Saturday, April 30, 2016

Parabola of talents

At JFK this morning, I had my first Shake Shack experience.  As I bit into my bacon, egg, and cheese, I started to think about what I was going to write about the sandwich and experience. And then I stopped and asked myself: "has the world asked me for a review of Shake Shack? If not, why do I feel compelled to offer it?"

So I stopped, and concentrated on the sandwich, and the music, and the people gliding past, and the general sensation of leaving one place and group of people that have meant a lot to me en route to another.

All was good. But the instinct to write, such as it is, that wells up within me, is always and everywhere a manifestation of a fundamental sense that writing is what I should be doing and that, if I have not done it, I am somehow incomplete, I have not fulfilled my contract with Being. Which is at once a little silly and perhaps in its own way tragic, as this urge pulls me ever onward, elsewhere and away from simple presence.

The sandwich, by the way, was good, though I found myself wishing that, at that price point, it should have been on a hard roll. But I know that is just me, and that the bacon, egg and  cheese on a hard roll takes me back to a special time in my life, when I had come to the Northeast and was casting off the complexities of a childhood and adolescence that were not without challenges, when I had met Hilary and was pointed forward into a new world full of promise. It is, in short, a special sandwich, one that I ask a lot of at times. But that is understandable, for something with a name like bacon, egg, and cheese. Of those to whom much is given, much is expected.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016


On the way back from Asheville the other night I stopped off at about 9 at a Sheetz to get gas and something to eat. Not the best food, but the quickest way to get something less than utterly disgusting and get gas. I was proud of my logic.

So I filled up and got me a fish sandwich, put some Dinosaur Jr. into the car stereo and was psyched for the last leg of my journey. I got back on the highway. A few minutes down the road I saw a sign that said Statesville 13 miles, Asheville 112 miles and I cursed myself mightily. I had made the rookie error of getting back on the highway going the wrong direction. I probably added 25-30 minutes to my trip by the time I was able to turn around.

I have speculated before on the way that Google Maps has caused my tendency to learn roads and internalize directions to atrophy. I trust the device almost entirely, so I space out and don't learn my way around. Cary and Raleigh, in particular, remain terrae incognitae for me to a great extent, especially Cary, because I let Sergei and Larry do the heavy lifting, space out, and coast along going tra la la or, just as likely, perseverating about something I will have forgotten about in 4 days.

But this was the first time that it made me think that not only was I not learning specific regions, but that my attentiveness to direction in general had somehow begun to slip. Now, it was, admittedly, rather late, and I had had a long day of learning about the ravages of the opioid epidemic, and I am also getting older, but still. Getting on the interstate in the wrong direction is a new one.

Excitement about the fish sandwich and rock and roll admittedly played their parts as well.

Monday, April 25, 2016


At the conference on Friday, I attended a session on Motivational Interviewing, which is a technique that docs working in the substance abuse world and probably other parts of behavioral health use to work with patients who are resisting change. Which is to say, practically, everybody.

So, if you have some ornery cuss sitting there saying he has no interest in quitting drinking and his wife is a bitch etc. etc., you don't fight it, you try to ride the wave of discontent, listen for core issues, repeat back what the person is saying in slightly different ways, establish yourself as an ally. The docs are all about staying calm, showing empathy, looking for openings.

It was all very professional and compassionate, but there was an emphasis as well on not being judgmental, keeping an even tone. There was some overlap with things I've heard on sales training CDs, honestly, but the accents were in very different places.

So we did some role playing, and I was paired with this very nice young doctor from Raleigh. It was a struggle for me at first, but then I got better. But at the end of the sessions when I was playing doctor I kept going back to enthusiastically praising him for the progress he had made ("It sounds like you're doing great!") instead of keeping it even keel.  And each time he cracked up and said something like "And that'll be $100."

It occurred to me how salesmanlike I must have sounded to him, with his trained clinical restraint. Which is kind of an odd place for me, to have gotten to that point so quickly. But, whatever, it is what it is.

Nice guy, good training, good learnings. I should dial it back a little sometimes. I effuse sometimes when I'm nervous, I reckon.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Members Only

At the conference the other day somebody made reference to the metaphor of finding money in the street, and my mind drifted back to....

