Garage Door Opener

monkey pirate
There's a garage door opener clipped to the visor in my car. There's nothing special about it, to look at. You've probably had several like it, throughout your life.

But I haven't. This is the first garage door opener I ever owned. And it's not just a thing that opens a garage door - it's a key that opens a portal into a kind of life I never actually thought I'd lead. It opens the door to the garage at the house that I own, in a city that I love, with a family I adore. It's not something someone gave me to open their garage door. It opens my garage door.

Growing up we just had a car port. My grandfather never saw the point in finishing the garage and enclosing it. He never saw the point in putting walls and windows on the back patio, either, to make it a useable space year round. Actually, he never saw the point in improving the house at all. For all his much-vaunted handiness, he actually never undertook projects that improved our lot - just did the maintenance that (mostly) staved off entropy a while longer.

But not my house! My own house. We started with an enclosed garage with bare studs on the walls and a half-rotted, water logged door that weighed a ton. We insulated and put drywall on the interior, painted it a nice clean white and then had that heavy old door replaced with a sleek modern, insulated one that opens at the touch of a button. Now it seems a shame to put a car in there! And there's a top notch workshop attached to the back of the garage, a perfect place for tools for everything from leatherworking to carpentry, and you can bet that's going to happen too.

pyr8queen deserves a lot of the credit of course - without her drive and the help of her family, we would have had to settle for something much more modest. But we got there - and my name is on the deed. I mean, not the only name - but it's on there! We've redone all the floors, repainted every wall and ceiling. Dug vast trenches in the back yard to root out the old defunct sprinkler system in advance of putting in a new one. We repaired and replaced lights and fixtures, added a hardwood floor to the kitchen with seriously sturdy 3/4" oak planks. We pulled out the toilet and repaired the seals. We plugged and waterproofed the tiling in the showerstall, and replaced the shower head with a luxurious rainfall shower head.

And we haven't even moved in yet. But ...this is my house. A beautiful place made even more beautiful by aching backs and sweaty brows; by labor from friends and family (but loved ones all.) My own house.

And for the first time in my life, I have a garage door opener. Given the wonder and amazement it causes in me when I look at it, you'd think it lead to Narnia.

My garage door opener.

WWFMD? (What would future me do?)

monkey pirate
I have in the past described the work of getting through depression, procrastination and general indolence (but mostly depression) in dramatic terms. I was slaying dragons, or fighting demons, or readying myself for an ambush by bears. I realize now that while dramatically satisfying, I was probably poorly served by imagining that work in such apocalyptic terms.

Closer to the truth is incremental but positive change. Because when I imagine myself slaying a dragon, there's this sense that one the work is done, it's just done. It won't happen again, I can dust myself off, sheathe the sword and carry on. But of course, life isn't that simple even for those of us who aren't burdened with recurring depression. Additionally, I can also do better for myself and for others, even while making the work of the moment easier and more gentle.

I've hit on a fairly simple trick. What would future me want present me to be doing? If I get up and think that through, I'm recruiting myself as an ally in supporting myself through incremental but positive change. This is vastly preferable to an internal critical monologue that focuses on what I haven't done, or have failed to do. Instead, I'm telling myself that I can start today a process that will continue seamlessly into the future and arrive at progress and major change over time.

But also, future me does want present me to take time to relax and savor what is good in the moment. I'm sure future me will look back on this time with Eowyn and Pascale and Blink and all the people I love and value (and if you're reading this, that's probably you!) as being truly precious and good. Future me would not want present me to focus on self-improvement, professional accomplishments or artistic achievement so exclusively that I failed to appreciate what's absolutely most important.

Present me is literally the only person in the world who can help future me. And future me is the best and most reliable measure of what present me ought to be doing. Without thinking about these sorts of things, I'm pretty prone to slacking off. Past me spent too much time lounging and enjoying life's more Hobbity pleasures. It wasn't time badly spent, but present me is paying the price, and future me will too if I don't start making some changes.

But I don't have to reinvent myself. I don't have to fight a battle or engage in any sort of violent metaphor. I exist in a continuum from past to future, and kindness to myself coupled with discipline will be a valuable tool in making every me on that continuum happier, healthier, more grounded in each passing moment, and more able to contribute meaningfully and positively to the lives of the people I love.

Future me will probably appreciate that I took the time to articulate this. Present me hopes I can stick with it.

