Mood Inertia

For the past month or so I’ve been using an application on my phone to track my mood.  It’s called My Mood Tracker, and using it is straightforward: every few hours it pops up and asks how I’m feeling.  I slide a bar around to register a number from 1 to 10.

I started using this app because I wanted to gain some insight into how my mood changes: over short periods of time, over long periods of time, and in response to the events in my life.  Do I wake up happy? Am I cranky in the afternoons?  Does time with Ruby make me feel better?  What about time away from Ruby?  What about exercise, or alcohol, or the vitamin D supplements I’m taking? Are there regular cycles to my mood?

In addition to recording my “mood”, I’m also recording things like alcohol and coffee consumption, exercise, and time I spend at Ruby’s school.  Here’s what the last month looks like:

Last month's mood

So after a month, what have I learned?  Well, my mood is all over the place, but there’s been a nice upward trend.  I haven’t done the crunching yet to figure out any of the overall correlations.

But here’s an interesting thing I noticed: thinking about my mood on a regular basis made me realize how much my past mood affects my current mood.  When I was feeling cranky early in the month, that made me much more resistant to enter an 8, even if I was actually in a good mood.  In other words: a recent history of being in a bad mood made me not want to be in a good mood. And as my overall mood has improved this month, the opposite is also true: a record of higher numbers made me not want to recognize when I was feeling bad.   Even yesterday, after a full day with Ruby and feeling tired and hungry and pestered, I only clocked in with a low of 5 — and that quickly jumped back up to 7.

The inertia of moods is interesting. I think we want to hold on to how we’re feeling because it reinforces the correctness of our previous state of mind.  It’s a kind of personal confirmation bias that operates on a level we probably don’t notice.

I’m hoping to get in at least a full year of recording this info in case there are any annual rhythms I can tease out. And I’ll report back with more analysis in a few months.

Posted in me

Building A Boat

A wise friend once said to me: “Steve, you should build a boat.” She offered the advice as a suggestion for healing; it would keep my occupied, give me a purpose and a distraction.

So I did: I made a tiny boat for her and her husband as a wedding present:

Never Stop Bailing (a boat for Scooter)

…and then continued on making other things.

But now, I feel like it’s time for something intricate and ambitious and exciting. It’s time to build my boat…  except instead of a boat, I’m building a piano.

Ok, technically it’s a toy piano: instead of using strings (and requiring a giant cast-iron frame to hold them), the hammers will be hitting the bells from a glockenspiel. It will only have 32 keys. But everything else will be as piano-like as possible, from the keys to the action to (hopefully) the way it feels when you play it. I’ll make just about everything out of wood.

Right now I’m in the design phase: scribbling levers and blocks in a notebook and staring off into space on a regular basis. I’m hoping to start working on a prototype action (the action is the name for the mechanism that sounds a note when you press a key) this weekend. Stay tuned for updates!

Designing pianos at the bar

 

 

All I Really Needed To Know I Learned While Watching Hockey With My Papa

Boston won. The post-game ceremonies started. This was important stuff, so I made Ruby pay attention. We watched them award the Conn Smythe to Thomas, and she noted the maple leaf adorning it. Then they carried out the Stanley Cup and called Zdeno Chara over. The moment came, and he hoisted it over his head in pure triumphant joy:

As he held it aloft I leaned over and whispered into Ruby’s ear:

Do you see that, Ruby? See how happy he is? That’s winning. He won and he’s happy. Winning is important. And I want you to be a winner.

He worked hard and tried hard and he didn’t cheat, and he won, and it feels good. Don’t forget that, Ruby. Winning feels good and I want you to win.

We’re not supposed to say stuff like that to our kids. We’re supposed to tell them that it’s important to try, to have fun, to participate and play and that winning doesn’t matter. And mostly, that’s what I say because mostly, that’s right — because most of the time most of us can’t win, so it’s an important life skill to learn how to enjoy the game.

But take a look at Chara’s face up there. I can probably say without a doubt that right there — that moment when he as captain hoisted his team’s trophy — that moment is probably the single best moment of his entire life.

Sure, playing feels good. And playing well feels even better. But winning feels the best.

 

Vancouver Riots

My brother has posted his thoughts on last night’s rioting in Vancouver.

