Archive for June, 2003

The Thinker

Must see movies for progressives

We all have our own ideas about what constitutes a great movie. For me a great movie must not only be well done, well directed, well acted but it should force you outside your box and expand your mind in the process. Two movies that fit that mode ended up in my DVD collection this weekend. I didn’t seek them out but when I was browsing the DVD aisle at the local Best Buy, there they were and I picked them up without hesitation.

If you haven’t seen either of these movies do yourself a favor and pick them up. You won’t go wrong. Neither are perfect movies but they speak to a larger theme and in doing so make them landmark films, in my opinion.

The first is “The Cider House Rules“, released in 1999. It won Michael Caine a Best Supporting Actor award for his portrayal of Dr. Wilbur Larch, the doctor of an orphanage in Maine in 1943. Caine is the big name; there are no others in the movie although Tobey Maguire would use this movie as a springboard for more mainstream movies like “Spiderman”; and Charlize Theron would soon become a sought after actress. The film can at times be a little overbearing because it rarely strays from the main point of the novel by John Irving. Homer Wells is an orphan who is trained by Dr. Larch to be a doctor. Dr. Larch sees a side of life that is rather ugly but he holds together an orphanage full of abandoned children with perseverance, dedication and more than a few escapes into dream worlds aided by ether, which he self administers. In 1943 abortion is illegal but he performs many abortions routinely for the many ladies who ends up at his doorstep. Homer constantly questions Dr. Larch’s pragmatic approach to such things while in the process becoming a physician without a license. Eventually Homer abruptly leaves the orphanage for a year as an apple picker and lobsterman, discovers his own morality can be plenty squishy (such as when he bangs Charlize Theron’s character, who is married to a pilot).

The film doesn’t have many flaws. The only flaw of note is that Tobey Maguire is probably not the best person to play Homer Wells. He plays Homer with the same sort of happy go lucky expression on his face, and a gentle nature; I would have preferred someone who could better express the complexities of the role better. But the whole rest of the movie really works well. The kids in the orphanage are heart breakers, particularly Fuzzy, the poor kid perpetually in an oxygen tank suffering from bronchitis. Each kid is a well-defined and complex character somehow deftly directed by Lasse Halstrom. The music by Rachel Portman is outstanding. The lessons it imparts about the moral squishiness of real life are relevant enough and done occasionally in an overbearing manner, but mostly it just works real well. Like all of my favorite movies it has a great ending scene that is somewhat predictable but starts the tears flowing anyhow. I won’t spoil it for you in case you haven’t seen the movie.

Dead Poets Society” arrived ten years before “The Cider House Rules”. I hated Robin Williams as a TV actor but I loved him from his very first movie, “The World According to Garp” when I realized he could act as well as be funny. In Dead Poets he plays John Keating, a poetry teacher at a very repressed, very upper class boarding school somewhere in the Shenandoah Mountains. Professor Keating had once been a student at the school some years back. Since escaping from the school it is obvious that Keating somehow became a fully alive and liberated human being, and he returned to the school in part to open the minds of these cookie cutter upper class boys whose parents largely expected them to grow up to be lawyers and doctors.

John Keating is a role that Robin Williams was born to play. It’s hard to imagine anyone else who could have played the part as convincingly. In the process of trying to open and liberate these minds, he succeeds a bit better than he expected. Eventually, of course, he and the establishment butt heads. There is more than a bit of moral squishiness in this movie too, but again it has one of these movie endings to die for.

Both these movies will always be in my permanent collection. If they aren’t in yours then I suggest you watch them. I bet in time they will be in yours too.

Both films were nominated for Best Picture and lost. In both cases I think the picture that won was not nearly as good as either of these pictures. “The Cider House Rules” lost to “American Beauty”, a lovely and quirky film. “Dead Poets” lost to “Driving Miss Daisy”.

The Thinker

Howard Dean for President

No, Dean is not my ideal Democratic presidential candidate. He doesn’t even come close. The current crop of candidates, frankly, offers pretty poor choosing. I’m not a big fan of Al Gore but even old boring Al would be a better choice than any of those running for president. Someone like Hilary Clinton would be ideal but she won’t run, and has ruled out 2008 as well. So we Democrats will have to pick from one of the announced candidates, and a fairly sorry lot they are overall.

Democrats always have a few “you have GOT to be joking” sorts of candidates. Al Sharpton wins this one hands down. But many of the rest aren’t much better.

Sadly also in this category is Dennis Kucinich, a former mayor and now Congressman representing the Cleveland area. Dennis has a real problem: mainly he comes across as a very annoying, the sort of person you would never invite to a party. Unless American voters have a real sense of humor he can’t get elected and he is so far to the left he’d be lucky to win his own district.

