Two Weddings and a Roadtrip

This weekend, Ger and I traveled with a group to the Catskills to witness the start of friends Janet and Nuri new life together as a married couple in a gorgeous ceremony that would have filled Thoreau’s heart with gladness. For everyone making the trip, this was our second wedding in seven days—last weekend’s was an entirely lovely Celtic affair binding together two other people we love dearly. I understand that today, some other local acquaintances are to be wed. It has been a great month for love, amongst my expanded family.

I have always loved weddings, although the reasons for this have changed through the years. As a younger man, it meant booze (often free), food, and women (often lonely and looking for “companionship” for an evening). As I got older, it was my friends getting married, and weddings became a bittersweet time to bid adieu to their old roles in my life and usher in something new (and again with the food, booze, and dates). Once I had a family of my own, I was welcoming folks into a new fraternity with somewhat less partying and somewhat more gossiping about the exciting adventures of our single friends. Maturity, to my reckoning, was a boring, relentlessly quiescent state of being—punctuated by grown-up fights about money, chores, and decisions.

In the years following my divorce, I enjoyed the weddings no less than ever I did before—but I did so in a way that was heavy with cynicism and topped with a dollop of sadness. It was a party, but I knew with absolute certainty that none of these marriages could work in the same way that I knew that a glass thrown high into the air would inevitably crash to the ground, likely shattering in the process. Is there a thing called “gallows enjoyment?” If so, that’s how I enjoyed them.

I’m somewhat less cynical now, I’d like to think.

Now weddings are a celebration and a reminder. A celebration of the love of two people and their promise to do their best to express that love in the years to come, and a reminder that two and one-half years ago I made the same promise to an amazing woman.

Yesterday, when the officiant (or, as I heard him referred, the celebrant) enumerated the things that Nuri and Janet loved about one another, I remembered all of the things that made me fall in love with my wife: her laugh, and how quick she is with it; the way she feels things so deeply and is so willing to share those feelings with me, even when she is embarrassed or worried about them; the way she makes me feel like the kids and I are the most important people in the universe; and the way that she makes it so easy for even someone as lazy as me to show her I love her. So often, after she’s had a rough or emotional time, she apologizes for “being difficult” and I can’t even fathom what she means. I’m reminded that a healthy relationship means sacrifice, but it also means being so in love that your sacrifices don’t even seem to be.

Last weekend, while the minister was discussing the many facets of a marriage that require attention, I was reminded of the importance of presence. It is easy to forget what a powerful an expression of love can be found in a held hand, a hug, or choosing to do my work in the same room with my family. In the same way that my partner in life comforts me when I’m sick and is just there for me when I’ve taken too large a bite of life, I can be there when she struggles with worries about a nebulous future and offer solace when she feels unconfident or troubled. The comfort and strength derived from physical nearness astonishes me regularly.

This week of weddings hasn’t renewed my interest in my wife, I am far too in love with her for that to be even remotely possible. What it has done, though, is to freshen in my mind the places where I can be a better husband. I can remember that my strict planning of those things that I can control and casual acceptance of those I can’t do not come easily or happily to Ger, and that sometimes a few minutes of discussing my views can do wonders for her degree of confidence in the situations we face. I can keep ever in mind that, while her love for me often makes her enthused about the things that excited me, that enthusiasm is not for the actual object of my excitement, but for its effect on me; her amusement at my love of electronics doesn’t make electronics a great gift idea for her. Finally, I can recall how much visible joy it brings to Ger’s face when we are able to take the time to do something just for us, and do whatever I can to make it happen more often.

So I would like to take this time to wish Anna, Janet, Nuri and Ryan all of the best in the coming years. We love each of you only slightly less than you obviously each love your respective partners. Thank you each for allowing us to share in your special day, and for the reminder of how special my wife is to me…because, let’s face it, your nuptials should be all about me. I now return you to your regularly scheduled dick and fart jokes, sorry for the maudlin interruption.

Weight Loss Update

Today marks the end of the first full quarter of my dietary change.

I just deleted a whole bunch of text that followed that initial sentence because, frankly, that stands alone for me. I have significantly changed a previously immutable part of my lifestyle, and that change has lasted me 90 days. Some time ago, I posted a milestone and a request was made that I talk a bit about the specifics of what I’ve done and how it has affected me. I immediately thought, “Hell yeah, that’s a fantastic thing to write about!”

Over a month later, I’m finally writing that post. Let it never be said that I am timely with my posts. Later, I’m going to talk a bit about how much I hate G.W. Bush…right on time! This is almost assuredly going to be very tl;dr, so I wouldn’t blame you if you give it a miss entirely, but if you are hoping to be able to just peruse a small part of it, I’m including this set of links to each of the sections I’m going to talk about: a review of the background of this, statistical information, qualitative information, and plans for the future.

Wait, What Diet?

If you are just tuning in (or possess my wife’s memory for conversations), I wrote almost three months ago about starting a doctor-directed change in diet; the goal being to lose weight, sleep more, and feel healthier. It amounted to:

  • Sleep more

    More than the average 4 hours per night I was getting, my goal was to get closer to 8 hours.

  • Exercise

    Continue, or even increase, the amount of exercise I have been getting.

  • Adjust my food intake

    Maintaining my reduction in calories, properly spread out through the day, heavy on protein, light on carbs.

  • Reduce stress

    Scheduling hobby and hang-out time, getting massages (apparently without happy ending, though), and reducing my business wherever possible.

By the Numbers

All of my statistics have been tracked on myfitnesspal (which has an Android app and a web presence) on which I’m known as jer_. It isn’t perfect, but it works for my purposes.

My weight is currently 37 pounds lower than it was three months ago. That’s an average of around 3 pounds per week, which is still a bit on the high side of what we were hoping for. The goal was to do between 1.5 and 2.5 pounds per week average initially, and that as I approach whatever my body considers to be normal, that should taper off. More concerning is that most of that weight loss was actually in the first two months; I had apparently grossly undercut my caloric intake, so I had lost 30 of those pounds in the first two months. I upward adjusted my intake, and I’m back to a more rational rate.

For the past nearly two weeks, though, I’ve been at something of a plateau. I gained back a bit of weight, then lost it again, so I’ve bounced off of 260 pounds a couple of times without breaking below it yet. At yesterday’s weigh-in (my official record day is Saturday morning), I was at 263. I am not displeased.

About a month in, right while I was losing weight like crazy, I remembered that my doctor suggested I also do regular body measurements…not as regular as weigh-ins, but regularly. My tape points are neck, my waist (for which I’m using the largest point around my substantial gut1), and my hips. I have no idea where I began, but 30 days in (and around 20 pounds down), at 17½/51/46½. Today, I have managed to gain a half-inch in my neck, lose an inch around my middle, and shed almost two inches from my waist, putting me at 18/50/44¼. The neck measurement is an interesting one; as little as two weeks ago my neck had trimmed to 16¾, but now has shot back up to 18. My assumption is that there is some measurement error in there, but who knows.

It took a while to dial in my nutrition, but I think I’m finally in the right area. My caloric intake has continued to decrease along with my weight. Initially, I was consuming 2,200 calories per day with carbohydrates between 40 and 60 grams and protein falling between 70 and 160 grams. I had to bump my calories up because of an initial dump of weight (a pound per day for two weeks, and nearly that for the next two weeks), bringing me up to 2,600 calories per day. Today, my caloric goal is 1,700 calories per day with between 60 and 120 grams of carbs and 70 to 160 grams of protein. I am not, at this time, paying any attention to fat or sodium intake.

Boy, Dieting Must Suck

Overall, I’m still feeling really positive toward the whole experience. My principle goal was to change my entire attitude toward food consumption. When I was constantly moving and getting tons of exercise, had a ridiculous metabolism, and hadn’t yet aged myself into fat gain, I could afford to eat more of what tasted good and less of what didn’t and ignore such things as “calories”…and “portions”…and “nutrients”…and the ability to see my “genitalia.”

My quality of life has not really diminished at all. I’m simply making relatively minor changes to my way of life. I eat less carby things—when I’m out, I look for things that aren’t smothered in sauce or sitting next to a pile of starch. I am more cognizant of how many calories things are—generally I try to enter my food intake before I start eating it so that I get a feel for how much I’ll be ingesting. Generally, this results in feeling full sooner; as in, “Wow, I must be 500 calories into this steak, and I’m pretty stuffed. Weird.2” Other times I just say, “You know what, calorie count? Fuck you in the face. I want to eat those motherfucking Chipotle Chicken Crispers and there’s not a thing you can do about it!…MMMMmmmmm…do you hear that? That’s the sound of extra-thick batter soaking up grease and transporting it directly to my moobs. It is the sound of shame and failure! And those are widely regarded as the most delicious emotions!3

My cheat day is a day that I can eat whatever the hell I want, and so it leaves me never feeling deprived. I don’t have to say, “no, I don’t eat $X anymore” where $X is some (probably delicious) thing that is not conducive to weight loss. Instead, several times per week I say, “Oooh, on Saturday, that shit is going in me!” On cheat day, I almost never get around to cheating as hard as I plan during the week (although there was an outlier that involved a 2,600 calorie lunch that included a Mac N’ Cheese Big Daddy Patty Melt and mac n’ cheese smothered fries and a side of mac n’ cheese, but it’s best not to discuss such things). I pretty much never feel deprived (although, I do miss sushi fairly often.

An important note about the food restrictions, though: I don’t let it get me down when I fail…and I do fail. A histogram of my caloric intake shows numerous spikes of “Oh shit, why did I eat that” moments, but I have to remind myself regularly that I am not on a diet. I have changed the way I eat. This is a permanent change, and like most permanent changes, they aren’t required to be absolutes. If I decide to watch less television, I don’t castigate myself for watching a bit here and there. If I decide to spend more time with my family, I don’t begrudge myself some lapses into overtime here and there. I have decided to eat healthier, and I am way happier if I don’t beat myself up over a decision to ignore that once in a while.

I have added some medical resources to the mix, though. I am seeing my doctor regularly, and we’re keeping an eye on my blood sugar, cholesterol, blood pressure, enzymes, and a bunch of other stuff that sounds like Latin and probably translates to “things fatties have to worry about.”

I am on something whose name I cannot recall now (but I think begins with a ‘T’) to aid in getting to sleep and staying that way, and it is amazing. I am sleeping around 6 or 7 hours per night now. Re-read that sentence, because I just said that I…sleep…7…uninterrupted…hours…now! It’s madness. I genuinely feel the lack of sleep when I get less. If I do get woken up in the night, I just go back to sleep. Lunacy!!

