Monday, September 23, 2013

I was unaware that middle school meant homework assignments for the parents too, but Ms. Bice said "In order to get a good picture of the students I am teaching this year [pretty sure there should be a comma there, but Ms. Bice didn't add one] I am asking each parent or guardian to write a short essay (1000 words or less) on their child.

So I did.  And I thought I'd share it with you, dear Reader, because I liked how it turned out.

Patrick "Patch" Derks

He’s a good looking kid, you notice immediately as he walks in.  Light brown (or is it dark blonde?) hair close cropped on his head like his dad’s.  Depending on his mood that morning, there might be some product in it, to spike it up in a faux-hawk, or even a touch of red coloring across where his bangs would be, if his hair was long enough for bangs.  Which it isn’t.  His glasses are constantly lower than they ought to be and if his eyes didn’t smile so brightly, they might be hidden by his frames.  His smiles are wonders, because they engage his whole face, and make him look as though he is about to burst into laughter.  Which he probably is.

You might think he’s older than he is, because he’s tall for his age, and has a presence about him.  A confidence.  If the room was new, or the people unfamiliar, there might have been a moment of hesitation, of uncertainty, but you probably missed it, because it was only momentary.  Now he is ready to begin and begin well.

You might think he is older than he is, because he is a conversationalist.  He can ask about you, and tell you about himself.  He hasn’t just talked with kids growing up, he’s talked with adults and isn’t intimidated by them.  He knows he has interesting things to say, and he’s interested in what you might tell him.  He’ll share with you his love of soccer (Manchester United in particular, and though Wayne Rooney is his first love, the quiet constancy of Robin Van Persie, the Dutchman, has won his heart away from the mercurial and sometimes brooding Merseysider).  He loves to play too, and he’ll explain to you, though you might not understand, the joy of the full volley or the bicycle kick that he tried in practice.  Or his love of video games, especially the open world builders, like Minecraft with its obsidian block and invisible stones, and Disney Infinity which he is still learning.  Or his fascination with cooking shows, especially Good Eats because it’s about science too.

You might think he’s older than he is, because he’s more empathetic than many adults will ever learn to be.  He’ll stop and help up a child or ask an adult how they are doing and care about the response.  He’s unfailingly polite as well, with the possible exception of toward his parents, and is likely to give you a hug as well as a kind “good-bye” on the way out the door.

You might think he’s older than he is, but he really is eleven.  And he’s pretty good at being an eleven year old boy.  He’s kind of disorganized, and his backpack will become the same rat’s nest that every other eleven year old boy’s becomes by the middle of the first six weeks, no matter their intentions to start middle school new and differently with a new organizational ethic. 

He’s eleven and he might burst into song, or tell a joke to distract the class.  He might be giggling with the kid next to him about something funny that’s occurred to him about the Jamestown settlers, or trapezoids, or square roots.  He’s eleven and he’s forgotten his books and his assignments and his lunch.  He bought cool new body wash this year that smells good, but you sometimes still have to convince him to take a shower.  He reads, but you might never see him do it.  “I finished the Hunger Games,” he’ll say despite the fact you never saw it in his hands.  “Oh, yeah? Tell me about it,” you might challenge.  But you’d lose.  He’ll not only tell you the entire plot and most of the characters, but also be able to explain how the book differs from the movie, and in the case of Hugo, how much better the book was.

He’s still just eleven and his confidence is hard won.  His parents separated when he was only two and a half and while he doesn’t remember too much about it, staying in a cold overseas country with his dad and then leaving his dad behind for three months meant figuring things out pretty quick.  His weeks are for his mom and his weekends for his dad and the hours in transition belong to I-95.  Life has changed some over the last few years.  He was a pillar of strength while his dad was assigned to the US Embassy in Baghdad and adjusted to his dad’s new apartment in Alexandria (further away than the old apartment in Fredericksburg) without missing a beat.  His mom moved too last year and he was lucky to be able to finish out his school year at Mechanicsville Elementary, where he had begun in kindergarten all those years ago.

