Monthly Archives: January 2006

blogging to distraction

1/17/06

I’ve read the books, I’ve noticed the road signs, now the wife and I have come to grips with it: if I’m not the perfect candidate for ADD, then ADD probably doesn’t exist. I’ve oft lamented my absolute inability to conquer fatigue over the last five years, but now it’s really getting in the way of basic household and administrative shit, and it’s time to go seek the help of a professional, preferably one that spent many years in a good graduate school.

There’s one episode from my childhood that I’ve held close to my chest for many years, and I might as well recount it here: for about three or four months, I lived in constant, apoplectic fear that my parents were going to die. Couldn’t stop thinking about it, even though I must have been no older than eight.

To counter the fear, I set myself to a task: I was going to recreate and copy the mileage table in the back of the Rand McNally Road Atlas, the one that tells you the distance from every major American city to every other major American city. Why did I choose that Sisyphean task? Perhaps I wouldn’t be so afraid if I gave myself something that big to do.

My mom even helped at first – she showed me how I could take colored pencils and lightly shade in each column so they were easier to follow across rows. I probably got to about Dayton, OH on both sides before I was paralyzed with the enormity of the task. And then just thinking about the mileage chart filled me with dread. And the spiral continued.

Never mind that copying such a chart was redundancy personified; I should have known then I was a major obsessive depressive with ADD, but the only treatment in 1976 was either electro-shock therapy or the Ford/Carter debates.

I’m ready to do something about it now. Anybody out there have experience with their own ADD and can describe being on Ritalin or Adderall? I’m all ears.

spitting out my placebo

1/16/06

Okay, that’s it. I’m tired of buttons not working. If I have to push a button or a flap, I expect results. And I’m not getting them. First off, in elevators, the fucking “close door” button DOES NOT WORK EVER.

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No matter how many smelly, creepy bastards are running for your personal space, they always manage to make it. I’d like this button to start working NOW.

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While we’re at it, can we stop with the con and make the crosswalk buttons work again? This “illusion of control” is making me want to go up into the bell tower with a rifle. Please just turn all of these back on.

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And thermostats at the work place? Are you just trying to fuck with us for fucking with us’s sake?

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And you already don’t make CD jewel cases that stay together after a year, yet make it impossible to open any electronic gadget encased in hard plastic, so maybe you want to fix the little things in life – like this “resealable battery dispenser” on the back of the package? Stuff like this is just depressing.

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You know every single box of cereal in the world? They don’t close. Any of them. I blame you.

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Sports are not exempt – this is the ball I keep in my car, and that “self-inflating pump needle” is a carafe of crap. I have pumped that mother until I got repetitive motion disorder, and the ball never gets any more air. Were you just hoping we wouldn’t notice?

And lastly, none of these buttons seem to work:

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I keep pulling the ones for smart progressive politicians, and none of them ever win. I think those buttons are broken too. Please fix by end of election cycle 2006. Thank you.

really sick of sushi, i’d imagine

1/12/06

I had another rant all saved up, but then I happened upon this site that concerns everything about the show “Lost,” and then I looked up and two hours had passed. All this while I’m trying to alter my schedule and get my circadian rhythms to be like other people… Old Well, as they say where I’m from.

Count me among the bigger fans of “Lost,” made even more special because in LA, we work a few hundred yards away from the writers in their bungalows, feverishly slaving away over the next plot points. If you take them at their word, everything in the show is explainable without resorting heavily into the occult, which makes their high-wire act all the more daunting.

I love the backstories – especially Locke’s and Eko’s – but the coincidences are really piling up and will reach critical mass before March. I don’t know why I found this last coincidence (the plane used in 1992 for Eko’s drug smuggling crashes on the island where he will crash in 2004) so hard to take, but like any fanboy, I reserve judgment until it all comes out in the wash.

Working in LA has given us incredible humility around people working in television: try renting a DVD of any show like the first season of “Deadwood,” the third season of “The Shield,” the second season of “24” or the second season of “Alias,” and you realize the sheer storytelling genius required to make these things work. It’s an undertaking not unlike any of Verdi’s or Puccini’s greatest operas.

But “Lost” is another beast altogether. Say what you want about the show’s shortcomings (Tessa thinks it can be a bit flimsy), but when you’ve got a fanbase that obsessive, your room for error hovers around nil. Every single frame is captured, analyzed and bandied about in chat rooms.

Not only must they keep the island frighteningly mysterious while making everything within the realm of explanation, the peccadilloes of each plotline – the 16mm film, the hatch computer, Walt’s “ghost” – have to be as intelligent as they are bizarre. They also have to keep the show human, offer redemption at every turn, and throw love triangles in the mix as well.

