goldfish and keeps it alive is a mystery I hope I never fathom, but it was a delight to see.

The show included some debunking of psychic readings, including some absolutely astounding results from Penn as he divined passages from random books that were passed out through the audience, and ended with their classic "magic bullet" routine.

All I can say is, if you find yourself in Las Vegas, go to the Rio NOW and book yourself some tickets.  And for heaven's sake, spring for the orchestra section; you just HAVE to be as close to these guys as you can!