I am also back on phentermine. I took it for two months then stopped refilling the prescription because I assumed that it was okay to stop I hate pills. When I had my last appointment, my doctor got ready to write me a new prescription for them and I pointed out that I had stopped taking them a few weeks before. She responded with the same look that she used when I described how I ate 80% of my calories after 6pm (and many of those after 9pm) most of the time. It’s a look that says, “can you actually be this stupid, or are you yanking my chain?” I love my doctor. She reminded me that we’re trying to fix my metabolism, and me jerking with my meds for no apparent reason isn’t going to help. She also gently reminded me that it isn’t much good for me to come see her if I then ignore her on things that are trivial to do.

She is entirely correct. I am back on phentermine.

The results have been a huge help too. My weight has fairly steadily decreased at basically the desired rate. More importantly, when my loss plateaued recently, I continued to decrease in size according to the measuring tape, so I didn’t feel like there was no progress. I am starting to hear from people that see me infrequently that I appear smaller, which is nicer than I’d expected, since I didn’t really feel like I cared that much about the appearance part of it. An entire section of my wardrobe has opened up to me. A suit that I had adjusted to better accommodate my rotund stature a couple of years ago is now a bit loose on me; pants that were snug or wouldn’t even fit now will not stay up without a belt. One of my belts, one that I used to have to suck-in-my-gut-and-tug to get into the first notch, now rests comfortably in the third or fourth notches. My most frequently used belt used to have about 2 inches of excess hanging out of it; it now has about 6 inches.

I’m clearly somewhat smaller. That, or somebody is sneaking in and replacing my stuff with bigger stuff, which…well…well played, I suppose.

There’s not a lot to say about the exercise and stress relief parts. I have not brought my stress levels down as much as I probably should have (although I have taken decidedly less involved positions in both Penguicon and ConFusion), and I haven’t really had both time and cash to blow on frivolity like massages. For exercise, I’m still walking several miles per week when I can fit it into my schedule, cycling when I get the time (which is pretty rare) and lifting weights for stamina more than strength. Time has been as much of a factor as anything in that area, but that’s not new material if you know me very well.

Where Do We Go From Here?

So from here, I guess it’s just more of the same. I am going to continue to keep track of things on myfitnesspal, as it’s more convenient and quick to use than was Spark. My calories will continue to get adjusted periodically, and my carbs will rise infrequently as well.

I am really hoping to work out a way to get more exercise in (I really wanna play racquetball again) but with my daughter starting sports after school, my already stretched schedule is going to be pretty screwed. I’m hoping to see at least 30 to 40 more pounds of loss, but at a more reasonable rate, so with luck by next summer things will have tapered off to a natural weight for me. If it doesn’t, though, I’m not going to sweat it.

In all, I’m pretty happy with the way things are going; and that’s important, because as I was explaining to someone a week or so ago, there’s no finish-line on this one. This isn’t a diet, it’s a new version of my diet. I’m making changes that will hopefully last, so it’s important that I am pleased with how things are. That’s really the essential bit.


1I realize that this isn’t “correct”, but consistency is more important than accuracy here, and always measuring the largest point is hopefully going to help with consistency. (Back to reading)

2I am such a pitifully simple creature. (Back to reading)

3Widely regarded, in this case, means “regarded by me.4” (Back to reading)

4See what I did there? That’s a fat joke, is what that is. (Back to reading)

Turning 35

Today, I turn 35. Just over the half-way point for the world’s average life expectancy. In the latter half of the 1800s, I would be old by any reasonable measure of the term. As late as the turn of the 20th century I would be at the statistical end-of-life at this ripe old age.

Coincidentally, today marks the day that I had always blithely referred to as beyond my life expectancy— as in, “Yeah, like I’ll see 35…” I am grateful that the idiotic dalliances with chemicals and people that were the principle characteristics of my youth didn’t rob me of the chance to celebrate my three and one-half decades of life with friends and family.

I generally don’t celebrate my birthday—not because I’m ashamed of aging, but because I’m genuinely embarrassed by such a me-centric event (as discussed a couple of birthdays ago[1]—but last night at an evening out with friend, I was surprised with a birthday celebration; the first I recall ever having. It really meant a lot…more than I’d have ever realized, and I appreciate it.

So today I’ll celebrate the happy event in which my cheat day and my birthday coincide by over eating and demanding attention and overt displays of affection—or, you know, business as usual :)

On Health and Diet (and Moobs)

On Friday, I had yet another followup appointment with the Doctor. It went about as well as I could have hoped…but wait, let me back up a little bit first.

It’s no particular secret that my body has made the (probably accurate) determination that I am a absentee landlord/slumlord and has largely given up trying to support my hedonistic1 lifestyle, but in the past several months it has gotten to the point where I really felt like I had to do something I tend to avoid doing…I went and saw a doctor.

Now, it’s not that I specifically have a problem with doctors. I recognize that I’m not immortal and that they serve a very necessary purpose in my life, but I maintain this knowledge while at the same time having precious little real desire to go see one for trivial things like flat feet, insomnia, tendonitis, or weight gain.

So, around three weeks ago, I took my flat feet, insomnia, tendonitis, and weight gain to a local doctor that I met when taking my daughter to her office. We have a good rapport and she seems smart, trustworthy, and not liable to be entirely aghast at my shenanigans. Some orthotics were prescribed for my flat feet, some cortisone was injected into my elbow for my tendonitis, and we started what was to become multiple rounds of blood work to establish the cause of my recent rapid weight gain, my inability to lose any weight regardless the circumstances, and my inability to sleep for periods of time longer than 4 hours.

My weight became something of a concern almost two months prior to the visit, when I decided that I’d finally had enough of a break in my schedule to do something about my massive weight gain. After spending two weeks recording my food intake (and doing little else), I decided to cut my caloric intake by 1000 calories (from an average of about 3200/day to 2000-2200/day) and add walking 2 miles each of two to three times per week.

I nailed it. Over the course of about six weeks, my highest intake day was just under 2400 calories, and that was the only day that it was over 2200. Most days I was under 2000. I missed only one complete week of walking during that time, but every other week walked my 2 miles at least twice, averaging around 30-35 minutes per trip. I went in for my follow-up expecting to see a nice, gentle 2 pounds down per week (I’d have been happy with 1, but I secretly hoped to see 3). The grand total I lost after what amounted to a fairly extenuating change?

Can I get a drumroll!? (And if you don’t see where this is going, I’m awfully disapointed in you.)

I lost a grand total of -1 pounds. That’s right, I was a pound heavier than when I started. Well, technically speaking, 0.9 pounds, but you catch my drift.

The Rich Get Richer, the Fat Get Fatter

Needless to say, I was annoyed. My bloodwork showed very mildly elevated liver enzymes and NOTHING else. My cholesterol was great, my blood pressure was great, my fasting blood sugar was fine, my iron was okay—everything was peachy. So we sat down and we went over my diet. During the time we were discussing, I wasn’t excessively carb heavy, but I didn’t limit my carbs. I don’t really do sugar, so there were no sweets to speak of. The fat content of my daily intake was within the range we discussed most days (generally in the middle of the range). I’d even started eating three meals per day at more regular intervals than in the past.

“Wait right there,” she said, “explain ‘started eating three meals per day’ and ‘more regular intervals than in the past’ for me.”

So I explained. I explained about how generally I’m not hungry in the mornings, so I rarely eat breakfast. Around lunch time I’m pretty hungry, but usually busy, so if I eat, I don’t eat a ton. I explained about dinner time, and how when it rolls around I’m usually starving, so I eat a TON. I explained about how I often eat again later because I’m still hungry. Throughout the telling, she inquired about various things, and I labored to answer as fully as possible given how little attention I’ve always paid to such things. In answer to what percentages of my daily food intake I thought took place before noon, before 8 and after 8, I guessed 20%, 40%, and 40%, roughly?

She immediately interjected, “Hold on, so if you were eating 3000 calories, that means you were eating only about 600 of them in the morning, and at night, after 8pm, you were eating 1200 or more calories?”

I acknowledged the accuracy of her math, and we discussed the factors that could be contributing to my weight. As she described it, if she were to explain to someone how to best gain fat as quickly and efficiently as possible, she would basically describe my lifestyle (only she would add cheesecake, an amendment I heartily endorse): limit sleep as much as possible, work a sedentary job, add a ton of stress, and load as many calories as you can as late as you can and in as few meals as you can. It’s the Jer Diet, guaranteed to boost your weight or your money back!2 My metabolism, as she put it, no longer metabolized; I had essentially made it dormant by keeping it in a sustained fight-or-flight food hoarding frenzy through stress, starvation followed by binging (alas, no purging though), and torturing my body with exhaustion. Food came in, and my body screamed out “MINE!” and resolved to let as little out as possible since I was constantly tricking it into thinking we were starving to death.

Fair enough, but what about the six weeks wherein I didn’t do that? What gives?

She opined that my metabolism, after nearly a decade of such abuse, might need a lot more to kick back into normal gear. So we developed a new plan.

The Plan

She said that I needed to pull three areas of my life together. First, I needed to start sleeping. Perhaps I wasn’t the sort of person that needed 8 hours per day, but obviously I need more than 4 or I wouldn’t survive on caffeine and sarcasm (probably just the sarcasm). She put me on an anti-depressant (whose name escapes me) that, as she put it, “is not a very good anti-depressant, but makes a pretty good sleep aid.” More importantly, she felt that with the way my sleep issues manifest and the fact that I’m a recovering drug addict, this was my best bet for some much needed sleep.

The second area: stress. She reiterated back to me the list of things to which I’ve whittled my responsibilities and pointed out that it was still a lot. Quite a lot. I agreed. My doctor and I both agreed that since I was unlikely to cut MUCH more from my plate, what I had to do was actually schedule relaxation and stress relief. She wants me to get a massage (and sure, money permitting, I’ll get right on that…I’m guessing insurance won’t cover stress relief massages), do a relaxing hobby, spend time with friends and family—all on a schedule. The premise being that if I schedule this time, it’s time into which I can’t schedule other things, so I’ll be forced to relax some. We shall see how that works, but I’m game to try.

Finally, there was my diet. I simply had to get my metabolism going. To do so, I had to schedule my meals better, consume less carbs (not a low carb diet in the Atkins or South Beach sense, but low carb in the “only one serving per meal and make it a non-white carb if possible” sense), and eat much more protein. I looked at Tim Ferris’s Slow Carb Diet (or 4 Hour Body), and while it intrigues me and is close to what my doctor prescribed, it is dissimilar enough that I want to wait until I’ve given her program a run before I diverge. In order to kick-start things metabolically and supress my appetite some, she gave me a prescription for phentermine once per day in the morning. While I’m on that, I’m not doing energy drinks so as to minimize the chances of some of the more heinous potential side effects.

