Archive for March, 2011

Dear Evan: Please Don’t Cry

March 30th, 2011

Dear Evan:

I wonder, while I write these letters, what our lives will be like as you’re reading them. La and I have so many plans, so many options, that it’s dizzying to try and guess which will become reality. Right now, our plans change quickly because our lives are moving so fast. Days pass in a blur; weeks blend; months fly.

If you’ve guessed that’s partly an excuse as to why I haven’t written to you as regularly as I’d like… well, you’re partly right. I haven’t done any writing as much as I’d like, because I’m caught on some wildly spinning merry-go-’round of getting up, feeding you, getting to work, coming home, sitting with you for a bit, eating dinner, doing some actual head-of-the-household crap like paying bills, and then getting to bed early enough that I don’t feel like a zombie the next day.

Even weekends are full, and as La pointed out, we don’t get to sit around any more.

So. Of all possible outcomes, this is what I hope: I hope I sell some books, and we renovate the ranch on your Mimi and PaPa’s land, and we live a life where I can write and La can open an animal-therapy counseling service and you can learn to enjoy the days instead of seeing each off as quickly as they arrive.

Enough talk about that. Let’s talk about you.

This week, you’ve come as close as ever to laughing. You’ve been smiling for a few weeks now, not just copying our smiles but getting my attention and grinning wide with a mischievous cooing noise. It’s adorable, and you get even smilier when La or I tell you how cute you are. You don’t laugh yet, but sometimes you make a “huh-huh” sound that I think is your imitation of our laughter. It won’t be long before you get it right; you’re already holding conversations with us, even if your end is mostly babble. (To be frank, so is what we tell you.)

Unfortunately, you had your first really bad night this week. Monday evening, you weren’t just crying, you were screaming. We still don’t know why, just that after almost an hour, you had a huge spit-up, calmed a bit, then began crying again. Nothing we did during that first time helped, not holding you or burping you or giving you infant Tylenol. The second time, you must’ve just been tired and maybe afraid, because I held you and walked and shushed and you fell fast asleep.

I know that won’t be the last time something bothers you that we can’t immediately fix, but I hope it’s the last time you’re in so much distress. The sight of real tears in the corners of your eyes hurts my heart.

Love,

Daddy

Next steps: When a piece of writing doesn’t catch on

March 23rd, 2011

I spent the morning’s commute trying to think of my next step. Here’s why that’s difficult: Writing is so intensely personal, you don’t want to move forward. You want to stand pat at that last step, massage what’s there, find a way to salvage it.

I write “salvage” as if something was given up, but of course it wasn’t. Writing may be difficult, but its permanence is sometimes surprising. You write something; it’s yours. It doesn’t disappear. Even if you burn the copies, delete the backups, it’s still in your head. It can come out later.

In the heat of the moment that can be cold comfort, to mangle a metaphor. Writing isn’t exactly like parenthood, but it isn’t exactly unlike it. You’ve nurtured this thing, shaped it. Why wouldn’t it be perfect to the outside world as well?

But it isn’t. You’re too close. You’ve been molding the work in your image, but once set free the dialogue falls flat and the rhythm stutters.

So. Clap hands to knees, lean forward, maybe stand and stretch at the writing desk. “Next steps,” you mutter, the words tasting of ash. Maybe a corner of a manuscript looks pleadingly from under a stack of papers; maybe you skim your mouse across a filename and feel your heart skip, as if you’d met a former lover on the street. Betrayal is there, maybe a feeling of having given up too soon.

Send it to one more agent, a voice inside whispers. Run it past one more beta reader. Spend more time. Make it perfect. Admirably, that voice doesn’t want you to give up.

It’s the only way forward, though. Resolve to come back. The work is permanent. It’s there, in thought and word. Find something that works first, something that sells, something that opens the door. Take the next step, and the next.

Dear Evan: Smiles, Family and Not Much Sleep

March 18th, 2011

Dear Evan:

I’ve told myself I’ll at least write you a letter each week, but I feel like the past couple have been flat. Too often, I think, I snap off a quick letter without connecting it to a larger narrative, or with items hinting at a bigger message but not fully connecting.

Well, buck up, because this week’s letter will be even more scattered.

Part of that is because you are — your mommy and I think — going through a growth spurt. You’re eating more. The 120-ml bottles just don’t do the trick, at least not for a full three-hour rest. More frustrating is that, as your mommy points out, boobs don’t come with a Full-to-Empty gauge. She can usually tell when you’ve been eating and when you’ve just been using her as a pacifier. Usually. Sometimes, we think you’re full, and an hour later you’re restless and making what we’ve learned is the “feed me” face: tongue flickering in and out like a cute snake.

