In the grand scheme of things — compared, I suppose, to what a lot of other people are working on — this little software of mine that I can use to update my journal dynamically is just not a big deal. Not compared to what we’re working on at my company, where dozens of developers work on big chunks of programming and a massive database in Oracle; no, this is just a few lines of code, probably less than two hundred, with a little MySQL database running in the background to keep track of my journal entries and make sure they get properly inserted into the pages as they’re built when the user calls them up. So it’s kind of comforting, in a way, to work on this thing which I control all by myself, where I make the database and I write the program and the web pages that it works with, and where all of the mistakes are mine and I’m not really accountable to anyone. I’ve got the ability now to update and edit and delete entries all on-line, and it’s made everything easier already. And, in accordance to a request from Jennifer, my home page now updates dynamically as well; normally I go in and hard code the titles of my last three journal entries onto my main page; now that happens automatically. Next, I need to add some functions that will let me add images and extra links to the sidebar to the right of this text. Shouldn’t be too hard.

And now on to something completely different.

Progress on the house has gone pretty quickly, and the builder says that the house should be completed by "Marchy-April". Hopefully, it will be done before May so that Jennifer won’t have to worry about packing, moving, and cleaning on her own while I’m off in Europe that month. We’ve been maintaining a website dedicated to our house’s progress, and you can see it at www.stonegoose.com/house. They’ve started putting on the composite roofing, and the siding is supposed to be done by the end of next week. Which means, of course, that we’ve now reached the stage where our contractor — with whom we’ve been very pleased so far — gets this grin on his face when we come up with some ideas that we think sound Really Cool but which just won’t work anymore.

For example: when we visited Jennifer’s sister and brother-in-law over New Year’s Eve, we saw that they had an electrical outlet recessed into the floor in their living room. That, we thought, was very clever and a good idea; it would save having to drag electrical cords for lamps all over the living room, and we could put furniture on top of it to hide it. We suggested this to our contractor, who got The Grin and said: "Well, what would have once been a $50 job is now a $500 job…" But one of the reasons why we like this contractor so much is that he also went on to explain why such a feature would have been a bad idea anyway… you always have to worry about hiding the outlet, and it gets filled with dirt and has to therefore be replaced every year or so, and so on.

But it is now time to start thinking about wiring. Jennifer and I went to the house today, dragging her mother along, and went through each of the rooms and came up with ideas for where to put outlets and lamps and switches. And, of course, being the book and computer nerds that we are, our highest priorities were making sure that the house would have adequate reading light and adequate power supply in the computer room. We just happened to see the A/C sub-contractor at the house while we were there, and he suggested that we might also put an outlet fan in the computer room to help keep it cooler; and we thought it would be a grand idea. Along with the idea of putting in an extra exhaust fan in the closet where the cats’ litter boxes are going to be.

This is all still very overwhelming for me at times. It’s now stretching the point where I can say, "Six months ago, I was still a secretary at a public University with few prospects yada yada yada". But it’s still been less than a year; and now, here I am, in a programming job, engaged to be married to my best friend and soulmate, and building a home. How things change.

Of course, some things remain comfortingly familiar. Late last night, after three days of fighting off a case of bronchitis, I finally, at Jennifer’s urging, went to the emergency room with seriously clogged lungs and a fever. Nothing major, not like I had when I had pneumonia last year, but still serious enough for me to lie in bed shivering and complaining about how cold it was under the three or four blankets that Jennifer had piled on top of me. While wandering around the house today with Jennifer and her mother, I started coughing and feeling short of breath. I’m familiar with this feeling, having lived with asthma all of my life, and while I was light-headed from coughing a couple of times, I felt okay wandering around the outside of the house on the beams of the porch looking at outlet possibilities. It was only when Jennifer’s mother said, "Richard, I know you’re a grown man but I’m starting to get worried about you," that I finally agreed to go home. I’m not the kind of guy who breaks an arm and says, "I’ll just walk it off," but I have lived with asthma all my life and I’m pretty familiar with my limits. Still, though, it was nice to get home and lie down for a bit.

I moved away from my parents’ house almost fifteen years ago, and since then I’ve gotten pretty used to coping with asthma attacks on my own. And while my asthma has definitely improved over that time, it was still nice to have someone looking out for me. I’m not saying that my own parents never did, it’s just that I live over 100 miles away from them now and it’s not really convenient for them to keep a watchful eye over me at all times.

Well, I think that this long entry will be a sufficient test of my new online posting system. Now to see if I can convince my boss that bronchitis is a sufficient reason to let me avoid going up to Portland again this week…

Until next time…

Brand New Style, Brand New Habits

It’s not perfect yet, but I’m coming close to a point where this journal is going to be very, very easy to maintain. Whereas before I had to update several HTML files in order to post a new entry (the current entry, the one before it, and the main index page), I now only have to write up a journal entry in plain text with HTML markup, upload it, and update a database. I haven’t gotten to the point where I can do it all with a single on-line form (password-protected, of course), but it’s getting much closer. The PHP program that I’ve written takes care of updating the journal index page and building the individual entry pages on the fly. All new entries from this point on will be built dynamically and the URL will have a .php extension. The bad thing is that until I get a bit more clever, I won’t be able to link the first PHP page to the last HTML page. So bear with me; there are earlier entries than this one. Some of the other problems that I can think of already are the lack of ability to add supplemental information to the sidebar, and a difficulty in placing images. But those will be pretty easy to fix, I think… just a few clever tweaks to my PHP code and the database, and I’ll be golden.