So, for about the last week, that’s what I’ve been doing: trying to relax, taking my go pills in the morning, taking my stop pills shortly before sleep, and concentrating on fixing my eating. So far, I feel great (but when in the history of dieting has the first week ever not been the best week, eh?). Last night I slept an uninterrupted 7.5 hours and I feel really good today. After getting over the initial hump of taking phentermine (when taken on an empty stomach, it makes me feel unpleasant and drug-trigger-y), that is settling in. I’m still consuming 2000 calories or less per day (closer to 1800, atually), but now it’s pretty close to even across all three meals, and there’s no second dinner. I’m consuming at least 40 grams of protein within a half hour of waking up to get things moving (a big protein shake is really helping there) and am making my meals pretty carb-light and protein heavy. The upside is, I generally feel more full despite the fact that every night this week I’ve noted that I’ve fallen short of my caloric goal by around 100-200 calories.

Moving Forward

Will this work? Who knows. The only real diet that I’ve ever been on in the past was when I was lifting and trying to get more muscle definition. At the time, it worked great. At the time, however, my principle caloric load was beer and protein—heavier on the beer than the protein. That said, I was a super lean 185 and very, very drunk. I forsee a very different result here. Ideally, I would like to end up having dropped 80-90 pounds. When I was under 200, I looked emaciated. I think 200 to 220 is a good weight for my frame, but I have a fairly long 75 to 95 pounds shed on the way there. What I won’t be doing is daily updates on my social media feeds. I hate seeing it, and while I know that it is supposedly meant to breed accountability, the fact is that I don’t feel particularly accountable to you guys and gals, no offense. I have one friend that does it ‘right’ by my reckoning: she has lost something like 100 pounds and periodically she’d just point out that she was up or down X pounds. It was like a normal status update; like it should be. That’s what you can expect, normal Jer-like lamentations about how I want to make sweet love to a Double Whopper while eating a (different) Double Whopper or how I’ve gained 2 pounds and am going to go slice off a moob3. Perhaps, if we’re all lucky, you’ll get notices about how I’m losing weight like crazy, looking all buff, and sending pictures of my weiner to interns…but now with SHIRT OFF! You know, business as usual…

[Updated 11 Sep 2011]: If you’re interested in how it’s turning out, there is a follow up here.


1 For a loosely-defined version of “hedonism” that basically consists of swearing, petulance, energy drinks, and leering.
2 Not a diet. There is no guarantee. You’ll get no money back. You probably won’t even survive it. Do at your own risk. Unless I hate you…then, fire away!
3 Moob: Man Boob. If I shaved them, I could probably get off to pictures of them.

Happy Anniversary, Baby

A warning for most of my readers: this particular post is a note to my wife. You’re welcome to read on, but I imagine it will be boring if you are not Ger.

Ger, the background music for this post can be found (at least for now) right here (opens in a new tab).

Now, back to the letter…

Happy anniversary baby,

Two years ago, you did what is generally considered to be the stupidest thing a young lady can do and married me. It could not have been a better move on my part.

I love you more than you could possibly imagine. The understanding I’ve had of what it means to be married was so woefully shy of what marriage could actually be like; it is amazing. I have a partner in life that is in every possible way my complement. You take care of my considerably whiny ass when I’m sick. You remind me that I’m a bit demanding when I’m out of control. You keep my ego in check, but not too in check. You allow your one special weekend per year—this anniversary of our marriage—to be a weekend consumed by planning efforts for the convention at which we met. I can think of no stronger expression of your love and understanding of all that is me than that. You are a strong, intelligent, beautiful, and wonderful woman, and I can no longer imagine my life without you in it.

Thank you for sharing your life with me, for standing beside me when I’m exhausted, overworked, unhealthy and showing no signs of correcting it, and for accepting me when I’m not doing a particularly great job of showing you how important you are to me. You remain the most amazing person in my life, and I love you. You truly would somersault in sand with me.

Here’s to another year…and next year, an anniversary without a convention.

How Not To Contact Me

Ahh, technology. There are about a thousand ways to get in contact with people anymore, and all have their quirks and idiosyncrasies. Add to that the fact that most of the time we all find our own ways to use (and abuse) that communication tech, so what works for one person might not work at all for another, and you have quite the recipe for confusion. I often lament about the myriad ways that various people fail entirely to live up to my unspoken, secret, and quirky code of contact; so today it occurred to me, perhaps I could elucidate (and more importantly, spawn some conversation to boot).

There are countless different methods of categorization of modes of communication (which I will refer to as “com-modes” here [wait, commode means something different, doesn’t it?]) so I will address four major methods that I find important: transience, reliability, professionalism, and usefulness. I will evaluate these by relating them to the primary modes of communication by which folks try to interact with me: social media (which includes mostly Facebook and Twitter), SMS, telephone, IM, and email; then I will attempt to give my assessment of each by the aforementioned standards. Afterwards, I will outline my personal communication standards (so that you can then continue to ignore, causing me untold grief).

Transience

For me, transience really boils down to two essential parts: the duration of time the message remains available and the duration of time it can be usefully maintained. Social media, for example, has moderate transience by the former scale—messages sent last for a reasonably long time—but a damnably low rating by the latter—it is nigh impossible to find the right message when needed. Email has excellent transience in both categories. Telephone calls have virtually none. IM, as I use it, has fairly high, albeit unreliable, transience (I log almost all messages that hit my laptop, but none that hit my mobile phone), whereas SMS has falls fairly in the middle. Were I to organize the communication modes from highest to least transience, it would be:

Transience
Highest Email
IM
SMS
Social media
Lowest Telephone

Reliability

The reliability of a mode of communication should focus both on whether or not the messages arrive reliably and on if there is a way to establish whether or not communication has been made. By these measures, a phone call is clearly the winner; either you have made connection and had a communication (which is profoundly reliable in this age of mobile phone technology) or you have not; very little room for ambiguity. IM does an excellent job of providing reliability only when used synchronously—when used asynchronously, there is literally NO way of knowing if a message has even landed, and the reliability of message logging is severely suspect. I often have the following situation occur: I leave my computer on, it collects tons of IMs, I suspend my laptop without having read them, then when Ubuntu decides it doesn’t like waking up from suspend I never see those messages at all. Messy. SMS has far too high a failure rate to be considered even slightly reliable, and social media has such a high level of noise in the signal (in volume alone, even if one ignores spam) that it is easy for messages to be missed (“What’s that, you tried to contact me? I’m sorry, my friend Jen decided she needed nails for her WhoreFarm or whatever”). Add to that the fact that most social media is treated as a toy, often social media messages are the first ones ignored when things get busy. Organizing by reliability, then, would look like this:

Transience Reliability
Highest Email Telephone
IM Email
SMS IM
Social media Social media
Lowest Telephone SMS

Professionalism

Ignoring, for the moment, the simple appearance of professionalism, I would prefer to focus on the accoutrements of professionalism: does it allow for one to get the job done? By that measure, SMS and social media fall woefully short—SMS due to character lengths and difficulties in collaboration and social media due to the platform specific nature and quirks like character limitations, difficulties collaborating, etc. Various IMs suffer the same problem as do social media methods—you have to hope the person you need uses that platform and they use it regularly enough for it to be reliable. At this point, though, everyone has a phone and virtually everyone has an email—and those are cross-platform, so individuals on Verizon’s service can speak to those on TMobile; folks who use GMail can speak to those on Hotmail. Email and telephony are the hands-down winners in this respect.

If you then factor back in the appearance of professionalism, there’s no question that communications via Facebook or Twitter (or even SMS) suffer from the suggestion of trivialness. Indeed, Facebook and Twitter are often outright banned by many employers.

Transience Reliability Professionalism
Highest Email Telephone Telephone
IM Email Email
SMS IM IM
Social media Social media Social media
Lowest Telephone SMS SMS

Usefulness

This is the most vague category, but possibly the most important. Usefulness, as I’m defining it here, means how effective is it in helping communication happen. Asynchronous modes of communication are, necessarily, the most useful in my experience, as they allow the recipient of the communication the power to decide under what circumstances things are continued. Text-based asynchronous communications are better still, if one wants to maximize the possible opportunities by which communication can continue. When I’m sitting in a meeting or lying in bed next to my sleeping wife, I am unlikely to answer a phone call or listen to a voice mail. I can, however, glance at an email, text, tweet, or IM and determine what the degree of urgency is. I can even give complete or partial responses in such cases—something as simple as “call you back in 20 minutes, in a meeting” can be of inestimable value. There is a certain sacrifice that is made by losing tone and vocal cadence, just as on the phone body language cues are lost; but that is a small price to pay for such a large degree of convenience and usefulness (and, as often happens, conversations can be moved into verbal modes as a result of successfully making contact via a more useful method.)

The usefulness can further be ascertained by additional features, such as enhanced formatting, ability to include links and/or attachments, ability to collaborate, etc. Clearly, methods with more features would be more useful, so long as those features don’t IMPEDE conversation. If all of this is to be assumed accurate (and why wouldn’t I assume myself correct) then the hierarchy would favor asynchronous communication modes in a fairly arbitrary way:

Transience Reliability Professionalism Usefulness
Highest Email Telephone Telephone Email
IM Email Email Social media
SMS IM IM IM
Social media Social media Social media SMS
Lowest Telephone SMS SMS Telephone

Results

Assigning not-entirely-but-awfully-close-to-arbitrary values to these rankings allows me to mathematically estimate the overall “worthiness” of a form of communication for general, professional purposes…for doing work, that is. Treating the top two boxes as generally comparable and therefore both worth 3 points, the next box as worth 2 point, the next as worth 1, and the bottom ranking as worth 0, we end up with the following scoring:

Transience Reliability Professionalism Usefulness Overall
3 Email Telephone Telephone Email Email (12)
3 IM Email Email Social media IM (9)
2 SMS IM IM IM Telephone (6)
1 Social media Social media Social media SMS Social Media (5)
0 Telephone SMS SMS Telephone SMS (3)

The results I find relatively unsurprising as I strongly prefer email and I’m confident that my approach and the measures I chose to include heavily weight things in my preferred form’s favor. The questions I have for the reader, then, include: What measures are important to you? Should I have weighted these differently? Should I have included other measures? Recognizing the statistical instability of this ludicrously unscientific model, should I not have used a top-two box? Comment below and let me know!

Communicating with Me

Regardless of the above, the realities of contacting me are pretty straightforward. Email is beyond a doubt the best way to contact me. I sometimes go weeks without checking up on my social media (and in fact pretty much never check the private messages I get through them), and I avoid answering the phone entirely. Often I get a voicemail, think “Oh, I’ll answer him or her later today” then remember that I had a call to return a week later. For anything important, send email. Also important, send email to the right place: if you send email about official Penguicon business, for example, to my private email address, I will delete it if it suits me or respond if I feel like it. This is true even if you also included a penguicon email address as well. I don’t reinforce bad behavior; if you want a response, stop cluttering up my personal email.

