Are we doing enough for Dar? This question haunts us. Now that the year is coming to a close, I can’t help but look back and ask, what were we doing in 2018 when we might have been helping Dar?
Does everyone ask themselves this? Should everyone? I wonder. Despite (because of?) all the overscheduling of these 21st-century kids, I wonder how much of their upbringing is delegated to the schools while we parents pursue our own muses. We tell ourselves that we need to be happy and healthy and fulfilled first, and only after that can we be good parents. And…maybe that’s right. But I wonder.
The happiness-then-work philosophy certainly has the advantage of dovetailing with my life choices up to this point. Lord knows I ventured down other career paths before this one. But at some point I decided I’d be happiest teaching and making and writing about films. And, you know, that may be true. But it also may be that I would have somehow been more fulfilled by doing more for the world, say working for an environmental advocacy group or going to medical school or something more dedicated to directly saving lives. Instead of just making them nice. And how effectively am I doing that, anyway?
What was I doing this year on behalf of making myself a good parent to Dar? Sure, like you, I was insanely busy. But was I insanely busy spinning my Jeep wheels in the mud, or was my vehicle actually going somewhere? Do I need to cut things out of my life, on Dar’s behalf? What would I do differently if I had a million dollars? You know…not much. Besides, I have something better than a million dollars. Namely a supportive wife that makes all of the following possible. Okay, people, that’s enough awwwww-ing. Let’s take a deeper dive into what I’ve done and not done in twenty-eighteen.
“Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” – John Lennon
January: Previously on My Life: my book editor importuned me to hire a third party to do my book revisions. This person finished and I am now re-re-re-editing my book “Blockbuster Performances.” I am presented with a new hard deadline of June 2018, to the point where Palgrave MacMillan is ready to cancel the contract if the book isn’t to them by then. And then: I shock myself by going viral because my (non-autistic) kid breaks into my office during an Al-Jazeera interview. Al Roker imitates me and Carson Daly says my name. Woo! Now I need to prepare revised CVs and send them, and I do (I don’t know about you, but a new job submission takes me at least one very dedicated day). Meanwhile I think: even if I were a “famous film/media professor,” isn’t that a little like being the world’s tallest midget? Now that I sorta got what I kinda wanted, it made me think that it wasn’t all that much. More than before, I begin considering other career options. Also, I write little songs with Dar’s brother and we sign him up for ukelele lessons with a terrific teacher. Meanwhile in January there’s blogging, dog training (I mean taking the dog to classes in Oakland), and the start of teaching three college classes. Good thing our inner family doesn’t have any major health issues if you don’t count Dar, right?
February: I put together a pitch for a TV show about a group of abolitionist avenging women in the 1850s; I send it to someone in Hollywood and it goes nowhere. In other news, I write some articles for filmotomy.com. In still other news, I send two new short films to festivals, “Sister Resister” and “The Fair Damsels of Disney.” I love them both but the festivals don’t. At $50 a pop, applying is expensive and time-consuming. But I push myself to do it, and one of them, “Fair Damsels,” gets into two, and my awesome actor puts together two (two!) terrific posters for it that reflect its festival selection status. I don’t mention it anywhere on social media, or publish the links, because I’m still applying to other festivals…between everything else, namely the ongoing self-ass-kicking of book revisions, job applications, teaching, dog training, blogging, first-ever SCUBA classes, my annual Oscar party, and Palgrave MacMillan making me submit/obtain a cover photo, which takes months of back and forths and permissions. High school reunion planning is on, but unlike the 10-year and the 20-year, I do declare that I’m way too busy to volunteer to help. One reason I’m busy is Dar. Another reason I’m busy is that I’m feeling guilty about being distracted from Dar. A third reason…
