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 Empty Nest columns of 2008
December 2008

The father of the bride’s  

Wedding Toast
By Mark Wiertalla

         To all of our closest friends and family, and to the friends and family that will be with us tomorrow at the reception, before I make this toast I’d like to share some comments about the three days of events celebrating this marriage. It may have been a surprise to many of us that Crystal and Troy chose a non-traditional location for exchanging vows.  Non-traditional is another way of saying “not in a church,” implying that perhaps this union may not be entirely blessed.  But I’d like to point out a few facts.

         Most, if not all of you, know that the elegant lady that performed the ceremony today is my sister Debra.  I think she prefers “Deb.”  Deb is here from a faraway land called Dearborn Heights, which is a little suburb of Detroit, Michigan.  And Michigan is where the heritage for half of this union is from.  In the Heights of Dearborn, Deb is very active in Christus Victor Lutheran Church and the Lutheran ministries.  As you’ve heard Deb’s readings and her blessings, she provided more than just the formalities of a simple civil service.  

         Last night Jim Braswell, Troy’s father, stood before all of us and, several times, wished the blessings of the Lord upon Crystal and Troy.  Jim’s blessing was short, but I want point out that it was heartfelt and a few, short words can have so much power when they are delivered by the right person.  

         And tomorrow, we’re going to attend a wonderful reception and wedding shower that will be hosted by Ruth and Charlie Fulger.  You should know that there were several years between the time that my Aunt Ruth graduated high school and eventually married Charles Fulger.  During those years, she was a Catholic nun.
   
         So, folks, even if I had nothing to say tonight (imagine that if you will) and even if this wonderful place isn’t formally recognized by any religion or congregation as an official “church,” I just wanted to point out that each of us has brought God and our faith to this union.  I’d like to talk about faith for just a few minutes.

         My mother converted from Catholic to Lutheran to marry my father.  Perhaps some of us can understand the heresy that this represented in the 1950s.  And I’ve repaid her for her sacrifice by spending most of my life in the Catholic Church. You see, I’m kind of a cross-breed, or perhaps a religious mutt.  I’ve been baptized and I’ve taken Communion in the Lutheran Church.  My wife and I were married in a joint ceremony presided by a Catholic priest and a Lutheran minister.  I’ve raised my own family in the Catholic Church.  And I’ve followed my daughter, Amber, into a non-demoninational Christian church.  I don’t profess to be a Good Catholic, or a Good Lutheran, or even a Good Christian.  But I do profess to have faith.

         Family and friends, I’d like to read a poem that everyone here will recognize.  It’s short and it will make my closing toast clearly relevant.  There are several versions of it, and I’ve chosen a version that is attributed to Mary Stevenson, dated 1936:
   
    One night I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord.  Many scenes from my life flashed across the sky.
    In each scene I noticed footprints in the sand.  Sometimes there were two sets of footprints, other times there was one only.
    This bothered me because I noticed that, during the low periods of my life when I was suffering from anguish, sorrow or defeat, I could see only one set of footprints, so I said to the Lord, “You promised me Lord, that if I followed you, you would walk with me always.  But I have noticed that during the most trying periods of my life there has only been one set of footprints in the sand.  Why, when I needed you most, have you not been there for me?”
    The Lord replied, “The years when you have seen only one set of footprints, my child, is when I carried you.”
   
         That poem is entitled “Footprints in the Sand.”

         “The years when you have seen only one set of footprints…is when I carried you.”  Just a few simple words.  But they are so very powerful in meaning when we understand the context from which they are written. 

         There have been times when I have been carried.  When I was a teenager, my mother had cancer surgery and, before she and the family had emotionally healed from that process, she discovered a possible re-occurrence.  When my daughter Amber was young, she complained about her bones hurting.  That’s a symptom of leukemia and, even though it was a medical false alarm, it frightened me to the core.  And at the head table you see my son Andy, a fine young man, who is hale and hearty.  But there was a time, when he was a baby, that the medical community prepared Jayne and me for the worst.  At each of these times, and many others in my life as a son, a husband and a parent, I have prayed.  And during those times, ladies and gentlemen, I have put my life completely in the hands of that thing that we all call faith.  As you look at the people that represent those events, you are looking at the single set of footprints in the sand behind me.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is the context for the few and simple words I have for this toast.  I ask everyone to stand please and raise your glass of water or beer or wine.

         To Crystal and Troy: Your family, your friends and our faith are here to set you upon the beach of your life.  May your faith be strong, may your beach be long, and may there always be three sets of footprints in the sand behind you.  Salute.

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November 2008

One of my evening routines had been to wait until dark to take the dog to the little park across the street so we could race back and forth

In the Darkness
By Mark Wiertalla

         This isn’t my original column on the cancer theme. The first piece that I submitted to my editor was a somewhat lighthearted review of my sigmoidoscopy wrapped around a serious third person account of a cancer story.  Shortly after I submitted that piece, however, I had a much more dramatic and direct experience with cancer.

         Over this wonderful summer one of my evening routines had been to wait until dark and then take the dog to the little park across the street from La Casa dei Sogni.  I let him off the leash so we could race back and forth (I’m faster), presumably to tire him out. 

         He surprised me one night in late September.  Instead of running in front of me to the little park across the street for our frantic dash in the darkness, Bailey simply sat down on our driveway and said, “I’d rather not tonight, old chum.” The next day he didn’t greet me from his usual perch over the back of the couch when I came home from work. (Cavaliers are like cats, they like to be elevated). He clearly wasn’t himself. Within 24 hours of the first indication that Bailey was unsettled, we took him to the doggie doctor.  Over the weekend he was in and out of the vet hospital, undergoing tests to exclude various causes.  Five days later, the tests had eliminated everything but a single, painful diagnosis: canine lymphoma – cancer of the lymph system.

         There are several treatments for lymphoma, including chemotherapy.  For dogs each treatment varies in effectiveness, cost, and quality of life.  But the end result is always the same.  It’s something like sitting down to read a much anticipated novel, only to have the author tell you after ten pages that it’s really a short story and you don’t know how many pages are left to read.

         Wife R2V2 and I accepted our roles as parents to this little animal though I don’t comprehend how fate selected us as caretakers for his life. Through only a photo on the Internet we somehow chose each other. Our house quickly adopted to someone who is stubborn, barks at the television set, loves to play with our tail-less cat (She Who Will Not Be Litter Box Trained), is extremely jealous when affection is directed at anyone but him, loves camping on the beach and prefers roasted chicken to dog food.  Proving once again that dogs are like their owners.

