Category: Reflections

life without internet – binge tv detox and family board game recommendations

Like an abused crack whore running away from her drug dealing pimp, I just wanted out. It’s been two weeks since I took the modem and cable TV box to the drop-off center for Comcast. If you have not had the pleasure of visiting Comcast’s drop-off center, it’s every bit as fun as the DMV with the bonus excitement of customers arguing loudly about their internet speed and the convenience charges on their billing statement. I wasn’t there to negotiate or argue. I was there to make a change…kinda like Ewan McGregor at the end of Trainspotting, but less ironical.

I knew I had hit rock bottom when I reviewed my viewing history on Amazon Prime Video. I had spent hours watching pawn shop owners haggle with customers over the price of antique Civil War weaponry and still-in-the-box Transformers toys from 1984. I had watched The Office Season 3 almost four times. My wife had watched every show and movie on the “Because You Watched Pride & Prejudice” recommendation list. We had a problem.

In all seriousness, our addiction to on-demand TV binge watching was not healthy. We noticed increasing tension in our family. The kids were fighting with each other, we were yelling at the kids, and my wife and I were arguing with each other. Anything that did not help nurture positive relationships needed to go. So, bye bye went Comcast….but then what?

I grew up playing board games and card games, and I love them (well, many of them). I played lots of Risk, Monopoly, Scrabble, Chess, Hearts, Stratego, etc. I also enjoyed the party games like Taboo, Guesstures, Scattergories, Pictionary, Balderdash, etc. So, I wanted to exchange our solitary TV watching time for family game playing time. Games are relational, educational, fun, and can build lots of valuable skills. All these great benefits wrapped up in activities we can all enjoy? Win! But…the problem is most of the above mentioned games would not be enjoyed by a kindergartener and 7 year old. And, I would take no pleasure in annihilating my 5 year old son’s armies off the face of the planet in a game of Risk.

Another problem is most children’s board games are awful. Some are ok for teaching kids valuable lessons – Candyland teaches colors and Chutes & Ladders teaches counting and how to deal with disappointment – but most are boring after a couple of plays. Also, I can totally kick my daughter’s ass at games like Ants in the Pants and Pick Up Sticks…I also dominate her at Hungry Hungry Hippos. To make things worse, many of the children’s games you find at retail stores are just cheap remakes of classics with the Disney Princesses or LEGO Batman slapped on the box and stickered onto plastic pieces.

So, I went on a mission to find good board games for our family using the following criteria:games

  • Gameplay and Replay Value
    • Are the rules clear?
    • Will we play the game after a few times?
  • Quality production
    • Are the pieces and packaging solid?
    • Is the artwork and design good?
  • Family Friendly
    • Is the game fun for kids and adults?
    • Do the kids have a chance to win?

It’s only been a couple of weeks, but so far we love family game time. More than the games themselves, we love spending time with each other, laughing, learning, and growing our relationships. Here are 5 great family games that I found and purchased. I’ve given a brief description of each game and rated them on a scale of 1-10 using the 3 categories listed above.  I encourage you to give them a try with your family, or come over and spend an evening playing with us!

Ghost BlitzGhostBlitz_clear_background

This game is played with a deck of cards and 5 game pieces that sit in the middle of the players. You flip the cards one at a time. For each card there is one object that either matches perfectly or doesn’t match at all. The first player to grab the correct object wins the card. The player with the most cards after going through the whole deck is the winner.

Gameplay and Replay Value – 8

The rules are well done and there is also a fun little story in the rulebook that adds depth and helps the kids get excited. There is a rule that you must give up one of your cards if you grab the wrong object. This made the game difficult for my 5 year old, so we exempted him from that rule.

Quality Production – 9

Nice wooden pieces, fun artwork on the cards, and a sturdy box. Again, the story in the rulebook is a nice touch.

Family Friendly – 7

I do have to put the brakes on a little bit to keep this game competitive, but with the rule tweak to help the kids, they are actually pretty fast at grabbing the right object. The kids love this one!

Animal Upon AnimalAnimal_Upon_Animal

Each player has a pile of 7 different animal pieces. You take turns rolling a die and stacking your animals on top of the big alligator piece. The first person with no animals left in their pile is the winner.

Gameplay and Replay Value – 8

This is a good dexterity game. The rules are easy, but sometimes it’s a little unclear how to keep going after a big crash. The single die has different sides that change up the game and result in a good variety.

Quality Production – 9

The wooden animal pieces in this game are excellent. This game will last forever as long as your dog doesn’t chew up the hedgehog and sheep pieces. Nice box and artwork.

