Kids TV: an adult's guide

As the father of a small TV-watching thing, I see, or at least half-hear, a fair amount of shows aimed at the preschool set. Should you find yourself approaching such a situation, I offer you the following brief reviews to guide your decision-making process. I'll start with one I actually like.

Peg + Cat: There must be adults somewhere who don't have kids, but sit around watching this show. Maybe stoned. It's a nearly perfect piece of television. It ostensibly teaches math skills, and maybe it does. I don't know; I'm not sold on the concept of educational television. But one thing it definitely teaches is perfect comic timing. The voice of Cat should win an Emmy. And since they sing, a Grammy. And a movie version would net him an Oscar. And then I'll see it on Broadway so he can get an EGOT.

Speaking of EGOTs:

Wonder PetsJust let me die. Well, no. Death shouldn't be on the line. But if I could avoid a future encounter with this show just by accepting a week of intense, unpredictable diarrhea, I would choose the diarrhea. Yes, the guy won an EGOT. 1/4 of it was for Wonder Pets, though, so as far as I'm concerned, he's on the opposing team's 25 yard line. Damn, I just made a football metaphor, and I don't care about football outside of Friday Night Lights. This is spiraling to a bad place. Let's change course.

Wild KrattsI fucking love this show. I thought I had a good childhood, and then I discovered that it didn't include Wild Kratts, so now I'm not sure. Maybe it was all a lie. (You ever go back an watch an episode of a show you loved when you were 10? They always suck. They all sucked. All of them. G.I. Joe? Sucked. Aside from the "Cold Slither" episode, naturally. Bionic Six? I missed the bus for that show, and no, it doesn't hold up. Wild Kratts? This one's going to hold up.) Basically, it's got a theme song you love, followed by an animation style that's actually pretty great, plotlines and secondary characters that are magnificently, willfully goofy, and live action stuff that's pretty entertaining and teaches me shit about gila monsters and lions.

Dora the Explorer and Go, Diego Go: Since they're related, I'm going to treat these as conjoined turds. I could make the argument that one show is worse than the other, and I'd probably watch Diego if I had to choose. But the fact is, both of these shows are horrible, and if I had to choose, that would mean I'd reached a point in my life that is darker than anything I've ever imagined. These shows are repetitive and stupid and if they're teaching anything, they're teaching slow-wittedness and poor reflexes. The physics of Dora's and Diego's world is a fucking mess. And I'm willing to suspend my disbelief, but the shifting line between magical realism and legitimate zoology on display in these shows... man, I don't know if my kids are going to get into college after this.

Bo On the Go: I'm not a violent person. I dislike conflict. But if I find a) the person responsible for this show, or b) the person at Netflix responsible for recommending it for my daughter, I'm going to jail. This show is a fucking disgrace. I'm dumber just for being aware of it. Sure, its goals are laudible: "We're going to get kids to exercise while watching TV!" No you're not. You're not. You're just not. People don't do that. It's a fool's errand, and you went about it terribly, assholes. Now my daughter wants to watch an unintelligible, repetitive, humorless wreck of a show about a mysterious, needy, manipulative, no-personality magic girl and her boring, powerless, useless dragon pal, who consult a weak, uninformed, and ineffective wizard to solve problems that always have the same illogical solution: FIND THREE DOORS. FIND THREE FUCKING DOORS. MAKE THE KIDS JUMP AND SHIT. LOOK, A KEY. OH, A KEY! OH BOY! I FORGOT WHY WE WANT TO OPEN THE DOOR BECAUSE EVERY EPISODE IS THE SAME. I HOPE THERE'S A GUN BEHIND THAT DOOR SO I CAN END IT ALL.

BackyardigansI'm a fan. Basically, you have five friends of unclear species living in a standard American McMansion suburb imagining pretty great scenarios, all set to everything from classic showtune to beatboxing to Caribbean steel drum music. I tend to break into song around the house (my kids think musicals are documentaries, and the world is going to break their hearts), and the style of my improvised songs is very Backyardiganian. I don't claim the musical range the Backyardigans writers have, but they're my people. I just wish my daughter liked it more.

Caillou:


WOULD-BE PRODUCER

I'd like to make a show about a boring child doing what boring children do every day, and let's make it more boring by not finishing the illustrations or letting the actors convey emotions with their voices.

TELEVISION EXECUTIVE

That fits the Canadian Public Television budget. We'll buy fifteen seasons.

The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That: I'm quite fond of Dr. Seuss. We never met, but I consider him a pal. And as a friend of the late Doctor, I'l like to speak on his behalf: "WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?!? WHAT.... WHAT.... WHAT.... Oxygen...." (and then he dies all over again). I hope you're happy, TV people. You killed my friend Dr. Seuss for a second time. 

No, seriously. As my wife observed, brilliantly, the Cat in the Hat is an agent of chaos. And in this show he tells the kids to ask for parental permission. The Cat is dead. Long live The Cat.

 

Figure Out How This Works

A little over a decade ago, I was at work as an editorial assistant and one of my bosses gave me a copy of Adobe Acrobat and told me to "figure out how this works." There was no immediate work project that required me to make a PDF, so I just started making a document, writing in a stream-of-conscious way. I remembered the document today, and searched my backups. Lo and behold, here it is:

Mogolov.com: A User's Guide. My sense of humor has hardly changed.

At the time, I had just built my first website, because I had a show to promote, and there was no such thing as Facebook or MySpace or even Friendster. Twitter didn't exist, and text messaging didn't really exist, either. What people did then was make websites. Mogolov.com was technically my second website, but the first had been a GeoCities thing in high school. They were both terrible sites in many ways. 

Aesthetics aside, though, there's something in this absurd, hastily-written document that stands as a criticism of my sites since: they're no fun. I frequently make fun of LinkedIn, but my sites over the past few years have been little more than inefficient resumes. Aside from some jokey tumblrs, I've used my sites as a catalog rather than an end in themselves, and they've been boring.

I think I want to redesign davidmogolov.com to be less well-designed and less useful. I want to have fun with it, and make it better represent my comedy by being a piece of comedy. It won't happen right away, because I'm busy launching Eating My Garbage, but maybe soon after that. It's embarrassing that a first-draft PDF from my early 20s is a better web destination than my current site. 

This Wasn't In the Script

For those new to the story, here is the starting place (why we're running a marathon).

I honestly had given up any hope of finishing that marathon five weeks ago. In my heart, I'd given up weeks before that, but hadn't been able to bring myself to say it. I couldn't run three steps without pain. But when I truly gave up, and let people know, I stopped pushing that dumb muscle injury and it did the damnedest thing. It healed. And so a week before the race, when I ran a little 2.8 miles around my neighborhood, totally pain-free, I got excited. Not "I'll finish this marathon" excited, but "I actually get to line up and run a bit of this thing" excited. I wanted to be with team TC, and I wanted to run at least a little way. 

When asked that morning, I said I had no goal. And that's the truth. I had no goal. I didn't come equipped or trained for a marathon. I brought no water or gear for the full run. I hadn't put on sunscreen either, figuring I'd be off the course before the heat of day. I had some Clif shots, my iPhone, and some cough drops I stole from Sara Faith Alterman

About the cough drops: the day before the marathon I came down with a terrible cold. My throat was ragged, I had a deep cough, and I couldn't talk, except in a raspy whisper. Had I trained fully and planned to finish, this cold would have been heartbreaking. Under the circumstances, I could only laugh about it. Except that laughing hurt.

I started the race in a pack of seven (14 of us did the marathon, 6 did the half, and 3 ran the 5k). Within minutes, the seven had dispersed, as our paces are different, but I fell in with Kristina Smarz and Greg Wymer, both of whom were also dealing with recent injuries. They aimed to finish, but were keeping a pace I was comfortable with. Kristina had a plan to walk a little at the beginning of each mile, which I liked. We stuck to it. As we ran, we just talked and joked and pointed at runners in funny costumes, and miles passed. At four miles, I felt great. At five miles, we entered the Magic Kingdom. We came upon Rod Begbie. We started running with Lacey Shaw. We saw Gillian Mackay-Smith in the crowd, going wild, and that was fantastic. I decided to keep going. I told Greg I'd probably drop out at 10.

At the 6 mile marker, I took a Clif shot. At 10, I mentioned to Kristina that I'd take the next one at 13, and my third at 20. She said, "You just said you're going to be running at mile 20." I backtracked and said, "Well, if." Greg said if I was there at 20 they were going to carry me the remaining 6.2. 

At 13.1 miles, we were leaving Animal Kingdom, and I felt good, but I was also aware that I was doing something stupid. But then we saw Michelle Boncek, Jenna O'Brien, Gillian (again), and Brian Agosta in the crowd, and it was like a steroid shot. 

While we ran into Rod and Lacey over and over, them passing us, us passing them, at 15 miles, a fourth member joined Greg, Kristina and I as a permanent member of our running team: my leg cramps. I'd had a little cramp back at 10, and Kristina had given me some advice, I'd worked it out, gotten some Tylenol at the next medical tent and moved on. But from 15 on, they were here to stay. By the time the race ended, I'll bet I had a cramp in every muscle in my legs. I'd stop to stretch, drink more water, more Powerade, walk backwards, massage the area, get it under control, and move on. 