But the biggest accomplishment, should they pull it off, is this: they have no idea how long the show will last, so they must prepare to pace themselves for at least four – but maybe seven – years. Without endlessly frustrating their audience. If they can make it work, the show will put Scheherazade to shame.

How to do it? With each season, everything must, in some way, utterly change. The hatch has altered this season somewhat, and this year has been much more human, but by this season’s finale, something very different needs to happen.

The other shows that ultimately failed this challenge – “Twin Peaks” at one end of the spectrum, and “The X-Files” at the other – inform these writers on a daily basis. Perhaps there’s no way they can win (I’m already sensing a “Truman Show” vibe on the island) but man, the ride so far has been so worth it.

Bonus question for Heels fans: what do Bobby Frasor, Vince Carter, Michael Jordan and Sean May have in common with “Lost”?

and i’ve brought some corn for popping

1/11/06

Since my blog occasionally doubles as a scrapbook for whatever we happened to be doing at the time, I needed to make an entry with pictures for the extended family and friends in far-flung places. So here’s a few pics with short explanations.

First off, we took Lucy ice skating in Bryant Park, but they wouldn’t allow her on the ice. What a bunch of ageists! She didn’t seem to mind, however:

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This is me with (from left) my mom, Sean, Michelle and Jordana. This was probably about four drinks into our Xmas gathering:

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I love this picture of Michelle with the Bug at a diner in the meatpacking district:

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On Chopin’s last day, I carried him to the front door, where the sun had just come out in a brilliant display. I wanted him to have one more afternoon with that feeling against his fur. Tessa comforts him while commiserating with old friends that knew him well:

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Between me, Melissa and Neighborhoodies, we were determined to have A Very Symmetrical Christmas™:

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Norman Kent holds Lucy Kent:

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I’ve tried many of these shots with the timer – I have to set the camera, then run across the living room to the back of the table – but the chances of getting an 8-month-old to look at the camera when the timer goes off? Astronomical. At least I thought so, but:

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I got one of the best presents of my entire life for Xmas – my entire family chipped in to buy me a drum set. It is so cool that I feel like I just got my first 10-speed:

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This was the first Christmas for a lot of our little friends, so we got together with (from left) Laurie and baby Polly, Dana and toddler Jackson, Nell and baby Hank, and, you know, the usual suspects:

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Couldn’t resist posting this pic of the two coolest women I know, taken by Block matriarch Susan Stava:

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While we were taking this, I didn’t realize we’d end up looking so… um, Mormon:

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lie at your feet

1/10/06

I know plenty of you are avid readers of fiction-ish non-fiction and non-fiction-ish fiction, so you’ve heard about the two revelations currently sending tongues a-waggin’ in Manhattin’: first off, JT Leroy was outed as a middle-aged woman using a fake prostitute transgendered road whore as a mouthpiece. Then there’s James Frey, who apparently made up about 78% of “A Million Little Pieces.”

Don’t ask me to list the last two years’ worth of cultural dissembling, because I’ve got a nine-month-old and I’d still be writing when she wakes up at 6am. The act of LYING has become deliciously rampant in all aspects of our culture, but like Mark Twain said about the weather, nobody does anything about it.

That’s because they’re all in on the game, and it is readers like you they’d like to meet, or at least, they’d like to separate a little bit of money from your debit card. I’m surprised nobody’s written a book about the explosion of The Information Age and the opposite chain reaction of The Lie, since the two are obviously dating. In America, there are so many sources clamoring desperately for your attention that the only way to be heard is to be a fucking liar.

Nobody knows liars like a liar, and god knows I was one of the best in my day. My pathology was rampant, and to be honest, I only stopped lying when my life got as interesting and bizarre as the lies were. These days I have no need, but I’m sure there are at least two times per blog when I’m lying and don’t even know I’m doing it.

***

I just checked what I wrote and found one. Lucy actually sleeps until 7am most mornings, but that wasn’t as funny, and besides, I don’t want to make other parents feel like we’ve got it easy. After all, baby habits are like what Mark Twain said about the weather: if you don’t like it, wait a few minutes.

***

To go back to Leroy and Frey, however, I see their prevarications as only a temporary transgression. The only real reason their lies mean anything is that you know about it. Not having read any of their work, I can only report second-hand, but millions have enjoyed the way they strung words together, and in a few hundred years, who gives a shit? Like Mark Twain said about the Bible, it doesn’t have to have happened in order to be true (actually, that was UNC’s Dr. Bart Ehrman).

