Monday, April 30, 2018

My Fiftieth Reckoning

There are two days in the year that we reckon with ourselves. Two days in which we take stock. Take measure. Those two days are New Years Day, and Birthdays. And what bigger reckoning can one have than on their fiftieth birthday? Half a century has gone by, and what have we done with all that time?

I look back and count the good things: my wife, our daughter, our comfortable life together. I consider my haphazard career, and how it has offered a steady livelihood. I remember all those things I pursued, my so-called hobbies, some of which have faded away, replaced by other things to pass the time. I don't know if I have the energy to try new things, but I know I have enough energy to pursue the things that I like.

I think fondly about the people that I've met, across fifty years of living. Some have reached out to me in their own fiftieth year, perhaps to reconstruct or remember a past that we had shared. Many others just remain memories, acquaintances, brief connections that I still remember because remembering feels good. I'm less worried about people forgetting me: perhaps I've forgotten them!

I'd like the remaining years to be happy, but I'd also like it to be kinder, gentler, and less about striving. If life is a mountain to climb, then the mountain is infinitely tall. There's always another peak to chase, and I admit that I'm not as interested to see the view from higher up. I think the view I have now is fine.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

A Book Update

My short e-book, I Couldn't Keep It To a Tweet, has been purchased exactly seven times since its publication in September 2017.

I remember an interview I heard with the singer/songwriter John Oates (of Hall and Oates fame). He was promoting a solo album (1000 Miles of Life, 2008). He said he'd be happy to sell 10,000 copies of this album. Only 10,000? This is one half of Hall and Oates! You'd think 10,000 is what he could sell in its first week!

His perhaps realistic expectations help me with mine. I certainly didn't expect to sell 10,000 copies of my little book. But since my computer book has sold over 2,500 paid units since 2015 (both physical and ebooks), I figured 100 would be a reasonable sales number for my little memoir. Given that 7 is a long way from a 100, I think I'll just lower my expectations. Or maybe I should start advertising.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Beginner Baker

For the past year or so I've been slowly learning how to bake. My first step was making breakfast waffles from a box mix. I was whisking water, eggs, waffle mix and some oil. It was easy and satisfying, and it got me into the kitchen, but it was only the mechanics of baking.

My next step in proper baking was making simple breads. I progressed to the stand mixer, and learned to work with yeast, dough and the oven. My wife, an expert baker, let me flail about in the kitchen, forcing me to trust the recipes. When things felt ambiguous, I called her over for consulting.

I then learned how to make basic pies: key lime pie, chocolate cream pie, and pumpkin pie. More skills are brought to bear, but overall baking is about multitasking. While the crust is baking, the filling can be prepared, or vice versa. Even two or three things are a lot to juggle as a beginner.

I wish I had started baking earlier. Learning to bake has given me a deeper appreciation of my wife's cooking abilities. She has an immense amount of cooking and baking experience, and she applies it every day. I'm now glad I can help with dessert.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

My 2017 Books and Movies

In 2017, I finished 26 books (see my profile on Goodreads).

I finished some terrific books, including Chaos Monkeys (Antonio García Martínez), The Underground Railroad (Colson Whitehead) and What Happened (Hillary Clinton).

My favorite non-fiction book read in 2017 was Héctor Tobar's Deep Down Dark, the accounting of the 33 Chilean miners who got trapped in a deep mine. Tobar moves easily between the work underground and the work above-ground to get everyone out safely. He heightens what is a simple rescue mission story into a moving meditation on work, love, faith, and hope.

My favorite fiction book read in 2017 was 4 3 2 1, by Paul Auster. Like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, it's a coming of age book, but in Auster's hands it's a literary magic trick. The novel watches the growth of a boy into a young man, but Auster examines this life four ways, each life affected by different events and choices. Superb!

I watched 39 movies (see the list on my IMDb). My favorite from last year was Blade Runner 2049, a sequel that perfectly complements the first Blade Runner (released in 1982). The ideas, the cinematography, and the story are just perfect. I also liked and highly recommend Baby Driver (2017) and True Grit (2010).

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Review: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

I opined to my wife that it would be impossible to pick a favorite fiction book, because there are so many genres and so many great works. She disagreed. "I have an all-time favorite novel: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn". I was surprised at her certainty and set out to read the book.

Francie Nolan is the main character of this novel that takes place in the years before the US entered  World War I. Francie is 11 years old when the book opens, and her precocious observations and sharp insights about Brooklyn and its people propel the book. She is both nostalgic and unsympathetic. As she grows older and sees more how the world works, she matures before your eyes. She is 16 at the end of the book, and you realize you've grown up with her.

The book is populated with her first-generation American family: a hard working mother, a lovable lout of a father, and a rambunctious younger brother. She has two aunts that add a lot of zest in her life. Everyone is poor in her part of Brooklyn, yet she has rich experiences because of her keen eye and imagination. So many vivid scenes from this book: her grandmother getting swindled out of her savings, her father's constant singing, getting vaccinated for school, the time she and her brother caught a large Christmas tree for the holidays.

The book brims with universal emotion and experiences. She feels loneliness as she longs for someone to understand her. She rebels against her mother as she starts to spread her wings. She takes bold steps to further herself and her family and you cheer. There is deceit and heartbreak, humor and truth, life and death.

"I'm in awe of this book," I told my wife, when I finished. It's a book about "what it means to be human", writes Anna Quindlen in the introduction of my edition. By the end, I could only wipe away my tears and agree.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Root Canal: Part 2

The endodontist performed the root canal last month.

The procedure took about an hour and a half. The hardest part was receiving the first Novocaine injection. But after that sharp pinch, the right side of my face (the side with tooth number 29) began to disappear. I settled in as the doctor and her assistant started their work.

The sounds of drilling reminded me of road construction crews. I felt occasional sprays of water on my chin. At various points the doctor wore magnifying eye-gear. A few X-rays were taken. At no point did I feel any pain. Towards the end, the odor of incense filled my nose, as she announced she would add gutta-percha into the emptied canal.

My wife said the procedure would feel miraculous. It did. After a few hours of feeling tentative, I soon realized that chewing and cold drinks didn't induce any reaction. My mouth now feels completely normal. A few days later, my regular dentist put in a permanent filling in tooth number 29 to close the hole made by the root canal.

My first root canal removed my pain and kept my tooth whole. That's a good outcome!

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Root Canal: A Brief Post About Pain

Two weeks before my root canal, the pain underneath tooth number 29 ratcheted up. Big time.

I woke up at 4AM, my lower jaw throbbing with a crushing pain. It felt like my jaw was being squeezed by a vice. My big mistake was not reaching for some tylenol or ibuprofen right then and there. I decided to go back to sleep, but I was unable to get comfortable. I had a fitful few hours before I got up. I had some ibuprofen with my morning coffee.

"See if you can move your appointment up," my wife suggested. I demurred. The ibuprofen had made the pain manageable. But when I got to work, it was clear the pain wasn't going away. I see-sawed between pain levels 4 and 8, and I started a regimen of ibuprofen every four hours. I moved up my appointment by a week. (I'd later try to get an even earlier appointment, but I'd have to wait.)

The pain remained constant. Some hours it was almost forgettable, but other hours it was front and center. I inserted tylenol into my regimen, two hours after my ibuprofen dose. And in between, as needed, I swabbed tooth number 29 with Orajel. All of this dulled the pain, and allowed me to sleep better. And when I did, I dreamed about the root canal.