Miles 16-21 were the worst: the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex is a shadeless horrorshow. At one point I stopped at a medical tent to get a band-aid and I asked the guy if he had sunscreen. He said, "I don't have that." Somehow my brain interpreted his statement as a blanket declaration of the inventory of every medical tent on the course, and I never asked again. This, friends, was a mistake. The ESPN stretch was frankly terrible. It is the area where, if by some miracle I had gotten there on my own, I would have quit. Because of me, our walk breaks were getting longer and more frequent. I was afraid of jeopardizing their finish, but they stuck with me. I adore them, but right now I hate ESPN. 

I will note though, that during this part of the run, I intentionally fell about 10 feet behind, because I made another mistake: we'd been talking about TC, and I got to thinking about the whole thing, and I visualized the finish line then, and what it meant. This is something I hadn't ever really done, not in a vivid way, and certainly not since I gave up on the marathon five weeks back. When I did that, I got, uh, emotional. I'm sure the exact right place on this planet for a man to break down in big sobbing, snotty tears is at the ESPN Wide World of Sports, but I wasn't going to do that because a) crying over a marathon finish you haven't made is crazy, and b) it's hard on your breathing. So I fell back, bit my lip, thought of movies I hate, and got myself under control. Thank you, "Mr. Holland's Opus."

After ESPN, Greg and Kristina were good to their word: I was going to finish with them. We'd gone more than 20. But I was conscious of the looming sweep bus, and terrified that my tired, undertrained ass was going to cut their race short. I'd already caused us to walk the entire 20th mile. I had a mishap with some compression tape at the mile 21 medical tent that led to massively increased cramping and more walking. If I was going to force more walking on them, I was at least going to be fast. And so I walked as fast I possibly could. 

At Mile 23, as we were speed-walking through Disney's Hollywood Studios, a stranger told us something that changed everything: from that point on, there was no sweep bus. Once you're into the last two parks, you can't be swept. No matter how broken I was, Greg and Kristina would finish. I believe they'd have finished at least 30 minutes earlier without me, but getting to 23 meant all three of us would get to 26.2 unless I fell over.

The last three miles were completely wonderful. I wish I could say we ran a lot of them, but we didn't. We had one great run through the crowd at the entrance of Hollywood Studios, a sing-along with a boat-based DJ to Bel Biv Devoe's "Poison," and another surprise encounter with Brian Agosta, who had joined a Disney restaurant staff to hand out water (dude's magic - he found us FOUR times on the course).

You have to run the last .2 miles. It doesn't matter what shape you're in. You have to. And so we came around the corner, past a GOSPEL CHOIR, to see the grandstands and the finish line downhill. And the first of those .1 were great. The second, my legs locked up, calves and thighs. I had no bend in my knees. I was C3P0. Greg and Kristina saw me, reached out, put their arms under mine, and CARRIED ME across the finish at a run. I heard Ben Scurria shouting, and tilted my comatose head in his direction.

I know I looked bad, because a Disney medic immediately grabbed me and tried to talk me into a wheelchair, but I knew from the last 8 miles how to deal with this: walk. And I did. I walked to the ice station, and I wrapped my legs in ice, with a medal around my neck and a sunburn the likes of which I never hope to experience again. 

I do not advise doing a marathon undertrained. But if you're going to do it, I recommend you do it with Greg Wymer and Kristina Smarz. They're the best of the best. We started this whole thing a year ago, and my plan was to run, and to run fast. Last year didn't work that way for me. But now that I've done this, I can honestly say I wouldn't trade the way it actually went for any other way. It was incredible. It was just one morning in my life, but it immediately ranks among the best. Muscles heal, sunburns peel, and even ESPN will be forgiven. I finished a marathon, and I did it with Team TC. 

I learned the night before the half marathon that our combined fundraising efforts have raised over $24,000 for pancreatic cancer research & care, and for TC's family. That's incredible. But we haven't met our goal yet. If you'd like to contribute to our Pancreatic Cancer Action Network fundraiser, go hereIf you'd like to contribute to the TC Cheever family trust, let me know, and I'll get you the details.

2013, The Good Year

When I look back on this year, I will not remember it as a good one. But that's all I'm gonna say that's negative here. Although I'm looking at the end of this year with some relief, I think it's good to acknowledge that a lot of what happened this year was also pretty great, and I want to move into next year thinking constructively and positively, rather than stopping to lick my wounds.

So, here something I loved about this year:

A lot of friends and friendly acquaintances saw great success, and it was all much-deserved. Getting agents for their books, getting published, founding companies, seeing growth at the companies they run, seeing children graduate, getting great album reviews, becoming regularly-booked stand ups, appearing on TV, getting promotions at work, producing new plays, making movies, launching new video games, having galleries show their art, hosting successful fundraising events, buying homes, publishing comics, launching new comedy shows, getting pregnant after long effort... the list surely goes on. Having friends doing so much great stuff, even if I wasn't able to be there for all of it, is encouraging. If I didn't know so many people who take things in their own hands and do good work, I wouldn't be half as bold in trying to put my own stuff into the world.

Of course, I had some success of my own this year, too. I don't mean to be all "WAH! EVERYBODY HAD A GOOD YEAR BUT ME!!!" That isn't true at all. I just, eh, fell short of my expectations. Oops.

Right now, 2014 is looking like a promising one. I'm feeling energetic and I've got some good work started. Rather than set goals that I probably won't achieve, I'm committed to just continuing the work I'm doing, to trusting more in the abilities I have, and to staying engaged with the people around me. It'll be better. 

 

Always look on the bright side

Guys, it's time to do something I never, ever, ever want to do.

It's time to accommodate reality. I try to make it my business to kick reality around as much as I can, but today, it kicked me back. 

This morning, my hip did something weird. I can only describe it one way: you ever open a ziplock bag from the center? Grab both sides right in the middle of the zipper and tug? It makes this pop, and snaps open. That's the exact feeling I felt in my hip. But it wasn't plastic, it was muscle. And all day, my hip has hurt, hurt like it did weeks ago when I was in the early days of my recovery from the latest injury, an injury I haven't been even the slightest bit sensible about recovering from.

This morning, reality, via my hip, said, "STOP WHAT YOU ARE DOING."

I cannot run a marathon in January. I cannot, as I believed yesterday, run every other mile of a marathon. I cannot, most likely, even walk a marathon. I can't even step onto a curb without pain. There is just no way that I can get reality to budge on this one. 

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't broken up about it. I am. For those not following the story so far, I wanted to do this. I really did. I've invested a pretty unreasonable amount of my self-worth into this whole effort. And this morning, with that "pop" I knew it was a losing effort.

But I refuse to be negative about it. I just won't. Here's why:

I have it really good.

I do. That's that. I can't complain about this setback for a few reasons:

1) Running for TC, even if I don't cross the finish line next month, has turned me into a runner, and I actually like running. When I heal, I plan to be back at it, but with a little less maniacal intensity and a little biking and other stuff worked in to ease the stress on my joints.

2) It's a delay, not a total loss. If I feel regret in a few months, I can register for something else. Maybe it's the Run to Remember in May or the Ashland half next October. Maybe I just run 10 5ks in my TC singlet. I don't have to decide today.

3) The money I've raised or will raise is still going to fight a terrible disease, and I hope that if you've donated you don't regret it in light of this change. I'm still soliciting donations because I still hate pancreatic cancer and I still want the rest of my running team (who I will be there to support) to cross that finish line. 

4) I have it really good. I do. So this got screwed up. OK. That last point, the one right before this one? That was about pancreatic cancer, and when TC had it, he actually said, "I've had a good life. I can't complain." Back in January, I wrote about how we all wanted to be more like TC. It would be appallingly un-TClike to bitch and moan about a setback like this when all I need to do is look around and know that I've got it pretty good. Not perfect, but what kind of jerk makes perfect his standard? So I'm going to make it a mantra and remind myself when I spin towards some despondency: "I can't complain."

Guys, I really wanted to do this. I really did. And I'll be there for my team. But I can't run with them. It just can't happen. I'm not entirely OK with it, but I'm OK with it. 

I hope my change of status doesn't make you reconsider donating to the #weloveTC runners. It's still a great cause, and it's still in memory of a wonderful person we miss. 

My collision with reality doesn't prevent me from continuing to pass the hat: http://www.crowdrise.com/TCCheeverRunners/fundraiser/davidmogolov1

Good night.


P.S. I will still ABSOLUTELY be there. If my recovery allows, I'll be at the starting line, with my number, and I'll walk what I can, if I can, whether that's to the finish or the second mile. If it doesn't, I'll be there at the finish line cheering for the team. I just can't any longer make running or finishing a goal. 

I Am My Own Medical Condition

So aside from one somewhat cryptic Facebook photo, I've been mostly silent about a recent injury, partly because it's depressing to have stopped running for two weeks of critical  training time, partly because it's embarrassing to be hurt again, and partly because the consequences of the injury are yet to be fully determined. I decided to write about it today, though, because today, the injury is pretty funny. 

Today I went to see a physical therapist, Marilyn. We had a great time. I went to see her about my slow recovery from an especially ill-timed hip flexor strain. Hip flexor strains, it turns out, range from mild to severe, and mine should be mild, but it's closer to severe because I'm an idiot. Really. My leg is injured because my brain is stupid. Also, my leg is injured because I have, according to Marilyn, the flexibility and agility of a man twice my age.

