Please Don’t Put Nuts in the Banana Bread

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There was a poem in my head
that dragged me from bed
and asked a few little things of me.
“Leave off the lights”
and
“Hold on to last night”
and
“Put me down here while you start the tea.”

So it sprawled on the table
while I lived in a fable
where my morning was mine at last.
But before the hot water,
came
“Good morning, Father!”
and
the kids ate my poem for breakfast.

Anxious Opus

I knew without flaw, I knew completely, that I had removed myself from The Process, and it had forgotten me.

Just amazing.

I have a little anxiety over my current assignment in philosophy. I remember school anxiety from 25 years ago, but it was different then. I was failing completely, and was never particularly concerned about assignments, because I simply was not going to do them.  My anxiety was either absent or total, depending on the day. School was a mostly silent fight between a simple institutional process that was indifferent to me, and me, who was indifferent to the process. First lesson of adolescence: you are not The Process, you are the input. And if you don’t take your place, The Process will forget you faster than you can say “gym class traumatized me.” So, on those days when my anxiety was total, it was because I knew without flaw, I knew completely, that I had removed myself from The Process, and it had forgotten me.

My current anxiety works a little lot differently. I have climbed back into my seat among The Process, so assignments matter. By Monday I have to write a very short paper about what I believe to be the first, foundational principle of human existence. My personal version of Descartes’ cogito ergo sum. Normally, I could whip out three pages with one hand on the coffee mug and the other on my son’s neck. But for some reason, with this I cannot shake the weight of its significance. As if it is to be my magnum opus, and I’ll be defending it at Oxford for the rest of my life. It isn’t, of course. It’s a 200 level University core requirement, and most of the people in the class aren’t even humanities students (and I’ll never be at Oxford). It’s almost all nursing and engineering students. One of them, who not only called me old, but seems to be giving my age sole credit for my success in the class, is writing her paper on our responsibility to protect the environment, because without an Earth, we cannot survive. So, as you can see, we don’t necessarily need to be machining humanity’s very first nut for the universe’s bolt. We don’t have to try to answer THE QUESTION, or anything.

My initial thought for the paper was that we cannot know the first principle. I do believe in firsts – that there is no such thing as infinite regression. Everything begins. But for reasons you’ll know when I post my paper, I don’t think we can find it. I am prepared to write on that. Stakes, implications, counterarguments, all of it. Too easy. Then I see on the list of Sven(!)’s possible topics that that very idea is listed at #11. First thought: Bummer. It’s not original. Second thought: Of course it’s not original. People have been doing this stuff forever. Third thought: Why did Sven(!) put an asterisk on that one?  Let’s find out:

*If you choose 10, 11, 12, or 13, you and I must talk about your choice because they can be particularly tricky.

Great. Of course. I called him on our recent snow day to discuss, and he called it the agnostic approach and philosophied all over me until I wanted to just throw it all up and say FINE IT’S LOVE WE’RE FOUNDED ON LOVE (that’s #8 on the list, btw. No asterisk). But I won’t do that, because this, anxiety and all, is fun. Depending on the course of my schooling, which obviously means “depending on money,” I want to lean on Philosophy pretty hard. My focus will remain literature and writing, because my God it’s awesome. But the way literature and philosophy shake hands and dance and brush against each other like a couple of languid cats is just magical. My essay for British Literature is going to be an application of Plato’s allegory of the cave to Tennyson’s Lady of Shalott. I was surprised as we discussed Shalott in class that Plato never came up. It seems pretty clear to me, so much so that I’m afraid to Google it until after I write the paper. Surely it’s been done before, just like my silly agnostic approach to our first principle paper.

The other new anxiety is that I care what the teacher thinks. I also care what that other student thinks, as she seems to hold me to a pretty high standard: “How’d you do on your paper? Are you ready for the test? What did you do to prepare?” Friday she asked “What did you think of the test?” I really, really wanted to say “Aced it. Sven(!) called me to talk about it. What did he say to you?” She would have lost her mind. Alas, I haven’t the meanness in me to string people along with things like that. I always feel that I am committing some huge crime of character. So I just said “I’m pretty confident about it.”

