Monday, June 26, 2006

Too Bloody Hot

So when you're acclimated to 55-degree T-shirt weather and crisp, cool rain, it's a little unreasonable to expect daytime 90s and nighttime 60s to be comfortable. It's supposed to hit 93 today, with overnight temps staying at a balmy 62. Even with windows open and fans on, it's 4:30AM wake-up time, laying in a puddle of your own sweat. Nice.

To catch you up on the weekend, Kayleigh was awesome in both of her dance recital shows. We got a short visit from Sam's folks, and got to see her brother and SIL at the Saturday evening show. The Sunday afternoon show had my stepmom, brother and SIL in attendance (actually stepmom saw both shows). Kayleigh is excited about joining prep next month.

Tyler seems to have stabilized enough that our doctor reduced his meds dosage for the summer to see how he does (and hopefully catch up on some growing and weight gain).

Work continues on the house. We now have a door from the downstairs hall into the carport, where previously none existed. I'd always wanted a door there (or anywhere downstairs, really), but I was always vetoed by the boss lady. There was always something more pressing on our finances. But now, it's an egress issue as well as a convenience issue, and we now have a little concrete stairway leading down in the corner of the carport slab to a 6-panel steel exterior door. The contractors also purchased the replacement for the upper story back door, and I expect that will be installed this week.

We aced the framing inspection, which bought us a lot of momentum, since the subs are all lined up to do the work. This week the painter will start on the exterior (taking advantage of our lovely sunny week) while the plumber and electrician get started on the inside. I chose the cabinetry last Friday, and am shopping for appliances. I also decided to run coaxial, network cable and audio wiring everywhere while the walls are open and the electrician is rewiring the house. You never know when something like that will come in handy, and this way the kids can have their school computers networked in their bedroom study areas. It will be a very different house when this is done.

Speaking of different, I showed Ron the place on Sunday after our usual coffee chat, and he made a suggestion for the family room that I absolutely love. Since insurance had to cover my brand new video projector that perished in the fire as well as the brand new widescreen HDTV, and since I'm running all these internal wires and cables, I've decided not to replace the big TV at all. I'll replace the video projector, mount it from the ceiling over the arch between the dining and family rooms, and build in a drop-down projection screen on the north wall. All our media can be pumped through the projector - from cable signal to DVD to the video workstation computer in my office. The room will already be wired for surround sound. And when the screen is not displaying a giant video image, it will hide in the ceiling and reveal framed art on the wall. That way we keep the room "big" by not having a giant tube or even plasma set intrude into the room on some gargantuan wall unit.

I'm also putting a small wood stove in the northwest corner of the room, to cozy it up a bit for winter. The new heating system is 100% electric, and while we haven't lost power in years, it's still nice to have a backup heat source.

Ran across a song I recorded for Sam's 32nd birthday, entitled "More Than Yesterday". This was part of a compilation CD of love songs I put together for her in 1999. A year before our near-split. Three years before her diagnosis. The lyrics are extremely personal and pretty sappy, but it's an interesting snapshot in time.

Was it just yesterday
You took a skinny surfer boy
And caught him in your spell
You were a green-eyed girl
Who grew into the woman
That I know and love so well

But that was years ago
Now we're staring down that
Twisting, turning road of life
I see inside of you
The spark that makes you more
Than Woman, Lover, Mom or Wife

Now here we are again
At the crossroads again
With a will that will not bend

Chaotic history
At times it made want to
Run away and cast it all aside
A case of destiny
You've made it up to me a thousand
Times throughout our lives

Now here we are again
At the crossroads again

With a love that will not end

And when the sky is overcome with gray
And when the dawn breaks to another day
I cross my heart and promise, come what may
I'll love you more than yesterday

Now that time has passed
And home and children keep us
Marching to another tune
Every day it seems
I find another reason to fall
Back in love with you

And when we're old and overcome with gray
And when the dawn breaks to another day
I cross my heart and promise, come what may
I'll love you more than yesterday

- Todd Downing, 1999

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Last Day

The kids have their last day of school today, and everyone exclaims, "wow - I didn't think anyone was still in school... my kids have been out since March and we've already been to the Bahamas for two weeks!" We didn't even have any snow days this year, so whaddupwidat?