I'd been hanging out with Marilyn for about ten minutes when she asked me to lie on my back and bring my right knee to my chest. Bear in mind that my right knee is on my good leg. My right leg has suffered no pain or injury. I did as instructed, raising my leg, and with the aid of my hands, I pulled my knee as close to my chest as possible.

Marilyn hollered, "OH NO!" I looked at her, alarmed. "That's HORRRRIBLE for a runner."

She turned to make a note. I laughed and said, "I've never been very flexible. My wife says I need to do yoga."

 "Your wife is right!"

Now, at this point, I had a bit of a flashback. Fifth grade. My family had moved from Kansas to New Jersey, and I was in a new school where the teachers, including the PE teachers, were unfamiliar with me. The time of year had arrived where PE does fitness testing: run a mile, do some chinups, count situps and pushups in a minute, and, of course, the sit-and-reach test. The sit-and-reach test, if you've shaken it from your memory or went to a school without such torment, is a simple test of flexibility in which a ruler is attached to a wooden box, and you place your feet against the box and reach for your toes. They measure where on the ruler your fingertips end. Many kids just touch their toes, achieving the baseline measure.

I could never reach my toes. I could never get even close to my toes. My teachers in Kansas were accustomed to this. It had become a non-issue. I was otherwise fine. Decent mile, good situps, OK pushups. I just couldn't bend. I have a cement spine. 

In New Jersey, this was unacceptable. The gym teacher couldn't accept that this was my physiological limit. He instructed one student to push my knees down while another student pushed on my back. To eke out another inch or so on my sit-and-reach score, the teacher was willing to sanction light torture. And that's what it felt like. Pathetic as my mid-shin result was, it wasn't the product of lackadaisical stretching: I was straining myself to get this far down my legs. The addition of two more children's effort created only pain and a knuckle's progress down the ruler. My lower back and thighs screamed in agony. 

I had this in mind as I was informed of my inflexibility today. It hardly surprised me. But then, Marilyn said, "I know you're injured, but this is your good leg. I've seen this before, but only in my geriatric patients."

Oh god. 

"Runners tend to be...

"...able to lift their legs?" I said. 

Marilyn Iaughed.  "I don't mean to insult you," she said.

"No, you're not. I really am not flexible." 

"OK. Let's check the rest."  She guided me through a variety of stretches and reaches. 

 "Your hips and back! They're..."

"Yes?"  

"VERY tight. You need massage and stretching. Lots of stretching. Are you always this tense? Can you walk for me? Over to the corner and back?"

I did. She asked, "Do you feel pain?"

"A little. Very little. This is the best I've felt in at least a week." 

"It's my personality," Marilyn said. "Did you know you're limping?"

"I am?"

"You're limping heavily."

 "Oh. OK. So, I should try to not do that?"

"Your muscles won't let you not."

"OK. So what's next?" 

"We're going to learn some stretches. Then you're going to come back for a few weeks and we're going to loosen up your muscles with ultrasound. And you're going to get some massage or massage your own quadriceps and hamstrings. You also have to work on your piriformis."

 "Piriformis?" 

"It's in the middle of your butt." 

"The MIDDLE?" 

"Of the buttock."  Oh, that makes more sense than what I was thinking.

"Anything else I should do?" 

"Well, the yoga idea is a good one. Your range of motion is astonishingly poor. As a runner, you're going to get injured over and over again if you can't stretch out better. Your hips and lower back function as a unit, and both are just locked up tight. Your legs and your butt balance each other. You've got some real tension. Are there any sources of stress in your life?" 

I laughed loudly. 

"OK, then. Well, you need a different specialist for that. Let's make you a few more appointments to work on the muscles. "

I offer you this close-to-accurate transcript of our conversational highlights with two thoughts in mind: 

1) Marilyn is great. I doubt her candor and mockery are appropriate for every patient, but it's exactly what I like in a medical professional. 

2) It's gratifying to have medical confirmation that my flexibility is almost comically poor. While I'm sure it's equal parts biology and psychology, the reality is that I bend like a man twice my age. 

The injury itself is frustrating. I haven't run in two weeks. I don't know when I will. In order to run this marathon in January, I need to be running. But running when I shouldn't have is how I got in this situation. The key day was the one when it hurt on the first step and instead of going inside, I ran five miles. Later that day, I was using my hands to lift my dead leg when I needed to move it. It could bear weight, but it couldn't move on its own anymore. I can't do that again. I can't run until the pain is gone.

I'm not ready to address what this means for the marathon. I can put that off another week or two, as I see how this develops. In the meantime I kind of love how physical therapy went. I have a sheet of stretches I can do. I have a plan for not just getting back on the road but for maybe starting to address a problem I've had for my entire life. And maybe best of all, for a guy who loves jokes best when he's the butt of them, I now know that my butt is itself a joke.  

I have the physiology of a 75-year-old man, and apparently have since I was 11 years old. Of course  I'm running a marathon. 

 

A quick piece of unsolicited professional advice

I don't talk about my professional life on social media much, for a variety of mostly obvious reasons. But I did want to say one thing that today has reinforced. All of the dynamics in society right now drive us to be more attuned to our jobs all of the time, but that dynamic doesn't have to be one-way: as we do our jobs that are evermore a part of the technological fabric of our lives, it's important that we approach our professional responsibilities as humans, not as machines. 

Today, I had a problem, and that problem was not with a human, but with a piece of technology that several humans are wrestling with from a variety of perspectives. As an advocate for the technology, it would be understandable if I had its back. But the technology doesn't need me. The humans need me. If all the humans go, the technology is a punchline to the setup of our demise. There's no reason to defend the technology. We can fix that or replace that while we high five over its replacement. 

We are asked to focus on efficiency and productivity, and those two words represent something of some value, but they do not represent the totality of why we interact with people who share common goals. Sometimes people screw things up, and sometimes they screw them up through technology. Sometimes the technology reveals screw-ups we never anticipated at all. If you find yourself professionally entangled with some screwed-up technology, remember that it is people, not technology, who will save your day.  Defend your people. We can fix the technology.

There ain't no Singularity yet. Let's take care of one another. 

  

 

150 Miles

Since beginning to run in January, I have been fairly committed to getting out there regularly. I've only missed a handful of runs (aside from the 9 weeks I spent in a cast when I broke my foot). I've set aggressive but obtainable goals and have--uncharacteristically for me--not allowed myself to quit or stop short, but for one morning in Vegas. If I leave the house to run 3.5 miles, I do that. If I leave to run 30 minutes, I do that.  

And this morning I realized that if I throw in the treadmill mileage I don't track on the app I use, I've hit about 150 miles. There's nothing significant about that number. It'd get me past Hartford but not to NYC if I did it all at once.  It's a drop in the bucket compared to what committed longterm runners did during that period. But it's 140 miles more than I'd have run otherwise, and the 10 I'd have run in the other scenario would have been sorely hated treadmill miles and an occasional run to catch the train.

I've run 150 miles, most of it prior to the injury. I'm starting my formal training for an October 27th half marathon in a few weeks (August 5th is the first day), and I'll run about 210 miles during the 12 weeks from August 5th to race day. I'll go from that straight into marathon training, which will consist of 308.2 miles more. The bulk of the work is still very much ahead of me. 

But this morning as I was running, I realized that a major piece of work is behind me. I didn't want to run, but I didn't dwell on it or procrastinate. I put on the shoes and ran out the door. Whatever else I've accomplished or not accomplished, it's a fact that I'm no longer a guy starting to run: I'm a runner. And when I'm running and I don't think about running, I'm a pretty good runner. When I'm not counting tenths of miles and I let my mind go elsewhere, I'm solving work problems, solving writing problems, fixing jokes in a script, figuring out stuff about my kids, and running into neighbors and their dogs. I now know the distance to everything in my town, and I factor running into my planning as much as possible.  

Long way to go. But I'm a runner now. So, that's something. 

About Trayvon Martin

My apologies if I'm saying nothing new. This is a moment when it seems like saying nothing is worse than saying something repetitive. I don't think I could maintain my self-respect if I didn't speak up. I don't think I could be content with complicity by silence. I know words aren't action, but I've never known what I think until I've tried to write it. I'm just trying to tell you what I think. 

--- 

 In 35 years, I've never had to justify my presence on a street. When I've made eye contact with a police officer they've said hello, nodded, or ignored me. When I've been in a space that is ostensibly somebody else's, they've never suggested they were afraid of me. Part of this, surely, is that I'm not an intimidating guy.  But a larger part of it, the part I don't think about it, is that I'm a white man. I'm the person society is built for: I'm "normal."

I first came to realize this the summer before my last year of college. I lived in a crappy apartment on a busy street in a moderately dingy neighborhood. I came and went as I pleased. I worked late hours sometimes, drank at parties late, stumbled in late. I treated my neighborhood like it was my neighborhood, and that was that.

One of my roommates was Hispanic. Alex had grown up in suburban Maryland. He treated the neighborhood just as I did.  If anything, he had more freedom of movement because he had a car and I didn't. One night, we had a party, and a female friend of ours asked for a walk home and he took her. There'd been reports of sexual assaults, not the sort of thing Alex and I had to think of, but to be asked for a walk home was a no brainer: of course he escorted her home. 