For “fun” communication (meaning non-professional, or non-business), SMS or social media is fine. SMS is more likely to get a response, and infinitely more likely to get a prompt one. Private messages should all go through SMS, though—I pretty much never check or respond to private Twitter/Facebook messages.

IMing is also fine, but don’t use it as a messaging service. If I don’t respond to your IM, there’s a high percentage chance I’ll never even see it. If you have a question, comment, or link to leave me…find a more permanent method.

Take a Bow

Let me begin by thanking Scott, Lucy, Randy, and Sheryl for their help yesterday. Without them, the party that followed my graduation ceremony could not have gone anywhere nearly as smoothly and a relatively hectic and busy day would have been infinitely more chaotic and stressful. Of course, that is pretty much the theme of the achievement that I’m celebrating—to paraphrase the Beatles, I got by with a little help from my friends.

I know it is the standard cliche…“blah blah couldn’t have done it without my friends and family blah blah,” but nothing could be more literally true than that. Each and every one of you—all family by varying definitions—played an integral part in the creation of this achievement, and you should all be proud. Everyone suffered; my poor, beleaguered children bore the brunt of five years of me being tired, distracted, stressed, and busy, and they did it while finding countless ways to ease our collective burden for example. My wife walked into this relationship IN THE MIDDLE of all of the stress, looked around, and said, “Yeah, why not, I’m in.” Next time you are mistakenly thinking your significant other is the best, remember that Ger not only tolerates all that goes into the hot mess that is me, not only does she tolerate that all at my absolute ball-of-stress worst, but she does it without ever having seen me at my now-we-can-relax best1.

All of you have been amazing though. Each one of you that has, for years, gone out of your way to make your schedules fit my lunacy. All of you who have braved my calendar’s oppressive, colorful, and packed pages in order to set up dinner plans or a meeting for an event. Those among you who have dealt with cranky Jer, tired Jer, not-entirely-coherent Jer, and finding-his-stress-relief-at-the-expense-of-strangers-in-social-situations Jer because, in theory, there’s a fun to be around Jer somewhere in the mix too—despite the growing infrequency of his appearances.

Let me not ignore the fact that many of you have at times shown support in tangible ways too! Some of you have helped bridge financial gaps, been a sounding board when I wanted to pull heads off others, or have just been a set of helping hands when the number of balls I have kept in the air2 proved to be a few too many for even me.

So I mean it when I say that you should all pat yourself on the back, because all I did was the homework3, you guys made a college graduate. Congratulations. Now…about these student loans…

 


1 We are making several assumptions here, of course: I am capable of relaxing, relaxed me is actually better, and of course that relaxation is in my plans.
2 <Jer> tag.
3 And make no mistake, I did a LOT of homework. And tests. And notes. And studying. Well, maybe not the last one.

Twilight “New Moon” in 73 Tweets

After having snarked my way through the entire first movie, “Twilight”, with just my wife to share my pain, I decided to share a bit more…expansively?…with the Intarwebs. Randy, Sheryl, Ger and I set up camp at the Castle and plodded our way through the flick while I live-tweeted my snark. The result is what is found below posted—in order—with time stamps based on movie-start (so that, if you happened to be a masochist, you could follow along).

Oh, my mini review? It sucked. It sucked only marginally less than did the first movie, which is like saying the Spanish Inquisition sucked less than the Crusades, because of the classy red hats (clearly, my knowledge of history is plucked straight from Monty Python, so please don’t confuse me by supplying corrections.) This movie sucked in a way that only another movie that closely adheres to a book that sucks could suck. It sucks in epic, painful, and entirely unfunny ways. Even if it were a sucky B-movie, I could stand watch again with friends to mock…I am unlikely to ever give this movie such treatment. It is more than it deserves. It is decidedly not good. I give it 13 thumbs down. Even if it were reshot with Kristen Stewart nude throughout, it would not be watchable.

Okay, the last bit is uncalled for…I would totally watch that. I love your Kristen Stewart, you and your emotionless face. I forgive you.

Anyway…without further ado, let’s get to the tweets: Continue reading Twilight “New Moon” in 73 Tweets

I’m Gonna Make a Change, For Once in My Life…

Gonna make a change
For once in my life
It’s gonna feel real good
Gonna make a difference
Gonna make it right
–Michael Jackson, “Man in the Mirror”

The problem is, I bought into my own myth.

Whining and Self-Aggrandizing

I have been slugging along accomplishing—DOING—for so long that I began to believe the tales of my own legendary productivity. Apparently, somewhere, there was a campfire around which people sat and spun yarns in hushed tones of Jer Lance, indefatigable doer of things and achiever of objectives. Far and wide, these stories spread, so when things needed doing, I would get an email in my inbox or a mention at a party…just this little thing that needs doing. “Email it to me and I’ll look into it,” I would say; and I would. All of them. Every single one.

Now, it just so happens that I am fairly well connected. I am not sure how it happened, but after a few short years around Michigan fandom, I hang out with or communicate with the people who make so many of the local (and to a lesser degree, non-local) conventions and events happen that I tend to have a pretty good informal relationship with them. As a result, I have a pretty effective track record of finding a solution to those ‘little things that need doing’ that get brought to me, so the legend grows.

And it is entirely my fault, because—as I started this out by stating—I bought into my own myth. I came to genuinely believe that I could survive endlessly on 4 hours of sleep and no actual breaks. I have been under the illusion that using my relaxation time as time to pretend to relax while secretly working would actually fool my body and my mind into thinking that I’ve really been socializing when I have been doing anything but. I legitimately convinced myself that running an audio broadcast at a party was the same thing as socially hanging out at a party. In the universe of people who have hugely sold themselves a bill of goods, I am a hall of famer, and it has exhausted me. I am now just fundamentally incapable of being that guy. I have finally hit that wall, a wall that I have been warned about time and again but never truly believed I could hit—I am a fucking legend, remember? My response time is getting slower. Things are slipping by. I am taking on less and less, but still not able to accomplish it. My legendary 4 hours of sleep has stretched to 6, and I’m still left waking each morning feeling entirely unawake. My relentless productivity is flagging and my mythical 16-hour, full-court-press attacks on mounds of work have softened to 2 hour micro-bursts interrupted by thirty minutes of staring like a zombie into space trying to muster a combination of will-power and coherent thought.

I am failing. I am failing you guys and I am failing me. Worse, I am failing and beating myself up about it considerably; nobody has been as hard on me about this as I have been. I am working harder than ever and getting far less done. I am genuinely upset with my body for needing so much sleep. I get so frustrated I want to cry when I can only find the creativity and ability to write so rarely that I am almost never at a keyboard when it happens; so much is left unwritten. I want to punch things when my mind doesn’t have the acumen to make the sharp, decisive leaps that it was capable of a year ago. I am so unbelievably angry with myself for not having enough will power to just FORCE MYSELF to work my way through my to-do list. This is who I am, why can I not be that person now? Last night, while trying to get some of the massive pile of work I had before me completed, I was forced by my body to lie down on a couch at a friend’s house in the middle of a crowd of people and take a brief (oh, oh so very brief it felt) nap. I woke, and still was so wiped that I could get nothing done. I was near tears for the hour I spent dropping my son off at his mother’s place because of the frustration, the tiredness, the soreness, and the hopelessness of not being able to do what it is that I do.

It is taking a toll on my health, too. I am eating healthier than ever, but my body is falling apart. I am getting random nose bleeds. I have gotten even fatter despite a healthier diet and cutting out most fast food. The persistent headache that has gone on almost entirely uninterrupted for a couple of years now has now become stronger and added to its repetoire the combination of occasional spots in my vision and waves of nausea. I am cranky. I am frustrated when I have to explain what I need from people more than once. My low-grade level of dickishness has turned into full-on assholery when dealing with the people that frustrate me. My tolerance for ineptitude has waned to near non-existant levels.

I am not even me, anymore…I am some critically exhausted, pathetic simulacrum of me. And when I say exhausted, I am not talking about the standard ‘I am in need of a night of uninterrupted sleep or a weekend off’ I keep talking about. No, I am ‘I need to make functional life changes before I collapse in on myself like an imploding star, with all of the requisite fireworks that coincide with such an event.’ So I need to make some kind of change. Last night, Ger and I discussed exactly what that change is going to have to be.

Solving the Problem

I need to stop taking on the little shit. As I evaluated where my time goes, that was the big thing that stuck out…none of the hats that I wear are specifically time consuming. Work, School, Penguicon 2010, Penguicon 2011, ConFusion 2011, and AASFA are all relatively time-light. They each have their moments, but those moments rarely flare up all at once. No, what beats me down is the steady flow of ‘little things that need doing’, both externally and internally. So I need to divide all of my tasks into things that will remain, things that I am quashing or delaying indefinitely, things I will add, and things that I haven’t really decided about yet. To that end:

Things that stay:

  • School. Duh.
  • Work. Equally duh. :)
  • Convention jobs I have already taken on. If I have agreed to it, I will do it. This includes what I have agreed to for Penguicons 2010 and 2011 and ConFusion 2011
  • AASFA. I will continue to do what I have taken on, and I will definitely run if nominated (and will likely nominate myself if not nominated.) The time spent is minimal, and it is really important to me.
Things I am delaying indefinitely (but certainly until the summer) include:

  • SMOScasts—both recording and editing. I might finish off one of the two shows I have in the can, but that is only if I *feel like it* not because I will have to. I am not committing to getting it done at all.
  • Draft 2 of the (heretofore unnamed) book
  • Any ‘Writing’ not related to the above list of jobs (blogging/micro-blogging will happen, but I won’t go out of my way to whip together big posts or real writing)
  • Freelance work. I’ll just have to commit to being poor and not taking classes this summer…it’s an extra semester, I’ll live.
  • Odd jobs for the conventions. If it isn’t in the list of jobs I have already committed to, I’m not doing it.
  • Nothing else extra, period.
Things that I am adding:

  • Going to parties to socialize.
  • Taking at least 2 days every 2 weeks as days of no work.
  • Blocking one hour each day to relax. I relax a bit now, but always while feeling guilty. This is scheduled, so, no guilt, eh?
Things I am unsure about right now:

  • The Sexual Harassment project. I want this to happen, it needs to be done, but it will have to be post-Penguicon if I am to do it. So torn, so torn.
  • My idea for a charity drive at Penguicon. This might just have to happen next year.

