Friday, October 31, 2003

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My family is up for the Halloween weekend. Both my brothers, and my Mom and Dad. It's always festive for me when they visit.

Monday, October 27, 2003

Drawing Faces

Mia has been drawing faces. Her circles are free-ranging ovals. Her ears are scratches next to the head. The eyes and mouths are mostly in the right place. Her 'signature': a tiny line representing a pony tail on the top. Am I living with a person of artistic talent?

Saturday, October 25, 2003

Take Back Your Time

Friday, October 24, was Take Back Your Time Day.

This grass-roots "movement" attempted to make a dent (or at the very least, make a scratch) in the well-rooted mentality of working "extra hours", or long hours. I applaud such a movement.

At my former employer, Open Market, I was a classic "long hours" guy, especially in my last few years. I often gutted out fifty, sixty hour work weeks. On top of that, I added more hours by being "on-call" after work (I was a customer support technician for an e-commerce system). I have missed my wedding anniversary by being on a customer visit. I have worked draining technical issues ("help, my system is down!") at nearly every holiday. When I was promoted to management, the hours didn't go down, but they changed into an even more stressful version of my "individual contributor" years.

I had the occasion to read my diaries from those years. There were plenty of entries in big, angry letters: "I'm so SICK of working!" and "I'm so TIRED!". I was loyal, but I was burned out. So I had mixed emotions when the company, in a steep downward spiral, decided to transition the product I supported overseas. I volunteered to be laid off (there were incentives). Three days before the lay off date, my daughter entered the world. My work life abruptly ended, and it was incredible.

I didn't work for the next two months (eleven weeks, actually). I lived on severance and unemployment checks. Mia was her own "after-hours" operation, but it was a stress and pressure that I could share with Jenn. While I was jobless, I began to write this BLOG in earnest. I read. I avoided wearing shoes. I watched movies. I put up rickumali.com. I had so much time. But I knew I couldn't "stay on the beach" forever.

In June 2001, I rejoined the work-force, at another technical support gig. The customers, however, weren't working on "live" systems. They were developers, working on future systems. My hours could be regular, and there was no after-hours support. After a few weeks of adjustments, I found myself working exactly between 9 and 5. Sometimes earlier than 9. Rarely later than 5. I was rigid about when I left the office. I managed my workload so that by the time the 5 o'clock hour arrived, I was headed out the door.

As a result, my days have achieved a relatively peaceful and pleasant routine. I get home by 5:45 PM. I have dinner with Jenn and Mia. On the weekdays, I put Mia to bed. Then I do clean-up and laundry chores. By 8:30 PM, I settle in for television (a DVD, or sports) or run out to see a movie (my resolution this year). Sometimes I do some computer stuff, or Internet stuff. I try to get in some reading and writing.

Working 9 to 5 life has improved my work productivity. I try very hard not to slack off at work. I push myself in those hard hours (between 2 and 5PM), when the tendency is to slow down (I'm a morning person). But when 5 o'clock arrives, I am able to put down my work, and save it for tomorrow.

I feel like a hypocrite because when I was in management, I often gave more credit to folks who put in extra hours, who put in extra time. Heck, I called some part of my group for a Sunday afternoon training session. Sunday! My mores have changed, I suppose.

The premise of Take Back Your Time was to bring attention to the culture of overwork. Political solutions would be wonderful, but I believe overwork starts with the individual. We should look at ourselves closely if we're working a lot of overtime. And if we are, then what would it take for us to scale back, to take back our time?

Thursday, October 23, 2003

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The last three movies that I've watched have been in the theater. This means I haven't watched a single DVD since August!

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It was snowing this morning. No accumulation. Just a variety of snowfall (heavy, light, slushy, icy) for my commute into work. The snow persisted into the late morning, then petered away.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Mystic River


I watched Mystic River two nights ago. It was my tenth movie in a theater.

Mystic River was originally a mystery novel by Dennis Lehane, a writer from Massachusetts. Clint Eastwood, the famous actor and now director, bought the film rights, and transformed Lehane's novel into a compelling film. It was a very satisfying adaptation, expertly done by screenwriter Brian Helgeland.