After seeing her home, he walked back. This was maybe four blocks away. On his way home he was stopped by the police, pressed roughly against a wall, frisked, accused, denigrated, and sent on his way. It was the first time in his life, he said. I write about this with a certain sheltered horror because I still haven't had a first time and never will. But I knew Alex. I knew his harmlessness and goodness and the fact that he was just walking someone home to prevent  a crime or at least make someone feel safer. He was pressed against a wall like a criminal for being brownish. There is absolutely no other explanation. 

--- 

My senior year of college, I took a one-time yearlong seminar offered in collaboration between the Departments of Philosophy and Economics at Boston University, with the Institute on Race and Social Division. For a year, we read intensively in ethics, history, economics, sociology, and theology. We read Immanuel Kant and David Hume and Adam Smith and John Rawls and Charles Tilly and Charles Johnson and Amartya Sen. We read papal encyclicals and magazine editorials and contemporary economic analyses. We got to talk with scholars like Cass Sunstein and Kwame Anthony Appiah and Henry Louis Gates. We read libertarians and liberals and conservatives. I wrote papers on The Road to Serfdom  and The Racial Contract . We were not told what to believe. We argued. We argued endlessly.

I don't write that paragraph to say "I KNOW THINGS ABOUT THIS." I write it to say that at the end of all that reading all I know is that I don't know very much and that I want to read more. I've kept reading. I've read Douglas Blackmon and Douglas Coupland and Douglas Rushkoff and I've tried to piece it all together. I've read Naomi Klein and Milton Friedman and The Economist. Each remakes me in a way. I'm reading  The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson right now and it's remaking me again (this book is astounding, and gorgeously written).

For professional reasons I pay a lot of attention to the fate of higher education in America, and right now there's intense pressure to measure a college experience by what it produces in terms of employment, but I can say, despite my professional success, that the major benefit of my college education was what it produced in terms of citizenship. I am a better observer and participant in our society as a result of what I learned in college, and I'm wary of an our impulse to make education a tool for commercial efficiency. We read much about the death of the humanities (well, people in the humanities do, while others read business journals, I suppose), and I wonder where the stories are of experiences like mine. My education through that single seminar introduced me to entire streams of thought I'd have never known, and I wouldn't trade any of it for a degree that netted me $15,000 more per year. I know my world more clearly and I better know the scope of my ignorance, and that is worth a tremendous amount more than what I've had gained with a Quickbooks course (note to self: take a Quickbooks course).

---

Today on my way home, I heard a legal expert on the radio saying that the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case was not about race. George Zimmerman, he said, is of mixed race. George Zimmerman's mother is Hispanic. George Zimmerman's grandmother was African. This is what the expert said. He said this as if George Zimmerman's particular racial beliefs are what have troubled people. He said this as if he didn't understand that what's really at stake here is something far larger than George Zimmerman. He said this as if, 150 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, almost 50 years after the Voting Rights Act, and 5 years after the election of an African American President, this trial didn't suggest that our laws continue to protect white life from black life. 

I don't dispute the courtroom outcome: based on the law and our legal standards, there is reasonable doubt. George Zimmerman may have acted in self defense, narrowly defined.

 But if the defense's argument is true, that he acted in self defense, he was only in danger because of a situation he created, based on his assumptions about a harmless teenager. I have yet to hear a credible argument that the dispute that led to Trayvon Martin's death wasn't based wholly, and I mean 100%, on his being a black man. Not even a man. Not legally. If he were white, that legal distinction would matter. A 17 year old white victim is a child, after all, his whole life ahead of him. But Trayvon Martin, 17, was suspicious.

I'm not saying anything new. I know I'm not.  

There are people who read this (and let's be real, they probably said "TL;DR" and moved on) and say, "This is dumb liberal guilt." And you know what? They're right, to some extent. I feel guilty. I feel guilty for being able to do everything that Trayvon Martin couldn't and never will be able to. I feel a bit of survivor's guilt because this world is sculpted and maintained to protect me, to protect me from him. So yes, it's liberal guilt. But it's not dumb. I feel this guilt because I've done the work to know that I should. 

--- 

What do you do with guilt?  What do you do when you know the house is dealing you a winning hand, even if it's only 51% of the time? What do you do about the fact that you live in the suburbs in relative safety from the horror of the daily violence that defines the life of a huge swath of the population of the most prosperous, scientifically and medically advanced society that has ever existed on this planet? What do you do about the fact that you could easily just shut up and go about your business and never have to think about any of this because you personally have never shot a black boy? 

What do you do with the knowledge that things are getting worse, not better, but in ways that hardly impact you at all? 

What do you do with the knowledge that parents in Florida, about to send a son off to college and a lifetime of opportunity are instead mourning his murder, when your own kids are safe in bed upstairs and will never in their lives face a neighborhood watch that demands to know why they are who they are where they are?

What do you do? 

---

That last question isn't rhetorical. Despite my reading and my relative certainty about what's wrong, I haven't the slightest notion of what a person is to do right now. I've seen many well-intended but vague statements about working for change and examining oneself, and while I appreciate them, they seem short of the mark.

Ultimately, a young black man was lynched in the 21st Century in the United States of America. If you don't believe that's the fact, I assure you it's at the very least the perception. Our long movement as a country away from the original sin of slavery is real but it is not over. We have durable and pernicious inequality in this country, and the response to that ought to be more than to examine oneself.  

But I don't know what it is. Perhaps my reading is incomplete. I want to do something more than feel guilt. I want to do more than wish my black friends' children the best. But I'm at a loss right now. I know what I believe, but I can't see the path forward.  

I hope somebody out there has a good suggestion, and I hope it's bigger than a response to George Zimmerman. 

 

A little structure, a little challenge, a little space

Today, I had to go pick up the car at the mechanic's shop, about a half mile away from home. On crutches, a half mile is a pretty good workout. I've adopted a weird way of "running" on the crutches, where I move very quickly, with a little hop on my good foot between crutch-steps. The right foot's toes hit the ground, the heel touches, and I hop an inch while lifting the crutches on the forward swing. For just a moment, nothing's on the ground. It's like I'm skipping: ka-chunk swing step hop ka-chunk swing step hop ka-chunk. It feels like I'm sprinting. I do this in the hallway at work and on sidewalks. It must look insane. I can't sustain it for long, but I try.

This afternoon, I was crutching my way along the exact path of my first run in January, when running a mile was still terribly painful (not just because it was twelve degrees and raining that day and I'd neglected to wear gloves). It hit me—right at the corner where I got my first intense running cramp a few months ago—exactly how much I'd already come to depend on the running that I can't do right now, and how badly I'd underestimated something Haruki Murakami has been saying for years: running and writing pair very well.

Now, it's a very small sample size, but I can say with certainty that the two and a half months that I ran regularly, rain or shine, and pushed myself to go a little bit further, to do something unnecessary but to treat it as necessary, something nobody asked me to do, to make time for it, to make it a priority, and to do it whether it was hard or easy that day were also the two and a half months that I was the most productive, creative, and engaged elsewhere in my life in a very long time. I was sleeping better, I was more effective at work, better with my family, and producing a torrent of writing that had potential. I was getting things done, and excited to do them. The five weeks since I broke my foot have been five weeks of mental squish: no attention span, no willpower, no follow-through. I've gotten things done, but only with negative motivation: I act when I have to rather than when I want to.

This is not to say that running is some cure-all or that it's for everybody. I'm not even saying that it is running that makes the difference. But I'm pretty certain that the structure and self-discipline of it, the forced confrontation with regular small obstacles, and the knowledge that even if it's painful, I can get over them, had benefits for me. I have traditionally been a person who focuses on what comes easiest, and who quits when the quitting is easier than the finishing. As a runner, I felt like I could finish anything.

Theoretically, I should be able to carry what I know from that experience into my day-to-day life when I can't run, but weirdly, the motivation is just gone. That knowledge isn't helping when I'm not actively running. Some of it, surely, is chemical, an endorphin drought. I get a little charge when I'm crutch-sprinting that feels familiar, and I should probably fall down on the sidewalk with a pen and paper and take advantage. 

But it's not all chemical. Even before I was a runner, I was a person who couldn't sit down. This broken foot is oppressive. Other people have bigger problems, of course. My injury will heal. I'll get back to running. I'm not writing this to complain (well, not solely), but to remind myself later to not squander the potential, to remember the feeling that there is no potential.

Tomorrow, we are getting the other car repaired, and I'll crutch-sprint to get that one, too. The next day I get an x-ray, and I hope to throw the crutches in my basement when I get home. The weather is entering a brief period of New England perfect. If I can't run yet, I'll walk. And when I can run, I will run and I will run and I will run. 

Boston

I was just remarking to Lisa the other day that I've been in Boston nearly half of my life. Given how many times we moved growing up, Boston is the place I've lived longest, by far. Because of all that moving, I never really developed a sense of place, a sense of home. My home was where my family was, but since I left Kansas for college, my family has slowly broken away from there, too, so that we are scattered across the country: Kansas, Nevada, Colorado. The rest are in Iowa. South Dakota. Virginia. Florida. I have ties to all of these places, but none of them are home.

At 17, I decided to move to Boston. I'd enrolled at Boston University, sight unseen (there's a story of how this happened, but it's another post). I flew out for orientation after high school ended. Me and my friend Kim. Our first night in town, we walked away from the campus. She wanted to go to a store called Newbury Comics. We got a little lost. Not hugely lost, but a little. We spent some time at Nuggets. Stared into Deli Haus. Got a little intimidated by Mass Ave. Found Newbury Comics. Worked our way back, but took the wrong fork at Kenmore Square and walked toward Brookline, up Beacon. Figured out where Fenway Park is. It was fine. We were exploring. 