Family Friendly – 8

Being a dexterity game, it is pretty easy for me to win against my kids. They still enjoy it and they get better every time. The pieces don’t fit together well, so stacking is challenging even for an adult.

Viva Topo!viva

Each player has a small family of mice. You roll a single die and try to get your mice around the board and into Cheesetopia before the big hungry cat makes his way around the board and eats you. If the cat is close behind, you can choose to forego Cheesetopia and hide in a safe house that gives you less cheese, or you can press your luck and hope the cat doesn’t catch up. The player with the most cheese wins.

Gameplay and Replay Value – 9

The rules are simple and easy to understand. The plot is cute. There is a nice little story to read to the kids before playing the game and it helps them understand the gameplay. Even though every replay is similar, it has enough variety and randomness from game to game that I imagine we will play this one all the time.

Quality Production – 10

The pieces in this game are simply great. The mice, cat, and die are wood pieces. The artwork on the board is very nice. It doesn’t get any better than this for a board game.

Family Friendly – 9

We definitely all enjoyed this game…a lot. The game mechanism for the cat is what makes this game great. As he gets closer, things really start to get intense! The strategy is a simple “press your luck”. My 5 your old doesn’t quite get the strategy sometimes, but he actually won the first 2 games we played, so what do I know?

Loopin’ LouieLOOPIN-LOUIE

Louie is a pilot that flies around in a circle wreaking havoc on each player’s chickens. Louie is attached to a battery operated swinging arm that moves up and down and has a swivel on the end. Each player has barn with 3 chickens roosting on top and they must be protected from Louie’s plane. Attached to each barn is a flipper that can be used to block Louie and spin him up into the air. Here’s video that shows the action.

Gameplay and Replay Value – 7

The rules are easy. The mechanism for the plane works great. The chickens work on a gravity system, so you only lose one at a time and the next slides into place. There’s not much to the game other than smacking your flipper kinda like Hungry Hungry Hippos.

Quality Production – 8

It is made of plastic by necessity, but it is quality plastic. It has nice stickers to liven up the pieces and make it colorful. It seems like it should last, even with rough play, but you just never know with battery operated and plastic stuff.

Family Friendly – 7

It is fun, but only for a little while. This does happen to be my five year old’s favorite of the bunch if that says anything.

The Magic Labyrinthfinal_magiclabyrinth71

The bottom half of the box is used to set up a maze with adjustable wooden walls. The game board is set on top of the maze (so you can’t see the walls). Each player has a wizard piece that sits on top of the game board. The wizard has a magnet on his feet and there is a metal ball the goes on the underside of the board beneath the wizard’s feet. As you move from square to square collecting magic symbols, you are in danger of running into a wall that causes your metal ball to fall. When this happens you have to start over from the beginning. The first wizard to collect 5 magic symbols wins.

Gameplay and Replay Value – 9

This is a remarkably well thought-out game. The rules are easy to follow. The setup of the maze is simple and can be changed every game for endless variety. Sometimes my son will slowly move his wizard and feel the ball starting to hit a wall and want to move back, so, we made it a rule that once you start moving in the direction of a new square, you must complete the move.

Quality Production – 10

This game is a delight to play. The design of the game board is innovative. The wizard pieces are solid wood. The artwork is truly fantastic. The artist is Rolf Vogt, and I would buy any game for which he did the artwork.

Family Friendly – 10

We all love this game. I would honestly play it with my adult friends, and it would be fun. The kids win just as much as we do. This one is destined to be a family classic.

time is on my side

I would like to solicit your ideas and feedback regarding a newly acquired surplus of time. This week, I changed locations for my place of employment. Details aside, my total daily commute went from about 90 minutes to 20 minutes. That’s 70 extra minutes! I did some rough calculating, subtracted weekends, holidays, vacation days, average sick days, and came up with a number for the additional time I will have this year.  I just gained 11 days, 17 hours, 10 minutes, and 12 seconds!the_persistence_of_memory_-_1931_salvador_dali3

I must now decide how I will spend this wealth of moments. A friend of mine asked, “Why do you even need to decide? You can just sleep more.” This is exactly my point in being intentional with this specific amount of time. I could just sleep more. I could just watch 2 additional re-runs of The Simpsons daily. I could just take time for granted. I don’t want to do any of these things….but I will. Unless, I make some plans and steward this time with care. That’s where I would like your help.