Then there is the inside the beltway crowd, trying to distinguish themselves but in general being spineless standing up to President Bush.

There is Dick Gephardt, under whose sterling leadership the House of Representatives actually lost Democratic seats in 2000 and 2002. As a consequence (although he won’t admit it) he resigned as House Democratic Minority Leader. No one is really sure why he is running or what he figures his appeal is, but it’s not the first time he threw his hat into the ring. Sorry Dick but your record speaks for itself and you are as exciting as milquetoast. Next!

John Kerry is hoping that some of the Kennedy mystique will rub off on him because he knows Ted personally and hails from Massachusetts. Besides, he is tall and square jawed. But he voted for war with Iraq even though he should have known better, although he now claims the Administration fed him bad information.

John Edwards is, like Kerry, a junior senator. He hails from North Carolina which is good politically because a Democrat who can’t carry some southern states is unlikely to win the White House. But he also voted for the war in Iraq and he really hasn’t distinguished himself very much. Most of his money comes from trial lawyers. Maybe he’s hoping a close resemblance to John Ritter will win him some votes.

Joe Lieberman ran, and lost, with Al Gore. Joe voted for the war, of course, but has a much larger problem: in many respects he is a closet Republican. Arguably that might be an asset in this election but he doesn’t offer much in the way of vision. If the Democrats were to be pragmatic and look for a centrist candidate he would be an obvious choice. That may not be the way to win the White House this time though. One strong point with Joe is that he is an excellent debater. He wrapped rings around Dick Cheney; consider what he could do with George W.

Bob Graham is my #2 choice. He voted against the Iraq war and understands the real terrorism problem, i.e. it’s Al Qaeda, stupid, not Saddam. As a former chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee he knows just how badly this war has been portrayed. Arguably he could win his own state (he has never lost an election) and he is a strong centrist candidate. But he comes across as more than a little goofy.

Carol Moseley Braun lost her last election to a Republican. It’s unclear why she is running. It’s nice to have a woman and a black running and she is reasonably liberal, but she really has nothing to distinguish herself and generates no discernable passion from voters.

That leaves Howard Dean. I would like to be more passionate about the guy. Hopefully in time I will be. I tend to like what I see but I also see some warning flags. He is a moderate Democrat who appears to the liberal wing. He has balanced state budgets many times, even during challenging economic times. He made universal health insurance available to virtually all residents of his state. His singular claim to fame (and perhaps his downfall) was pushing for a civil union bill in Vermont. Doubtless the Republicans will make hay of it if he is the nominee. He was passionately against the war in Iraq and is very passionate about engaging this country again in the international community, and ending our one sided isolationist approach toward the rest of the world. What I think will happen if he is the nominee is that people will discover a fiery but determined centrist democrat who leans enough to the left to bring in those people who are passionate on those causes. But he is a guy who speaks his mind very plainly and sometimes says inappropriate things.

I’ve actually given his campaign some of my money. We’ll see how he does. If he picks up steam I will probably give him more money. I like what I know of him, but he has yet to make me an enthusiastic supporter. He just seems to be the best of a rather poor crowd of candidates.

The Thinker

Criswell Predicts…

I can see the future. My amazing ability happens to be limited to our war in Iraq, our war on terrorism and the 2004 elections but I see it nonetheless. I’d like to think my ability is remarkable and soon I’d have a TV show on the SciFi Channel next to John Edward but there is no magic about it. It’s not hard in the least. All you have to do is look at facts on the ground, look at our history, look at geopolitics and it becomes a no brainer. I am disturbed (but not surprised) that what is obvious to me is not obvious to what passes for leadership in this country.

My first prediction is easy: our occupation of Iraq will turn into a quagmire. Some of you might be saying, well, it’s already a quagmire: duh! Quite right but I had predicted this before we invaded in the first place. I never doubted we would win a military victory, but I never believed we could win the peace. The only question now is how long we hang in there before we throw in the towel. The reality will be a lot like Somalia, only over a much longer time. Our troops will continue to die from sniper fire in a long war of attrition. Our desire to enforce a peace will mean little freedom of movement for Iraqis who consequently will continue to be unemployed and suffer greatly. It will resemble more and more the West Bank with endless checkpoints and military patrols. This will in turn build resentment that will feed on itself, resulting in more attacks, more resentment, more skirmishes. If we had used our brains instead of our brawn we’d be trying to get the United Nations to come in and take over for us. But that won’t happen of course because it might mean we’d have to admit we can’t take on the world unilaterally. Eventually, probably about a year after Bush loses the 2004 election, we’ll withdraw. The Pundits will call it “Iraqization” but effectively we will slowly withdraw and let the country return to the anarchy it effectively has right now. But hey, Saddam won’t reimerge, or will he?

