Archive for May, 2010

In memory of my dad

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

Today is the 15th anniversary of my dad’s death. One of the first things that comes up when I talk about him is the addiction that killed him, but I try to remember him as a whole person, not just an alcoholic.

I only remember him ever giving me two pieces of advice:

  1. Always have a firm handshake
  2. Always keep a good sense of humor

They’re both good pieces of advice, but the second one is something I really try to live by. I aspire to never take myself so seriously that I can’t laugh about something juvenile. I remember him as having a consummate love for fart jokes. In kindergarten I got both of us in trouble when I re-told one to my teacher.

Another time we got in trouble with my mom for jumping in my crib. We thought it was hilarious even after it broke. My mom was understandably less amused. The part that really stayed with me is laughing riotously with my dad even after we got in trouble. It’s that sense of mischief and joy that I really want to remember about him.

When I was your age, we wrote everything longhand

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010

I recently went to a classroom to watch a bunch of first and second graders interact with the software I work on. I’d only been working there a couple weeks, so my contributions were really very minimal, but that’s beside the point.

I hadn’t been in a second grade school since was about that age some two decades ago. In those days, most of the class artwork on the walls consisted of handmade crafts and stories demonstrating our best handwriting. While this classroom featured the requisite construction paper crafts, all the students’ writing was typed.

The kids had handwritten sentences the day before, and their assignment was to type it out and illustrate it on the software we’d built. Our job was to take note of anything that really seemed to work or not work. I had my spiral-bound notebook folded over so that the page full of hand-written notes were visible to anyone who might be looking up from the floor. Since I was in a room full of short people, I suppose it was inevitable that someone would take notice.

“I don’t see many people write like that,” the observant party announced.
“Wow! That’s a lot of writing! Did you write all that?” his friend inquired.
“I did. When I was your age,” I was pretty tickled to be able to say that to someone in a non-facetious manner, “we didn’t have computers, and everybody wrote like this.”
The friend’s jaw hit the floor. The observant party was nonplussed. “My mom already told me that.”

Hopefully that kid never hears about typewriters or it’ll take some of the shine off that story.

Touched with Fire by Kay Redfield Jamison

Sunday, May 2nd, 2010

I recently finished reading Touched with Fire by Kay Redfield Jamison whose subtitle, “Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament” is an apt description.

She devotes nearly a hundred pages to genealogies and histories of famous artists she believes were manic depressive. Although some of them were interesting, the general concept didn’t interest me as much as it apparently interested her. The highlight of the book is a story from the life of Lord Byron (page 168-169):

In fall 1807, having been told that regulations would not allow him to keep his dog at Cambridge, he acquired a tame bear – there being no rule forbidding bears – and housed it in the turret of his college rooms. His pleasure in the bear, which he walked through the streets of Cambridge, was obvious: “I have got a new friend, the finest in the world, a tame bear, when I brought him here, they asked me what I meant to do with him, and my reply was ‘he should sit in for a fellowship….’ This answer delighted them not.”

What I really wished, was that before either book was written, the authors of this book and Seized (Eve LaPlante) had sat down together and had a long chat. Seized describes Gershwind Syndrome and a potential relationship between Temporal Lobe Epilepsy and manic depression. Each author diagnoses Vincent Van Gogh with the disease they write about. Both books were released in 1993, so neither was available for the other to consult, but as a person who had read both, I would have loved to hear the authors discuss how Manic Depression, Epilepsy and creativity might be related.