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.

Saturday, March 19, 2016


I have now arrived at the moment when I have become accustomed to blogging each week, Saturday morning, between Al Anon and taking Graham to martial arts. If I can permit myself, it is a time of relative quiet and reflection, before I snap into being dad and spouse. Often I have a clear topic in mind.

Not so today. Came home and was distracted at trying to fix one practical matter (I won't bore you with it), then went to close the windows upstairs because it's chilly and promises to continue being so. While doing so, in my peripheral vision I saw something describe an arc. I turned and focused on it, and saw it was a red-tailed hawk alighting from one branch to another down the hill. Now, I'm not going to break all mystical on you about the beauties of nature, but I will say that it is very cool to see hawks flitting from branch to branch like that in the yard, even though I should allow that it is odd that we should consider it calming to see mighty predators like that hanging out by the crib.

Reminds me of seeing Jeff, the guy who is responsible for The Monti series of live storytelling around the Triangle here, telling a tale of going running in the Carolina North woods (to those of us who grew up in and around Glen Heights back in the day, these were known just as "the woods") and mysteriously losing his hat. Turned out, he later figured out, it was stolen by an owl, most likely, which he realized when he heard of others losing their hats in the woods. I kinda suspected it from the beginning, because I remember Mike Long sharing on Facebook about being attacked in his yard by a hawk while doing yard work in Cary one day.

But the topic of the Monti, where I have long thought of trying to speak, makes me think of what should be a real, longer blog post, which will draw together themes I have shared over the years, and which could turn into a Monti talk.....

stay tuned

Friday, March 18, 2016

The inner game, spoken

Out on the tennis court with Z today, I found myself yelling at myself things like "Stupid!" when I made poor shot selection or just executed poorly. I had to remind myself that I would never speak to someone else like that, and wonder why I do it to myself.

The tendon tenderness I've been experiencing for a couple of months now didn't cripple me, which makes me optimistic for soccer season, coming on fast.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Crazy talk

At the end of the work day I met with a couple of youngish ladies in the lobby of a Marriott Courtyard Suite where 54 hits 55, just off 40 so I could be schooled in how to maintain a web site built on WordPress. Not too difficult.

As we sat there, corporate travelers streamed into the hotel with their little rolly bags, seeking direction as to where to go and eat, "Where can we get bbq, or a steak?" Perversely, I found myself a little jealous of the simplicity of their lives: go get dinner, go to hotel room, sleep, get up and go present at client or perform project work, collect salary.

Amazing how quickly the grass starts to look greener on the other side. Hell, what do I know? For all I know those people carried heavy sales quotas. I used to hate business travel, and rightly so.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Short takes

Quickly on some books I've read recently:

Red Notice.  Hedge fund manager Bill Browder, who was robbed blind and kicked out of Russia by Putin some years ago, wrote this book about his own trajectory, but more about Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer who was on his team and was pretty much killed in Russian prison but refused to repent or submit to pressure to lie. This is a good, not a great book, but it gives considerable insight into how business was done in Russia back in the day, and, more importantly, Browder shows himself to have been truly indefatigable in campaigning in DC for justice for Magnitsky and sanctions against the Putin regime by the US government. Also gives a pretty good window into how DC works, the importance of access to people who know people.  "Human capital," as it were.

The Last Girls, My dad idolized Lee Smith, really worshipped the ground she walked on. She represented all that he aspired to in the Hillsborough literary scene. And, as human a human being as he was, I figured I'd give her a shot, and I picked this book up at Nice Price in Durham one day when I took the kids there (just as he and my mom had always taken us to used book stores). This is a good novel, not mind-blowing, but a solid, humane, earnest piece of humanism geared at helping us understand how people grow and how they come to feel about the complex trajectories of their lives as they live them. As a plus, as the title states, it's mostly about women, a group of them, so as a male it's helpful to me in terms of getting women's perspectives on life.