Why is this prediction so easy to make? Just go a thousand miles to the east and look at what we are doing in Afghanistan. At least there we effectively limited our occupation to Kabul and got mostly foreign troops to do the police work. But there simply wasn’t the will to really make a genuine peace and there won’t be the same will in Iraq.

Next prediction: the roadmap to peace will fail. Again this is an absurdly easy prediction to make. I wish it would succeed but it can’t. There are lots of reasons but perhaps the biggest reason of all is that the Palestinians have no means other than persuasion to get groups like Hamas to stop terrorism. The Israelis, of course, insist that the Palestinian police force can go in and root out these terrorists. But of course there are a zillion Israeli checkpoints so what little remains of a Palestinian police force cannot get from place to place. But effectively there IS no Palestinian police force. Virtually all their police stations have been destroyed by the Israelis. The Israelis are the only real power on the West Bank and Gaza Strip. They have the best trained police force in the world and they can’t stop all these acts of terror either. And yet Israel and in fact our own government says, with a straight face, that Palestinians themselves can stop the terrorism.

Not going to happen. Because even if Palestinians were armed to the teeth like the Israelis they would still have the same problem. You can’t make a terrorist stop being a terrorist through force of arms. The best you can do is through a police state limit the damage. But of course there is something in the human nature that the more you oppress a group the more determined they are to show they still have power. Suicide bombings didn’t just happen. They were a direct result of all other forms of resistance not working. Peace marches didn’t faze the Israelis in the least. They just kept building more settlements and bulldozing more Palestinian dwellings. So nice try Bush and Powell; and I’m glad that Bush at least came out for the idea of a Palestinian state in principle. Unfortunately that’s all it will be because the dynamics of the conflict will not change. To truly change the situation Israel would have to end the occupation and remove its settlers, and then it would have to endure years of terrorism anyhow. It would have to give up other things it doesn’t want to give up, like 80% of the water it takes from the Jordan River. But eventually with a lot of international aid the problem would grow less severe over time. This is not a tradeoff that will ever be made in my lifetime. One cannot get Israelis to accept the notion of withdrawal and continued, though declining terrorism. It would be seen as defeat. But over ten years or so it would largely solve the problem.

Prediction Number Three. Bush loses in 2004. Yeah, I see the poll numbers. But he isn’t doing as well as his father did at the same point in his presidency. Reuters has him at 57%, so he is approaching levels of popularity he had before the war started. For some of the factors that will cause him to lose, see above. But the real reason he will lose will be the economy. Yes, it might improve but two million lost jobs cannot be erased between now and Election Day. Iraq will continue to be a quagmire that will slowly sap his popularity. The budget deficit will demonstrate he is utterly lacking in financial management skills. People are scared at the unaffordability of health insurance and want it, but he doesn’t have a clue and it is anathema to his ideology. On Election Day 2004 it will be a no brainer. Will we better off than we were in 2000? Not a chance. Do we feel more secure and safe in spite of 9/11? Nope. Is our country headed in the right direction? Not with historically high deficits, lack of national health insurance, obscene giveaways to the richest people, and a continued degradation of our environment. I’d like to think that in addition to losing reelection we’ll get a Democratic congress again but that is much less likely. The $200M war chest Bush is creating for his reelection will narrow the margins. But four years will be enough and we’ll be fed up enough to vote in numbers large enough to throw him out; it’s not like he came into office with a mandate in the first place. Enjoy clearing brush on your ranch in Texas, George. That seems to be something you can do well.

The Thinker

Morning in America (Again): How the Democrats Won in 2004

I’m old enough to remember the election of 1980. It wasn’t a great time in our country. Inflation, interest rates and unemployment were high. At age 23 I eeked out a living a little above the minimum wage at a Montgomery Ward. We had hostages in Iran that looked like they would never be released. This was an inescapable news story even bigger than O.J.’s trial. It turned Ted Koppel into something of a celebrity. Every night at 11:30 after the late news he hosted yet another special report: “Day 333: American Held Hostage”. A bungled raid by our military to liberate the hostages failed spectacularly. The national morale was near rock bottom.

In the midst of all this a presidential election was held that put a genial B movie actor and former California governor into the Oval Office. In the midst of a sour national mood Ronald Reagan had a message that fell on receptive ears: it’s morning again in America. Let’s shake off the national gloom. It was a great message that connected with the voters. It won him an overwhelming victory in 1984 despite the fact that the economy wasn’t really doing all that much better. Reagan was about attitude and spirit. We latched on to that spirit. Arguably it began the ascendancy of the Republican Party after decades of being in the political basement. Americans don’t seem to like to be in a gloomy mood for very long.

