Sound carries through the big house; he heard my muttered string of profanities from downstairs. Open office window, open back door. I'm usually smarter than that.
"What's the matter, Dad?"
Where to start? The computer, like that red wheelbarrow upon which so much depends, was on the fritz, not picking up the Internet signal (see: red wheelbarrow). There were posts that needed to be written. My latest contact gig ended with no notice. There were checks that had not yet arrived. There were bills that were overdue. October was drawing to a close, the holidays and the end of another year and the rest of my goddamn life were rolling in like a black tsunami.
I looked at him for a second. That was all it took, all it usually ever takes.
"Nothing's wrong. Go grab your rugby ball. We'll play catch."
Just before my brain shut down last night, I figured 13 hours. 13 hours in the world I chose to inhabit. I could have been lying in the sand absorbing light. I could have been sitting on my board, waiting for the next set to roll in. I could have been perched on the nose, watching the ocean spin by below me, beside me, above me. I could have been watching the pavement roll underneath polyurethene wheels, carving turns down hot blacktop, wind in my face. I could have been moving swiftly down a dusty trail, heart thumping, sweat running into my eyes and mouth. I could have been throwing the football in the pool with they boy, or encouraging the girl to kick kick kick, big arms, swim! A rugby ball. A container of bubbles yet to be blown. Bikes. A dog's leash. Lacrosse sticks. Sidewalk chalk. Instead, 13 hours spent in front of a screen, drowning in the torrents of a binary world, a construct built on 140 character bursts and pages and pages of instructions, opinions, "facts", "truth", a barrage of data like carbon dioxide working its way into my pallid skin.
So I went to my first BlogHer Conference, because it was here in San Diego, and hey, why not? I submitted a big essay to my overlords at Man Of The House, which will detail What It All Meant, so I won't do an exhaustive/exhausting recap here. I said hi to just about everyone I met for the first time over at Twitter, but I think I forgot to mention that it was great meeting Whipstitch, who is married to my friend The Muskrat. I also forgot to mention that I met Lotus, who along with being very nice is an amazing photographer. Cool names, right? It's like they're superheroes. (Marvel superheroes, because they seem to have the best handles.) Oh, and I met Avitable. Also a cool name. Like a Bond villian's. And unlike you, they get a shoutout in a blog post.
I learned three things at BlogHer. In no particular order:
1. Using A Picture That Looks Like You On Your Blog Or Profile Really Helps. Especially if you're a guy at conference for women - the nametags usually hang around the midriff, and while I do enjoy staring at women's chests from time to time, that can be awkward in certain social/professional situations. It was nice to know people by their face, and it was nice to be recognized. Everyone who recognized me said I looked exactly like I do in my picture, especially on Saturday, because I was wearing the exact same shirt. Also, I bought my pass from someone who was not able to attend, and her handle is A Vapid Blonde, which in my case is only 50% true. (Thanks again, Marla!)
2. You Will Have At Least One Socially Awkward Encounter. Here's how mine went.
Me: "Hi, I'm Jason, I run DadCentric. Nice to meet you!" (I'm actually somewhat friendly in real life.)
Female Blogger Who Shall Remain Nameless: "Are you an asshole? Because you look like you're an asshole. I bet you're an asshole."
Me: (Long pause.) "Um...I...try not to be?"
Female Blogger Who Shall Remain Nameless: "You look like one of those asshole guys. Like, your jaw. It's an asshole jaw."
Me: "Ah, well, I, uh..."
Female Blogger Who Shall Remain Nameless: "Also, the hair. And that shirt."
Me: "Ok, well, hey, great to meet you."
3. Turkey breakfast sausages dipped in pancake batter and then deep-fried like a corn dog are the bomb. But you probably knew that already.
There was almond butter with flaxseeds, and a container of blueberries, and some whole grain bagels. What I did was, I split the bagel in half and toasted it just so, enough for it to have a bit of a sandpaper finish, spread too much of the almond butter over both halves, added a drizzle of agave sweetener, embedded a few blueberries into the nutty cement. Voila. A perfectly sensible breakfast. Healthy, even. Outside the marine layer sprawled over inland Carlsbad like a chubby gray cat on a frat house sofa. I thought about going for a run but the kids were awake and I needed to get some work started. "Finished" was probably too much to hope for. A quick scan of the Internet: an article I'd written had yet to appear, a draft I'd started was languishing in the queue, a few email inquiries I'd met were as yet unanswered. I looked at my usual morning coffee websites. There was a post on one about a taser shotgun: it fires five tasers at once, with a range of up to 100 feet. I made a note of that; there was something in the first draft of the novel that wasn't sitting with me, and it was that bit with the tasers, and how could they do that as I'd written? They couldn't; these could. Research, research, research. Sometimes doing it yields up nothing but then the facts you need, they find you. From downstairs came the sounds of the house really waking; the muffled arguments of children, the sharp staccato reply of their mother getting them straight, triggering that response like a barrage of sonar pings against my hull; me putting on my stern face and starting to rise up out of my seat to engage...then the quiet of a poured bowl of cereal. Honey Nut Cheerios, I guessed, based on how quickly that silence descended. I read some blog posts. I thought about making some sort of declaration, some Statement of Intent, as those seem to always want to manifest themselves on days when the sky's muddled and you can't see two miles past your backyard. But such proclamations burn off when the clouds do. I just go with it.
It was the backpack that did it. Inside: a Nikon D60, a handheld Kodak video camera, a notebook, and an iPad. I wore that thing around Comic-Con for three days. It reminded me that I was there to work, which served to sharpen my irritation over the whole experience, which made it un-fun, which it turn made it fun.
