Closing an Open Book

The hardest lesson that I’m learning in my life right now is to keep others’ concern for privacy above my own desire for transparency. In many ways, this shouldn’t be difficult for me—I already have to compartmentalize a lot of things for work. [Example: I’ll tell you who I work for and what I do, and I’ll even point to media coverage of our work, but past that, I have to be very tight-lipped as a professional courtesy.] But when it comes to personal things, I’m typically quite open, as you might expect if you’ve been reading things I’ve written on the Internet for any length of time.

Why this is hard for me to do is irrelevant. It’s important for me to do it to keep from continuing to hurt people that I love and care about deeply. I’ve betrayed some confidences lately in ways I didn’t consider [at the time] to be all that closely held. I’m now quite clear that I was wrong about that. Knowing that I’ve caused pain in this situation … well, any words I’d have for it aren’t quite adequate to the task.

I guess it’s important to say that, as much as I can, I’ll be open about me. But I’ll have to be closed about other things, and I’ve got to learn to do that well. It’s vitally important.

My Best Moments

The best moments in my life are when I operate without a net.

True admissions here:

  1. I only applied to one university, my alma mater. I had my Mississippi State application virtually finished, but I never sent in the paper signature that would have seen me fully enrolled. [MSU ignored this and still offered me a scholarship package that would have essentially paid me a few grand a year to go to school.] I visited here once, knew it was the right place, and that was it. [I’ve told that story here before, and hopefully I’ll link it when I’m finished re-shuffling the deck chairs.
  2. I never went on a job interview coming out of college. The only engineering job interview I’ve ever had was as a co-op in the summer of 1999. I got a couple cold calls my last semester in college, but I knew I wanted to work for Teledyne and I knew my boss wanted me.
  3. I talk a lot about how I did these searches for my churches, but honestly … I’ve only attended services in two United Methodist Churches in the greater Huntsville area, and I have been a member of them both.

I’ve wondered why I do this. I don’t generally engage in risky behaviors. I waited until I was 28 to buy the sports car, and it’s not like I fly around driving it at high speeds all the time. Okay, sure, I charge up Bankhead Parkway at 55 if there’s no traffic, but that’s it. It’s not like these are impulsive decisions that I make. [Okay, some of the time they are. Hush, Mom.] But I just … seem to have this intuition for what is right for me, and when I go, I go all out. The upshot of this is that I often have large periods of life of what seems like inaction, because I’m waiting for The Next Thing I Must Rush Headlong After. I mean, I enjoy my life when I’m not in dogged pursuit, but man … when I’m all in, there is nothing like it.

Nothing like it at all.

Of course, it’s pretty great that I have a very good track record of these things. It takes a while to marshal up the forces, because it’s so draining, but I can bring them to bear.

And so I have.

Will You Hold the Light for Me?

Five years ago, my life changed. Sure, our lives are changing all the time, and small, seemingly inconsequential steps are, in retrospect, life-altering things. Call it a butterfly effect if you will—beauty coming out of chaos.

Five years ago, I was single. Still am. Then I was 23 and fresh from college. I was pining after this girl—she’s all over my writings online from 2002, in ways that seem hard to believe now. [Like, I really thought the Internet needed to know all that? Really?] The week after I graduated from college, I got the royal stiff-arm, and well, I sought solace in a song from Caedmon’s Call: “Table for Two“, Derek Webb’s classic ode to singleness for Christian males in their mid-20s. None of that really matters all that much, and okay, maybe you don’t follow those links, huh? 😉

Anyhow. I distinctly remember the first time I saw [caedmonscall.net]: it was in searching for the lyrics for Tf2. At the time, I remember seeing a link for a forum of fans, but … well, I was leery of it. But come 1 Sep 2002, I dove in—because it was a slow day at work. [As I spent today doing a top-level review of hardware builds by our company in our general product category, I don’t know how I had slow days back then—but I had ’em.] I got hooked in pretty quick—by that winter, that community of people largely replaced the community of people that I interacted with in college. Sure, I still hung out with my roommates, but the community space that Bryan Allain built for Caedmon’s Call fans spoke to me. Heck, I gained awareness of Calvinism for the first time there. [Unlike many thinking Christians who come from a non-Calvinist tradition and come across my Reformed brothers, I didn’t buy their arguments. I do think, however, that they made me a better Methodist because they caused me to re-evaluate why I believed what I believe.]