If it worked in 1980, it can work in 2004 but this time for the Democrats. A lot of the same factors are present. We have no hostages in Iran, but we do feel fearful. In spite of our overwhelming military and economic power, we don’t feel all that more secure and we feel vulnerable to forces we’re not sure we can control: such as one crazed fanatic or a suitcase bomb. We don’t have sky-high interest rates, we have rock bottom interest rates, yet we have learned that either extreme brings its own dangers. We now fear the deflation demon as much as we feared 18% mortgage rates in the early 1980s. Unemployment is statistically lower than in 1980 but many of us know the statistics are lying. The unemployment rate has been recalibrated to be more politically correct. We know that the true unemployment rate is much higher and that huge numbers of “discouraged” workers aren’t counted but would be employed if they could just find a job. We know that the length of time people spend unemployed has roughly doubled, and that to survive thousands of people are taking large wage cuts. Others cannot find employment in their field anymore and are working at relatively unskilled jobs at half or less than what they used to earn. We have all this plus a grinding war in Iraq that increasingly looks like a pointless quagmire.

Let’s face it: our national mood is depressed. Having our tanks roll into Baghdad had a short cathartic effect but, like a cup of coffee, the buzz soon wore off. Because our nation feels depressed our economy is in the doldrums too. Even tax cuts don’t seem to cheer us up.

Bush will have little to run on in 2004 but the fear factor. He’ll run on it because he and Carl Rove ran the Republican Party on it in 2002 and they will hope it will work again. But 9/11 is a receding memory, and Bush’s chickens have come home to roost. The economy is unlikely to turn around markedly before the next election. Even if it does it is unlikely we’ll come close to regaining the number of jobs lost during this administration. Poll after poll suggests that national red ink scares voters. Weapons of mass destruction turn into weapons of mass deception; Iraq shows all the signs of being our next Vietnam.

A Democrat with a positive message can win using Ronald Reagan’s approach. Here’s how.

First state the obvious: our fears of terrorism are vastly overblown. That’s not to say they aren’t there, but the likelihood of any individual American being a victim of an act of terrorism is virtually nil. Even on 9/11 when we lost 3,000 souls, that was 3,000 out of 300 million. We lose many magnitudes more citizens every year in automobile accidents. One is more likely to be a victim of terrorism, small as it is, if you live in Washington or a major city. For most Americans neither your life nor the lives of anyone you love is not in jeopardy from terrorism. If you are living in small town America you are more likely to be hit by an asteroid than to die from terrorism.

Second, point out where the real problems lie with national security. It’s not in Iraq, it’s in organizations like al Qaeda, and it’s in vulnerable nuclear research laboratories in the former USSR and in Eastern Europe. For the tens of billions of dollars we spent trying to obliterate Iraq we could have secured a lot of Russian nuclear facilities and made our country a whole lot safer. Point out that Bush has done hardly anything in this area; in fact he has cut this funding.

Third, advocate positive changes that can reduce the likelihood of terrorism. Advocate a Marshall plan for the Middle East where we work to improve the standard of living of the people. What if we rebuilt every destroyed Palestinian home crushed by an Israeli bulldozer as a starter? Don’t you think that would be very positive toward America, show true retribution and genuine concern for a people? Don’t you think it would sap a lot of the energy that creates terrorists in the first place? Wouldn’t this in effect buy us a lot of long-term national security? It’s cheaper than another Iraq-like war.

On the economy advocate what Americans already believe: that deficits are bad and the latest tax cuts have been reckless and unnecessary. Americans now believe in national health insurance. Too many people are uninsured and costs continue to spiral out of control. People will pay for it because with it they will have peace of mind.

But mainly what Democrats need is a message of moderation and hope. We need to say loudly and clearly: we refuse to live in fear any longer. We will take pragmatic steps to ensure our national security but we will not be slaves to our fears. We will not let this country become a victim of 9/11. We will not let terrorists destroy our spirit. We will be a party about pragmatic, progressive policies that uniformly helps all Americans, not just the richest.

That is how to win the White House and how to take back Congress in 2004.

The Thinker

Weight Loss = Hard Work

It’s not easy being lean. I’m thinking it is unlikely I will ever be lean again.

Something happened to me over the years. I think I ate too much and didn’t exercise enough. I joined the majority of Americans who are overweight or obese. I didn’t intend it to be that way, of course; it just sort of snuck up on me.

I first discovered that I could gain weight in my early 20s. A couple times a week I bought milk at the local High’s store in downtown Gaithersburg, Maryland. The Entemann’s pastries were right there and they sure tasted good. So I’d bring one home. And one day I weighed myself and was shocked to find I had put on some weight. I exited my teenage years a healthy 180 pounds (I am 6’2″). And suddenly I was 200 pounds.