But this is middle school.  A new house, a new step dad (same old dad, though), a new neighborhood, and a new school.  Enough to shake the confidence of most kids and maybe even this one.  But he’s willing to talk it out and knows enough about the people in his life to be certain that they have his back. His mom, his dad, his stepdad and stepsister, his grandmothers and grandfather, his aunt and uncles, his cousins too.  They all have his back.  So even if he doesn’t know any of the people in front of him, he’s going to go out there and see who is interesting to know.  He seems older like that.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

New Pop

YDS has been thinking alot lately, but not writing much.  In the hopes that some writing, any writing, will get me motivated again, YDS has a new pop song for you.  There doesn't seem to be a video-hard as that is to imagine-but here is the music:

To be honest, I don't find this an amazing song lyrically, except for the chorus.  I mean, the story of the innocence lost of a rapper and his worry of when the ride will come to an end is not exactly one of universal appeal.  What draws me in is Hayley Williams amazing emo-pop voice and the longing expressed in pretending that something ordinary is something extra ordinary.  Who doesn't need a wish right now?

I'm also thrilled about cross over efforts with hip hop and alternative.  The juxtaposition of the melodic chorus against the rapping verse keeps me listening to the song over and over again.

Anyway, as I said, the chorus is really the reason the lyrics are note worthy, but here they are for what they are worth.
Can we pretend that airplanes
In the night sky
Are like shooting stars
I could really use a wish right now (wish right now, wish right now)
Can we pretend that airplanes
In the night sky
Are like shooting stars
I could really use a wish right now (wish right now, wish right now)

I could use a dream or a genie or a wish
To go back to a place much simpler than this
Cause after all the partyin' and smashin' and crashin'
And all the glitz and the glam and the fashion
And all the pandemonium and all the madness
There comes a time where you fade to the blackness
And when you're staring at that phone in your lap
And you hoping but them people never call you back
But that's just how the story unfolds
You get another hand soon after you fold
And when your plans unravel
And they sayin' what would you wish for
If you had one chance
So airplane airplane sorry I'm late
I'm on my way so don't close that gate
If I don't make that then I'll switch my flight
And I'll be right back at it by the end of the night

Can we pretend that airplanes
In the night sky
Are like shooting stars
I could really use a wish right now (wish right now, wish right now)
Can we pretend that airplanes
In the night sky
Are like shooting stars
I could really use a wish right now (wish right now, wish right now)

Somebody take me back to the days
Before this was a job, before I got paid
Before it ever mattered what I had in my bank
Yeah back when I was tryin' to get into the subway
And back when I was rappin' for the hell of it
But now a days we rappin' to stay relevant
I'm guessin that if we can make some wishes outta airplanes
Then maybe yo maybe I'll go back to the days
Before the politics that we call the rap game
And back when ain't nobody listened to my mix tape
And back before I tried to cover up my slang
But this is for the Cada, what's up Bobby Ray
So can I get a wish to end the politics
And get back to the music that started this sh-t
So here I stand and then again I say
I'm hopin' we can make some wishes outta airplanes

Can we pretend that airplanes
In the night sky
Are like shooting stars
I could really use a wish right now (wish right now, wish right now)
Can we pretend that airplanes
In the night sky
Are like shooting stars

Thursday, February 11, 2010

A Blogging Tradition since 2007

YDS just noticed that he missed his two year blogging anniversary back in November.

That could well be because I don't really have any remarkable insights on the blog over the last year.  I'm proud of my four part piece on the trip to Baghdad (posted here, here, here, and here) and the companion piece, where I explained why I volunteered to serve here.

You would have thought, and YDS would have agreed with you, that living on a sealed compound like the US Embassy in Baghdad would have led to more writing, not less.  Instead, my post total from 2009 was almost exactly the same as that of 2008.  I think FaceBook has served to take the place of the short posts about goofy stuff and the links that I want to share about ridiculous news.  So perhaps, while the quality has stayed about the same, the quality may have improved.

More concerning to YDS than the fact that I have not written more here, is the fact that I have not written more on the two full length plays that I am working on.  I'm not sure why that is.  It may well be because there are only 24 hours in a day and many of them are consumed by working and working out.  YDS set as a priority for this yet losing weight and getting in shape.  I've been successful, but it takes significant time and discipline that has not left me with a great deal in the tank to turn to more creative pursuits.

Anyway, YDS has two followers now and is proud of the fact.  Thank you Dear Followers, and thank you Dear Reader.  As I said on my first anniversary, I write this for me, but YDS is happy to have you along for the ride.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

... and stops my mind from wandering where it will go.