Horsey

monkey pirate
This is the second weekend we spent working on the Peacock Library. Yesterday we only had a little bit of time, and painted the kitchen with one coat before going to Dan and Justine's engagement party. As usual with all the family gatherings in La Canada, it was festive, friendly and had great food and drink. We arrived a little early to clean up and change. Then we helped set up out on the lawn, though most of the work was already done. Dan's family had also come from Florida for the event - they're all very friendly, smart, and completely in keeping with Dan, who is salt of the earth good people.

This morning we were up early and off to the P.L. - I painted the bathroom and finished the kitchen while we waited for reinforcements. Throughout the day we hauled about a half ton (literally) of whitewall from Home Depot to the house. Then pyr8queen and her father went and got a really nice piece of mission style furniture to be the entertainment center in the living room. One of my friends from back in the Scarlet Pimpernel days watched Eowyn while I finished painting in the bathroom and kitchen, and my mother-in-law varnished the inside of the kitchen cabinetry. Then we had to haul everything out of the house and into the garage in preparation for the flooring guys to redo all the hardwood this week. After that, plumbing and electricity, and moving in. I'd really like to move in next weekend, but it's looking like that's not a very good prospect.

Eowyn is relentlessly cheerful. She crawls at top speed all over the house, or rides me like a horsey, or stands up and pushes a chair around to balance on - all while giggling, screeching and babbling. Sure, someone has to watch her all the time, but her temperament has been as sunny as July, and she's a friend to everyone she meets.

Tonight is the season premiere of Game of Thrones. I'm still a little crushed that the script I pitched never got me a meeting with the HBO team...and so I've always been a little less engaged with the show as a result. But in the middle of all this domestic labor, we haven't observed it at all. Last year we had a big party at Steve and Kate's, and it was a great time. This year...I haven't even seen it yet, and it's been recorded for two hours.

Blink is sacked out on his dog bed in the corner. P is trying to get Eowyn to sleep, though she fights sleep as if it were robbing her of her chance to witness something stupendous. The shelves are bare of books, and most of the boxes already in storage in the new garage. It's odd to think that I've finally arrived at some sort of stable, middle class life. But here I am. I've failed a lot along the way - certainly never made my mark as a writer, at least not yet. But somewhere in there, I collected a group of amazing people that are kind, intelligent, generous, loving, and full of life.

My new policy is to, at any given moment, do what I think future me thinks I ought to have done. But I think future me would recognize that this is the good part. Everyone is healthy and happy. Are fortunes are on the rise. We are incredibly, profoundly lucky to live on top of a hill where the Pacific sea breeze swirls in through our living room window, with a healthy family who are supportive and above all - fun to be around. I think I can take a second to savor that.

Manual Labors

monkey pirate
Work on the Peacock Library has begun in earnest. After some spirited discussion about colors, we settled on paints. Friday after work I met up with the family and took some last measurements, made some last plans, and moved a few things into the garage.  On the way home I went to Home Despot for supplies. The real work started early Saturday  morning. I got there by 7:30 to meet an exterminator to get an estimate. I keep referring to exterminators as terminators, which I think is also fine and fair.

While I was waiting for the rest of the crew to arrive, I replaced the showerhead in the main bathroom with one I'd picked out the night before. I also replaced the light bulbs that were out with new LEDs, including the two in Professor Peacock, which involved balancing precariously at the very top of a ladder. While alone in the house. Thankfully I didn't fall. Saturday we spent a sold 12 hours priming and painting, covering the living room's sort of avocado color with something approximately the color of marshmallow fluff. We also put that in the hallway, the guest room, and the baby's room. We primed the dining room, which was previously a dark burgundy. That was a long day painting, but help from friends and family made it doable.

We reconvened early Sunday. We had more help that day, with Justine and Dan turning up, and eventually Aegon Blutarsky. I spent most of the day running back and forth to Home Depot, but I also repaired the seal on the toilet in the main bathroom (an unpleasant task) as well as getting a new dryer and washing machine ordered, and paint colors that are well complemented by the carpets. The living room has a contrast wall of a very dark blue, while the dining room is "peacock feathers" in color. A happy accident of the blue in the dining room is that the recessed lighting and barrel-vaulted ceilings change the shade of blue very dramatically, so it looks like the sky in late afternoon - dark at the base, light up high and very light near the top. It's hard to describe, but striking in person.

Eowyn loves clambering around on the rolled up carpets, and scooting across the hardwood floors while we work. She's not-quite walking, but if you hold her hands she can take awkward foal-steps. Meanwhile, back in Venice, she'll clamber up the couch and crawl up and onto the now-empty bookshelves, about head high. She is a ridiculous monkey.