This has really been the first time in several weeks that I’ve had a chance to sit down and practice with something new. My job has been insane lately, with longs hours spent out of the state, and a workload which borders on the impossible. While working on our new release, I’ve been neglecting other projects that have been on my plate for some time and which now have looming deadlines. Last night I received a nasty e-mail from our sales manager demanding to know what progress I had made on a tool I had promised her which would report on all new accounts registered at the trade shows we visit. I have yet to reply to her, because I’m worried about coming across as defensive and offended, but the truth is that I simply haven’t had time to work on her project since the development of our new release was announced. Fortunately, now that we’ve managed to stage this release in the QA environment, things are going to be a bit easier for me. Initial development is over; catching bugs is the QA team’s responsibility, squashing them is a responsibility that I share with about a dozen other developers. That’s going to be much easier, I think, than initial development… unless something goes horribly, horribly wrong.

On a more positive note, I received my first performance evaluation from my boss last Thursday, and it was a good one. My boss pretty told me that my greatest strength is my eagerness to learn and my willingness to take on new responsibility; and that my biggest problem is my eagerness to learn and my willingness to take on new responsibility. It’s true. I’ve been excited about new technologies that I get exposed to, and I’m interested in taking on a whole host of projects to prove my worth to the company… and, I suppose, to myself. But for me it’s unusual to be in an environment where I can take on new projects without being seen as a threat to someone else; when at the University, if I volunteered to take on a new project which would require a new skill, I was frequently voted down by people who wanted to do that same project on their own — not because it was something challenging, but because it was something different. Nothing wrong with that, but it frustrated me frequently. I’m still not used to a new mode of operation here: now, when I volunteer for a new project, it’s given to me. But it’s still far too easy for me to take on more anyway. I think I’m getting better though; at one point last week, our product manager came up to me and said, "I’m very proud of you, Richard. You didn’t volunteer for a single new task during today’s development meeting."

Lots more has been going on in the time since I’ve been able to write regularly in this journal. But for now, I’ll close, since this entry is more a test to see if my new system is working than anything else.

Northward Bound, Again

Somewhere along the way it was decided in my company that the development team just doesn’t have enough to do, so it would be a good idea to completely redesign our entire platform, including a brand new interface. Our database reengineering during the summer was Part One of this process. Since I’m not yet a back end developer for the company (though this is slowly changing — I enjoy front end development, but back end and middleware really excite me much more), I wasn’t really involved in that part. However, I am heavily involved in building the new front end. Very heavily. I didn’t do any of the design, I’m just doing grunt work. But there is an awful lot of grunt work to do.

Now, I don’t want you to think that the company did the smart thing and pushed off some of our other heavy development projects to be worked on after the release of the new platform. Oh, no. This new platform has been added to our outstanding work load. While the development team with the corporate office up in Portland has enough resources to dedicate less than half of the team to this project, there are only two developers for the subsidiary company that I work for, so the two of us have to take on the entire load. It was only because one of the major projects turned out to be a Corporate effort instead of a local one that it was pushed off until a later date, after this next platform release; otherwise, we would have been developing this integration for our old platform while at the same time building a second instance for the new platform.

And since the other Granite Bay developer and I need to work closely with the developers up in Portland, it was decided that he and I would have to work face to face with them.

This, of course, means returning to Portland, OR, on a weekly basis. For the past two weeks bits of our local development team been flying back up to work with the development team up there on this release. My schedule has been pretty regular: during the day I have meetings with developers and managers and business partners to get our many projects underway, and at night I sit in my hotel room and code. This past week I arrived in Portland on Monday and worked up to fifteen hours per day on these projects. I had hoped desperately that I could work from home on Friday but in a team status conference call on Wednesday I was asked to participate in two meetings — one on the status of a new product that I’ve been implementing, and one with my boss so that he can help me figure out how to manage future partner integrations with our product. The first could probably have been done in a conference call from home, but the second needs to be done in person. And so working from home isn’t really an option.

This all explains why it is that I haven’t updated this journal in over two weeks. I simply haven’t had time. When I’m not on the plane or in a hotel coding away like a mad dog I’m sitting in my house with Jennifer recovering from these 60 to 70 hour work weeks. Actually, "sitting and recovering" isn’t quite right; with the wedding and the house coming up there’s very little time to sit and recover from anything.

And, in fact, this entry, written in a rush on Friday morning just before I run out the door to get to work for another very long day, needs to be cut short. The best part of this current round of travel — which I hope will end after next week when the new release is staged on QA — is that so far I’ve managed to miss the rolling blackouts which have hit California in this power crunch. And this upcoming week, I hope that I get a chance to night ski with some of the other developers at Mount Hood. We’ll see what happens.

Be well, take care, and let’s hope that I get to write some more this weekend. For a new year, century, and millenium, this journal hasn’t taken an exciting new start.

It's Been Quite a Ride

What follows is my last journal entry of the second millenium.

Yes, I’m one of those nit-pickers who insists that the new millenium begins on January 1, 2001, and not January 1, 2000. You begin counting at one, after all, and there was no year zero. The second millenium ends tonight, and the third begins tomorrow. Accept it, and move on.