Solution: eat less and exercise more. Basically I wasn’t exercising. I never got in the habit. So I took up running, starting with mile runs around the local high school track and working up to mile and a half runs four to six times a week. I was really out of shape and it took a long time before I could run and not feel winded. But I did lose weight and got back to 185 pounds or so, and I was more careful about what I was eating. Mostly though I was more concerned about exercising more than eating less.

And for more than 20 years I have been running and exercising regularly. So why am I not a skinny thing?

Those of you have met me would probably not call me overweight or obese. And yet technically I am. I should not get above 190 pounds, and I’m probably somewhere around 195 pounds. And I’m having a hell of a time staying where I’m at. It’s been hard work. It continues to be hard work. It’s a continual war I fight with myself. Emotionally I want the satisfaction of those lovely high fat foods. But my forebrain says I don’t want to in my 50s and having coronary artery disease. Every day is another skirmish with the Mr. Hyde lurking inside of me.

Back in 2001 I hit a new high: I was at 223. Bill Clinton and I had something in common. I had been overweight for years and years and though I still exercised I must have been packing on the calories. But I figured I was still running and thus healthy.

To some extent I think my overeating was facilitated by the excellent and cheap lunches conveniently available at the Ford House Office Building cafeteria. Those steak and cheese subs were hard to resist, and I would often throw on a chocolate chip muffin for dessert. I rationalized it by having a light dinner. It didn’t help that my personal life was in a great deal of stress in the late 90s. Eating became one of the few pleasurable things in life. It was agony to pass a Dunkins and not grab a donut or two.

Nonetheless I lost the weight at least twice before. In the early 90s I got to around 205 and brought myself down to 190, mostly through a lot more exercise. But then slowly, incrementally, the weight came back on.

It took me years to summon the energy to do anything serious again about weight loss. But my joints were beginning to notice the effects of my weight. My knees were hurting and the tendons in my foot were often inflamed. But one day, perhaps as a result of being on antidepressants, I suddenly had the will again.

Like most dieters I looked for a recipe for weight loss. For a while diet and exercise worked fine. I was losing a pound a week by eating salads for lunch and a bowl of cereal for breakfast, plus putting in a lot of time on the elliptical machines at the health club at work. I got below 200 and felt like cheering. And then I stopped losing weight. For weeks I hoped things would improve and I didn’t change strategies. I continued eating sensibly, and I still peddled the metal machines hard and burned off those calories. What the hell was going on?

I stumbled on the Carbohydrate Addict’s Diet and tried that. Carbohydrates, according to the book, can be evil because they boost blood sugar and make you hungry for more food. So eggs or Egg Beaters for breakfast, a lean salad for lunch, and a modest (sometimes more than modest) dinner with carbs in my “reward meal”.

It worked, sort of. I lost maybe half a pound a week. But it was tough. I weighed myself every day to a tenth of a pound. I kept meticulous records. And I did it. I got to 190. One day I weighed myself and I was 188.8.

It’s been all up since then. My goal was to get to 180, the weight I had when I was married. But it wouldn’t work. This diet wasn’t working anymore.

My pal Lisa told me about her trainer Jason and his emphasis on building muscle mass. I went to see him and tried that approach for a while. But … I hovered between 190 and 195. Using all those weight machines helped I am sure, and maybe I have become more lean. I just wasn’t losing weight.

I finally went to see my doctor. What was going on? Why couldn’t I lose more weight? He didn’t have an answer but when he did say that where I was at, 195, was on the high but acceptable level. Maybe that’s where my body wants me to be because it is the right weight for me now.

So I’ve been maintaining it through a LOT of exercise and a LOT of modest eating. I’d like to lose more but I don’t know how.

Oh wait, I do know how. I’m sure I could do it. But it’s a question of how much pain I want to endure. I could increase aerobics to maybe 60 minutes at a time. But in the process I have to give up something: more time. And that’s the crux of the matter at the moment. Time is a limited quantity. I am fortunate I can exercise at work; it would be much tougher to do it in the evenings with all the distractions going on then. My days start at 5:20 and it is over 12 hours later before I stagger home.

What am I doing now? I exercise, with aerobics, 4-6 times a week. Most of the time I am on the elliptical machine, but I still run periodically. Every other day at the health club I add on weight training. In a week I can go through pretty much every machine they have. I do weight levels that would astound most people. I leg press 150 pounds, for example, and I do 125 pounds on abdominal machine.

Eating? A bowl of cereal for breakfast (all those eggs worried me), and usually something fairly lean but tasty for lunch. I like the broccoli and beef down in our cafeteria: a small portion, no rice. And for my midday treat, one or two Special K treats (90 calories each). Then a fairly large, but not obscene dinner.

All this diet and exercise though and here I am: 195.