Moscow, 1998.  I was walking down the street, I think with Mary, when a plastic bag of US bills, most likely hundreds, fell from the waistband or pocket of a pasty, somewhat heavy-set fellow who was wearing, if memory serves correctly, a Members Only jacket. Rather quickly, a younger dude processed what was going on, grabbed the bag of money, looked me in the eye and gestured to an adjacent alleyway and said, quietly, "come on, we'll split it 50-50."

It all happened in seconds, too fast to do the absolute right thing, which would have been to yell to the guy who had dropped the money. But that would have been interjecting myself into a conflict which could have escalated quickly in what was, in many ways, a rather lawless environment. In any case, I passed on the opportunity to share in the windfall, and the second guy scurried off into the alleyway as quick as he could.

I feel bad about it to this day. Who knows what happened to the guy who dropped the bag? If it was enough money and it wasn't all his, he could have been killed for being so stupid and careless. If it was all his, he got hosed. Either way, he was an idiot for not having secured his cash better. Almost certainly, he went and got shit-faced and hid from someone, either his boss or his wife.

Moscow was a place for members only.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

On the Road Again

After some months of not going anywhere, I drove to DC and back, then to Asheville and back this week.  1150-odd miles, all told. courtesy of the Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways, numbers 40, 85, and 95 (and tributaries thereof).

It was good to get out, I had some good meals, saw some friends, met with some clients, as well as some prospects.

It was all capped a visit to the Addiction Medicine Conference sponsored by the Governor's Institute on Substance Abuse, of which I am now a board member, thanks to Matthew Sullivan of the Chapel Hill Police Department and now running the Fire Department, who had the good sense to throw my drunk ass in jail back in 1991, nudging me in the direction of recovery, eventually.

This was a good conference, as conferences go. It was pretty awesome to be in the company of doctors almost exclusively, to observe them trying to figure out how to do best by their patients. Mostly there was talk of heroin and other opioids, which are the things killing the most Americans these days. It was pretty amazing to dig into the complexity of it all.

Take Buprenorphine, for example. On the one hand, Bupe, as it is known in the field, is a promising tool in the treatment of opioid addiction, and there's a desire to expand its use in general. Unlike methadone, addicts don't have to go into the clinic every day to get a dose, you can write a month's prescription, making everyone's life easier. On the other hand, addicts have figured out that if you grind up certain types of Bupe (the generic, for instance), you can inject it and get really high. In some sense, it's not even the addicts doing the figuring out, it's the disease of addiction driving the process, using the addicts as slaves.

At about 6 yesterday, at the end of a long day, maybe 150 doctors were sitting there arguing the fine points of what type of Bupe should be given to pregnant women addicts: the straight variety, or mixed with Naloxone (long story).  They dug pretty deep into the discussion for 15 minutes. It was impressive, because they really cared.

Overall, that was the impression of the conference. A bunch of doctors who really cared about their patients trying to figure out how the heck to make their lives better. Full stop. I'll go back next year, if I can swing it.

One codicil: most of the doctors seemed to be Republicans, at least the older ones. I know that they work in a heavily regulated domain and resent the extent to which the government makes it hard for them to do their jobs and earn the livings they thought they would earn when they gave up years of their earning lives to med school and residency. But they also work closely with lower-income populations and people of color all day, and overall care deeply about these people's lives, you can see it and hear it when you talk to them. I would like to get to know more of them better to get a sense of what they think the right policy approaches are to our most vexing problems but, like all things, those are long and complicated conversations, and time is the most precious of all commodities in most contexts.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Mashing comfort

Got home this evening stressed out about a couple of things I have to do tomorrow, and was a little bummed that Graham hadn't done his homework, which meant there was no hope of watching Next Generation together while mashed together in the 20-year old, fast-degenerating armchair in my study, as we are wont to do. Nonetheless, we were able to get in about 40 minutes of reading on the couch while playing footsie.  I got better. Prolonged bodily contact with a child is so calming and grounding. Whatever will I do when he ages out of it, as Natalie did so long ago? (As documented here)

It is nice to snuggle with Mary too, admittedly, but it is somehow different. And she comes to bed so damned late.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Return to Northgate

I hadn't been to Northgate Mall in I don't know how long. Mostly I have fond memories of going there with my mom's parents and hitting the K&W Cafeteria and ordering pretty much one of everything: fried chicken, baked spaghetti, garlic bread, pie, cornbread. It was ridiculous, but beautiful in its own way.

