Wednesday, March 30, 2011

In the Dust of a Little Chair

Perhaps one of my favorite poets is Eugene Field.  As a 19th century American writer, he found his niche after traveling many roads in writing children's poems.  One of his most famous works is "Wynken, Blynken, and Nod" which is one of our nightly readings.  There are two reasons that I can think of as to why his work resonates with me: 1- these were the poems that were read to me as a child; 2- his talent is in taking a larger narrative and writing it in a way that a child can understand.

He died at the age of 45 leaving behind a strong legacy of published work.  My favorite poem is "Little Boy Blue" (also known as "Dog and Soldier" to my son) which captures the feelings of loss he experienced upon the death of one of his children.  While this is one experience that I pray never to encounter, his words allow me the insight to cherish everyday I have with my child.

by: Eugene Field (1850-1895)
      HE little toy dog is covered with dust,
      But sturdy and staunch he stands;
      And the little toy soldier is red with rust,
      And his musket moulds in his hands.
      Time was when the little toy dog was new,
      And the soldier was passing fair;
      And that was the time when our Little Boy Blue
      Kissed them and put them there.
      "Now, don't you go till I come," he said,
      "And don't you make any noise!"
      So, toddling off to his trundle-bed,
      He dreamt of the pretty toys;
      And, as he was dreaming, an angel song
      Awakened our Little Boy Blue--
      Oh! the years are many, the years are long,
      But the little toy friends are true!
      Ay, faithful to Little Boy Blue they stand,
      Each in the same old place,
      Awaiting the touch of a little hand,
      The smile of a little face;
      And they wonder, as waiting the long years through
      In the dust of that little chair,
      What has become of our Little Boy Blue,
      Since he kissed them and put them there.

Pretty, right?  The delicate nature of this prose tells of the great love we all have for those close to us.  As with everything in life, the more I read this poem, the more I understand it on different levels.  Upon closer reading, I find that the real sadness of this poem is not found in the loss of a child but in the loss of a dream.

How many of us have had a special wish or goal that was dear to our hearts only to have it whisked away by some other force?  Have we loved an idea or possibility so much that when it was gone we stayed in place waiting for it to return?  I know that I have.  The "ruts" of my life have come from when I think that something I lost is going to come back to me.  Whether this lost item is love, a job, an apology, schooling, a friend or even just a reward for hard work, the real sadness isn't in the loss of the object, but in the waiting for its return.

Let me be clear about something-- I am not advocating for a person to "get over" the loss of a child or loved one, for that is a tragedy that I cannot fathom.  I assert that we must not allow the dust of life to settle on us while waiting for the arrival of something that is gone.  I know that I have lost many years of my life thinking that someone else would discover my talents; I have lost many hours/days/weeks/months in anger thinking that someone else would apologize for what they said or did to me.  I have lost time sitting in that proverbial chair dreaming of the good-old-days, and I can never get that time back.

Shake off the dust and climb down from the chair!  We cannot go back, but we can determine our future.  You see, the real sadness found in "Little Boy Blue" isn't in the description of sorrow felt by the dog and soldier but in their abandonment of their own lives.

I submit that it is never too late, we are never too old, and the time is never better than right now to live.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

In Defense of Rebecca Black

"Friday" you have heard it and laughed at it many times by now.  For those of you who do not know what I am talking about, go to this link: and savor the creation of something you won't forget.

The first time I watched "Friday" (notice this implies that I have watched it many times, and I am listening to it as I type) I was revolted and found humor in the many comments, blogs, videos and posts making fun of this girl.  But when I thought about it for a little bit, I started to feel sorry for this girl.  Here she is a young aspiring artist with perhaps a little talent who became the laughing stock of the United States when all she was doing was living out a dream.  You may want to call her stupid for the simple lyrics and annoying repetition, but I submit that she is not the one with the problem, it is the rest of us that are making fun of her.

