Sunday, August 25, 2013

Princess Leia Was Right

Any wisdom I have accrued during my time here comes mainly from two sources. Improv and Star Wars. That’s right, not Joan Didion or Buddha or Socrates; it all hinges on the art of making things up spontaneously and from a long time ago in a galaxy far far away. And today’s nugget of insight comes from Princess Leia.

(BTW thank you George Lucas for creating a smart, resourceful, moral female character who can kick-ass and knows how to handle a blaster).

In Star Wars: A New Hope, during Leia’s first encounter with Grand Moff Tarkin after insulting his body odor she offers this in retort to his intimidation tactics “The more you tighten your grip the more star systems will slip through your fingers.” Genius despite Carrie Fisher’s out of nowhere British accent in that scene only. So let’s delve, shall we.

Control. Yes we all desperately want it in one form or another. Whether it’s over what we watch on TV or what we wear, or what we do for a living, or how other people in our sphere of influence act, or the outcome of our own and our children’s lives, we want control. And why not? It is the softest blanket of content and the most delicious chocolate chip cookie of comfort. We seek it in every aspect of our lives. How neat is my house? My desk? My Car? (if I’m honest, none of them very neat at all). How can I not get fired? Did I make a mistake? Did somebody else? How can I make sure nobody makes a mistake, ever, for the rest of time? (Seriously, my list of mistakes fills the warehouse where they store the Ark of the Covenant at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark). How can I make sure my kids are okay? I’ll monitor their homework; dispute teachers on unacceptable grades; tell them to go to bed…no really, I mean now, I’m not gonna tell you again; read their text messages; give them advice; give them the same advice over and over until they do what I tell them whether they believe it or not; get them vaccinated; have “the talk”; nag them about extra-curriculars and credentialing for college; tell them to brush their teeth until it sends me into therapy. If I do all that and more, their future will be secure, right? Everything will be okay, yeah? Nothing bad will ever happen.

Wrong. Darth Vader will still show up in Cloud City and freeze your boyfriend.

The thing about control is, it’s a bedtime story we tell ourselves again and again so we can sleep at night and keep the panic at bay. If we can control the outcome, then we know what to expect and nothing will ever take us by surprise. And how boring is that?

I’m not recommending never cleaning our houses, and letting the kids adapt a Lord of the Flies mentality (actually in that book it was the struggle for control that led to chaos), but the reality is, we cannot control the outcome. Life is messy and unpredictable and if we avoid it, we miss out on so much. Bad things are going to happen, to us and to our kids, and that’s okay because we learn we can get through them. But you know what else, great things are going to happen too. But if we’re too busy following our prescribed path of expectation we will miss those great things and the potential for un-conceived of joy.

I cannot control what grades my kids will get this year. I cannot control whether they will get in trouble or not. I cannot control whether they will get hurt or if they will hurt someone else. I cannot control if they will let in a goal, or score a basket, or remember the distributive property or to brush their teeth.

I can tell them what I think is important. I can encourage them. I can set limits on tv and games. I can make them eggs and bacon in the morning. I can let them fail. I can believe they will succeed.

So I will try to follow Princess Leia’s advice and loosen my grip on their lives. It will be hard, because I love them so much that I feel it in every cell of my body at all times of the day. But sometimes what’s best for them is what’s hard for them. So I will loosen my grip. And maybe if I do that Han Solo will show up in the Millennium Falcon and take me out for a burger.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Turn Signals

Turn your signal on. Please, for the love of god, turn your signal on. It’s probably the easiest thing you’ll do all day and an effortless way to give back. I am baffled to the point of irrational frustration at those who cannot seem to muster the momentary selflessness it takes to signal before making a turn. Seriously, how bad have things become, how deep into our own bubbles must we be, that this simplest of gestures is routinely ignored because, hey, we just can’t be bothered? The effort is too great, or simply beneath us. Others should know we intend to change directions without notice. Or, if they cannot intuit our every whim, they should simply suck it up and thank us for reminding them that the world truly does revolve around our individual needs.

Okay, sure, I’m overreacting, but am I? This one thing that people cannot do with any regularity is significant. It does show an inherent consumption with our own selves that bleeds into other parts of our lives. If we can’t be bothered to signal, a gesture who’s pure intent is to alert others to our intentions so they can properly adapt and maintain a sense of equilibrium in the universe, then we are truly on a path to chaos and isolation.

Cars used to be so simple; a convenient way to get from one place to another. And you really had to want to get there because you had to crank it up to get it started. Now, all you have to do is push a button. Cool, yes, but really, was turning a key so difficult? And yet, a car's main purpose remains the same. It is not, in fact, intended to be a movie theater on wheels, or a remote wifi hotspot, or a hovercraft.

