Graturday (Father’s Day Edition)

Today is Father’s Day. (At least, it is in my neck of the world.) My own father was never really a big Father’s Day celebrator, so I don’t usually make a big fuss about it myself. But there are some things I’m grateful for that tie in rather nicely with Father’s Day, so…

I’m grateful that I’ve gotten the chance to be a dad, and I’m grateful that a girl as funny, kind, considerate, smart, geeky, and all around cool as my daughter Morgan chose me to be her dad. I seriously lucked out.

I’m also grateful that Morgan’s mom, Julie, and I have been able to move past the anger we had with each other and with ourselves after our marriage ended. We’ve been able to rebuild our relationship into a solid friendship, where we can joke with each other and be supportive of each other (even as we both know and openly acknowledge that we could never be–and probably should never have been–in a romantic relationship with each other).

And I’m grateful that my father, Rick, helped teach me to laugh at and be in love with life, to help out people who need help, to fight for people who are being mistreated, to support the underdog, and to live a life of public service. He shared his love for Barney Miller, St. Elsewhere, Aaron Copland, and Bob Newhart with me. I didn’t start watching Star Trek: The Next Generation until Rick told me it was good. He told me goofy jokes, encouraged me to treat myself to guilty pleasures, and got angry with me about politics. When I’m silly, indulgent, caring, passionate, romantic, and quixotic, it’s in part because of Rick.

 

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Neverending Stories

I want to talk about some thoughts I’ve had regarding creativity, learning, and the way our brains work. I’ve never formally studied neurology, psychology, or education, so this is basically a punk thrash song. If you’re not big on that kind of thing, back out now.

My library developed an early childhood literacy program a few years ago which we call “6 by 6“–six skills by age 6 that help develop a child’s literacy. Some of those skills are: “have fun with books,” “talk, talk, talk” (using a large, broad vocabulary), and “tell stories about everything.” Parents, guardians, caregivers, and early educators can help children a lot by helping them develop these skills. Studies have shown that children who develop these kinds of early literacy skills grow up to be much more literate teens than children who don’t develop these skills.

A very strong principle of librarianship is “life-long learning.” We never stop educating ourselves, whether it’s by taking formal courses and attending seminars and workshops, attending professional conferences, or just reading and investigating things on our own. It’s along the same lines as educators and academics. I don’t think life-long learning is something that is or should be specific to librarians, educators, and academics. Everyone should be learning new things throughout their life. And it seems to me that the principles we put forward in our 6 by 6 program never stop applying to our education.

Which brings me to fandom. When I was in elementary school, I played with my Star Wars action figures, making up new stories (and often giving the action figures new names, personalities, and roles in the story) based on the original Star Wars movie. I drew comics and wrote stories that heavily ripped off from Peanuts, Dick Tracy, Star Trek (the original series), Scooby-Doo, Disney and Warner Brothers cartoons, kaiju movies, and the books and superhero comics I loved. Engaging with pop culture like this helped exercise and develop my creativity and my understanding of story. It helped build my vocabulary and inspired me to seek out more information on the world around me. I believe this kind of play is crucial to us, and it’s a shame that much of it is left behind as we grow out of childhood and into adulthood.

It seems to me that writing fanfic, role-playing (both the formal tabletop games I grew up playing and the looser internet role-playing many people do today), creating GIFs and internet memes out of pop culture, mashing up pop songs, playing in fantasy sports leagues…these things (and activities like them) are all important culturally (which is a different but related topic), but they’re also important for our brains. They continue the acts of having fun with books (and movies and TV shows, etc), learning and communicating with a broad vocabulary, telling stories about everything, making education playful and play educational. It’s better to actively engage with books, movies, music, etc than it is to passively consume them. Our brains change as we grow older, but not so much that we need to stop interacting playfully and creatively with the media we’re presented with. If we want to stay sharp, if we want to continue to grow, we need to always be playing and learning.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to take a nap. (Nap time is something else we should continue from childhood. But that’s another post for another time.)

Graturday (Extended Get Up and Go Mix)

I didn’t post a Graturday post this Saturday because I was busy having an absolutely smashing weekend. I have a lot to be thankful for, so I’m going to weave it into this tale of my adventure in…WICHITA, KS!

But first, let’s go back a few years. Through my online friend Bonnie Burton, I found out that Jane Wiedlin, guitarist, back-up singer and songwriter for the Go-Go’s, was on Twitter and was a massive science fiction nerd. I immediately started following her. Jane tweeted about Jon Stewart being her “#imaginaryboyfriend” and said she wanted to get that hashtag really going on Twitter. I tweeted at her, “Would you be my #imaginarygirlfriend?”, and much to my amazement, she replied with, “Yes! I’d be honored!” This began an exchange on Twitter in which she would often refer to me as her “imaginary boyfriend” (or “IBF”). Meanwhile, back in 1983, 13-year-old Josh was utterly astonished at how this could be happening.

