Dad the Writer 2

Father, husband, writer...
Father, husband, writer…

July 22, 2015

In continuing last week’s “Dad the Writer,” I need to point out that keeping mentally active is not the only thing needed in order to be an artist and a parent. Yes, you need to keep sharp, but your body can suffer if you neglect it.

While many of us would be happy living on a diet of tea or coffee and whatever we can throw in the microwave, very few of us have the Kryptonian physiology to not die after a few years of this. Luckily, my wife and I have some experience making do with small budgets and trying to eat healthy, so these habits very much informed our current situation.

I’ll be the first to admit it: I dropped the ball when it came to taking care of myself. After the baby was born, and even about a year before, I focused so much on work and taking care of my then-pregnant wife that I did gain weight and neglect my exercise. Now, with the Little One more or less in a stable schedule, my wife and I are getting back to a routine to better ourselves.

I’m by no means a nutritionist, but I have found a few things that work for me to eat healthier and not go on some fad diet, and I’m not a personal trainer, so take my advice with a grain of salt. Just because it works for me, doesn’t mean it can work for you.

Writer by claire-eyhe on DeviantArt

Learn to Cook

Most of us are more than satisfied with just opening a bag and mixing in water or simply putting a plate into the microwave. That might do in a pinch, but I discovered many years ago, long before I’d even met my wife, that learning to cook means having control over what you consume. Diet sodas and even “healthy” meal options often pack in the sugar to mask the fact that they’re basically cardboard.

It takes a little time, but you can choose exactly what you put in your body, and cooking is a good way to de-stress or at least step away from work long enough to refresh your mind.

Our diet right now is almost vegetarian and focused on greens like kale, collard greens, spinach, and other goodies. We add plenty of garlic, lentils, brown rice, and couscous into the mix and some turkey when we want meat. Once in a while, we’ll go for actual red meat, but this is a treat, both for nutrition’s sake and for health’s sake. Sodas and anything processed is also right out.

Alcohol? Well, in reality, we should cut that out to a drink a week, but a little bourbon once the Little One goes down once in a while is a good way to help the day just melt away. Suffice to say, though, that any sort of mixed drink goes right out the window due to the sugar.

Cooking by pianorei on DeviantArt

Works Out for the Meek

You want to know how I lost twenty pounds in a few weeks once? I walked. A lot. At least an hour a day, five days a week. Yes, I did also cut back on sugars and soda, but the main thing is to keep moving. That sounds easy enough when you’re taking care of a tiny human learning to walk, but you need to combine it with something else.

Given that time is more precious than gold right now, I had to find some way to keep in shape that didn’t eat up the clock. I’m not talking about getting on the cover of Men’s Fitness. I mean doing something to keep flexible and strong and even have some energy and keep my metabolism up. I chose to do tabata workouts because they’re easy, require no equipment (mostly), and they can be done in less than fifteen minutes.

The short version is that you pick a small number of exercises (jumping jacks, squats, push-ups, sit-ups, etc) and do them, one at a time for twenty seconds with a ten second break in between. You do as many reps as possible in those twenty seconds. After you do four exercises, you repeat the cycle once and then rest for thirty seconds or a minute before you start again. Doing two sets takes no more than ten minutes and kicks your butt if you’re not ready for it.

Yoga I by Studio4496 on DeviantArt

Sleep When You’re Dead

I used to joke that sleep was for the week. Well, I’m weak. And tired. And Mattie woke up at 3 AM today and figured it was time to play. A lot.

Sleep is SO important. I didn’t realize until becoming a father just how much I didn’t appreciate it. I’ve been tired before, either studying for tests or staying up grading tests. The difference, I finally realized, was that I could step away from my work. I could just tell myself to go take a nap and come back to it in a few hours.

You can’t do that with a baby.

This is where the focus from the last article comes in. Yes, do the work you need and push yourself to sit and actually write or create something in the precious few minutes you can spare, but if you need to rest and have the chance, TAKE IT. You don’t know when that opportunity will come again. And really sleep. Don’t just lay there.

Seriously. I need a week-long vacation after every tooth comes out.

That’s it for today. Stay tuned for more goodies and, in the meantime, enjoy this trailer for Clown, a movie that was surprisingly creepy, if not silly.