The buzz about this movie was strong for folks living in New England. Eastwood decided to shoot on location, since the setting of the novel was in an area near Boston (Southie). I had read the newspaper reports and made a mental note to see this when it came out.

The novel is a police procedural, but it is also a terrifying look at how child abuse can reap something sinister. It's also a terrifying look at revenge. Lehane's novel captured my imagination quickly. The characters were well rendered, and the action and mystery were sufficiently drawn.

The movie is in acting showcase. There were super performances by Kevin Bacon and Laurence Fishburne as detectives. The acting by Tim Robbins as a man struggling with his abused past was frighteningly good. Sean Penn's performance as the father who moves from grief to anger to coldness is awesome to see. Marcia Gay Harden and Laura Linney were also noteworthy. (Everybody tries the infamous Boston accent; I liked Robbins' take on it.)

The movie moves very deliberately. I kept thinking how simple, how sparse everything was: the photography, the editing, the dialogue, the sets. Nothing was out of place to jar you out of the Lehane's world. As a reader of the novel, I felt this movie captured the essential emotions of the novel, which for me was the real miracle.

The climax in the novel was a stunner. Bad things happen to good people. And bad things happen to bad people. Lehane's novel doesn't flinch, and because of this bravery, there's a powerful impact. I was left shaking my head at the end of the book: Oh my God. Thankfully, the movie doesn't flinch either.

Sunday, October 19, 2003

Baptism into Red Sox Nation

I feel as if I'm now fully recovered from the awful Red Sox loss to the Yankees in Game 7 of the ALCS. I won't rehash the details here. Suffice to say, the loss hurt. To some extent, this loss baptizes me into Red Sox Nation.

Having grown up completely oblivious to sports, I had no allegiance to the home town teams of my youth. Instead of becoming a Yankee fan or a Mets fan, I spent my Jersey City, New Jersey childhood geeking out in front of computers.

In 1986, the year the Red Sox lost the World Series, I was rooting for the other team, the New York Mets. I was a freshman in college, and there were partisans from both New York and Greater Boston. I rooted for the Mets because my youngest brother was rooting for them, and because (hell) I was from the area.

Fast forward five years. I moved to Boston in 1991, and I finally went to see my first professional baseball game in that holiest of destinations, Fenway Park. I knew as soon as I saw that beautiful park that I wanted to know everything about this sport and about this team.

I spent the next few years learning baseball under the tutelage of Boston Globe columnists. I read as much as I could about baseball and the Red Sox. The Red Sox teams of the 1990s were good enough to make the playoffs, but not good enough to take the final prize.

I learned the cursed lore of the Red Sox, the Babe Ruth trade, Bucky Dent, Bill Buckner, and now (sigh) Aaron Boone. However, since 1991, I haven't been emotionally hurt by the team until last Thursday, the final game of this glorious season. I was devasted.

The fog of that loss is receding now. I am starting to take in other sports (so many teams in Boston). I'm starting to think about movies again, and to pick up books that I put down at the beginning of the baseball post season. And, yes, I have tuned into a few innings of the World Series, but I still feel a twinge of bitterness.

I am glad that we have a winter to rest and regroup. There will be time for baseball again next year.

Friday, October 17, 2003

ALCS 2003

The Red Sox lost Game 7.

I'm heartbroken and tired.

Thursday, October 16, 2003

ALCS 2003

The Red Sox won Game 6! Tonight (it's after midnight as I write this), a mere twenty hours from now, the Red Sox and Yankees will face off in a deciding Game 7.

The gamut of emotions that I experienced tonight was incredibly draining! To think I'll put myself through it again. I better get some sleep!

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

ALCS 2003

The Red Sox lost yesterday. Will they win their "must-win game" this afternoon (Game 6)? The game starts in a few minutes. Work? Really, how can I?

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Game 5

The Red Sox and Yankees are now tied in their best-of-seven Americal League Championship Series. They have each won two games a piece. Now it's come down to who can win two games.

It's hard not to just spout "Go SOX!" every time I'm here writing, but that's how I feel (Pedro's behavior notwithstanding). I just want to feel that winning feeling. Like when New England won the Super Bowl, or when BU won the NCAA (hockey).