I wrote down some ideas. I want you to tell me your favorite (or least favorite) ideas, expand on them, and offer others that I haven’t imagined. All thoughts are appreciated!  Here’s my initial list of potential doings in no particular order:

  • Pay it forward. Give my wife extra time for herself.
  • Make loads of rubber band bracelets with my daughter.
  • Watch only 1 re-run of The Simpsons.
  • Edit and chop the Star Wars prequels down to one 50 minute film, and call it episode 5 ½ . To be viewed as a flash back at the end of TESB and before ROTJ. Read this for further explanation.
  • Exercise a bunch and get super ripped!
  • Sleep.
  • Learn some sweet cover songs on the guitar and play them at open mic nights. Any song suggestions?
  • Make silly movies with my son. Like this, this, and this.
  • Read those classic works of literature that all my smart friends talk about.
  • Become a regular at a coffee shop.
  • Start drinking coffee regularly.
  • Join my neighborhood council.
  • Buy a fixer-upper 70’s Camaro and put it my garage.
  • Learn how to work on old cars.
  • Grow a huge tomato garden, and give all my friends and family awesome tomato sauce.
  • Invent a diet fad and license the publishing rights.
  • ?????

a million plus five – a father’s day reflection

I watched from 100 feet away as my 5 year old son jumped again and again reaching for the lowest branch of a sycamore tree. There were 2 boys, older…maybe 9 or 10, up in the tree and two more of their friends on the ground near Daniel. It was too high for him, but I could not help but feel pleased by his determination to grab that branch. The older boys began chanting “Midget! Midget! Midget!”. My son does not know what a midget is, but he knows when he is being teased. When something of this nature happens at home with his sister, Daniel’s typical reaction is immediate violence. So, I was surprised to see a more rational response. He asked the bullies a direct question. “Who wants to get punched in the face?” Of the two boys on the ground, one took off running, which I guess meant no. The other (about a foot taller than my son) remained, so Daniel, obliged, clenched his fists and moved in to strike. I yelled, now from 50 feet away. DANIEL! He stopped and the older boy ran 20328_4264285480385_1165690306_naway. Daniel turned to me and gave me a dramatic “but Daaaaaaaad”. He started crying. We sat down near the playground of this sycamore treed, southern Oregon park. I wiped away his tears and told my son how happy I was watching him try to climb that tree. We covered the other bases of not punching others in the face and what midgets are. After about one minute and forty five seconds of sharing my fatherly wisdom, Daniel asked if I could be done talking so he could go play on the tire swing. This whole incident could’ve been a scene in a Jean Shepherd movie.

As I watched him play on the playground, the tears and teasing already forgotten, I wondered why he cried. Was it because I prevented him from exacting justice on his ridiculers? Was he scared that I would punish him? I started to empathize with him. Daniel is a young person of strong faith. Why did he continue to jump for that branch? He must have believed he could reach it. Frankly, I would have called it quits after one or two jumps. Is that because I’m smarter and more discerning? Maybe, or have I just lost faith.

As life goes on, my risks of belief are more calculated and mitigated. My courage lessens and complacency grows. It becomes easier to mock and ridicule the foolish and naive believers than to empathize with them. Think about the culture of sarcasm in which we live. Uninformed or contrary opinions and ideas are met with mocking criticism. This destroys courage and kills creativity and growth….and it’s happening everywhere (politics, education, all forms of media (blog posts), at the dinner table). If sarcasm is oppressive in nature and sincerity is liberating, why do we exercise the former and not the latter?

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When I was young, I was extremely competitive. I wasn’t a jerk and I didn’t take my ball home if I didn’t win, but I did believe that I could win or succeed at most everything I tried. I see this quality in Daniel. I think that’s why he cried. He believed he could reach that branch. His faith led him to jump and he was made to feel foolish for it. Kids are cruel, and I expect my son will continue to deal with bullies and name-callers as he grows up. When he becomes an adult and perhaps a father someday, my wish is for him not to join the ranks among the scoffers, the arrogant, or the naysayers. My wish for him is to be a man who believes he can move mountains.

We drove back to my father-in-law’s house from the park that day. I looked at Daniel in the rearview mirror. He was staring out the window at houses and cars passing by. This was our exchange:

Me: Do you want to go back to the park tomorrow?
Daniel: Yeah.
Me: Are you going to try climbing that tree again?
Daniel: Yep…but it might take me a few tries.
Me: That’s ok.
Daniel: Yeah…it’s gonna take like a million plus five tries.
Me: That’s ok.
Daniel: I know.

