Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Driving, crying, and helicoptering

Natalie had her first behind the wheel driving lesson yesterday, and when I picked her up at the high school at 7:30, she got in the car and burst into tears immediately:  "I hate driving, I don't want to learn how to drive."  Unfortunately, it had been her first time behind the wheel. It had crept up on us, I hadn't realized that we were supposed to acclimate her a little, she had made zero effort to prioritize it over all of her activities (debate, mock trial, service hours, ultimate frisbee) or over the well-earned time she spends watching TV shows on her phone, relaxing.

So the first time she was behind the wheel was with a total stranger and another kid in the car. Not good. She was not confident steering, couldn't reach the brake properly, etc.

She is so self-possessed, so confident, so hard-working, so self-tending, we tend to forget she is vulnerable and needs guidance. On the one hand, I don't want to be controlling and helicoptering.  All we have really needed to do has been to facilitate with Natalie.

Which exposes us to blind spots like this one where perhaps we should have been more attentive. In the end, having a child is one of the ultimate lessons in powerlessness. There is only so much one can do.

One thing. It is clear that she is infected to some extent by the zeitgeist of college goal determinism, which is to say viewing getting into a prestigious college as her ultimate end. And how could she not be, as the daughter of Joe Yale Columbia PhD and Josephine Michigan Yale MFA, growing up in a place like Chapel Hill. If she didn't have a million things to read, I would give her Frank Bruni's Where You Go Is Not Who You'll Be for Christmas. I should probably read it and digest it and look for ways to convey its meaning to her. Though I've read enough excerpts to get the gist of it.

In any case, after I picked her up last night, I took her to her favorite pizza place and got her a couple of slices, one of which she took for lunch today.

Sunday, November 22, 2015


When talking to Charlie Rose Knausgaard mentioned shame as one of the core experiences he was confronting and seeking to work through as a writer, and that struck a chord in me.

The interior of our 2001 Volvo has some issues:  one of the seats has a split seam, as it has for maybe 5 years now, and the header fabric on the sun roof has been hanging down for some months. None of this should be surprising in a 15-year old car.  Likewise, retractable, solar-powered shades on one of our skylights has been messed up for over a year now. These things bother me, but not Mary.

But when we are having people over for this or that, other things bother Mary. For example, places on the armchair in the living room where the cats have gone to town with their claws, and similar spots on the well-aged couch in our rec room. To say nothing of the cleanliness of our bathrooms. When it is just us in the house, this stuff just rolls right off of us, but when people are coming over we whip into a frenzy of cleaning, hiding, minimizing, remediating.

I had often thought that this behavior was shame-driven on her part, without stopping to consider that I have the same feelings, just with regard to other objects (car, skylight). I am fully on board with the desire to have clean toilets for guests, mind you. At any case, my obsession with the specific instances of decay that bug me vs. the ones that bug her really gets down to basic power struggle and resentments within the marriage and the fact that we don't find time enough between the two of us to talk things through, as we are caught up in our own shit all the time and taking care of the kids.

And yet, what is the shame all about? It is natural that things fall apart, that's just entropy. As good members of the bourgeoisie, deep within ourselves, we feel that we should not let our things fall apart, or that we should not be seen to be letting them fall apart. So you replace things when they display decay. If you don't, the fear is that you are seen to not have enough money to keep your stuff in shape. Hence shame.

So there is a fear of the perception of poverty, but just behind it is the fear of death.

It will be interesting to read more about what Knausgaard has to say.  I have purposefully held off on reading more of his thinking while I did my own.

Yes, as concerns the furniture, one could argue that we should just declaw the cats.  But that's another discussion.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

The end

Graham and I wrapped up watching the original Star Trek tonight, and I will confess to being deeply saddened to come to the end. Particularly since there was no sense that it was the end, Kirk, Spock and McCoy just ended an episode, not even indicating that they were wrapping up a season, and that was it. They had really grown on me, and the last episode was rather special, since Kirk's soul is switched into the body of a cunning ex-girlfriend mad scientist type, who had always wanted to be a starship captain but had never had what it took.