In a job like YDS's sometimes you hear the same information from the same people more than once.  Heck, sometimes you hear it like a hundred thousand times.  The message is the same.  The audience is the only thing that changes, and YDS finds himself in that same audience too many times.

That repetition, in a positive vein, can fix the "hole[s] where the rain gets in," and allow for some very productive mind wandering.  Especially for someone who is homesick, and hungry.  When that hungry and homesick person takes notes on the wanderings of his mind (as YDS did yesterday), it can be sort of interesting and so I thought I would share those wanderings (and my annotations to those wanderings) with you, Dear Reader.  The following is what appeared in my notepad after the session.  To wit:

cheese and beer ...
perhaps a crusty bread

chicken wings and a wheat beer

a vodka plate and Russky Platinum
at kipoklu nams or the Russian Restaurant

Bischoff's fish and chips and a well-poured Guiness
with lots of vinegar

Fried oysters with slightly underdone steak fries and tooth-cracking cold Budweiser

Masitas de peurco with fried plantains and a mojito

Shrimp and scallops with a champagne tomatillo sauce over fresh pasta with a great Pinot Grigio.

Some thoughts on my wanderings. 

Cheese and beer is probably self explanatory.  But as I thought further, I was imagining that excellent Irish sharp cheddar in my mind, crumbling slightly as you cut it and standing up nicely to a hoppy IPA.  A big hunk of crispy crusty on the outside and moist on the inside sourdough to set it off just completes the culinary poem.

Chicken wings and a wheat beer.  Spicy chicken wings are among YDS's favorite food.  For all their cursed corporateness, Buffalo Wild Wings (formerly BW3's) has some of the best widely available sauce at their restaurants (although homemade is best).  It's too bad the quality of the chicken they buy is completely horrendous.  Anyway, half of their "Hot" and half of their "Spicy Garlic" strikes the perfect balance.  A good wheat beer has excellent mouth feel and stands up well to the spicy sauce.  It makes a perfect companion.

In Northern Europe, they drink a lot of vodka.  To cleanse your palate between shots of vodka (and YDS suspects to keep you drinking), they often will bite into a pickle or some kind of salted fish.  In fancy restaurants, to those that are drinking a lot of vodka, they serve what is known as a vodka plate, which is loaded down with pickles of all kinds, pickled cucumbers, olives, garlic, onions, etc.  And usually some salted meat and fish.  In a higher class place, there might be some caviar as well.  YDS was introduced to this excellent culinary/drinking experience in Riga, Latvia.  The Kipoklu Krogs (the Garlic Bar although I could swear it was the Kiploklu Nams or Garlic House when I was there) serves an excellent vodka plate, as does the fancy Russian restaurant (not suprisingly).  Given the finanical collapse in Latvia, YDS is not certain that either still exists.

Ireland has a fast food fish and chips chain called Beschoff's.  It's the best fish and chips I've ever had.  Plus they have all different kinds of fish, included smoked fish.  You may pickle your insides from the sodium, but you will enjoy it.  Perhaps the Guiness will balance out the salt.  Perhaps not.

Fried oysters might be my favorite food of all time, if it isn't chicken wings.  I have great memories of standing in a cold drizzle at the Oyster Festival in Urbana with a huge plate of fried oysters in one hand and trying to eat while balancing an ice cold Budweiser in the other hand.  The term "tooth cracking cold" comes from a theatre friend of YDS's and is the best way to drink a Budweiser, which even though it has it's charms and it's place, is not the best crafted beer in the world.  I'm not sure why the image of a slightly underdone steak fry jumped into my mind, but I love how there's a little firmness and extra potato "bite" to a big steak fry that isn't quite done.

There's a small Cuban fast food place in the basement food court of the International Building on I street in DC.  Their masitas de puerco (chunks of pork) are unbelievable.  I don't know how they make them, but most recipes require overnight marinating in bitter orange juice and lots of onions and garlic.  You deep fry the pork and cover with a buttery, oniony, garlicy sauce.  Holy smokes.  A mojito would go perfect with this meal, but sadly, the food court is dry....

The tomatillo recipe is one of the many masterpieces of YDS's chef sister.  I love tomatillos and seafood and this recipe is brilliant.  She recently shared the secret of the sauce in the family recipe book that I blogged about last year.  Fresh pasta is time consuming, but worth the wait...