#vancouver2010 olympics hockey party by rocketcandy

I think we’re mostly on the same page about how this mess came about: the riots happened because people expected a riot to happen. The anarchists and the assholes showed up, dragged a few fence-sitting drunkards in with them, and the party was on.

The people who gathered to watch bear some of the guilt too: their presence was encouraging, even if they remained silent (although some did speak up, and I applaud them). The presence of the silent witnesses provided the cover which made it possible for those without conscience to do their looting and violence.

But even though I condemn these actions, I’m not embarrassed by them. Living in a free society means embracing a certain amount of risk. Eliminating all crime necessarily requires the elimination of all freedom and privacy. Other Western nations are turning increasingly towards a police-state mentality: the USA has its obscene airline security. The UK has more surveillance cameras per capita than anywhere else in the world. France has proposed arbitrary censorship of any website.

I’m hopeful that Canadians will accept that this event — an extremely rare, and, relatively speaking, minor one — is an acceptable price to pay for living in a truly great culture.

Ruby’s First Race

Last Sunday, Ruby ran in her very first race. We did the Top Pot Doughnut Dash 5k, with Ruby in the jogging stroller, and afterwards she did the Kids’ Dash 1k. We looked forward to ending the morning with a performance from Caspar Babypants, Ruby’s new most favorite band.

When I was in high school I competed in long-distance track and field. I remember one race in particular: it was 1500 meters, 4 laps of the track, and I just wasn’t feeling it that day. I started slow and dragged behind the pack. Eventually I was chugging along a good 50 yards behind the second-to-last runner. But I have a rule: never come in last. As the bell rang for my last lap of the track I turned it on. Hard. I had plenty in reserve so I easily passed Mr. Second-to-Last and even caught another runner in the final stretch. The crowd went crazy as I sprinted across the finish line. I climbed the bleachers afterwards, receiving congratulations from my classmates, and my coach gave me a stern look. “That was an interesting race,” was all he said.

Before her race I sat Ruby down to give her some advice. She was a kid; she could spend hours running around… but she’d never done a straight kilometer. I was worried about the distance that stretched ahead of her. Here’s what I told her:

  1. Have fun.
  2. You don’t have to run the whole way; you can walk if you want to. But it’s important to finish.
  3. Don’t come in last.

Ruby disappeared up to the start while I maneuvered the jogging stroller through the crowd of parents who had gathered behind the line. Eventually I ditched it and fought my way to the front. Ruby was there, foot on the line, a determined look in her eye.

 

Ruby is Ready to Run

I grew up running. I can remember thinking of myself as the fastest kid in my class (until another one definitively claimed the title in 6th grade). I was a member of the cross-country club and the track and field team. I kept running through junior high school, and picked it up again as an adult. My brother, sister and I have all done half-marathons or more. We’re not built like elite lean runners, but we get the job done.

The horn sounded and Ruby was off! Older kids quickly sprinted well ahead of her, and she lost herself in the pack of the race. The course looped around a big sports field, and I ran across the middle of it, keeping abreast of her, planning to cheer her on at the halfway point. She kept up a steady pace.

Ruby had told me, a few days before, that she thought she would win the race. I had responded that it was a great goal to have, but not very likely.

In my whole life I’ve won just one race. I can still remember what it was like: a Wednesday night. The race was the 600 meters. My father was there; he was helping to measure the shot-put competition when the gun went off.

I was a good runner, but not the best — but my prime competition had not shown up that night. We bolted from our starting positions and I was in first place. After 200 meters the lanes merged and I was still in front. 200 meters later, 200 to go, starting the final turn, and I was still leading.

Feet, I thought to myself, don’t fail me now.

It’s funny, nearly 30 years later, to think of it: I don’t remember crossing the finish line. But I remember that plea to my feet; that feeling of being carried away by this unstoppable force inside of me. I will always remember it. And I remember looking for my Dad in the aftermath. Did you see? I won! Did you see?

The path went up a slight incline towards the street and I saw Ruby start walking. That’s fine. She got to the top of the hill and started running again, then disappeared as the crowd turned toward me.

I was so proud of her. She was only five years old, running a kilometer by herself, surrounded by older kids and parents and doing just fine — she was running, just running, lost in the moment, and that’s what it’s all about.

I stood by the side of the path, waiting for her to come into view. Finally the crowd parted and I could see her running towards me.

She was in tears.