A lot of fathers have shared this sentiment, and it may be cliche but I don’t care. Daniel, you are my hero…and I mean that sincerely.
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month of may

May 2013 was an amazing month for music. So much good music was released that my ear stomach is going to burst. It reminded me of a recent jaunt to the Dockside restaurant in Coeur d’Alene. It was my wife’s birthday and she wanted to have brunch with friends. When we walked into the room where the spread of food was laid out like an amusement park, one of our dear friends (who had never seen this kind of buffet previously) actually started weeping while having visions of the afterlife and a heavenly feast. I ate several pounds of breakfast meats, made to order crepes, an everything omelet, had 4 different flavors of mimosa, and many dessert goodies. It was almost too much.

My wife’s Dockside birthday brunch is to food as May 2013 is to music. It was almost too much. So many great albums were released that I have not had time to digest all the music I’ve consumed. For those of you who don’t keep up with new releases or if you were in a coma last month (maybe you had brunch at The Dockside), I’ve posted some of the best releases from last month below (4 major recording artists and 2 of my favorite local bands from Spokane).

Modern Vampires of the City
by Vampire Weekend
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The first two albums from VW didn’t grab me. I couldn’t feel a connection between the music/rhythms versus the lyrical content and melodies. This album, however, knocks it out of the park.

Once I Was An Eagle
by Laura Marling
laura-marling-once-i-was-an-eagle-1368722617
I first heard Laura Marling a few years ago when she was singing with Mumford & Sons. I think about each of their most recent offerings. While a don’t like a lot of the choices Mumford and Sons made on their last album, I love just about every choice and risk Laura Marling made on hers. This might be the best album of the year.

Trouble Will Find Me
by The National
Print
Another brilliant record from one of my very favorite bands. It’s different than High Violet for which I’m thankful. To be clear, I love High Violet. I just prefer when bands take different directions and explore new musical avenues. This album will take a few listens to start catching all the nuances.

Random Access Memories
by Daft Punk
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One of the more hyped albums of recent memory. When the teaser came out, I pretty much crapped myself. I love the end result, although I’ve heard a few negative things from some of my friends. These particular friends simply aren’t ready for retro cyber disco jams made by robots from the future.

Off My Chain
by Cathedral Pearls
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One of my favorite Spokane bands. CP wrote, recorded, and released these songs in the span of a few months as a DIY project. The songs have a congruency and intimacy that comes across nicely as you listen to the album as a whole. Caleb Ingersoll did a really nice job mastering these tracks. You can listen to and buy the album here.

Les
by Dead Serious Lovers
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Technically, this album was released on April 30th, but that’s close enough. Another great Spokane band. This album is definitely worth your time…unique harmonic structures throughout, lyrics that tend to be sullen and sometimes cryptic but always poetic, and great melodic hooks. You can listen to and buy the album here.

a bird in the hand…

I watched Silver Linings Playbook two nights ago with my wife. It had some heavy subject matters; mental illness, divorce, death, depression, OCD, domestic violence…and despite all this, it was whimsical, hilarious, and immediately earned a spot in the pantheon of great romantic comedies.

I don’t intend to review the film (although I may at some point), but it made me think about writing and the purpose of my blog. In the grand scheme, I don’t expect this blog to matter much to people outside of family, friends, and myself. If this is truly the purpose (connecting with family and friends, and personal catharsis), then I want the subtext to accurately represent my character. I think I’m failing to do that.

As I look through previous posts, I don’t think anything I’ve written is out of character, but it seems I mostly write about big, deep, complex, heavy things. I feel like I have to outdo myself every time…going deeper, more insightful, etc. Here’s a few examples of my recent articles that were 50% written but then given up on because I was too frustrated, perplexed, or overwhelmed with the subject matter:

  • Think Before You Publish: How to lose friends and look like an idiot in one easy step.
  • Why the media is making a big deal about gay athletes.
  • Mumford And Sons is the new Rage Against The Machine. (I might finish that one).
  • How singing competitions have caused us to become a judgmental bigoted society.

If this blog is sincerely to be about Sprung Rhythms or re-learning rhythms of life, then I’d do well to jot down the small things too: the stuff that seems inconsequential but actually matters most. It’s the stuff that’s real…not ideals, hypotheticals, or intangibles.  Here’s a few ideas of things you might see on the blog in the near future:

  • My “Pantheon” lists of great movies
  • Local music and art in Spokane
  • Daniel’s movies (The Banana Bandit series, and new projects).
  • Eating ice cream
  • Birdwatching
  • Stuff about my kids (which may annoy you because they’re so damn smart and cute.)