That is long gone. In its place is a food court which is occupied, oddly enough, by chains you have never heard of. There is a fake Sbarros, an estwhile Cinnabons, etc. All the regular types of food stalls are there, they just aren't name brands. Which is odd, in some sense.

In another sense, it's not. Northgate is now a distinctly lower- to lower-middle wealth mall. Most of the people I saw there were people of color, and those that weren't weren't the fanciest.

I saw categories of stores I'd never seen before, including a cafe of smells, selling scented candles, oils, etc. It was presided over by a woman in hijab. There was a carousel, and a bouncy house. In the jewelry store, a woman was talking to a friend on the phone..

But most importantly, I found what I was looking for, a Radio Shack that was still open, and though they didn't have the adapter I needed for my phone headset, they had another perfectly nice and functional headset for 20 bucks.

My overriding feeling upon leaving the mall was that I really hope that Jeff Bezos does not succeed in his mission to consume the world. There were all these small shops there, selling people things they needed and things they didn't. Nobody was making much money, but they were all getting through the day in good form. And there was a bouncy house and a carousel, which Amazon conspicuously lacks.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Newfound limits

A couple of weeks ago, during a preseason soccer game, I pulled my right hamstring sprinting flat out on an overlapping run, which was a shame, because I had gotten past their striker, then the midfielder, and even the wing back, and all that was between me and the goal was their sweeper and keeper (both of them admittedly quite decent). It was a moment of considerable potential glory. And then my left calf seized up, followed immediately by the right hamstring.

So I nursed them and went kind of easy on them, went to practice a couple of times to play my way into shape, played another game. Then yesterday, I had gone forward, had an opportunity to strike the ball from not too far outside the opponent's box. I wound up and struck the ball well, and felt a vicious pain in my hammy.  I gave a good shriek, and was told subsequently that I cursed loudly.

I think I am starting to see some patterns here. My first season back I strained ligaments at the top of my quad from kicking goal kicks. My second season I sprained some fingers after leaving my feet to make a fantastic defensive play running at tippy-top speed. And now this.

I keep thinking that individual muscle groups are getting accustomed to playing flat out, while at the same time I'm getting a little education on the holistic limits of my body. I had no idea shooting the ball hard would mess up a hamstring like that. Never did before. I wonder why?

Josh says that he no longer kicks the ball hard, period. In general I have a hard time restraining myself. Take yesterday for example. I've never scored a goal from the area where I was shooting from, though, in principal, there's no good reason why I shouldn't. I can kick the ball pretty durned hard, and if I could just put it on target... well, it would be frickin awesome.

But my body has newfound limits, or at least at the level of conditioning where I am. The real question, then, is why I care. What does it matter to me that I ever score on a long shot? If I can acknowledge the danger of it, why can't I get it through my head that my body, at least as currently constituted, resists a wide range of actions carried out at 100%?  Why can't I learn to operate at 85%?

Part of it, I think, is that I still haven't fully overcome growing up scrawny and not all that athletic. Puberty was immensely helpful, yes. I became an athlete, but most of my athletic success was on account of gross motor skills (speed, jumping, fearlessness, kicking the ball long), not skill and control. Or at least that's how I conceived of myself.

So I am loathe to let that go, even though I know that I have to graduate into a more statesmanlike role. Net net, I have to let go of the idea of chasing the dream, the highlight sequence for bedtime in which I strike the perfect strike or run the perfect run. Which is all the harder when the very idea of playing sports like soccer when already greying is holding on to the glory of adolescence.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Karl Ove Knausgaard, My Struggle, Book 3

So I just wrapped up Book 3 of Knausgaard's somehow stupendous work, and cannot wait to move on to Book 4, wherever it takes me. One of these days he's going to start about the crazy mass murderer fascist guy up there in Norway, for those of you who remember him. Here in America we have so many it's hard to keep them straight in our minds, sometimes.