We were, unbeknownst to me, crossing and recrossing the route of the Boston Marathon. We were walking streets that have since become as familiar as anything I'll ever know. As a rootless guy, I didn't have any idea I was setting down roots. Weak little roots, slightly scared little roots, but roots. Today, I have been in Boston nearly 17 years. All of my adult experience is as a quasi-Bostonian. I went to school here. I got my first job here. Got laid off from that job here. Fell in love. Gave directions. Volunteered (not enough). Made friends. Got lost. Got drunk. Watched marathons. Got into theater. Got into comedy. Got married. Got a house. Got kids. Found a life for myself. I've gotten an awful lot. All of it in Boston, from Boston. 

Today, I see terrible photos of the intersection where I had my first job: Boylston and Exeter. My desk was at a window, looking across at the Lenox Hotel. I see terrible photos of the store I bought shoes at just over a month ago, shoes to train for a marathon. I see terrible photos of Copley Square, where I sat with my grandmother two days before my wedding. I see terrible photos of runners held back at the underpass on Commonwealth Avenue, just before their excited turn onto Hereford, the last turn before the finishing sprint down Boylston Street. I see terrible photos of a bar where I watched with a packed room as Pedro Martinez threw 17 strikeouts and gave up one hit. I see railings at restaurants I know, familiar street signs, the Copley T sign. And it's all terrible, these photos of these places I know. 

I've long said that you can't become a Bostonian, that you can become a Californian, or a Texan, or a New Yorker, or almost anything else, but that you can't become a Bostonian or a Frenchman. Today I'm not so sure. I don't know what it's like to really have a hometown, to feel that pride and that pull, but today, looking at those photos, I wonder if I've been wrong. Maybe you can become a Bostonian. I didn't think I had a place, but I do. My place is Boston.

And today, I learned that one of the critically injured is a Boston University student. Just some kid who decided to come to school in Boston, standing on the street, excited to be a part of something absolutely good, absolutely positive, in a great city on a beautiful day. And that place, for that student, forever, is the place where the bomb went off. And it breaks my heart, because to me, that's not what that place is. That's the place where I bought my marathon shoes. Where I worked with three people who are friends to this day. Where I talked with my grandmother about her mother. Where I did the things you do in your hometown.

It's also the place where thousands upon thousands of people have realized, on crossing the finish line, that they're capable of something more than they ever thought, and a place where they can look back 26.2 miles and see an unceasing corridor of people supporting them. Boston has a reputation for coldness, but there's no coldness on Marathon Day. There's no coldness in Copley Square.

It's a terrible thing that's happened to that place, and I don't want it to have a name like Ground Zero. It's not that. It's Copley Square, and it's not a place defined by bomb blasts. It's a place where people have amazing and mundane lives. 

My heart and my support goes out to those who were hurt or love those who were hurt. I've gotten so much from Boston. I'd love to give something back. I think a lot of people will be looking for a way to do just that. Let's look for that in the days to come.

Good night, friends.

Runner down!

It was a lovely afternoon in the Boston area, and I was excited to get out and run. It was my long run for the week, and I was killing it. I felt great. At the halfway point, 3.5 miles from my house, my running app announced the mileage, and though I felt I could have run another mile out, I dutifully turned around, and feeling good, made my way to the intersection without changing my pace, looked both ways for oncoming traffic, and stepped out to cross and head home.

Crunch.

I was watching for danger from cars on the road, not the road itself. I had unknowingly come down right on the edge of a pothole, the inner side of my left sole caught just a wisp of concrete--maybe the width of a julienned carrot--but that was enough to ensure than I didn't thunk fully into the pothole, but instead twisted my foot over entirely.

I knew it was hurt, but I was in the road, so I trotted across. Because I trotted across, I thought, "maybe it's not so bad," so I jogged a pained little burst to see how it took weight. It didn't take weight well. So I gingerly walked up the hill towards the town center, putting my weight on the inside and back of my foot, where the pain wasn't so severe. That worked for awhile, maybe 200 feet. Then I stopped to lean on a parking meter. At that point, a concerned middle aged couple stopped, and the man asked if I was OK.

"You know, I think I just broke my foot." As I said this, it was news to me, but I was pretty certain it was true.

"You broke your foot?"

"Yeah, in a, in a pothole back there. By the, uh... (I couldn't remember the word "library")..." I waved back down the hill.

"What do you need?"

"I need to get to Natick Center, I guess."

"Could you call a cab?"

"Yeah, I could do that. I just need to..."

They suggested the bench in front of the ice cream shop. I plopped down on the bench and called my wife. I don't call her while I'm out running, so she answered with, "Are you OK?"

"Yeah, but, uh, I think I broke my foot." We talked logistics. Our kids were both asleep. If I'd lost the foot, maybe waking the children would be an OK move. But a possible break? No no no. I'd call a cab, I'd come home, I'd elevate and ice it, and we'd reassess.

I called three cab companies. The first two had no cabs. The third would send one in 15 minutes. So for fifteen minutes, I sat on the bench, wearing one shoe, looking at my surely broken foot in wonder. Or, I'd have been content to pass the time this way. There was a knocking on the window behind me. It was the woman from the couple. She mimed drinking. I smiled, thanked her, held up my water bottle. I played with my phone for a moment.

Two young women approached me with clipboards. "We're students at Boston University doing market research. Do you have 3 minutes to answer some questions for us?" I looked at my foot. It could bear this weight. I said yes. One student asked my impression of a local boutique hotel, how frequently I stay in hotels in my own city (this is a question that gets asked, apparently), and what I thought of a proposed package deal at said romantic local boutique hotel. It sounded like a great deal for people who stay in hotels in their own city.

Midway through the interview, the concerned woman from inside brought me a bag of ice, interrupting the interview to say, "in case it's not broken, ice might help a lot." This was very kind of her, and I put the ice on my foot. The bag was paper, and immediately began to deteriorate. So I was holding some rapidly shredding paper and a growing pile of ice cubes was pouring from the used-to-be bag into my hands. Even though it was just ice, it didn't seem right to drop it on the sidewalk, as that could cause somebody else to have a traumatic foot experience. So I stood up and hobbled around aimlessly in the small area around the bench trying to find a place to dispose of the mess. There was nowhere. The ice cream shop had no outside trashcan, just a watering bowl for passing dogs. I thought of putting the ice in the bowl, but I wasn't sure. The woman returned then, carrying lots of paper napkins. They were lining her outstretched arms. Largely through gesture, she explained that I should dump the ice into her arms, which I awkwardly did. I then stumbled back to the bench and continued answering questions about boutique hotels I could stay in if I didn't have a home in this city. The market researchers continued admirably in the face of my clear physical suffering.

They moved on, and a young couple emerged from the ice cream shop. The sat beside me on the bench, and as I sent a text message to my wife and checked the time repeatedly, they talked. He was impressing her with tales of his outdoor adventures in Alaska. They seemed very nice, and I hope it was a pleasant first or second date. He had a lot to say about one friend's prowess with an ice pick. She said she'd love to go to Fairbanks, and he said he knew a guy in Fairbanks who'd been on reality TV three times.

The taxi arrived. The driver saw me waving, and he made no response. He continued driving. He drove a block, and then pulled over at the next intersection. So I stood up and walked.

The time I'd sat had done nothing good at all for my foot. Though I'd walked up a hill to get here, now it was agony to walk a block on flat ground. I walked with my leg sideways, putting all of my weight awkwardly on the inside of that foot, dragging the leg along until I got to the car. The driver didn't apologize for passing me by, but did explain that it wasn't legal to pull over on this road where I was because technically it's a state highway. OK, that's plausible. He drove me home, giving me lots of medical advice along the way. Courteously, he revealed that he was not a doctor, which was a relief to me.

At home, I crawled up the front stairs, plopped down on the couch, put my foot up, and applied ice. We discussed scenarios for getting an x-ray. Taking a baby to the emergency room seemed inadvisable. Having them drop me off would freak out my three-year-old daughter. I could call another cab, but then there'd need to be a third, and this was getting expensive. "Why don't I drive myself?" I suggested. It was my left foot that was the problem, and our car is an automatic. I'd be fine!

I hobbled to the car, drove myself to the hospital, and found the parking lot nearest the emergency room. Putting as little weight as possible on the foot, I made my way, but a short ways along, I realized it was hurting too bad to keep on like this.

So I began hopping on one foot down the hill from the parking lot to the hospital. This was working! I was pain free! Not just pain free, but building up  momentum!

Uh oh. How was I going to stop? The other foot would have to be my brake. Otherwise, I risked just pitching forward onto my face. Realizing I was looking at either a  faceplant or an excruciating collision of broken foot and pavement, I veered toward the mulch. And sure enough, my central nervous system, sensing a fall coming, threw that bad foot out to stop the fall. The softer ground was a blessing, but oh, holy... I regained my footing and pressed onward, now on flat ground, so I began hopping again. A nurse emerged from the building. Her shift was over, but as she approached, she said, "Do you need a wheelchair?"

The correct answer was "yes" but my answer was "I've made it this far by pogoing, I think I'll just keep going."

"They're not busy  in there at all. They could bring one out."