And, for all the rigor mortis that successive waves of theory threw at literature and art in recent decades, this is a noble function, and not easy. I will read more Lee Smith. In this, as in many things, my dad was not wrong.

The Old Man and the Sea, I snagged this nugget of Hemingway in the PTA Thrift one day last year. We were in there and we ran into Juan, the father of Graham's classmate Jasper, who piped enthusiastically about having picked up a first edition of this book there. And then I saw this little volume at that PTA discount.

In contrast to the Lee Smith, and not surprisingly for old Earnest, this is a book about being a man. An old guy who hasn't caught anything for a long time goes out and hooks a big one and struggles mightily to bring it to shore, showing great respect for his adversary. It's a riff on Moby Dick.

A fine book, reminds me of the benefits of going back and re-reading the people I used to read (though this was my first time with this one). All too often I treat books like scalps or trophy kills, I want to bag them and put them on my wall. Why, after all, am I writing these little reviews?  In fact, there is much benefit in going back and revisiting things that used to seem meaningful.

Decoded, Ma Jia. I have no idea how this contemporary Chinese "mystery" novel came to my attention. At first it seemed good, kind of mythic in its ambition and scope. As it progressed it seemed to devolve into something infused with Socialist Realism. Sort of ham-handed. Honestly, I didn't finish it. Something in me wants to go back and finish it, but I probably won't.

The Payoff: Why Wall Street Always Wins, Jeff Connaughton. A decent, not a great book, by a guy who had a successful career in the revolving door of DC, mostly within the sphere of influence of Joe Biden.  He was alternately a staffer and a lobbyist. Basically his point is that Wall Street throws lots of money at getting heard in DC and gets heard loud and clear. For the last bit of his time in DC, Connaughton worked for Ted Kaufman, the guy who filled Biden's seat in DC after he ascended to become Obama's veep. Kaufman and Connaughton faught Wall Street's influence on some important matters but couldn't really notch that many victories, because there was too much to fight.

Once that was done, Connaughton took his substantial hard-earned cash, moved to Savannah, and wrote this book. So it's one of those: make your million, step out, criticize the system.

Connaughton in particular was not positive about Biden, viewing him as an opportunist user with a short memory for his footsoldiers (of whom Connaughton was one). That's why I was very pleased that Biden was so kind to Niklaus and Lucy when he came to Duke a month or so back.

Saturday, March 12, 2016


Just came home from my morning meeting, and saw a multitude of tasks needing to be done around the house. Got on Mary and Natalie about doing them, and Mary justly pushed back against me, saying that she was just trying to get work done, and I come home and sigh exasperatedly about things needing to be done that weren't priorities.  She then told me about stuff that needed to be done in the yard that she needed help with, to which I protested that I have taxes and other financial stuff to work on.

Not an optimal marital dynamic. Division of labor is hard, balancing fluid priorities is hard, particularly in the absence of clearly stated strategic goals. In The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People Stephen Covey suggests having something like a family constitution or set of strategic goals that can guide lower level and implementation-level decision-making. It sounds so unbearably corporate and geeky, but maybe there is some wisdom in it.

Monday, March 07, 2016

My resistance to VR

I just finished up with Jaron Lanier's You Are Not a Gadget.  I hadn't read a book like that for a long time, sort of wacky and wildly interdisciplinary yet very cogent and, which is perhaps more important, very humane.

Lanier is one of the inventors of Virtual Reality, which is one of those concepts which, though cool, has never really held much attraction for me. I tend to view VR as too much like doing drugs, as if it would be consciousness out of control and therefore scary.

Tech geniuses like Lanier are a bit like that in toto-- "scary smart" with a polymathic ability to range across domains which can be intimidating. Admittedly, if I had enough financial freedom and confidence to just talk to whomever and write freely, I might do OK.

For the time being, maybe personal finance attracts me in its relative finiteness. Though it can be god-awful boring at times.

