Monday, August 29, 2011

Too much of a "good " Thing

I drank Dr. Pepper in intermediate school. You could buy a 12 ounce tin can of it from the machine in the school office. It cost 35 cents. The machine also offered Coke, Tab, root beer and grape soda and would be put on restriction whenever a can was found littered on campus.

It must have been high school when my friend who loved Coca-Cola introduced me to the sheer joy of consuming it. He would pull two cans from his refrigerator and serve them over ice. There was something fulfilling about a brown bubbly beverage entering into you that made everything right with the world. I began to choose Coke every time I had a soda. In college I kept my dorm’s mini-fridge stocked with Coke. I had a good and a candy bar for breakfast most mornings.

For the past 25 years or so I’ve usually had about one Coke a day. For a while it was first thing in the morning until I finally learned how to brew coffee. Then I began to drink a Coke on the way to work. I got a lot of comfort transitioning from home to work sucking down a Coke. I felt I needed it.

When I first started enjoying Coke in the early 80’s it was made using cane sugar. Maybe back when they changed the formula and then brought back Classic Coke, the re-introduced classic wasn’t exactly the same. I thought it tasted different but was too stoked to care. Today most sodas don’t have cane sugar. Companies use high fructose corn syrup. HFCS is cheaper and blends better. And isn’t it generous that most fast food restaurants let you help yourself to it these days?

I heard this rumor and like global warming and other theories this scientific notion is disputed all around. But to someone who consumes HFCS in abundance I needed to at least consider it. There is a hormone in a normally functioning human body called leptin. Leptin is a circulating signal that reduces appetite. It tells you you’re full so you stop eating. High fructose corn syrup is believed to induce leptin resistance which means you don’t receive its signal. In other words, according to some studies, HFCS consumption makes you stay hungry. Several of these studies link this directly to obesity.

A year ago I was usually about 210 pounds when I would step on a scale. I didn’t care too much. I figured it could be worse. Lately our family has really tried to watch spending. Coca-cola is almost always on sale somewhere, but we stopped cases just about 2 months ago. I quit drinking Coke. Over the weeks Prajna told me my face was looking thinner. Finally I figured out how to work her sophisticated 21st century scale. It told me I was 189 pounds. I couldn’t remember the last time I was under 200 pounds.

One question I got asked what did I replace the Coke with. It’s a good question because I still looked forward to going to work every day because that meant I could enjoy drinking an ice cold Coca-Cola on the way. I didn’t replace it with anything. I have some mints I thought I could use and I also drink lots of water. I get caffeine in the morning from a couple cups of coffee. The other question is do I miss Coke. Oh yes I do. But it wasn’t until I stepped on the scale the other day that I decided that I really had stopped for good.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Here we go 'round the plumeria tree

The first I heard of homeschooling was a friend of mine whose parents were in YWAM. He was I think 1 year younger than I so maybe 10 or 11. YWAM is a mission organization that sometimes whole families would be in and spend 6 months on the field. So this homeschooling was out of necessity.

I really wanted to homeschool when I heard it extolled on a Christian radio station. So the first reason I had may have been concern for the secular humanism in government schools that I don’t care for. Once we decided to homeschool and grew as parents doing it we learned more good reasons. But I’ve never considered my school years as a reason to homeschool our children until yesterday evening. That’s when I remembered something.

I was an ethnic minority in school. I was awkward and unathletic and usually alone. I was bullied, yes but not to the point where someone should have demanded legislation and curriculum to combat it. I lived through it. But I had very little reason to like school.

Yesterday afternoon I was lying on the grass in my backyard. Jamie and Nathaniel right away made up a game of running and jumping over me and the chickens were out in the yard grazing. After a while Nathaniel tried to catch one. Nowadays you can pick up the layers if you’re quick. Nathaniel wasn’t. And I remembered something in 5th grade.