The impostor Kirk (his girlfriend's soul in Shatner's body) kept trying to keep the real Kirk (in the female body) down, but eventually they figure it out. Spock's steadfastness in asserting that it is indeed Kirk in a woman's body -- even as he is court-martialled and threatened with death -- was particularly touching. I need me some friends like that!

So, anyway, I guess we will move on to The Next Generation.  Everybody says it's awesome. We shall see.

Natalie's play

My mom and I went to see Natalie appear in a play at the high school last night.  It was called DNA. I forget who wrote it. That kind of thing seemed significant at one point in time, now I don't really care. We had planned for Graham to go see it, but Mary had seen it the night before, so Graham stayed home with my mom's husband David and watched Sponge Bob, which I think was more to both of their tastes.

DNA is a "serious" drama about pack behavior amongst teens, who in the course of typical teenage hijinks while drinking and partying torture and then "accidentally" kill one of their weakest, and then concoct a plot to cover it up, which in turn puts somebody else on the line to do life in prison or worse. The teenagers are led by a strong silent type, who spends much of the play pensively eating junk food (it looked awesome), saying nothing, while his girlfriend prattles on existentially about chimps, bonobos, and god knows what else.

I found myself wondering, "why couldn't they do a happy musical?"  Which is so not like me, because this is 100% what I would have wanted when I was their age, or particularly when I was in college. High seriousness in art. Tackling big problems thoughtfully. It is good to encourage young people to think and push boundaries and take themselves seriously. And Natalie did well, even if she was effectively part of the Greek chorus, in a sense one of the consciences of the group. Largely her character kept repeating the phrase "We're screwed!" in a tone of great anxiety, thereby conveying a consciousness of the practical ramifications of what they had done, much more so than the ethical ones. Indeed, when you get right down to it, most of the members of the chorus were like that. Focused less on the ethical issues of what they had done than the practical ones: it was going to be hard to get into good colleges if it was discovered that they had killed someone.

Which was, hopefully, not lost on them. I should discuss that point with Natalie and the other girls.

In principal, I am still for this kind of thing. It was just less enjoyable than watching Parks and Rec with Natalie. Which we did later.

Thursday, November 19, 2015


I had, in all honestly, never heard of Karl-Ove Knausgaard until a couple of months back, or whenever it was the Times magazine published a piece by him about coming to America, getting stuck somewhere in the maritime provinces waiting on some bureaucratic nonsense, and then somehow making his way to Cleveland or wherever. I read some of it and thought, "who is this guy and what's it all about?"

Then, little by little, I became aware that Knausgaard was a literary sensation, writer of an acclaimed series of autobiographical works in which a first-person protagonist writes in considerable detail about the course of his life, including raising children, etc. It sounded, in short, like a much more serious and fictionalized version of a certain blog. Which made me even more resentful of him.

And so, when I saw that he had published a review of Houllebecq's Submission in the Times Book Review, I thought I would give him a chance. I read it. The guy is serious, thoughful. Unlike me, he has managed to attend to the craft of writing, which only makes sense, given that he writes for a living and has done quite well by it, or so it would seem. It would appear that I am going to need to read it.

I was impressed by his diligence, I must confess. He starts reading Houllebecq and discovers that the book revolves around Huysmans, so he goes back and reads Huysmans.

For some reason, it makes me want to read Chekhov stories, in Russian, but I can't find what I believe to be the one volume I have. Oddly, after selling most of my Russian library in Princeton back in 2003 I seem to have retained only things that were core to my major research projects: Mayakovsky, from my senior essay, and Turgenev, Goncharov, Belinskii, Dobroliubov, Pisarev, and Annenkov, from my dissertation. Plus Pushkin. Curious, how I pick things.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Charlie Sheen and fear

The news about Charlie Sheen being HIV-positive this morning was a bit of a shock. Not because of his disease status, when you think what he has been known for in recent years, it shouldn't have been a big surprise, and indeed in most ways it really wasn't.