In any case, it continues to be a remarkable piece of work, first and foremost in the extent to which, by digging deep into his own experience and holding nothing back (how he cried all the time even at the age of 13 and was mocked for it, how he was called a "jessie" [apparently an effeminate male] and fag-baited in middle school) he lets the reader -- or this one at least -- access his own memories. Of course, this is the most standard stuff of realistic narrative -- reader identifying with narrator -- and in theoretical circles one of the most hotly contested claims of literature, that it's all illusory blah blah blah.

But the great thing about being out of the business of literature is of course that I don't have to care about any of that. I can just read and think and write whatever I freaking please, without having to worry about the theoretical legitimacy of what I'm saying, which is another way of saying I don't have to be concerned about marketing and positioning my writing. I can just fart it out.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

The monumental egocentricity of me at 50

I will confess that I want the world to revolve around me today.  It is my 50th birthday, and I would very much like the traffic to part, the trees to bend down, and water to flow uphill. Even still, it was a little odd to launch a new screen in my browser and find that Google was wishing me happy birthday. Sergei and Larry are so sweet, so thoughtful.

In general, however, it is not happening. Though my work is buying me lunch, and my boss sent me home early, and a bunch of people have texted congratulations, and we are going out to dinner tonight, it is still very much a day like any other, albeit a lovely one,

My desire for world domination differs in degree if not in kind from my job in general, in which I endeavor to bend the world to my will by convincing people to entrust their financial wherewithal to me and my firm. Which is by no means easy. It is a world of continual attention begging, like the Hispanic kids in the subway crying to their mother:  "Mama, mira mira." (I don't know why this phrase and behavior stands out to me more for Hispanic kids than Anglo ones. I know my kids never begged for attention...).

At any rate, as always, let me just reiterate how much I appreciate the continued readership of all of you, even as I am able to dedicate ever-varying levels of attention to the craft of writing here. I would say that I do it for you, as in the immortal words of the dying nanny in The Omen ("It's all for you, Damien"), but of course I do it for me, because I appreciate your attention, which is, in this world of limitless communication channels, media, distractions, and demands on people's time, that most precious of commodities. Purest gold.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Life/Schedule: full vs. empty

On Sunday mornings I awake all too often with a sense of scarcity: my schedule for the day stretches about before me, leading too quickly into Monday, when it all begins again. This is particularly true on a day like today, when I have:

  1. A memorial service
  2. A soccer game
  3. A charity concert
And also laundry (must do at mom's house while we wait for our new machine to arrive), summer scheduling, business trip scheduling, emails to friends. In the evening Graham and I will finish the last of the Bourne movies.

The fact is, I will enjoy these things and all of them will be done with people I love and are for good causes, but viewed beforehand they exhaust me (not the Bourne movie, to be sure).

A large part of me just wants to sit and look out the window and read and think and, yes, write. There are all these books on my shelves that call out for attention, as do my guitar and bass. Deep in the basement, my bicycle is also neglected.

In short, my life is full, and part of me resents the external things that pull me away from the things that I "want" to do.  But I also know from experience that, when I have lots of free time, and this has happened during periods when I have been in "career transition," I panic and cannot focus on the long-term things that I theoretically should be doing. 

And hell, even now, as I am building my business, during the week it is not as if I am always overwhelmed with client work. Much of the time I am out looking for clients, really looking for attention. It is the nature of being relatively early stage in a business.

So, in some sense, this is just a short-cycle "grass is greener" thing. I need to learn to use the fallow time during the week to do some of the things I want to do on weekends.

Saturday, April 09, 2016

Vive la difference

I had coffee this week with an older African American gentleman whom I had met recently, and it came too light that he was a Republican. It surprised me to meet a black Republican,, especially in North Carolina these days, so after we talked for a while about business and basic getting to know you stuff I brought the conversation around to politics.

He said that he felt that Obama had done a lot of things to mess up the country, and especially around gay marriage.  Earlier that week, he said, while doing some outreach work for his church, he had taken a fellow parishioner who was blind into the county clerk's office. While there, a marriage between two women was being officiated. It seems from his recounting that they had their hands all over themselves, because he gently launched into a little peroration about marriage being about more than sex and affection and so on.

He also said that he was on the board of some charter schools and that he was astounded at the attitudes of kids that things should and would just be handed to them. The fundamental grounding for his support for the Republicans was that he felt they were just more pro-business, as he was. I must say, being out in the business world, I get that. Compliance is hard, and in many ways it is much easier to promulgate regulation than it is to right-size it. It honestly gets scaled back by the sheer difficulty of funding and administering its enforcement.