I noticed that most of the businesses in my new neighborhood are cash-only. That and the dearth of services that are available draw a pretty stark contrast between upscale and racially integrated Venice and the primarily non-white neighborhood to which we're moving. Go into Wholefoods in Venice, and you'll see nothing but white people, basically. I think the only black guy I've seen in there was Karl Weathers. Go into Wholefoods in Windsor Hills and....well, ha ha, there's no Wholefoods in Windsor Hills. No Verizon FiOs, no bank,  no trendy restaurants, either. Which is ridiculous, because it's both a safe and prosperous neighborhood, with the highest concentration of wealthy African-Americans in the country.

This week the terminator will clear the house, and next week the floors will be refinished. Then we'll start moving in in earnest. I'm impatient to be there, frankly, though I know training Eowyn to sleep in her own room will be difficult and no doubt painful at first. But not waking up to find her burrowing into my armpit, and me chased all the way to the edge of the bed will be a welcome treat.

HOUSE

monkey pirate
It's ours. Got the keys and everything. Now the work begins!
We haven't been able to get even a decent estimate from an exterminator. This is the first step, because we really want to get that done before we move anything substantial in. Even joining Angie's List didn't help, the two exterminators who were willing to make estimates gave a sky high quote and didn't show, respectively.

Closing and all the repairs we have to do is vastly more expensive than we planned for, so some of the improvements we wanted to make will just have to wait. All that's disappointing, but in the end, we still have more space, and our very own house, which is an improvement.

The UCLA Extension writing class through Fox is different from what I expected, but still good exercise and useful. A couple of other writing projects have cropped up, too - I am going to have to be disciplined about getting some writing done each morning when I (inevitably) wake up before our tiny night owl. Other work items are in flux right now, but with a family and a mortgage, I am going to keep my head down and make the best of it. It's still over all good, I guess my pride is just a little wounded. I can't afford to be stiff-necked. I'll work it out.

Eowyn is delightful. Ok, she's highly resistant to sleep - but even when she's tired, she's incredibly cheerful. She's always  smiling, giggling, and also throwing her hands up in the air and waggling her head back and forth while laughing just to show how amused she is. It would take a heartless fool to witness that, and not have their cares lessened and joys increased.

Once we get the bugs at the house dealt with, there's a mountain more to be done. Compromise everywhere, mostly for budgetary reasons rather than taste or choice. But on the other hand, we've been gifted with the dining room table and chairs that my father-in-law made himself, which are beautiful, and a wonderful heirloom. The support of this creative, skilled and hard working family has been invaluable, and I only wish I could think of a way to repay them.

I have almost no time for doing things with friends, which I regret. But I do intent to get more active with the local Masonic lodge, and somehow carve out some time for them - they're actually a friendly, multi-generational group of really nice guys who always include their family in the lodge's activities.

Domum dolce domum

monkey pirate
We bought a house. It's official. We close on Tuesday. This week has been a blur of paperwork, planning the renovation, and so forth. In addition, the guy who is replacing my old boss as director starting. I applied for the job and was told they wanted someone very senior, and my experience wasn't enough to even be considered. When the last director started, he really was excellent, and I enjoyed working with and for him - but when we got "re-orged" to another group, it didn't work out, and he left. His replacement is a kid with three years of working experience. Like, in his life.

I stewed about that for a while, but when I talked to the big boss, he swore it was unintentional, and that during the reorg he never knew I'd applied for the job, or he'd have considered me. It still stuck in my craw a little bit - but the new guy is a very nice fellow, and I hit on today the best possible way to handle the situation. He has no managerial experience, and I do - he's never been director of an IT team, and I have - so I'm going to teach him what I know. If I can help him learn to be a great director, I think it will not only benefit the company, but also reflect well on me for future consideration. Win-win-win for everyone, plus you know...ethically better than just stewing about it. I'll make the situation better by being helpful and kind!

Eowyn really doesn't want to sleep at night, and it's been a bit of a trial. I'm afraid she takes after me - late to bed and late to rise. P can only get her to sleep basically in her lap, and she's frustrated with being trapped in bed. Meanwhile, we're gearing up for a dozen big projects at the new house, tentatively named "The Peacock Library" after the ceramic peacock totem in the entryway, and the thousands of books we'll finally be able to put up.

Over the past few weeks I keep running into other writers who are looking to collaborate or work in a group, so I'm going to take a shot at starting a writer's group. I think a weekly deadline is very helpful in keeping one writing, and getting insight from outside one's own head is especially valuable.