Instead, it was disruptive news because HIV and AIDS seem to have receded so much as an existential threat, even as the behavior which gives rise to them -- people running around having unprotected sex -- has gotten so much worse as the omnipresence of internet pornography has rippled out through popular culture into the sexual behavior of teenagers, college students, and twenty somethings.

And it took me back to my own college and post-college years, when I was promiscuous as hell so that I could get ongoing ego validation from a range attractive women, and really wasn't as careful as I should have been. And I was afraid to get HIV tested because my fear was so great, so I didn't, for a long time. Which fed snowballing anxiety, and the underlying, somatic sense that everything would soon go off the rails, which I recently alluded to.

How happy I was, then, to get a negative test, and then to settle down into a life of married monogamy. Really. Likewise, how happy I am to have a daughter who does not appear to get inclined to get herself into situations where she could be in trouble.

But I think back to how quickly I flipped a switch from being a kid who didn't get in trouble to one who did, and it makes me really wish I would be home for dinner tonight.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Hither and yon

A busy day of driving around here in suburbia. To AA and back. Natalie and friend to Durham for mock trial, now I've still got to go get them. Graham and friend to the library, then to the friend's house, then home (fortunately that is all rather close by).

In the middle, I ran around the lake. While doing so, as I pushed through the pain of a little groin pull from soccer yesterday (Z -- compression shorts are indeed good, but not a cure all, sadly), I first fixated on some recent unpleasantries around politics associated with a board on which I serve. I realized that, in doing so, I was going back to a pattern of letting myself get hung up on struggles with boss-like figures, and that this whole pattern of perseveration goes back to a core belief, somewhere deep in myself, that things will turn out for the worst, and that I am somehow responsible.

Which is just silly.  So Graham and I watched Star Trek, and everything turned out OK.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Red Scirocco

I was just coming back to the house and I saw a guy in a Red VW Scirocco, probably from '85 or so. Then I got a view of the driver, who appeared to be 80ish. I could not help but smile, because I figure he's probably the original owner.

I feel the guy. As for myself, I am wrestling with whether or not I should put $600 into the interior of our 2001 Volvo S40. Rationally, it's probably stupid to do so, and especially from an emissions perspective. But it is the cheapest way to hold onto a car we know works, and with Natalie coming up on getting her license soon, it's probably smart to do so. We may have to become a 3-car family.

But I know that's not what it's really about. I like holding onto old things. The cassette deck in the car pleases me, and the broken cupholder doesn't break my heart either. There is a perverse pride associated with having things forever, like the stupid futon just behind me here in the office that Mary got when she went off to grad school in '89 or so. It does a great job of holding my briefcase when I come home from work, or the bass guitar that Lor gave me when I was up at his house sometime last year.  So what if nobody ever sits on it.

Yes, in my heart of hearts I'd rather replace it with a comfie couch on which I could take naps.

But back to the Volvo.  There's just something about holding onto it, making it last. It is part of the fundamental, underlying conservatism in my nature that just gets more pronounced as time goes on.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

A movie about Wallace Stevens

I am really excited about the idea of a movie about Wallace Stevens.  Whether I'll actually go and get it is another matter.

Monday, November 09, 2015

My struggle

Just started reading a piece by Liesl Schillinger about Karl Ove Knausgaard, partially envious of how cool it was for her to go and hang out with him, even though I am manifestly unswayed by what little I have read of his work.  Then I realized that, just as I must resist the temptation to watch sports on TV when I could in fact be out exercising or even doing sports, I must fight the tendency to read, and particularly to read about writers, when I know I should be writing. For what is reading about riders if not fantasizing about being one.  And all one really needs to do to be a writer is to write.

Or, it is rather to have something to write about. I just got off the phone with a fellow board member, with who I had spoken for an hour about the dysfunction of our HOA board, which was so very manifest behind the scenes at our annual meeting for the general membership. It was the second longish phone call of the day, and, as such, was rather exhausting.  I know, I know what you're thinking. Whatever the hell was I going through my mind when I put myself forward to be on such a thing.

I suppose I was trying to be a grown up and good upstanding member of the bourgeoisie. Being on boards is very responsible sounding. I'll bet even Clark W. Griswold served his community in this fashion.