We are occasional attendees of this great storytelling event in New York called The Moth, where people – sometimes famous – have to get up in front of a huge audience and tell a true 15-minute story without notes.

One of them, a friend of Tessa’s who may or may not have written some books you like, told a rapturous, torturous tale of a lost love affair he had in Africa. I thought it was absolutely incredible.

In cab ride home, the organizer sheepishly admitted that she knew his story to be utter bullshit. That memory made me mad for years, for actually feeling feelings about this guy and his story, and then realizing none of it had happened.

But really, what was my problem? At least I felt something. Many of you have expressed jubilation when Lucy was born, but you are thousands of miles away, and many of you don’t know me from a box of oatmeal. And yet because you live and breathe, you commiserate, you felt something, had an experience. I feel sad when commenters who don’t even give their real name sound sad. Shit, I get lost in stories that were supposed to be made-up – I mean, I know Aslan kills the White Witch every time, but DAMN!

Having an emotion is worth the sleight of hand, in my opinion. The rest is gossip.

impromptu

1/9/06

It was just a little window, a brief, flitting afternoon, but if you were outside today in New York City you would be hard pressed not to mouth “thank you” to the skies. You have to be mindful of these little gifts, a 60-degree present in the middle of so much bitterness, and in turn the hats and coats and scarves and mittens all flew off, wrapped around waists and dangling from back pockets.

You are reminded that there are other seasons, that there was a time (and will be again) with laconic, sexy afternoons of chance meetings and schedules overturned in favor of a beer outside. The sun will one day decide to set near 10pm, and rise not too far after.

I felt sick this morning, and one warm breeze up 7th Avenue and suddenly I recalled what it was like to be seven years old, red tricycles, Big Wheels full of warm water.

Sure, the skies will close again, the sun will retreat, darkness will fall, records will break, the white drifts will pile high – but not today. Most winters never even give you a hint that better times are possible, but this one just showed its cards and gasped hot air in defeat.

gout, goiters, lumbago, bends, grippe, ague

1/8/05

I don’t usually talk about getting sick on the blog, mostly because:

a) it’s boring

b) it’s boring

c) it’s unbelievably boring

d) and,

e) if I wrote about every time I was felled with the flu or some shit, you’d all have me zipped up into a plastic bubble. I get pretty much everything that is going around, regardless of a flu shot, regardless of Purell-ing my hands until they squeak with sterility. I did have a period in 2003-2004 when I went about 18 months without getting ill, but usually, my body is a willing receptacle for whatever airborne crap you’ve got going.

I don’t like being like this, in fact, it pains me to write it. There’s always the judgment that I could be doing more: changing my diet (yawn), getting to sleep at a different time, scarfing down anti-oxidants, “having a better attitude,” whatever.

One thing I do know is that my threshold for misery is about .008, so even the little things fell me completely. Perhaps other people get the same amount of sick and just don’t know it. If that’s a flaw in my character, then, well, you got me, soldier.

There is one thing I’d REALLY like to complain about, however. I am suffering through the worst sore throat of my storied career – every swallow is agony, and there are white spots on the back of my throat. I’ve been careful: never breathing directly on Lucy, handling food away from people, not even hugging Sean and Jordana when they came over tonight.

That’s not even my complaint. My beef is thus: I woke up with this thing on Saturday morning, and I knew what the weekend had in store. I knew this was strep throat and I knew I needed antibiotics. But just because it was the weekend, there was no way I was going to get them. The only recourse would be to sit in some hospital emergency room in Brooklyn for seven hours behind four gunshot victims. Even the urgent care centers had 5-hour waits. No fucking thanks.

I have good insurance, and I know lots of people. Why did I have to wait for this thing to worsen before getting any kind of treatment? The last two days have been well nigh unbearable, all because of the LUCK of getting sick on Friday night, and that’s pathetic. My car runs on corn oil and rabbit poop, and I can’t get a Levaquin unless I “Drugstore Cowboy” my way into an Eckerd.

That’s it for today’s entry. I’m pissed off, tired and my throat is shredded. Please, bacterial agents and viruses, can you just fucking leave me alone for a decade or six?

mazurka in C sharp minor

1/5/06

Amidst some of the unbelievably sad news going on this week, I’d just like to say one more word about little Chopes, our black Lab/Bordie Collie mix dog that passed away just before Christmas. I know he already wrote something on here, and many of you wrote wonderful things back (Just Andrew also sent us a beautiful book), but there are no gravestones for dogs, no museum wings named after them, and their memoirs tend to be unreadable.