She reached me and I scooped her up, holding her. Kids and parents streamed past us. I whispered that she was doing great, that I was so proud of her. She said, I wanted to run with you, Papa.

I dropped her to the ground, back onto the running shoes I’d bought her just the day before, and I held her hand. We ran together. We had fun. We picked out people to beat, and we passed them, hand in hand. As the finish came up I let go of her and she sprinted across the line while I cheered, and then I gathered her up and carried her off to celebrate.

* * *

In retrospect, I think I know what happened.

Ruby thought she was going to win the race. She is five; competition of any real sort was still a novelty. As far as she was concerned, she was the smartest, strongest, most beautiful girl who ever lived. She really thought she was going to win.

In fourth grade I entered a lunch-time chess competition at my school. My first opponent was Dennis, an overweight classmate whose natural intellect was masked by awkwardness. In short order he had the advantage and put my King into Check. I couldn’t find the way out. My brother, three years older than me, finally pointed out the only option but by then I was forced to concede. I was devastated. I spent the remainder of the lunch hour sobbing into the librarian’s flowery polyester blouse.

As Ruby’s first race finally commenced, the reality of the situation came crashing down on her. She was not going to win. She had no real concept of the distance or the people who were running; all she knew was that an endless stream of runners were passing her as she walked up that hill. She was losing the race.

If I could do it again I’d hold her hand the whole way.


Standing in the Rubble

Two months ago, near the start of the Libyan revolution, I read this paragraph:

Gaddafi, clad in brown robes and a turban, spoke on Tuesday evening from a podium set up in the entrance of a bombed-out building that appeared to be his Tripoli residence hit by US air raids in the 1980s and left unrepaired as a monument of defiance.

And I immediately thought to myself: No, that’s not right at all.

I was considering the image of all that rubble, all that damage left on display, and I understood that there is nothing defiant about flaunting your damage. Maintaining that rubble was an act of blame, not “defiance”.

That rubble could have been bulldozed; a park could have been built. The stones and space could have become a new thing. But taking away the damage takes away the memory of the act of destruction; if there is no wound, then the impact of the original strike is diminished.

Rebuilding is the defiant act. It shows that the damage was inconsequential and that we remain unfettered. We are still growing. Your act did not make us stumble. What you did, did not matter.

To maintain our damage is to maintain blame; it says to the aggressor, “Look! Look what you have done! You are guilty, and here is the proof, and I will never let you forget it.”

The only persons we are defying are ourselves.

Passionate Wisdom

UPDATE (June 13, 2011): The author of this story has come forward admitting that it is a hoax. Although the story loses some of its appeal without the lustrous shine of a “based on a true story” tag, I hope that the underlying message of my commentary still stands.


An out lesbian in Syria is visited by goons in the middle of the night, and her father stands by her, defends her, and ultimately sends them away in shame:

 

“And my daughter? Let me tell you this about her; she has done many things that, if I had been her, I would not have done. But she has never once stopped being my daughter and I will never once let you do any harm to her. You will not take her from here.”

All of us, as good parents, would share the same sentiment; we will defend our children with ferocity.  But this father goes a step further: he defends her with passionate, lucid eloquence:

So you come here to take Amina. Let me tell you something though. She is not the one you should fear; you should be heaping praises on her and on people like her. They are the ones saying alawi, sunni, arabi, kurdi, duruzi, christian, everyone is the same and will be equal in the new Syria; they are the ones who, if the revolution comes, will be saving Your mother and your sisters. They are the ones fighting the wahhabi most seriously. You idiots are, though, serving them by saying ‘every sunni is salafi, every protester is salafi, every one of them is an enemy’ because when you do that you make it so.

“Your Bashar and your Maher, they will not live forever, they will not rule forever, and you both know that. So, if you want good things for yourselves in the future, you will leave and you will not take Amina with you. You will go back and you will tell the rest of yours that the people like her are the best friends the Alawi could ever have and you will not come for her again.”

When our children are threatened or hurt or bullied it is our instinct to be warriors. We will fight others to save our own. But this intelligent man modeled a different parenting path: calm, passionate wisdom saved his daughter’s life.

Papa Tips #5: The Explicit Handoff

Ah, family life.  Just the three of you, gathered together, curtains drawn against the world, building your new little life together.

Being wise parents, you understand the importance of continued personal development.  You make sure that you have time together and apart — even if apart means being in the next room. So while one of you is tickling the baby, the other is tickling the ivories or tackling a novel.