This after a day of mostly obsessing about figuring out how to be a good fiduciary and make a well-informed and considered recommendation of a 401k platform for a new client.

It is all just as exciting as it sounds.

Sunday, November 08, 2015

A tight day

Much to do today, a difficult instance of time allocation, on a freaking Sunday, of all days

  1. I'd like to finish my book on the neurobiology of markets
  2. Need to get leaves managed down, especially those on the roof.  This has been quite difficult this year, with all the rain.  But the ones on the roof really need to come down, because they trap water in corners and a big dump of rain is expected early in the week
  3. Memorial service for Scott Clarke
    1. Already did load of shirts so I'd have a clean white one for that
    2. Go pick up Russell beforehand, since he can't drive since he had a stroke
  4. Lake Forest Association annual open meeting at 7:30, where I need to present on the dam and my efforts to get to know it and take care of it, and to fulfill the state mandate to put in place an Emergency Action Plan
  5. Watch Star Trek with Graham, share a few words in the hallway with Natalie
All in all, as with every day, a key theme here is the eternal struggle against decay and aging,  As the example of Scott Clarke points out, cancer is one of the true X-Factors that counsels constant humility, because it is so far beyond our control as to defy description.

It looks like aerobic exercise will suffer today, though if I do any raking in the back yard that gives my muscles some work.

Tomorrow Natalie must be at school at 6:15 am for field trip to DC.

Meanwhile, outside the windows, it's a grey day, and the leaves are coming down in blizzards.  Really it's quite lovely, but would be even better with a little sun.

All in all, I am glad I took the time to blog.

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Moving right along

Graham and I were at the library today.  He's pretty well picked through a lot of the stuff in the kids' section, and I've been trying to get him to look at some of the adult sci-fi and mystery stuff.  As we left the library, we were walking past the teen room, and I was like "hey, maybe you should look in there, you're almost a teenager yourself."

And Graham goes:  "Yeah, I'm in my late tweens."

Monday, November 02, 2015

Let me Be Frank with You

I made my way through Richard Ford's Let Me Be Frank With You.  I was going to say that I had finally made my way through it, but then again it actually didn't take me all that long to read it. It just seemed like it took longer than it did. Which is to say I didn't enjoy it much.

It's difficult to say why.  I really loved the first three Frank Bascombe books. Independence Day in particular really hit home, and I cried at the end of The Lay of the Land when it became apparent that Bascombe was going to be OK.

But now I'm ready to let him go. Ford can just kill him off. Maybe it's because the most recent book is so ham-handedly organized around the topic of Hurricane Sandy, or maybe because somehow the wry neo-Holden Caulfield voice of Bascombe is so incongrous in the brain of a man as old as he is. Maybe it's my fear of my own aging:  am I going to sound like that.

Whatever it is, the book's just not as good as its predecessors. Of course, it is a durned site better than any book I have ever written, I'm well aware of that.

On to the next.  Mouse brought me some very nice books from McIntyre's today at lunch. I'll dig into one of those soon.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

It's hard to give well

The NY Times week in review today had a piece on how Silicon Valley -- in its ultimate wisdom and arrogance -- thinks it has reinvented philanthropy. We can see it in the Gates Foundation's emphasis on metrics, Mark Zuckerberg's attempt to reengineer Newark's schools with a huge dump of cash. There's even a deeply ironic quote from Marc Andreesen saying the Airbnb lets people with spare rooms rent them out, thereby combating unequal distribution of wealth.  Which is crazy talk.

Now, I am not entirely disbelieving of this thesis. I think that Gates, in particular, has really put his back and brain into trying to figure out how to best use his riches. But overall, the technorati are definitely patting themselves on the back with selfie sticks. It's hard to give money away effectively, it's hard in general to determine what is the right way to allocate resources.

That is, in general, what we have government for, and why we elect representatives -- so we can delegate the resource allocation function to people who have made a profession of thinking about it. Now, it is understandable and understood that government doesn't always do this well, that government institutions develop their own inertia and instincts for self-preservation, and that corruption is a real and difficult problem.

