Friday, September 17, 2010

The Ascension

I sometimes teach children at the Anglican church I'm a member of.

(At least I think I'm a member. As long as I don't show up and everyone's wearing the same t-shirt except me, I'm going to call myself a member; if I do show up and everyone's wearing the same t-shirt except me, I'm going to call the cops.)

It's both a wonderful opportunity and a huge responsibility. After all, what could be more important than the care and cure of tiny minds? It was also a chance for me to practice all the things I learned but never applied in my children's librarianship classes. I don't know why, but the attorneys I work for are never interested in my finger puppets.

not even Lita, the legislative history owl

After the initial excitement faded, I realized it was time to get down to brass tacks. I shadowed my buddy Jesse, observing him as he skillfully taught eight children. I knew he was making it look easy, but I could see myself learning. Soon after, I got my official copy of Young Children and Worship. I read the hell out of it, which wasn't easy, as there wasn't much hell in it to begin with.

I should have realized something was amiss when the book described reactions from children I'd never seen before. The kids in the book were from a 1950's Leave it to Beaver reality, constantly awestruck at the smallest thing. Where were the instructions for when a kid swallowed Noah's dove? When a wise man was firmly lodged in a nostril? That seemed like important information.

My first Sunday I was teaching the children about Christ's ascension. The lesson plan in the back of the book explained I'd do this with a candle and some fancy hand gestures, like magic.

Well do you?

It hit me that my first time with the children I'd be using fire. There were no training wheels on the children's church bus, I realized; I had to hit the ground running, and if the class got below fifty miles per hour it would explode.

By the grace of God (literally), I made it through the lesson without setting any children on fire. Probable or not, this was a real concern.

The real problem came during art time when I demonstrated Jesus ascending into heaven. To hammer the point home, I hid the Jesus figure between two yellow foam circles. These were our "creative reflection" materials, and I even had a little lesson about halos in Catholic iconography ready if any of the children that were interested in pre-Raphaelite art pointed it out.

Following my short demonstration, one little lady piped up, "Oh, I get it now! Jesus is the sun!"

I did not intend to turn the pastor's daughter into a member of a sun cult, but I played fast and loose with the craft materials and this is what I got.

This is my God now, daddy!

"No, he's not the sun," I said quickly. Not sure where to go next, I lamely finished, "But he is the son of God. "

The little girl smiled and nodded at my non-sequitur of an answer, her brunette bob shaking as she did so. After all, she was now one box closer to Bingo on her "Outsmart the Sunday School Teacher" scorecard.

Meanwhile, a little boy had skipped the "Jesus" lesson entirely and was consumed by drawing a big chicken. "Big chicken!" he'd shout, working with single minded focus. "Do you like the big chicken?" he asked, holding it up. Before I could reply he shouted "Big chicken!" again and went back to work with scissors.

Children's church eventually came to an end, and I was proud that I got them to walk in a loose single file line back to the sanctuary. They grasped their crafts with nervous hands, excited to show them to their parents. It was a rough first time, but from the smiles of the congregation - and the fact that none of the children were charred, even a little - I gathered that I had done well.

The image of happy Christian children and responsible teacher was only slightly tarnished by the boy at the end of the line, holding a big chicken over his head.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


In my last post, I used the phrase "bear with me." I don't want anyone to think I'm subtly crying out for help because there's a real live bear next to me. That's not the reason for the formatting errors, although that does make a lot of sense. Bears are distracting, and I doubt I could remember what html stands for in the presence of one, let alone employ it. Nevertheless, I'm here to say: no bears! Anywhere near me!

Everyone knows that would be silly.
Like I could outsmart a bear!
Please don't misunderstand.

My blog's problems are all my own fault.
Ease your minds about my personal safety.

Update 09/17 - Hopefully it all looks the same now and no longer drains your will to live.


Fighting with Blogger over formatting. It will, of its own accord, change my chosen font, font size, spacing, paragraph structure, and sometimes it eats pictures just because. Maybe pictures are delicious. I don't know.

Bear with me until I am an html master, at which point I will write the entire thing in code, then punch Agent Smith so hard I jump out of his chest.