March: …is that I put together my own course for St. Mary’s College. Sounds like nothing, but this is the first college course I’ve ever programmed from scratch. It’s based on my book “The Netflix Effect,” and I’m warned that the committee doesn’t look favorably on courses that look like an excuse for the professor to make the college buy his/her books. But…they approve the course! It will begin in January 2019. As a family we go to Kauai over spring break and it pours rain nearly every day. In one week, we don’t see a rainbow! (Months later, Dar’s brother asks me if rainbows are real.) The absolute highlight of the trip is one friend coming over from Oahu for a pleasant day of doing nothing. Back on the mainland, I begin going to Indivisible Berkeley meetings to try to get rid of Trumpista Republicans. I volunteer to do meme work for their social media, but I’m kinda glad that never worked out, because it’s not like I have time, what with ongoing very unglamorous book revisions, dog training, job applications, teaching, filmotomy, blogging, and SCUBA classes (I’m underwater in the pool at Oakland High on the evening of my birthday, March 14). Is this list starting to sound like a partridge in a pear tree? I hear you, but this partridge is about to change her feathers, because…
April: …there has been wacked-out overgrown trumpetvine sprawled all over my property and my neighbor’s property for years. I agree with my neighbor who thinks we should get rid of it for both our sakes. Good news: we destroy this massive bush on the west side of our backyard’s west fence, opening up this enormous potential garden – more on that success later. Bad news: we likewise eliminate all these other vines in my (and their) backyard, beginning a chain reaction that winds up traumatizing the rest of my year. With the trumpetvine gone, a tree shifts, leading to our tenants bringing over the City of Berkeley for a surprise inspection. My neighbor jokes that you never want these people inside your house because they’ll always find something. (It sounded funnier when he said it.) Sure enough, the City of Berkeley gives us a list of 27 things we have to fix. One of them basically means we have to spend five figures on a new heating/AC unit. As of this writing we’re still working on that item and some of the others. Uh, yeah, nightmare. In separate news, George Maguire, longtime Solano College legend and friend of Tom Hanks, asks me to host the Q&A for the Solano premiere of his new short film “Generations,” and I do it, and it goes great. (His film goes on to win several awards at other festivals.) Also in April, I begin showing classic (1940-58) Looney Tunes cartoons to my kids, leading to what is basically the year of Dar’s brother quoting Bugs Bunny. He’s ten years ahead of me on that score. Isn’t that what it’s all about? Not with Dar. Never with Dar. Ugh, the thought of that neverending existential crisis makes me turn to anything else as a distraction: my weight, my clothes, social media, the City of Berkeley…
May: …wait, not the City of Berkeley. Reader, you shall be cheered to learn that in May our Berkeley troubles get obviated by two things: the planting of R’s first garden (in the cleared area) and the words “Well, I had to say something.” I feel the second one needs context. My jobs have to check on me, right? I love St. Mary’s and their opinion matters to me. On the day that a once and future department chair comes to watch my class…I kind of hit it out of the park. (Yes, I knew the colleague was coming.) I mean to say, I crush my lecture and cede the stage to some students who lead a terrific discussion that shows what they’ve learned and how well they apply it. The report afterward is glowing, almost as though I can see light shining off of it. There’s one section that says “suggestions for improvement,” and my colleague has written that I shouldn’t say “you guys.” (It’s sexist.) When I verbally ask him about this (St. Mary’s requires a post-report confab), he says “Well, I had to say something.” In context, this was like a rave review of a film that worked to work in something even slightly negative. Sometimes one day can make your whole year; this made me feel great. And I’m sure it’s one reason that St. Mary’s soon offered me a three-year contract…as “contingent faculty,” but that remains valuable for reasons I’ll discuss shortly. In the meantime, in between time, with all the tenant/City silliness and (to be honest) all the rejections, my pace of job/festival applications comes grinding to a near-halt. Dog is supposed to be trained by now, and I walk her, but we keep having issues. Dar’s brother turns 6, and I organize the party at the Lawrence Hall of Science, which goes well. I dream on new scripts and new job ideas. My 75,000-word book’s revisions go back and forth between several editors. I have now read all of my sentences a hundred times each. Do they make more or less sense?