It was a school day. Whatever the subject was that morning kids were working on it and I noticed movement out the window. There was a chicken outside running around. The school’s vice principal and two students were trying to catch it. For the next several minutes this very tall man and two kids ran circles around a small plumeria tree in a wonderful show of catch the chicken. When my teacher discovered the distraction she became indignant and sent me back to my desk. She assigned me the exercise of writing down what I saw. And because I was in school of course she told me it must conclude with what I learned from it.
I scrawled in dreadful cursive writing year about Mister Williams and two older kids chasing a chicken and not catching it. As for what I learned. I said the lesson was never chase a chicken. What I also may have learned if I didn’t already know it was this. If you’re in school, regardless of what you’re doing you must appear to be learning something.

And last night as I looked at the sky and listened to Nathaniel play I thought of something else, if not a reason to homeschool, at least a mark against government schools. My memories of 5th grade include being pushed around by another kid. I remember a student storming out of the classroom swearing at the teacher. I remember struggling with math but I don’t remember if it was fractions or three digit multiplication. I don’t remember any science or art or English. My best memory of the 5th grade was watching a chicken chase out the classroom window. The writing assignment I got after was supposed to be disciplinary, not teaching. But I did learn from the assignment.

I did learn something even if it took over 30 years to realize. I think the teacher was fearful of any learning that didn’t take place in the agenda of the Department of Education. You will learn just what we tell you to learn. Maybe not all government schools are like that. But if my children are learning at home then I have the option to say the same thing. But that is right because they are my children and will not be taught or raised by the state. I cannot guarantee that they will be any better or smarter at the end of the year than kids who were. But there will be good memories to look back at. That I am sure of.

Monday, August 15, 2011

25 years to life

I could say it’s Facebook’s fault. But the past two decades have brought such a tide of technology it’s hard to place the blame anywhere but the Earth spinning round the sun to mark the passage of time. Back then there were payphones on every corner. I used them too. Sometimes even to call a movie theatre to check showtimes after looking up the number in the phonebook. I used to go to movies about once a week back then. The world was different, so was I. Now that my college has a special little alumni group on Facebook I can look at old posts and pictures. So it’s my fault for joining the group and then going on and looking at the pictures. And fine I won’t say it’s
Facebook’s fault. It’s mine for looking back in time and remembering what a mook I was.

I came into college after being something of a social outcast from most of my childhood and adolescence. Having a fresh start in a completely new world meant I wasn’t that much of a loner anymore. But it didn’t change who I was. And over the four years my character flaws burgeoned. I was very selfish. If anyone needed a favor like a ride they learned to present what was in it for me before they asked. I had a flippancy that I think some people liked. If it was too beautiful an afternoon to attend class I would encourage friends to join me on a road trip to Laie on the North Shore of Oahu where the last A&W restaurant remained. A scenic drive and ice cold root beer was followed by a can of Coca-Cola to brandish while circling the campus of Brigham Young University. That flippancy was just a disregard of the future. I lived in the moment and enjoyed it. Of course I could also become very moody and throw a pity party with myself sitting alone in a dark room listening to Pink Floyd smoking a pack of cigarettes.

I’m sure that a lot of my fellow college alumni have changed too. But I’m not proud of who I was. In the same way, if my old self met my present self the old David would call me now quite a square who sold out the idea of that carefree king of the road. I’m a conservative, domesticated father and husband. I loathed that idea 25 years ago. But I am this way and have never felt better about myself. And it didn’t come easy. The past 25 years have been a struggle to arrive in this condition and I never would have made it without help.

Today my son starts classes at the local community college. Maybe as a father I am blind to character flaws in him. I mostly see the little boy I carried on my shoulders, pushed on the swing and watched trains with only now he’s onstage at church playing with the praise band. This is no judgment on my parents or his, but I like to think that he’s a much better person today at 17 that I was at the same age. I hope he never has to deal with some of the things I had to in young adulthood or parenthood. But even without painful hurdles I am confident of this: There is a good and Godly man in him.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Vanquishing Evil

Although the brooding anti-hero is more fun to write about and definitely more interesting in books and movies, as a kid I always loved the hero. I wanted to be Luke Skywalker and before that, Captain Marvel. I wanted to be a pure good hero and vanquish bad guys. I don’t know what my nine year-old son Jamie wants to be. But when he prays at bedtime he thanks God for all the animals. Sometimes when he’s done I ask him if he means even spiders. It seems he doesn’t mind them.