I Will Fear No Dumb

Keep your friends close. No, really.

April 5, 2010

When I was in college, a guy named Ed lived directly across the hall from me. Ed had a large Confederate flag hanging by his bed. He was a Civil War buff who was highly conservative on a number of issues. While he enjoyed reading, he didn’t enjoy fiction and saw little point to focusing on things that were made up, stories with no basis in reality. In almost every aspect, he and I never agreed.

And yet I consider him one of the best friends I ever had in college.

Eventually, I found that he did like SOME fiction, namely Invader Zim, and I’ve lost track of the times he and I would just chill out in his room with some beers, chips, and salsa and re-watched episodes of Firefly. But that’s a small part of the friendship.

Why do I bring this up?

Because, regardless of his political and philosophical leanings, he was a really good guy who’d given his beliefs a lot of thought. He knew why he believed what he did and he also knew that some of these views would be unpopular with others. Despite that, he stuck to his guns and was more than willing to debate the issue. Granted, I disagree with his conclusions, but he researched his facts and based them on what he knew up until that point. He’s a historian, a real academic through and through, and I respected him like I hope he respected my heathen liberal hide.

So, if a guy like that with no obligation to ever even pay attention to me could eventually become friend to an anarchic literature buff like me, what does it say about people like THIS that MUST work with people they don’t like?

A doctor in Florida put up a sign that said that if you were for Obama and health care reform, you could just go somewhere else. So… I can disagree with you politically, but God forbid I get a tumor and need your help?

I’ve gone on and on about people like Beck, Palin, pretty much everyone at Fox News, but the most pervasive problem isn’t the racism or the anti-intellectualism or even the ridiculously fierce patriotism. The biggest problem is that so many people, and I’m talking to the Right and the Left, just don’t want to talk to the other side.

I promise you, we don’t have cooties. I got many cootie shots back in elementary school.

Cootie by ~freeny on deviantART

I have another friend who is studying American history and has always identified himself as a conservative. However, upon reading and learning about certain aspects of American history, he’s said he’s changed his mind about many things and might lean more to the left of the spectrum.

It wasn’t some giant conversion. It was just a subtle shift. And there’s nothing wrong with changing your views. Scientists observe the world and constantly change the way they look at things. At one point not long ago, few believed that an asteroid could impact the Earth. It was a possibility, but now it’s widely accepted that such an event killed the dinosaurs. This isn’t to say that science has no grounding and will keep shifting without any control.

Time for some schoolin’, kids.

Science works to describe. A scientist observes the world and tries to find the patterns, the physical laws that govern the universe. Newton and his apocryphal apple gave us gravity. For a long time, Newtonian physics were the rules that governed all of creation. Then, about a hundred years ago, scientists realized that Newtonian physics didn’t cover everything. Very large masses (stars, galaxies, super-clusters) didn’t obey Newton’s laws of motion. Even worse, objects traveling at significant fractions of the speed of light, say high-energy particles, didn’t obey Newton’s laws, either.

Was Newton mistaken? Were we wrong to name those delicious little fig cookies after him?

Not So Clearly Cut by =german-popsicle on deviantART


Until a hundred years ago, we had never really had the chance to observe particles moving at such high speed. However, there they were now. Did we throw Newton out the window and watch him crack like an apple on the pavement?

Enter Albert Einstein. He developed relativity, which helped predict the motions and effects of high speed and massive objects. Then, as if to say “Frak the physicists,” reality threw a curve ball. As we peered into the world of the subatomic, we found that neither relativity nor Newtonian physics could predict the motion of electrons and the weird events that took place in that world.

That’s when scientists developed quantum mechanics, the science for people who want to understand reality while grasping at the concept of an eleven-dimensional universe. All you Half-Life fans can thank quantum mechanics for your game.

What does this impromptu science lesson mean? Well, we are all scientists… in a way. We see the world and formulate opinions based on the available data. If you grew up in a highly diverse city, say New York City, and you interacted with people from various backgrounds, you’d be a lot more open minded to new concepts and ideas. If, however, you grew up in a city with a homogenous population and little interaction with outside ideas, your point of view on the world would be similarly narrow.

That’s obvious, you say.