How long has the American public complained about the degradation of media and the lack of integrity among pop icons?  The entire cast of The Jersey Shore, Paris Hilton, Charlie Sheen have become the standard of American culture, and they are all disgusting.  Americans idolize drunkenness, stag films and spousal abuse over the aspirations of a teen.  So why does everyone want to hate a young girl who wrote a song and made a video of it?  First off, why were you watching a video of a thirteen year old in the first place?  Pervert.  She might be an idiot(who isn't?), but we are the ones watching her, so what does that make us?  Second, were you expecting Whitman or Shakespeare from her?  She used the vocabulary she knows.  She doesn't claim to be the next Bob Dylan.  She didn't sing about getting pregnant, doing drugs, or loving a vampire so much that she can't leave her bedroom.  Her song is about something that most Americans talk about incessantly Monday through Thursday-- let's make fun of people who post the days of the week on facebook as if we aren't smart enough to know for ourselves.  She is in Junior High, and she has become a lot more famous than me for living out her dream.  Give her a break.  Third, she owns her work.  She isn't some socially awkward deviant behind a computer typing away in attempts to demoralize humanity.  Look at the comment section of her video and notice that very few people are using their real names to attack her.  She isn't hiding.  She wrote a song about how much she enjoys the weekend.  It is better than complaining about Monday every Sunday night and Monday morning.

I will tell you something that is stupid.  Any American citizen that believes in the Two-Party System of Government.  Have you ever voted for someone that you didn't like, but you didn't want the other party to win?  Have you turned your back on someone(a third party candidate) that you believed in (Nader, Dean) to vote for someone that could win (Kerry, Gore)?  I am an idiot because I do this every 2-4 years (I am too lazy to vote every year).  Could you imagine what kind of change would happen if we directed our rage and frustration at our Congressmen/women instead of a young girl?

I am not a member of the Tea Party (if they even have a real party), but I am fed up with people taking the easy way out and making fun of other people instead of working to build them up.  Rebecca Black had a dream, she met her goals, and we ought to be proud of her.  You don't have to like her, but you should respect her.  If you want to make fun of someone, call your Senator/Governor/Mayor because I am pretty confident that at least one of them has done something a lot worse than make a music video about Friday.

This is Who I Am

I have been thinking about identity a lot the last few month for a number of reasons.  Since quitting UPS, I haven't found another job that is suitable to my school schedule, and I am only taking two classes this semester, so that I would have time to interview and accept a position.  So for the last three months I have been an unemployed, part-time student, and this is not the identity that I want for myself.  This has led me to examine the many facets of my life in order to make sense of this rut that I find myself in.

Starting with the obvious identities, I am a white male.  I can't do much about either of these traits because they are my genes.  My DNA has determined that this is who I am, but it doesn't determine how I identify myself.  I used the term male instead of man simply because I don't like the label of "man."  Do I really want to be a man?  Depending on what lens is used, manhood can be great(bringing home the proverbial bacon, defender of one's family, leader of the people), but it also has the potential of great harm(wars, rapes, genocides, you get the picture on this one).  With the dichotomous nature of this term, I refuse to identify as such.

I am a Mormon.  As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I have found a theology that helps me have a better relationship with the Divine.  I relate to a loving God who knows and understands me in a personal way.  I was a missionary in the Philippines in my youth, and that remains one of the greatest experiences in my life.  There isn't a day since coming home from those Pacific Islands that I don't think about the amazing people I met and the lessons of love and humility I learned from them.  But "Mormon" is not my identity.  My politics are not those of my church.  My philosophy is not fully contained within the teaching of the church, and so the term "Mormon" is extremely limiting to my expression.  While it is certainly a part of who I am, it does not encompass the whole, so you will never see me on a commercial where the catch phrase "and I'm a Mormon" sums up my entire life.  My faith guides me to the greater identity but does not define it.

I am an Academic-- at least an undergraduate.  I love going to school.  I cannot express the joy I feel when sitting in class and something "clicks."  I am able to make connections between past experiences and scientific theories in behavior or evaluate the nature of language and its ability to create communities through simple words.  College is my "Axis Mundi" (a great subject for another blog post) where I have fixed my orientation to understand the world around me.  From this center I can separate the spiritual from the secular and grasp the pearls of knowledge that are in every aspect of learning.  I study with some of the brightest scholars in the world.  They inspire me.  Our professors demand perfection, and I always try to deliver the best papers and create the insightful conversations to meet their expectations.  The problem with this identity is that it is not guaranteed.  I don't have a scholarship; I pay as I go, and at a private college, it is really tough to manage.  I would love to attend graduate school, but that seems like a distant dream right now especially with the inability to have perfect grades.  I suppose I ought to be happy being an average student at an extraordinary school, but it really messes with my confidence.

I am a worker-- wait, I am unemployed.  Next!