It is difficult to engage in values-based discussions of politics with people who come from backgrounds different from your own. For one, we're always just working on earning our own livings and/or taking care of our own offspring. Or writing our own blogs. But there is very little that is more important.

Sunday, April 03, 2016

Bread crumbs

I was at a very foody event towards the end of the day Friday, and the chef was describing the bread crumbs that were the component of one of the dishes:  "The bread crumbs come from bread from bakery X in Durham, which was made from organic flour from farm Y somewhere out in the country," honestly there were probably significantly more words involved than that. It was more than over the top. He just kept talking so much.

It reminded me of my resistance to excessive adjectives and other modifiers on menus in fancy restaurants up in New Jersey.  I see I have written about this before.

Mary pointed out that it was really just marketing and, as being someone engaged frequently in sales and marketing, I suppose I should get that. Even still, it was a bit much. I would have rather had more time to just eat and chat with the people at my table rather than be hit over the head by this authoritative voice from above telling me about the virtues of all the small producers and farmers in the region, which is really just one story, made flesh by many hands.

Saturday, April 02, 2016

Driving self and family

In the middle of volume 3, young Knausgaard and his family are driving north to his mother's parents' farm in summer. He describes passing rest areas along the road where people stopped and had picnics.

"I would ask after seeing such a rest areas because breaks, alongside ferry crossings, belonged to the high points of the journey. We, too, had a cooler bag in the trunk; we, too, had a thermos, juice, and a little pile of plastic glasses, cups, and plates with us. "Don't pester me," Dad would say then, desperate to cover as many kilometers as he could in one go. That meant, at the very least, we would have to drive to the end of Setesdalen, past Hovden and Haukeligrend and up Mount Haukeli, before the question of a break even came into consideration. Then we would have to find a suitable place because we would not take the first opportunity, oh no:  if the stops were few and far between, then the location of the rest area had to be something special."

I won't go so far as to say that my dad was just like this, but it rings very true, both for him and for me. I recognize even in myself the intense focus on covering enough ground to justify the stop, as if there is some sort of metaphysical or moral measure there. How could one stop after only 35 minutes? We have not earned it. Where does this logic come from? Whence this excess sternness, this completely superfluous goal orientation.

I know that, on long trips, I am constantly counting time, miles, gas mileage, thinking about traffic we are likely to hit around DC, or New York, or whatever. I am, at least, pretty decent about taking rest stops whenever. I am, indeed, the prime urinator on our trips, though I get it honest, to be sure, as a man fast approaching 50. So I'm not a stop Nazi about that stuff.

But there are other things. I hate to cross over so that we need to make a left turn when we're done with our stop. I had totally forgotten it, but Leslie assures me I got this from dad.

Friday, April 01, 2016

Reading Buffett's letters

A couple of years ago I got a copy of Warren Buffett's collected annual letters to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders, from 1965-2012. Like many books, it sat on my shelf for some time, calling out to me occasionally for attention. A couple of weekends ago I started making my way through it, and I've now read through 1976. Here are a few initial observations.

  • The early letters are pretty dry. He hasn't yet found his sea legs as the "Oracle of Omaha," but you can see wisdom emerging in them. Or maybe I'm just imputing it to the text because I know what he develops into later.
  • He never talks about Berkshire Hathaway's stock price. Although in the charts and tables at the beginning of the book (not published by Berkshire Hathaway itself) we can see how the stock did relative to the S&P 500, as well as the growth in its book value (Buffett's preferred metric), he never brings it up.
  • In fact, there aren't that many numbers at all. Buffett talks mostly in broad strokes about factors impacting the various operating businesses.
  • He is unfailingly gracious. Mostly, he praises the executives running the underlying operating businesses by name. When a business unit has a failure, he doesn't call out people by name.
  • Berkshire Hathaway was originally a textiles business, and it was going south already by the time Buffett bought it, but Buffett continued to prop it up because the business was a major employer in the New England towns where it operated. He cites the importance of these businesses as employers explicitly as reasons to keep the businesses going. He was a good guy from the beginning, and outside shareholders weren't pressing him to make profits at all costs from day 1.
  • Odd things impact businesses in unexpected ways. Nixon's going off the gold standard and putting in place wage and price freezes in 1971 messed up the textiles business pretty good. More importantly, jury awards in the mid-70s changed what insurers had to pay on policies, effectively extending the liabilities of Berkshire's insurance subsidiaries and screwing with their businesses. Buffett just calls this "social inflation," explains what it is in few words and how it affects the insurance subsidiaries, and gets on with his business. He does not bemoan fate, or call in armies of lobbyists. Or at least he doesn't talk about it.
I'll keep reading and report back periodically.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Anger management