UPDATE 09/15: It took me eight tries to get this silly little apology post looking right.

UPDATE UPDATE 11/05: Now I'm going back through and fixing all the other formatting errors. As you can imagine, my life is a non-stop rollercoaster of excitement, riches, and endless fulfillment.

Swimming is Easy - Part II

When I was in high school, I had a dream that my school was underwater, with port holes instead of doors. I swam through the dream school, feeling strangely at home in a nightmare combination of my least favorite things. Upon waking, I felt a sense of loss, like phantom limb syndrome. "How can I get back there?" I asked myself.

this is Silent Hill if it were underwater

Later that day, I was hanging out with friends at someone's house. It was a fine summer day, and the stranger's house had a pool.

This should have set off utter panic - I was going to have to take my shirt off in front of girls and get in water; forget underwater high school, this was a real double nightmare. I'd invariably end up clinging to the edge of the pool while they wrestled and everybody that wasn’t me got to kiss.

Before I could re-enroll at the water school, everyone but my friend Bryan and I ran to get swimsuits from another house. Bryan, it's pertinent to note, wanted to be a Navy SEAL more than anything in the world. He was on the pre-BUD/S training program, and had calf muscles like he stuffed baseballs in his socks. A truck hit him one day while he was mowing grass and he finished the yard.

I had decided I'd swim in basketball shorts, and Bryan was already in the pool. I stood at the edge of the pool. It had been years since I'd almost drown. I had my chip and my sponsor was proud.

...but my dream felt so real! Deep down, some part of me knew how to swim! It's like Walt Disney said, "If you can dream it, you can do it."

I backed up about five feet, held my breath, and took a running leap into the deep end.

Walt Disney is a liar.

The water swallowed me like a hungry hungry hippo. Gone was the effortless grace I had in my dream; instead, I flailed my arms and legs like retarded propellers. I managed not to immediately sink, bobbing up and down. I knew what came next, though.

"Bryan!" I desperately shouted. There was no response, even though I could clearly see him swimming ten feet away.

"Bryan!" I shouted again, louder and more insistent.

Water lazily flowed in my mouth as I shouted, in no great hurry; like a spider, the water would wait until I tired myself before striking.

I managed another "Bryan!", and then a "Brarhrhgh", and then only incoherent noises.

As I sank, I stared at the sun. Filtered by several feet of water, it was a beautiful, incoherent brilliance. I thought about how life had been recently - getting along with my parents, going to dances, finally having a girlfriend - and mentally sighed.

"Things were going so well," I thought, feeling my body go numb. (If I die, feel free to put that on my grave.) 

Peacefully reconciled to drowning, I was shocked by the violence of the next few moments. I tumbled through the water, spinning, and was thrown halfway out of the pool. I turned to see Bryan, confusion in his eyes. "Are you okay?" he asked, followed by "Can you breath?" I nodded, vomiting up water as I did so. "What happened? Did you hit your head?"

"I can't swim," I explained, covering up my shame by pretending to wipe water from my eyes. When I didn't hear a response, I turned to look at him.

"But I saw you jump in..." he said; his eyes were those of a Lovecraft protagonist's at the climax of the story. There was a moment when we were both silent, and Bryan fiercely contemplated the middle distance.

yep, this makes as much sense as what I did

"At first I thought you were messing with me,” he finally said. “You know, 'Oh no Bryan, come save me because you want to be a Navy SEAL.' I ignored you, but then the 'Bryans' got fewer and farther between. When I saw you on the bottom I knew you weren't screwing around."

In an alternate universe, poor Bryan Mk. 2 spent his whole life with the guilt of letting me drown because he thought it was a prank. If I have a mutant talent, it's the ability to ruin multiple lives in one go.

When everyone got back they had changed their minds, deciding to see a movie with some other friends. I bowed out, intending to go home and contemplate what exactly was wrong with me.


By now you might be asking, "Why didn't your parents sign you up for real swim lessons? With someone that’s not a lunatic?”