So, this is the end of the year 2000, the end of the twentieth century, and the end of the second millenium. It’s also the first day of my thirty-fourth year on the planet; I was born on New Year’s Eve (not all that close to midnight, I’m afraid), and that means that today, in addition to marking the end of the year, century, and millenium, I turn 33 years old. That makes today an especially good day for reflection.

So, here I am at thirty-three. What have I accomplished? Consider how other people have been at age thirty-three:

  • At the age of thirty-three Alexander the Great had conquered much of the known world (known to the Greek at any rate) and was well on his way to establishing a great empire;

  • At the age of thirty-three Jesus Christ had pretty much established a new religion, radically reforming the monotheism of the Jews of his time and inspiring new hope among the people of occupied Israel and was on his way to being crucified (and redeeming mankind of their sins, if your faith includes that); and

  • At the age of thirty-three, my biological father had been dead for twelve years.

I suppose that I could look upon those accomplishments and feel a bit insignificant. I haven’t conquered any Mediterranean countries. I haven’t redeemed mankind’s sins. And I haven’t died. What in the world have I been doing with myself?

More than some, I suppose. And less than others.

This past year has, for me personally at least, seen more changes in my life than I’ve had in the past decade. I’m engaged to be married to the most incredible woman I’ve ever known, after years of believing that I was destined to be single all my life (I had, in fact, become quite comfortable with the thought of being a 79-year-old crazy bachelor playing chess in the park with the other crazy old bachelors). I’m well on my way to being a homeowner (a friend of mine, who will be best man at my wedding, says he’s looking forward to seeing how financially conservative I will become in the next couple of years after so many years of being so liberal). And I’ve made a successful transition from one career field to a radically different one. In truth, I’m starting my 34th year as a totally different person than I was a year ago, and a much better person for it.

It has been quite a ride.

The past millenium saw quite a lot of changes for the world as well — we went, in just a thousand years, from a collection of pre-medieval agrarian societies to a large, relatively integrated, information-driven global civilization. Quite an accomplishment, if I do say so myself. I think that we all ought to be very proud of ourselves. Granted, most of the biggest changes have only happened in the past fifty years or so, but it’s still a major transition.

I’m excited about the coming millenium. I probably won’t be around for much of it, unfortunately, but I’m optimistic about the future, both my own and the world’s in general. I honestly feel that while things have been pretty good up until now, overall, the best is yet to be.

Starting with the new year, century, and millenium, this journal will get a new name, and, possibly later on, another new look. To both of my regular readers, I wish you a happy, safe, and prosperous new year. Be well, be happy, and take good care of yourselves and of those you love and of those who love you.

'Tis the Season

I cheerfully admit that by the standards of some people — the more fundamentalist of them — I am probably destined to go straight to Hell. In some sort of handbasket, I don’t doubt. My understanding of God and my approach to religion and spirituality are by no means traditional or even very conservative. I just feel, sometimes, like God is… well… just a bit too small.

I’ve just returned from midnight mass at my parents’ church. In years past I have always found midnight mass inspiring and exciting, in spite of my less than orthodox faith. But this year, something was different. I found myself feeling short-tempered, grumpy, and irritable. When mass was over I quickly made my excuses and left the church to head straight back to my parents’ house in order to take some medicine that I should have taken earlier anyway. Perhaps it was that I was tired, or that my allergies were starting to kick in along with my asthma. Perhaps it was that my heart is two sizes too small. For whatever reason, my temper was short and I just didn’t find Mass as inspiring as I usually do.

Religion, I admit, frequently puzzles me. While I am nominally a Christian — more specifically, a Methodist — I just don’t find myself entirely moved or inspired by the story of Jesus Christ or the Christmas story. It may be that I just don’t "get it", or that I didn’t pay enough attention in Sunday school when I was a kid… Or perhaps my faith is simply the measure of a mustard seed.

It’s not that I don’t believe in Jesus Christ; I believe that Jesus certainly existed, historically, and that he was a wise and intelligent man. Was he divine or God incarnate? I don’t know. There are times when I think about it and find the idea of Jesus Christ as God an exciting one; the myth made flesh — or, if the Episcopalian catechism is correct and God is love, then Jesus was a physical incarnation of love.

But at Christmas mass I see people moved to tears by the Christmas story, and I can’t identify.

I do consider myself a spiritual person. I have seen too many miracles in my life to not believe that there is something which exists which is bigger than me, which watches over the universe and possibly even set things in motion in the first place. I don’t believe in a personified deity, someone who sits in a throne and passes judgement on us based on our sexuality or our beliefs or who we voted for in the last election (yes, I have met people who have tried to tell me that I am going to hell because I’ve voted Democrat or even Green in past elections). But I’ve had a hard time ever finding a place where I can feel comfortable expressing my own spirituality. I grew up as an Episcopalian, one of the more liberal denominations of Christianity; but in my time I’ve also attended Catholic Masses, Jewish temple, Moslem prayer circles, Baha’i festivals, Buddhist meditation ceremonies… I’ve even taken part in a Wiccan invokation of the four winds, and danced in a circle to honor Shiva. But I haven’t found an expression of spirituality which doesn’t feel, somehow, small and stifling.