I am a husband, but this is way too complicated, so I am skipping this entirely.

I am a dad.  This one feels good.  Actually, this one feels perfect.  I am a dad.  This will never change.  Catching a slimy, blue baby changed my life forever in one second.  I see the world through different eyes, and I imagine the greatest potential in everyone because I am a dad.  I feel that it is my duty to defend the defenseless, feed the hungry, and comfort the hurt from the empathy gained in this role.  These are things that feel natural, and I enjoy doing them.  This doesn't mean that I see myself a father to every person I meet, but it does mean that if  I can help you, then I will help you.  I am limited, so my assistance will not be perfect, but I will be there for you.  If I have it, then you can have it; don't hesitate in asking.

It is funny how small moments can change us in ways that we never fully comprehend, but I am proud to say that this is who I am-- a dad.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Happy Birthday!

Little Man, three years ago you cuddled with me and changed my life forever. Thank you for letting me be your dad. I know that sometimes it can be tough when I don't let you play all night or eat ice cream for breakfast, but I want you to know that you are the greatest son in the world!

Let's play trains, read poems, chase birds, and explore the world, for today is your day, and I love seeing life through your perfect eyes.


ps- "Balow, my boy!"
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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

God of the Gaps

Within the philosophies of religion, there is a concept known as the God of the gaps.  This is in reference to the cultural use of a god, goddess, or multiple gods to describe natural phenomena beyond the scope of human understanding.  An example of this concept is found in ancient, and not so ancient, beliefs that were attributed to God, but later explained by science.  The sun does not revolve around the Earth; God does not make the sun rise every morning.  The Earth is set in its rotation around the sun while spinning on its own axis.  Lightning and thunder are not forms of the wrath of God, but they are the result of positive and negative ions creating a strong charge in the atmosphere, and the sound waves resulting from the bolt.  I might have botched that explanation of lightning, but I think you understand the idea-- God was used as an explanation to that which could not be explained.  Think about Thor (my favorite), Zeus, and Ra as actual examples of these gods.

Now that our science has slightly advanced beyond the primitive notions of the past, valid arguments are formed against the existence of God by claiming the natural world, once understood, proves that God does not exist.  If God made the sun rise and we learn that the sun does not move, there must not be a god.  If lightning isn't the manifestation of God's anger but simply an electric reaction, there must not be a god.  I cannot argue with this logic, but there is another way to look at this concept.

John Polkinghorne, a physicist and theologian, made an interesting comment on the NPR broadcast "Being" with Krista Tippett.  He skilfully explained that if God works through nature, and that by understanding the scientific world we learn more truth, then we are learning more about the nature of God.  God might not hurl the lightning bolt, but He created a universe where atoms were allowed to act according to their nature.  (I will save the commentary about the nature of God for another day because that gets complicated.)

I like Polkinghorne's view.  Perhaps it just appeals to the optimist within, but I find comfort in learning about the nature of God by observing the world around me.  After all, it is a choice to believe or not believe, and I choose to believe in God.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Secret of Life

I woke up this morning with a great song in my head; "The Secret of Life" by James Taylor is a happy reminder to enjoy every day we have.  He sings: "The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time."  I don't think that it can get any easier than that.

We can't stop time, so we might as well enjoy it.  Despite the many things in life that I want to change, today I am grateful for a warm home that keeps my family safe, a son that never stops smiling, and an able mind to appreciate that great gifts my Creator has given me.

Today is a beautiful day!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Grand Central Station

For the train lover in all of us...

Pinewood Bust

We went to the stake center this morning to watch the pinewood derby and quickly left.

We did enjoy the fountain at Lincoln Center though.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

A Happy Thought

What are your favorite memories from childhood?  One of mine is traveling with the family.  It didn't seem to matter where we were going, but it was fun to pile in the car and just drive.  I remember after a couple of hours on the road, I would start to get sleepy, and I would eventually find that perfect position where I could fall asleep to the gentle humming of the engine and roadway.

Now I am a dad and do most of the driving on our little excursions.  Approaching the George Washington bridge a few weeks ago after spending the day Upstate, I realized that my little brood had found that "sweet spot" to sleep comfortably in the car.  Of course, I would have liked to be the one sleeping, but I couldn't help but smile when I thought of the memories that I am passing down, and that my small family trusted me enough to get them home safely.

This makes me happy.