When I got to work on Friday I saw the preschool playground and stared in disbelief. The playground equipment, mostly all sturdy plastic play structures and playhouses had been ransacked. Most of the items had been disassembled. One tower was upside down and filled with parts from other structures. And many items were on the roof of the church. Obviously a group of people, possible older kids had gone and had their way with church property. It must have happened sometime after I left the previous evening and sunup that day.

I went into the office and asked if anyone had noticed. I was the first so I called the church administrator and he told me to call the police and report it. While I was waiting for the police to arrive I told the church receptionist how much this incident bugged me. I live right next to the church. I am the first responder when the alarm goes off and so far it’s only over-sensitive motion detectors. This trouble had gone down right next to me as I slept. Some hero I was. The receptionist assured me that it wasn’t my fault and I thanked her. I knew it wasn’t. But it still bothered me that I let this happen right under my big nose. I felt like I had failed somehow.

We determined that the men’s ministry would be able to re-assemble all the equipment the following day after the monthly breakfast. I met the deputy sheriff and it was decided that this couldn’t even be called vandalism. Nothing was broken, just disassembled and all the parts seemed accounted for. As I was thanking the police my phone rang. It was our receptionist. She apologized that she knew I was busy, but there was a spider in the mailbox. Once the police left I go the mailbox key from her, then I got a blue nitrate glove, bug spray and a paper towel.

I’ve seen black widows in there but this was just a brown spider. I still killed it with all the anger I had toward the mischief makers. When I gave back the mailbox key the receptionist thanked me and started to apologize again but I told her thank you instead.

“That’s one bad guy that I can take care of,” I said.

Jamie is right. Thank God for spiders. Not only do they eat bugs but they can be a scapegoat when a wannabe hero needs a villain to conquer.

Monday, August 1, 2011

The second wave, not so strong.

Last Tuesday I finished part one of the second draft of my novel. It’s hard to take myself seriously when I even say “my novel”. Movies and TV have characters who refer to their novel and it’s usually a joke. So I try to right away dismiss any notion that I ever want to be published. I claim that I just write for the joy of writing. It’s like putting together a giant picture puzzle as I paint the picture at the same time. To be honest I have willed myself not to think about publication and just focus on the writing at hand. It mostly works. But the last time I was in Barns & Noble Bookstore I did look in the F section right where something I wrote would be shelved.

I started writing Icarus in 2006 and two years later had a complete first draft of about 50 thousand words. It was divided into five parts. I think I had every intention of taking it right up again and revising it but I didn’t. It sat there for over a year before I finally took it up and began a complete revision. The first draft was mostly first person with other parts in third person. My re-write has it all in a very limited third person. The first draft had an abysmal prologue which I eliminated. A well known rule of writing is “Show, don’t tell”. This prologue was narrative exposition that dreadfully broke that rule. This time I wrote scenes with action and more backstory instead. I made life more difficult for my main character to make him more true to who I thought he was. Other characters were fleshed out too. When I finished part one last week I looked at the word count. It is 18,343 words. My first draft part one had 8326.

I noticed something in my writing of this second draft. When I was writing the first time I was really battling some inner demons. I had lost Naomi, been fired from my teaching job and sometimes struggled to keep up with the surveying job. I had been diagnosed with clinical depression and was on meds. For a while I was on two meds. Then I lost my surveying job and spent six months unemployed. I kept writing through that and continued into my new job. But it was all very turbulent and I think my writing reflected it. My main character battles some serious issues with his past, trusting others and surrendering to what is right. There are parts of the story where this razor’s edge really shows in his emotions. That was me in the past.

Today I have overcome a lot of that pain that I was channeling back then. My life felt just like that raw first draft with exposed nerves. But I got help and after a lot of work and support from others I think that I am finally over a dark time in my life. It seems that I’ve started my own revision of my life now. I don’t know if I will ever be able to channel that anguish and paranoia into my writing anymore. We’ll see.

One thing I am sure about. If I’m never able to put that edge back, the healing I have now is worth losing anything else.