Thursday, September 04, 2014

The Great Eights

Our little man turns nine today.

He is very cool and just a little bit weird and I like him a lot. I would hang out with him even if I didn’t have to. Which, now that Minecraft exists, I technically don’t have to anymore. He is a completely self-contained ecosystem when he is attached to a screen.

But I do still hang out with him when I can. When he makes time for me, in between bouts of intensely wiggling his fingers across the screen of my handheld gadget device.

What I did that makes succumbing to Minecraft actual Quality Parenting™ is that I have tied his time playing That %&$#!! Video Game (hereafter TVG) to his first having expended an equal amount of time pursuing real-world accomplishments. For example, if he wants to play TdamnedVG for 30 minutes, first he has to put in 30 minutes of guitar practice. Being the clever fellow that he is, he negotiated the use of the gadget’s native chronometer to keep track of the elapsed time of each exercise.

With a 30-minute minimum buy-in. No 5 minutes here, 10 minutes there. I saw that coming a mile away, and built it into the original agreement.

Mostly, he’s gotten a lot better at playing guitar; but I’ve also had him watch classic movies with me—in dreaded black and white!—as well as read foundational geek literature like The Dark Knight Returns and the first run of The Ultimates. And since I won’t brook talk of TVG in my presence, I’m afraid I’ve consigned The Missus to hours on end of listening to him go on with infinite enthusiasm about whatever it is he likes so much about TVG. I mean, literally enthusiasm without end; there is no end, only the inevitable “STOP TALKING ABOUT IT NOW!!” button. The difference is, I swing for the ‘stop’ button as soon as I become aware of what he’s about to begin going on about. Or has been going on about for a while before I noticed.

So now he not only sings and plays “Ring Of Fire,” but his vocal melody is slightly different in a couple of key places. I don’t think it’s a mistake, but the way he hears it. It’s also a hoot to hear it sung pitch-perfect in his little boy soprano.

He’s learned a Springsteen kids’ song and already agreed to perform it at the school talent show this year. When we play together and I fumble a chord—or several—I can wait for him to come around and jump back in, and he does the same. I’m not saying he’s any kind of genius (that I know of!), but he does seem to have the knack of it.

His reading has tapered off this year, as has his output of artwork. He’s still curious and reads and understands ambitious reading assignments, but only when he’s working for Minecraft time. We’re hoping the non-elective Arts extracurricular at his school this year will rekindle some of that earlier passion for creative expression.

But I decided he had to be up to speed on TVG since all his peers at school and Taekwondo are hip deep in it. My parents didn’t give a shit about my social experience, they stuck to their guns and as a result, I was always a step behind the other kids socially. A step or a good half-decade. I was literally the only kid in my late-1960s elementary school class with a military-style buzz cut whose dad wasn’t active military.

So as a parent, I’ve tried to find a compromise I could live with, and it’s proven to be as successful as it has been frustrating. By definition, the perfect compromise!

He is tall. He is leggy, coltish, dorky tall. He’s made a lot of friends this year. Last year, the birthday party worry was whether we were going to be able to stock it with party guests, this year it was cutting down the list.

I always tell my mom, I do pray, but only ever for two things. I beg for wisdom—sometimes knowing what the right thing to do is can be a little trickier than others—and from time to time, when gratitude overwhelms me, I try to give some of it back. And in a year that has been altogether too rough and rocky along the way for my taste, I am damned grateful how much Young Mr. Bastardson has flourished in spite of it. (It is the custom in Taekwondo to refer to black belts by their title and surname, which custom I have elected to employ here.)

Ostensibly to be a good parent, but really just to keep me from slipping back into clinical depression, I joined the Family Council at Young Mr. B’s school to keep busy. Then I volunteered to ‘liaise’ with the school board since I am acquainted already with a couple of its members, which turned out made me a voting member of the board. As soon as the implications of that position and its attendant responsibilities were spelled out to me, I agreed it would be a good idea to never ever write about, or even mention it again.