What does last forever – at least in Google’s archives and the Wayback Machine – is a blog posting, and I don’t think one is enough. So I am here to say that Chopin Blake was born on June 9, 1990 and died peacefully on December 22, 2005 in the arms of those that loved him. Tessa, who writes about one comment per year, may want to add something, but this is my little paean.

The benefit of experience is that it keeps you from contemplating redundancy. So often, before you have a child, many of your questions will begin, “Yes, but how will I know…” and then fill in the rest. When you go ahead and have that child, you will realize, like we did last night, that Lucy was sick with a 100-degree fever, without even using a thermometer. We could tell by the way she slept and a soft hand on her back, and we knew.

Of course, we went ahead and took her temperature, because we’re completists, but we didn’t need to.

Much the same happens before any Big Life Moment, when you are unsure of your instincts and will not know if things are really happening or not. Will I love him? Will I know if she is the one? How will I know when it is time? And for the last few months for us, it was “How will we know when Chopin is truly dying?”

A couple of years ago, when he first had his vestibular syndrome, a chance meeting with a holistic veterinarian gave us this following nugget: “What you want in any animal’s life is HAPPY, HAPPY, HAPPY, DEAD.” I hate to sound like a Family Circus cartoon, but that isn’t a bad scenario for any of us.

On December 21st, the longest and darkest evening of the year, Chopes and I walked out onto the frozen-topped snow and sniffed around. Back inside, we play-fought like he was a puppy, he scrounged through the trash and almost devoured one of Tessa’s breastfeeding pads, and he paced around the farmhouse about fifteen times – the usual – before curling up to sleep.

The next day, while Tessa and Lucy were spending the afternoon in the next town over, I was trying to build the new crib, when I noticed I hadn’t seen Chopes in a while. I found him curled up on the bathroom floor, and in one millisecond I knew he was dying.

He wasn’t laying that differently, the breathing may have been a little weird, but in that moment I gained the weird of experience of just knowing something. I called Tessa, bade her come home immediately, and we spent the rest of the afternoon and early evening with him as he drifted away. When it was apparent that he may actually be suffering a little, Tessa went with him down the country road to the vet, and while Lucy and I stayed home, he put Chopes to sleep while Tessa stroked his tummy.

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around 1998

That was a tiny moment in all that Chopes was. He spent his years, however, doing the following:

– disrupting Millie Barringer’s drama classes by howling outside Graham Memorial

– jumping out of the car while making a left onto Columbia Street

– shivering during every thunderstorm and cathecting into Tessa’s belly

– trying to tell Tessa that someone was stealing her bike (and she ignored him at her loss)

– making hundreds of laps around the lake in Stephentown, NY in order to guard the perimeter

– herding 80 stampeding cows into us the moment I proposed to my wife

But I think his greatest moment came the day five years ago when our friend Neal visited our apartment and revealed he was about to get open-heart surgery for a mitral valve prolapse. After staying stoic for a few minutes, Neal got very scared and suddenly broke down in tears. None of us knew exactly what to say, but Chopin, usually standoffish and fearing intimacy, walked up to Neal and gave him a big wet kiss on the lips.

He did the same to Lucy the first time they met. He probably kissed four people in his life, but they were well-chosen.

And so here is his little blog entry, a testament to a great animal who blessed us with almost 16 years of trash-ransacking, weirdness and his own brand of quirky, undying love. Every crumpled sweater in the corner of my eye, every clicking noise like claws on the wood floor, every sigh of the radiator makes me think you’re still here. It will be a long time before that fades.

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summer 2002

stopbath

1/4/06

I’m changing hard drives tomorrow – getting a kick-ass 120 GB internal drive for the Powerbook – and doing so means backing up every single thing I’ve done since 1987. I still have English papers written for Doris Betts at Carolina in Microsoft Word 1.0 on the Mac Plus.

In backing up all the photos, I came to realize two things:

1) 98% of my pictures are not printed, and thus utterly ephemeral

2) I have more pictures than I could possible ever look at.

The big clichĂ© of the Japanese Tourist in the ’80s was the relentless picture-taking and movie-making of useless American objects, leading everyone to imagine how boring their get-togethers were back in the home country. But having seen the collections of my friends, and my own obsessive-compulsivity, I have to say we are much worse.

Now, granted, she is my first child and she’s such a little pumpkinboots, but in Lucy’s first nine months, I have taken 1,066 pictures that include some combination of her solo or with others. You’d think that would make her the most photographed human outside of a Beatle or Michael Jordan, but having perused a few other first-time moms/dads, I’m probably only on the 75th percentile.