I want my family and friends to know about the real stuff I love and enjoy….and who knows, maybe I’ll start really loving and enjoying things more myself.

birdhand

healthy beauty – a new year’s reflection

Before today, I hoped to write a reflection of the previous year full of clever anecdotes, deep personal discoveries, and shiny pearls of wisdom for you to oogle at. I wanted so badly to have some profound insight regarding current, relevant happenings…maybe something political, like gun control…maybe something religious, like the “end of the world”…but, to be honest, I’m having a hard time thinking of anything that’s not sickeningly self indulgent. My 3rd child was born, I started a promising new job, I’m doing this, that, and the other thing…blah blah blah. Of course, I’m not saying these things are bad or that I’m a 100% selfish jerk (it’s only like 70%). It’s just frustrating when one’s writing goals are to make one’s self sound like a big, interesting, smarty-pants. One can exhaust one’s self! (those last two sentences were written in a snooty English accent)

Perhaps my cynicism is due to the recent news of my mother’s health and some thoughts I’ve had about beauty. The week before Christmas, I spent a significant amount of time with my mother in the Emergency Room at Holy Family Hospital as she dealt with intolerable pain. The drug she had been taking for cancer treatment had a number of unfortunate side-effects including high blood pressure and severe body aches. FYI – She is out of the hospital now, off the chemo drug, and is recovering at home. Treatment has been an up and down roller-coasting nightmare for that last three years. Mom has endured the ride in hope that recovery may be possible. Last week on Christmas Eve, her doctor, along with his “support team”, let her know that recovery is not possible (in his medical opinion), and his recommendation is to pursue “quality of life” rather than pursuing a cure. I generally understand what he meant by “quality”, especially in the physical sense. Mom will feel better (at least for awhile) if she is not on chemo-therapy drugs. Of course, I couldn’t help but think that there must be more to it. What would actually make her life something of “higher” quality? What would make for a beautiful last few years…months…weeks?
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As a measuring stick for what others find to be beautiful, I observed the things people are sharing on social media, photographing, discussing, etc. I wound up feeling slightly numb and a little bit icky. It reminded my of a visit to a friend’s lake cabin when I was a teenager. I remember walking onto the T shaped boat dock in the early morning, looking at the glass-like water. My walk broke into a run toward the end of the dock, anticipating a cold but refreshing plunge into the dark water. I dove in. My hands were the first to cut through the thick slime sponge that was lurking, invisible, about 4 feet under the surface. My head, shoulders, chest, and belly submerged into the muck and then stopped when my hands hit the actual lake floor. There was a moment of panic when I wondered if I was stuck. There was a second moment of panic after I pulled myself out and resurfaced. What the hell just happened? What was this brown, pungent goo on my face and in my ears? I had such high hopes for that moment…and I got covered in weeds and poop. It’s not completely fair to compare that particular dive into the lake to “diving into social media”, but it was the feelings afterward that were closely related. Why do many of the things we find beautiful or interesting end up feeling so shallow and gross?

It seems that most of us are addicted to the sensual. Beauty has become limited to the things that look, smell, taste, sound, or feel good in the moment. Beauty becomes something that exists to be consumed…traded as a commodity. Momentary transactions that only continue to satisfy when they become more profane and sensational. When it is reduced only to our personal and subjective senses, we end up with societies (or social networks) that find it easier to criticize and consume, rather than nurture and cultivate beauty. Sadly, when I look at the things that grab my attention, and also when I share things that I hope will grab the attention of others, this “sensual, cheap, momentary” form of beauty is what I see.

Last night, as my 6 year old daughter was going to bed, she walked over to Nona (my mother) kissed her and said, “I love you Nona”. I thought about how one year ago, my daughter wouldn’t even say “goodnight” to Nona. She used to think that Nona was mean and bossy, but after a year of my mother’s patient kindness to her, Hannah now adores her Nona. This is beautiful. To think that my daughter is watching someone endure tremendous suffering, battle constant pain, deal with uncertainty, put up with annoying relatives (like me), and to witness my daughter watching someone, in spite of their unfortunate circumstances, pour out love and patience and kindness directly to her…..that is beauty of a kind that will resonate within me through 2013 and beyond.