The answer is that when the thought finally occurred to them, I had the same reaction to the words "pool" and "swim" that normal kids do to "dentist" and "rape machine."

rape machine is currently in prototype

Also, my dad had his idea of how you learned to swim, informed by my grandfather's decision to make son stew at the lake. When that didn't work, I was defective, not the process. My mom, already overprotective, listened to my stories of watery woe with wide eyes; she installed a lock on the sink and bought me floaties for the bath tub.

On the other hand, my younger brother got swim lessons. He got them when he was barely five, as my stepmom feared he would happen by a puddle and fall in. It's all part of the great disparity for middle children - we are sandwiched between the progenitor older sibling and the baby of the family, who robs a liquor store and we somehow get blamed for it.

"Didn't any of your friends try to teach you to swim?" you ask, desperately clawing for a piece of the rational universe you were raised to believe in.

Once again, by the time anyone sensible (read: not my family) tried to teach me to swim, it was too late - water had closed over my face like a big, wet hand too many times for me to do anything but spaz out if my feet couldn't touch bottom.

Also, everyone starts with floating. I don't float. Your science words like “density” and “buoyancy” mean nothing to my awkward, awkward body. Once I get in water, I sink like an alcoholic's sobriety at a Catholic wedding. “Floating” just means giving up and letting the water know it's won.

like this


One summer, I went with a friend and his family to Myrtle Beach. After a day spent body surfing in the ocean - close to the shore, mind you - my friend, his family and I were relaxing in the hotel pool.

Scott, my friend's older brother, asked why I never learned to swim. I gave him an abbreviated version of this whole Aeschylean tragedy, and he asked me to try floating again. We went back and forth, discussing why that was a bad idea, but I finally gave in, like I do. Like I always do.

To his credit, he agreed to put his hands under me so I didn't die. After watching me try a few times, he sided with the whole of recorded history. "You don't float," he said; then, he furrowed his massive brow and asked, "Have you tried doggy paddling?"

"Doggy...paddling?" I asked, confused. My head may have instinctively tilted to one side.

Scott knew I would flail my arms like a windmill as soon as water got above my head, so he taught me a constructive way to flail. I learned to use my arms as life saving devices, instead of shovels frantically digging for ruination.

Soon I was swimming all around the pool, looking at Scott like he was a wizard. In the end, all it took was a little out of the box thinking - and possibly the dark arts - to end the nightmare flowchart.

Since that proud day, I've not forgotten the mechanics of how to swim. Once a summer, I get in the pool to prove I've still got it.

I also get in the pool to reassure myself that my entire life is not a dreamlike state I experience while my seven year old self drowns. You might think I'd script a perfect life, but this is exactly the kind of shit I'd put myself through.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Swimming is Easy - Part I

Swimming is a simple process, with only two easy steps!

1.) Die.
2.) Reincarnate as something than can swim, like a manatee, or Aquaman.

I got this, lil' bitch

I didn’t learn to “swim” until after I had graduated college, which proved my fears that a swim test was required at every stage of the educational journey completely wrong. (I blame sitcoms.)

My dad tried to teach me to swim, but he tried the way his father “taught” him. The story goes that one day my grandfather rounded my dad and his two brothers up for a day at the lake. They were all around six or seven, and had no experience with water aside from mud puddles, or a few stolen moments with the water hose.

Their enthusiasm lasted until my grandfather marched them to the end of the dock - really just a bunch of wooden boards tied together - and bum rushed them off the edge. They tumbled into the water, and started to flail. When they grabbed the dock, my grandfather bashed their hands while shouting at them to "Swim, goddamn it! Swim!"

Through the miracle of shouting and old timey perseverance, they learned. Now that I'm an adult, I suspect my dad originally had other brothers, but the story was revised to suit the number of survivors.

not pictured: uncles leo through robbie

When I was the tender age of six or seven, it was time for the ancestral right. My family was on vacation at a fancy hotel. There was an indoor pool, and embroiderin' on all them towels.

I was not yet fearful of water, so I played in the kiddie end. My dad was swimming around and guilelessly asked if I'd like a ride. “Sure!” I said.