If YDS was following the rules of essay construction, this would be the point at which I added a pithy conclusion about food and comfort and taste and memory and the association of food with love.  But YDS is an iconoclast and the conclusions at the moment seem awfully trite and unenlightening.  So I will close by saying, all this note taking has made me hungry...

Monday, January 18, 2010

Riffing on an MLK quote.

Have we not come to such an impasse in the modern world that we must love our enemies - or else? The chain reaction of evil - hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars - must be broken, or else we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation. -- Martin Luther King, Jr.

How is it that Martin Luther King, Jr. was so correct and so wrong at the same time?  The chain reaction of evil hate begetting hate and wars producing more wars did not plunge us into the abyss.  At least not then.  Not in the 1960s.

It was not our stopping to love our neighbors, that created social change.  Instead, in a very real sense, it was Dr. King's blood tht brought about the legal changes in the United States necessary for us to build a society so much more premised in equality than the one that he left behind.  Our nation was poised on the dark abysss of annihilation after his assassination and I'm afraid it was fear that made us take the collective step back represented in integration and the civil rights legislaton of the 1960s.

And we never learned to love our enemies in the Soviet Union.  Instead we learned to outspend them.  We pressed them financially on every front through proxy wars and an unwinnable arms race until the cracks in their horribly flawed economic model sprung wide open spilling their society and driving the "Union" apart.  Again it was fear of the abyss that drove the solution that ended the Cold War with its unending proxy wars.

Even so, aren't we at that impasse again?  Have we ever left it?  Perhaps resolving our conflicts through fear means that we have never really solved them at all.  And now, living in this part of the world, in this nation in particular, where skating to the edge of the abyss holding hatred so close to your heart seem to be the national sport, Dr. King's solution seems to be the only solution.  But how do we get to that solution?

As Americans, we can't point to the times when love motivated our social change.  Our changes were born out of violence, out of tragedy, out of necessity.  Must it be a lesson of "do as we say, not as we do?"

Dr. King's words were inspired by his understanding of the teachings of the Christian prophet.  Mohammed's teachings are not so different that Iraqis, Shi'a and Sunni, Arab and Kurd, shouldn't be able to see the wisdom of reconciliation through love and the damage that we do to ourselves and each other through the chain reaction of evil.

But perhaps, YDS brings a westerner's worry to the process here.  Since before both Jesus and Mohammed, Arabs were one moment at each other's throat in conflict and the next clasping each other to their breasts in friendship.  Perhaps this formative Iraqi state is no different.  Perhaps the love is not so far from here after all.

Dr. King would love that to be true.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

How I did.

Well, Dear Reader, I am long since returned from R&R and thought I'd provide you an update on how I did running down the things that I miss from the U.S. while I was home.  So here they are in order:

  • A well poured pint of Guiness - I had a decent (but not great) pint at Champp's Sports Bar in Pentagon City.  What it may have lacked in quality, I absolutely made up for in quantity.  Thanks to all of YDS's friends who met for many pints and sports bar type food.  Well enjoyed.
  • Sushi - YDS's brother in law took him to an excellent sushi bar in Virginia Beach and introduced him to white tuna.  Absolutely amazing, a great restaurant and great company.
  • Good mexican food - Had a great meal and great fun with Skippy Jr. at Mexico Restaurant.  There was balloon sculpture and really good salsa, so everyone was happy.
  • Good chinese food - Eat Rice carry out near my sister's house.  A nice meal with YDS's sister and her family.
  • A nice restaurant (of any sort) - Satisfied this jones by drinking with a dear friend at the The Jefferson's recently renovated bar.
  • A great Southern breakfast - McLean's with the author of Greg's Alien.  Salt herring and eggs.  Biscuits and gravy.  If it weren't for the fact that we talked for an hour afterward, I wouldn't have been able to move.
  • Rain - It rained a lot while we were at Virginia Beach.  Lots of my favorite misty foggy type rain.  Check and checked well.
  • Fall - It was late fall, with a lot of leaves already down, but still fall.  Check.
  • A good orthoepaedic mattress - Not so much.  My parents have a decent bed in their guest bedroom, but not great.  I still miss my mattress.
  • College football on at the right time of day - Oh yeah.  Although Skippy Jr. did not believe it was a good use of my time. 
  • A massage - My parents had a therapist all lined up to greet me the first day I was home.  It really helped unkink after the long long trip.
  • Sundays as part of the weekend - This was certainly true, but it wasn't a big deal, because I was on vacation the whole time.  Hee hee.
  • A sports bar - The aforementioned Champp's where we happened on the replay of the UNC v. Stanford semi final in women's soccer, which I did not know the outcome of, so it was almost as good as watching live.
So there you have it, Dear Reader, an R&R full of checking off the list.  YDS was pretty successful and had a great R&R.