So there we are. Hopefully, this will help…I know sharing it has helped lift a load from my chest that I’ve been carrying for quite a while now in relative silence (or, at least, as much silence as I have ever been capable of), so by that measure, it is already a success. Thankfully, my wife has agreed to be my gatekeeper on new tasks, by which I basically mean that when I think about taking on a new task, she has undertaken the job of saying “No!” or to forward me a link back to this so that I can avoid being stupid. This is going to be a good thing. It is going to make me happier, more productive, and hopefully healthier…

…but I still want to be super-me again. :(

Driving Me to Humanism

Why is it that people with beliefs that I respect so often don’t actually practice those beliefs? I am time and again frustrated and upset by people that express a core belief structure that really resonates with me…something with which I really connect…time and again I find myself disillusioned by those same people.

Yesterday, an author and female that I respect as something of a self-professed feminist posted this picture with the associated text as follows: “This is the single manliest image evar. @justbeast’s dad at age 18”.

If you don’t immediately see the problem, don’t fret—it took me several minutes to recognize what the nagging in the back of my mind was trying to make apparent. Ultimately, what did it for me was to switch up the genders a bit, as I did in a follow-up tweet: “THIS is the portrait of femininity… http://twitpic.com/vo9q6” with a link to picture of my wife in a classic ‘female’ gender role situation…holding a laundry basket.

You see, regardless of which genders’ stereotypes you are upholding, it sucks. It doesn’t just suck for that gender, either. I have a number of close friends with any of a number of gender identity disorders ranging from merely enjoying wearing clothes outside of those assigned to their gender to full on dysphoria, and when you draw gender lines like that—intense gaze, furrowed brow, cigarette gripped before face equals masculinity—it reinforces something hurtful to those people. Just as important, you can’t reinforce only one boundary on the gender-identity continuum; it doesn’t work that way. No, when you reinforce that masculinity is the milieu for a hawk-like stare into the distance while enjoying a cigarette, you reinforce that femininity isnot associated with that. When you say that picture is manly, you imply that women who look this way or do these things are somehow being manly. You also imply that men who do not are not manly.

And really, if we are all about breaking down the gender stereotypes, don’t we really owe it to ourselves to shatter them in both directions? Especially if we acknowledge that breaking them down in one direction really solves nothing? I mean, I think we can all agree that ridding ourselves of the notion that pink is ‘girlie’ does us little good if we retain the notions that pink is not manly, but blue is. What good is making ‘women should be cooks and maids’ a thing of the past if we cling to ‘men should be firemen and police officers’? What good is saying that it is wrong to say that real women do this if we are running around saying that real men do this?

So I pointed this out to the feminist in question, assuming that she merely hadn’t thought it through…and it was dismissed in a way that was amusingly…well, I would have to say the best description for how it was dismissed was in true masculine fashion: “for contemporary definitions of such, it is. Now, add that the man in the picture spent his spare time in Kazakhstan knitting. Still manly.” I refer to this as a masculine evasion because I see the same responses belittled on feminist forums constantly when men are called on their sexist terminology for saying things like “man up”, “don’t be a pussy”, or “grow some balls” and respond with things like “it’s just an expression, it doesn’t actually mean that men are braver or bolder than women”. It sounds thin and transparent when we do it, and it’s equally transparent when it’s done by women. It was with this poor rationale in mind that I included my disclaimer in my example tweet above; instead of just saying that my wife with a laundry basket was truly feminine, I added this caveat: “(Don’t worry ladies, it’s not misogynist…she reads Bitch magazine!!)

So those are the rules of the game—rules which will now be my go-to anti-sexism spray. Whenever I am about to say something overtly sexist and gender-stereotype-reinforcing, I will be sure to point out that I’m only doing so from the perspective of ‘contemporary definitions’ and that it doesn’t matter, because in some untargeted aspect of my subject they break gender roles.

This is why, although I consider a great many feminist goals and ideologies important, I do not identify as a feminist anymore. I identify as a humanist (at least from a gender and racial standpoint). I feel like the goal of third-wave feminism has shifted from breaking down gender stereotypes and barriers that prevent equality to some agenda that I neither believe in nor entirely understand. Sadly, that seems to be the feeling of a lot of would-be feminists that find themselves unable to stomach the current politics of the movement; or the current evasions.


Edited to Add:

I recognize that this is almost assuredly going to be perceived as a personal attack. Things like this always are. There is nothing I can do about that. I considered for several hours how I could write this without directly addressing the photos in question and ultimately decided that without the context of the actual situation, the discussion loses a great deal of impact; too much impact for my liking. So, what you have is this; potential for hurt feelings and all. I will have to live with that. I would only ask that readers do two things for me before getting too terribly butt-hurt on the author’s behalf:

  1. Recognize that I stripped personally identifying information from the situation to every degree possible while still maintaining the context of the situation. I like the author a great deal, consider her a friend, and genuinely wish that this had been written by someone else so that I could be my aggressive self about it.
  2. Consider the merits of the argument posed before you complain that this is an attack. Perhaps, just maybe, I have something legitimate to complain about. Just sayin’

Seven Years Out of the Trenches

Today marks seven consecutive years free from drugs and alcohol. Eighty-four months. Three-hundred, sixty-four weeks. Two-thousand, five-hundred, fifty-seven days. Over sixty thousand hours. Over three and one-half million minutes.

That is, as a friend said to me, a long time without a beer.

Last night, in search of something to play as background noise while I tried to fall asleep, I turned on the most trite and easily ignored thing I could find; I put on Confessions of a Shopaholic. I ended up staying awake throughout the entire thing, but I couldn’t put my finger on why. It wasn’t until Isla Fisher made a statement near the end that I could figure it out; it was because the movie’s treatment of addiction really had some resonant moments amidst the goofy action and lame plot points.

The statement in question was (and forgive me, as I’m quoting this from memory here)

When I shop, the world gets better, and the world is better, but then it’s not, and I need to do it again.

Simple, but ridiculously accurate to boot. When I was using, I used to make the world that I saw better. When I began, better merely meant more fun or more exciting, and that is an easy mark to hit. Hell, when you are teen, anything makes the world more exciting. So I drank, smoked pot, dropped acid, ate shrooms, smoked banana peels and various kitchen spices, and generally did whatever I could not to have to face the day without chemical help. It made the world better in my eyes. Then I’d sober up and have to start again.

This is the part where the narrative degenerates into the story of progression; where I needed more and more just to feel good. I won’t bore you with the details, but recognize that it is a cliche for a reason. Things do progress. In my life they progressed to a point where I was getting loaded just to make life tolerable—and by all measures, my life should already have been tolerable. Hell, my life was better than tolerable; I was making a considerable amount of money, I had a nice place to live in a nice neighborhood, two great kids, the physical trappings of suburban life, friends, hobbies, a senior level office job at which I had earned the respect of my co-workers…yet nearly every night I got trashed to make the world better.

So the movie was uncomfortable to watch, because while it showed all of those addict moments in a humorous light, it still showed them. I share pretty liberally from my life as a dope-fiend; but I tend to share the stories that are humorous (at least in hindsight) and not the stories of desperation and shame. It isn’t that I am embarrassed by them so much as they do not make for great party stories, but those stories are readily accessible in my mind. You don’t forget stuff like that. You can’t forget it, even if you try (and believe me, there are times that the using is simply to help you forget this stuff, and that doesn’t work either), so it remains there for you to deal with.

It is so hard to forget because it isn’t some external stuff that happens to you, it is a pervasive, aggressive feeling of helplessness. I could never impart to you the phobic feeling that comes with addiction; like love, you have to feel it to understand it. You have to know that you should not take the next hit—know it to the very core of your being—then you have to rationalize taking it anyway. You have to convince yourself to do it all the same; using trickery, manipulation, and lies on yourself. And make no mistake, you know that you have just lied. You have to come to an agreement with yourself that you are going to overlook that lie, that you are going to believe your own pathetic rationalization, because it is the only way not to hate yourself for what you are about to do. Then you take that hit, and you go ahead and hate yourself anyway; because the agreement that you made doesn’t make you stupid—you know that your excuses were bullshit. So you live with that, too. You live with the knowledge that you are too pathetic, worthless, and weak to stop using, and you hold onto that until you feel worthless and weak enough to do it all again.

You have to know the feeling of sitting in front of a drink trying to come up with some rationale that will allow you to consume it despite the fact that you have promised everyone you love that you are done and that you have it under control. You see, as an addict, there was never a doubt that I would take the drink, but I had to find some reason that would allow me to do it without being obliterated by the guilt. I DESERVE this drink for putting up with my wife’s shit (amusingly enough, her shit was usually about my drinking, go figure…). I am OWED this drink by a world that puts too much pressure on me. Why shouldn’t I have it, I mean, I’m an adult, right? Then once you have selected your excuse, and once you have agreed to ignore how trite it is as far as excuses go, you can go ahead and take the plunge. The upside is, the more drinks you have, the easier it is to convince yourself of the legitimacy of your excuse; of course, sometime you will sober up, but that is a problem for future you.

The simple fact is, as I ultimately learned, you can never drug yourself up enough, have enough sex, buy enough stuff, or eat enough to make the your perception of the world better. At a certain point though, you recognize that fact, but the world is so intolerable by that time without any chemical “enhancement” that there is no way to just stop. So you continue along in a self-reinforcing cycle of doing things that make you hate yourself more so that you use more to mask the self-loathing so that you hate yourself even more so that you use more…well, you see where I am going here.

So today marks the anniversary of a moment in my life that is amongst my proudest: the first day I stopped using and did not pick back up again. Seven years ago today, I sat on my front porch crying because I had not yet used that day, but I was on the verge of doing so anyway. I was physically shaking from the horror of my certain knowledge that in a few minutes I was going to get up, wander to the cupboard, and get a drink. On this day seven years ago, instead of going to the cupboard, I gave a friend a ride to a 12-step meeting (you know, entirely for his sake, because I certainly didn’t have a problem or anything). Seven years ago today I clung to my sobriety with knuckles as white as printer paper and only noticed years later that my grip had slowly relaxed; that blind obstinance had turned into a way of life. That I was no longer merely not using, but actually recovering. Seven years distant from the trenches of what is known as “active addiction” (a fancy term for the time spent actually using).

So today is something of a dichotomy for me, as much somber retrospection as holiday. It is a celebration of seven years of freedom from actively pursuing my various addictions to be certain, but it is also a day of reminder for me. It is rough, remembering the people I hurt, the things that I have done, and the feelings I felt through over a decade of abusing drugs and alcohol; but it sure feels nice to have stopped being that person. Today, I will celebrate my clean-time, and I will strive to make the rest of the year my time of remembrance.

Now, to quote my friend Dave, back to working on getting day two-thousand, five-hundred, fifty-eight…

Wedding! The Informal Report…

Wow, I’m married!