While exploring all of these religious traditions, I’ve also read a wide range of holy books; I’ve read several versions of the Bible, of course, as well as the Qur’an, the writings of the Baha’i Faith, the Bhagavad Gita, the Upanishads, the Tao Te Ching, the Analects of Confucius, and on and on and on. I have found a lot of wisdom in all of these books, and I can easily believe that many of them were divinely inspired; wisdom is wisdom, after all, no matter where it comes from or what trappings it’s hidden in. But none of the holy books can pass for literal truth; the best way to experience the scriptures of any religious tradition, Christianity included, is as metaphor. God is not a concept that can easily be explained or experienced; metaphor is the best that we can do.

With Christianity, I am most bothered by the notion that eternal life and salvation are reserved for those who believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ. It seems to me that this turns Christianity into an exclusive club of some sort, where if you accept the tenets of the club you get to play in the clubhouse; and if you don’t believe in what the club believes, no matter what kind of person you are, you can’t play in the clubhouse. Some people find this inspiring. I don’t. I find it frustrating; some of my favorite playmates, when I was a child, were the ones who couldn’t get into the clubs. I know that there are plenty of Christian flavors that don’t believe this way — the Episcopalian church and the Methodist church both spring to mind — but it is certainly true of an overwhelming number of Christian folks.

None of this, though, really explains my feelings at Christmas Eve mass this year; why I was short-tempered, or why I was uninspired or unmoved at service this year. Perhaps next year, when Jennifer and I are attending service together with my parents, before driving home and spending Christmas Day with her family, I’ll feel better about everything.

"I’ll keep Christmas in my way," said Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol. I will, too; by reflecting on the season, by remembering that Christmas is not about the presents or the money or the credit card bills; nor is it about being "the one time of year when everyone loves each other and peace reigns throughout the earth" (because, honestly, in my experience, people are just as cruel and mean to each other at Christmas time as they are during the rest of the year; more so, in some cases); it’s about remembering the presence of the divine in the world and reconnecting to it. For me, that is, even if I don’t really identify heavily with the Christmas tradition. Other people do it in other ways; and that’s all right, too.

A Familiar Face

Lacking anything better to do after Thanksgiving, I decided that a good way to spend my time and get closer to Jennifer would be to share her illness. To that end, I promptly started in with the stomach cramps, some slight diarrhea, and took on an upper respiratory infection as well just for the heck of it. I also got to work at home for most of that week, along with Jennifer who simply sat at home and played games on her computer.

We had met with our builder on Monday evening to talk about doors and windows and floors, and we decided that it was probably time to get serious about choosing out a floor. So on Thursday, during my lunch hour, we drove to downtown Woodland, and we both staggered into The Carpet Store (or whatever it was called) to look at floors and vinyl floor coverings.

Inside, we were impressed with a huge array of carpet materials, patterns, colors, and a sales clerk who chatted cheerfully on the phone while we hunted for wood laminate. We couldn’t find any right away, but the clerk was cheerful as he put aside the phone for a second, asked what we were looking for, and then pointed us at the back room.

After a few minutes, the clerk joined us in the laminate room. "What are you looking for?" he asked. "Formica," Jennifer and I told him; Formica had been the brand that our builder had recommended, primarily because of its warantee and because of its special noise-proofing insulation, which we thought would be perfect in a house populated by two adults and seven cats.

"Hm," the clerk said. "I don’t know anything about Formica. That’s not my specialty. Let me get Todd, he can help you. He knows about this stuff."

So we were left alone again in the laminate room to ponder Pergo, Armstrong, and other breeds of wood laminate that we had never known existed. In a few moments, Todd strode into the room. Except that he turned out to be George, not Todd — Todd was somewhere else.

George was a guy who was probably in his late 40’s, white-haired, and friendly. He, too, was cheerful as he showed us the different brands. We had found a style and color that we liked — in typical Richifer fashion, we’d each picked out our favorite, and our favorites turned out to be identical — but it wasn’t Formica. So George opened up a door in a closed display case and pulled out several samples of Formica that matched — nearly — the one we had chosen that was a different brand.

For awhile, we all chatted cheerfully about the different patterns and materials, all of us relatively cheerful and friendly. Then, however, I took out my Palm Pilot and opened the memo I’ve been tracking this sort of house-related information in, and George’s mood changed.

Drastically. Noticeably.

George’s face and entire demeanor changed. He stared at my Palm Pilot and watched intently as I scribbled onto the screen; he asked questions about it, and Jennifer told him about a number of the Palm’s features and how it worked and so on (Jennifer has a Palm Pilot herself, and I bought mine shortly after we had started dating). While George kept smiling, the quality of his smile had changed. His face had changed.

It was a face that I recognized, because I’ve worn it far too often myself. It was the face of a man who believes that he is stuck where he is, who looks enviously at some of the "toys" that other people have, and the he believes he will never own.

I suddenly became very self-conscious, and slipped my Palm Pilot back into my pocket, but the damage had been done. George kept smiling, but there was a strained and desperate quality to his smile that hadn’t been there before. I knew that as soon as we left and he retired to the small and probably dingy room in the back of the store that passed for the sales manager’s office, the smile would disappear and probably be replaced with a grimace that hinted of resentment and anger.