June: Dar has an IEP, his last one with some members of his current team. Seems like the group keeps changing, then having revelations that previous members had years before. That makes it sound worse than it is…they’re trying, but Dar keeps having the same issues. (For example, he screams in class, and if you take him out of class, that just encourages the bad behavior. It’s one of those vicious cycles that we’ve never really broken out of.) Dar’s vocabulary and capabilities improve…but so, so, glacially. Is that because my eye is off the ball, with all these other commitments? Or would he basically be at this level anyway? Feels like the latter, but we’ll never know, and the never knowing is hard. But not so hard that I don’t, uh, leave for a two-week boys trip to Malaysia. After insane amounts of work that this little entry doesn’t do justice to, the book revisions and semester’s worth of teaching are done. Job/festival applications are put on hold as I am put on a 13-hour flight to Southeast Asia. Now I must admit that this little entry has not yet taken into account the eleventy-billion texts that my co-travelers and I shared while planning the trip over the previous six months. I’m telling myself I needed those, needed the trip, needed the incredible days we spent underwater and (separately) eating some of the world’s best food. Back at home, R’s brother is starting at Camp Kee Tov, wifey seems okay with dog, tenants move out, R’s brother’s garden is blooming…but is Dar blooming? Who knows.
July: end of vacay in Malaysia/Singapore, Kidz Bop show with Dar’s brother, Disney/Universal with family, and high school 30-year reunion. I know, don’t complain, right? And I hope this doesn’t sound like I am. But where does Dar fit in? As loyal readers may recall, every September the school sighs at us, “oh, well, Dar lost all that progress because we didn’t see him over the summer.” So this year we decide to take that argument away from them…and as it turns out they see Dar for all of four hours a day for four little weeks. That kind of commitment maintains his progress? We believe our increased hours of ABA over the summer are more helpful and so we work to have those as well…who knows what it’s all doing. Dar learns things, but forgets others. Maybe every kid does, and we notice it more with Dar, because we’re constantly checking on him, or just because there’s less to keep track of. Sigh. Oh, by the way, I return from Singapore to drama-rama regarding dog, book, the City of Berkeley, etc. I catch up with most of it in time to enjoy Disney parks with family. My very beloved cousins can’t exactly fly from the East Coast every week, so this trip really means a lot. That week Dar’s brother connects well with his cousin who’s close to his age. Dar is close to another cousin’s age…but of course he can’t connect. He never can. I distract myself from that by having fun working against Devin Nunes for a few hours on a planned detour from Highway 5. We buy a rubber hot tub (not as amazing as it sounds; it costs $350) and Dar loves it. Dar’s brother’s garden looks AMAZING. Random pedestrians take pictures of it.
August: after July celebrations, reality hits, and I’m not only talking about beginning the new semester of teaching three classes. A heavy heart (mine) accompanies two major transitions that transform my visions of the next decade. Dog training goes badly, and then really badly – on the order of violence. Everyone is fine, DM me for details, but…our dog has to go. She ran out of second and third chances. As I leave her at the pound, I feel…old. A very weird unexpected old. And speaking of old, I haven’t even bothered to put “keep up with Dad” on the previous months of this entry, because in theory that had been delegated to his retirement facility. But…my 77-year-old Dad refused to socialize with anyone there. So it made a certain kind of financial sense for Dad to join us in the in-law unit…and so we pull the trigger. We move him. And it goes well! He never complains about Dar’s regular screaming. I tell you, Dad’s bad hearing and dementia is both a blessing and a curse…the good news is that sometimes he remembers things, as when he said “Didn’t you have a dog?” Ongoing blogging, filmotomy, gardening, Indivisibling, writing songs with Dar’s brother, and book tweaks after they told me it was done! Grrrr……
September: a terrific conference at Rowan University (near Philadelphia) means sharing warm times with old friends and also the conference organizer (again) asking me to apply to a job there. Wifey and I don’t want to move (one reason is that precious few neighbors could tolerate Dar’s screaming as ours do), but I always appreciate her invitations. Besides the usual ongoing partridges, my main focus is going into overdrive on a grant application to the National Endowment for the Humanities. I began it when St. Mary’s offered me the three year contract, knowing that I’d have the institutional support I needed – and boy, did I. Many, many emails back and forth with St. Mary’s grant adviser (thank God that’s her only job). Basically I want to create a digital archive of populism, starting with 19th-century Populists (the only ones with the capital “P”). I want all the 19th-century speeches and articles online and organized, partly to be able to present when TV networks ignore third parties, blow off compromise solutions, and vastly distort the word “populism” for their own agendas. If I’m going to appear on Today again, I’d rather appear as some kind of expert (or at least curator) of populism. (In some ways, this blog has been toying with this idea for five years.) This MIGHT be an eventual way out of some of my bad patterns and what I’ve been working toward my whole life…BUT the NEH only approves 10% of grant applications. So we’ll see if I still try to go forward even without the NEH’s money and prestige. But, uh, the money would be nice. So I barely get that application off by the September 26 deadline.