Lots of stuff going on. I feel positive about it all, basically.

Platinum Albatross Club

monkey pirate
After jumping through some hoops that the bank just seemed to randomly throw at us, we've got our acceptance letter. We'll close escrow on 3/25, and officially be home-owners! It's a 1938 Spanish Revival house in Windsor Hills. It has quite a bill of repairs associated with it, which is why we could afford it, and qualifies me for what yagathai calls the "Platinum  Albatross Club" - well North of half a million in debt with a mountain of repairs to do.

But it's a challenge well worth the doing. And unlike many recent self-imposed challenges, it's not at all arbitrary - this gets us a house big enough for a family, a yard big enough for the Greatest Dog In The World, and an investment that if properly managed should return many times its cost in value. The last time the house sold it was for 150k more than we've purchased it. Even if all we do is break even in terms of repairs, that's a big bump in value when we decide to eventually sell.

And it's a lovely house - very bright and airy, with a truly grand living room for entertaining, and a kitchen that has everything I could have wanted. I'm very excited - never been happier to be half a million in debt! Well. Never been half a million in debt before, either. Yet the feeling is less dread-inspiring, and more confidence-inspiring than I would have credited.

Pain in the back

monkey pirate
Eowyn is incredibly cheerful in the mornings. She wakes up giggling, rearing back and throwing her hands up in the air, and then slapping P and I to get us to interact with her. Yesterday morning I'd had a long hard night at work - just part of the deal when you work IT and actually do stuff, you get called at odd hours. So I got up bleary, a little grumpy.

I hear a "slap slap slap" as she crawled into the office to find me. She crawled up merrily to my feet, then sat back and held her hands up, smiling and laughing. How could I resist? Picking her up, though, I pulled my back out. Nothing makes you feel older than a sore back - you shuffle like an old man, you move deliberately, every little movement risks a crazy twinge of pain. But I still had to go in to work, we had an urgent issue. And I have to keep working today, as a matter of fact.

I'm a slow moving target this morning, for sure. I am very grateful that I have a job that lets me telecommute when necessary. And I have a partner in the homey endeavors, though she's worn a bit ragged by our energetic and loathe-to-sleep daughter today. It's heating-pad-on-the-couch time for me...if the lil' sproggin will let me.

With any luck we'll close on the house soon. I hope we can remember all the things we said we'd do "when we buy a house." That's my new hobby, basically, home improvements. I'm looking forward to it! We've got a great base to start from, and it will be even better after some repairs and improvements! 

Big Day - House, writing, etc.

monkey pirate
I need to keep more regular track of what's going on. I will want to remember this stuff later, and if recent mental deterioration is any indicator, I'll need some help.

I woke up from a complicated dream in which I was living in a world of shattered fragments ruled by dragons. The dragons were very smart, and kept humans cowed as much by psychological mind games as any other. When a human got too rebellious, they would lay traps that would make it seem like the human had to act rebelliously right away, but when they did - all their evidence would disappear and the other humans would think the dragons were justified in acting punitively. And amidst all that, I was also a shape-changer, and could sometimes fly.

Then, at work I had my first UCLA Extension writing program class. I think it will be good in getting back into regular practice of writing. I mean, other than like, pithy facebook quotes and these little entries. I do seem to have a talent for asking what I think is an innocent question that then turns into a whole big thing. I will keep my mouth shut from here on out.

IN the afternoon, we found out our bid on the house was accepted. P informed me by forwarding a craigslist ad for a free armoire. "Contact them about this. BTW, bank accepted offer, paperwork inbound." So ...there we go! We're moving Windsor Heights, a quiet, safe neighborhood in which Ike and Tina Turner used to live.

In the evening we went to get our taxes did by what must be the nuttiest tax guy ever. While we were there, I was bouncing Eowyn on my knee, and she laughed and laughed and shook her head like she was rockin' out at a big concert.

Sometime around 4am, Eowyn woke up and decided slapping me was a really funny thing to do. So then I was awake, and my brain decided it was the perfect time do an instant replay of all the most humiliating and infuriating things that have happened to me since ....sometime in the 70's I guess. I gave up, got up, made coffee, started the day. Lots of big stuff.
monkey pirate
I don't have many friends here in LA. Part of this is a natural by-product of getting married and having a kid - everyone knows that severely limited your social time. It's predictable, no big deal, and nothing to worry about. But above and beyond that, I just have trouble or get in trouble out here in a way I didn't back in Philly.