I know I am not smiling... remember I said the GW bridge... no one smiles while fighting traffic to get on there.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Pet Peeve

I have a problem.  For the last several months, my time has been filled with school and job applications.  Because I am a student, the job offers have been non-existent, and this requires me to fill out more applications.  At the end of each application, there is a survey to determine the ethnicity and gender of the applicant that is claimed to not be used in the hiring decision, but it is used to track who applies for jobs and other random nothingness.  My problem is the choices they offer me in the gender category: Male or Female.  These are not genders; they are sexes.

This may be a moot point for some people who think that the terms sex and gender are synonymous, but I claim that they are not, and the distinction ought to be made in order to not sound like a common fool.  A person's identity forms from a variety of sources.  Perhaps the earliest and most distinct identification occurs at birth when sexual organs are defined.  Males are born with a penis, and females are born with a vagina.  Since this is not an academic post, I will not include the 4% of the population born with ambiguous genitalia to keep things simple.  These sex organs set the stage for later identities formed throughout our lives.  Gender, religion, sexual orientation, schools, culture, professions and posterity all determine future forms of identity, and I will talk about some of these another day, but for now I will focus on gender.

Gender is fluid.  This means that a person's gender does change over time.  While many religions claim that gender is the same all our lives, they are misinformed and use the term incorrectly.  To prove this, I will give you an example.  When an infant is born with a penis, they are assigned the gender of a boy not a man.  When does this transition from boy to man occur?  This varies with the cultural identity and often rests on the shoulders of the person undergoing the transformation.  I don't know when I became a man, it certainly wasn't when I hit puberty.  To this day, many comment that I am just a big child.  This does not change my sex, nor does it mean I am prepubescent.  Often when males tease one another about being emotional they tell each other to "stop being a woman."  This doesn't imply that their penis has transformed into a vagina, but that they are acting in the manner of another gender (which is another rant for another day).  This shows that gender changes over time, and in some cases rapidly changes, to represent the person's identity.

Why do people confuse sex and gender?  The best solution that I can come up with is that a majority of the population is uncomfortable with the word sex, even as a clinical term.  Using gender in lieu of sex appeals to the easily offended because it avoids the other connotations of the word.  Get over it!  Rather than limit the expression of individual identity, embrace the beauty of diversity and learn some new vocabulary.

Please be informed.  Sex= Male/Female; Gender= Man/Woman/Boy/Girl.  This is the simple version, so please learn it; you won't be held responsible for the larger social constructs that forms each form of identity.  That will come another day.

I don't want to make fun of you one day for not knowing the difference, but I will. 

Monday, March 14, 2011


A year ago I the initials GS and CC didn't mean a thing to me, but now my life revolves around them.  In addition to numerous graduate schools, Columbia University has three undergraduate colleges: Columbia College (CC), School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS), and School of General Studies (GS).  While all three colleges share classes and professors for the curriculum, each college has its own admissions criteria, student advising, and financial aid departments.  One would think that attending the #4 ranked college in the US would be enough to satisfy anyone's ego, but it isn't.  There can be a sharp divide among students of GS and CC regarding a number of issues, especially when it comes to deciding what school is better.

As a GS student, I have made many friends from all of the different colleges of Columbia, and I rarely feel this tension among my classmates.  However, as the anonymity of the internet has increased the brazenness of the otherwise impotent souls, there are strings of conversations online and in comment sections of Bwog that show the depth of insecurity among my peers.  I have met a few CC students who seemed to possess the elitist attitudes despised by my fellow GS'ers, but mostly I have been disgusted by the words from other GS students about the CC scholars.

Before I air my grievances, I will say this: I have the highest respect for anyone who had the mental discipline at such a young age to get into this school.  CC students worked hard and sacrificed a lot to get here, and they deserve that recognition.  When I was in high school, I could have never qualified for this opportunity, so I am not going to ridicule those who make it because of my laziness as a teen.  I am a non-traditional student, and in that role I have made peace with what my college career will look like.  Too many GS'ers are looking to relive some past glory at the expense of hazing another group.  I don't like the assumption that all CC students are rich.  I am sure that a few have wealthy families, but that isn't their fault.  I certainly don't like people judging me for being white or tall, so I will not assume those fortunate to be born into well off families are all jerks.  After living in the Philippines for two years, I know what poverty is, and my fellow classmates ought to be grateful for what they have instead of dreaming/lusting about what others might have in the bank.