Jane was a guest at the 2010 Planet Comicon in Kansas City, promoting her (sadly short-lived) comic, Lady Robotika. The first day of the con, I nervously walked up to her booth, fully expecting that she wouldn’t remember who I was at first. (Surely she gets a lot of people tweeting at her, so why would she remember li’l ol’ me?) I stood in front of her and said, “Hey, it’s my imaginary girlfriend!” She smiled and said, “Josh!”, then came out from behind the table, gave me a hug, and posed for a photo with me. She insisted Berkie and I stay and chat with her for a bit and asked us to come to her panel the next day. Which we did. In the middle of the panel, she saw me sitting in the middle of the second row, stopped what she was saying, waved to me and said, “Hi. Josh!” She then informed the entire room that I was her Twitter friend. I blushed. Berkie tweeted about me being a rockstar.

Since then, Jane and I have continued to tweet to each other, usually about nerdy stuff like Star Wars or Star Trek, sometimes about more serious stuff. I have been very grateful for Twitter for giving me the chance to interact with someone who I consider a major star, but on a level where we’re both equals, just goofy nerds becoming friends.

A couple of weeks ago, I found out the Go-Go’s would be starting their new tour with a show on the last night of the Wichita River Festival. What with it being so close, I absolutely had to go. I never gotten to see the band perform when I was younger, and their recent tours haven’t taken them anywhere particularly close and affordable. I sent Jane a direct message on Twitter to let her know I was going, and she said, “I’ll get you some after-show backstage passes so I can say hi!” Not “so you can meet the band and bask in our glory” but “so I can say hi.” I asked 13-year-old Josh how he felt about that, and he said, “ASKJMFTHPFRTLN!!”

On Saturday morning, my daughter and I lazed around the house for a bit before getting in the car and driving down to Wichita. (Sadly, Berkie couldn’t go, due to work and other commitments.) I’m very grateful I had Morgan with me, because although she’s a 16-year-old, she’s very calm and easy-going. When we got lost in Wichita trying to find our motel (thank you, Google Maps!), Morgan merely shrugged and said we’d find our way eventually. It helped that she was using her smartphone to navigate. She makes an excellent co-pilot. I’m also very grateful for pharmaceuticals, because when we left for Wichita, I was rocking a powerful, stabbing headache and was feeling anxious about that night’s plans. I loaded up on decongestants, ibuprofen, anti-depressants and anti-anxiety meds and was feeling much better by the time we reached Wichita.

When we finally found our motel and got checked in, I pulled out my laptop, got online, and found a message from Jane that the plans had changed. “Meet us at our hotel, in the lobby or bar, after the show.” Ummmm, OK? Like…this is my life? Meeting the guitarist from one of the biggest bands in the ’80s at her hotel after a show? It seemed so unreal.

Morgan and I got to the River Festival as Me Like Bees were finishing their set as part of the “Go-Go’s Beach Party.” (I’d never heard of Me Like Bees before, but they were quite good.) It was starting to lightly rain, but I didn’t think much of it until a woman came on stage and announced that a thunderstorm was heading in from the west and should be hitting the area in around 15 minutes. They didn’t consider the weather safe for performing or spectating, so they were asking everyone to head inside the convention center to wait out the storm. Despite this setback, the show did go on, albeit about an hour and a half later than scheduled, with rain still coming down at the beginning of the show.

It was their first show of their tour, the weather was pretty miserable, but the Go-Go’s put on a hell of a show. Yes, they played all of their big hits–“Get Up and Go,” “Vacation,” “Head Over Heels,” “Our Lips Are Sealed,” and “We Got the Beat,” which they mashed up with Kiss’ “Rock and Roll All Nite”–as well as classic songs from their early albums, Belinda’s “Mad About You” (my favorite of her solo songs), the song Jane sang with Sparks, “Cool Places” (with Belinda singing Russell Mael’s part), and a cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black.” Jane wore a classic Star Trek dress (blue, which maybe makes her Nurse Christine Chapel?), further endearing her to me. Belinda commanded the stage effortlessly; she just radiates this sort of zen confidence. It was also a lot of fun to see the way Belinda and Jane interacted with each other on stage. There seems to be a lot of love and respect there. Meanwhile, Charlotte, Gina, and their new bassist (whose name I don’t know) solidly rocked out for the entire show. (If you’ve never seen her on drums, Gina Schock is a fucking powerhouse. Seriously.) By the end of the show, I was all pumped up on rock and roll, bouncing down the streets of Wichita.