The game today is at 4PM. I'm at work, and all I can think about is the game.

Sunday, October 12, 2003

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An old friend of mine, Ninju Bohra, called me this afternoon. He grew up in Chicaco, and wondered how I was holding up with the Red Sox. Not well, especially after yesterday's loss, and now tonight's rain-out.

Saturday, October 11, 2003

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Jenn and I tried to get World Series tickets last night. We were unsuccessful.

The Red Sox will pit Pedro Martínez against Roger Clemens this afternoon, in what should be a pivotal Game 3. The atmosphere in Greater Boston and in New England has been filled with anticipation. And so has my humble home.

Tuesday, October 7, 2003

Sox v. A's

The Red Sox won! The Red Sox WON! We're into the American League Championships against the New York Yankees. Red Sox WON!

Sunday, October 5, 2003

Sox v. A's

In a bizarre two game home-stand, the Red Sox have won two games to tie the Oakland A's in the Americal League Divisional Series. Each team has now won two games each, and the fifth and deciding game will be tomorrow night, 8PM EDT.

It's a heady atmosphere here in Red Sox nation, a state of mind that I haven't visited in quite some time. The Sox were down two games going into Saturday evening's game, and things looked bleak. My prayer for the Sox on Saturday: don't get swept. After the win Saturday night, my prayer for Sunday was get the win and tie the series. The Sox did just that, their big bats coming alive at just the right moments.

Now the teams are flying to Oakland, California for the deciding game. And I'm praying for victory. The New York Yankees are awaiting the winner. I hope we can be those winners.

Friday, October 3, 2003

On Writing

Last weekend, I read Stephen King's book On Writing. It was marvelous.

I read Stephen King books in the 1980s. I read all his classics: Carrie, Salems' Lot, Cujo, The Stand, The Shining, Different Seasons. They were a thrill to read. It was hard to believe that such huge books could be read so fast. However, when I graduated from high school, I stopped reading King. I moved on, I suppose. In a memorable line from a foreword/introduction to one of his books, he stated that his books are the equivalent of a cheeseburger and fries. I eventually found other sumptuous meals.

Just a few weeks ago, a colleague at work said he read Hearts of Atlantis by King. On a lark, I bought a copy of that book, plus On Writing, which I have always been curious about.

On Writing contains a surprisingly moving and inspirational memoir about his life growing up. Sketches and images of his life are drawn quickly, many of which made me laugh out loud. He recounts the precious moment when he first wrote a story (at the age of six), to when the paperback rights were sold for Carrie, which marked the start of his success.

From there, he moves into the work of writing. His words carry authority, but he keeps things light. He relates writing and story telling to archaeology: you're digging up a fossil, which represents the story. Your success in capturing the story depends on how you lift it up out of the ground. Your tools are words, the English language, and grammar. The story is already there. You have to write write write, and eventually it will come out. (Dennis Lehane, who wrote Mystic River, echoed this concept in a recent on-line chat.)

The final part on On Writing deals with the horrible accident that nearly killed Stephen King in 1999. In a gripping narrative, I found myself in his spell. The moment of impact. The panic of emergency care. The pain of surgery. The road to recovery. The return to writing.

Stephen King was awarded the 2003 National Book Foundation's award for "distinguished contribution". Harold Bloom, a professor at Yale and author of The Western Canon wrote that this was a mistake, and proceeded to a scathing critique of King's work. Bloom's theme: "commercial success is not literary success".

I agree with Mr. Bloom somewhat. Just because a book is a commercial success doesn't mean that it's literary. Last month I finished Empire Falls by Richard Russo, and it was far more "literary" than any Stephen King book I have ever read. If a Stephen King book is a cheeseburger at a local diner, then Empire Falls is the best three-course dinner in the finest restaurant you can think of.

But I also disagree with Mr. Bloom's point that "King ... is an immensely inadequate writer." I disagree wholeheartedly. Maybe Mr. King doesn't belong in the same pantheon as "the great writers" (whomever they may be; Bloom suggests four: Pynchon, Roth, DeLillo, and McCarthy). But he belongs in the ball park. King is a more than an adequate writer. On Writing proves that.