Well, you know me. I can never leave well enough alone. I offered to help Bryan out with technical details, and suddenly … well, suddenly I was part of Bryan’s volunteer staff. It wasn’t something that I really sought out. I just fell into it. And then that Derek guy left the band for a while, and things hit this whole other level. We got to publicly break that news first [although lots of fans knew long before I did, because they were and are closer to the band than I’d ever hope or deserve to be], and from there, things just became … well, more important to me. What started as a time-killer became, well, a minor obsession. I quickly went from being the chicken at breakfast to the pig.

Of course, all that is preamble. As I’ve said, that community became terribly important to me for a while. It’s far less so now—I stepped back a year or two ago from day-to-day running the forum, although I still am the systems administrator for the server [with all the pain that causes me]. I was having that discussion with one of the few people with whom I am still close last week, and she mentioned that most friendships seem to have lifespans. I wanted to argue with her, but I think that she’s right. [She usually is, although I rarely want to admit it, and she rarely holds it over me when I do.]


Where the hell am I going with all of this? Well, okay, I’m name-checking a new song off of the CD with this entry’s title: “Hold the Light“. [Wanna hear it? I released an MP3 of it last night.] What always really gets to me is the bridge:

Standing round a willow weeping
We’re praying in the backyard
And the chill of the night, the friendship light reminded me
Who we are

I first heard the song in the context of my trip with Doug to Ohio in May. As he noted, we met up with Andy O then, and Andrew played us some Overdressed tracks and some of his Letters to the Editor, Volume I tracks before giving me a copy of the CD. “Hold the Light” is what struck me on my first listen, and it’s what does to this day: because it’s about a community of people gathering together to share good times, bad times, joys, and sorrows. Acquaintances help you move, and friends help you put your life back together when it’s gone to shit. We’re made for community, and while many in Christendom flail about with what community is, this is it—sharing life together, warts and all.

I’ve gotten a better sense of all of this through the last five years. I’m still learning and growing—and always will be, and will always need it.

10 Years With UAH

I drove through UAH‘s campus today, like I do a few times a week. Typically I’ll drive around campus during or after eating lunch; I work right across the street, and well, the school holds a special place in my heart.

I first visited campus in the summer of 1996. Mom and I had planned two trips for me to visit colleges, based on the (grossly little for the amount of importance it truly had, if I am honest with myself) research I had done into prospective colleges. My plan was simple: two trips, visiting two schools each. I was interested in five universities overall, ranked as follows:

  1. The University of Illinois
  2. The University of Missouri-Rolla
  3. The University of Alabama in Huntsville
  4. The University of Tennessee
  5. Mississippi State University

State was my safety school: it had the major I wanted [although not the emphasis I was interested in] and would more than pay for itself. Honestly, I was interested in Illinois and Rolla because they were far away from home. UT interested me only because I was born there and thought that I’d enjoy going to a SEC school.

Our first visit was to UT and UAH. We drove out early to Knoxville and visited with two of my dad’s old cadets, who’d married and had kids and all that rot. They’re the cadets my folks talk about the most when they reminisce about our Knoxville years. I had a good time that night, but when I visited the department the next day, it was all wrong: poor computers, old books, etc. It was not on the cutting edge. I left there having mentally crossed them off of my list; I was only interested in their scholarship offers in an effort to extort more money out of potential suitors. [See also: how I used Mississippi State to get more money out of UAH.]

Our next stop was, of course, my now-alma mater. Despite the trip being hosed up eight ways from Sunday—I brought us into town down a route that is an hour longer than the most efficient, so we were late and there were all sorts of issues getting checked into the dorm for the night—something clicked. I’ve never really been able to express what it was that I felt—or what it was that I still feel, honestly—but it felt right. After a great visit the next day, I was sold. On the way home, I told Mom that we could forget the other trip. I’d found my top choice. I don’t remember what we spent the money she’d saved up for that trip on instead, but it was something worthwhile.

Anyhow, not long after that trip, I was accepted to UAH—yes, a full year before I graduated from high school. [As I remember it, they had to key things into the system to note that I’d start fall 1997 rather than 1996; subsequently working in Admissions that next year, I understood. It was a screwy system.] I tried to get other friends of mine to come with me, but I ended up being the only member of my graduating class there. [Alternatively, 25+ members of my class went to State.]