And I am. Hopefully Sven(!) is not disappointed.

This Letter Will Explain Nothing

They do not have your piffling little snow days.

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Snow day! Our kids go to a private sorry, independent school. And it really is independent. Many other of the private sorry, independent schools out here belong to the Northwest Association of Independent Schools. Saying “Association of Independent Schools” is like saying Socialism is a “Collective of Individuals.” You may be able to enumerate them, given the task. But you won’t be given the task. And you’ll never be able to differentiate them, anyway. Our kids’ school is its own thing. No associations, only a nod of approval from Washington State’s Superintendent of Public Education (The indelible thumbprint of the state, in saecula saeculorum). What does all this mean? That they make their own rules, and when the rest of the city’s children are out of school and creating logistical nightmares for their obligatory two working parents (nothing says fulfillment like absentee parenting. Progress!), well…

They do not have your piffling little snow days. Come if you can, don’t if you can’t. And if you’re really only skipping the day because snowball fights are awesome, well, just don’t aim for the head. They close the parking lot – to preserve its snowy majesty for recess. As we pull up to the curb half a block from the school, my daughter climbs down from the car, and says “I LOVE that we go to a school that lets us come even when it snows!” Totes adorbs, amirite? The Boy, on the other hand, spills out like a barely ambulatory Randy from A Christmas Story. A water bottle ejects an impossible distance from his backpack. “UGH! This is dumb!” Totes adorbs, amirite?

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I also go to an independent sorry, private school. They don’t care so much about the label dilution up there in the Collegiasphere. Everything’s a crushing student loan, anyway, so you might as well bask in whatever snobbery you can, while you still have the illusion of control. Free college never felt so good.

Someone recently lamented the brevity of GI Bill benefits, as it only pays out for 3 years. It was a friend, I can’t remember which. She (I remember that much) was probably trying to retrofit a compliment, saying that military service should be worth more than that. I get it, but this is a free Bachelor’s Degree in a world where the only stinking thing we all agree on is that college is too f#@!ing expensive, and not just by a little bit, but orders of magnitude. I mean, between the GI Bill and the Yellow Ribbon program, the government is paying me more than it did while I was serving. Three years of that is a windfall of Dickensian proportions. And as David Niven taught me in Curse of the Pink Panther, I never look a gift horse in the mouth.

Another miracle of the Government, is that since I began drawing benefits last April, I haven’t had any issues with payments or forms or crossed signals. After 8 years in the Army, I know too well just how Labyrinthian an odyssey that getting money from the government can be. The God of Government finance is Daedalus.

But that all stopped Saturday. Some notice from the VA came, saying an application or other has not been received. The college tuition has been paid, but my housing allowance has not, and I am assuming this letter they sent is the reason. But I’m not sure, because here is what I have to work with:

“This letter will explain what is needed to formalize your claim.”
“In order to act on the information you submitted, we must receive your application within one year from the date of this letter.”

Thanks for the clarity. Doesn’t sound too urgent. And the printed out confirmation pages I have from the actual submission of my application in December should right this ship toute suite. We’ll see.

I hereby release you (from not even being here). The snow is ridiculously wonderful, but the coffee shops are all overflowing with kids and nannies, so I am home with Spotify’s “Jazz Vibes “ playlist. It’s good stuff, and I’ll use it to get started on a Philosophy paper (Foundations. Where or with what does EVERYTHING begin?) that’s due in a week. Love it.

Go have a day!

Age is, like, Relative and Stuff, Anyways

You cannot arrive at a verb, or settle into a verb, or be comforted by a verb

There’s something so tremendously daunting about that “submit” button.