Yes, I am sure my evening meals could be better. But they are not obscene calorie fests, and they usually start with a big salad.

On weekends my strategy is two meals a day: a large breakfast and a medium to large dinner. If I get hungry I’ll have a slice or two of cheese. I work out at least one day on the weekend too.

It’s something about being middle aged, I think. It doesn’t help that I sit at a desk most of the day, but the midday break at the health club burns a lot of calories. I am sure I could add more exercise on weekends: bike trips, walks etc. Mostly I just do the standard routine.

The good news is that my weight is stable and while technically overweight I am just barely overweight. Still, it’s discouraging. It’s quite a bit of work for me just to maintain my present weight. I must burn calories much more efficiently now. My health is excellent: I pass physicals with flying colors.

But if I set a goal why can’t I make it? It is discouraging. I watch what I eat very carefully now. Some days I do really good, some days I feast more than I should, but I am conscious of every mouthful and the consequences. If I eat more than I should one day I usually eat less the next day.

I’m lucky I have something that works, and I am glad I got rid of the gut and my love handles are largely gone. But I don’t understand why my body won’t let me be lean again.

What strategies have you used that have worked, particularly in the long term, at keeping weight off?

The Thinker

Will my daughter be gay? And does it matter?

My daughter Rosie is a very unique child. I guess parents could say that about every child; every person has a unique set of chromosomes. But she is still very unique and to some extent I plead guilty (as does her mother) for encouraging these influences. Neither of us are homophobes even though I can’t claim to have known a whole lot of openly gay and lesbian people. Since age 7 or so she’s been going to the Unitarian Universalist Church in Reston and met a number of gay and bisexual people there, including our last minister, Gretchen Woods, who was lesbian and has a life partner. Some of her girlfriends appear to be bisexual or lesbians, although at age 13-14 one must take such assertions with a grain of salt. She often seems more comfortable around the GLBTG (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender) crowd than the future mothers and fathers of America crowd, which is most of her middle school. She isn’t in high school yet but she has already joined the Westfield High School Gay-Straight Alliance. That’s my girl!

Rosie is 13 and claims she doesn’t know if she is heterosexual, bisexual or lesbian. That is a sensible approach I guess: keeping her options open. Her mother seems heterosexual enough, although over the last few years Terri has hung out rather heavily among a crowd of women who are largely gay or bisexual as part of her adventures into the Slash Fan Fiction universe. Through her Rosie has come in contact with many an adult role model, and many a dysfunctional adult from this community.

It must be tough to sort it out but I image by the time she is off to college she’ll have figured out exactly where she fits on the Kinsey scale. I have never believed that one can become gay through environmental influences. It is possible that environmental influences are stimulating thoughts in that area that might not be stimulated, or might occur later in life.

Lately though I’ve been wondering if I might have a gay or bisexual child on my hands and if so how I would react to it.

Unquestionably I love Rosie and would support any healthy relationships she forms. Most likely at her age she is likely to have a healthier relationship with her own gender than with a boy anyhow. I’m not that anxious to have her start dating boys and she seems to be in no hurry either. Her one “boy” friend that I have met is a geeky, awkward young lad about her age who seems as much in a club of one as Rosie. I am completely comfortable around Eric, perhaps because he reminds me so much of myself at that age: a bit brazen and unorthodox but generally not the most popular guy on campus.

Intellectually if she were to announce tomorrow “Mom and Dad, I’m a lesbian” I don’t think I would have a problem with it. I would know that there is nothing I can do about it; I might as well argue that her hair color isn’t brown. I know and respect the person she is and sexual orientation is such a minor part of the whole person.

Emotionally though I would have some issues to work through. Trying to understand myself, I think it has something to do with genetics. The notion of someday having a grandchild bouncing on my lap seems appealing. But also there is the notion of dynasty: I’d like some part of me to be passed on to future generations. I realize of course that in a genetic sense Rosie is only half me, so the whole notion is somewhat fallacious and outdated. Some of my siblings have chosen not to have children, and they seem comfortable with it. I would probably grow comfortable with never being a grandparent in time too.

It may be pointless and selfish to wish for things like this. Having gone through the child rearing experience I know it is a difficult road in the best of circumstances. Rosie might well turn out to be heterosexual, choose to get married and still choose not to have children. It might also be possible, given the rapid advances in human reproductive technologies, that she could have a genetic offspring even if she married another woman.

I’m not sure where these phantom worries come from. Frankly I didn’t give them hardly any thought at all until a few weeks ago. And I’d like to put them way into the background where they belong. But they have come out of the closet, so to speak. And it appears I will have to wrestle with them even though really there is nothing I can do to change Rosie from the person she will be. I will have to deal with my feelings regardless.