I hope 2013 will be the start of many beautiful things.

photo Hannah and her Nona

changing your friend’s diapers – a reflection on political discourse and caring for people

Everyone has a particular reaction to political discussion. It can be saddening, infuriating, invigorating, but it seems like most folks are generally repulsed. I count myself among the squeamish when I see people throwing political daggers and dropping religious “truth” bombs. More than ever, especially with the advent of social media, it seems like the daggers are more piercing and the bombs more explosive. Admittedly, I’ve blocked certain “friends” from my news feed as to avoid their repeated offerings of nonsense. Seriously, what’s more annoying than reading some pile-of-BS post from someone who is obviously just parroting their favorite website’s opinions? Right?………well, I dunno. Even if I’m right, I don’t feel less annoyed or squeamish, so, maybe I’m not right.

I thought about this for awhile. It turns out that I’m not really annoyed by my annoying friends, but rather, I’m annoyed that they annoy me. Does that make sense? No? I’ll put it this way: It’s frustrating that somebody can make a stupid statement that causes me to be pissed off. Why does it even offend me?

You see, my 4 year old son is, by definition, annoying. He makes silly, uninformed statements all day long (with an unusually high-pitched voice). He ordinarily means no harm, but sometimes, his aim is definitely to provoke me. Granted, there are occasions where he is successful, but mostly, it doesn’t bother me. In fact, I find it endearing. Of course, my patience for my own offspring is quite a bit different than it is for somebody who I never spoke with in high school that is now my friend via the “like” button. I love my son. I’ve changed his poopy diapers and I still wipe his bottom when he makes a “messy”. I would not help 94% of my facebook friends if they had a “messy”. But wait…why not?

I wondered what would happen if I was in a situation with my estranged facebook friends which called for me to actually change their diapers. No metaphors, just simply a load in their pants. What if they were disabled and needed help…would I have compassion? Would I have mercy for them?

All ridiculousness aside (although I do think that comparing political opinions and loads of shit is apt), political opinions reveal things about us, and it’s not just who we intend to vote for. We all view the world from our own particular angle. We have come to our unique position by way of our parent’s influence, schooling, friendships, religion, etc. Sadly, most all of us have been bruised along the way. Some more than others. We hold passionately to what we believe will make our world a better place.

I recently had an opportunity to chat about religion and politics with one of my impassioned friends. We shared stories of our past, talked about our bruises and frustrations, and before we even shared a single opinion, we had something. We both knew that the other was “messy”. I think this is crucial. For the most part, the average U.S. voter knows jack squat about political economics, their philosophical origins, or the  historical formations and outcomes of any economic systems. So, most political opinions are unfortunately formed by the latest and greatest demagoguery, and this usually puts us at odds with one another. My annoyance at my annoying friends could easily become anger or even hatred. But, a simple act of sharing and learning one another’s stories (or mess) can build something that directly undermines anger and hatred. Compassion. If your political or religious opinions are leading to anger and hatred toward people, chances are good you are being duped. It doesn’t necessarily mean that your opinions are wrong, but do you really even know enough to have an opinion, and do you really want to hold tightly to ideas that cultivate hatred in you heart?

After our chat, I don’t know that my friend and I agree about politics necessarily, but I do know that if I were to become crippled and incontinent, he would change my diapers….and I would do the same for him.

how do the crackheads feel?

I think most would agree it is a fortunate thing to have never used crack. Personally, I don’t know how being “on crack” feels. I imagine there is some sort of temporary satisfaction followed by severe regret, perhaps shame or frustration, and other disturbing consequences (kinda like eating a box of yellow Peeps during Easter, or watching a movie with Robert Pattinson). I don’t want to speculate too much, but as I was walking around downtown Spokane today, I found myself curiously empathetic toward those who I assume to be “crackheads”. I’m not talking about people who specifically use crack (although they are included), but more so those who are socially awkward. These are the folks who have an easy time making everyone within a certain radius uncomfortable by way of body odor, loud outbursts, or general creepiness. I was not empathizing with their body odor (although my wife would argue this point) or the loud crazy outbursts, but I did indeed wonder why and how people come across as weirdos or creeps. A little back story on my empathy…

I’ve had some moderately serious health concerns recently. Without being too specific, I needed to drop some weight. My weight was not the primary issue, but losing weight was definitely a good way to address the problems. However, my circumstances didn’t allow for physical exercise, and I couldn’t simply bang out P90X in a few months and get down to my fighting weight. So, with physical exercise not being an option, my doctor suggested an appetite suppressing drug. It would be only temporary and I could slowly work my way into some light exercise and eventually switch completely from medication to exercise. For the record: I trust my doctor. So, I got the pills and started losing weight. It was pretty shocking how easy it was. I originally thought “look at all these suckers paying the monthly “fat tax” at the gym…I’m doing nothing, I’ve lost 20 pounds in 3 weeks, and it only cost $6 at the pharmacy”. The problem with drugs, and I would have known this had I not been on drugs, is that they tend cloud one’s thinking. There is a reason that most rational thinking people would rather exercise and diet over taking medication. This informational video pretty much sums it up….