Morgan and I walked to the hotel where the band was staying and found Jane hanging out with members of her boyfriend’s extended family who live in the area. She jumped up and greeted me with a hug and a “How are ya, buddy?” She was very nice to Morgan and introduced us to her other guests (saying proudly, “Josh and I met on the internet!). We chatted about the show, then Jane posed for picture with everyone. Meanwhile, 13-year-old Josh was screaming, “THERE IS NO WAY THIS IS REALLY HAPPENING!” But Jane is so sweet and funny and modest, it all felt completely natural to be hanging out with her. Thank you, internet, for making this experience possible!

The next morning, Morgan and I hit The Donut Whole to get some breakfast (and tasty treats to bring back to Berkie). The Donut Whole is ZOMFG AMAZING! I would spend so much time there, drinking coffee and eating donuts, if I lived in Wichita. It’s probably best for my wallet and waistline that I don’t. But damn, their donuts are tasty! Thank you, Donut Whole!

I’m so grateful to everything and everyone who contributed to this fantastic weekend I had! What a wacky, wonderful, nerdy world I live in!

My Evil Twin

There’s blood everywhere. It’s thin and runny in some places, thick like syrup in others. It’s bright red. Is blood really that bright? Shouldn’t it be darker? And the people, the people have been dismembered to the point of being completely unrecognizable, shredded pieces of anonymous meat. They could be anyone or anything.

Amongst the gore, the boy stands with slumped shoulders, calm. His white face, framed by unruly black hair, is pure innocence. “I killed them because I had to,” he says, like it’s the most reasonable thing in the world. “I needed to do it.”

I had a meta-dream the other night. What I mean is, I had a dream in which I discussed dreams I had when I was younger. Real dreams, not dreams that existed only in the context of the meta-dream. (You know when you dream about something, and in the dream, it’s all very real, but when you wake up, you realize you never really lived in Belize for a year or explored German castles with Matthew Perry in high school?)

When I was in middle school, I had a series of dreams in which I had a twin brother. Not an identical twin. He was paler than me, with darker hair. His name was Damien (yes, like the boy in The Omen) and he was a horrible, horrible kid. In one dream, he was very kind and nice until he got angry–and his anger was easy to provoke. Then he would fly into murderous rages, beating and killing children and adults. In another dream, he rarely got angry, but he’d decided to make slasher movies in which people were actually killed, and he did all the killing. My dreams about Damien were tense, violent, and bloody. They scared the ever-living hell out of me.

I’ve always been afraid of real violence and have never been a very confrontational person. Damien was my opposite: direct, confrontational, and happy to hurt people. Did he represent real desires in me, subverted and repressed by my environment and education? Did the potential for me to be like Damien exist in my? Does it exist now?

I don’t know. I hadn’t given any thought to those dreams in many, many years, until my subconscious dredged them up the other night in another dream, a dream about terrifying, bloody, rage-filled dreams. A dream about my dreams about my evil twin.

The Electric Ghost Tornado Ride

I got a pretty good night’s sleep last night. It’s a gorgeous, sunny day with temperatures in the “Josh’s favorite weather” range (60s-70s F). It’s the last day of the work week before a weekend that involves me driving to Wichita with my daughter to see the Go-Go’s¬†and hang out with my imaginary girlfriend, Jane Wiedlin. My job is going well, I had fun playing Pathfinder with friends last night…this is an excellent day.

It’s also a day when my anxiety is running really high. On my drive to work, my hands clutched the steering wheel like they were glued on, my knuckles white. Every time a car or truck passed me on the road, my heart skipped a beat. I feel like my clothes don’t fit me right and look stupid on me. When I see myself in the mirror, I look fat and idiotic. Everything I’ve said in the past week, no matter how trivial or conversational, is running through my brain, my mind scanning every sentence and phrase for blunders.

We’ve come a long way in our understanding and perceptions of mental health, but there’s still a lot of thinking that people can just “get over it.” “What do you have to be depressed about? Why are you worried when it’s such a nice day?” And while it’s true that situations and environments can trigger or compound anxiety, depression, compulsions, etc, they also exist independent of that. I can step back a bit, step outside of myself, look at how my brain chemistry is spiking my anxiety even when everything today is so good, and it fascinates me. It’s strange and amazing how our brains function, even when (especially when) they’re not functioning in the ideal way.

I can step back and look at it, but I can’t get away from it. I can take meds that help regulate my brain chemistry. I can use techniques to help keep myself calm and to deal with unhelpful thoughts that come up. But I can’t just look at the beautiful, blue sky, feel the delightful breeze whisk around my skin, count all the blessings in my life, and flip a switch that turns my anxiety off.

If only it were that easy.