That is, as you can probably imagine when eventually reading this, less than restful in the wee hours of the morning.

On the upside, you learned to smile — for real social smiles — a couple of weeks ago, and are amazingly close to that first laugh. I almost thought I got one yesterday when you smiled and made a “ha-ha” noise, but it was too close to your normal “talking” to tell. When you smile, your eyes crinkle, and your mouth opens and stretches wide, and sometimes you blush and turn your head. It’s ridiculously cute, which leads to a bout of tickling and telling you how cute you are. Heaven help your mommy and me when you’re grown a little and can use that against us.

You got to show off the smile this week to your mommy’s parents, and her sister’s family. Your cousin Asher, in fact, is the closest template we have to how you might turn out — blue-eyed, blond, talkative, social, very intelligent. Again, Heaven help us. Asher is always in motion, and always asking about everything, and if you pause for a second he’s moved on to something else. I make him sound ADD, but he’s not; he’s just into everything. I have a feeling you’ll be the same, the way you goggle over my shoulder or your mommy’s at anything else going on in the area, mouth open and eyes wide with concentration.

One more disjointed thought: I wondered, during my commute to work today, how early we’d be able to influence your… well, not just your personality, but I suppose that’s a good start. I want you to stay happy. I want you to laugh and blush and turn your head. I’m… well, most days I feel older than I am, and grumpy, and disillusioned, and I don’t want you to feel that. I want to strike that balance of teaching you to work hard for yourself while handing to you as much opportunity as I can. More than I had. I need to start doing that now, but haven’t had a chance. It’s frustrating.

Enough of that. The weather has turned beautiful, finally bringing spring to Texas, so here’s to a weekend of smiles from you.

Love,

Daddy

I want my hour back

March 14th, 2011

I know it was designed to help farmers or crop rotations or some such thing — I’m too tired to look it up — but I want my Daylight Savings hour back. Not in half a year, but now. I already have a drain on my precious sleep right now, thank you very much, albeit an admittedly cute one.

All you parents out there: Stop snickering. Yes, yes, I get it, you paid your dues and got your wings or whatever you want to call it while I was out staggering home from the bar. Would I be in a better situation if I’d settled down earlier in life? Maybe. No, scratch that. I don’t think so. I’m actually in better shape than I was a decade ago, and tired is tired.

Speaking of parents, it’s interesting how them being around makes us regress. La’s folks are staying with us for the week, and yesterday mine came up to visit, and we had all sorts of junk foods like potato chips and Dr Pepper floats, and then the guys watched college basketball all afternoon. I kicked my feet up, lay crosswise on one of the couches and split my time between basketball and the new Peter Straub novel. Felt like I was 13 again. Nary an organic vegetable in sight, nor anything more responsible than cooing over the Squish while he slept. Later, La and her dad giggled together over some sort of nature program.

That comes with a downside, of course, including a spat over plans my parents made for us next Saturday,when in fact that day was already full. I won’t apologize for jealously guarding my time away from the office.

I’m already down an hour, after all.

Dear Evan: Some Thoughts on Work

March 10th, 2011

Dear Evan:

I’ve been thinking about work a lot lately. This week has been hectic for me, and I worry I’ve spent too little time with you. I get my Monday and Wednesday nights, of course, while your mommy teaches, but beyond that my time home is spent trying to eat dinner, pay bills, help out as much as I can with chores and somehow relax before my eyelids start to droop.

I hope you don’t remember that. I hope that by the time you do develop long-term memories, I’ve found a better balance between home and work life.

I really hope you think about work, like I have been. That’s odd to write, picturing you as a fat, burbling, smiling infant pondering careers. (Some of how we raise you will shape that, of course, and your mommy and I have been very careful in that regard.) What I mean to write is, when you’re a little older, when you start thinking about what your life will be after college, include in that thinking this question: What do I want life to be like for me?

Some days — and oh, how I hate to write this — some days I question my choices. I chose a career I would love — writing — and pursued it. I spent an exorbitant sum at a private university and came out making $17,000 annually. I gave up niceties like job security and the ability to afford luxury items in return for the sort of exciting career that makes for great cocktail-party stories. Was it enough? I think about how to provide for your future, and while I make a nice living at the moment — enough that your mommy really doesn’t have to work — I wish your college fund, your savings, money set aside for other expenses were all done already.

People will tell you to do what you love, and having followed that advice, I can’t fault it too heavily. But still, my parents were unable to help me at times, have said they wished they could’ve done more, and I worry that I may wind up in the same boat. There should be a cushion already in place for you, just in case (and in this economy, “just in case” is a daily worry). It’s frustrating.