I’m not gonna lie, borrowing my mother-in-law’s van with the DVD player made many long car trips bearable when the kids were little, who am I kidding, it can make a trip to the grocery store easier. But should it. Why shouldn’t our kids have to suffer through the boredom of hours on Route I-80? Builds character and stamina and leads to the invention of great car games like the Alphabet game, License plate Lottery and the epic Braveheart-esque battles of “He’s on my Side.” Those car rides build valuable life skills like creativity, patience, and upper body strength.

Sure modern invention creates convenience, and convenience is nice (really nice) but it is not a cure-all for responsibility. Despite the James Bondish ingenuity a car’s main purpose remains the same: it is meant to help people get places faster than on foot or by horse or bicycle. Yet the responsibility involved in operating that machinery is awesome and as age and indifference clicks on auto-pilot, we take that grave power cavalierly, and cannot fulfill the most basic duty of moving a lever up or down with the effort of a single finger, because we are too busy talking on the phone, finding the perfect song, or lost in our own terribly important agenda.

I’m not saying we need to go back to the Stone Age. I like my IPhone. I like not hearing my kids killing each other in the back seat. But I call on us all to resist the urge to let these conveniences dupe us into assuming an entitlement that does not exist. We are still social creatures beholden to one another to evolve in a humane way. We rely on each other in so many conscious and unconscious actions over the course of a day, a year, a lifetime. Opening a door, saying please and thank you, compromising on health care, and signaling before you turn so the other ripples in the lake can adjust. This is what makes the world a better place, a simple effort to look beyond our own seductive need for personal convenience. And it’s such an easy place to start. Just signal when you turn and realize that driving is not your divine right, but a privilege you must earn every time you get behind the wheel.

Can you tell Teenager #1 is about to turn 16?

Friday, August 2, 2013


Sleep, you little rat bastard. You fill me with need and then dash my hopes night after night after night You are my Moriarity. I hate you and love you all at once. I defy you and yearn for you in the same breath. I may act coy and aloof as if I don’t really need you. As if I can function perfectly fine without you. I flaunt my indifference to you in martyr-like fashion, adopting an air of superiority. All these other fools seem to fall apart without you, but I carry on steeled in my Joan or Arc perseverance to not crumble under your tyranny. Yes I put on a good show, but strip away the bravado and I am just an exhausted lump longing for you to take me into your arms and cast me under your spell.

And you just love it, don’t you. You toy with me in your feline-ious ways. You taunt me all day with eyes half open, yawns coming almost as regularly as breath, and once I finally put head to pillow, you are no where to be found. Or even worse, you take leave of me early in the morning, like a guilty lover, you slink away too early to be late, and no multitude of sheep or ambient noise machines can take your place.

And what an insidious army of minions you have enlisted.   A husband who falls back to sleep before his head hits the pillow and cannot be roused by his alarm, or the cacophonous synchronicity of his and the dog’s snoring; teenagers who can sleep 23 ½ hours a day; a dog who has to be part owl since he sleeps all day and is awake most of the night, and a mind so filled with to-do lists, worries and random blog ideas that it will not quiet. Only you would turn my very family and my own mind against me. Brilliant, cunning, evil.

Yes, I admit it; you are a master, always one step ahead of me. Without you I am a hideous, impatient, idle wretch. I look forward to your next visit, yet you never stay long enough for us to truly get to know each other. And perhaps therein lies your Achilles heel. You toy with us all, hooking us on your addictive properties, laughing at our inane efforts to court you with dim lights, no electronics, regular exercise, no caffeine after certain hours, the Lunesta butterfly and, of course, the proverbial warm milk. You resist our every move maybe because, like so many men of a certain age, you fear commitment. Perhaps if we get too much of you, we will cease to appreciate you, we will take you for granted and you will become mundane, routine, the least interesting of our basic human needs.

But don’t you know that the more we get, the more we want? Have you ever met anyone who says they are well rested? Is there a single human being who doesn’t, at some point of every day, in response to the query “How are you” say “I’m tired?” Even teenager #1 who enjoys your company for sometimes up to 13 hours, wakes up tired and takes a nap only two hours later. It is impossible to get our fill of you.

So you have a choice, Sleep, you can continue your power hungry lonely ways isolating yourself as something to be loved and reviled, or you can take a seat at the table and stay awhile. I won’t get too clingy, I promise. I won’t pressure you or try to change you; I just want to get to know you a little better.

So I’ve exposed my queen, it’s your move.  Do not underestimate me, you may knock me down, but I will always get up. Can you handle that? Or are we going over the falls together?