         The decisions for my wife and me were immediate and excruciating.  A stressful mixture of logic, emotion and guilt with no options to defer or abdicate.  Perhaps others would have decided that a life lived is better than no life lived.  Perhaps others would have been stronger and able to manage through the steady deterioration of condition that was certain to come. Perhaps.

         We chose to bring Bailey home.  We chose to spend a sunny afternoon with him in the little park across the street, where only days before we would have been running back and forth just to see if he could catch me.  All of the people he loved most sat in the grass around him, combed his ears and fed him as many doggie snacks as he was willing to eat.  As the sun finished its daily trip across our California sky, Wife R2V2 and I chose a few moments of solitude with him, and we sat with him on the little pedestrian bridge that spans the nearby creek.  It was his favorite place for a walk.  We listened to the water fall over the stones and then run under the bridge.  We listened to the birds as they serenaded him, instead of avoiding his chase.

         The train trestle crosses the creek about a hundred yards from where we sat, and the horn from the final commuter train of the day was the only interruption to our sanctuary.  The same horn that each night announced my imminent arrival through the front door, where I would find a small, faithful friend hung over the back of the couch waiting for me like an eager two-year-old.  As I think about the central role the trains have played in our lives, that last train was an appropriate and symbolic farewell.  Thirty minutes later he took up the chase after it.

         Goodbye, Bailey. There is a corner of our nest that cannot be filled by anyone but you.

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October 2008

We are children of the world, an awesomely cool place full of neighborhoods with eclectic character and people of greatness.  The best way to experience all this wonder is to pack up our belongings and

To Live There
by Mark Wiertalla

         My mother and father are still living in the house that I grew up in.  They’ve been there for almost 50 years now.  Since they live in Michigan, I can’t visit very frequently, but when I do go “home” to visit, I walk into a place that is as familiar to me as the proverbial back of my hand.  There’s a room at the rear of the house that my brother and I shared for many years.  And a converted corner of the basement that became my personal place through my teen years and right up to the day that I moved out and into my first apartment.  And when I stay with them, I typically stay in that very same room and in the same bed from a quarter century ago.  

         Over the course of my adult years I’ve made what I consider to be three critical decisions that have changed the course of my life. (It may be a surprise to learn that these decisions do not include getting married, having children or changing jobs/companies.  Conversely these are decisions that stayed true to the course of my life.)  Two of those three decisions have resulted in a physical relocation.  Twenty-one years ago, against popular opinion, I moved a young family of five across the country to California.  And most recently, I’ve made a much shorter move into La Casa dei Sogni, but a move that has had impact on all facets of my life.  Contrasted with 21 years ago, everyone in the immediate family understands what my wife and I have done, and they appreciate the kind of life that we have designed for ourselves.  By all opinion, La Casa dei Sogni is the perfect size, is in the perfect location, and is the perfect place to live life at this time.

         But when the girls come to stay with us, they stay in a guest room that is almost hostel-like, not the old bedrooms that hold nearly all of their childhood memories.  And I believe that Carpenter – who has the smallest of the Casa’s rooms – will always see our current home as a transition between the private space, which was once decorated with hand-painted hockey logos and posters, and the to-be-determined place, which he will eventually call his own.  My point is this: My children come back to Mom’s and Dad’s home, not the home they grew up in.  That place, the little house on Wildflower, now belongs to someone else. It’s been redecorated in unfamiliar color schemes and filled with alien furniture that isn’t sitting in the most comfortable places or against the appropriate walls. Seemingly, there’s no going home for them.

         Wife R2V2 and I spent our youths in homes that represented everything about our parent’s lives.  We’ll always refer to these simple square buildings as “home” and, in my case, I can still revisit years of memories today.  In contrast to our parents, we’ve used a succession of these buildings as stepping stones through life, adjusting the size, location and amenities to meet the shifting needs of our family – the little tri-level on Judith (our first and last home in Michigan), the modest-but-outlandishly-priced ranch that was our first California home (and the personal domain of Jabba the Cat when he was an energetic tiny tiger), the Little House on Wildflower (which will always be a mansion in my mother’s eyes), and now our empty nest. This periodic movement has been a vastly divergent strategy from the one that my parent’s generation used.  I feel a sadness in knowing my children will never have the ability to go home … literally.  

         But I think our nomadic ways have taught our children some equally valuable lessons.  We are children of the world.  No one limits us to the street that we grew up on, or the circle of friends from high school, or the first job that we land.  No one limits us to these things – except us.  And the world is an awesomely cool place full of neighborhoods with eclectic character, distinctive styles of cuisine, and people with greatness.  The best way to experience all of this is to live there.  In order to sail the ocean, a ship has to pull up anchor.  And in order to explore life, we must have the courage to leave port.  Once in while, at least.

         A house is just a physical location.  But home is where the heart is, regardless of whether that place is within earshot of the Union Pacific Railway, is a 50-year old suburban brick bungalow, is the attic of a historic Victorian shared with resident ghosts, or is a simple apartment where an adoring kitty awaits.  Wherever that place may be, when you’re there you know that it’s just the best place in the world to be.     

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September 2008

My son moved out of the house last month and into a

Hall of Higher Education

By Mark Wiertalla

    Carpenter moved out in July.  My wife and I have been urging him to strike out on his own for some time, knowing that the full experience of independence would help him learn that life extracts an unfair amount of expenses from the wallet and burdens us with many more responsibilities than we really want to assume.  He has been responsibly maintaining employment and paying basic bills (car loan, credit card) while living with us, and these important milestones on the way to full adulthood are not unappreciated.  Still, living at home with Mom and Dad has insulated him from many other important financial obligations and has allowed him to postpone assuming responsibility for developing other important life skills.  As a registered citizen of Dadnation, it’s my duty to ensure that my children understand as much of the full spectrum of life as I can teach them.  What they don’t learn from me and/or my wife – or perhaps what they resist learning from us – must be learned another way.

    Carpenter chose a loft in a local artists’ community with his girlfriend.  I’ve been especially interested to see how he would take on transitioning into full independence concurrently with a relationship commitment.  Like father like son, the parallels between his concurrent transitions and my own from 27 years ago are starkly similar.  

    Carpenter has a strong will and an independent mind, very much like his father had at the same age.  Over the years his father has learned through trial and error how to temper the need for independence with the acquired knowledge that no one gets through life without relying upon others for advice, financial support, emotional growth, and practical life education.  Carpenter is intelligent and far more in tune with the world around him than his father was at the same age.  Here’s my theory: The only difference between us is the elapsed time.