http://thetravisty.com/Saturday_Night_Live/wmv/Jimmy_Tangos_Fat_Busters.htm

Over the past few months, I have had so many awkward exchanges with people that I’m absolutely sure I’ve been accused of being a crackhead (probably by my own family). It’s not that I’ve been oblivious either. When you are on medication, you can attempt simple social transactions and watch them go very wrong right before eyes. Here’s an exact transcript of a recent exchange I had with a bank teller:

bank teller – How is your day going?
me – I’m really nice now…I..uh…it’s nice…I meant to say it’s outside…I mean…it’s nice outside…for everybody…not just me.
bank teller (slightly nervous) – Ok.
me – I’m sorry, I’m on drugs. (jokingly)
bank teller – (stares at me)
me – I’m not really on drugs…well sort of…it’s just medication to help me lose some weight. It’s actually way cheaper than going to a gym….so….yeah…
bank teller – (interrupts) Here is your $5 in quarters.
me – thanks, it’s for the parking meters…not drugs…haha…
bank teller – (doesn’t smile) …
me – sorry…bad joke….well, I’ll just go…(sliding the quarters off the counter into my hand, half of them dropped on the floor)….oh shit…..sorry.

I picked up the quarters off the floor and quickly shuffled out. I looked back as I was leaving through the door and the two other tellers were now standing alongside the teller that helped me, and they were all staring at me intently. I’m certain they thought I was a crackhead. This certainty led me into a state of deep insecurity. Here’s a few recent examples of how that insecurity affected my inner monologue – “What should I say to this person to seem normal? – What does that look mean? – Does everybody here hate me? – Should I explain that last sentence…no that would be weird…but if I just say nothing, that’s weird too…ugh”. I had been riding the snake into the downward spiral of social awkwardness.

The good news is that I’m actually getting healthy. I’ve lost some weight, started exercising a bit, and I’m pretty close to being done with my medication. I can again speak in full sentences, and now, I only make people feel semi-uncomfortable. If you’re a friend of mine, and I’ve been a total jerk or weirdo to you….I’m sorry, I am coming out of my funk and I’ll call you soon.

I feel for the “crackheads” because a lot of them won’t have an easy time coming out of their funk. Some of them never will. I walked through the downtown streets today and my eyes met with the eyes of several unfortunate fellow human beings. I smiled and said “hello” to each one, and every time, they just looked back at me with no reply. I thought about my recent “inner monologues”, and I wondered if they were thinking the same things. I thought about the frustrated & hopeless feeling of not being able to say the things you want to say. I thought about that spiral with every social interaction taking you a bit further, deeper. I wondered if these people felt better or worse after I said a simple hello. I don’t know how they felt….but for once, I cared.

big questions

Some friends of mine were recently discussing the origin life and having a tiresome argument on Intelligent Design vs. the Theory of Evolution. It’s not that I don’t care about the topic, but I really don’t like arguing about it or being near people who do. It’s like fate vs. free will, or the chicken and the egg…you can’t prove anything other than perhaps you’re a really big smarty-pants. So I had a few reflections (I’m not arguing…sort of).

I’m not an expert of either ID or TofE, but this is what I think most people of average intelligence (which is me) believe when this debate comes up (I tend to be pragmatic, so forgive me if I reduce this to something too simplistic). At the core of the ID vs. TofE debate is the desire to prove or disprove the existence of God. I think it is fair to suggest, generally speaking, that proponents of ID see it as a means to confirm their belief in God, and adherents of the TofE have a reasonable explanation as to why they believe God does not exist. There are exceptions, of course, but the point is that both sides take great leaps of faith in drawing those conclusions, and both sides go to great lengths to defend their position. If ID was indeed science and could empirically prove a Creator, then there wouldn’t be any problem with ID being included in a public school science curriculum. But it can’t. ID can only suggest and offer logical (at best) suppositions. TofE basically has the same problem on the other side of the argument. It cannot disprove the existence of a creator. It doesn’t even set out to do so. Perhaps it proves that a literal interpretation of the Genesis creation story is scientifically incorrect, but anyone who understands literary intent already knows this. It surprises me that theists are so threatened by the TofE. Scientifically, ID doesn’t prove a creator, and the TofE doesn’t disprove a creator. Both sides want what they hold to be true taught in the public school classroom, which is probably fine, but what we really have is a philosophical or political argument and it should probably be left out of science classrooms.