There’s a modern song which I think is really stupid. Really, really stupid. I think it’s by the band Everclear, and it’s called, "I will buy you a new house" or something like that. A few of the lines go:

I hate those people who tell you,
Money is the root of all that kills
They have never been poor…

I sympathized with George. As Jennifer and I stumbled sickly back to my car, I told her, "George looks like the kind of guy who really doesn’t want to be selling wood laminate flooring at his age and thinks he’s stuck doing it." Jennifer agreed, but we didn’t really talk more about it after that.

George’s face after looking at my Palm Pilot was a familiar one. Six months ago, I was working for just about half of what I’m earning now; and between myself and Jennifer we have a combined income which places us well above — very well above — the average American household income. But I remember all too well what it’s like being poor and envying people some of the toys that they have or the experiences that they’re having that come with having a higher income. I remember how I felt when Jennifer first got her Palm Pilot, long before she and I had started dating but were already friends. I remember how I felt when another of my friends bought a brand new car. Or when someone else bought a brand new computer. And so on.

I still get that way. A co-worker of mine recently returned from a trip to Belize, one of the many countries that I’ve dreamed of visiting. Another one is quitting his job to go on a months-long trip (he hasn’t specified how many months) of Europe. I don’t have that reaction to new toys so much anymore, since I have the Palm Pilot I’ve wanted, a nice laptop computer from my company, and the brand-new car that I’ve wanted (though I guess I’d still like a much nicer desktop computer). Mostly I get that way about job situations these days; I know where I want my career to go, and it unreasonably rankles me to see other people that I know who are already there. I still envy folks who travel for work, especially internationally, since it’s going to be a long time before I get to go.

But it’s different for me now. I also get a sense of satisfaction in knowing that I’m on my way towards where I want to be, and I know that where I am now is actually the result of years of self-tutoring and months of hard looking; and I have more than just my foot in the door now.

But George isn’t there. George is still where I was. I felt some sympathy for him, but not much pity. Despite how I felt just six months ago, and how I occasionally feel even now, I don’t believe anyone is ever stuck in one place, no matter how much they might think they are. I taught myself to design web pages, and now I’m working towards a career in application development (I still have a lot of learning to do, of course). And age is not a barrier, either: I’ve met, in my time, several older people who have made conscious career changes and have moved from stifling situations to situations which — while not always financially rewarding — are spiritually rewarding and very respectable. My own mother-in-law-to-be went from a job as a school secretary to a position as a diaconal minister with her church, something which took years of study and effort, and which she finds very, very rewarding (and is something I would never want to do, because of her specific duties).

But I guess I’ve learned some sensitivity too. If someone had told me, six months ago, "Richard, you’re soon going to have a great job as a web developer with a start up, earning almost twice what you’re earning now and getting to travel and learn a lot," I would have laughed bitterly in their face. No amount of encouragement or support can help some people feel better; I gathered George was much the same way, and had probably had more years of practice being that way than I had ever had.

Jennifer and I drove away from downtown Woodland, decided we were both a bit too sick to drive out to our lot and take a look at the progress of the house, and went home. I’d forgotten about George and my Palm Pilot for some time, but for some reason it’s been coming back to me of late. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been thinking about my goals, about dreams I have, and steps I’ve taken to change my life lately and where I want things to go. Much of what I thought I could never do — build a house, work a good-paying job in the IT field, marry a wonderful woman who pretty much thinks exactly the same thoughts I do — I’ve accomplished or am well on my way to accomplishing. I’ve had to change a lot of my own thinking in the past few months as well, and accept that it is in fact possible for me to achieve goals and do some of the fantastic things I’ve only dreamed about.

It’s changing the thinking that is the hardest part, and some of the old thought patterns are putting up a brilliant struggle.

I still wear George’s face from time to time. I only hope that it’s less often than it used to be, and that I can someday put it up on the shelf and never have to take it down again.


The thing I hate the most about being sick — and today I’ve been hit with a double whammy of a mild cold plus a mild stomach flu; nothing exciting in and of themselves, but the combination is exhausting — is that I have a tendency to feel really lonely. Lying in bed, looking forward to the next time I can use one of my inhalers or take another aspirin, is not something guaranteed to make me feel happy or real good about the world around me. It’s better, of course, now that Jennifer’s around, but when she has to go to work, it’s still easy for me to get lonely during the day, even when there are four or five overly affectionate cats to keep me company.

It was easy to cope when I was a kid or even when I was a teenager or even in college: I’d just flip on the television and watch whatever weird shows were on during the day. I’d avoid the talk shows, of course, but daytime TV used to at least offer alternatives to the junk — reruns of old comedies or old movies during the day. But now there aren’t old TV shows during the day, and old movies are exclusively on cable or videotapes. And with the VCR and TV in the other room, I haven’t even been watching movies anymore.

Watching television wasn’t the only way I’d amuse myself when I was sick as a kid. I spent a lot of time reading, too. Now that I’m older, and television just doesn’t hold the appeal that it once did, I find myself reading more when I’m sick than I did when I was a kid. And the loneliness that afflicts me when I get sick becomes mixed up with a strange feeling of nostalgia.

Today I was sick, and lonely, and nostalgic; so I pulled up some books that I’d enjoyed over the summer and that I was planning on re-reading anyway: the Harry Potter books. I think it’s probably because the Harry Potter books remind me so much of the books I read when I was a kid, or of the stories I used to make up for myself (and sometimes still do); or maybe it’s just because these books are so good. Whatever the reason, I found that curling up with these books today felt like hanging out with old friends. And re-reading them, I found levels in the stories that I hadn’t noticed before; subtleties of foreshadowing that I appreciated, politics among the other mages, and so on. J. K. Rowling really is a good writer.

