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Here’s the thing about my October 31 entry. I meant it when I wrote it. This is very hard to do every day. But I’m going to try another 30 days for several reasons:
(1) My father didn’t raise a quitter.
(2) Stopping writing would be admitting I was no longer inspired by the things around me. Lose that, and you’ve basically lost your talent as a writer. I’m not ready to admit that yet, whatever you think of my writing ability.
(3) I still have plenty to say about my wife, daughter, and son.
Let’s do another thirty days.
Confession time: This month will be a lot harder than previous months. Technically, you’re supposed to write something one day at a time. I did that for the first two weeks or so of August. But then I found myself inspired to write a multi-day poem or topic. What was I going to do – delay inspiration for 24 hours? So I often wrote ahead a few days. In September and October, I was always writing a few days ahead. But after three months of this, and after a busy October, I’ll be doing November the right way – the hard way.
In Act II, Scene II of Romeo & Juliet, Juliet ponders the question “What’s in a name?” I’ll assume you are not some uneducated bumpkin who stumbled across the fineness of my 100 words, and assume instead you are of the cognoscenti, the literati who marvel at each syllable that doth spring forth from the typing of my fingers. You’ll already know, then, that Juliet comes to the conclusion (subjectively-wrought) that names mean nothing – that they are unattached to the thing/person being named, and not critically attached to their object. I’d like to spend a few days pondering just that.
I don’t like my name. I never have.
Some people pine for a unique name, going so far as to spell “Cindy” as “Cyndi” or removing original letters to make “Tammy” become “Tamy”. These people seek individuality by distancing themselves from normal spellings of their names, hoping that what they lack in their personalities, they’ll compensate for with a memorable and different appellation.
Here’s a thought for you originality/individuality-seekers: if your personality is not what makes you memorable, if what a person takes away upon meeting you is your name and not who you are, your name isn’t your problem.
My friend Matthew is particular about his name. He doesn’t like to be called Matt. I think someone with a regular name like Matthew has every right to expect a correct pronunciation without shortening, as he pleases.
But what do you do with a name like “Tung” which is pronounced “Tome”? What do you do about a name that defies established rules of pronunciation? You may expect correct pronunciation – but only if you choose to fight that battle – the battle of explaining to every substitute teacher, everyone you meet that your name isn’t what they’d expect.
That you are
My parents told me that my name meant something like “wisdom” or “knowledge.” I grew up believing that. This morning, I went online and searched several Vietnamese-English dictionaries and checked out the definition of my name. Some of the definitions that came up:
whereabouts, a trace
to chant prayers, pray
Wisdom didn’t appear. I’ll be the first to admit that my spirit is often broken and needy. I consider myself religious and prayerful. Thrifty? Yes. Experienced and jubilant? Often.
And apparently I can’t find a trace of the alleged definition of my own name.
I’ll answer to anything close to a monosyllable name beginning with “T”. “Tongue”? Often. “Tone”? Yup. “Toma”? A newscaster in WA once referred to me as that, yes. The fact is, I have friends who are much more sensitive to how people pronounce my name than I am. I also have good friends who have been mispronouncing my name for years, so it’s almost too late to correct them.
If a person’s name defines them, what does that say about my attitudes toward my own name? If I hate my name, do I hate myself?
Maybe that’s a bad question.
Today is my brother’s birthday, so I have to write about him.
Here’s the fundamental difference between him and me. I’m not a dreamer. He is.
If I’m in charge of a project, I’ll set makeable goals for the project, and manage the personnel/resources conservatively to ensure success.
My brother will set a goal that’s beyond reach but attempt to reach it anyway. He may fall short, but for him it’s more about the ambitious goal than about completion.
I’m the perfect right-hand man – I’ll get things done.
He’s the perfect front-man – shoot high and hang on for the ride.
If I Were What, Zachary?
If I were an animal
But still your poppy through and through
Would you let me hang around you,
Or would you put me in a zoo?
If I were a zebra
Outfitted in black stripes,
Would you smile appreciatively at me
When I bought your diaper wipes?
If I were a fruitbat
And lacking basic sight,
Would you gurgle contentedly at me
While I fed you during the night?
If I were a bullfrog
And just chasing after flies,
Would you try to convey your love for me
By dancing your big, dark eyes?
If I were a bulldog
And gnawing on unburied bones,
Would you as my little bullpup
Suckle my fingers like your own?
If I were an eagle
Flying heavenbound, far and near
Would your cries subside within my arms,
And sound like soaring angels in my ear?