Two members have left the nest, and there’s only 47 years worth of (postpartum) human life in the house this weekend. Though I see those years as differently as my Philosophy classmates do. Bear with me while I get there:

“How did your paper go?” They asked. A couple of girls who sit in the front row alongside me. Come to think of it, I’m the only boy in the front. Five girls and me. And the whole second row is girls. I would do a headcount of boys and girls, but then I’d be tempted to apply that information sociologically based on what the class is, and wind up drawing some undesirable conclusions of a too-political nature about the gender makeup of certain fields in relation to personal choices. I would never do that, you know.

“How did your paper go?” They asked.
“By hand, mostly.”
“No, come on. How did you do on it?”
“I did well.” I don’t like grade comparisons. It’s the equivalent of getting to know someone at the party by opening with “what do you do for a living?” Probing for status.
“Yeah but, like, how well?”
“I got 135.”
“You got an A?”
“I got an A.”
“Well, yeah, I mean, you’re a little older, too. I mean, like, you’ve done more. Like you’re wiser -”
“This isn’t getting any better for you.”
“How old are you, anyway?”

They asked me my name, and said some nice things about my contributions in class. 5 weeks in, and the people sitting next to me don’t know my name. My t-shirt should read “I’m not an asshole, I’m an introvert.” I’m not even that quiet. I speak up in class, I chat a quite a bit, I joke. I just miss all the standard social checkpoints. Like, you know, names. It’s also possible that for the kids in class, the old guy in the room is enough of an oddity that it’s hard to know how to approach him. I could buy that. I do have a hard time seeing myself as significantly older than them, though. My children are 6 and 9 years old, so through that lens, my 20-something classmates might as well be my age. This is where it gets good:

“How old are you, anyway?”
“That wasn’t very delicately put, was it?”
“Sorry, there’s just, I don’t -”
“I’m 41. Forty-one.”
“HOLYSHITNOWAY.” And now the teacher is listening. And laughing. He is Sven(!) as previously referenced, and he is older, even, than me. Srsly. Class begins.

Philosophy is probably as good a class as any for ambiguation of ages, inasmuch as age has anything to do with identity. We’ve been going on interminably about identity (existence, to be far, far more accurate) for the past couple of weeks. And age isn’t any more relevant to the conversation than toenail thickness. We either are or we aren’t, and being 41 or 21 or 11 hasn’t any bearing on that. Being dead might not even have any bearing on it.

The Victorians are dead, as are the Romantics, and here I reach didactically back to the beginning of this post and my lamentation about “submit” buttons.  They are daunting, and especially today, as one such button was a necessary condition for the submittal of my British Literature Midterm. But my God how fun it was to answer those questions. I mean, check this out:

  1. Use the following passage, including literary features like imagery, character, and repetition, to explore the theme of home(s) in Great Expectations.

ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED? For realz, tho. A question like that tickles all the right places in my mind. Probably not so for you, but that’s ok. I’ve walked through the stark and dead computer sciences/engineering building, peered into the rooms lined with zombification screens and vitamin D supplements. You can keep all that. It’ll serve you better when asked by a stranger what you do for a living, but that’s where my envy ends. I love a question like that one up there because it lets me think and write things like this:

Home is “bodily pain.” Home doesn’t even exist, or at least he doesn’t have one. And as he contemplates it, the only names that come to him are not Joe or Biddy, as it should be. They have a home, and it is not his. The names he conjures are instead the decidedly unsafe characters of Estella and Provis, who are features of the home he went in search of. With Estella being a star – entirely unattainable. And Provis being proviso – a condition attached to an agreement. So even if there is anything like home, it is either beyond Pip’s reach, or it is conditional – incomplete. Ultimately, no matter how he conjugates his approach to the idea of home, he doesn’t end up there. He doesn’t even know home as a place – as a noun. He calls it a “vast shadowy verb I had to conjugate.” Verbs are not destinations. You cannot arrive at a verb, or settle into a verb, or be comforted by a verb. Also “vast and shadowy,” as in without any real form, and a verb that he “had to” conjugate. It’s not even voluntary. It’s an obligation, which could also be called a sentence. Pip’s fears and confusion are a sentence to homelessness.

Now go read Great Expectations again. It’ll change your life.