I’ve written about the Harry Potter books before, so I won’t repeat what I’ve already written here.

But bear with me, I’m going somewhere with all of this anyway.

Two weeks or so ago, Jennifer and I went and saw The Grinch at a local movie theater (Jennifer’s recounting of that particular evening is much more eloquent than I could ever be). It was a fun movie; Jim Carrey is, in my opinion, underrated as an actor (I think he ought to be doing more serious parts like The Truman Show); and Anthony Hopkins is a suitable replacement for Boris Karloff as the narrator for the story. Naturally, the writers expanded the story; it’s hard to turn a short Dr. Seuss book into a 90-minute movie. Most of the expanded story fit into the spirit of the tale, some of it kind of grated, but on the whole it was good. And, I thought, it had a good message about the over-commercialization of Christmas in general.

Said message, of course, being rendered more than ironic by the insane amount of merchandising which has surrounded that movie. Honestly, I think that Theodore Giesel, Dr. Seuss himself, must be spinning in his grave. I don’t remember him licensing much more than educational products when he was alive. Still, I suppose his estate needs to get their money somewhere.

Of course, it’s not just the Grinch who’s been the focus of so much marketing and merchandising this year. Just two weeks ago, we went to do some Christmas shopping and stopped in Barnes and Nobles; and I found myself practically drowning in the sheer volume of Harry Potter merchandising that had seemingly exploded out of nowhere in the space of a few short weeks. When I stood in line until midnight in early July with Jennifer to buy Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire as a birthday present for my niece, I didn’t see the Harry Potter mugs, calendars, T-shirts, keychains, clocks, and bathrobes that are available now. Of course, with the movie just about a year away, this sort of marketing and merchandising can only be expected, I suppose. Still, it’s a bit distressing.

The Harry Potter books are good, and I firmly believe that in spite of the Muggles of the world who try to sue the author (over the use of the word "Muggle"), or the nutty teachers who try to ban the books, these books are actually good for kids. Kids learn to use their imagination, they read, they learn the importance of friendship, and so on. But what do they learn from the merchandising and the marketing? That it’s good to spend close to $70.00 for a "special edition" of Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone? That you need to have the Harry Potter’s Collectibles Guide to make sure you have the latest parephrenalia in order to be as cool as the other kids?

I know that J. K. Rowling certainly licensed all of these things. And I imagine that she’s more than a bit overwhelmed by her sudden wealth. And I certainly don’t begrudge her success. But I have a sneaky feeling that Harry Potter himself might not approve, and that all of this money-making is something that his mean-spirited uncle, Vernon, might have nodded approvingly at.

Still, though…

That midnight-blue bathrobe with the House Gryffindor seal on it is really appealing, and I compare it to my own tattered bathrobe and think how much of a Muggle I am.

A Bonding Moment

I’ve written before — and some of my readers might say, "Too much" — about my feelings for Jennifer. About how much I love her. About how much I adore her. About how strong I feel our relationship is. And so on. Read my November 6, 2000 entry on the subject, and believe me when I say that that particular entry is probably the best expression of my feelings.

Jennifer and I have been dating for just over six months now, and we’ve had many moments of close intimacy and bonding. But Sunday night marked a new stage in our relationship, one that I never have reached with anyone else before. One which is truly meaningful for both of us.

But first, a bit of backstory. Not much, I promise.

We decided some months ago that this was going to be our last year celebrating Thanksgiving with our separate families. We could have opted to spend Thanksgiving together with her family or with mine, and neither family would have objected; but it seemed best not to do so for one last year. So on Wednesday night, I drove down to San Jose, spent a few wonderful days with my parents, my sister (and her new boyfriend), my aunt and my uncle, and had a great time. On Saturday my mom informed me that she was essentially kicking me out; in years past I’ve stayed with them until the last possible moment on Sunday evening; but, then, I’ve never really had a strong reason to return home. Now, I couldn’t wait to get back home to see Jennifer again. My mom, wise woman that she is, sensed that and told me that it was perfectly okay for me to leave early. My dad put up a token objection (more in jest than anything else), and my mom replied, "I’m kicking him out!" To which my dad replied, "Well, that’s all right then."

So late Saturday night, after dinner with my sister and her new boyfriend, I drove back up here to Woodland and came home to be with Jennifer again. I’d missed her terribly.

The next morning, Jennifer woke up early with a stomach flu. She’d awakened earlier to throw up, and… Well, let’s just say that the rest of that day was not a pleasant one for her.

When the stomach cramps started up, I asked her if she wanted to go to the emergency room. She told me no, she’d be fine. So I let her lie, bringing her water or soda when she asked for it, and I spent the day reading. In the early evening I got hungry and decided to go to a cafe to get something to eat and do some writing. As I left the parking lot, I called Jennifer on my cell phone and asked her if she wanted me to pick up anything for her on the way home.

"No", she said. But then she told me that she was feeling really bad, and that she thought she should probably go to the hospital after all.