And regardless I will always love Rosie from the depth of my soul and appreciate the full human being she is, and the unique adult she will soon become. If I’m enjoying her this much as a teenager I will enjoy her even more as an independent adult.

The Thinker

Uh oh, I’m not living up to my own expectations

What does it mean to be a grown up? Is it a place you arrive at? Or is it a state of mind? Can we be both grown up and child-like at the same time?

I think I have the grown up thing fairly well down at age 46 but often it doesn’t feel quite right. I’ve learned generally to be a responsible person, but I don’t always like it. I know plenty of adults who don’t strike me as terribly responsible. They drive like maniacs, can’t pay their bills on time, go days without taking baths, neglect their kids schoolwork, don’t believe in exercise and buy lots of boxes of donuts at the local Krispy Kreme.

I, on the other hand, drive fairly soberly, never have a late bill, bathe regularly, try to keep up on my daughter’s schoolwork (this often feels like a second job), work out at least four times a week and generally stay away from overdosing on high fat and high caloric food.

But on the other hand this sort of life isn’t too much fun. Maybe my strategy will see me alive into my 90s, but I will have missed many opportunities to gorge myself on my favorite foods. I will never know the pleasure of a nicotine high. I’ve never been drunk nor am I ever likely to be drunk. I’ve never puffed a joint or tried an illegal narcotic. I’ve had some vices but they have been few and far between. I’d like to be more free spirited and spontaneous but I can’t seem to be that way.

I do have a goofy side and I am not afraid to show it, at least among family. But during the days and out in public I play the good citizen role. I know it doesn’t have to be that way. I have a friend who unashamedly sings wherever she goes. That’s the way she is. She can’t suppress it. She must have been a songbird in her previous life. Anyone who doesn’t like it can kiss her grits, not that she could ever utter a bad thing about anyone (Catholic don’t you know). “Here I am. Take me as I am and if it bothers you it sure as heck doesn’t bother me.” There’s a lot to admire about that attitude. I consider myself self-confident but I don’t have that kind of self-confidence. I probably never will. It is hard sometimes to put on a controversial bumper sticker on my car wondering what the neighbors will think.

In short being a grown up, or acting grown up, isn’t much fun. It’s kind of like swallowing that glass of Metamucil ever day, or having regular rectal exams.

It is hard for me to turn off that part of my brain that says do what I should be doing. The list of “shoulds” never stops. I should wash and wax the car. I should trim the hedges or clean the bathrooms. I always feel a little guilty when I take days or hours off just to smell the roses a bit. Not that I haunt flower gardens in my spare time. More likely I am on the computer, in a forum discussing politics, or playing the PHP server side scripting.

I don’t know why I do this. There is not much good reason for it. Perhaps it comes from growing up Catholic. When you see life in the prism of sin vs. non-sin and you hear daily what God expects of you, you tend to bring that orientation into life. But I thought I gave up the Catholicism gig years ago. Why if I’ve given up the theology should its overarching outlook on life still chain me? Why can’t I let it go completely?

Even the messiest person ends up dead in a box, just like me. Only they were able to enjoy more of their lives doing things that mattered more to them. Me, I get to go to heaven and report to God that I had clean toilets.

Somehow I don’t think that’s what life is about.

What sort of person are you? If you found a way toward your own personal liberation how did you do it? How did you draw figure out the line between being reasonably grown up but not too grown up? What were the factors that allowed you to achieve this liberation?

The Thinker

Happily ever after

It’s been a busy three-day weekend but at least I wasn’t at work. Work has not been terribly inspiring lately, but the last time it has truly inspiring was about three years ago so no surprise there.

Still it was weekend with the chance to catch up with friends. As Lisa reported on her blog we finally managed to get together at our usual spot, the Barnes & Noble halfway between our respective houses, and spent 90 minutes or so just chatting about life. We are not as accessible to each other as we used to be. Her new job means she no longer has much time to chat on the job. She has actual work to do all the time now. Mine never allowed much time for chat and after my desktop gets converted to Windows 2000 minus chat clients there will be no opportunity for that either. But now that I know she’s usually off work at 2 PM, I plan to snare her some Friday afternoon when I am off too. Weekends always seem busy: she and hubby are running off somewhere and my wife, daughter and I have a fairly extensive laundry list of things to do. Anyhow it was great to catch up with Lisa. Now I have a list of FDA unapproved “supplements” to try to add more pep to my life and help me sleep better. The “natural” sleeping pill I had Terri try last night had her barfing up the contents of her stomach two hours later. So I don’t think she’ll be trying that one again. But I slept well with one tablet of GABA I picked up at the GNC store. But I was tired anyhow.