    The arrangement lasted only a few weeks.  He has moved his possessions back into La Casa dei Sogni.  The reasons for the sudden reversal aren’t important to the theme of this month’s column.  I’d rather dwell upon the young man that has returned to the nest, who has shown that he is a little more humble and a little more wizened than the one that left only weeks ago.  It’s already clear that there have been several lessons learned.

    Changing direction in mid-course doesn’t come without assessing a few penalties.  In his case, it’s the monetary sacrifice of a deposit and the loss of his earnings.  It’s also the time that he invested in moving twice – first out of our home and then back in.  That time represents the revenue loss from projects and jobs that he could have been working on.  These are certainly bitter pills to swallow, but they aren’t fatal pills by any means.  Thankfully they are just acrid enough to impress upon him on the relationship between actions and consequences. I can see that he has a newfound respect for the relationship between life choices and the hours of physical labor that it takes to enable them.
 
    I had concerns about the girlfriend, but I resisted passing judgment on someone I really didn’t know very well.  I can’t count the number of times that I held my words.  I can only think that I’m glad that I heeded a lesson my mother taught me: You can’t take your words back.  You can apologize, but you can’t take them back.  I’ve listened to him talk about some of the succinct comments made by his associates about the living arrangements.  The common theme among them is “told you so.”  There have been a couple of tough lessons for him about relationships in this story.  Fortunately, they seem to have been learned without the most severe of consequences.  And for this we are grateful.

    Wife R2V2 and I walked downtown with him last week, to have dinner at the local brewhouse on the eve of his 21st birthday.  After the waitperson delivered our beers to the table (two legal and one oh-so-close-to-legal) he surprised us, again.  He took out his wallet and removed a freshly minted student ID card for the local community college.  Under his own initiative and with no pre-conditions from us, he had signed up for English, a basic math class, Engineering 101 and Dad’s personal favorite, Italian.  In fact, we had our first lesson at the table: It’s pronounced eee-TA-lian, not EYE-talian.  

    He is keeping his day job.  After all, he’s learning a trade, and there is valuable education taking place in that wood shop.  And we are still holding him responsible for some of those life expenses, so he needs the money.  At the same time, he will be going to school in late afternoon and night and he’ll have homework on the weekends.  This formal education is going to be just as critical, because it’s difficult to learn and develop the skills of running a business while operating a wood lathe.  And perhaps most important, Carpenter has enrolled himself in the Hall of Higher Learning where the essential skills are taught that will help him flourish along with his independence.  It’s the same school I haven’t graduated from yet.  Maybe we’ll be able to carpool to class.

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August 2008

Life gives us 168 hours a week.  To make sure they are used in the best ways possible, even our priorities need 

A Schedule
By Mark Wiertalla

         One of my very favorite parables is the grain of sand.  It goes something like this: If a quantity of great boulders were rolled together into a pile, it may appear the space is completely full.  But in between the boulders there are gaps and in those gaps there is the room to place stones.  In the space between the stones one can fit pebbles.  And in between those pebbles, there is room for grains of sand.  Time works the same way.  Like three-dimensional space, time is finite.  But there is always room – and time – for just a little more if I’m willing to look closely.  The key is to schedule the time, much like fitting pieces of a jigsaw puzzle together.

         Life gives us 168 hours a week – that’s seven days of 24 hours each – to use as we desire.  Reserving part of it for sleeping, we’re left with roughly two-thirds of that time to execute the roadmaps of our lives.

         When I was raising children, my life’s roadmap was used for a family-focused trip.  It probably wasn’t that much different than anyone else’s roadmap.  However, with the transition to an empty nest and the still-distant but ever-approaching end of my roadmap, those available hours have become much more precious.  I don’t want to waste them.  I’ll restate that in a positive way: I want to ensure they are used in the best ways possible.  So I prioritize and schedule.  

Career.  I am spending much more time and energy on my career than I ever have.  I sprint through my days, filling them with as many challenges as I can.  It can be argued that I am working for someone else, working to their schedule and for their benefit.  But I have a counter-argument: I, too, have benefited from this corporate relationship.  Frankly, I’ve invested years of effort to arrive at this place, the pinnacle of a career.  I have practical business skills, and they are very marketable.  Someday soon, I’ll be working for myself with thanks to the employers that have helped me learn how. 

Health.  Sound physical health leads to sound mental health.  I play softball, I train for and run long-distance footraces, and I spend time at the gym.  I schedule these things into my life not because I’m afraid of growing old, but because I want the years that I have yet to live to be as full of “life” as they can be.

Creativity.  To think is to create.  This is the area of my life that I expect to lead to my second career.  I reserve time for this Dad column.  I am working on a volume of short stories.  With thanks to my wife, my accordion has been repaired and, after its years in mothballs, I’m slowly regaining my musical skills, which include songwriting.  These things will fit together and drive my life forward.

Retirement.  I spend time each day planning for retirement.  Whether it’s my quarterly review of the 401K, the daily review of the stock market and my investments, or the weekly review of my budget for the month, I’m always asking “Am I where I want to be?”  Quite often the answer is “No,” which leads me back into creativity.

Relationships.  I ensure that I make time for my wife.  Dance class is one way, but it can be a walk downtown with the dog for a Sunday morning coffee, a trip to the symphony, a weekend of camping, a simple Saturday night date.  I make time to call people that I can’t see, like my adult children, my mom and dad, my sister, or my best friend. 

Commuting.  I am absolutely committed to the train.  (My workmates are fatigued listening to this theme.)  When I have a choice of driving to work or adjusting my business schedule to accommodate the train, I adjust the business schedule.  Commuting by car is one of the major crimes of life.  Until Wife R2V2 and I moved into La Casa dei Sogni, commuting by car stole my vitality, stole time from my family, and stole one hell of a lot of my paycheck for gasoline.  Since the move, I have reclaimed 80 minutes of time each day that I use for the priorities above.  I think I should write a column about this soon.