I drove home quickly, visions of abdominal cancer and civil ceremonies in December (instead of our planned ceremony in July) flying through my head, and got to Jennifer’s bedside. I called the advice line listed on her insurance card, and went through her symptoms; and something about tenderness in Jennifer’s abdomen caused the advice nurse to say, "I’m recommending that you take her to the emergency room.

So I did. Nurses and doctors poked and prodded at her and said that she was probably suffering from a virus, possibly a parasitical infection. No idea where that could have come from, of course, and it was really unlikely. Nevertheless, the doctor wanted a stool sample for laboratory analysis, just in case.

Unfortunately, Jennifer could not produce a sample for testing. "Well, that’s all right," the nurse said cheerfully. "Just take this pan and these vials home with you tonight, and collect it yourself. Then bring it back here to the lab later tonight."


Double ugh.

The thought of collecting a stool sample from myself is nauseating. The thought of collecting someone else’s is even more so. But Jennifer is Jennifer and I love her, so I was willing.

Honest to God, that nurse had no right to be that cheerful.

We got home, and Jennifer informed me that she would spare me the thrill of collecting a sample, and that she was willing to do it herself. I asked the token "AreyousurebecauseI’mwillingtodoithoneyokaynoproblemyougoaheadandthankGod?" and let her have at it. When she was done, she handed me three little vials in a plastic bag.

"These have to go to the hospital lab," she said.

I took the bag with two fingers. "Ew," I said. The idea of taking this plastic bag and what it contains in my brand new car to the hospital was, honestly… well, not too pleasant.

But, this is Jennifer, and I love her. So, of course, I did it. I took the bag, and the samples therein, in my brand new car, to the hospital. I handed it to the laboratory technician, saying sarcastically, "I’ve brought some treats!" The lab tech, to her credit, didn’t even blink when she opened the bag and looked at the samples. "Oh, okay," she said. "This is perfect."

Perfect. That’s what she said.

So, to all you men out there who think you’re truly in love with your mates, I ask you this: do you really love her? How far are you willing to go for her? Will you feed her cats? Will you wash her car? Fix her computer? Deliver her fecal matter to the hospital? You have to think about these things carefully, especially if you’re considering marriage.

I’ve said that one of the reasons why I love Jennifer is because she won’t take shit from me. Apparently, the reverse can’t be said now, because, after all, I’ve proven that I’m quite willing to take shit from her.

And, furthermore, I’m even willing to take it to the hospital. And I’d do it again.


‘Twas Boston, and the slithy code Did sputter and crash within the web All flimsy was the buggy code And the home page outgrabe.

The fact that the last stanza of "Jabberwocky" is the same as the first has always haunted me. It’s the story of a hero who goes out and kills something — or, as Alice says, "Somebody killed something, that’s plain" — but I’ve always had the sense that even at the end of the story, things go back to the way they were, and everything starts over. In our own lives, there’s repetition; but even if you think you’re in a loop, there are always changes; and frequently the changes are for the better, if you can work the loop just right.

Sometimes you just need to get away. Sometimes you need to get as far away as you can from normal, everyday reality and find someplace that turns words inside out and lands everything on its head.

It was on the first night of my trip to Boston. I was looking at the upcoming couple of weeks and realized that between various business trips, it looked like Jennifer and I were going to be seeing very little of each other throughout mid November. Things had been pretty crazy up until that point as well, and the day in Boston had already been overwhelming, even though I’d only been there a couple of hours.

So, I called up Jennifer from Boston and told her that between everything that was going on and everything that we figured would be going on, we were going to definitely need some time away with just each other. I suggested that we do something that I had always wanted to do, but had never done because I had never had anyone with whom I would have wanted to do it: go to a bed-and-breakfast inn.

Originally, we both wanted to go to someplace in Carmel, which is a really beautiful part of the central coast. But after looking at various inns on-line for half an hour or so, we stumbled across a place called The Jabberwock Inn, located in Monterey. Instantly, we both knew that this was the place for us to go; I mean, with a name like The Jabberwock Inn, how could we not go? I called, made our reservations for this past weekend, and we spent the next month eagerly anticipating our getaway.

It’s about a three-hour drive from Woodland to Monterey, especially if you decide — as we did — to take the scenic route and go down Highway 1. After a bit of confusion in the San Francisco area (we were saved by a kindly tollbooth operator who gently told us exactly how to get to 1 from 80) we managed to get to the right stretch of road, and southward we headed. And after several playings of Billy Joel and Barenaked Ladies albums, and passing by miles of fields filled with mysterious green growing things (later identified as brussels sprouts and artichokes), we arrived in Monterey and at the Jabberwock.

It was like stepping into a little world all its own; from the moment we drove past the hedges and onto the brick of the parking lot, I felt like we had passed through a doorway leading from a hectic world of broken product releases and insane development schedules and into a world populated by dodo birds, playing cards, talking rabbits, and just plain quiet. The Jabberwock was decorated in a Victorian style, with intricately patterned wallpaper, bookshelves filled with dozens of copies of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass; and in just about every corner, hidden from view in almost every case, some new figurine or ornament or detail relating the Wonderland. A statue of a dodo bird in the foyer. A pewter statue of Alice in the garden. That sort of thing. The innkeeper served us sherry and hors d’oeuvres before dinner, chocolate chip cookie and milk before bed, and breakfast in the morning.