I'm not making any sense. Try this: I went to Comic-Con this year because a few months back, I asked my editors at MoTH if they could try to get me a Press Pass. Selfish reasons, of course: I'd always wanted to go, and there was no fucking way I could afford the ticket myself, assuming of course that I could even get a ticket, as they go fast. And there was a professional reason: I wanted to do a feature-length story, something a bit more than the usual tossed-off blog posts I've been doing for the past six years. And so I found myself at the Con, not as a participant, but as an observer. I took notes, pictures, made voice recordings, listened to people, talked to them. Mostly, though, I just observed. True, I am an unabashed Geek - though, I quickly learned, my Geekiness paled in comparison to the vast majority of attendees. But that didn't get in the way of the story. Which, by the way, did not write itself - going in, I had a clear idea of what I thought the story would be about, but just like a battle plan, it didn't survive the first five minutes of contact. When it was all over, after the words were put to screen and then saved and sent off to my editors, I was frigging exhausted. Three long days at the Con, yes, but pushing my brain to come up with something interesting and different...that's what did it, and it was the same kind of tired I feel after a long day on the water. Beat down and happy.
Here's the thing: I'm losing interest in the dad-blog-o-sphere. I suspect that many of the guys in my bracket are as well; we've been at it for years now, our kids are getting older, we're comfortable in our Dad Skins, and frankly there's very little out there that we find compelling. If you think that's harsh, or snobbish, or dickish, that's fine; it's me being honest, and I'm not alone in wondering where the genre of dad writing is heading. The chorus of voices is all starting to sound the same, and in many cases that chorus sounds like a recycled self-help book, or worse, an infomercial. The debate still goes on: what is a dad blog, what isn't, what should be, what shouldn't. I've got my opinions, and I'll probably continue to share them, but ultimately, I've reached the point where I no longer care. I'll keep doing my thing (and hopefull doing it well), but I'm cognisant of the fact that DadCentric has a lifespan, and it's much closer to the end than the beginning. And you know what? I'm cool with that. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross would probably tell me that I've reached the Acceptance Stage. Happy about it, even. Because wearing that loaded-down backpack was pretty awesome. I should do it some more.
Wabi-sabi is a thing; specifically, or as specifically as one can be when talking about Japanese philosophy, which is as slippery as unagi, it's centered around the notion that with age and flaws come elegance and uniqueness.
It's the day after your birthday that counts, when you're back to being one among billions. Today: I looked at myself in the mirror, 42 and one day, and damned if I didn't have a Rogue-like gray streak running down the part of my hair. The nail on my left big toe is flawless; the right one looks like a yellowing piece of quartz, cracked and flaking. Yin and yang, cast in keratin.
Posts about one's birthday are the most narcissistic of a narcissistic pastime. I turned 42 yesterday, I ponder the flaws and the cracks and the gray today, I leave it up to the Japanese to figure it all out.
I was supposed to be on a plane to New Orleans, where I was going to be attending Mom 2.0, speaking on a panel about dadblogging that I'd put together and pitched. I'd recruited a few of my best bloggin' pals to join me, and it was going to be glorious - us talking about our Mad Dadbloggin' Skillz, networking, carousing, building the brand, adding to the legend. But Real Life happens, and a series of events caused me to say so long to all that. One difference between a blogger and a journalist: to the journalist, the life revolves around the writing, to a semi-pro blogger, the writing usually revolves around the life.
Still, had I gone, I'd have missed the chance to interview Richard Blais this morning. I'd have missed the premiere of Game of Thrones on Sunday (which, Dear Readers, I shall be recapping as part of my return to the great MamaPop). And towering above all that, I'd have missed Beth's birthday, which we'll now be celebrating over the course of a few days, with a great meal at R Gang Eatery, owned by the generous and gregarious chef Rich Sweeney (definitely a Top Chef vibe in the air) tonight and some much-needed R & R at the La Costa Resort on Friday, rather than after the fact. I often tell myself that the Universe unfolds as it should, and you know, every so often, I'm actually right.
The rains came through this weekend and soaked everything, leaving a chill in their wake, like the whole neighborhood was built atop an Indian Burial Mound, the dead letting us know in their way that hey, your houses are blocking our view. We're all in the grips of varying stages of Sick, which also could explain the cold. Spectral or psychosomatic?
Or maybe it's the fall, frosty breezes the last defiant gasps of a dying year. We were out driving yesterday and happened to swing by the beach, deserted but for a few fleeced people out for a stroll, and of course the gulls, floating like barrage balloons on the incoming winds. When was the last time I put my feet in the water? Weeks? I like the beach in winter. It's like standing at the end of the world, cold sand an impossibility, a symptom of a moribund earth.
It's cold. Could be ghosts, could be shifting ocean currents and prevailing winds, could be the sun winking out at last, could all just be in my head. Whatever. I'm wearing a beanie today.
Usually when you get a hat like this, they give you a bowl of soup with it:
If you come here often, you've noticed that I spend a lot of time writing about nothing. I suppose I could come up with more Topical and Incendiary stuff to write about; after all, we swim in the Twitter fishbowl, and there's always somebody upset 'bout somethin'. Twitter's where the streetfights happen, then blogs prepare for the siege. Yesterday it was Amazon. Today it was something else. Somebody was outraged about something. Perhaps it was something important. How important, in the Great Grand Scheme of Things, is the question. When the Daily Dramas unfold, when people don their white hats, rally the troops, and call out the villains, I'm finding myself less inclined to unsnap the holster and remove the safety, and more inclined to simply shrug.
Because no matter how many people read your blog, it's a big old world, and most people still don't. Perspective: that post I wrote that 75 people commented on? 6,697,254,220 people didn't.
(FULL DISCLOSURE: I got that t-shirt for free. Perks of being a Featured Contributor. The hat I paid for.)