So, let me set the scene:

You’re curled up in your favorite easy chair, finally getting into that thick tome you’ve been eying for the past month.  Your partner is there on the rug with the child, who is contentedly sucking on various appendages.  All is at peace.

You read for a while.  You look up. Baby is still content. Partner has wandered off — maybe a bathroom break.  Time passes.  Baby is happy. You hear the unmistakable clack of the keyboard from the next room — partner has probably been sucked into the Facebook vortex.  But baby is still contentedly contemplating the existence of a cardboard tube, so all is good.

Then baby starts to make some noises. You can see that some fussing is around the corner.

You glance at the doorway where your partner has disappeared. She hears the noises, right?  Is she coming back?

Baby is definitely looking for some attention. I mean, you were right in the  middle of this chapter and she’d been talking about taking care of the baby for a bit so you could start in on this book and where did she go?

Baby is amping up the fuss and is about to break down. With a frustrated glare at the still-empty doorway, you shelve the book and descend to the carpet.

This kind of scenario can happen all-too-easily.  You’re both there, you’re both parents, you’re both responsible.  But everybody needs and deserves time to be their grownup selves again.  In fact, you should work to explicitly give each other the quality non-baby time you need.  But it’s all too easy to wander off when baby is happy, only to find that you’ve burdened the other parent when baby inevitably breaks down.

The solution? The Explicit Handoff.

It’s easy: whenever official responsibility for baby’s care changes hands, acknowledge it.  Something like, “I’m going to go poke the internet for a bit, okay? Can you be on duty?”  This is especially important on weekends, when everyone looks forward to a change from the weekly schedule and fitting in all the relaxation and errands and chores can be a challenge.

Just like Papa Tip #4, this is one of those simple practices that can head off a source of low-level frustration.  Although, unlike the previous Papa Tip, I’m actually serious about this one.

 

Papa Tips #4: Use Your Accent

You’ve had your baby. You’ve gotten through the first week or so, and maybe even a routine is starting to re-emerge from the chaos.  It’s just you and your partner, building a little family in your little home, and all is sweet.

Your partner deserves a little quiet time, so you take babbling baby into the next room.  “Hi baby,” you say, “how’s my little baby? Whatcha looking at? You enjoying being alive? How about those hockey playoffs?”

“What’s that?” Your partner yells in from the next room.

“Nothing,” you reply.  “Just talking to the baby.”

Concentration / Relaxation

Concentration / Relaxation

You’ll hear a disgruntled grunt from the next room as your partner tries to resume the train of concentration/relaxation he or she was previously riding.

This scene will repeat itself over and over. The introduction of these one-sided conversations will lead to a bunch of were-you-talking-to-me-no-I-was-talking-to-the-baby-okay-fine-then exchanges.  They’re mostly harmless, of course, but it’s one of those minor little annoyances that can plague the first few months of parenthood.

Fortunately, there’s a way to get around them: use an accent!

That’s right, adopt an accent while talking to your baby.  French, Cockney, Jersey — the choice is yours. Just be sure to pick something that is clear, distinctive, and consistent; that way your partner will immediately know when your babble is directed at the baby.  Not only will you clear up all this confusion with your partner, but your child will grow up to sound charmingly foreign!

Okay… actually there’s no way around this. You’ll get used to it; I just wanted to warn you.

My Advice to My Sister on the Night Before She Wed

“Don’t be so in love with the idea of your marriage that you forget to fight.”

My sister and her fiance ... fighting.

That’s right, fight. Fighting is certainly an exercise in communication (although, granted, perhaps not the most efficient or effective communication). But even more importantly, fighting is an exercise in trust and honesty.

It takes trust to show someone your ugliness, your disappointment, your envy and frustration and annoyance. Just taking the step to reveal this says to your partner: “look, what I’m about to say is going to piss you off. But it’s important and I trust you to handle this message”.

No couple is perfectly aligned. Not every feeling is going to be appreciated. But if you’re afraid to express your feelings honestly because of conflict, then what kind of relationship do you have? If you don’t trust your partner enough to be angry at each other, what does the future hold for you?

So fight! Trust your partner enough to communicate honestly, no matter where the discussion leads. It just might save your marriage.

Plus, I hear that make-up sex is amazing.