I didn't want to make her go back in. She was off shift. I declined, and pogoed my way into the emergency room. The staff of the emergency admissions desk was  amused by the style of my arrival.  I accepted their offer of a wheelchair. They asked me what happened, and I told them. "I hope it's a sprain," I said. "But I guess I should find out if, I don't know, I broke my fifth metatarsal." I'd been Googling while on the couch.

So, here's the thing:

I broke my fifth metatarsal.

my broken foot

my broken foot

I probably broke it in the pothole. Maybe on the hill up to the ice cream shop. Maybe running around the entrance of the shop with a bag of ice. Possibly chasing a cab. Potentially while pogoing through an emergency room parking lot. But really, almost certainly in that pothole. I felt it happen. I knew.

So I have a splint and crutches, and will be calling an orthopedist first thing tomorrow.  My house is full of steep steps and small child-laid booby traps. I really hope the crutches are just a short-term thing.

What does it mean for my training? Well, I won't be running the May half marathon I signed up for. I still fully intend to run the marathon for TC in January. It will take at least 4-6 weeks to heal, but the orthopedist is going to call the shots there, and I haven't met him yet. There's no telling how my foot will heal, or at what pace.

What's really depressing is that by breaking my foot, I've made my wife's life extremely difficult: she's gone from having a partner in raising two kids to having three kids. I'm useless. Maybe if I can get a walking cast, I can be helpful, but on crutches, and with agonizing pain when I put my foot down, I'm, at least on day one, utterly useless. I can't soothe the baby to sleep: I can't carry our daughter. I can't pick up the baby, walk him across the room, and sit down to feed him. I can't move with a glass of water. I can't get down to the basement for laundry. I can't carry dishes with my hands on crutches. My full list of accomplishments: I was able to remove something from the oven.

God of Walking Casts, smile upon me. Let me walk. Please.

That run? It was going really well. I was killing it.

Mission Accomplished

Last month, I posted a series about my goals for 2013. One was to retire my show, Dumber Faster, and make it available for download to those who contribute to Doctors Without Borders. This can now be moved from the "aspiration" to the "done deal" column. You can download the final performance of Dumber Faster here, for a $5 (or more!) contribution to Doctors Without Borders. You also get the performances of guests Josh Gondelman and Veronica Ades.

The show was a lot of fun. Josh and Veronica are great, my hosting was a trainwreck, and Dumber Faster itself, well, I'll leave that to others to decide.

So, between the sample chapter posted Monday, this, and my current ability to run six miles without pain, I think I'm making good progress towards the goals I set for the year. Onward!

 

Sample chapter of my book

Friends! Remember that parenting book I was writing? The funny one? Well, I wasn't lying. I've written the introduction and nearly three chapters of it, and today, I'm posting the first revised chapter. It's Chapter Four, Your Baby’s First Night at Home: The Worst Thing That's Ever Happened To You (Yet)" (PDF). Why am I posting it early and free? A couple reasons:

*  I still haven't decided my ultimate aim for the book, but I'd love some advice.  This chapter is absolutely representative of the tone I'm aiming for elsewhere. I'd love more feedback.

*  I'm hoping that if you like it, you'll share it. The more people who see it, the better my options for publishing it, publishing portions of it in appropriate places, and finding readers for it once it's available in full.

Is this the unalterable, final version? No, but it's reader-ready. If writing this book is like writing a show, I'll later realize that I want to go back to set up a joke or drop in an explanation. I may want to add illustrations that early draft readers suggested. Lastly, I have great respect for the skills of a talented editor. Should I end up working with one, I have no doubt we'll be tinkering on scales large and small.

So, with that, get to it.

READ: Your Baby’s First Night at Home (PDF)

UPDATE: Want to know more about the book or get in touch? Contact me here!

Reluctantly embracing Doctor Who

I guess this post is an apology to my friends who like Doctor Who. For years, I've refused to watch the showNot neglected to watch it, but refused. My refusal can be explained as follows: 1) Pure contrarianism. Demographically, I should be watching Doctor Who. Even stupid data analysts could deduce enough patterns in my behavior to try to sell me on Doctor Who. It irks me, being so predictable.

2) There's just a whole lot of episodes, and that's a time commitment. I didn't want to get attached to something like that.

3) Camp just isn't my thing. I've got nothing against campiness or those who love it, but typically when something is described as "campy" that's a pretty good indicator that I'm going to endure rather than enjoy it. Rightly or wrongly (I now think wrongly), Doctor Who carries with it the reek of extreme camp. And that camp is amplified by the fact that...

4) (This says more about me than about Doctor Who fans, but) Doctor Who fans are among the most annoying of internet subcultures. Why does every goddamn object in your life have to be shaped like a TARDIS? Oh good, you worked a Dalek into today's meme. I feel like crabby old man yelling "Get your TARDIS off my lawn!" but the relentlessness of Doctor Who fans is just overly cutesy and enormously predictable. If I watched, and succumbed, would I be drawn into this? I shudder.

But...

but but but...

The thing is, my wife really did want to watch it, and I like a stable marriage more than I like maintaining strong opinions rooted in ignorance. So we started watching it. And.... oh god.

It's happened.

15 episodes in, I'm a fucking Doctor Who fan. Damn it. Life is so unfair.

Now that I'm through the part of my Doctor Who post where I insult and alienate all the other Doctor Who fans, here's the part where I get positive. Here's what's great about the show that everybody in the world except for me already knew:

The show is tremendously well-written and (more surprisingly) well-acted. Set aside The Doctor and Rose, who are both well-played, because that's not really a surprise. In the first episode of the current series, we meet two characters who I never expected to see again, Jackie and Mickey. Mickey in particular seemed one-dimensional, and when he was turned to plastic in that first episode, it seemed fitting. I was surprised by the extent to which these characters were kept in the show in a meaningful way and the complexity that was introduced into their roles. Both actors are quite good, but poor de-plasticized, Earthbound Mickey in particular is played so well that his occasional appearances ground a show about everywhere firmly in the here-and-now (well, firmly in last-decade London). Are some of the supporting characters occasionally played a bit over-the-top or under-the-bottom? Sure. But nobody gives Joss Whedon a hard time for a Buffy demon played with a little too much gusto.

The writing is good. I mean, really very good. The things that are funny were meant to be funny, and vice versa. The dialogue is well-crafted and the plots rarely play out predictably. Coincidence drives a lot of the problems, but rarely the solutions. Where deus ex machina comes, it's usually instrumental, rather than essential. Only one crisis, so far, has been solved by a mother's love, but that one also more essentially relied on nano-particles that were themselves the cause of the crisis. The writers also inspire confidence on a macro level that it's hard to feel with a show like Lost, where you're pretty sure the big mysteries will never be solved. The resolution of Season One involved the revelation of a red herring that I realize now was easy to write backward into the whole season, but which in the moment was brilliant (and was paired with a Jean Grey/Phoenix-level event I loved)  The writers make versatile use of everything at their disposal, stringing fun connections everywhere and drawing incidental characters very fully.

Doctor Who, a show about a time traveling alien, tells awfully good stories about humans. Part of it is what I just wrote about. Now, I'm only 15 episodes in, and I know the show has approximately 70 billion episodes, but I assume this sample of 15 is representative of what's to come in one regard: when the Doctor travels with somebody, the show treats that person, their life, and their world as coequal to the Doctor's world. When Rose and the Doctor travel together, the story is about both of them, and because the companion has deeper ties to a real community than the Doctor, much of the real drama emerges from the changes in the companion's life. So the first season could be said to be as much about Rose as about anything else. The Doctor himself says very clearly and convincingly--through both words and actions--that ordinary lives are more interesting to him than those of the powerful. The best science fiction is always this way, but this show does it particularly well because...

The show has a fascinating and complex ethical perspectiveDoctor Who repeatedly calls into question the Doctor's authority and the morality of his actions. Though we're watching a character with an ethical code honed over thousands of years of exposure to all the cultures of the universe, we see him struggle. He has godlike capabilities, and he's not shy about using them. And repeatedly, the unintended results of his actions come back to haunt him. He's all-powerful, but he can't catch a break (until, inevitably, he does). He's an ethical perpetrator of theft, sabotage, and genocide. He's got rigid rules of conduct, but will occasionally give a horrible monster a second chance. This would all be sort of "eh, and?" except that he's constantly balancing his interests and abilities against the comparatively pedestrian interests of the people around him, and he frequently makes sacrifices and compromises for them. There's a constant rebalancing of priorities, where Rose's desire to see her father, for example, is treated with the same level of importance as hearing the final words of the Face of Boe, a powerful alien who is the last of his species. The constant pitting of the personal against the public, the tiny against the huge, gives the show added depth.

Doctor Who isn't particularly campy. The current series's fidelity to some old traditions, like maintaining the appearance and voices of the Daleks, gives a non-viewer the impression they've deliberately chosen camp as a style, and those elements are the things that get most amplified through social media. It's easy to think the show is just goofball 60s London gags and Daleks squawking, but it's not at all. The show rarely goes the camp route.

So, yeah. Here I am. A Doctor Who fan. And Netflix has another 71 episodes that I have to watch and enjoy. Damn it. Life's too short to like things.

On Raising a Male Feminist

I've posted before about our goal of raising a daughter who rejects our culture's marginalization of women. We want her to see herself as capable and equal and independent. I haven't figured out how to do that, exactly, but keeping the goal in the forefront of my mind keeps me aware of my language and the messages she's getting from her environment, and that awareness helps me make better decisions.

