Thanksgiving thoughts (possibly controversial)

Sometime tomorrow, stores that have a lot of fluorescent lighting overhead will open. The people who work there will have to be there so that people who are better shoppers than me can pay their bosses money. Somehow, both parties aren't bothered that this is happening.

The rest of us are a bit puzzled. 

I'm not angry that this is happening. I don't have any outrage that stores are looking to outdo their competition any way they can. Somehow it's all about advantage. 

I know I will be less likely to shop in any of those stores in the future. That's a personal decision, and not one I have to think about very hard. I don't often shop in any of those kind of stores anyway. 

"What do you think about all those people wanting to shop on Thanksgiving day?" said the clerk at the convenience store near my house. I've been going there for years for beer and chicken. 

"Well, I know I'm not going to shop at any of them," I said to him.

He and I don't know each other's names. We've never seen each other outside of the GoCo. We barely talk about anything, but he's always friendly and he sees me quite frequently. I know that he grew up on the south of of Carter's Mountain somewhere in the area where Donald Trump wants to build a gold course to go with his winery. 

"I mean, can you imagine a place like that even being open on Thanksgiving?" I asked. "They definitely don't treat their employees with respect."

"Well, we're open Thursday?"

"You are?"

"Yeah. Until 6." 

I felt sheepish. I just assumed they'd be closed. 

I've only worked one out of 40 of my Thanksgivings (including the one I spent in Canada, which was technically six weeks earlier). At the time I was 21 and living in Blacksburg. This was the first Thanksgiving I spent without my family, and I decided to work at Backstreets, the first restaurant I ever worked in. 

It wasn't that bad. The owner decided to stay open. There was potentially money to be made. I didn't think twice about it.

I ended up having a lovely day, and the owner fed me and let me drink after work. I did him a favor, but I also didn't have anything better to do. I profited off of the desire for some people to go out to eat on Thanksgiving rather than cook at home. Most of the parties were couples. Very few families. They all went home happy. 

The clerk at the store will work tomorrow but he will be off at six. People still need to buy things. 

Without thinking, I assume that Thanksgiving should be one of these perfect holidays where all economic activity stops. After all, I want to be able to concentrate on myself and not my role in a consumer-based economy. 

But, I also know that many of my friends will be working at bars tomorrow night, happy to take money from people who just want to enjoy the holiday. Movie theaters are open, as are gas stations, nursing homes, hospitals, radio stations, newspapers. Many people are working today. 

So, why are we so upset that big box retailers want to try to take some advantage of a day when people are off of work and primed to spend for the next big holiday? 

Good question. 

I don't have an opinion. I don't need to have one. It's very comforting, in a way. I neither work at those stores nor plan to ever shop at one. That is the entire extent of the effect my opinion has on the world with regards to this topic. I just like raising questions. 

Then again, I don't really spend a lot of money on Christmas, except on my parents and my children and a few friends. I don't feel pressure to do so. 

I'm also not much of a consumer. My house is largely furnished through hand-me-downs and items I found on FreeCycle. My daughter thinks I am cheap because I have old-fashioned media players such as a 19" bulky television. Little does she know that she'll more or less be playing PlayStation 2 games for the rest of her childhood because they're affordable. 

I am thankful that I am not that good of a shopper, and not that concerned about this issue. There are so many things to be concerned about. I won't list those, and I won't list my own. 

None of us are anyone else but ourselves. Everything we get from other people and from media influences our lives. But, we get the chance to form our own opinions. Sometimes these opinions are forged by media, sometimes by our friends.

In the month to come, I plan on writing a lot about how I feel about journalism and writing and affecting the world as one person out of 7.5 billion. I don't know how much of it will be public. I am just struck that so much of how I feel about the world comes through experience not filtered directly by me. I am also paid to sift through information and write articles based on what I research. I want to write stories that anyone can pick up and say that they understand the basic government process I'm trying to explain. 

After I realized that the GoCo clerk was going to have to work on Thanksgiving, I went in a second from being outraged that certain stores are opening tomorrow to take advantage of consumer demand to realizing that I had absolutely nothing to do with it. I am not supplying any of that demand. I suppose I could advocate against people spending money there, but I'm not much of an advocate for anything. 

I'm an explainer, not a persuader. 