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July 2008

The dog and I stand outside, five feet apart, shoulders squared, mano-a-poocho, engaged in our morning ritual of

Potty Training
By Mark Wiertalla

         I’m out of bed a couple of hours before my wife each morning, so I have the privilege of ushering the dog that I didn’t really want into the garage, out the side door and into the cold darkness of the early morning for rounds – plural – of bladder and bowel evacuation.  A friend of mine – he’s a ballplayer, too – acquired two dogs only days apart and he had to train them in tandem before they ruined his house.  I consider him to be an expert in the field of canine behavior modification.  His advice was “You gotta stand there until they do it.”  So at 5 a.m. the dog and I stand outside, five feet apart, shoulders squared, mano-a-poocho, daring each other to blink first.  If the dog could talk, I have this impression that he’d say “I really didn’t care much for last night’s dinner, it being smelly, dried bits of by-products and all.” (He’s a King Charles Cavalier Spaniel, so he has this stiff, British-like structure to his imaginary speech.)  “I’d much rather fancy a few helpings of your beef stew for this evening.  By the way, lad, aren’t you a tad cold standing there without a fur coat and in your knickers?”

         I respond with a curt, “C’mon dammit, get on with your business.”  With children we say “number one” and “number two.”  But because dogs can’t count (or talk) I just refer to it as his “business” and assume that he’s intelligent enough to get it.

         “Or what, you say? You’ll cane me with a rolled up newspaper, I suppose?”  He continues to stare at me like he’s waiting for me to take a leak.  Honestly, on the coldest mornings I’ve considered it, but there’s shrinkage to consider and the fact that he’s a moving target.  “Frankly, Sport, I don’t think the Lady of our House would approve.  Could get rather cold at bedtime, wouldn’t you think?”

         God, I just loathe that dog when he’s right.

         “C’mon, already. I’m going to miss my train. Get down to business.”

         The dog continues to stare at me, resolute in his mission to punish me for waking him long before breakfast will be served.  “I’m terribly sorry but, well, the truth is: I really don’t feel the need to do business this morning.”

         I know this tactic.  Oh, I know it well.  If I trust him and let him back into the warmth of La Casa dei Sogni, he will turn around and discipline me with a little custodial activity that requires paper towels and a sprayer of stain remover.  “No dice, champ. You’re just like the kids were, probing for a weakness in my parental armor and then exploiting it so you can skip your homework … or something doggie-like.”

         Now it’s 5:05 a.m.  I’m shivering and desperate for bargaining leverage. Something. Anything. Time is running out and I expect to hear the whistle of my train before I have the opportunity to get dressed for the office. “If you don’t go right now, mister, then no Cheerios for you.”  The ultimate threat.
 
         We taught our children how to use the “facilities” by floating Cheerios – yes, the breakfast cereal – in the bowl. The dog was raised by a breeder who also performed daycare for toddlers, and Cheerios became a staple of his diet.  Wife R2V2 and I use them to reward good behavior.  Or withhold them to punish bad behavior.

         “Really?”  He continues to sit there like a stone sphinx – the dog version, that is. 

         And then, just as shrinkage gives way to hypothermia, salvation arrives.  I hear the engine of an approaching car pierce the quiet calm of the morning.  I begin to count … one… two …three … and then there is a distinct plop from the driveway in front of the house.  Sparky raises his eyebrows and his eyes instinctively look beyond my shoulder to the access gate.  The morning paper has just arrived.  Yesssss.

         “Oh, listen.”  I put two fingers to the back of my ear.  “The newspaper has just arrived. You wait here while I go and fetch it.”

         I turn and reach toward the gate latch. The dog springs to his feet and begins to sniff around in the gravel-coated area that serves as his gabinetto.  (It’s Italian. Look it up.)  The standoff is broken and peace has been restored between the species.

Moral: With dogs, as in children, the threat of discipline is worth its weight in newsprint.  No, wait.  I never caned the kids with a rolled-up newspaper.  Or the dog, for that matter.  Despite what he says.

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June 2008

The need for nourishment becomes acute after the nest is empty because we lose one of our primary measurements of self-value.  Here’s my full-course

Menu for Soul Food

by Mark Wiertalla

         When the chicks are in the nest, the role of Dad is to ensure they are nourished in many ways – mentally, educationally, spiritually and, of course, physically.  We, the charter members of Dadnation, get so consumed with running and supporting nest operations that it’s easy to overlook the obvious: Dads need nourishment, too.  And the need for nourishment becomes acute after the nest is empty because we lose one of our primary measurements of self-value.  Here’s my menu of culinary essentials which should satisfy the appetites of other empty-nest dads as well:

Feed the inner child.  Just because my children are no longer children, it doesn’t mean that I no longer have a need to play.  In fact, it’s just the opposite.  After all the years of working to be the best, steadiest father I could be, the need to play is stronger now than it ever was.  I still need to dance and sing because it just feels good and it makes people laugh.  Or perhaps it makes them shake their heads in disbelief.  Either way, I am comfortable with it.  And it isn’t that I am missing a sense of self-awareness.  In fact, here, too, it’s just the opposite.  I am aware that this is who I am, and I simply choose to revel in my unique space.  A typical appetizer can be found by using any popular Internet search engine to call up the music video Kitty Cat Dance.

Nourish the adventurer’s spirit.  I still hunger for the wonderment of new sights and sounds and to experience a world that, up to now, I’ve only read about.  I need to feel like that twelve-year-old who took the bus from the suburbs into downtown Detroit with my friend and $5 in my pocket to see the hometown team play at Tiger Stadium.  And with no adults to tell me to stay on the well-trodden path.  I need to take a wrong turn now and then because of the discoveries it might lead to.  I need to land in Venice with nothing more than an address for a hotel.  Or land a new job.  Or land in a new home.  There is a lesson here: Not all who wander are lost.  Some of us are simply cleansing life’s palate in anticipation of the next course.

Quench that thirst for knowledge. 
My empty-nest world is no longer centered on knowing which teachers to talk with on Back-to-School nights, understanding the psyche of adolescent softball players, being schooled by the pediatrician on childhood maladies, or learning where to shop for high-school prom dresses.  Despite the comment in my April 2008 column, ignorance is not bliss and I continually strive for a refreshing swallow of sparkling, cool, refreshing knowledge about the world around me.  I browse through Wikipedia to learn more about Eritrea.  I take two minutes to quickly scan an analyst’s assessment of the latest tech merger.  I watch a video clip of the “now” performer so I can assess why they are relevant to yesterday’s conversation in the office kitchen.  What’s going on the world?  What are the arguments on both sides of an issue?  What is the insight on a social condition?   I strive to spend my time with knowledgeable, informed people because of whom they help me become.