Well, now we have a son, too. He's three months old. He's great: a smiling, amiable, dimpled and unsleeping bag of semisolids. At this point, it's nearly impossible to mold him into a misogynist. Heck, I'm not sure he knows the difference between me and the cat. Forget men and women.

But if there's anything I've learned from my daughter, it's that kids are QUICK learners. Every single day my daughter says something that reveals not just what she's been actively taught, but what she's been passively taught: what she intuited from our behaviors, our preferences, and our silences. From my haphazard approach to organization, she's already learned an anti-orderliness we need to work on together. From my endless praising of "funny," it's become one of her cardinal virtues. Our focus on apologies taught her that the crime is not the crime: failing to apologize is the crime. Oh, that bud is getting nipped.

I've no reason to think my son will be any different. He is already watching everything. In a few months, he'll be forming ideas, and in another year, beginning to express them. And so, surprise, I find myself thinking about how we can raise him to natively reject the marginalization of women. I want to make sure he has no rights or privileges that his sister does not, and to be certain he doesn't expect them. I think about how we can raise not a gentleman, opening doors for charmed thankful ladies, but a good man making sure doors aren't shut on deserving, equal women.

Parents with good intentions can easily raise a polite but chauvinistic man. The world doesn't need more of those, but it's what most of us are, and it's what the media helps to manufacture. The American conception of a successful man is of an athletic or corporate conqueror, whose prizes are wealth and blondes. The American conception of a successful woman is the gorgeous blonde princess who captures the quarterback and has it all. Men are supposed to beat men and win women, and women are supposed to please the best men. We don't say these things, but they're everywhere. We teach misogyny implicitly, not explicitly.

We want to raise a son who can recognize this and act and speak against it. Not because women need him to in order to see themselves as equal, but because for society to normalize as equal, change has to happen from both sides. My daughter doesn't need her brother to be a feminist in order for her to recognize her equality, but she needs her brother to help change male behavior. It shouldn't take courage for a man to speak up against the sexist behavior of his friends, but very few men do or would. Despite our knowing what's right, we live in a culture where what's right isn't normal, and it does take some courage to act against that. We still live in a culture of men as conquerors and women as prizes. For well-intentioned men to make a difference, they have to overcome their advantages. A major advantage men have is that we can do nothing and pay no consequence.

I haven't thought this all through yet, but I'm beginning to think that fathers have to model a new way for their sons. It's not enough for a boy to have strong women to learn from: he should see men pushing against the culture, the culture in which the Violence Against Women Act was not only endangered, but in which a Violence Against Women Act is necessary. It's not enough to be a man that disagrees with the norm: quietly disagreeing doesn't change anything. Quietly disagreeing reinforces the notion that nothing's amiss, that the culture isn't broken. Parenting a better generation requires better than that.

Help Offered

(This is the final post, but for a wrap-up, in a series describing some big plans for 2013.) At the last minute, I'm moving the end of this post to the beginning. To read the rationale, scroll down. I didn't want to bury the lede.

If you want 8-10 hours of my help with a creative project, I'm available.

For each remaining month of 2013, I am asking someone to ask me for my help. A website? A show? A video? A book? Your Hunger Games puppet opera? I want to help you. And I want to help you for at least 8 hours.

I'm not joking. If I know you already (sorry, complete strangers, friends get first pick), email, call, message, comment, or tweet. Get in touch. Claim a month. Here's what I promise you: a minimum of 8 hours of my attention and participation in making your idea real.

Is there an element of hubris to this, to assume anybody wants my help? Sure. But nonetheless, I'm offering. I'm actually not offering, I'm asking. Put me in, coach.

OK. Now back to the beginning. Why am I doing this?

One of the tradeoffs if you want to be part of the life of your small children is that you don't get out much. Some people are better at getting out into the world than others. Admittedly, I was a homebody before I had kids, but these days, I'm feeling a little Salingerean. I'm sure the frequency of my Facebook activity annoys some folks, but to them I say, "Shut it. My only connections to most of my friends are digital right now." Now, as I said, being a bit of a recluse anyway, this isn't meant as a complaint, just a depiction if reality.

There is a consequence, though: my disappearance from the physical world of the creative people around me has diminished the opportunity to do fun things with them. Not doing sketch comedy, not working on one-off shows with others, not doing stand-up, not running into people in the lobby, all of these nots, they add up to what you'd expect: not + not + not + not = not much. And my absence also reinforces an idea that I'm not available. It's so bad that I recently learned that several people thought I'd moved to New York. Still here! Still available!

I don't think it'll come as much of a surprise when I tell you that much of the inspiration to do all of these things I've been blogging about comes from reflecting on the passing of TC Cheever.  I mean, life is precious, and the reason TC could honestly say he had no regrets was that he didn't squander his days on pettiness. He spent his days open to his friends and family, saying "yes" and "how can I help?" His friend Steve, at the memorial service, encouraged everybody to be more like TC. I will never do it as gracefully or as naturally as TC did, but if I make a commitment to say "yes" more, and to invite the people in my life back into my life, I think that's a legitimate response to Steve's request.

I can't offer you more than what I've got, but I can write. I can edit. I can collaborate. I can act a little. I can brainstorm. I know a thing or two about the web and have some actual, professional marketing, communication and research skills. I've edited books and punched up scripts and hollowed out mannequin horse hooves in the pursuit of helping make ideas real. I'm willing to do any of that, or to stretch my skills.

This isn't a Help Wanted sign. It's a Help Offered sign. All I ask in return is that the next time a friend tells you about a great idea, help them. Remove an obstacle for them or make a contribution. We all need help. I'm going to need help with every goal I have this year. I can't ask for that without also offering.

Pick a month. You've got at least 8 hours of my time.

America's Premiere Storyteller!

Guys, take a minute to look at this site: http://www.glennbeck.com/maninthemoon/

Welcome back! Take two and half minutes, if you didn't already, to watch this video:

I didn't do that to you because I hate you. Really! I did that out of love.

Let's talk about Gold Seating. It costs $1,250. Now, you might be thinking, "David, $1,250 is a lot!" Well, yes, it is a lot. But for that soon-to-be-obviously-paltry sum, you get:

  • An invitation for one to an ultra-exclusive, up-close-and-personal Saturday morning breakfast and Meet & Greet with Glenn Beck himself.
  • Best seats in the house…you’ll have the best views of the show in the entire house!
  • A pre-show Saturday night BBQ at the Venue! Get to know your fellow VIPs and gear up for the night with delicious food and refreshments…on us! It’ll be the perfect beginning of a night to remember.
  • Entry to a Friday, July 5th Glenn unplugged; an intimate session in which Glenn will talk about things he would never talk about on air.
  • Access for one to the Thursday, July 4th rehearsal for Man In The Moon. You’ll be up close and personal to see how this landmark event is coming together…an exclusive sneak peek!
  • One ticket to the Friday, July 5th FreedomWorks event.
  • One Man In The Moon poster, beautifully designed and signed by Glenn Beck himself—a true collectors item!
  • One collectible laminated event badge to show everyone your VIP status.
  • One VIP Parking Pass—a.k.a. AWESOME PARKING-- that insures you get in and get out of the event quickly and conveniently.

I think it's worth it for the laminated event badge alone. But getting out quickly? That's unbeatable. Glenn UNPLUGGED, talking about things he would never talk about on air? Consider that a bargain $1,250 to breach the time-space continuum, because that event isn't in Utah, it's in Toontown. And you get all of that before you've even embraced the opportunity to attend a ¡FreedomWorks! event where you'll get to contribute even more money to Glenn Beck! That's $1,250 on steroids!

But let's set that aside. Maybe you don't have $1,250 for Gold Access, or even $700 for Silver Access. You've got $350 for Bronze, of course. What? OK. Reserved and Lawn seating are available for plebs in the $35-$70 range, and as America's PREMIERE STORYTELLER, Glenn Beck has a show and a tale for all Americans of all socioeconomic backgrounds, paranoia levels and susceptibilities to hornswoggling. You can buy a ticket, plop yourself down on that most American of all lawns, and find out Glenn Beck's answer to the self-administered question "If I were the man in the moon, what would I think about where we were, and where we were headed?" Oh, patriots, you've got only five months to turn that one over in your freedom-lovin' skulls, and I promise you, Glenn Beck's gonna bring a surprise that'll make all that time seem poorly spent.

Examine that question: If I were the man in the moon, what would I think about where we were, and where we were headed?

Don't protest the pronouns. America's Premiere Storyteller isn't going to be ensnared in your English trap. His "I" doesn't have to be part of his "we" — it's a speculative question, bozo. Let's focus on substance. Here, we have a bona fide genius in multiple fields of human greatness posing a wholly new Great Question. He posits that there is a man not on, but in the moon, and that this man has thoughts about humankind, thoughts that we should ponder, advice that we should heed, wisdom that we would be foolish to ignore.

Though we do not know the full tale that Beck — our Voltron of Proust, Twain, Tolstoy, Poe, and Dickens — will spin, what flaming sword of narrative truth he will raise aloft to light not only the moon, but the dark places in our hearts, he gives us tantalizing clues. We learn that this man in the moon is angry, angry about mankind's choices. We learn that the man in the moon is a partner in a shadowy wonder organization called American Dream Labs, and that he possesses at least one MakerBot, with which our moon overlord will manufacture magnificent masked puppets to show us the true meaning of the Constitution.