The clerk will work tomorrow, and hopefully he'll get compensated for it some other way. I do not envy the people who have to work tomorrow, but what's so special about a holiday anyway? That's a direct question not laden with anything else. What makes a holiday a holiday? 

For me, I love the fantasy that we're all off work but in reality that's not possible. There are 7.5 billion people in the world. 310 million in my country. 8 million in my state. 150,000 in my metropolitan statistical area. That's a lot of people who are just like me. 

I give thanks that I still have hope that we can figure out better ways of communicating, and educating, and building a better economy, and basically improving how our species does things. 


Running in the dark

The 5:00 fall of darkness is hitting me harder than I think it ever has. Perhaps this has something to do with the deaths that have happened in my life in late summer and early fall. Perhaps I'm getting old. In any case, I will not fall into despair.

At least not for long.

Today I went straight to the gym after work and got on a treadmill and ran. I wanted to run from the moment I woke up today because I ended up sleeping in late and my kids ended up being half an hour late for school. Thankfully I put their clothes out for the morning last night and I am able to whip breakfast together quite quickly. The car started and we made it there, but I decided to go straight to work.

And then, I left work before my section of the earth turned away from the sun because I needed to run an errand, and I didn't take a coat due to the speed at which we escaped my house's gravitational pull. Upon getting home, I had a cup of tea and then suited up a three mile run at the gym.

This is the fourth time in six days I've managed to make it there. Of late I have been so saddened by the coming of autumn that I've not much enjoyed being outside. I was taken aback by how quickly the lush landscape evolved into a bleak tableau that reflects too much of what I've been thinking lately.

This is depression's way of feeding itself. And my solution has been to separate my disconnect with the outside from my body's need to feel alive through exercise. 

A friend of mine tries to get me to run with her at 6:30 once a week. We managed to go three weeks in a row, and her company made the struggle of getting up in the dark worth it. But, I've not been able to get out of bed to do it. The idea of running outside in the cold throws up many mental blocks.

But, I am short-circuiting myself by going to the gym, which is easy, comfortable, and I don't have to think about anything except running. I can distract myself with the television. I can power myself listening to music on bulky headphones as opposed to earbuds that pop right out. 

I also actually use the $37 I pay each month to go to the gym. 

I had a lousy day for reasons that aren't worth mentioning. And it doesn't matter anyway, because I no longer feel lousy. Whatever part of brain is responsible for prioritizing how I spend time is remembering that running makes so much of the rest of my time easier to deal with. 

I create a light within me when I run, when I overcome the doubt and depression and power through. There are no excuses. There is just me and the activity. 

I've figured this out before, but I keep forgetting. There's a part of me that wants to fail, that sabotages my happiness by coming up with reasons not to do the thing that I know works. 

Yet, I outpaced the darkness tonight. I only ran three miles, three miles in which I lost part of my innocence by watching a portion of Desperate Housewives of Beverly Hills. But, I took in songs that fueled me, studying their structure while I ran and pondered what I was watching. 

I have my sights set on a goal of beating my best time in the Charlottesville Ten Miler. That's four or five months away. That event will take place at the beginning of spring, and between now and then I have to make this happen. 

So, I am not going to worry about potential peer pressure that I am not being a true runner because I'm not outside. I'm not going to find any excuses. They don't matter. What matters is that I run, that I build healthier habits once more, and I realize that I've won this battle before. 


The thoughts I have about things

At the library today, I picked up a book called Timetables of History. It was a simple listing of historical events dating from Sumerian times to 1990. I tried to interest my daughter in this, but her interest lasted about thirty seconds before she went to look at a DK book that shows all of the locations in Star Wars.

Initially I was bothered that she wasn't interested in real life but instead wanted to learn more about a fictional universe. But, I quickly realized I was also more interested in the book, which was colorful, detailed, animated, and was of more interest to her than what someone did back in 903. 

And here we are in 2013, and I increasingly feel like pulling back from the moments of the day in order to concentrate on the moments of my self. I spend so much time thinking about what happens in the now, writing about public policy in my community. I'm aware of the importance and the non-importance of it, all at the same time. 

The totality of myself is formed both by the genetic make-up that was determined at my conception, as well as everything else that every other human has ever done. How many people have been on this planet by now? How many billions of people have walked this earth? 