Tyler and Kayleigh decided to walk down to QFC yesterday and use their own money to buy snacks. I agreed, using the following points of logic:

  1. They are 8 & 12, and know how to cross streets properly
  2. QFC is a block away and the only street they need to cross has a giant crosswalk & lights
  3. I was walking 2 miles with my buddy Josh from our street to Deer Park in Aptos when we were 10 (a very different time, but still...)
  4. Sam & I have raised the kids on the concept that "snacks" means apple slices or granola bars, not donuts and Pringles
So they trotted off to QFC... and returned with donuts and Pringles, and soda and candy. It was like a processed sugar orgy of Roman proportions. But rather than step in to regulate, I let them have their binge, knowing full well what would happen.

Skip ahead, to 2:15 AM, and I'm sitting on the kids' bedroom floor in my underwear, scrubbing Tyler's vomit out of the carpet while he goes back to sleep, and Kayleigh groans, "I will never eat junk food again."

It was a lesson learned the hard way, for both of them. And even as I sat scrubbing purple puke from cream-colored carpet in the wee hours, I got some perverse satisfaction that they were learning an important concept about health and moderation without me drilling it into their brains. It was the ultimate feeling of parental I Told You So without resorting to saying it aloud.

Of course, Tyler was absolutely impossible to drag out the door this morning, and ended up getting his games taken away for the second day in a row (and on the last day of school - bummer). Honestly, I don't know how someone can end up being so choosy about friggin' track pants.

Sigh. Apple slices and granola bars, anyone?

Monday, June 19, 2006

Everything After

Slipped away to the open
Watched the shadows deface the ground
'Til the day we all
Believe that we might lose control

Will the moment we fear
Turn to everything clear

After you’re gone
Away from the life
Of the planet you’re on
And everything after

Faded awake

Somebody spoke
When I left here today
And everything after

It pulls us back into orbit
When disorder surrounds this place
And it brings us down
We can’t keep our feet on the ground

Until the moment we fear
Turns to everything clear

We are down here
We are space

- Revis, "Everything After"

* * *

I'm tired.

Two graduations, two celebratory dinners, a celebratory brunch and a Mariners baseball game for Father's Day. Then, for some reason, my bedside clock got pushed ahead an hour, so when I awoke at 7:08AM this morning, I thought it was 8:08AM. My poor kids - I was hoisting them out of bed and packing them in the car, and it wasn't until I was as far as the Junction that I noticed the car clock was an hour earlier than I'd thought. So I took them to breakfast at the little indie cafe (and by "indie" I mean "not Starbucks or Tully's or SBC") at Jefferson Square and we had some joking around time before school.

Came home. Went to the gym. Checked on the old house. The concrete guys were there putting in the new steps to the carport door. Apparently, someone broke in last night or early this morning, because the padlock on the plywood "door" had been popped off with a crowbar. Oddly enough, I'm not worried. There was nothing to steal (except a pro nailgun and $100 worth of hardware, which wasn't touched), and nothing was vandalized. I have a feeling it was high schoolers with too much time on their hands looking for a "safe" place to get loaded with whatever they're loading up on. Listen to the crusty old fart... "Damn kids, with their... rap music... and their... Zimas!" Honestly, we're not even in a bad neighborhood - 9 times out of 10 it's a teen or twentysomething looking for wine or something harder, or cash to take to acquire said alcohol. And that, unfortunately, happens in just about any city. Also, I know that 99% of security is occupancy. And we are not occupying the house yet. Once we are back in with Wiley and motion lights and an ADT system, we'll be golden. In the meantime, I've parked my car back in the carport for the night, hoping that it'll dissuade potential interlopers from popping the NEW lock (or disturbing the concrete).

Had a wonderful lunch with my uncle and his wife at Salty's on Alki. The day was beautiful.