But Lisa wasn’t the only old friend I caught up with this weekend. On Friday I ventured into the wilds of the Virginia Piedmont to locate Cyndi at her new location seven or so miles past Warrenton. I haven’t mentioned Cyndi before so an explanation is in order. Cyndi came briefly into our lives in 1987-1988 when Terri and I, married but childless, thought foster parenting might be something to try. I was 30 at the time and Terri was 27. We had been touched by a news story on TV about Vietnamese boat people and had in mind to be a foster parent to one of these orphaned children. We were surprised to find out after we had gotten training that instead of a Vietnamese boy or girl we were offered Cyndi instead. She was 13, appeared to be sexually active, and came with had a very bad case of juvenile diabetes and bad parenting issues up the wazoo. She was instantly popular because of her good looks. She projected a come-hither attitude that reached the radar of every older boy of dubious character within five miles. What self worth she had at the time appeared to be vested in her ability to attract men.

We had her for five months before we had to ask her to leave. She was 13 when she arrived, wasn’t used to following rules and I wasn’t used to coming home to find boys camped out all over my house. I felt like a failure in the foster parenting business. Cyndi got shuffled from one group home to another group home and consequently one school to another school. While her personal life appeared to be a wreck from my perspective, we kept in touch. I occasionally would meet her at a McDonalds to see how she was doing and leave feeling disheartened. She had frequent problems managing her diabetes. She turned an adult with no health insurance. I recall once coming to her rescue to buy some high priced medicine she couldn’t afford but needed for some sort of infection. Although far behind in her school work she did manage to graduate on time with her class, which surprised both Terri and I. We attended her graduation and felt hopeful for a time.

But then it was more of the same. She’d meet some man of dubious moral character, live with him for a while and get dumped. She’d pop into our lives, usually with a phone call, at bad moments in her life. I recall two phone calls while she was in the hospital. If I remember correctly the last one was when she was pregnant (out of wedlock) with her daughter Kelsey and going through some sort of diabetic shock. Through it all I tried to be loving and supportive and told her that I loved her. On the inside though I was appalled. Getting off the phone I felt depressed and wanted to cry. Cyndi meanwhile kept going through men and kept bouncing from job to job. Among her mini careers included work in real estate and sitting behind the counter of a tanning salon.

One day her Fairy Godmother must have paid a long overdue visit. Either while she was pregnant with Kelsey, or shortly thereafter, she met Chris, who subsequently married her and adopted her daughter. Unlike the other men Chris seemed to be a man of character who genuinely loved her. They’ve been living happily every after since then. Until a year ago they were living in a townhouse in Centreville. We saw Cyndi very infrequently: every 3 to 5 years. In 2000 they all came out to the house for a Memorial Day cookout. And Cyndi and I traded sporadic emails that were of the Christmas card type.

Cyndi is now 30. Chris must be doing very well indeed in the plumbing and landscaping business because I was surprised when I finally found her house in the Virginia Piedmont. It’s in a new development in the middle of nowhere but which, given the inexorable growth of the population and Virginia’s wholesale lack of any land use planning, will doubtless turn into a large community of people. Within years there will be traffic jams just driving into nearby Warrenton.

I don’t know what they paid for their new house but it would be considered a McMansion in our neighborhood, except she has a real lawn, not one of these postage stamp lawns you see around here. It would be a $750,000 house in my neighborhood. Cyndi is a stay at home Mom and has a more than full time job maintaining the property and looking after her daughter. The downside is that husband Chris, who works in Northern Virginia has long commutes, long days and often works on the weekends.

While the house is new it is clean an impeccably furnished. While I have little appreciation for interior decorating I was pretty wowed: I bet Martha Stewart would have given it her seal of approval. There was a large SUV in the driveway, next to which my comparatively puny and 12 year old Toyota Camry looked out of place.

So she seems to be doing quite well. We chatted for a couple hours, I inspected almost every part of her house, and we talked about her daughter, husband and life in general. I’m hoping that since I am out that way about twice a year anyhow that I can keep in more regular touch with her. From all appearances she is living the “happily ever after” lifestyle now. And while as a teen her morals left much to be desired now she clearly has her head together. I find much to admire about Cyndi now as an adult. Her stubbornness that I observed as a teenager is now something of a virtue. She has the time, energy and determination to turn her house in the middle of nowhere into a showcase home. Her diabetes is under control. She’s an American success story. No Las Vegas gambler would have bet a nickel on her in 1987. She seemed destined for an express ticket to Hell.

My challenge seeing her again was to respect and appreciate her as a fully-grown adult and to not appear condescending. Much of our relationship has been has been me in the father figure role, and I see her infrequently enough where I tend to see her in the prism of her teenage years and not as a fully matured and capable adult. Thankfully I think I succeeded. It was a meeting of equals. And I hope our two families can continue to enjoy each other’s company for many years to come.


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