My eyes grew larger as we cruised past three, four, finally six feet! I knew how tall I was, and I could imagine how many of my floating, lifeless bodies stacked up it would take to reach six feet. It didn’t matter though, because I was on the dad boat, destination: fun!

Then we were at the deep end; to this day, the words fill me with terror. Without warning, without even the tiniest comment, the dad boat became a dad submarine.

He submerged, leaving me as human flotsam.

I didn't immediately drown. I was fuzzy on the mechanics of it, but TV had taught me it went "splash splash sputter die." I managed to tread water for a few hope building seconds; my dad must have watched in pride, knowing he carried genes that were hard coded for aqueous survival.

also, good taste in music

Seconds later, water flooded my every orifice.

I'm not sure how long my hydroviolation lasted, but eventually a kind stranger - the first of a noble breed - pulled me out and laid me gasping on the tiles. "Are you okay?" he asked, and I was too shaken to tell him that I think my dad tried to kill me. Instead, I sputtered a watery thanks and sulked back to the hotel room. "You'll get the hang of it next time, son," my dad said.

How wrong he was.


Flash forward a couple of summers. I was somewhere in the neighborhood of nine years old, maybe ten; certainly nowhere near the ghetto of puberty.

One Saturday, my brother and I were forced to visit relatives we denied ever hearing about. To ease our disappointment that we were not spending the weekend with Mario and Luigi, we were told that we could swim in the pool.

At the time, I didn’t "learn" from experiences like human science said I should; I was a constant control group, staring at the buzzer that brings food pellets, hungry and confused. Of course I got in the water - why wouldn’t I, brain damaged thing that I was?

I had a peaceful few minutes in an inner tube, and then I heard my older brother laughing as he pulled me ass over teakettle into the water. I tried not to panic, failed, tried not to panic about the fact that I was panicking, super failed, then gave up and let the water do as it willed. Passive resistance might have brought down British rule in India, but water is infinitely more patient.

there's also the issue of Bengal water tigers

That day, it was one of my cousins who rescued me. From the side of the pool, I listened to the adult’s theories as to why this kept happening to me - most involved my copious "book smarts", but my curious lack of "street smarts"; some postulated I was a "quitter."

As humiliating as that was, the last straw for my dad came during our much beloved first Florida vacation. My memory paints it in the sun bleached colors of a 1960's poolside ad, the women in oversized white sunglasses and one pieces, the men named Rick and Randy.

This time, dad wasn't running his boat trip con; he sat in a deck chair, watching the girls go by. If I remember correctly, and I probably don't, I was the only member of my family in the water. I found my way to a floating haven, a bouncy plastic chaise lounge set adrift. I carefully crawled onto the thin plastic, warm from long hours of sitting in the sun. It was bright, and the pool sparkled like a promise.

I dipped my toes.

I closed my eyes.

I heard "Hey, that's mine!" And then it all went to hell as I was flipped into the water yet again.

Body and brain bitterly divorced once water covered the crown of my head. Brain wanted to think its way out of this; body wanted to start moving and figure it out later. Neither wanted to cede custody of will, and the battle raged on as I drowned.

I made a noise somewhere between a choke and a scream, and my dad slowly looked over. "Ooooooh," he thought, synapses as ponderous as glaciers, "he's in the waaaater again. Maybe todaaaaay's the daaaaaaaaaaaay." My screams were then choked off by that invasive bastard water, and down I went.

A tall man with dark brown hair strode into the water, picked me up, and laid my stupid body beside the pool. He was the father of the boy who pushed me off my aquatic throne. On his way to chastise his son, he noticed I wasn't surfacing.

The next morning, the tall man brought a floating raft to our hotel room. It could have held three of me, and looked like nothing more than a series of giant Otter Pops glued together. My family thanked him, and my dad held the pool toy awkwardly while looking right at me.

enjoy the cool, refreshing taste of not death

After years of misspent efforts, he had finally gotten tired of other people saving me - he wisely gave up on the whole swimming venture. I smartly decided to stay away from water for the rest of my life, finally having learned something.