Enjoy a steady diet of love.  I keep my body healthy by choosing high-protein, gilled fish instead of high-fat, sautéed meats.  Or vegetables instead of cheese.  An extra helping of vegetables instead of fried potatoes.  Water versus sugary soda.  And regularly scheduled meals rather than binge eating.  In this very same way, I keep my soul healthy by feasting upon the high nutritional quality of my wife’s love.  I’ve heard the saying that “Variety is the spice of life” and I wholeheartedly agree.  But there is a difference between variety and a steady diet of empty calories from casual relationships.  And I’ll make the argument that a consistent main course of fish, vegetables and non-fat dairy can be served in a very exciting variety of ways.

Satiate that hunger for appreciation.  For the most part, my life’s work of raising and nurturing children has been accomplished.  But now it means the world to me to get a phone call from one of them asking for career advice, or asking how to evaluate a new car purchase, or confirming that there is merit to my perspective on relationships.  My ego loves to hear that I’m still cool or to hear my wife brag to workmates that she had dinner waiting for her at the end of a long day.  It may be just a side dish or a contorni, but I need to know that I’m not just another dad and just another husband and that this place in the world can only be filled by the uniqueness of me.

Have the occasional dessert of sensual satisfaction. 
(About this point, my editor is shifting uneasily in his seat, finger poised over the delete key, and rightfully suspicious of where I’m taking this particular discourse.)  Wife R2V2 tells me that I was “frustrated” in another life and that I’m using this life to mend that hole in my spirit. (Note: I’ve mentioned before that this is one of her metaphysical leanings I am unable to connect with.)  I can only say that I have learned to be very aware of the connection between my mind, my body and my spirit, and leaving any one of these unfed leaves me undernourished on the whole.  This menu is only complete with an occasional scoop of the pure, natural sweetness of life. (I'll stop short of turning this into a sundae so my editor doesn’t have to censor the end of this column.)  

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May 2008

I look up about every three or four breaths, only to confirm that I’m not there yet.  My progress is agonizingly slow.  But I have  

Higher Goals
By Mark Wiertalla

         Later this month iDaughter, Techboy and I are going to run a relay marathon.  Because I’m the somewhat experienced member of our team of five, I volunteered to take the longest segment (seven miles) and most arduous segment (two miles uphill) of the race.  I’ve been training on the weekends for a month and a half by running up the ridge that forms the western border of our valley.  Little by little, my holy trinity of heart, lungs and legs have taught me how to adjust my pace, how to land and push with power, and how to shorten the length of my stride.  In return they have responded to deepen my breathing, pump blood with more force, and build muscle from the waist down in places that allow hills to be conquered.

         On this morning, a glorious Saturday in early spring, the Jeep and I make a 9 a.m. docking in the parking lot at the base of the ridge.  My running watch is tightly clasped around my right wrist.  The time says “1:13,” which is the round-trip time for my previous assault upon the 500-foot elevation and return to the park entrance.  On this day I have two goals.  One, better my previous time to the picnic table that sits at the top of the ridge and, two, add at least a mile of flat running along the ridge from the point of my previous best distance.  I reset the time piece to “0:00”, breathe in two lungs full of resolve, hit the start button, and take the first step up.

         Training the mind to think of anything but pain is a critical skill for any physical challenge.  At this very moment, two of my teammates (iDaughter and Techboy) are running the hills along Vallejo Street in San Francisco, enroute to their own personal monster known as the Lyon Street steps.  I think about them, running towards their own personal goals.  Techboy; his very first race and training for his five-mile segment; iDaughter; taking the first step towards her first real marathon in the Fall.  Both of them running toward marriage, and doing it together.

         I trudge past a point of significance on the trail.  Several months ago, during our Sunday morning walk with Sparky the Dog, my wife and I met a runner going upward at a painfully slow pace.  He was much younger than I, and I remember thinking at that time, “what a doofus.”  Little did I know that he was showing me one of the stages that this doofus would also pass through.

         The trail makes a long, sweeping switchback, and my mind switches to the Bay to Breakers race.  Two years ago, I trained for several months so I could best the Hayes Street hill, a stretch of five city blocks in the middle of the course that separates the men from the costumes.  Now, halfway up to the clouds, it occurs to me that the physical challenge that seemed like a monster at the time – just like this monster – was only a monster because of the fear that my mind granted it.  I look at my watch during a quick break that allows the interchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide to transition back to my favor.  I must be leaving scorch marks along the trail … I can’t believe the pace that I’ve been setting.

         I meet a woman, about my age, who is headed downhill and we exchange a runner’s salute.  I don’t know how far she has run this morning, but I do know how she got up the hill.  I’ve already saturated my running shorts, my shirt and my Detroit Red Wings cap with sweat.  She’s lithe and energetic.  I wonder if I will ever make running look that easy.

         I pass the point where I surrendered on my initial run, many weeks ago, when I had to sit down on a patch of wet grass and heave for ten minutes before I could regain the strength to get back to the Jeep. Today it’s become just another milestone that I’ve recycled for another, newer goal.  The rise continues for about 25 yards past the point, and I take another short, 30-second breather.  I take stock of the temple.  The knee that I injured playing softball still feels solid and strong.  No hot spots on the feet, especially on that second toe where, if I’m not paying attention, the big toe will overlap it and chafe it to the point of blister.  My lungs quickly recover and confirm, “Okay, we’re still good.”  I look up the trail and see the final hill, the one that hoists the picnic table up toward the sky.  I’m almost there, but I have to run the gauntlet of grazing cattle along the trail and make one more painful climb.

         The final stretch of trail is only a hundred yards long, but the incline is probably 30 degrees.  To use backpacking terms, this is a “buttkicker.”  Despite my penchant for assigning nicknames to people and things, I haven’t christened it yet for running; I haven’t been able to coin a humorous catchphrase for “agony.”  I just put my head down and push up off my toes, just like I’m climbing really steep stairs.  My progress is agonizingly slow.  I look up about every three or four breaths, just to confirm that I’m not there yet.  My calves threaten to tear.  My heart pounds faster.  Harder.  I have an eyewash of sweat and it stings.  My hat just can’t wick it away fast enough.  And then finally a step comes easy.  And another.  I reach the picnic table, throw off my running belt and pull off the top of my water bottle so the flow isn’t restricted.  I suck in gulps of water in between gasps for life.  My watch tells me that I have shaved a full ten minutes off my previous time.  Great, I’ve achieved one of the day’s two goals.