October: time to do my civic duty and work against any Republican still loyal to this Constitution-shredder of a President. This is one task I know I couldn’t possibly regret in ten years. Basically I spend every spare minute in Modesto or nearby in CA-10, which is our local swing district. I knock on hundreds of doors. I feel good! And when November comes around, our guy wins in a squeaker (!). I get used to giving Dad is daily pills and sitting around and watching DVDs with him (when I can). Dad gets a weekly caregiver, and that goes well. He gets his birthday party combined with Dar’s for the first time. It’s one of those blessing-curse things that Dar and Dad, combined, care less about their birthday party than Dar’s brother OR I care about how Halloween decorations look…on October 15th. This is the way of things. And the way of things is also to tinker on my usuals, go to occasional movies, and look into new projects. In case I haven’t made it clear, I often vascillate between changing careers and wanting to do my current one better. This month, the latter idea triumphs in my mind. I arrive at this powerful feeling that I haven’t been giving my students as much as I could, you know? Even at the survey-course level, they deserve more of me, you know? I think a great teacher puts out there almost all of his/her knowledge, if she/he can. So I actually decide to re-program two of my classes. I spend way way way too much free time on this, and I also outline a movie and a TV show…you know, as I type this, I do feel overextended. Focus harder on just one or two more solid opportunities? Yes, if you know of any, send them my way. I drive out to Netflix and spend October and November working toward some…
November: …but we’re not done canvassing until the polls close! On the first weekend of the month, I drive to the Lake Tahoe area weeks before the Camp Fire make it fashionable amongst Bay Areans. I canvas Carson City and Reno for four days. In the end, the polls were more or less right, and Nevada votes to replace its Republican governor and Republican senator with Democrats, by 5-ish percentage points each. (I knew about the polls while driving up to Nevada, but I also knew about hacking and voter suppression, so…je ne regrette rien.) So, a blue wave happens. Then the Camp Fire happens. Dar’s school closes on November 15 and wifey and I look at each other like, uh, are we spending the next 10 days in the house with these two? Noooooo. So we call around to see who’s got an emergency booking and we wind up driving to Pismo Beach. We have a lovely R&R as recounted in last week’s post. The smoke clears, we have Thanksgiving with friends, and the next day a first-ever Friendsgiving. These are lovely. To add to my partridges, Dar’s brother wants a cat. We’re thinking about it. We probably need a pet of some kind. And just to get us up to “eight maids a milking” or so, I get an email from one of my Rowan conference-mates inviting me to contribute a chapter to the next Screen Decades book from Rutgers University Press. After thinking about it for a day or two, I say yes. That brings us up to now. I’ll be participating in a Berkeley High artists’ showcase on the first day of December. I’ll be participating in a lot of Christmas silliness after that. I’ll be prepping four classes. I’ll be making partridge dad-jokes. And lo and behold, the book is scheduled to come out in December. I love it when at least one plan comes together.
You know, I really could have lived it all differently. But I don’t really think that I wanted to. And if I’m doing most of what I want, I don’t resent Dar for holding me back, right? (Right.) And so I’m better to him, right? (Right!) And that means he improves more, right? (Ri…we will never know.)
Thanks for reading. Hope this helps someone, somehow, somewhere.
“There never seems to be enough time to do the things that you want to do once you find em.” – Jim Croce