Our room was large, with a huge bed, a comfortable couch and reading chair, and no stereo, TV, telephone, or even a place to plug in our laptop computers. Not that we’d brought out computers, of course; the whole point was to get away from that sort of thing for the weekend. We spent a very relaxing night in the inn, enjoyed a great breakfast in the company of friendly strangers, walked along Cannery Row in Monterey, listened to the seals barking in the harbor and the seagulls crying out overhead, and generally just enjoyed ourselves.

On the way back, we passed more mysterious green growing things, bought two stalks of brussels sprouts, showed off Spiff II to my parents (who both cringed when they saw the brussels sprouts — but that’s a story for another day), and drove back home with enough time left over in the day to go out and see Charlie’s Angels — a cheesy but fun film.

So the weekend passed, and Monday came back at us, with more flimsy code, more broken products, more bugs, more meetings, more insane development schedules. The borogoves were mimsy all over again. But when you can take time to work on things, or even just take a couple of days to leave the world and focus on who you are and who you are as a couple — even if you don’t spend a lot of time in "deep conversation", like we did at the Engaged Encounter weekend — something still changes. The Jabberwock — the monster, not the wonderful inn — might still be lurking around the tulgey wood; but now it’s just a little less intimidating, because you’ve come just a bit closer to the partner that you’re going to be spending your life with.

The Circus is Over. Why Won't the Clowns Leave?

When it comes to politics, I agree firmly with Douglas Adams: anyone who is capable of getting themselves elected President should, under no circumstances, be allowed to have the job. And for President this year, I was very close to writing in Colin Powell’s name, for no other reason than because he stated quite publicly that he is not at all interested in the job; I can’t think of a better qualification than that. (Of course, there’s also the part of me that wanted to vote "No" for President, or "None of the Above", or to write in the name of Cthulhu — after all, as they say, why settle for the lesser evil?)

Politics, especially partisan politics, disgusts me. I’ve voted Democrat in just about every election I’ve participated in — which, I assure you, has been every election that’s occured since I turned 18 — but it’s not because I believe that the Democrats are morally superior to the Republicans or any other party out there; it’s just because, out of all of the crop of politicians that are out there, they disgust me the least. That’s not to say that I really care for the Democrat party, of course, or that I’m even registered as a Democrat — I’m actually registered as an independent, in the hopes that this keeps me off of partisan mailing lists when election years roll around.

I admit, though, that I do get a sick joy out of watching Presidential campaigns; it’s like looking into a Kleenex you’ve just blown your nose into. The depths to which people will sink in order to become President inspires me, sometimes, to think back to the one class I took in college on Abnormal Psychology and wonder what might be going on through these peoples’ minds. But, all in all, watching a campaign makes me realize that there really is nothing about any of the candidates that really inspires me to vote for them. With the 2000 election, I had some respect for Al Gore until he announced his position on the Elian Gonzales issue, which made me realize that he really was into it for the politics, just like Bush. I only voted for Gore because I knew that with him, I might wind up a little less annoyed than with Bush in office.

But this year’s election has really brought things to a new low, I think; and the ironic thing is that the election is, technically over. We just don’t know who won.

Neither side wants to concede defeat, of course, and with less than a thousand votes in the balance, I don’t blame them. Al Gore’s campaign wants a hand recount of the ballots in Florida, which makes sense to me. What angers me, though, are those Republicans who call Gore a "whiny bitch" (this is a direct quote from a radio talk show host); as if Bush would have done any differently had he been in Gore’s position.

And now Bush’s campaign is seeking to put a halt to the recount. This, honestly, disturbs me more than any other aspect of this year’s election. Frankly, I’m frightened of a President who would be willing to halt an election if there was even a slight doubt about his prospects of winning. It reminds me far too much of some of the autocratic techniques I read about in Eastern European countries, or of the old Soviet Union. This sort of thing is a direct threat to our nation’s democratic process; a President should not even consider the possibility of interfering with an election, let alone a Presidential candidate who hasn’t even won the election. If nothing else, it tells me that Bush is scared of the will of the people and the possibility that he might lose, and that convinces me even more that Bush is not at all qualified to be President.

I admit, sadly, that Bush will probably be the next President of the United States. This, coupled with a Republican-dominated Congress, will probably set our nation’s social progress back a good ten to fifteen years, and further alienate us from the rest of the world. My only consolation is that Bush will understand, at least on some level, that he won only by a technicality, that the people of the United States don’t really want him there, and the Republican majority in Congress is held only by a hair. And, in some ways, I’m kind of glad that Bush will be president; I predict that the US is going to go through some very shaky times over the next four years, and I’d much rather have a Republican take the fall for what’s coming up than a Democrat. This same thing happened in 1988, when George Bush, Sr., was President; after eight years of faked prosperity under Reagan, things started to go downhill once Bush became President, and in 1992 the Republicans lost the white house. If nothing else, we will probably have another Democratic president in 2004 (and we will probably see Hillary Clinton running for the nomination that year as well). I’m not joining in the debate over the continued existence of the Electoral College; I understand its importance and its place in our nation’s history.

Presidential campaigns are like a circus: a long, dull, vitriolic, angry circus filled with surreal clowns and an audience who is too annoyed to laugh but too morbidly curious to leave. But now the curtains have supposedly been drawn over this year’s show, and I really wish the clowns would leave. Or, at least, that they would all stop trying to convince us that they were the best part of the show. Sheesh.