Seriously, that is just now beginning to settle in. I am a lucky, lucky guy. It is a pretty safe bet that I would not put up with, from a spouse, anywhere near the amount that Ger puts up with from me, so… lucky… you see? And now, the story of the wedding, in narrative form…

On Wednesday, I swung by the rental place and picked up the tuxedos for Cody and I. We each tried ours on before we even left the store because I refuse to have to get problems solved later, when I’m not present. I’m especially glad I did so, given the problems others in the party had with getting theirs to fit. Cody’s jacket was a bit snug, so we had them slide the button out a bit and all was well. Ultimately, we made an early night of things because it was pretty obvious that given the amount on our plates for the next several days, sleep was not going to happen much.

Let me tell you a little bit about Thursday. First, I’m an idiot, and if anyone tells you otherwise, they are lying. I way…WAY overbooked myself. Thursday I went to work early so I could study for that day’s final exam(!!?!), after which I immediately went to said exam. It could have gone worse. I raced home, finished packing, and by 2pm Ger, the kids, and I were all at the hotel. Ger and the bellhop brought all of our stuff upstairs (and helped ConChair Matt Arnold muscle much of the con stuff into the storage room) while I settled some problems at the front desk.

Families came in and we did a quick “rehearsal” of what was going to happen then went to a very crowded dinner at Bob Evans. Dinner was remarkably more fun than I’d expected despite several bumps in the road (like having one meal served sometime after everyone else had eaten… that was fun.)

The remainder of the early evening was spent alternately dealing with hotel issues related to the convention and doing all of the last minute work for the wedding itself. The evening was spent setting up and testing all of the music sets, writing and rewriting a script and timing cues for our master of ceremonies, revising my vows for the millionth time, and entertaining not one but two families. The last job is the one I feel I did the most poorly on, and I am a bit apologetic for that. If the temporal proximity of wedding and convention detracted from anything, in my eyes, it was from time spent with family that traveled a great distance to see the event. My apologies. Due to a last-minute line-up change, I took a break in the middle of the prep to go over things with our new officiant. Once I was relatively confident in my prep, I finally retired for the night.

Next came the big day. Seriously…what can I say?

I was up by around 6am on Friday to make sure things started off well, and was running around like an idiot by 8am. The photographers showed up around 9:30 to capture some of the setup and dress-up…and let me say, Greg and Jennifer rocked. I felt bad for Greg, especially, as he had to try to sprint around a convention with me snapping photos until I (way too late in the day) got around to tux-ing up.

Once we were all set, we had ourselves a wedding. In every way, it was just what we were hoping for. It was gorgeous, casual, fun, and it had a bit of us in it. I don’t remember everything that happened, but some highlights include me forgetting about Orvan’s ring delivery and being genuinely confused when he wandered down the aisle, whipping out the phone for that special look of horror on Ger’s face, power eating cupcakes, and finding out as we walk onto the floor that Ger doesn’t know how to dance (my favorite quote…“Seriously? You were a dancer though?”… “Well, I could do a pirouette if you want…”).

I’m sure Ger will have more to say on the topic of the ceremony and reception itself, I’m just glad it came off well. I really enjoy planning these sorts of things, and it really was a good time. That having been said, though, I could not have done it without a ton of help and tons of folks, so I would like to take some time to say some Thank Yous to some very important people without whom the entire process would not have happened (or would have, but far less smoothly, amounts to much the same thing.) These are in somewhat random order, forgive me.

  • Geralyn – Thank you for saying yes! Well, aside from that, there is no way that I could have done it all without her help, support, and willingness to put up with my cranky, harried self for the last month. I less-than three you baby.
  • Nick – Nick was there to ensure that anything that needed doing got done, and I really appreciate it. From dropping an energy drink on me the morning of to trying to ensure that I remembered to void my bladder before the ceremony, to dropping off the tuxes on Saturday, he ruled. Thank you!
  • Scott – The thanks I have for you are huge like the comically oversized head on a panda suit. You put up with me delaying, delaying, delaying and playing much of the proceedings rather off the cuff and with minimal plan. Thank you so much.
  • Greg – OMG thank you! You stepped in like a pro and I really, really appreciate it. There is much man-love here!
  • Greg and Jennifer of Croft & Campbell – Seriously, more than just taking pictures, being the folks that were able to say “this is what some couples do, and here are alternatives”, you guys as much as anyone made it possible for us to make this wedding really “ours” and I cannot thank you (or, for that matter, recommend you) enough.
  • My new family – Thank you for helping make the room gorgeous, and a special thanks to those of you that helped to make sure that Ger had her special day, the way she wanted it. Those of you who made it about *her* hold a very special place in my heart and I appreciate it immensely.
  • Josh – True story: Josh hand made every single one of those duct-tape flowers with love and care over the past few weeks…then had the temerity to thank us for the privilege! Seriously! Josh, you utterly rock, and we are the ones that thank YOU! Now get back over here to this side of the country.
  • Chuck – Thank you for picking up my dreadful slack on the hotel circuit for the duration of my actual wedding and reception so that I had only to deal with the most major of issues. I would have had to have a six-second wedding without you!

I’ll probably have to add to this list as time goes, because I *KNOW* I’m missing a million people, but for now, this is what it is. Thank you all.

Top 15 Reasons I Will Be Passed Over for Father of the Year 2008

For a relatively intelligent guy, I make a lot of stupid mistakes. This also holds true when it comes to my parenting style (if, by “style”, we mean “series of not well thought out choices”). It is because of these that each year I jokingly suggest that I am not a likely candidate for Father of the Year. Here are the top 15 reasons why this year is not looking good…

15.If Found, Please Call…
While at the Renaissance Festival, it was pointed out to me that many of the other parents had written their phone numbers on a sticker on their child. Not to be outdone, I wrote my phone number and the phrases “Do Not Rape” and “No Kidnapping” in permanent black sharpie on both children on their arms and stomach. Sharpies are, as it turns out, more permanent that one would think.

14.Cody’s Giant Head
I’m sure that there is a special place in hell for people that purposely try to make someone else self conscious about a part of their body. I’m sure that the part of hell set aside for parents that do it to their children must be extra specially horrific. (But damn, look at the boy’s head!)

13.Tricking Children into Swearing
I am absurdly amused by the sound of swearing coming from my children, so much so that I get crazy enjoyment out of trying to trick them into swearing. They are too old for my favorite (having them sound out the spelled out version of a naughty word), but there is always value in the attempt. Most recently, that attempt has been in the form of foreign words and phrases.

12.Birthday Slaps
In 2006, an episode of “How I Met Your Mother” changed the lives of my children and I in a very specific (and ultimately painful) way. It started the birthday slap bet. Now, a good parent certainly wouldn’t allow his children to beat him about the face and neck in excess of thirty times, nor return the favor; but it is so funny. To be honest, this is probably the last year of the event; frankly, the kids are too damned big, and this shit is beginning to HURT.

11.Adam Sandler is Rarely Appropriate
Sitting around the table laughing at funny songs, everyone remembers the “Chanukah Song” (all three versions) and the “Thanksgiving Song” is safe enough; but what happens when you forget and queue up “At a Medium Pace” for the kids? What happens is they get the lyrics:

“Spit on your hand and stroke my cock at a medium pace,
play with my balls and tell me how big they are…

before you get a chance to hit stop. That was a great moment for us all.

10.Turkish Coffee
This is a gag that I have fallen for many times: the kids want to try something that I am consuming, I am sure that the flavor will dissuade them, and it utterly fails to. This iteration involved Turkish coffee at Al Sultan, which is particularly strong. I hand the little cups to each child assuming they’ll sip it, hate it, and move on. Instead, they sip it, catch the minty leave-behind , and proceed to down a full shot each. Any drink dispensed in shot form is definitely not a child’s drink. Most adults probably already knew this.

9.Extra Strong Salsa
Many of my moments of ineptitude stem from playing practical jokes on children that probably are best not done to such small people. In this case it was placing some insanely hot salsa in the center of Amber’s burrito. To give you an idea, I tried a dab the size of a pea, and it was PAIN personified. In Amber’s burrito, I placed about two teaspoons. She was feeling rough afterwards. Perhaps I should have tasted it first.

8.Enjoy the Nightmares
I had already seen the movie “Hot Fuzz” once, and couldn’t recall any bad parts so when the kids wanted to watch it with me, I saw no problems with it. As it turns out, there is a rather fantastic amount of blood in that movie; cartoonish amounts, actually. Whoops. To add insult to injury, each scene kept getting more and more grotesque than the one before until, when a certain building piece aligned (with great momentum) with a certain character’s head, even Amber said “I can’t believe we are allowed to watch this.” Nor can I, baby, nor can I.

7.Should Milk be Chunky?
At dinner, I pull out a nearly empty milk jug, noting that it is a full week past the expiration date. The sniff test is ambiguous, it doesn’t smell BAD, but it doesn’t smell good either. Amber picks up the jug and, with no fanfare, takes several huge swallows. She then confirmed that it doesn’t taste “quite right” then, seeing my discomfort, proceeded to put chocolate syrup in the jug, and finished off every last drop, punctuating her completion with a loud burp. You have to admire that commitment to fucking with me, even as your stomach turns.

6.Cold Showers
A simple formula: a pitcher of ice cold water, quiet feet, and an unsuspecting child in the shower minding his or her own business.

5.Children are not Cows
While visiting my fiance’s family farm, it occurred to me that the kids had never before seen an electric fence, so after a bit of time spent assuaging their fears, they were convinced to touch it. What I wasn’t aware was that modern, thyristor driven fences differ in many ways from the old style fences I was used to; the most notable of those ways was in intensity and duration of intensity. Testing the fence after the kids each complained of its strength showed me that this fucker HURT. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again…oops.

4.Just Like Their Father
While driving somewhere, on a whim, I dug a booger from my nose and wiped it on my son’s arm expecting the obvious reaction. Instead, he calmly looked at me, scooped it up with his finger, and popped it into his mouth. “Delicious,” he uttered. There is a great deal of me in this child. (No pun intended)

3.Hunger Strike
Many of these items seem to relate to what my children eat; this relates to what they occasionally do NOT eat. More than once they have allowed me to sleep in, and when lunch time nears, the following conversation takes place:

Me: Alright, who’s hungry?

Them: We are starving, we haven’t eaten yet!

Me: You didn’t have breakfast?

Them: No, we were out of cereal.

The time to mention this would probably have been before lunch, eh?

2.The Beatings Will Continue…
I walk into the living room, preparing to don my belt when Amber takes off down the hall ahead of me. Overtaken by my inner hunter, I instinctively lash out with my belt, scoring an accidental direct hit on the back of Amber’s arm with my metal-studded belt.

