Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Goings On

I haven't updated this for a while, which is good for the reader as most of what I had to say would have been crazy sounding. Why? I've been struggling with the tail end of the emotional upheaval that comes with winter's low light levels. I was a mess for the last month, and struggled to not let sadness and paranoia prevent me from being a loving and interested husband and father. Fate's ironic hand makes this have an inverse effect on my programming job.

Work was busy with end of the year craziness while most of my colleagues were on vacation. Emotional turmoil is actually a boon to coders, especially my particular breed of it, which focuses my attention on bottlenecks, bad planning, faults in design and implementation, and fine details, as angst causes me to search for ways to improve my condition. At home this makes you see everything as tainted and hopeless... what's the opposite of rose-colored glasses? In front of a computer this freakish focus on all things bad draws my eyes right to code flaws, and I draw from an overflowing fountain of creativity to produce patches, new system designs, and rough drafts of new programs to address what ails us. Smiles from the boss, and fewer interfering co-workers to prevent me from attacking our servers willy-nilly. Ideal, except for the impetus.

Unfortunately, my successes at work result in blank stares at home as I attempt to explain them. Each proud accomplishment takes 10 or so minutes of setup before it makes sense, and my punchlines involve the arcane. These things are important to me, and at times I feel as though I have created works of subtlety and simple beauty, but I can't describe it well to those I love the most. "I'm proud of what I do, and there's art in my soul," says I, without being able to qualitatively express why what I'm doing is different than the tech support guy with a cubicle full of Dilbert strips and Sci-Fi memorabilia. It's upsetting.


This was the first year since Stacey's mom and I broke up that we didn't put up a tree. There were a few reasons: money, Liberty's decor is overtaking the house and I don't want to ruin it with fallen needles, Stacey has been home less with basketball and wanting to spend more time with her mom, and I was tapped out on energy and enthusiasm. I didn't feel too bad about it, and Christmas was fine anyway, but Scout is entering the golden holiday years, and I'm going to try to do my part to make her holidays as fun and fulfilling as I can, just like I did for Stacey.

Stacey was less interested this year in getting loads of goodies, and instead wanted a trip to the mall to buy clothes and beauty supplies. I ended up getting her a couple token presents to unwrap with the family, both DVDs of TV shows - one she likes now, and one she liked when she was younger.

We spent Christmas Day over at Liberty's sister's place, where she lives with her fiancé. We did normal Christmas stuff, and it was relaxing and fun, but there was one sad event that left a deep impression on me: The aforementioned show she liked as a kid that I gave her a DVD of - she didn't remember it. At all. The show was "Eerie Indiana", and showed in reruns when Stacey was in the first grade. Back then I had a TV and Tivo in my room, and Stacey would snuggle up next to me in bed and watch a show or two a couple times a week, to be followed by us going out and rounding up some neighborhood kids to go play at a park, or maybe just her and me heading off to the mall or a craft store, or out to eat. Just us. Just doing lighthearted, hang out with someone you love stuff. And it's faded from her memory. So has her preschool years at the Loving Care childcare center, where she would greet me with wide arms and a full sprint singing "Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!!".


How soon before her earliest memories of me are not of our happiest time together, but are when we started to fight with each other, struggling over being responsible and independent? How soon before she forgets falling asleep in my lap, content that Daddy is all it takes to fix the ills of the world? How long before the sky loses its medicine? Upsetting.


Stacey's 7th grade basketball team is more than halfway through the season, and it's been an interesting experience. Most of the team was from Stacey's Girl Scouts troop, and have spent years learning the habit of ignoring the adult in charge. Years of not taking anything seriously. Years of playing social dominance and pack order games. Years of Lord of the Flies. The coach at the beginning of the season met with the parents, and gave a speech containing the following points:

- My team went 14 and 0 when I was at this school, so I know some stuff to help us win
- I won't let the girls bring their social problems to the court. The team is one clique.
- I'll make sure everyone stays positive, there's no room for negativity on the team.

Yesterday marked the team's 7th loss in a row. The games I've watched have shown that the team is divided into cliques, where the girls prefer ill-advised passes across the court to their friends rather than good tactical passes to nearby open teammates. Despite practicing several times per week for the last two months, most of the girls still shoot two-handed. Lastly, Stacey reports that after the last game, the coach, after perceiving her post-game critique was being ignored, got angry and stormed out of the locker room. This, while not intentional, and not entirely the coach's fault, negates all that she intended to do at the beginning of the season.

It hasn't all been bad, though. A few of the girls are learning tactics, and a couple can shoot moderately well at this point. Stacey took advantage of some extra playing time she got when a teammate got injured, and made a good steal, which earned her extra playing time the next game, where she made another steal and a couple good blocked shots. So the coach can now see her as a fair player (who, based on the practices I've seen, is on par skill-wise with the rest of the team), despite her low social position in the group. Stacey has been benched most of the season, until her last little opportunistic feat, due mainly to social issues rather than skill. The coach was snowed by the low opinion other players had of her, and it took another player getting injured to correct that. Upsetting.


I thought I was hospital-bound last Friday. I woke up with stomach cramps, and in the bathroom I suffered what felt like a panic attack, becoming feverish, nauseous, and sweating copiously. After that settled down I took a shower to clean up, and got hit with shaking, and then couldn't will myself to stand. I was laying partially prone, partially propped up on my elbows, wondering if I'd be able to make it to shut off the water, wondering if Liberty would hear me if I called her for help.

Once I regained control of my muscles and the sweats stopped, I showered properly, and then like an idiot decided to get ready for work like nothing was wrong. My boss quickly identified my near-death state and suggested I leave and go see my doctor, which I did. My doctor diagnosed a viral infection, saying the worst of it was probably over, but to take some token anti-nausea pills to help feel better.

After a day my appetite came back, and there were no recurrences of waking up with a body on strike. A quick recovery, but the experience was... upsetting.


I could go on about other upsetting things: money woes, marital and paternal ups and downs, lukewarm, begrudging tolerance from the people I try to open up to. But I'll say this instead:

Maya, maya, maya. All is illusion. The light is returning, and I feel good. I love my wife, and I love my daughters. My house is standing, and my bills are paid. My body is strong (again), and my mind is sharp. I am good at my job, and my co-workers respect my skill and come to me for help, regardless of their personal opinion of me.

The temptation is to demand that people love and adore you, and be embittered when they don't. As Randy Pees once said, people's opinion of me is none of my business. And as I say now, feeling important and adored is the biggest illusion of all. People are fickle in their opinions, and chasing down affection from them will always suck the life out of you and leave you dried up and unhappy.

I've got my girls. I've got my brain. The rest can go hang.

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