Came home and crashed out on my bed. The kids got home and unfortunately Wiley pushed his way out past the front screen door and ran out to a guy jogging with his black lab. Now Wiley is definitely not an attack dog by any stretch of the imagination, but if I were jogging with my dog, I wouldn't want to be greeted by a German Shepherd nipping at my feet. So he was understandably testy. Even more unfortunately, the guy chose to take it out verbally on Kayleigh, who was barely able to wrestle Wiley indoors. So as always, I went to play mediator. I let him spout off for a minute, then talked him down. Then I went in and did damage control with Kayleigh, who was understandably shaken and in tears. As of this entry, the Earth still turns and we are all alive.

Once again, a precarious balance is struck, and all plates are spinning. I think I'm going for a new record...

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Father / Dad

I will reiterate what I said regarding Mothers and Moms. You need not have contributed your genetic material to a child to have your influence felt in his or her life.

I pinged a widda friend online last night to wish her a happy Father's Day, 1) as a way of honoring her late husband, and 2) to honor her dual role (the opposite of my own dual role). Her daughter was using her Messenger account and felt the need to reproach my greeting, stating that dads were merely sperm donors who paid for a bunch of things they didn't want to pay for. I seem to remember a lot of Cub Scout & Indian Guide meetings and events, soccer games, school plays and family gatherings, where there was this guy who everyone referred to as my dad. If all dads are merely sperm donors and ATMs with legs, I wonder who that guy was.

She went on to say that once a person is dead, they no longer have any impact on our lives. Wow. Call off MLK Day, Veterans Day and Christmas, forget the teachings of Gandhi and the eloquent words of Chief Seattle, forget the lessons of the Holocaust, and by all means forget that there was once a beautiful woman in my life who gave birth to two beautiful children and gave them a strong foundation upon which to build their lives and identities.

I know it's just the teenage angst talking, not to worry. I wasn't offended or insulted - just sad for the place she's in. It's a tragic mindset. This morning I actually called my widda friend and gave her the Father's Day wish personally. And guess what - she appreciated it wholeheartedly.

So Happy Father's Day, fathers. And stepfathers, and mothers doing double-duty. Any jerk can be a sperm donor or ATM, but if you have made a positive and lasting impact in a child's life, this stupid Hallmark holiday is society's way of giving you a pat on the back (ah, the sarcastic bait-and-switch!). But it's not about the day, is it? It's about making that lasting impact, and seeing the result - a child becomes a responsible adult and passes on your legacy of positive influence. With any luck, teen angst gives way to adult perspective.

Your guidance and influence ARE felt for a long time. Even after you are gone. Here's to you, Pop. And Sam, thanks for giving me the gift of equal joy and pain that is fatherhood.

Saturday, June 17, 2006


I must give a shout out to my two younger siblings, who both graduated college this weekend. My sister Sara got her AA while working full time and being a single mom. My brother Gavin got his BA and teaching cert on a brutal fast track (if you can call two years of family loss and disaster "fast"), sometimes taking as many as 25 units in a single quarter.

Drove up to Bellingham yesterday for Sara's commencement and celebratory dinner, and to Key Arena in Seattle for Gavins (and back to W. Seattle for dinner). My aunt and uncle even came up from California (dad's surviving bro & sis). It was very fulfilling to watch the two kids I nurtutred through the breakup of a household achieve these milestones. And I found the presence of Sam & my father a comfort - I was half expecting to hear my dad's mega-decibel "whoop!" when my siblings' names were called.

Tomorrow is Father's Day, and my mom & stepdad are taking us to the Mariners/Giants game. Although I'm happy to be seeing my old hometown team face off with my adopted hometown team, Father's Day is understandably melancholy for me.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

It's Never Easy...

This week has been packed with one form of parental drama or another, just in time for summer break (which is really just a break for the kids, not dad). I don't know how I managed last summer... well, yes I do actually - adrenalin and shock were still my companions, whereas this year I don't have the dubious pleasure of their company. I also had mucho help from family and friends, as last summer was my first little bit without Sam & my dad. And while I still have help from family and friends, it's not to such a high degree anymore. After all, other people have moved on with their lives. It's natural for them to do so. But I'm not to that point yet (also a natural place for me to be).