But that doesn't mean that the right solution is to have technorati aggregating huge sums and then running out and solving our problems for us. I think it is reasonable that there should be a healthy tension between non-profits and government agencies. The former can move more quickly than the latter, and are more likely to innovate. Government can learn from the non-profit sector, for sure. But the idea that key governmental functions should be ceded to young geniuses just because they made a lot of money and want to feel like they are doing good is silly.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Alternating currents

Back in 2004-7, when I was building a hedge fund practice for the consulting firm where I worked, I read books about hedge funds, amongst them Hedgehogging, by Barton Biggs, who had been at Morgan Stanley before going out and founding his own hedge fund.

More than anything, I remember how Biggs characterized his weekends.  He basically said that he read all day long to stay informed and deepen his knowledge of what he was doing, investing other peoples' money.

I must confess that that sounds pretty good to me, particularly when I spend so much of the week talking to people or trying to do so.  And I do read a lot on weekends.  Which in some ways hamstrings the growth of my business, because weekends are when people are out so much.

I remember early on in my sojourn into the world of sales, talking to another guy who sold for a financial firm.  He said that he had talked to sales recruiters who said that they liked to recruit athletes, and lacrosse players in particular, because they were impervious to pain.  Makes sense.  We also talked about how much each of us liked to be out talking to people and he was in the 7 days a week camp, whereas I am more in the 3 to 4 days a week.

Right now, I have to talk to people more often than that.  In some ways it is only natural, as I'm making up for the 9-10 months where I sequestered myself and studied for the CFP.  Then I talked to people rather infrequently.  To say nothing of the years I spent working on my dissertation.

Truth is, that was excessive in the other direction.  I like talking to people, and listening to them, because in the end people are all we have, and books are in sense a way back to people.  When I studied, I always carved out ways of engaging with people (smoking breaks, calling to raise money for this or that or recruit people to a team or reunion).

I think it's natural for me to oscillate like this, between periods of greater and lesser socializing. But I tell you, it's vital to keep reading and ingesting media other than direct conversations with folx (film, music, dance, whatever), or I shrivel up and die.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Money as the standard of standards

Being a geek and someone who roots for the underdog, I have always been intrigued by the concept of standards, which are so integral to the everyday functioning of our lives but are so hidden that people can't think about them.  Just think about the standards that are enabling this blog post:

  1. HTML -- tells the web browser how to lay things out
  2. TCP/IP -- lets the computers talk to each other
  3. UNICODE or ASCII -- I don't even know, honestly, whatever cross-platform standard there is that tells the computers to associate letters with keystrokes
I'm sure there are lots more that I don't know about.

Or think about standard screw and nut sizes or 2 by 4s and how they let us put things together and design things abstractly before actually implementing.

Listening to a lecture on money from my books-on-"tape" course on economics in the car today it defined money as a:
  1. Medium of exchange
  2. Store of value
  3. Unit of account
That simplified commerce so that people could function in their economic lives, get away from barter and or weighing and scrutinizing gold nuggets. So in a sense, money is the ur-standard on which all other standards are based.

Or maybe language is.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Drop off

I drove Natalie, her Croatian friend Dora, and her Korean friend Esther to a debate tournament at Enloe High School in Raleigh first thing Saturday morning.  Pulling into Enloe's nabe on Clarenden Crescent Drive or some other such Anglo nonsense, I took note of a range of brick ranches with baronial features which told me that probably, when this nabe was being built, back in the mid- to late-60s, it was probably considered rather prestigious.

When we got to the high school, at the first turn in, there was an Indian high schooler holding a sign with an arrow on it, dancing around a little, probably to stay warm in the morning chill.  The arrow told me to keep going to a subsequent entrance.  I had to get pretty close to it to see the arrow, because my new glasses prescription doesn't correct all that well, sadly.

At the next pull-in to the high school, it was an East Asian kid with a sign, doing a similar little jig.