         From the valley floor, the horn for the Union Pacific echoes its way up the ridge.  I hear it and think that my wife is at home, counting the trains that have passed by La Casa dei Sogni since I left, and she’s caching the train kisses for when I return.  The thought causes a smile.  The involuntary reaction rejuvenates me and refreshes my stamina.  For the first time I look farther up the trail, past this point that has been my goal, but also my limit.  I thought I’d be adding some flat miles to my training regimen today.  But the ridge has set a higher goal for me.  I see a point farther along the trail, perhaps a mile distant, and I decide that it represents my new objective.  And just like life’s challenge of maintaining a regimen for health, my new goal is uphill … all of the way.

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April 2008
 
I let go of the safety of my parent’s teachings and I stretched out to grasp

A New Way of Thinking
By Mark Wiertalla

         My parents views of money were simple: Work hard, save what you can along the way, and build a good pension.  And in the end, Social Security rides in on a golden horse with a green mane to help you maintain your quality of life.

         For most of our marriage, my Wife R2V2 has handled the household finances and I remained blissfully unaware of my personal wealth and cash flow.  In fact, for most of those years I couldn’t even recite the size of my bi-weekly take-home paycheck.  But I was working hard, saving in company plans and counting on her to put a little more aside when the opportunity presented itself.  

         A couple of years ago, about the time that Wife R2V2 and I were unconsciously beginning the transition into empty nesthood, we attended a weekend seminar called “The Wealthy Mind.”  This was clearly her idea.  I went along with an attitude of  “Ah, what the hell. I might learn something.”  One of the activities in the training was for me to respond to a fairly lengthy questionnaire and then discuss my responses with my partner.  It wasn’t a test in the classic sense, so there were no right or wrong answers and no consequences.  The only objective of the questionnaire was to reveal my attitudes about money and wealth.  I remember very little else about the seminar other than this question:

    Fill in the blank: People with money are …
    My answer was: Careless.

         From the perspective of a work-hard-and-save-what-you-can mentality, frivolous spending is wasteful.  Frivolous spending is disrespectful of the hard work that created the wealth.  Frivolous spending has no purpose and is senseless.  Yadda, yadda, yadda.

         As I described – or rather, defended – my point of view on money and wealth, I had an honest-to-god epiphany.  And when we get right down to it, folks, epiphanies don’t really happen all that often.  This one has reshaped the way I think and behave. And please don’t ask me to describe how I moved from one side of the wealth debate to the other.  It wasn’t a logical transition.  I just know that in that instant I let go of the safety of my parent’s teachings, balanced myself on a wire that was probably a thousand feet above my life and stretched out to grasp a new way of thinking that had always been just beyond my fingertips and out of my reach.

         When I think about it from the other perspective, people with money are able to use it to increase their own life experiences.  They use it to enable more opportunities to meet interesting people.  They use it to increase the quality of life in the years that they have yet to live.  People with money are more able to share it with others and improve the quality of life for others around them.  And … people with money are more able to work smarter instead of working harder.

         Aha.

         This revelation was the catalyst that thrust me into action.  I started with a mental evaluation of my behavior, the evaluation process going something like this:

    Admit that I’m just not very savvy about money and finances.  The ballots are all in, and it’s unanimous.  I’ve been elected King Stupid.
    Decide if it’s a weakness that I can live with.  Perhaps.  But my wife can’t live with it, and I can’t live without her.
    If I can’t live comfortably with the weakness, then do something about it.

         This process resembled the classic steps addressing a self-destructive addiction.  In the special little world of Empty Nest Dad, my addiction had been financial ignorance. After all, what I don’t know can’t hurt me.  Fortunately, I decided that, yes, indeedy, this was going to come back to hurt me in a very bad way and with long-lasting, nasty consequences that I didn’t want to think about.  If not at the time of retirement, then sooner.

         So I opened a checking account with
only my name on it.  I had my bi-weekly take-home paycheck deposited directly, and I forced myself to develop the discipline to maintain the account regularly.  I started to pay my credit cards monthly and then I developed a plan to pay them off.  I developed a budget and a savings plan.  The savings plan had a goal and a purpose: build a critical mass and invest it so it would grow at a faster pace than traditional savings accounts.  And when I finally hit my goal and the plan said, “Time to invest,” then I had to learn how to invest.  Recently Wife R2V2 and I have attended investment classes for stocks and options, and I’m poised to gamble just a little bit of the present to ensure a better future.  I’m less than two years into this transition to financial competence, and I don’t know where this road leads me next (if you give a mouse a cookie ...).  But I do know that I am at the cusp of getting my money to work hard for me, instead of the other way around.

         Work hard and save.  Mom and Dad, that’s been good advice and, with it, I’ve been able to live well, raise children to adulthood and care for my family.  But it’s good advice for a different goal than the one I have now.  The nest is empty.  Now it’s time to live larger.

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March 2008

One of the advantages of the empty nest is the opportunity to travel without kids, hence this

Travel Advisory

By Mark Wiertalla

        I’ve written previously about travel-related revelations of empty nesthood.  Wife R2V2 and I have seized the opportunity to leave the “kids” behind and explore the world, and we’ve learned a few things about travel.

        If you’re planning solitary travel, then it’s all about you, baby.  But assuming you have a companion, it’s probably more about your “baby” than it is about you.  And if your baby has a baby, then it’s not even a little bit about you.  If that’s your situation, then I suggest that your first trip should be a visit to the New Dad column.
 
          Finding a destination that maximizes the points where your personal interests intersect with your travel companion’s interests is the real challenge. In order to make this process just a little less contentious, I suggest that you focus first upon the essentials of travel.  Let’s start with food.  Everyone has to eat, and most of us have resigned ourselves to enjoying the experience.  My wife and I have adventurous palates so, if the waiter has to explain to us how it should be eaten, then we call that a “good” travel experience.  But some of us need visual reminders of the familiar in order to venture out of the nest and experience the world.  If you need to see the Golden Arches in order to stir the old salivary glands to life, then I’d suggest Muskogee … or maybe Tijuana, Mexico.   

          Speaking of Tijuana, we should talk about water for a moment.  Don’t take it for granted.  Prior to my trip to India, I was cautioned to drink only processed water (we know this better by its Latin name, beer), eschew fresh fruits and vegetables because they have been washed with untreated water, and brush my teeth
only with boiled water.  I can verify that this will help you avoid developing persistent dysentery, or the other popular sub-continental malady, explosive diarrhea.  And if you can avoid eating, breathing or shaking hands, that would be a good strategy, too.  Unfortunately for this empty-nest dad, I have an adventuresome palate.  I recommend a pre-travel cocktail of vaccinations administered by your favorite healthcare barista.  Oh, and a gastro-intestinal prophylactic is a good idea, too.