If I were a peacock
Strutting the grounds with colorful aplomb,
Would you save your smiles for just my eyes,
And save your slobber for just your mom?
If I were a stranger
Without you, all alone,
Would I look at you and feel a void,
An ache of love unknown?
I think the definition of “hero” has to include the word “sacrifice” -- but more than the sacrifice of time or energy; the sacrifice of your life for the lives of others.
That’s what makes firefighters and policemen heroes. They sacrifice their own lives to protect others. That’s what makes our military heroes. They sacrifice their lives in the pursuit of peace. That’s what makes fathers true heroes to their children. They sacrifice their lives to provide for their families. And if you’re a father AND have defended your country? You’re a double-hero in my book.
Happy Veteran’s Day, dad.
Is the whole concept of “collecting” something inherent in human beings, or something tied to obsessive compulsion? The elderly collect ridiculous tchotckes that fill the cabinets and walls of their homes like objects in a museum (or mausoleum). Others collect CDs, posters, and shot glasses. Most people collect money and store them in stocks, bonds, and bank accounts.
I had collected frequent flier miles over the last few years. We recently used half of them to upgrade our seats home, and I physically felt the loss.
Do our collections define us – the loss of which being the loss of ourselves?
I alternate between believing life is a zero-sum game, and believing some people are chosen for charmed (or cursed) lives. You can look at my life as a series of ups and downs, which eventually even out to an “average” life. Or you can say I’ve always had it made, and that things have always worked out for me.
I can’t tell whether or not the perfect life I have now is a result of sadness growing up, or whether it’s the result of choices God made for me before the start of the world.
Either way I feel guilty.
OK, here are the facts:
1. You’re sweet and self-sacrificing and beautiful. I’m a mean, selfish toad.
2. Everyone who knows you can’t imagine life without you. People would trade me in for a box of Lucky Charms (not a bad trade considering the free toy inside).
On one hand, I love you more because I’m so unworthy of your love and I know it, making me love you even more. On the other hand, you must love me more to have to put up with me, and still be smiling.
Ergo, we’re even. Now let’s go share a pizza.
Today is my mother-in-law’s birthday, so this is for her. (She reads these, so I have to be careful.)
I’m not a crossword fanatic, but I enjoy doing them, especially whenever I’m in WA (I like the local daily crossword). My first Christmas at my in-laws house, I woke up and automatically searched through the paper for the crossword and reflexively filled it out. Later, I noticed the previous day’s crossword being finished by my mother-in-law. I realized she also liked crosswords.
She didn’t say a
to me, and I realized then I’d been accepted into the family.
I wanted to jump that day, I think, but I was a coward.
Generally, I’m unsympathetic to people with depression, believing mental weaknesses lead to suicide -- nature’s way of paring down its herd. I’ve always believed depression was made-up, more a personal weakness than a genuine pathology.
I stood on the Charles River Bridge that day rethinking those beliefs. Rethinking them to accommodate the overwhelming sense within me that I was a potential former herd member. Wondering internally whether or not I could shoulder the load, or whether my pseudo-pathology would better me (in every sense of the word).
I no longer wished to live.
That was the message rollicking around in my head. I no longer wanted to face my friends with the façade of strength I’d been maintaining. I no longer wanted to face my family who simply wouldn’t understand grief not tied to the immediate family. And I certainly no longer wished to face myself. I’d been sick of myself for years.
The only one who I wanted to face was God. But I was too embarrassed by my lemming-like sense of survival, too disappointed by my weakness, too shamed by my self-worth to face Him.
I wanted to jump that day, I think, but I was a coward.
I was too afraid of drowning.
I left the bridge no nearer any decisions about life and death than when I had stared longingly into the waters. I was no closer to any perspective on life and strength and grief and weakness than had I stayed sobbing in my room. And the only thing that frightens me more than anything that ran through my head on that bridge was that I was clearly no stronger, no smarter, no better than what I knew myself already to be.
What’s the easier wish for your children? That they grow up to be good-looking and funny and popular – qualities which the real world values, or that they grow up to be intelligent and well-rounded regardless of social acceptance – qualities parents (and others who aren’t any of the former qualities) value? Is it better to wish that your children succeed in a flawed world, or live differently from a flawed world and thus unaccepted?
You can wish that they grow up to be intelligent and talented and content with who they are and what they have.
You must not remember childhood.
I don’t know what to think about Amy Grant.
For those of you unfamiliar with her, Amy began her career as a Christian artist, second in popularity and album sales only to Michael W Smith. In the late 80’s/early 90’s she released several secular albums, one of which (Heart In Motion) hit the top 40 charts. Her last secular album did not sell well, however. Her most recent release is entitled Legacy…Hymns & Faith, and is composed of remakes of popular Christian hymns.