Except to say that now I am busy. Busy keeping The Boy busy.

It’s hard to quit calling him The Boy. He’s still our boy… but for the first time since he started going to school, he didn’t turn into an unruly, temperamental tyrant as the school year and his birthday approached. And he only earned his black belt a couple weeks ago.

He should be utterly insufferable right now.

But he’s been Mr. Cool. He and I even saw the summer out last Friday with a trip to the local overpriced Kidzone go-cart/arcade emporium, just like a regular 21st century Andy and Opie. Instead of fishin’ poles, we swung miniature golf clubs over our shoulders.

Since getting flushed from the bathroom of my career this winter (with apologies to Johnny Cash), suddenly I have free time to volunteer during the school day, and I’m doing that too. By God, I may never be able to remember any of these peoples’ names, but I’ll make sure they remember mine!

Young Mr. B. is on his own in that regard. He seems to lack my flair for self-promotion, but he also definitely lacks my facility for self-loathing, which in my opinion is a more than acceptable trade-off.

He’s already making friends this week at school. If we have put the bullying bullshit that marked the beginning of each of his first few years of public education behind us, Taekwondo and I will have done our job.

It’s been a hell of a great year for Young Mr. B, and I’m grateful to everyone along the way who helped. Eight is going to go down in the books as every bit as good a year as 5, the previous standard-bearer.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

This last number of the evening goes out to Young Mr. Bastardson himself. I wish it could be something Sinatra sang—something about paternity, accomplishment, America and pride, with swelling strings and a big roar of cymbals right near the end—but his songwriters knew way too many chords for me to keep up with. Besides, I decided I was going to learn the following tune for your birthday when you performed it for me for mine. If you pay close attention, you may notice me yelling at you. This is an effort to get you to pay close attention.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

A nosebleed seat to the Apocalypse?

We all really need to start getting along.

Since moving to Idaho, I’ve had to put my politics on the back burner. Too many consequences to shooting off my mouth. Fuck it. Too many consequences, balanced against zero actual ability to effect change in any of the areas I’m bitching about. It took me three years to figure out I was pursuing a lose/lose strategy, but as Sarah Connor intones early in Terminator 2, “I’m feeling much better now.”

Because the consequences of ditching that strategy have been deeply rewarding. As a non-partisan fellow now, a man without a country, as it were… without an opinion I’ve been inclined to share… it’s opened up lines of actual dialogue, specifically with the people whose belief systems have historically clashed with mine. And it made me even more bored with the clever rhetoric of the Left. I read old blog entries and I’m among the worst transgressors. I would go back and eliminate (or redact) a lot of stuff I’ve written, except I’ve seen the way attempting to rewrite history turns out in 1984.

I can’t even watch the news anymore, and not just to protect my 9-year-old. It plays like Michael Bay and David Lynch put their heads together to co-produce the Apocalypse.

Commercial airliners being blown out of the sky by unrepentant thugs. Other ginormous planes going mysteriously missing—poof! The violent religious extremists in the Middle East finally becoming our actual worst nightmare by organizing and getting their command and control shit together. Worse, acquiring the wealth and weaponry left behind by a recently conquering army. And when I say wealth, I mean “wealth” with a “b” as in billions. People argue over how many billions, but let me ask you this. How many billions of dollars did Osama bin Laden’s signature terrorist attack cost? Zero. Now add billions of dollars to that capacity for evil. That’s how much more dangerous the international terrorist situation has become.

Here’s my beef. I get that it feels like the new daily horrors we’re living through look and feel and quack like the foreplay to the End Times. What I don’t get is why that fact hasn’t begun to coalesce us as a people yet.

I’m looking at us, America! Not because we’re necessarily the worst offenders, but because I’ve got a dog in this hunt.