Oh, it gets worse.

Cody observes that it couldn’t have hurt THAT much, and I take over 15 attempts to snap him in the ass with it before accidentally contacting his lower back. Best…father…evar.

And the grand winner, the reason of all reasons that I will not be getting the coveted “Father of the Year” prize this year is…

1.Birds and Bees
My ex and I decide to have “the talk” with the kids. As such things go, “us” talking to the kids tends to mean “me” talking while she nods along helpfully. This was no exception, and I did what I do best—extemporaneously recite off the cuff facts and manufacture a lecture from thin air. Most of the time this works out quite well; most of the time I’m not speaking to children. I cannot profess to recall everything that I touched on, but I can say with absolute certainty that the concepts of beastiality, masturbation, birth control, and multiple-partner-sex came up. Yes, the first item on the list was beastiality. No, I don’t know how that came about.

As I have said, it’s not looking good for this year. Maybe next? What is, I suppose, most troubling with this list is that it is not yet Thanksgiving as I write it, and these 15 came fairly quickly and easily. I still have the entire month of December during which I can make even more stupid mistakes. It is rather scary when you think about it.


 

[Edit] I can add another to this list, as I allowed the kids to read this list while I was getting ready this morning. It was only when they both giggled maniacally and I glanced over their shoulder that I realized there was, perhaps, something worse than playing the Adam Sandler song for them; that being, of course, typing out the lyrics for them to read. Well played!

The Saga of the Haircut

I got my hair cut yesterday, and the ordeal that is my hair has reached a new level…but first, some explanation.

It began with the first visit. My new barber is an elderly gentleman, he couldn’t weigh more than 110 pounds soaking wet, and had just gotten done with an admirable job scissor-cutting my shaggy mop of far-too-long hair. There was, however, something of a language barrier—I am terrible with accents —so there was some confusion when he offered me some service that I cannot entirely understand. He was offering to “clean up” the area around my temples and the hairs on my ears. Finally, after much gesticulating on his part and confusion on mine, I figured, “Why not?!” and agreed to whatever this service might be.

Oops.

He then moved over to the counter and picked up a tongue depressor covered in thick, hot wax, which he immediately applied to my temples in two swift motions. He then returned to the pot of wax and dipped in two halves of a broken Q-Tip, each of which goes into one of my ears. While I was in shock from this turn of events, two additional Q-Tips were placed in my nose.

Into… my… ears… and… nose… What is it with me and wax in odd places?

But as everyone knows, the bad part of wax isn’t the putting-ON, but the getting-OFF. With malicious, evil glee this demonic little elf from hell ripped each wax strip from my head slowly and methodically, eliciting yelps and tears from my normally stoic visage. In the common parlance, that shit hurt! And he LOVED doing it.

“But Jer,” I can hear you saying, “it’s not personal, the man is just doing job.” Wrong! Allow me to prove it to you…

The next time I went, I was prepared. I had used scissors to trim my nose hairs and those in my ears and I used a razor to shave the hair around my temples. I was giving the barber no reason to even consider the wax. So he did his thing on my hair and, when done, examined my cleanly shaved temples and asked if I wanted to get everything waxed. I demurred in an uncharacteristically non-confrontational fashion, and was taken aback when he insisted, then quickly applied the wax to my ear again.

Damnit, he got me again, and the game was on.

On my next visit, I was going to be firm. I was taking no shit. I was NOT going to have my follicles violated by the fiery fingers of waxy perdition. This time, when he offered, I clearly said no. He offered again, expressing a strong desire to attack my face with wax, and again I firmly stated, “No, that will not be necessary.” He acknowledged my wishes. He stuck the waxy Q-Tip in my ear. I did not see that coming.

Barber: 3, Jer: 0

People at this point were asking me why I would go back. “Why,” they would inquire, “would you go through this time and again?” Well, for one thing, the haircut is phenomenal, and I have a really hard time finding someone to do my hair that I really like that is also affordable. More importantly, though, the game is fascinating. I live for this shit. If nothing else, my hair-care has now turned into a fun story; and how can I end it voluntarily?

I absolutely won the next confrontation. When the barber turned to grab the wax, I immediately lept from my seat and started digging in my pocket for cash, telling him that I was all set. I could see the look of disappointment in his eyes, but also a glint of something—challenge perhaps? Indeed, this round went to me…

Barber: 3, Jer: 1

Yesterday, I dove back into the fray once again, determined to win back another “point” in our little game of cat and mouse. I failed. As the service came to a close, not a word about waxing had been spoken. The barber removed my “bib” and began cleaning the hair off from me. “Perhaps,” thought I, “the events from last time have ended the game?” So convinced, was I, of my win that I barely even registered the conversation he was having in some foreign language with the gentleman sweeping the floor nearby. Imagine my surprise, then, when—after wiping the hair from my face with a towel—the towel was removed to reveal what had been taking place while my view was obstructed.

As the towel left my face, I was granted the briefest of glimpse of the floor sweeper in the process of placing a wax-covered Q-Tip into my left ear. Before I could react, the damage was done. Defeated, I accepted my punishment and allowed wax to be applied to my other ear and temples, drawing the line at the removal of nose hair.

Barber: 4, Jer: 1

Well played, sir…well played, but you have tipped your hand. This deft a maneuver could not have been executed by a man merely performing his work. These are not the machinations of a craftsman accomplishing his trade. These are the actions of a genius practicing his works of evil on an unsuspecting innocent.1 Yes, this is personal.

I will not be defeated. I have formulated a master plan that involves placing a healthy dollop of baby oil in each ear and nostril before the next haircut.2 The next round will be mine!

 


1 For some definitions of the word innocent
2 Co-worker Joe points out that, in the grand scheme of things, if I spend the day with baby oil in my nose and ears, that really might constitute a win for the other side. He might be right. That thought is distressing.

Lancemas Traditions

My kids cannot completely comprehend how much different the people they call “Grandma” and “Grandpa” are than the people I call “Mom” and “Dad”; but before I can adequately describe how different the Christmas experience is for my children as compared to that of mine, it is important for me to describe to you the psychological torture that is a Lance Christmas (heretofore known as Lancemastm).

Obtaining the Tree

There was no such thing as a parking-lot tree for the Lance’s. Instead, we would bundle up and go looking for a tree in the woods. As a child it never really occurred to me, but I’m reasonably confident now that such forays almost had to be illegal…at least I don’t recall cash changing hands for the privilege of trudging through knee-deep-on-a-child snow in the Central New York winter to find the perfect tree…and I do mean perfect. No tree was precisely right. This is too short, that is too tall, long-needled pines were preferred over those with short, well balanced was a necessity, full branches dense with needles obviously, and of course an arrow-straight trunk. Mind you, this wasn’t something we dreaded; as testimony to how short our memories were, each year we were giddy to go our tree and started anew the transition from excitement to exhaustion to misery.

Decorating the Tree

Of course, once we’ve dragged home the perfect tree, trimmed it up properly, and stood it PERFECTLY LEVEL in the living room (a process that is not without it’s own nightmarish stories) it is, of course, time to decorate the tree. There is a process involved in hanging ornaments from the tree that is so intricate—so complex—so beyond mortal comprehension—that even 25 years of devoted instruction couldn’t yield unto us its secrets.

It begins with the tree topper; of which we always had two. An angel from my father’s youth and a star. Never once, in 31 Christmases, has that star made it to the top of the tree. Not once. It’s not that we didn’t LIKE the angel, but my brother and I desperately wanted nothing more than to see the fucking star atop the fucking tree just ONE DAMNED TIME!1

Next up is the ornamentation, which would seem to be a fairly simple, straight-forward process. Of course, if you thought that, you would be a complete idiot. There is a method, and it goes a little something like this:

Store-bought ornaments go on last, aside from those given as gifts…or those that have meaning…or those that aren’t generic…or those that are otherwise special. All ornaments are to be hung in a balanced manner around the tree. That means no ornaments too near one another, and certainly no similar ornaments near one another. What constitutes similarity between ornaments? It can’t be described to you, but I will assure you that when you get it wrong, you’ll be made aware. Obviously transparent or translucent ornaments should be hung in front of a light (save for where it would violate the “ornaments too near one another” rule), ornaments should be hung ALL THE WAY around the tree (but the “good” ones will be hung up front [unless it violates the aforementioned “ornaments too near one another” rule]). Oh, and don’t break one. Just don’t.

After the tears have been dried and the fights have been ended from the ornaments, it’s time for the tinsel. The tinsel is my special form of hell, because it must be hung one strand at a time.

One…frigging…strand…at…a…time…

I don’t think you can completely grasp the amount of tinsel that comes in one dollar-store card until you’ve had to cover a tree (tastefully) with three cards worth one strand at a time. Suffice to say, it’s a LOT.

The Interminable Wait

Lucky for my brother and I, my parents are notoriously early risers. On the other hand, my father is a notoriously sadistic human being who, I am reasonably confident, produced offspring solely to have two new people on which to experiment with his mind-games of evil. There is a routine that was followed, without deviation, every Christmas morning that was sure to drive my brother and I mad, and it went a little something like this (all times relative to wake time):

    :00 My parents exit their room. They mill about for a bit. My brother and I start to get really, really excited.
+ :10 The smoking of the morning cigarette. Impatient, we ask mom how long it will be. The answer is a derisive laugh.
+ :25 The making of (and consumption of) the first cup of coffee. During the actual brewing process one parent would head outside to retrieve the morning paper. We…are…slowly…losing…our…minds…
+ :35 The first trip to the bathroom. At this point, the coffee and cigarette has clearly shaken something loose, so my father grabs a healthy section of the paper and heads for the bathroom for what can only be described as an endless period of colonic cleansing. My brother shrieks in frustration…we fairly well BEG our mother to find a way to hustle dad along. Mom shrugs helplessly.
+ :55 Morning deuce-drop a success, dad comes out and starts up the fire in the woodstove because overnight, it has gotten cold in the house. We could NOT GIVE LESS OF A FUCK how cold it is. If we were sitting in a SHACK IN SIBERIA, we wouldn’t give a rat’s ass about the fire, we just want to open presents.
+ 1:05 While the fire is being tended to, Dad ponders aloud if we should, perhaps, have a big breakfast before we open presents. Perhaps bacon and eggs? Oh, and should we get dressed? And perhaps a shower? Oh sweet mother of god, what the hell are you doing? Now that we’ve rounded the one hour mark, it’s fair to say that we are both fairly well ready to vibrate across the floor, and still, no presents.
+ 1:20 The fire done, it’s time for another cigarette and another cup of coffee. WHAT THE FUCK!
+ 1:25 Dad drags a footrest over in front of the pile of presents and prepares to start handing out gifts. We are in significant danger of pissing ourselves. At long, long last, we are ready!
+ 1:26 Nope, false alarm. We can’t possibly start, there’s no Christmas music playing. Dad slowly rises to his feet and picks through his rather tremendous CD library in search of the PERFECT Christmas CDs for the occasion to load into the changer. Are you kidding me? For 10 frigging years you’ve put the same 5 CDs in the changer. TEN YEARS!Just put Nat King Cole, Johnny Mathis, A Very Special Christmas 1, Chet Atkins, and Alabama in the damned CD player and move on! (As a side note, those CDs have absolutely become the soundtrack of Christmas to me)
+ 1:35 Well, all that moving around and coffee must have knocked some more loose, because it’s time for another trip to the bathroom, huge handful of the newspaper in tow. SWEET MERCIFUL JESUS CHRIST, WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING? There cannot be more in there. It’s not physically possible. You might need a trip to the emergency room if you have to do that kind of bathroom wreckage again…but we can tend to that AFTER THE DAMNED PRESENTS!