When I finally pulled in to the right entrance, there was a third kid, who seemed to be of maybe mixed East Asian and Anglo parents, pointing us to where to pull up to the curb.  There was an African-American mom escorting her kid in.

And there were some goofballs from the marching band headed out onto the field to practice.

What else could I think but that I was glad to be in America.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Grace, entry #2

At AA this morning there was a discussion of grace and acceptance.  Big topics.

In the course of my profession, I talk to a lot of people, and I hear a lot of very real stuff, both on the telephone and elsewhere. In the last couple of weeks I have heard of

  • Recent diagnoses of breast and colon cancer (thankfully, not in the same person)
  • Bad news about somebody who has been fighting lymphoma
  • Someone's 6-year old getting hit by a car in a way that would have been fatal to an adult
  • A friend who has bad peripheral neuropathy, so numbness and tingling in the extremities
  • Some other degenerative neurological condition (was it muscular dystrophy?)
  • Marriages falling apart for various reasons
In short, all kinds of health and life challenges.

This is, in fact, nothing but a function of being almost 50 and being in touch with a lot of people. Statistically speaking, things are going to happen, and the laws of large numbers dictate that, if you are paying attention to a bunch of people, you are going to hear about it.

Very few of these situations are ones in which the participants could have done anything to prevent them, whatever they may tell themselves. So in the end, the best tools we have at our disposal for dealing with these challenges are attitudinal, and in a sense spiritual.

There is a temptation for me to "count my blessings," to compare myself to everyone else and say "at least that's not happening to me."  But to some extent they are happening to me, just not to members of my nuclear family right now.  They are happening to me, I just don't know about them.

And we have faced our own challenges, be they Graham's autism, Natalie's accelerated puberty, my substance abuse and other mental health challenges, and Mary's stuff too (the marital equivalent of HIPAA keeps me from digging into any of that, but it's all just aging, really).

In short, if I choose to curse existence and whatever deity I choose, I get myself in trouble. If I accept that whatever's happening is just a probabilistic instantiation of stuff that's gonna happen to somebody, and stay positive about it, I'm much better off.

Friday, October 23, 2015


Left the Prius on the whole time I was playing tennis with Z this morning.  Stupid hybrid.

Later, was sitting on the couch reading a light morsel of an article by my neighbor Daniel Wallace when it occurred to me that I had really better be writing than reading, so I came upstairs to do so, when my eye espied the bass guitar that Lor gave me some months back. So I played that for a little while, before remembering that I was meant to write.

And now, here I am.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

A judgment

I had breakfast with a woman a month or so back.  She is in a "business development" -- aka sales -- role for a consulting firm of sorts.  She allowed that she had not, as yet, sold anything. She also said that she could so some recruiting but -- she hastened to add -- she could not hire anybody with gaps in their resumes, because if someone can't go out and find a job, well then, they're just not any good.

And I'm thinking, but if you're in sales and have sold nothing and brought in no revenue, you arguably should not have the job that you have.

Later, she was telling me about her husband, who was retired.  He had a Phd, and not only that, had had a post-doc. Now, why the reputation of someone who has had a full career should be burnished by having had a post-doc is well beyond me.  I had one. Big deal.

People are funny.

*That would include me.  In the morning, after writing the above, it occurred to me that -- though I was harshing on this woman for being judgmental of others who had been nominally unemployed, look at me there standing in judgment over her, someone whom I had met only briefly a couple of times, someone I hardly know.  Life is complex, for sure. The real question is: what put me in a mood yesterday to get all high and mighty on her.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

What the kids want

When I suggested to Graham this evening that we watch Star Trek, he insisted that he first have time to read the new Nutrition Action, so that he'd be better informed about updated details of dietary research that he could in turn lord over his peers in school.  He got his reading done, and then we did get in an episode before bedtime.  Spock said "sensor" several times, which I just love.

On Natalie's side, a big moment was the arrival of the soundtrack to Hamilton, purchased generously by Mr. Auntie Bethy.  When I told Natalie it had arrived, she belted out an enthusiastic "Yes!" which echoed to the rafters of our crib.  She has since been singing along with the soundtrack in her room quite a bit.