And who am I? I've spent a good chunk of my life writing about the decisions that get made, but I am not satisfied with the work that I have done. I am privy to watching people talk straight up about their community, but there are so many gaps in the discussion and I can't do anything about that.

I'm also not allowed to give my own opinion about things. I have to relate everyone else's arguments, but my own are kept from public view.

There are now well over seven billion people on this planet, a fact that everyone should think about carefully. We face a century of severe change as our climate continues to become more erratic. Despite our large population, so many of us feel so tragically alone, myself included.

I think this is because we have a listening deficit at the moment. Maybe we have always had that, but more than ever, every single person with access to the Internet feels they have the right to express themselves, and they have the right to be right.
I don't know. I'm not any of you. I'm me, the second son of Joseph and Phyllis Tubbs, born in August 1973, a date that will eventually make no difference to the universe at all. It's all us, it's all what we do, and none of us seem to realize how fleeting all of this is. 

So we fixate on the small shit, we fixate on what we hope to control. 

I am leaning more and more to disconnecting to what I used to think what important - public policy. It's both important and not-important. That duality is confusing, because most people can't hold two competing thoughts in their heads for very long. 

Me? I'm plagued with the madness that happens when you have to keep everyone's view in mind in order to synthesize a narrative that captures moments in time. 

But, I'm not satisfied I'm doing enough to show up in a future edition of the Timetables of History. That's not necessarily my goal, but I wish I could reduce my fear of being disliked enough to get into the fray of human conflict more. Maybe that's why I'm so unhappy of late. I don't get to make a mark. I'm just a guy who writes the stories about things that may or may not matter. 

Important and not-important.

Cognitive dissonance writ large. 

I conclude this post with an improv recording from July 19, 2013 that feels passionate and fulfilling to me and me alone. 

At 40, I realize that the frustrating thing about my life is that it is absolutely impossible for me to communicate how happy I am being human to other people. I try, so hard, but it's not working. People regard me as strange, odd, somehow not normal. I wish I could express myself to people in a way that was clear enough to sell out the Paramount Theater, but that's just not how I am ever going to be. 

My plan for the rest of my life is to just be me, to try to carve out space to make my own artwork that captures what it means to be a human living on a world that orbits a sun 93 million miles away, living in a system that tends to forget that everything we do is malleable.

I demand happiness. But who do I make that demand of? Who is responsible for that?


So, there I go.

This is not how I thought life would turn out for me, but I'm still alive and capable of making some noise. And if people don't like it? That most certainly is not my problem. I have just got to try to meet more of my 7 billion fellow humans in the time I have left. 


Today was forever

One of my children is reading to the other, but I'll likely have to go in and finish the job. 

We've had a great two days together, the three of us. Mostly they've played together while I've watched, supervised, shepherded, kept away from sharp objects. Since having brunch with some friends the other day, I've not had a sustained conversation with another adult. 

And that's okay. Being a single dad for me means that I am living these years of my life with two of the three most important people in my life. It can be absolutely exhausting, especially when they begin to go to war with each other. Some times it can be so emotionally draining to be in the middle of their spats, and I try to stay out of the fray.

Thankfully today there was little need to do that. Today was about as perfect as you can get, given that we only left the house once and that my living room was transformed into an ocean fortress, complete with inflatable dolphin. They played for at least five or six hours together, and it was an honor to eavesdrop on their play time.

It was also an honor to provide the music. All day I played record after record while I sorted out my growing collection. I'm not the most organized person in the world, so all of the records have just been stacking up in front of the stereo. Today I tackled as much as I could, and began to put away the ones I'm not likely listen to.

The music ranged from the Tom Tom Club to Aerosmith, by way of an old K-Tel novelty record and some Matthew and the Mandarins. For a while, we watched the Eagles destroy Washington's football team, but sports didn't dominate the day at all.

Imaginative play was the name of the day, and I felt happy to be providing a space where my two American children could spend some of their childhood with me. Watching them reminded me of how happy my own was, despite not being close to my brother or sister. I was too young, and now I fear we're too old to really ever be close. 

I'm fairly certain today was the first time my son had heard Led Zeppelin's The Immigrant Song, and within a minute or so, he was singing along to it. While we were listening to a portion of the Mikado, he heard a similar melody that corresponds to a different song and he began singing that instead. 