Now to defend my school from the claims of certain Columbia College people.  GS is not a "backdoor" into Columbia.  Since GS and CC have different admissions, many CC students feel cheated that they are sharing classes with people who just received their GED.  This is an understandable concern.  Why work so hard in high school to sit next to a guy in college who dropped out his junior year?  Well, this is what makes Columbia so awesome!  The school sees potential in a very large portion of the population to benefit from its liberal arts studies.  While we have all taken different roads to get here, we are now on the same path, and all of us are taking the same tests, reading the same books, and struggling through the same lectures.  Sure I was a slacker 15 years ago, but I will work my butt off now, so that every CC and GS student will have the best classmate possible from me.  I didn't chose Columbia because I wanted an easy path to a cool diploma.  I attend, so that I may learn from the best Academics in the world.  Columbia has offered me a second chance, and I am taking it.

There are advantages to both schools; CC has a great financial aid program, and GS is more flexible in working with student schedules and allows for part-time enrollment.  Ultimately, I love GS.  It works for me.  While I might envy the younger crowd for their remarkable achievements, I am glad that my education is enhanced by my life experience.  Also, we have the coolest dean ever.  It's true.  Peter Awn rocks!

I am just happy to be at Columbia.  I have the chance to learn from top scholars and collaborate with the brightest minds in the country.  If people here can't appreciate that, I feel bad for them.

"Mommy's School!"

Little Man is proud of his mom, and he should be; she is one of the top teachers at one of the top charter schools in the United States.  He shouts "Mommy's School!" whenever he sees their advertisements.  Today, he posed for a picture.

He is proud of his mom.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

An Open Letter

Dear Mr. Drug Dealer,

Thank you for taking the time to read this small note.  I just wanted to let you know that I saw what you did last night, and I told on you.  I want you to know that this is not personal.  In fact, I am not even mad at you for coming into my neighborhood in order to make a living.  You seemed nice enough, and the people creating the demand for your services are the ones that really need our focus.

I just want you to understand one small thing: never get near my son.  You see, If I had been walking alone last night, I wouldn't have said anything to the friendly police officer that was happy to get your information from me, but I had company.  In an effort to tire an energetic three year old, my child and I went for an evening walk and enjoyed the ending of a beautiful day.  I cannot describe to you how important my son is to me, so when I saw you slip that small plastic bag into the hands of the brunette in the tan jacket right before she gave you a roll of cash, I wanted to hurt you.  I didn't, but you should know that it isn't wise to push me any further.  Without realizing your error of exposing my son to unfathomable risks, you strolled back to your burgundy SUV and drove away.  You may have forgotten these trivial moments, but I never will.

I consider myself person with liberal philosophies, so I don't criticize your career choice or what you may do in your free-time.  In fact, I wish that the government would recognize the futility of their "war on drugs" and spend a bit more money on education and rehabilitation for people who suffer with addiction.  The drug laws in this country clearly have a racial bias, and our penal system reflects the complete disparity occurring among the people that are in the most need of help.  I have no problem with rational adults choosing to spend their money with you.  You can sell from your apartment all you want.  My problem is that you exposed my child to a world that he is not ready to comprehend.  The dangers of your profession hurt the innocent more than the guilty, and I do not welcome you back into this neighborhood.  I am not happy with your customer either, I will talk with her when our paths cross, for she is the one who invited you here.  She isn't a good friend; you could do better.

Feel free to come by on your day off if you would like to see the campus or even grab a Jumbo Slice, but you do not want to sell your products on these streets anymore.

Thank you,
A Protective 6'2" 300lb Dad Who Will Not Give You a Second Chance

Friday, March 11, 2011

Thursday, March 10, 2011


I need to write on this little blog more often. 

One of my major obstacles has been a misguided ideal of what a blog post should look like.  I have felt for some time that I shouldn’t post my own writing unless it has been peer-reviewed and graded by the professor.  This has limited what I have posted, and it has limited the way I have communicated my thoughts, feelings, and activities with friends.  My resolve now is to post smaller blogs that may be a little rough around the edges, but these messages will have more relevance to my life.  After all, I am sure that my friends and family would rather read about some nugget of wisdom gleaned from my son or class than my most recent eight page paper on gender equality and the subtle nuances of difference found within the Qur’an. (btw- it was a great paper!)