In contrast, in the year 1971, there are four pictures that exist of me, and only one in color:

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And so that picture has defined that year for me, a time I can’t remember, glumly waving goodbye to my mom as dad takes me out into the snow. I should mention that I had been wrapped up with fourteen layers and thus dying of heat exhaustion, especially since I knew the zipper would get stuck when I came in. Cue mom rubbing a candle on the zipper and then having THAT not work either, and then I pass out in a delirious heatstroke. But that’s for another blog.

I look at our scrapbooks and baby books, and while certain events are bizarrely over-represented with 35 pictures, entire eras would pass without being recorded. Our childhoods become a connect-the-dots visual picture rendered by occasional photographs.

Think about your parents’ wedding in the 60s, or better yet, pictures of your grandparents when they were dating. If you’re lucky, ONE PICTURE might exist. For instance, here is the one picture of Tessa’s grandmother in her 20s that exists:

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Now go back even further. I have one picture each of all my great-grandparents, and some of them were taken when they were ancient, and thus impossible to recognize. Those pictures limp from box to box until they are destroyed in a basement plumbing accident, or someone relentless archivist like me comes around to scan them.

But mostly, where do these pictures go? Here:

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We bought this picture at an antique store in Chatham, NC in 2001 because it fit a scene in the movie we were shooting. To quote Morrissey,

all those people, all those lives

Where are they now?

With loves, and hates

And passions just like mine

They were born and then they lived and then they died

Seems so unfair, I want to cry.

That is a picture taken of well-to-do people at some event that cost a lot of money, at some large house that spent a fortune in its day, and yet none of that money or effort could buy their way out of sheer anonymity.

I know that all my thousands of pictures of my little tribe of friends and family may well pass into nothingness. And when the time comes, hopefully a hundred years off, Lucy’s great-grandchildren may have a slight inkling of who I was or what I looked like, maybe because of this picture in the New York Times archive, but with my luck, it’ll probably be this:

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banned from green gables

1/3/06

Back in 2003, Tessa and I attended the Zap Your PRAM conference up in Prince Edward Island – a wonderful get-together of technophiles and folks in the know who agreed to come to this tiny town on a tiny island during a slightly miserable time of year. Of course, it was fantastic.

We screened an early cut of the “Pink House” movie, engaged in hot discussions over the future of this here internet with some famous netizens, and basically chilled out while the distant October sun wafted across the shores of the northern Maritimes. They even had a basketball hoop.

One of the conference leaders was our friend Dan, whose parents owned a large bed & breakfast in Cavendish, so he installed satellite internet, gave us each our own bedroom, and during the day we’d hunker down in the conference room like an extended slumber party. Old timers to this blog may remember the trip home as the time when I got detained by Homeland Security and had to write an essay to free myself.

I mention this because we were seriously considering going back up to P.E.I. for Zap Your PRAM 3 (which is named a little like The Thompson Twins or Ben Folds Five) because it has become one of our favorite places in the world, and you get to take this humongous catamaran to get there. Also, Peter himself – along with Dan, Daniel, Steven and any other Islander you meet – are fabulous, fabulous company.

Then we got an email today saying that this year’s conference was called off, due to a “lack of fire” in their bellies. The first conference had come together so organically, and this one was proving a struggle. Besides, they didn’t know exactly what they would talk about.

This was a fascinating thing to do, in my opinion. Tessa called it very Taoist. I’m so used to forcing things to happen, like the Jartaculars or other random events, that I would never contemplate calling anything off. The fire in my belly is self-generating and seemingly inextinguishable, and I’m always afraid that if I don’t make something happen, suddenly “not making something happen” would be okay, and then nothing would ever happen again.

As for not having things to talk about, I always assume that if you get more than two interesting people into a room, that sort of shit takes care of itself. When we have guests at the farm, the place turns into a lefty think-tank (or in the case of my family, a fartgasm of fart jokes), and all it takes is an outsider to get things going.

Yet still, the decision to pull the plug on something they love is a decision by the P.E.I. folk I have to admire. It’s Buddhist in its calm understanding of human currents, and brave in its faith that another gathering could still happen one day. Maybe all the commenters here could meet on Prince Edward Island and get seafood.

I should have been so circumspect about things in my own life. I’ve forced the issue so many times, and occasionally it has come to near disaster. I have seen the writing on the wall telling me to go home and pick my battles, and decided to tell the wall to fuck itself. I have plowed on with losing hands, going further under.

It’s hard not to mistake perseverance for self-destructive bluster. I have something to learn from these wise islanders.

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the beautiful, dark beach – late autumn 2003, Cavendish, PEI