I was having some trouble downloading some pdfs and jpegs this woman had sent us for an invite to Mary's upcoming show at the Frank Gallery and I found myself pounding on my desk. Sometimes I get frustrated when I feel I am overextended and have too many things pulling at me.

Clearly this is a function of failing to set boundaries, to define what I should be doing and what I shouldn't be, to prioritize, etc. etc. I think it comes up more in connection with Mary, probably, because it is all too easy to get mad at your spouse because, in some sense, that's what they are for. They can be repositories and targets for all the frustrations we can't vent on the outside world, because to do so would be unseemly.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Easter egg MVP

Our tradition in recent years has been that Natalie hides Easter eggs for Graham to find, and vice versa.  This year it is very wet and rainy, so we did it inside. Graham hid (and Natalie searched) upstairs. After about 15 minutes or so, she had about 18 of 20 and had done pretty thorough searching, so she decided to throw in the towel and head downstairs for some feasting.

At about that time Rascal, the more social of our two cats, appeared on the staircase and nudged a pink egg through the banister. It crashed to the ground and opened, spraying jelly beans across the floor. She is a clever one.


We moved offices a week or so back. The whole moving crew was young African-American guys, with the exception of one Hispanic fellow.

When it came time to order them lunch, I took on the arduous chore (I jest, lest you linger in doubt) of getting their orders. We were going to order from Jimmy John's, but a number of them weren't familiar with that establishment, and were a little uncomfortable ordering from a place where they didn't know the menu. One of them was uncomfortable ordering roast beef that was pink, he liked it brown. Several of them asked for extra mayo, one of them wanted extra oil and vinegar. I tend to view sandwiches from chains as commodities (though I do know what I like from Subway, etc.), but I had the impression that this was a pretty novel experience for some of these guys and they didn't want to squander it and/or get something they really wouldn't like.

Later, one of them had apparently been talking to our Chief Investment Officer about what we did, and was asking for financial advice. The CIO said talk to me about how much money one needed to work with us, and I sheepishly named a figure well below what is considered the minimum for having a profitable client relationship, while saying I'd be happy to just talk to him. Unfortunately I didn't have a card on me, and didn't connect with the guy later. I would have liked to have been able to just tell him the basics (save, don't try to get rich quick by beating market, use revolving credit cards warily).

These guys were working their butts off, carrying heavy boxes and furniture up stairs. When they realized how late their day was likely to go (ended up being till about 9pm), they groaned a little. They marvelled at the machine the guys from the copier company had, which slowly moved the delicate copier up the stairs.

I'm making an effort to chronicle all this because, in fact, at this point in time in my life I have so little contact with younger Black people. For the most part, I interact with African-Americans primarily on Facebook, where I'm connected with lots of people from my high school. This is considerably better than nothing. Especially since being fast-tracked academically as a youth put me in what was essentially a segregated school environment.

At times I can only agonize that the nature of my profession is so intensely focused on helping middle-class and richer people defend their class status. I see younger Black so rarely.  There is one kid from a rehab that has been turning up at the Sunday morning AA meeting I have been going to regularly who comes from an entirely different place than me, but who speaks so beautifully, who seems to be really getting it. I need to make my way across the room to him next time I am there and introduce myself, before he is hustled into the waiting van and taken back to rehab. I don't know why they do that.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Fear and the father

I'm making my way through Volume 3 of Karl Ove Knausgaard's My Struggle now. This tome tracks the young Karl Ove and his family as they move to a new subdivision on an island in southern Norway and begin a new life, in his case, school. So it starts when he's 5 or so.