My daughter did not retreat into a book today, and instead sought out opportunities to read to her brother. She read the Jedi Academy book I bought at the Sock Hop the other night. At bedtime, she read him three books, and now she's reading to herself because he's going to sleep. In a few minutes, I'll return to parenting and will turn off her light.

In the morning, I'll say goodbye to them for a few days. Sure, there will be the usual racing to get them out the door and that won't exactly be stress-free. I have figured out that my children have an obligation to make sure that my life has unexpected surprises that must be solved. They are the random element in my life, constantly providing me with little challenges and puzzles. 

The goal is to have weekends like this, where we all can nest and grow and prepare for other days. They are growing up so fast. My daughter decided her skirt should be a shirt today, and she pulled off the look somehow. She played with my son all weekend, and they built silly memories I'm sure they will remember well into their life.

And the best part of the weekend?

A rare phone call from my English son who told me he's getting an iPod Touch and will be able to FaceTime me whenever he wants. 

These days of resting and playing are so valuable. They don't happen all the time, but are so much more common when the leaves fall. I'm storing up these memories for me, for those times they won't be here. Isn't that human experience is about, be it raw experience or distilled narrative? 


In a crowd

Tonight I went to a dance at my children's elementary school. I attended along with their mother and her fantastic partner. I am so happy that our relationship is at such a good point where we all communicate about what's happening in their lives. Together the three of us are parenting two people that will inherit this world.

The auditorium was packed with people, all of us parents and all of us children. There was dancing, there were prizes, and there were my children playing with their friends, interacting with the three parents.

I had to give up my shift at Court Square Tavern to go, and it is likely I won't be able to fully return there like I had hoped. Maybe that is for the best.

There are not often crowds there, not the crowds I need to be in now that I feel like I'm fully helping to raise my children.

I was at first uncomfortable at the dance because of my anxiety and because their school is not in my neighborhood. I don't know the other parents as much as I want to, but I am sure I will get to know them as all of our children grow up, and as we mourn the one child whose life was recently cut short. That memorial service was two weeks ago tomorrow.

This time last week I was in a crowd at Skybar, and when I went to move my car I turned on the radio and heard details of the people who died in the Philippines when that huge storm hit. I teared up a little at the loss I knew people like me were suffering on the other side of the globe. I went back to the crowd and I was sober and sad, and remembered that sadness is always just around the corner.

But if that's true, then happiness is also a moment away at every single second.

Tonight, the parents of Charlotte were there. They are not retreating from the world. They are remembering their daughter by remaining in the crowd, serving as a shining example for their older daughter. At one point, the mother came over and sat down next to my son and told him that she was going to be returning to the class to read books, just like she did before the accident.

As I type this, I don't believe that anything wrong has ever happened in my life. I can imagine a reset button that allows me to cut off old resentments, allows me to rethink what I believe I know about a particular situation. This attribute serves me well in my line of work and I have finally learned how to apply it to my own life. I can embrace that there is always light, even on the darkest day. That light can grow, can build in warmth, and eventually it can be enough of a guiding force.

Tragedy is always a moment away. But, we're human, and we're at our best when we can come together in crowds to celebrate life. Tonight was a school dance and I felt so blessed to see so many teachers who are so passionate about educating their students. Two weeks ago it was a memorial for a little girl who inspired so many people in her short life.

I will try my best to overcome the feeling I so often have to be a hermit, to withdraw, to protect myself from future pain by avoiding contact with other people who are just like me. I will help raise my children to not be afraid of others, to be certain of themselves, and to know how to go forward in the face of adversity and defeat. I want them to not feel as alone as I often do. I don't need to burden anyone, especially my public readers, with the depths of despair I often feel as a result of a time in my life that I used to perceive as tragic.

I will always try to remember that I'm always in a crowd. I live in a growing city. There are probably 50 people within a 500 foot radius of my house. I don't know many of them, but I want to. I want the same kind of neighborhood spirit that animates Belmont to be in all of my city's neighborhoods. I want all of us to be there for each other when tragedy happens.

I want all of us to celebrate what we could all create if we agreed that we all want the same things.


Doctor Who's importance to me, again

I stumbled out of bed this morning and there was immediately a message from my cousin James telling me I had to watch the new Doctor Who mini-episode right away. 

I was skeptical, but I went to look for it. 

Before I even saw it, I knew today was going to be a good day.

The show has lasted 50 years because it has a universe where the main character has lived a series of lives in different bodies. He regenerates into a new form every time he is killed. 