Certainly, patriots and lovers of well-spun narrative, you are hesitant to put your money down without some confidence in the visual quality of this spectacle that our Story Laureate is proposing. At 1:05, he soothes your doubts:

If I were to describe the visuals...Classic. Edgy. Unseen Before. Overwhelming.... MONSTROUS.

Oh god. As soon as I change my pants, I'm buying six Gold passes. I love NOTHING more than I love classically edgy unprecedented monstrous visuals. And to have those overwhelm me while telling the history of America? I finally know what I was put on this Earth for. To look at the moon. This moon. Glenn Beck's Moon.

Can I get a personal loan for this? It seems like the self-improvement aspect of this will raise my earning potential substantially.

Don't act so quickly! There's more! Beck subjects himself to another tough question:

Describe the American Dream Labs in one sentence? A place to break through on technology, storytelling, ideas, and inspiration.

Oh. Oh God. I'm so glad he didn't use the word "innovation" in that sentence, because the excitement might've killed me before I made it to Utah. This man is going to deliver us to a brighter, moon-rage inspired technological future. We've all thought about the shortcomings in technology, storytelling, ideas, and inspiration. But do we DO ANYTHING about any of it? NO! Glenn Beck, though, he's not an idler. Not a dawdler. He's a dreamer, a man with a connection to moon wisdom. He built a lab. They're going to break through. And this has something to do with a show in Utah about which, in his next breath he tells us:

This whole performance is going to be based on a pop-up book.

My mind ain't nothin' but the dust of an old moon rock, baby. I'm in. I'm tailgatin'. I'll have my quick exit privileges, but uh-uh, I ain't drivin' away after this. The high I'll be riding after this event will make driving unsafe. I'm going to be living in a pop-up book world for at least three lunar cycles, and if anybody has a problem with that, they better call the Utah park police.

America's Premiere Storyteller has finally stepped back into the limelight. Only this time... it's the moonlight.

Get your payday loans, America: with the wisdom headed your way, no interest rate is too high.

The Maggie Beane Society

(nearly the final post in an unforgivably long series of posts about what's going to happen to me in 2013). Former roommates can tell you that I put an insane amount of time into writing a satirical suburban crime novel called Golden Years (the same roommates might complain that I spent even more time playing Tony Hawk and Final Fantasy 7 on PS2, depriving them of the TV). In hindsight, my honest assessment of the book is that it's not bad, but I'd want to rewrite it almost completely before showing it in public. It was a great way to learn how not to write a novel. At the time that I wrote it, I was embracing a few bad ideas, and was determined to make them work even though they weren't working (they were bad, see?). The major consequence of this is that when it came time to write the end, I just couldn't. To this day, the final pages of the novel are only notes. I know EXACTLY how that story was going to end, but knowing it would be a bad novel, I think I amped up the procrastination until it was a foregone conclusion that the thing would never get done.

Now, given the to-do list I've created, I'm not foolish enough to say that I'm going to finish a novel in 2013. But I'm not going to use that to-do list as an excuse to not work on one in earnest. So, of the goals I've laid out, this one is a bit of an outlier. I do not intend to deliver what I'm about to describe as a finished product in 2013. But I do expect to make serious progress on it.

I'm writing this on February 9, 2013, the morning of an immense blizzard. During a similar blizzard years ago, I performed at a show at ImprovBoston, back when it was in Inman Square. Will Luera was hosting one of his irregular "The Artistic Director Presents" shows, and there were about 15 people in the audience. I did a 12 minute show called "The Haze," a bizarre little spy story in which a man staking out a target he couldn't identify spun stories of a near-mythical private, stateless spy agency called The Maggie Beane Society. The Maggie Beane Society, he explained, was so secretive that  most people in the intelligence world were convinced they didn't actually exist. Will led a talkback session, and though the audience was small, I was struck by how enthusiastic people were about that particular aspect of the story: Maggie Beane.

The reason that it worked was that I knew a lot more about the Maggie Beane Society than I said onstage, and so I played it very fully: at that point I'd begun writing my second novel, a sprawling spy comedy in which the MBS was a major element. As I said, that was years ago. What happened to the novel? All sorts of delays and distractions, both real and manufactured, got in the way. But the real answer is that I procrastinated a lot. Last year, I got started again, meeting regularly with a small writing group, and I made real progress, knocking out a couple chapters and really getting the thing to start taking shape. The group stopped meeting, and I kept writing for a short while. But not for long. Without the pressure of a meeting to bring something to, it was easy to sideline the novel again.

(I'm not a guy who looks at self-help books. I'm too self-conscious. But there is one book that sits squarely in the self-help genre that I recommend whole-heartedly, and it's a book that describes exactly what I'm doing wrong. It's called The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. If you've ever used writer's block as an excuse for anything, or you struggle with procrastination, get a copy and keep it near wherever you work. Pressfield will shame you into getting back to work. I'm certainly moving my copy within arm's reach, not just for this, but for I Should Have Done That Differently.)

There's an argument to be made that if you're not making a priority of something it's not want you want to do. I disagree. I think sometimes you let something become less of a priority because it's too daunting, not because it's less important to you. You think, "nobody's waiting for me to do this, so I'll do it later." And then you keep doing that day after day and month after month until you die. It's how most novels go.

This particular novel, which I've picked up work on and put down again over and over for years, feels no less urgent or fresh an idea than it ever did. Just last week I was back at it, revising an early bit, reconceiving a character who'd never quite done what he needed to be doing. I know I want to be working on this book. So I will be working on this book.

A goal without a plan is a wish. I need a plan. Of all of these things I'm posting, this one has the least clear road to completion. So I'm making this plan on the fly, and I will hold to it (this approach works very, very well for me when I do it with scripts I'm working on).

I will have complete first or revised drafts of chapters on the following dates in 2013:

June 1

September 1

December 1

To keep me honest, I'm willing to send these drafts to anybody who asks for them. Ask for them. Keep me honest.

This is a very modest goal. Three chapters this year. That's almost nothing, but alongside my other writing, it's a real commitment.

One more post in this series. But first, I'm going sledding with my daughter.

 

No Time for Small Talk

(yet another in the interminable series of posts about what I'm doing this year) [this post has been updated twice -- once to correct a ton of bad writing, and once to change the title.]

Everybody's got a podcast. To listen to all the podcasts released in a day would take the rest of the year. I just made that up, but I assume it's true. More people have podcasts than business cards. I made that up, too, and I assume it's false. Your grandmother has a podcast. That is true. I subscribe to it.

I enjoy an occasional podcast. I had no plan to start one, though. First off, I still hate the word "podcast." I hate it for...oh, hell, let's not get distracted. It's a stupid word. Let's leave it there for now.

But I've got an idea that I really, really want to try, and I think podcasting is the perfect medium for it, a better medium than a live show, which was my first instinct.

The podcast has a very simple premise: nobody has real conversations in public anymore. Every conversation on television or radio is a promotional act. Every act on stage is a performance. Even on Facebook and Twitter, exchanges between friends are often artificial because of the openness of the conversation, the fact that friends and acquaintances are watching and judging.

I want to have real, serious, funny conversations with people: conversations that aren't meant to promote or to perform or build a brand. I want the people in the conversations to have the option of anonymity. Obviously, if I'm hosting it, I'm not anonymous, but the guests could be first name only, or carry a pseudonym. I don't suggest this because I expect them to reveal their core or be super-confessional or something. I just don't want the conversation to have a purpose other than talk and understanding. I think the podcast will be called either "No Time for Small Talk" or "Because Tomorrow We Might Be Dead." I don't suggest the latter to be morbid. I want it, as that title suggests, to be as if tomorrow we might be dead, as if we expect to gain nothing from the conversation that satisfies the urgent needs of our real lives. All the same, we probably won't be dead, and identity is such a precious thing, especially now that you can find information instantly on anybody who intrigues you. If somebody is fascinating in one of these conversations but chooses not to connect that to their larger public or semipublic identity they should have that right. Podcasting is perfect for this.

Why do I think I can pull this off? Part of it, surely, is hubris. But not all of it. I'm just far enough along in life to have some sense of my strengths, and one strength I know I have is to connect with others around the mundane, and to quickly get past small talk. I fear small talk, and have no facility for it. I've told several friends that I lack social skills, and they've usually laughed, but what I realize lately is that what I really mean is that I lack the ability to small talk. I don't like the surface level of conversation. I don't like persona or social niceties, particularly. What I like is talk and ideas and memories and jokes and real human connection. And that's what I want to try to do with this podcast.

I have no fixed timeline, except that I want to start it in 2013. I'll be soliciting guests and technical help soon. If you'd like to help, let me know.

Two more posts left in this series.

[UPDATE: I failed to make three things clear:

1) Of all the plans I have for the year, this is the one that I think has the highest likelihood of failure. I'll be out of my element in several ways, and will be relying on partners and practice. I have no illusions about this being an easy thing to do. I truly am looking for both advice and help.

2) Nobody is required to be anonymous. It's an option, as it always should be online.

3) These conversations will start with the mundane. I will have no agenda. I want to test my belief that people are generally fascinating and thoughtful, if invited to just talk without a purpose.]