And at nearly two hours after their wakeup (typically some four hours after our wakeup) it is finally time to open gifts.1

Handing out the Gifts

Obviously, we can’t just dive into the presents. That wouldn’t be organized and torturous enough. We have a long standing tradition in which dad hands out the presents one at a time; slowly. Occasionally you would find him stopping in puzzlement because we appeared to be out of presents when, clearly, we were not. So…very…slowly. We were not allowed to get into the presents on our own, though. It was just flat-out not allowed. My brother and I both recall getting into them once…just one time…but neither of us recall what the results were. How horrifying must it have been if we can’t even recall what happened, but we knew enough never to touch the presents again.

Carrying on the Traditions

So what, of this, do my kids have to go through? They show up to a tree that is already up with lights on it and an angel on the top of the tree.2 They put the decorations on any way they want, and if I correct their decoration placement, I’m too controlling. They literally HURL tinsel at the tree in gigantic fist-fulls with no thought to making the strands appear to be delicate little icicles forming.

In the morning, they wake up and open their stockings. They move presents around. They eat chocolate. They suffer only a scant few minutes of torture before my father gives out the gifts. They even touch the presents.

If it sounds like I’m tattling, it’s because I am. Someone must be told! I tried to tell my parents, but they just look at me like I’m crazy.

I’m not crazy, right?

 


1 In later years, the addition of a home video camera setup was added to this…given many of our sarcastic and dry senses of humor, the camera plan did not last long, as plans go.

2This year, dad retired the old angel from the tree. What did he put up in its place? A NEW ANGEL. Not the star, A NEW ANGEL. That star will never see the top of our tree. Never!

The Photo that Won’t Die!

As I had briefly whined about in an entry several months ago, HFCC has been using a particularly horrific picture of me for some of their press. Of course, that was in August, and no mention of any more advertising travesties have been made to me since that time, so I was feeling pretty confident that the situation was over. Until today.

While walking down the hall one of the instructors uttered the cryptic sounding statement, “Hey, featured student!”

“What?”, thought I.

A short while later, one of the workstudy students opened a browser window and the default homepage opened up. The HFCC main page.

…and that’s when we saw it.

Featured Student: Jeremy Lance

Clicking through the link brings me to more horrifying visions…

Jeremy Lance - Super Genius

Yes, the picture that will not die… WILL NOT DIE!

It’s not that I’m not flattered. I really am. Truly. But this is an atrocious picture of me. I don’t really look like this. At all. Even a bit. Do I? And isn’t “Marketing Entrepreneur” overselling the case just a tad? I mean, Marketing Entrepreneur? Really?

The Photo that Won’t Die (Revisited)

As I have mentioned once or twice, there is this particularly horrific picture of me that the HFCC PR department took that resurfaces periodically with the apparent intent of causing me embarassment. In this picture’s last adventure I was the “featured student” and the photo was on the front page of the website. Not so bad, I mean, how many people go to the web site, and more importantly, how many people actually read the front page?

This week, they upped the ante. This came in the mail:

Oh the humanity... or was that 'huge manatee'...

I am rather impressed, however, that they find different soundbytes from the lengthy interview process to use for each advertising method. This one reads (for those that can’t see it):

I’m the custodial parent to two children, ages nine and ten. Spending time with my kids is important. Being an HFCC co-op student really works well with my schedule. I’m able to work and take classes while my kids are in school. I can even see improvement in my children’s schoolwork now that I’m around more.

Oh, and this time, I’m a…

Former soldier, US Army; Marketing Entrepeneur; Computer Software Developer; Future teacher; Single parent

in addition to being an HFCC student. I have to say, I’m somewhat more impressed with myself.

But DAMNIT that’s a crappy picture.

The Teacher Tax

I am writing in response to Luke Duncan’s October 11th article, “The Teacher Tax.” While I admire Mr. Duncan’s concern for the finances of fellow students and the economics of education, I feel compelled to put to rest some of the fallacious conclusions contained in the article. A “Teacher Tax”, while an entertaining rhetorical device, is not an apt description of the course packets on sale in the bookstore.

Instructors throughout academia publish their work with an eye toward widespread distribution. These publications are the vehicle that drives our educational system, financial compensation for such work is the fuel that powers that vehicle. While it is romantic to hold onto the ideal that teachers teach for love of the educational process, and while that is certainly true in many cases, even teachers have to pay the bills. Published works such as textbooks, study guides, workbooks, and course packets are intended for an audience that far exceeds the author’s classroom inhabitants; they are intended for use on a much broader scale. The amount of time and effort that writing and organizing such a work requires is way above and beyond that which an instructor’s salary is designed to cover. While it would be appreciated if instructors would give of their spare time for free, such charity should not be required.

The article goes on to make the statement that course packets should be sold at cost; and on this point I agree wholeheartedly. The students should be charged only for the expenses that go into the creation of these valuable learning materials (plus the bookstore’s profit margin). Of course, those costs should include the time and effort required to produce such a text in addition to those expenses incurred through publication and distribution. While new ideas are often wrought of self-sacrifice, comparatively few innovations are derived purely from altruism. Even Lawrence Lessig, the creator of the Creative Commons licensing movement, recognizes the importance of revenue-generation to the creative process. One of the components of the “copy-left” system he has created is exclusively used to license for-profit publishing.

Have some teachers found a nice side income? The question is asked with the implied timbre of accusation, as if the desire to acquire money in exchange for performing a task is something of which we should be ashamed. The concept of payment for services rendered is one of the ideas on which our economy is based. An engineer at an automotive company is paid for his work at the plant. When he uses that knowledge to repair a car on his own time, it is perfectly reasonable for that engineer to expect payment for his time. Time is a valuable commodity, and should be valued as greatly as the material cost of text production. It is safe to assume that most of the students here at Henry Ford are spending their tuition money in the hopes that they, too, can find a job where their time will be compensated for.

I, too, feel the strain of my financial situation each semester when I join the long lines in the student bookstore. Make no mistake, it is a problem shared by the bulk of the student body, and there is, perhaps, a need for some type of reform. Rest assured, however, that a supposed “Teacher Tax”, as defined by Mr. Duncan’s article, is not the source of said reform. Without the ability to make money from publishing, innovation in the area of schoolbook development would almost certainly grind to a halt.

A Change of Plans

Returning to school at thirty years old, I found myself somewhat jaded at the prospect of my career after school. I was certainly not excited about the prospect of obtaining a degree so that I could return to a career that I considered to be, at best, a chore. As a result, I initially entered into the co-op program at Henry Ford Community College with the expectation that I would gain very little outside of a grade and another entry on my resume, and the further expectation that it would be more of the same, uninteresting thing that I have been doing for years. Surely, there would be nothing of importance that I would be able to take away from a part-time job that I had not already gained from nearly a decade in corporate Information Technology. I could not have been more wrong. This co-op did not just give me a grade. Instead, I can say with no exaggeration that my time with this work-study program has been a life altering experience.

As a Lab Technician, my official responsibilities could be summarized best as an “equipment babysitter” of sorts; someone to ensure that the lab rules are followed while signing in students and helping students with the equipment. Unofficially, I spent much of my day during the first semester helping the Computer Information Systems (CIS) students understand their coursework. It is in this capacity that I found an exciting, enjoyable niche. I learned that I enjoy teaching college students. Suddenly, a new branch of opportunity sprouted before me, and my future prospects were no longer the bleak, dismal things that I had been dreading.

Now that I have adjusted my collegiate plans to those of an aspiring college instructor, my time as a co-op student has become even more useful. The time I spend at work is now time spent learning how to deal with a variety of different students with varying needs, goals, abilities, learning methods, and skill levels. Just two short semesters has already improved my ability to explain a concept from many different perspectives–trying repeatedly until I can find one that will work. This time spent has also served to teach me new ways to communicate effectively with students. These improvements have been key factors in the considerable expansion of my role as unofficial tutor this semester. I have been invited to sit in on the lab time for two separate CIS125 classes so that I can provide supplemental instruction to the students as they are actively trying to complete their assignments.

The experience, as a whole, has been extremely gratifying. The feeling of working with someone who is having a problem with a concept and being there when they have that “breakthrough moment,” and to know that I was a part of that process, has made the entire process something I strongly wish to remain a part of. I cannot imagine having ever gotten a chance to take part in this type of work without this work-study position. Had this position not been available to me, I would be continuing on my path back into a job field that I have never particularly enjoyed, merely to make money.

A significant percentage of the reason that this program has worked so well for me is that my employers are also educators. As such, they have an understanding of student life, of going back to school, or choosing a career path that suits your strengths, and of finding a path through the educational experience that will end some place meaningful. Certainly, the value of the time I have spent at work would be lessened, had I not been working with a corps of fine educators who have worked hard to help me succeed. The influence that each of these instructors have exerted upon my experience has been a great boon in guiding me down that path.

If I could make any suggestion to potential work-study students, it would be this: Try something new. Do not simply do what you have always done; instead, take this relatively risk-free opportunity to spend a semester doing something different. It might very well open up a completely new avenue of possibility for you that you had no idea existed.

When I was growing up, my father and I used to discuss what I would do when I grew up. I used to say “doctor” or “lawyer” because those were jobs that seemed to make a great deal of money. My father’s response was always the same. He would always reply, “A paycheck is a fringe benefit to doing a job that you enjoy.” To me, that always felt like an unrealistic goal, but today, having the benefit of my co-op position under my belt, I can say with absolute assurance that my paycheck most certainly is a fringe benefit of a job that I enjoy doing. For the first time since I came back to school, I am genuinely excited about finishing school and taking the next step forward, into my new, “grown up” life.