Our tale begins on Monday with Miz K. asking when she could get a training bra. I was doing laundry and tried not to look like a deer in the headlights as I managed a reply, which basically amounted to "we can get you a training bra when you need one, but don't try to rush things." Apparently one of the girls in her class has one, and she's naturally comparing notes. So I thought we'd put that one away for a year or so - how wrong that assumption turned out.

The next day, Tuesday, just before the end of the school day, I got a tearful phone call from Tyler at the Nurse's office at school. Apparently, 6th grade girls run in little gangs now, aggressive and organized, and one was bullying the other kids on a class hike back from Alki that afternoon. A friend of Tyler's decided to blow the whistle on the abuser, whom the teacher hauled out of the classroom to talk to. While the teacher was gone, the girl's posse started berating Tyler's friend about busting their friend. Tyler went to his friend's aid with moral support, demanding "why shouldn't he have [told on their friend]?" Some heated words were exchanged, and Tyler was struck in the side of the head hard enough to see stars. He lashed out blindly to defend himself, and the second girl decked him in the eye hard enough to knock him down. His head struck a table on the way to the floor.

Where to begin, where to begin...

Tyler has been a target for bullies in the past. He's a cerebral (and advanced) kid, and kids who are above-average in IQ or gifted in other ways are often perceived as strange by their fellow students. It happened to me as a kid, and it happened to Sam. Last year, a kid in Tyler's class told him his mom wasn't really dead - she was hiding from the family (the same kid started a fire in the portables this year). When it took two days for any official notification from school staff about the incident, I raised a stink and demanded immediate inclusion in any altercation in which Tyler was involved. After all, I cannot effectively parent if I'm not getting all the information. From then on, I always got at least two phone calls from principal and staff when Tyler was bullied or having a problem at school. A much improved situation.

So after the call from Tyler, I got a call from the principal and the teacher. The girls were hauled into the principal's office and wrote their own version of events, which of course labeled Tyler as the aggressor. Now granted, Tyler is dealing with a lot of anger and emotional issues at this time in his life, but it still takes a lot to set him off. He got to be a 7th kyu in Aikido by the time he was 10, and knows that force is only acceptable in self defense. While it's true that he can often bait and inflame a situation verbally, I do believe he did not hit first.

Meanwhile, back at the dance studio: Imagine my surprise when Kayleigh's instructor tells me she needs to get a sports bra to wear under her costume for the recital. Sigh.

The next day (yesterday), I kept Tyler home from school and got him in to see the doctor. No permanent damage to the skull, nose, ears or ocular bone. Just a nice shiner that has made Tyler a school celebrity, much to his chagrin. But things have changed a lot since I was a kid - [in crochety old man voice] in my day girls were a lot less aggressive in general, and didn't usually try to deck a guy. If they did, the guy would have to live with having been decked by a girl, yet wasn't expected to defend himself. I always hated that double standard. If a girl initiates a fight with a guy, the guy should not be expected to hold back. Conversely, the source of Tyler's celebrity seems to be the fact that he stood up for his friend doing the Right Thing. When we arrived at school to pick up Kayleigh, three of his former teachers commended him for doing the Right Thing, and hopefully not be dissuaded from doing the Right Thing in the future. I'd been telling him the same thing since the incident, so it was good to hear the teachers back him up.

In terms of discipline, I have not yet heard what will happen to the girls who assaulted him. School is out next Tuesday, so a suspension doesn't serve as much of a penalty. At the same time, however, just because it's the end of the year doesn't mean the penalty should be softened. This kind of situation is especially difficult for a parent. We want to advocate for our kids, but not to the point where we become obstructive to the process (and/or perceived as raving loons). I will talk to the school today and find out where things stand.

Tyler and I are agreed the situation is the last deciding factor in moving him to Madison next school year. A change is needed. In the meantime, ice and Advil are the order of the day, and hopefully Tyler will have a nice distraction in the form of a class field trip to Wild Waves.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Watching You Without Me

You can't hear me
You can't hear me
You can't hear what I'm saying
You can't hear what I'm saying to you.