So what do I tell you? It’ll be so much easier to teach you to shave or kick a soccer ball or those other father-son things. I want you to be happy. I want you to do what you love. But I want you to think, too: Would I love life more by having experiences instead of possessions, and the financial stress that goes with that? Or could I grind through a boring job for a decade or two and then retire early, live the rest of my life comfortably?

I did the former. Today, I wish I’d done the latter, just so you could have an easier time making the choice down the road.

Love,

Daddy

Dear Evan: Your First ‘Star Wars’

March 2nd, 2011

Dear Evan:

I want to try and explain why I get misty during the opening minutes of “Star Wars.” And during the end, and at times in the middle.

“Star Wars” tells the story of a poor boy in a hot climate who gets to go on grand adventures and finds out he’s not just something more but something noble: a Jedi knight, an avatar of goodness. I’ve never gotten to the last bit, but when I was a poor boy in a hot climate, it felt like I could. The movie resonated with me, back when it first came out. Sure, we kids turned sticks into lightsabers and eventually saved up enough to toy around with the movie’s action figures, but to me it was something more. A promise, I think. An unfulfilled promise, it turns out, and maybe that’s why I get misty.

I’m writing all of this because this past Saturday you and I had Daddy-Evan day, our first attempt to watch the three good “Star Wars” movies back-to-back-t0-back. I brought out a foot-tall talking Darth Vader doll, dug it out from a bin in the garage, which you obligingly clutched just long enough for me to take a picture.

After that, you slept while I relived a movie I’ve watched… well, so many times I stopped counting. I laughed; I raised my eyebrows at the unnecessary additional CGI (the “special editions” are all I own on DVD); I made sure you knew Greedo shot first; I cheered Han’s return during the Death Star run. When Luke turned off his targeting computer at the end and John Williams’ score moved into a beautifully dreamy serenity, my chest tightened and my eyes stung. As always.

I do remember the first time I saw “The Empire Strikes Back.” Your grandfather took me and your Uncle Benjie for my birthday, the summer of 1980. He surprised me on the way with a toy playset based on Dagobah, the planet where Yoda hides. We still didn’t have much money, so that was a huge thrill for me.

You paid a little more attention to “Empire,” which is funny because emotionally I don’t connect with it like I do the first film. Oh, I like it an awful lot, and consider it to be superior in a lot of ways, but on an intellectual level. I don’t get misty. I don’t get choked up.

I also¬† remember the first time I saw the third movie, “Return of the Jedi.” That one came out in 1983, but I was late to see it. I wish I knew why. My family didn’t go out to movies a lot — didn’t go out a lot, period — but your grandfather and grandmother knew how important “Star Wars” was to us. I did eventually see it, and in the theater, but don’t remember it having much impact. I was eager to watch it again, to see how, with you curled peacefully unconscious into the crook of my left arm, the movie hit me.¬† We didn’t have time that day, though.

I wonder what will be your touchstone, what books or movies or television or — hell — holographic virtutainment will resonate with you from these early years until decades later. Will you write letters (or — hell — record holographic virtucommunications) to your own son about “Star Wars”? Will a piece of my childhood become a part of who you are? I hope so. I hope that teariness I feel, that longing for a goodness in the soul that supposedly personified the Jedi, will get you a little weepy when you’re cradling your own child in your arms.

Love,

Daddy

A moment of early silence

March 1st, 2011

The office is so still and so quiet — and has been for the past hour and a half that I’ve been here alone — that I wonder whether I made a mistake, came in on a weekend. (It could happen. My sleep is so lacking right now that I struggle to remember what day it is.)

It’s a delicate stillness for a day fraught with stress. In a few hours, I have a departmental meeting about the state of, well, the state’s budget and how it will affect us. I don’t anticipate layoffs; at the very least, I can see a number of places where expenses can be trimmed. I definitely don’t anticipate I will be laid off. After all, I work extremely hard, and my skillset is difficult to pick up by anyone without my experience.

That and an arbitrary amount of money will, you know, get me some sort of underpriced coffee. Or a stick of gum. You get the idea. Nobody’s ever got job security, ever. Ever again. More reason for me to pad the retirement account by getting a book out the door and into the hands of an agent.

Beyond that are mundane concerns. We need to replace the truck, and with something tall enough that La can put in and take out a carseat easily. I, meanwhile, want some magical unicorn of a vehicle, one that meets her needs while remaining fuel-efficient and inexpensive. Go ahead and laugh. No such beast exists. I’ve got a lead on something that’ll make do.

And money. We’ve put off starting Ev’s college fund, first while I paid off his hospital stay and now while I search for the Unicornmobile. That nags at me. I want to get the money set aside, get the interest rolling, remove it from my plate of worries.

The thoughts flit around me in the quiet air, and I breathe them in and let them out without taking action. I don’t want to break the silence.