If it is, indeed, a philosophical debate (philosophy literally meaning “love of knowledge”), then there is a truth issue. Knowledge essentially is the difference between what is considered and what is certain. The subjective nature of knowledge can often fool us into thinking that our beliefs are certainly true. For instance, your friend Stanley states “I, for one, know there is no such thing as a God”.  Stanley cannot prove this to be factual by any scientific means, and even though he attempts to reason his way to a conclusion, it’s simply a belief. If Stanley has the capacity to be objective, he would change his statement from “I know” to “I believe”. That is why this debate will not ever be settled on this side of death. We look at ID and the TofE through our own subjective lenses, and because neither can prove or disprove God, we battle one another at the level of our beliefs, which may make converts to one side or the other…but there will always be two sides.

So, do we give up our pursuits of things we can’t know? I certainly hope not. Try this quick exercise. Take a piece of paper and a pencil and draw a circle. Suppose the circle represents all that exists – all truth, all knowledge, etc. Now, fill in the portion that you know. If you marked a portion bigger than the tip of your pencil, you either misunderstood the point of the illustration or your name is Stanley. There is always something to learn, ponder, and explore. I think that’s good news.

The mysteries of life lead us and move us into places of beauty more so than the facts of life. If we knew everything, would we need poetry to help us describe the world? If we knew everything, would music be able to raise the hair on our arms? Would a film that reminds us of our childhood still bring us to tears? What would we hope for? Hope is not scientific or material and it is intrinsically tied to the mysteries of life….whether it be the origin of life, black holes, the girl you were too chicken to ask out in high school, the afterlife, sports, the fish that got away, love, or simply the weather.

If God does indeed exist, I’m pretty glad he left some things about which we can wonder.

use your imagination

My daughter is a dreamer. She calls it “telling stories”. Laying back on her top bunk bed, she stares through the ceiling and imagines other worlds. The people in her worlds have polite conversations with one another, and their basic role in the world is to lavish Hannah with kind words of encouragement and adoration. Her ideal world basically consists of being a princess that gets to eat all the sweets one could ever desire. It’s a silly, childish, beautiful (to her) dream. I recently thought to myself, “At what point should I discourage this silly dreaming? Surely, she needs to know that the world is not always sweet. I’ll wait til she’s 8. That’s probably the age when a young girl needs to stop having silly-heart dreams. Right?” After giving it some thought, I’m not so sure 8 is the appropriate age, or if there ever comes an age when we should stop dreaming.

I’m an idea man. I thrive on creating schemes and projects, and I’m fueled by enthusiasm. I once started a successful city-wide ping pong league with my friends. I’ve organized a neighborhood clothing swap. I love good ideas, and I love figuring out ways to carry them out even more. Lately, my enthusiasm has been waning. My gaze on the world has been set to a horizontal plane, and what I see and read is mostly discouraging. Just take a look at any given story in the daily news and peruse the comment thread and you’ll see what I mean. People can get pretty ugly with one another, especially when we fight over differing ideas.

My daughter imagines a world full of sweets to consume and enjoy. It’s perfect. If you asked a room full of 5 year-olds if they would like to live in Candyland and gorge on sweets all day long, everyone of them says yes. They can all imagine this beautiful world…they’ve had a taste of it and want it! They’ll come up with ideas to make this world a reality, and they will take action. Yesterday, I walked into the kitchen and found a chair shoved up to the counter top and both cupboard doors were left disturbingly ajar. I walked down the hallway and called for Hannah. I heard shuffling in the bathroom. So, I entered to find Hannah crouched behind the toilet bowl devouring a bag full of jelly beans. I not-so calmly explained to Hannah that she is not allowed take sweets from the cupboard without permission, and that eating food behind toilets is never a good idea. I took the bag of jelly beans from her, and she ran into her room and wept uncontrollably.

I don’t spend enough time imagining the world as it ought to be. Ideas and action begin with imagination. I’ve been depressingly mired into looking at the world as it is, not what it could or should be…and, not surprisingly, I’ve had few ideas and little desire to take any action. I want set my gaze to a vertical plane, and lay back on my bed, staring through my ceiling, and imagine something beautiful.

Hannah’s ideal world will change without me telling her. She’ll keep dreaming, and there will be times when someone takes her dreams away and she’ll run to her room in tears. There will also be times when the only way to dry those tears is to tell yourself stories of a beautiful place where everything is sweet. Don’t ever stop dreaming Hannah. I love your beautiful, childish, sweet, silly heart.