It wasn't even a real fortune cookie ...

A friend of mine got a sort of cyber-fortune cookie.  Remarkably enough it got me thinking and since it was about forgiveness, which is a generally nice thing, and since it is a new year, which is a good time to think about forgiveness, I thought I would share some of those thoughts with you.  I hope the person I shared them with first doesn't mind.  I've edited and organized a little to present to you Dear Reader.

So the cookie (virtual though it may be) says, "To love is to forgive." And I think that's true, but it certainly isn't a complete definition. To love is to do a lot more things than just forgive (one of my favorite definitions is, as hackneyed as it may seem, 1 Corinthians 13). 

What's more interesting about the fortune cookie saying though is something that it implies, by virtue of the definition, but doesn't state.  And the implication is what really got me thinking.  What it implies pretty clearly is that the absence of forgiveness is an absolute indicator of the absence of love.

It has been true in my own experience.  Warning YDS is about to get more personal than he usually does, but this is about forgiveness and it's hard to think about it in the abstract.  That an absence of forgiveness is an absolute indicator of the absence of love was certainly true on my ex's part during our marriage.  She could not forgive my faults in a way that would renew our relationship.  She couldn't forgive me in a loving way and in retrospect that (perhaps more than anything) shows me that she wasn't really in love with me (or couldn't be in love with me).  A deeper question is whether she had that capacity even before we were married.  YDS will not explore that right now.

And even more important (or just as important), that as I healed from the divorce, the absence of real relationship renewing forgiveness was the clearest sign to me that I didn't love her anymore.  I was no longer willing to spend that emotional energy to forgive her completely for what happened during and after our marriage.  I had done it time after time during the marriage and the relationship.  It was sometimes easy, and sometimes hard.  But I had done it, and had the emotional energy to do it, because I loved her.  A person in love will do no less.

Part of it is that there must be two kinds of forgiveness. The first is that everyday "oh, it's okay, no problem, we can still get along" sort of forgiveness. The second is the real, deep seated forgiveness, the kind of forgiveness that is given unconditionally and renews a relationship completely. The first is a social forgiveness.  A heartfelt, if ordinary, forgiveness.  The second is a full forgiveness.  An elightened forgiveness.  A loving kindness fogiveness.  If "to love is to forgive," then that's the sort of forgiveness that they are talking about. I know that what I have for my ex is the first kind of forgiveness and not any sort of the second kind...

I mean, I forgive her even now, in that I don't hold it against her (most of the time).  I try very hard not to be a vengeful person.  I know that harboring ill feelings for another extracts an emotional cost and drains you of your energy.  But the reality is that I don't forgive her to the extent that it means that our relationship is renewed despite what happened. So while I have "forgiveness lite" for her, it's not real forgiveness, and so (I think) it means pretty clearly that I don't love her anymore.

Perhaps a fully enlightened person is able to forgive anyone anything in a completely relationship renewing way.  If so, it is one more sign that YDS is not fully enlightened.  This should come as a suprise to no one.

I think the point might be stronger one way than the other. You can forgive someone without loving them.  Although perhaps that fully enlightened person loves everyone, so forgiveness from that type of person always means that the enlightened person loves the forgiven.  You can absolutely forgive someone with out being "in love" with them. But you can't love someone without being able to forgive them. And you can't be in love with someone you can't forgive.

It becomes really painful when you think you ought to be in love with that person because of your relationship and you aren't. You can't forgive them anymore, you can't go back and completely renew that relationship with them. But you made those promises. You remember the love that you had. You remember that you used to be able to forgive and you want that back. But eventually you are too hurt and the pain that that your husband or wife is causing is too much to forgive. So you shut down, like I did, or you are in pain all the time.
All this begs a really interesing question. Do you have to completely forgive (my "enlightened forgiveness" described above) a former love before you can love again? I don't know. That seems really hard. I've forgiven my ex in the social way, but not in the enlightened way.  What does that mean for my future?  Will I have to find enlightened forgiveness for my ex to love again?  I hope not.  Seems hard.