Look. I get that it’s easy to point fingers. It’s Obama’s fault because he’s feckless and has neither a strategy nor even a consistent talking point about the Middle East or Ukraine or anything else; it’s W’s fault because he unseated Saddam Hussein on evidence that was later proven inaccurate, and created the power vacuum in the region that the terrorists are currently exploiting; it’s Bush Sr.’s fault for not taking out Saddam when the rest of the world actually seemed on board with the idea; it’s Bill Clinton’s fault for his lack of a vigorous military response when the USS Cole was attacked on his watch; it’s the British Empire’s fault for partitioning up the old Ottoman empire and cutting it up into the merry patchwork of murderous country-states they are now, which error IS* in its questionable wisdom is trying to undo; it’s the inhabitants of the region’s fault for waging this war on themselves for thousands of years before the foreign Imperialists ever got involved… As far as Wikipedia and I know, these are all true facts. This is shit that can be generally agreed upon, one fact at a time, by reasonable people.

[*While our media sources dither between ISIS and ISIL, they refer to themselves simply as the Islamic State. Not “…Of Syria” and not “…Of The Levant.” They really do want to put the old land back together.]

So it’s everybody’s fault. It’s everybody’s fault, and we all stand to get taken to task for it. Especially now that IS is as well-armed and wealthier than the majority of its neighbors most immediately in jeopardy of being engulfed by them, with plenty of money and munitions left over for foreign mischief.

If it’s everybody’s fault, then isn’t it also everybody’s responsibility?

If we’re going to be responsible about this, we have to start listening to our fellow Americans instead of yelling at them. Only by listening can new, different ideas enter our brains. They may be really stupid ideas borne of a philosophy and outlook that is completely at odds with our own, but they may also—in their vast ignorance—spark a New Idea in somebody’s head. An idea that wasn’t put there by a news channel or a blogger or wherever the hell kids get their news these days.

An idea that might start a conversation that might begin to produce a change.

The longer we stand on opposite sides of the ideological chasm and hurl biting witticisms at each other, the longer the enemy has to further get their shit together. I guarantee you, by now they have broken off a little group and granted them unlimited funds with which to plan foreign affairs. IS have started doing lots of other stuff governments do, and these guys’ number one priority is killing. That’s definitely something governments do, and IS really likes killing us. That’s math even I can do.

And still we bicker amongst ourselves! Over on Facebook, left-wingers are politicizing the outlandishly horrific murder of another American journalist, and so are right-wingers. They still can’t agree on anything, except that this butchery is an excellent opportunity to drive their partisan hackery home. It’s unseemly, and worse, it’s counter-productive.

I had a friend on Christmas Island—you know, where we’re from—with whom I used to enjoy party-line give-and-take. He was always more adherent to his party line than I was to mine, though. I used to try to reason him into a corner just for sport, but he’s a wicked smart guy, and except for The Missus, nobody can marshal facts and figures like he can to support any given argument. He really gave me a good rhetorical workout, and in my own defense, I was frequently very clever. I found lots and lots of ways to passively disparage the GOP president at the time. [sigh]

Well, after moving to Idaho and trying to adjust to the very politically conservative climate here, his broadsides were no longer as entertaining. They had gone from a diverting pastime for me to just another reminder that I wasn’t in Kansas anymore. Eventually, one issue struck really close to home. I knew The Missus would take to social media about it, and I begged him to resist the temptation to respond. I was, like, super clear. And I contacted him before she unleashed her wrath.

But just like America, he couldn’t resist. And just like I’d guessed, it didn’t help a bit. It was especially unhelpful, actually.

And that, in a nutshell, is America today. We just can’t resist our unreasoning hatred of the other side of the partisan divide. And what I’ve learned is, most of that hate and mistrust of each other is the result of us being expected by our peers to hate and mistrust ‘the other side.’ We do it because it’s what we know. It’s what we’re used to. We just can’t resist.

The only thing we can’t resist even more is drama, which is what our bickering is inevitably buying us. We are working so diligently on not working together that we are certain to be caught unaware—again—the next time there is a catastrophic domestic attack. And even then, I suspect finger-pointing will prevail over problem-solving in the aftermath.

All of a sudden, having relocated to the Hinterlands doesn’t look like such a bad idea at all.