There were times when it looked like we weren’t going to be able to comfortably afford UAH, but in the end, some really good days taking standardized tests were paired with my hard work in school and I went to school pretty much only having to pay room and board. Mom made me a deal: she and Dad would pay for the first two years, but after that, I was on my own. I paid a lot more for my education than my parents did in the long run, because I went another three years and all that. They helped me out a fair bit with money and more than my fair share of moral support. But the taxpayers of Alabama are really who put me through school. Thanks, y’all. 🙂

As I drove through campus at lunch, I realized that today is the ten-year anniversary of the day I moved to Huntsville. I have lived in this area longer than anywhere else in my life, and it’s the first place that I chose to live independent of my family. [Yes, I’d left to go to school in Columbus prior to that, but I was restricted to being there because I was a Mississippi resident.] I have, at times, regretted coming here, but that’s when I thought that I was headed in the wrong direction. I think that I’m mostly headed in the right direction now.

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been here for ten years. It doesn’t seem like it’s been that long, but then there are many new things on campus since I started:

  1. A new University President.
  2. Two new dormitories.
  3. The University Fitness Center.
  4. Greek Housing.

I was but one voice of many in arguing for all of these things [save replacing Frank Franz; I love Frank] as a student. It’s great to see UAH making great progress as we go forward into the future. I was at UAH at a great time to be a student there, and it’s getting better every year.

I’m proud. To be. A U-A-H Char-ger.

On Racism

Stephen wrote eloquently about racism earlier this week in support of International Blog Against Racism Week, and the further I get away from my comment in reply, the more self-frustrated I get.

I still think my best experience in life when it comes to race relations was living on a white-minority hall at MSMS for a year. I did a lot of listening that year.

I guess what I needed to say—and didn’t—is that I learned a lot by shutting up. I need to do that a lot more.

The other thing that got me to really thinking recently was watching the first six hours of Eyes on the Prize. I don’t know why it didn’t hit me at any level other than intellectual before, but as I watched, I realized: “The decade I value most as a fan of space history and the decade to be most valued in bringing about civil rights change are one and the same.” It helped me to realize that all these important events in our nation’s history—truly starting us down the path of equality—just weren’t that long ago. When I think about that, it gives me pause. What it drives home is a very simple message: these changes started not long ago, and we are still feeling the first- and second-order effects. Our racial rifts in this country formed over a couple of centuries, and four decades is not going to erase that collective memory. It’s a start. We have to keep walking … together.

15 Years Later, Maybe I Figured It Out

Last night, I broke out Eric Clapton’s Unplugged. At the time, I tweeted, “Breaking out Eric Clapton’s /Unplugged/. You may hate it, but this was 1992 for me.” As I listened to “Lonely Stranger”, I had a memory and a revelation. The memory: I had a line from the song, “Some will say that I’m no good / Maybe I agree / Take a look then walk away / That’s all right with me” in my MSMS application essay until Mom made me take it out. She had my best interests at heart, to be sure—I didn’t need to be the cocksure kid who didn’t care if he got into MSMS or not. [After all, they were really interested in taking kids who wanted to be there, because it was so damn hard. Honestly, I really wanted to be there, but man, I just didn’t care about shit at that point in my life.]

The realization was simple: I self-identified with “Lonely Stranger” because it was really the first time in my life where I didn’t have anyone close to me. I can count on one hand the number of people from my old high school that I even bother to keep up with anymore—and two of them are married to each other, which makes that easy enough. For people that know me now—the person who networks relentlessly, even putting together two folks a time zone away—you might be really surprised to see me back then. Sure, I was still my talkative self, but I rarely if ever truly engaged with any of those folks. Kari has often expressed some … well, I guess concern … about how I consider my life in Mississippi pre-MSMS from when we’ve talked about it. I think that she’s right to do so, but honestly, I think that a lot of it comes from the fact that I was first depressed there—without realizing it until years later—and so I associate all the crappy, negative stuff about myself with that place, which is neither fair nor healthy.

Off

I feel compelled to explain why I’ve just not made many tracks on the Internet lately, but … I guess that if you’ve followed along, you understand why.

I think that, like the rest of my family, I just feel pretty wrung-out right now. The hard part for me, I think, is that I’m usually such a verbal person, and when not verbal, I write. Words are how I deal with things and how I think things through. [Just yesterday, a colleague of mine—who is, himself, notoriously verbose—asked me to “use shorter sentences”. This was on a teleconference, so the co-worker on my end and I had a good laugh at that.] My way is certainly no better than any other; it’s merely what works best for me.

So when I’m at a point when the words don’t come easily, things are definitely sucking.

I think that part of the issue lies in the fact that I feel like I have to dam a lot of the flood of things going on in my head. I mean, for my brother’s sake, I should shut up and stop verbalizing all this crap, because, on the scale of things, we all know that his life’s been far more rocked than mine. And as with the passing of any family member, the absence of Cindy in our lives merely reveals the flaws in all other relationships, as those relationships become strained as we all struggle to cope with this new existence. But as with many such things, the strain also strengthens things. [You can take the boy out of mechanical engineering, but you can’t take the mechanical engineering out of the boy.]