I've thought a lot about why. And I think there's two major factors in why I do so poorly, socially out here. First, I have a super-power to offend people when I absolutely don't mean to. And second, the culture out here, for some reason, is extremely conflict-averse, and my first instinct when some trouble has brewed up is to deal with it. This always and universally is seen as an attack, not a sincere attempt at reconciliation.

My superpower of insulting people is, of course, nobody's fault but my own. For one thing, I do have a big mouth. I know it, and I've worked hard to tone that down - to be less blunt, less inclined to argue, and less likely to tease. Where I grew up, "busting stones" was just how people, and especially guys, made each other laugh. It's sometimes cruel, but not usually intentionally so. There's an old tradition of "insult comedy" and Philadelphians are pretty sure they're the masters of it. When I moved out here, it was an adjustment, but one I actually like. Making fun of people in LA just sort if isn't done - it's not considered funny, it's just kind of mean. I think I sorted that out pretty quickly, but it's still just in my bones. When I visited with friends a few years after moving out, and they were constantly insulting each other and me - and usually to accuse each other of various homosexual acts or inclinations, it just seemed....sad. Each person so profoundly insecure, they couldn't bear that someone else wouldn't loathe themselves as much as they do. So like crabs in a bucket, they ceaselessly tear each other down, so none of them will escape the pot. I wasn't sorry to have escaped that, and had newfound appreciation for the kindness, no matter how superficial, that is the norm here in LA.

But I am just no good at it. I know this guy, who shall remain nameless. He has the opposite superpower - no matter how frankly insulting, horrifying or angry the things he says are, people just laugh and think it's funny or charming. I have seen him, with my own eyes, tell someone with perfect sincerity that he hated her, and wanted to smash her face in ...and she laughed and laughed, and figured he was hot for her. He wasn't - it was just his gift. Say anything, but always be perceived as funny, innocuous and good. (Which to be fair, he almost always was.) Not me, brother. When I say anything, anything at all, people take me in whatever the worst possible interpretation would be. I remember being at a party once, meeting a young lady I thought was attractive - and complimenting her blouse. Just that - it's all I meant. "That's a nice blouse, it flatters you." She retracted and hissed, "What does THAT mean? It would like nice on your bedroom floor, right? I know what kind of a man YOU are, you're not a man at all!" I mean seriously, this was the first sentence I exchanged with her. This is also not at all atypical - it happens to me frequently. I try and give someone a sincere compliment, and all they can think is that I'm angling for something, or it's a hidden insult or attack somehow. When you combine that with a tendency to fall back on even the mildest form of Philadelphia insult-comedy, and what you get is a dynamite combination. I'll say the wrong thing, and have it interpreted in the worst possible way - even by trusted friends and intimates.

I've worked pretty hard to be less argumentative, more inclined to let things go, to listen to the subtext of the things people say, and above all to be willing to be wrong and admit fault. I've made those changes for my own good, and while I may have more work yet to do, I think I'm a lot better than I used to be. But it just doesn't seem to matter, something about me is just ...infuriating or off-putting to people. I can't even tell you how much I hate that.

Now put someone like that in a conflict-phobic culture like LA. It's just ridiculous here, there's absolutely no way to approach and resolve a problem with someone. Even if it's just a misunderstanding, even if there's no real problem, but just crossed-wires, you simply can't go and talk to someone about something, no matter how gently or diplomatically you try, it's perceived as an attack. I mean, it's so ridiculous here - if someone hurt Blink, and then I told them I was mad because they hurt Blink, I would be the bad guy - the nasty barbarian who was just making drama. I'm not sure why this is true about LA, but it is. It's as endemic to the culture as flakiness, lack of punctuality and bitching about traffic.

So you can imagine - if your superpower is unintentionally offending people, and you live in a place where discussing any kind of conflict is absolutely verboten - this leaves you with a lot of relationships that just die ugly and wholly unnecessary deaths. Well, not "you" at all - but rather, me. I'm not  un-self-aware, I know there's no one that can fix this but me. But I think I also have to accept I'm never going to fit in very well out here, and it's always going to mean I just won't have many, or any, friends. I do want to engage in self-improvement, and have healthier and stronger friendships..but not at the cost of my own identity, not if it means not being me anymore. However frustrating and wearisome to me the uninentionally-offending-people superpower is, it also seems to be inescapably ME, too.

I wish I were more cheerfully misanthropic, or curmudgeonly, and just didn't care what people think. But I do, and it's a constant source of angst. But I think I just have to live with it, and learn to take more pleasure in my own solitary company, and in time spent with family.