          Language is another travel qualifier.  I learned some basic Italian before my wife and I visited Italy.  Using even the simplest Italian enhanced the experience for both of us.  Especially our last night in Rome, where there was no English to be found in the pizzeria.  And I’ve learned that sign language – like pointing at clocks and holding up fingers in order to purchase train tickets – is a commonly understood language in Japan.  But if you need to see a menu written in English, then I’d suggest London.  Although the food choices in the pubs get olde pretty quickly, the ale is room temperature and, when you’re pissed, it’s not difficult to find the loo.

          Consider transportation for a moment.  Wife R2V2 and I prefer to explore on foot.  Or train or trolley or bus or whatever the locals use.  To us, an automobile is a large and unnecessarily expensive ball and chain.  Cities and culture need to be consumed at a leisurely pace, not in fifth gear.  But if you really need a car in order to feel fully confident and liberated, then I’d suggest the Queens Highway (Canada).  To a citizen of the U.S.A., it’s a foreign country, they drive on the right, there are plenty of fast food signs, and they speak fluent English.  Um, yeah, except for Quebec.  But you can always exit at Toronto and ask for directions to Wendy’s on Younge Street.  Order the Triple. You’ll have more than enough for the drive back to Vancouver.

         Our uniquely individual interests present a challenge … or an opportunity to enhance our negotiation skills.  For example, I really enjoy spending an afternoon in an art galley or museum.  That’s sheer boredom for my wife, akin to watching paint dry.  She has a strong metaphysical leaning that I just can’t connect with, and she wants to go on spiritual retreats and stuff.  If there’s nudity involved then, sure, I’m all for it.  But that always earns me a sniff of reproach.  I love adding a new ballpark or stadium to my long list of places where I can say “I’ve been there;” my wife would rather have teeth pulled without anesthesia.  She likes walking through gardens; I daydream about how large the bottle must be for all that salad dressing.  I recommend that you leave room enough in your travel agenda for personal pursuits.  Just remember that what happens in Amsterdam’s Red Light district doesn’t necessarily stay in Amsterdam’s Red Light district.

         And finally, here is my empty-nest travel recommendation for everyone.  There is no better travel value – and read along with me here, folks – than a cruise.  A cruise has all of the comforts of a hotel, and the high probability that
    (1)  the sheets are clean,
    (2)  the room doesn’t smell, and
    (3)  insects weren’t the tenants previous to you.

All of your meals are included (and don’t roll your eyes at me – I’m not talking about the buffet line).  The average person will eat world-class meals that could easily run upwards of $50 per person at restaurants.  The nightlife and entertainment are outstanding with – get this – no cover charge.  There are single-day commitments to ports of call, but if they don’t appeal, no worries.  You’ll be leaving that evening.  And if it does appeal, like Kauai appealed to my wife and me, then it’s already a familiar destination for a return visit.  There is an incredible choice of shore excursions that can accommodate the adventurous, the inquisitive and the less mobile.  There is an additional price to pay to the tour operator, but the cruise lines offer more options for touring than a person could ever find independently.  The only worry is the budget for the bar bill.  But if you can’t manage a budget, then may I recommend the Mojitos?

Empty Nest News Flash: Twenty-seven years ago, I proposed to Wife R2V2 on Valentine’s Day in her dorm room at Oakland University in Rochester (Cee Oh Ell Dee). Twenty-seven years later, Techboy proposed to my iDaughter underneath the Golden Gate Bridge at sunset for Valentine’s Day.  I’d accuse him of one-upsmanship, but a good son-in-law is worth holding onto.

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February 6, 2008


Empty nesthood presents the opportunity to refocus on the one relationship that started everything; it's a chance at 

Second Love
By Mark Wiertalla

    A friend of mine once said, “Love really is better the second time around.”  She made that statement almost twenty years ago, and this was after her divorce and remarriage.  I viewed my friend’s observation with the logical conclusion of, “Well, of course it’s better the second time around.  If the first marriage wasn’t good, then why would anyone get married a second time unless it was better.”  Duh.

    My wife and I were perhaps only a half-dozen years along our own journey when my friend shared her observation.  So my perspective on the whole second-love concept was formed from only a few years of life experience and a single marriage. Until recently I have always assumed that “second love” is synonymous with
“second marriage.  That’s my analytical self churning logically away in its comfortable little happy space, a whitewashing of all the complexities of second love with a broad brush stroke of “It’s all very simple, really.”  I’ve written previously about some of the challenges that empty nesthood can present.  Breaking out of old behavioral patterns and redefining a relationship is one of those challenges.  So twenty years later, this “Duh!” would be for me.

    But I have learned that empty nesthood also presents opportunity.  With the children on their own, my wife and I have learned to refocus on the one relationship that started everything.  In a way we’ve gone almost all the way back to the beginning when it was just us and the Murphy bed and a few bills to pay.  We’ve learned to sift through all the years of ingrained and mindless habits, outdated roles, pleasing and painful memories, and burdens and joys of parenthood.  The trappings of hard-edged, foul-tasting hulls have been thrown to the wind.  They are our hulls, and I suspect that the wind may bring them back from time to time if we’re not vigilant.  But the good times and the good memories and the lessons learned have floated through our sieve to form a fine, delicate, shimmering mound of high-quality flour that represents the very best of our former life, the very best ingredient for making something new and wonderful and sweet.

    This month, the month of hearts and flowers and jewelry and love and, occasionally, marriage proposals, I’d like to confirm that love really is better the second time around.  For those wondering “What does second love look like?” I’ve created a partial inventory:

         An afternoon stroll down a main street
         Dance lessons
         A cruise
         Pole dancing (bonus points if it’s in front of your daughter’s friends)
         A $30 beer, where price is inflated by casual ‘shopping’
         A Sunday-morning hike up to the best vantage point over the valley
         A weekend for two at a clothing-optional resort
         A small celebration of a new home with a kiss every time a train goes by (warning – may lead to perpetually chapped lips!)
         A walk downtown for dinner
         Risqué Halloween costumes
         A surprise abduction at the train station
         A sushi dinner during Friday-night concerts in the park
         A Father’s Day hike through our very own palm oasis
         A warm, sunny Sunday-morning breakfast in a new kitchen

    This second love-thing is like having a second, upgraded wife – a kind of Wife Release 2, with a minor version thrown in every once in a while, just a little something to fix a few minor bugs.  And you know what?  This one is a lot more fun than the last model – a little more trusting and more accepting of me.  And worth all of the investment.