Sunday, March 06, 2016

Hilary and the conservative impulse

This most surely is a kooky electoral season, as is evidenced by the fact that the NY Times today reported that some Republicans have come to the conclusion that, if push were actually to come to shove and Trump was their nominee, the only rational choice left to them would be to vote for Hilary.

I must confess that, deep within myself, I know that in fact the impulse to vote for Hilary is in many ways driven by a certain conservatism. Watching Bernie posture and orate reminds me of the old saw, that, and I don't have this verbatim, that if you are not a socialist at the age of 20 you have no heart, but if you aren't a conservative at the age of 50 you have no brain. Bernie is a beautiful soul, his heart is in the right place, but so much of what he advocates is impracticable and would impact the USA negatively.  In saying that, I am reiterating if not outright regurgitating what many others have said and say daily.

And it feels right for me to say it because I am such an outlandish beneficiary of the status quo, and therefore am deeply bought in. In so many ways, I am rentier coasting on quantitative easing. I could explain that, but it would take to long to do so and I have to take Graham to the library and then to the school to kick a soccer ball.  Just the fact that our library and school facilities are good enough to be worth going to tells a story right there.

Therefore, I vote for Hilary because she's the most likely not to upset the apple cart, while doing ethically defensible things, for the most part. And yes, because she is ultimately the most qualified of all the candidates, but that's just what makes it easier to vote for the one who won't rock my world.

Saturday, March 05, 2016

Turning 50

I was corresponding with a high school friend this week who said she was freaking out about turning 50, I honestly hadn't reflected on it that much, though I am ever mindful that the half-century mark si coming up for me mighty soon, but now that I pause to think about it maybe it has been weighing on me more than I care to admit.

40 was big, and I marked it with an excellent party in Chapel Hill with some of my oldest friends, even though I lived in Princeton at the time. For 50 I haven't planned an event, somehow I am slightly loath to do so, but why?  At some level I must confess it is probably driven by a little bit of shame about where I am professionally, which I conceive on most days as struggling to get my practice up and running.

Why I can't view myself as ever building towards living the dream, that I can't tell you. I do know that I can't help but to compare myself to peers who are more stable and are just flat out kicking ass on many cylinders. I know that I profit little by doing so, and even hurt myself by doing so, but it is hard to break the pattern.

Frankly, it is only by getting out and putting myself into positive contexts that remind me of how fortunate I am that I am able to get a proper perspective. Which is why I have to keep doing that. Also getting plenty of sleep helps too.

Time to take Graham to martial arts.

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

The value of insurance

At a Chamber of Commerce lunch today, I was blathering to someone next to me in line as I squeezed the bbq sauce bottle, which was a little stuffed up, and it went all over my white shirt. Luckily, I had another, brand new white shirt in a drawer at work, and I put that one on.  My former colleague Elizabeth had left a bottle of some sort of spray-on that was designed for carpet cleaning and which, naturally, was effective on getting a stain out of a white shirt. So the one I put on this morning is fine again now.

Baring it all, or not

On the way back from a leads group this morning I heard on NPR about alarmingly high suicide rates amongst those who are on reality TV. I hadn't stopped to consider the relationship between reality TV and the social media phenomenon, the whole idea of normal people living their lives increasingly in public, baring more and more to more and more of the world. I'm sure there are reams of books on this topic, they just are in the category of ones I haven't read.

It took me back to Jaron Lanier's book and how I need to push through to the end of it. As well as Knausgaard, who apparently screwed up many of his own relationships by being too open in his series.

I have long made it a practice not to talk too much about work or marriage here on the Grouse. I sometimes feel disingenuous in putting this limit on it, because these are big factors in my life, to be sure, and there are stressors in each of them. But I know in the end this is a rational limit, because I am basically fortunate to have both work and to be married, that nothing in life is perfect, that all problems are to be worked through, and it just doesn't make sense to open the kimono too far to too many.

Then there's the whole other angle of performativity, the shaping of one's life by its being a performance. There are many angles to this. Back to work.