But in the midst of everything else, well, my sleep pattern is radically off. I put some of that on environment—I never sleep well away from home—but that surely can’t be all of it. All I do know is that my body really struggles to know what time it is right now. [At work, all it knows is that it must be quitting time somewhere.] That’s just sapping anything else that I’ve got going, and it’s making me damnably ineffective at anything I try my hand at. Of course, that’s always a dangerous spiral, because I have this weird conception that, if I’m not any good at something, I just don’t do it. But right now, that’s being a bad negative feedback loop—not coming up to par on anything that I’m doing, I don’t feel like doing anything. And that, well … that’s bad.

So I’m trying to take it a step at a time—writing it out a bit, and also seeking to take some better care of my sleep habits with the idea that being rested will have positive benefits. Here’s hoping. [And if you’re saying, “Yeah, he wrote himself out of this even as he talked about writing out of things,” you’ve gotten the point. This is far more for me than it is for you. It’s probably only for you if you have to put up with me. :)]

An Update on the Jan 2007 Resolutions

Well, I’m officially breaking my make-to-be-broken resolution tonight; I’m behind enough on laundry that I won’t be laying anything out tonight for work. It’ll still be in various states of being laundered when I go to bed [an hour fast approaching, honestly]. In fact, it’s a strong possibility that I’ll be 0-for-3 on the resolutions, but … that’s okay. Doug called Dad and I “my right arm and my left arm, and most days, my right leg and my left leg” the other day. That’s enough for me. Silly resolutions pale greatly in comparison to being there when your family needs you. And boy, did we need to be there.

I take it as a matter of faith that y’all will respect the radio silence around here. I’m still finding words for the thoughts going around in my head. And all this feels very cheap to write, because, well … you know, I’m not Doug right now, who has a far heavier burden to bear. He’s not bearing it alone—thank God for that, quite literally—but it’s a heavy burden.

God? This sucks. But you didn’t promise us a bed of roses.

These Are the Raw Materials

As this entry goes live, it is the southern solstice; in the northern hemisphere, it’s the longest night of the year. In tribute, I’m playing Over the Rhine’s The Darkest Night of the Year.


In writing about the new Over the Rhine Christmas album, Jeff wrote this:

Ten years ago Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist produced a Christmas album, The Darkest Night of the Year, as their band, Over the Rhine, began to dissolve around them. Over the Rhine persisted but the album marked a distinct ending of an era with the departure of guitarist Ric Hordinski and the subsequent construction of a six-piece band.

[Jeff certainly knows OtR’s history better than I do.]

The dissolution of the first era of Over the Rhine is what leads to the album’s character: dark, moody, and plaintive. To quote Linford Detweiler from when I saw OtR in concert earlier this year: “Sad music makes me happy.” It does the same for me. I’ve often sought why this is true for me; the only answer I’ve really come close to with it is that profound expressions of sadness or dismay are rooted in valuing things that we should love and cherish. Great breakup songs must lament good times, whether they’re the 80s power ballad begging the girl to come back or Ben Folds wanting his black T-shirt back (you bitch). You don’t mourn unless the loss has value.


I think that my two favorite tracks off of TDNotY are “Coal Train“, which evokes all the imagery of being in Linford’s childhood country church in southeastern Ohio, having to pause as the coal train comes by, and “Amelia’s Last“. Frost‘s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” brings a sense of scope and purpose to the protagonist’s life at the coming of the solstice: a moment of contemplation before moving along to carry forward. That’s a common sentiment as the end of the Gregorian calendar’s 12th month draws to a close, as we turn weary eyes to a new year.

Similarly, I think “Amelia’s Last” brings a sense of understanding of our place in this world, albeit with a slightly different perspective. Where Frost is quiet and contemplative, Detweiler is troubled and restless; the liner notes comment that “This record is for … anyone wrestling with their own dark angel this Christmas.”

these are the (whose are the?)
these are the raw materials
you and me
these are the (whose are the?)
these are the angels’ inferiors
who
someone breathed this breath in us
“oh amelia, we’ve so far to go
oh amelia”

these are the (whose are the?)
these are the ordinary clothes
you and me
around extraordinary flesh and pulsing madness deep and close
who
someone breathed this breath in us
“oh amelia maybe we’re not that far
oh amelia is this who we really are
my amelia”

Someone breathed this breath in us, and we are in His woods. This is who we really are, and we have miles to go before we lie down our last.