You watch the clock
Move the slow hand
I should have been home
Hours ago - but I'm not here,
But I'm not here.

You can't hear me
You can't hear me
You can't feel me
Here in the room with you now,
You can't hear what I am saying,
You don't hear what I am saying, do you?

Can't let you know
What's been happening
There's a ghost in our home
Just watching you without me
I'm not here,
But I'm not here,
But I'm not here.

You can't hear me,
You can't hear what I'm saying
You didn't hear me come in,
You won't hear me leaving.

- Kate Bush

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Some Enchanted Evening

So my mom calls me up last night: "Hey, Channel 9 is showing South Pacific in Concert..." Basically, it's a reading of the play with a full orchestra and all the musical numbers performed (but little to no choreography, costumes or props, and the actors had scripts). Alec Baldwin as Luther Billis, Reba McIntyre as Nellie Forbush.

Great, I thought. South Pacific is one of my all time favorite musicals. I'll just give this a look.

The grief attack came out of nowhere, just ramming me through the heart like the alien queen through Lance Henricksen. I could not separate the music from the memory of performing South Pacific at LACT with Samantha back in 1987. It was acute, physically painful - I really needed Sam to hold me, and be held by me. I turned off the show and sobbed for a solid hour. After a year, the sensations of loneliness, of that stark separation from the one person in the world who knew you best, who you could trust most, and who loved you unconditionally, are perhaps even more tangible - more aggravating and inflammatory. Because now there is no veil of shock and adrenalin. Now there is less help being orchestrated by family and friends. Now the reality of your circumstance is all around you - empty and terrifying and just waiting for any opportunity to get through. Like hearing a familiar song, from a show you once did... with her.

One dream in my heart
One love to be living for
One love to be living for
This nearly was mine

One girl for my dream
One partner in paradise
This promise of paradise
This nearly was mine

Close to my heart she came
Only to fly away
Only to fly as day flies from moonlight

Now, now I'm alone
Still dreaming of paradise
Still saying that paradise
Once nearly was mine

Ugh. Thanks a lot, Rodgers & Hammerstein.

I almost called two people. They know who they are and they also know why I didn't call them, and they both read me the riot act for not calling them. Sometimes you just feel so squashed inside that it's physically impossible to pick up the phone. Sometimes you just can't articulate the level of desolation you feel. Sometimes there are no words...

I went to group tonight and ended up getting a crystallized bit of wisdom from another widower in the bunch. I will not go into any sort of detail about him or his story, as that would be a breach of the group's confidentiality, but the essence of his comment really gave me another Scottish wound searing.

It serves no purpose to pine for my dead wife. It is ultimately wasted energy, because that life is over - the life we shared together. She's. Not. Coming. Back. And I cannot return to that old life. No matter how fondly I remember the good old days (and being together since high school, there were plenty of good old days), I have to focus my energy on creating good new days and learning how to enjoy life again. Twenty years of intense closeness with someone is hard to overcome, and I'm not trying to be hard on myself by denying the pain I feel. I definitely feel the pain - I let it happen, because it's far better to feel it, address it, and let it go than to lock it up for some future manifestation in the form of a heart attack or mental breakdown. But I'm now very aware of the origin of the pain: is it mourning the immediate absence of my wife, or is it mourning for the old life, feeling melancholy over memories of years past?

I think a lot of these feelings are close to the surface because I've been cleaning up my old film, which features Sam in several shots. Because she was the PA and script supervisor, she was almost always on set, and could be placed in the background whenever we needed a body. The film also shows our old home in Palo Alto as it was before any of the remodeling, as it looked when I was in high school. And Sam is not the only ghost to be seen... my father has a brief cameo, forever immortalized at age 41. And my favorite director and drama teacher, Natasha Jorgenson, who passed away in the mid '90s - another cancer conquest. On top of it all, the story itself revolves around the restless ghost of a woman who died young and is lonely without her husband. It is about love knowing no bounds - even time and space, even physical death. What also makes the film a pivotal part of my development as an artist is that my dad paid for the post production - a staggering $2,200.00 in 1986 money, for a student film that really had no viable market. It wasn't a loan. It was an investment in my future as an artist. That was a statement that said, "I believe in you, son. You can do it."