The Bible tells us not to judge others without first judging ourselves – but it’s hard not to.
There are a lot of people who consider Amy Grant a “traitor,” and I understand their perspective. Here is this successful artist whose every lifted word for years was about God. She then betrayed her fanbase to sing instead about dating and worldly love, and rake in millions with bubblegum pop. She even divorced her Christian husband for Vince Gill! Now that her secular fanbase has disappeared and her last album tanked, she returns to her original fans with an album of everyone’s favorite hymns. The cynic in me reads this as desperation.
But is this my fault, or Amy’s?
I admit I was one of those who considered Amy a traitor to her religion and her fans. But recently I’ve come to the realization that she is in fact a perfect example of what God wants in a person: contrition. The Bible tells the story of the prodigal son who turns his back on his family to live the good life and then returns home penniless, hoping to be taken back by his father.
Maybe Amy’s recent release of hymns is not desperate marketing, but rather the last stage in her repentance – returning to the Christian world for forgiveness.
Angie, sometimes I have to reject your request for french fries because I don’t want to clog your arteries at the age of two. Sometimes I have to let you cry in your crib and not rush to pick you up because otherwise you (and I) won’t get a good night’s sleep. Sometimes I have to turn down your request to go to the zoo because it’s too cold outside and I worry about your health.
Angie, sometimes I have to say no – but trust me: disappointing you hurts me so much more than it hurts you.
So much more.
Sometimes poetry doesn’t fit 100 words. So I’ll add words.
like a scarf
draped on the arm
of an easy chair
than i feel inside
like a watering can
opening itself to the ground
pouring its insides out
her roots soaking up
it needs to survive
of the price paid
by the soil
by mindless one-sided meals
more or less
reflecting the sun
off petals that seem to curl
whenever i appear
she's growing on me
My mother once told me I was her favorite of her four children. I think in many ways, she and my father always treated me accordingly. I always felt guilty both about being their favorite and about being treated as such. I tolerated their wrong-headed beliefs growing up but recently it’s been made apparent that I need to do more than tolerate their error – I need to actively correct it.
My mother told my wife she’d always love my daughter the most, no matter how many more children we have. With a son on the way, this needs to end.
I imagine that breaking out of your cultural mold, out of how you were raised is similar to Neo breaking out of the Matrix. I might lecture my mother and let her know that favoring any one of her grandchildren will result in her not seeing any of them. Or I might simply let her hold her grandson for the first time, and let the realization hit her that it’s possible to love them both with all her heart, and not have to rank order them.
I don’t know whether to be furious with my mother or simply pity her.
For the first time, no friends or families will be spending Thanksgiving with us on the East Coast. My wife believes Thanksgiving is a family holiday, and therefore, we’ll be spending it with people from our church because they’re our church family.
I admit I don’t understand everything about Christianity. But the whole “everyone is your brother/sister and the congregation is your family” concept completely eludes me. If they’re family, how come I can’t yell at them and fight with them, and where are my Christmas presents from them?
I’ll share turkey with them, but they are NOT my family.
I think that, by law, you have to give thanks on Thanksgiving Day. So here goes a short list. Thanks for:
My wife Debbie
My daughter Angie
My soon-to-be-born son Zachary
My family and friends
A good church
A job that pays for shelter, food, clothing, and the occasional miscellaneous desire (like my Spiderman DVD)
My health (even though I’m a hypochondriac)
The Two Towers
being released in a few weeks.
12,000 words (including today’s 100) and counting
A God that gives me all of these things I don’t deserve instead of giving me what I do deserve.
I’ve been using November as a test case. When I started this in August, I wanted each day to be a challenge to creativity. I figured I could ensure quality by challenging myself to use a different voice, a different way of writing 100 words. But this month (moreso than prior months) has been more diary-ish, more like a journal for my thoughts.
But maybe that’s okay. Creativity isn’t bound by structure or form or variation (or lack thereof). It’s always been about finding a way, any way (even if it’s the same way) to express oneself.
I could build suspense like I did last month. Claim that this set of 30 days, this set of 3,000 words was difficult, and will be impossible to extend for another 31 days and 3,100 words. And I wouldn’t be lying. November was a lot harder than October. And I really don’t know if I can do another month.
So I could leave you wondering for another 31 days (all three of you that actually read this – Debbie, Matthew, and mom).
But December means Christmas. Between the birth of Christ and sad childhood Christmases -- I’ve plenty left to say.
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