As with the other volumes, it rings true emotionally. In particular Karl Ove's fear of his father, his self-consciousness moving around the house, his concern that his dad my blow up at him at any moment. This is really the primary shading of our narrator's life, the fear of being chastised for just about anything, the cold distance of the father.

One episode in particular stands out. Karl Ove and his dad are alone in the house before school, and his dad feeds him some corn flakes (about which he had already waxed poetic) for breakfast. The milk his dad had given him had gone bad, but Karl Ove, fearing his dad's temper, eats his bowl of cereal anyway. Then his dad sits down to join him:

"Ugh!" he said "The milk's off! Oh, good grief"
Then he looked at me. I would remember that look for the rest of my life. His eyes were not angry, as I had expected, but amazed, as though he was looking at something he could not comprehend. Indeed, as though he were looking at me for the very first time.
And here it is as if Knausgaard has pulled the curtain back on a whole new layer of consciousness, the father who cannot begin to fathom the level of fear he instills in his son.

I get it. As an adult I am still driven by my own demons, my own insecurities, despite the profusion of grey hair on my head, and it is hard at times to imagine how my own behavior is perceived by my kids. What is it they say: "There are no real grown ups." We just look like them, we just play the roles.

Anyhow, it is now time to go play the role. If I can get dinner nudged through quickly enough, there might just be time enough for me and Graham to watch an episode of Next Generation. Or we can just lie on the couch and read with our feet under the blanket.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Turning a corner

Just glanced at the blog and was surprised to see the consistent negativity there. That shows I have been slipping in my ability to appreciate the good stuff around me. For example, I now have an office with four walls and everything, and it is Spring and everything is in bloom or bud.

Yesterday I picked up Natalie from her ultimate game out at Friends School and it occurred to me that she could drive home from there. So she did.  It was late in the day, so there was tail end of rush hour traffic, albeit on country roads, and there was some slightly blinding light from the horizon, so she wore a baseball cap and used the visor too. But she handled it all like a champ, accelerating as high as 45 momentarily. She has come a considerable distance from her major tear-spouting the first time I picked her up from behind the wheel training, which just broke my heart.

In any case, yesterday was lovely.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Fight or flight? Flight

After the meeting today, I went up to this guy who had shared about going to a meeting somewhat randomly while he was out of town and then having the opportunity to commune with a newcomer. He had told it beautifully, and I engaged with him on the topic.

I said something that set him off, and he started talking. It quickly became clear that I had unwittingly placed myself in the grip of a dogmatist. He started talking about how there were people who came to meetings that weren't really alcoholics, but were really just heavy drinkers, as was described in AA's Big Book, and they weren't really alcoholics because blah blah blah blah blah. And I was looking at the clock, feeling annoyance rise from deep within me as my Sunday slipped away from me listening to this guy who felt a need to share his authoritative wisdom. I was saved by someone telling us that a steering committee meeting was about to convene, and I made my way to the bathroom.

I know damn good and well whence comes my aversion to this kind of person. I won't even say it.

Thursday night, I was at Local 506 for a friends and clients meeting of a law firm with whom I am friends. I saw this grey-haired lawyer holding a beer talking to a buddy of mine and I said to myself, "he looks familiar, I'll bet he knew dad." So I went over and talked to them and my friend introduced us and, sure enough, he knew dad, and told me he had a story to tell me.

So many years before, in the early 90s, he had been returning from the beach through the sleepy, moss-hung town of Maysville with his family when he saw a barefooted guy on the side of the road with a pillowcase over his shoulder, thumbing a ride.  At which point in time he says to his wife "That was Mike Troy, I gotta go back and pick him up." To which his wife responded "Are you crazy? We have 3 kids in the car, there's no room." But he picked up dad anyway.  Apparently dad and his then girlfriend had had a tiff of some sort and dad set out to make it home using only feet and thumb. In any case, for the lawyer and his family, the ride back to Chapel Hill passed more quickly and easily than it ever had before, as my dad regaled the kids with stories and jokes of this, that and the other.

So there you have it. If you were subjected to a lot of my dad, he was overbearing and ultimately unbearable, because it became apparent that he was incapable of listening to others, because he knew the answers to everything already. If, on the other hand, you saw him only rarely, he was almost a magical figure, because he always had another story to fill the gaps.