Maybe I miss these people because of how much they loved and supported me, and maybe I miss feeling loved and supported in that way. I know it will get better eventually, but right now...

...right now it sucks.

Friday, June 02, 2006

People Watching

The morning certainly belongs to the elderly in my community. West Seattle is a pretty diverse neighborhood - a semi-cosmopolitan, semi-rural salad of caucasian, black and Asian/Pacific Islanders in a sleepy suburb of the Seattle sprawl. We are hemmed in by the port, the Georgetown industrial district, and unincorporated King County, yet we have (in my opinion) the best view of the city and surrounding islands from Alki Beach.

So getting back to my point, part of our cultural diversity in West Seattle is that we have a large population of retired/elderly folks, and when the kids are in school, they come out en masse to enjoy what the local area has to offer. As I was driving back from dropping the kids at school on Wednesday, I happened to spot an elderly couple moseying (which is what I feel to be an appropriate term for the style of walking one does past a certain age) down California Ave. with canvas shopping bags a-swinging. They were a lovely old couple and here's what I thought was the coolest: they wore matching T-shirts. I couldn't see what the design was from the car, but I thought, how cool it would be to get to the point in life where it would be CUTE to wear matching T-shirts with my spouse, and not be thinking shoot me in the head if I ever think wearing matching T-shirts with my spouse is cute... Now, Sam & I ran a publishing company, and we made frequent appearances at local and regional conventions. So part of our married life was spent wearing matching T-shirts, which I figure is just a corporate uniform thing. But who knows? Perhaps this old couple run a game company too.

So then I get behind another couple in a late-'90s Mercury Sable (which is mandated by city ordinance to be driven by those over 60 - and I say that having recently owned an early-90s Mercury Sable). Local lore is full of comedic bits about how the speed limit in Ballard is 15 MPH and you must drive with your left blinker on, dragging a seatbelt out one of the doors, and in some of the more suburban neighborhoods of Seattle, odds are you will find yourself behind the old lady in the climactic sequence of Ferris Bueller's Day Off at least once a week. But while on the freeway I've been known to give driving lessons via psychic impulse and verbal monologue, when I'm in a neighborhood I tend to relax and not let other drivers get to me. The guy driving this Sable was, contrary to the steroetype, absolutely competent, save for the riding of the brakes and the speed of 20 in a 30 zone. But what was cool about him was his face, which I saw as they made a left turn. He must have been 3'6", with a Rex Harrison hat and a white beard that made him look like Popeye's pappy (complete with squint). The trenchcoat he wore completed the picture of McGruff the Crime Dog and Gus Chiggins the Grizzled Prospector, if they'd ever dated. And I wouldn't put it past ol' Gus Chiggins. Awwww, peaches.

In short, I'm starting to step back and observe people - really notice their "characters" and catch a glimpse into other lives, even if most of it is manufactured in my own mind from the observation. I'm also becoming aware of what it takes to get to the point where you truly have CHARACTER. I think I will have fun being the crochety old guy waving his cane at the whippersnappers on his lawn and criticizing their "rap music and their Zimas" (actual quote from an irite old man in the University district).

* * *

I got the transfer back from Victory Studios - the one from the sole remaining 1" master tape of my first film, Project. This is the 20th anniversary of it's "release", and I wanted to finally put that sucker on DVD. It's a good excuse to learn more about Vegas and DVD Architect. It's amazing to think we shot it as juniors in high school, and I edited it after graduation in 1986. I'm not going all Lucas and adding the nifty effects we wanted but didn't have with analog equipment in the mid-'80s, but I am cleaning up the audio a bit and fixing some bad edits. Maybe I'll record a commentary and poke fun at all the actors (many of whom are media professionals today).