There has been a gap in the show's continuity. The show was canceled by the BBC in 1989, but brought back in a clumsy television movie co-produced by FOX. The actor who played him regenerates from the Seventh Doctor (as played by Sylvester McCoy, who was in the recent Hobbit film) into the Eighth Doctor (as played by Paul McGann).

But, the film was not a success, and the on-screen revival of the Doctor would not happen until 2005. And when the show came back, the mythology had changed so that the Doctor was the last of his kind, the last Time Lord following the conclusion of the time war. 

And now the show is about to turn 50 at a time when it is probably more part of world culture than it ever has been. We're about to go through another major change in the future, but for now, everyone is excited about the fact that we were treated to a surprise today and it was completely magical. While I was spoiled by the description on the BBC's website, I was not disappointed in what transpired.

This post is written to readers who don't know the show. You might in the future, perhaps. For now, I would love it if your first experience was watching this clip. What if your first Doctor is one who kicks off the 50th anniversary celebration in style?



Another night in an auditorium, listening to a matter of public discussion in one ear while my mind seeks out mindless trivia while waiting for some form of resolution. I've been in meetings all day, and I'll be in them all day tomorrow, too. I'm thirsty, so in a few minutes I'm going to leave. 

The developer of a project is mad at the Board of Supervisors because they are spending a lot of time on a drainage issue. There's part of me that is aware of the broad overview of what's going on here, but there is no need to get too involved in the details. In the grand scheme of things, there is no room for trivial.

Somewhere in these two paragraphs is an inconsistency. I am filled with them, but unaware of them as they pass through my mind. I'm not sure who I am, and not sure why I'm in this room. I don't feel fully here while I'm here. 


Offsetting ennui

I'm sitting in a room I sit in far too often, but at least I'm paid to be there. People are looking at plans for a new building. They won't make a decision tonight, and they don't actually make the decision anyway. That will fall to the elected officials who aren't here at the moment.

My chair is against the back wall. The room is a small auditorium, and many decisions have been made in here over the past few decades. I've written about many of these, either as a contemporary reporter or as an amateur archivist. 

I'm tense because I want this meeting to be over, and I'd like to relax and joke and play and talk to people. I'd like to write about the people who are in this room, as opposed to the decisions that will be made. The two relate, of course, but in public I cannot write about the people in here, or the people I would like to meet.

I feel stuck in time, despite the growing awareness that I am living a life constrained by decisions I made in the past. I will be in this room many more times to come in the future, listening to more and more discussions about the future of my community.

I feel invisible, same as I have for a while now. I don't want this, but it's happened. I'm constrained but there's not much I can say about it. 

So, how do I offset the growing ennui?

I'm not sure. It's enough to become aware of it, and to try to change behavior to try to peel back the restraints. 


Upon unfathomable tragedy

Tomorrow I will take my children to a memorial service for a little girl who was killed in a terrible accident on Monday. Charlotte's life was cut short so quickly, but a community has come together to provide comfort, solace, and love to her sister, mother and father. 

And I will go tomorrow and sit next to my children and their mother, and their mother's partner, and we will all mourn something so terrible - the death of a young child. 

I personally did not know Charlotte that well, but knew of her importance to my son. He called her his "future wife" after her got over his sister teasing him about his being his girlfriend. I remember being that age and having crushes on girls, but I can't fathom being told that he'll no longer be able to play with her because she's gone. 

He's in denial, and is somewhat angry about what's happened. 

"I don't care that she's dead," he said to me shortly before bed. I told him I didn't believe him, but I understood how he felt. One way to stop the pain from getting to you is to pretend you are apathetic to it. 

"She liked red, so I'll wear the shirt I wore tonight," he said to me soon after. He knows that this is an important day in his life, a day he will say goodbye to a friend. 

I don't have much experience with death. My grandparents lived in another country and when they died, I did not attend their funerals. When my uncle died in 2000, I also did not go to say goodbye. 

I have only attended two funerals in my life. One was for my friend Brian Mercado, who died in a motorcycle accident back in 1997. I had been estranged from him for years, but he had been so important in my life that I had to say goodbye. I also went to the funeral for Joe Cudlin, the father of my best friend growing up. I think that was in 2006, when Josephine was only a few months old.

Tomorrow I shall write more.