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I am Mark Wiertalla

by Mark Wiertalla

        I have never thought much about what I would call myself if I had the choice, and I’ve learned this pen name thing is pretty tough. It’s a good thing my parents had the foresight to solve that problem for me. Eventually I’d like to find an Italian-sounding name. That would be cool and kind of sexy and a good fit for me. Or perhaps a combination of the street that I grew up on, my mother’s maiden name, and the name of my favorite pet. That might be clunky, but it would be less likely to be registered as a domain name. It was easier choosing names for my children. At the advice of my editor, I’ll stick, for now, with the name that I brought to the dance.

        I’m a product manager for a software company in the Silicon Valley. I’m not a writer by profession or by training, but I can rationalize my qualification to write a column because in business I’m always communicating through keyboards, flat panels and overhead projectors. I’ve written a couple of novels. There is a significant difference between a good novel and a boring novel, and I like to assess my novel-things as a quality between good and boring; let me use the word creative. During the last two Novembers I participated in the National Novel Writing Month contest and, after producing 50,000 words within the span of only 30 days on two successive occasions, I emerged a winner. My work so far has been exclusively fiction and for mature audiences. (We won’t be seeing any of that work here.)

         I’m the father of three children. My wife claims that she has always been faithful and, because each of the kids appears to bear the burden of my family’s gene pool, I’ll assume that I am indeed their father. For those of you reading this profile on government-issued desktop computers, rest assured that this status is consistent with each of my tax returns over the last 25 years. But I am only certified and qualified to hold this conversation with you because I am also a dad. There is a critical difference between fatherhood and dad-dom. It only takes a single successful sperm cell to achieve father status. However, dad-dom requires more than basic physical biology, and I’ll be writing in this column about the soft skills and the lifelong commitment to the prime objective. The prime objective, by the way, is to create and nurture children into the kind of adults who will buy a street sheet for a dollar and use Ralph Waldo Emerson’s definition of success as a guiding principle in their lives.

         Each of my children is an adult, currently ranging in age from 19 to 25. Two of them – girls, both – have left home. The oldest works in The City (San Francisco to those of you that don’t live in the San Francisco Bay area), and she keeps an apartment with a girlfriend in an East Bay suburb. The second is a senior at Sacramento State and works full-time to cover the rent for her Sacramento apartment. While there is evidence that the third is still boarding at La Casa Dei Sogni with my wife and me (wet towels on the floor of the guest bathroom, laundry baskets overflowing with young male clothing staged outside of the laundry room, etc.), he works full-time and comes and goes on a schedule that only the energy of a nineteen-year-old can sustain.

        The general theme that will carry through my columns is my life in an empty nest. My intent is to avoid the warm, nostalgic “I remember when” stories (everyone has their own versions, anyway) and focus instead on my fatherhood experience in the moment. I’ll write about how my life has changed – and continues to change – as I transition from an active, full-time nest keeper to the role of consultant dad.

        Another character on my real-life stage is my wife of 26 years. Like me, she is a professional. She has always worked outside the home in some way, and still she has always been the principal homemaker. Cook, seamstress, ambulance driver, cabbie, conductor of the household cacophony. While our children were not latch-key kids growing up, they didn’t come home from school to warm cookies and mom-in-an-apron, either. Early in our marriage I decided that I needed a partner who would continue to grow with me and the best stimulant for growth would be sustained education and interaction with other adults. I learned that lesson from my mother.

        I’ve talked about the who (me, my wife and the kids), what (being an empty-nester), when (in the moment) in this series of columns (where), so now it’s time for the why. First, it’s not about “I want to be a writer.” That was my grandmother’s dream, and one that she realized, by the way. If this were an ill-defined ambition (I’ll try writing), then I would have just resigned myself to writing the next software Product Requirements Document. I’m also not willing to bet my retirement upon a writer’s salary, so this is not going to help me move on to a second career. But I am motivated to express my thoughts within the unfamiliar confines of a non-fictional format.

Writing as therapy. Years ago during a rough period in our relationship, my wife and I learned to express ourselves through diary writing. Frankly, I found diary writing to be as difficult as eating oysters on the half shell. I could get it into my fingers, but there was no way I could finish. Still, the experience helped me learn that, in addition to abuses of my vocal chords, I could release tension – and express joy and laughter, which are just a tad more constructive – through my finger tips. With practice I eventually found my writer’s voice. Writing keeps me balanced and provides me a channel for expression. And it probably keeps me from dumping a boxful of tacks across the parking lot at the train station, too.

Legacy for my family. When I was a teenager, my grandmother wrote a family history in the last years before she died. It was a painfully long outline of who begat whom (BOR-ing), but she wrote it in the face of the ultimate deadline, and I admire that today. Only the immediate family could relate to this type of work, assuming anyone in the immediate family had the patience to read past the prologue. I have a copy of it buried in a carton, stacked under other cartons in the garage, and it will be unearthed after the next great shifting of the Hayward Fault or perhaps after my wife and I finish our move into the new house. The scientists tell me one of these things is very likely to happen in the next 70 years. But I did read it, umm, mostly, about 25 years ago. I’m just a little ashamed to admit that I don’t remember anything about her book. (By the way, a book is the end result of actually publishing a novel. Twenty five years later, she’s still managed to stay one-up on me.) But I do remember thinking, realizing, that her book held half of my family’s history. And it was the only place on the planet where that much information on our family and how I came to be could be found. Twenty five years later, it occurs to me that now is the time for me to take ownership of capturing the essence of my life – all the stuff that represents the way my brain is uniquely wired – and not rely on someone else to perform forensic research several generations from now using Google and Wikipedia. This is the way, through writing this column, that I’ve chosen to reach across the coming years to show my great-great-grandchildren just what kind of man their great-great-grandfather was. Whether they read these columns or bury them at the bottom of an unnamed directory on their C: drive is something I’ll leave for my great-great-grandchildren to determine.

Creative discipline. I enjoy writing. Writing is the process of creating. I’ve found the novel-in-30-days hobby holds me captive in the creative mind. During those 30 days I have more energy, and fewer obstacles in my life seem like obstacles. I am more attuned to the lives and the dynamics of interrelations thriving around me, and I look outward for inspiration. There is a saying – “to think is to create” – and the more time I spend thinking then the less time I spend watching television or listening to an iPod or reading someone else’s novel. I find myself not just asking “what if?” but acting on my passions and desires, defining the “here’s how” and then living my life to its fullest. What I haven’t had (until now) is a schedule for creativity. I expect this column will help me develop that skill.

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