And yet… for some reason… we don’t apply that principle to everyday interactions. I know people on the left, hardcore liberals who fume at the right wing’s intolerance, who cringe at the thought of even being in the same room as a conservative. One of them even went around town once and took down Republican campaign banners for an upcoming election. At the same time, conservatives have their preconceptions about liberals. We’re fascists, some have been saying lately. We want your draughts to have abortions and we want to kill God.

The Liberal Environmentalist 4 by ~such-a-cynic on deviantART

How do you hope to convince someone if you go in already “knowing” what they’re all about? Granted, it’s good to have an idea of what to expect, but not to assume you know what the other person is thinking at al times. I learned things from Ed. I got a perspective of the Civil War I didn’t have before. I understand where he comes from, what led him to his conclusions, and he likewise knows where I come from for a lot of things.

To put it in grand, over-the-top religious terms, Christianity did not become one of the largest religions in the world by staying close to its centers of power and shunning the heathens. Eventually, the church had to send missionaries out. Sure, there were the occasional crusades and inquisitions, but more people converted, genuinely converted, because they met someone who altered their perceptions.

That’s what we need to do now. If I want to change someone’s mind, I won’t scare them into doing so. I will listen. I will present new information. I will try to give them the equivalent of seeing that apple fall. I will not assume their argument stems from lunacy. I may even make a new friend, and even if we disagree on the politics, I’ve found that most of us want the same thing.

Except for Glenn Beck. I am 99.999% sure he doesn’t have a brain but instead a Nerf football floating in thick syrup.

So, has there been someone you got to know but, based purely on politics, you’d never have thought to even talk to them. Share any stories below in the comments section.

Prove Me Wrong

Most of the regular readers on this site are fairly open-minded about a lot of things. Either that or they like to watch me like I’m some liberal Punch and Judy show. Either way, this article is geared towards people who may not share this point of view. I don’t want to say it’s geared towards “conservatives” because not all conservatives need to hear this. In fact, several “liberals” need to hear some of these things as well, so enjoy, and if someone you know could do with reading this article, just point them in this direction.

March 24, 2010

I had a very interesting conversation with someone a few days ago regarding the Texas educational overhaul. When I mentioned that Thomas Jefferson was going to get taken out, he said that it was a good thing.

A good thing?

As the conversation dragged on and we discussed the merits and flaws of both liberalism and conservatism, his arguments became more and more incoherent. Yes, there was alcohol involved, but he finally admitted that he had no idea what “conservative” and “liberal” meant. He didn’t even know what Jefferson had done until I brought up his achievements. I had to stop right there.

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This wasn’t the first time I’d encountered someone passionately arguing for something he didn’t understand. Some time ago, a student wrote an argumentative paper that said we should not use nuclear energy because it was dangerous. Fine, I said. However, once we started reading over his evidence, I quickly discovered he had no clue, no working idea, on what nuclear reactor did or how it functioned. Essentially, his whole argument relied on pop culture references of what nuclear reactors did and how they functioned. To put it another way, he would have been better off saying we shouldn’t use nuclear energy because we’d create another Godzilla.

At least that way we could have talked about giant monsters.

Over the last several months, we as a country have had agonizing debates, and I hesitate to call them that. They’ve been shouting matches. The town hall meetings were interrupted by protestors with nothing more to say than what they’d heard on the news, the radio, or what someone had told them.

Basically, we have people mad, fuming even, over changes that are going on in the government, and yet they really can’t explain or don’t understand why they’re mad.

This is the problem with both sides of the political spectrum. We keep calling this a debate, and yet we’ve been deadlocked for months. Am I saying one side is 100% right and the other 100% wrong? No, but one is more right than the other. However, both sides should come to the table with relevant, accurate information, not talking points. There’s a reason smart people don’t usually go into politics. They can’t stand the illogic of it. Someone who has to resort to illogic and outright lies to make a point usually has an agenda.

In other words:

Recent studies have shown that many liberals have a college education. Whether they were liberal before or after they went to a university is beside the point, however, since this means that a lot of people on the left are taught critical thinking and analysis. They can see through straw man arguments, circular arguments, bad citations, bad sources, or quote mining, and will jump on them like Rush Limbaugh on an OxyContin tablet.

Okay, cheap shot.

The point is that if you want to argue with a liberal, a well-educated liberal, make sure you know what to expect. It is, at the most basic level, a scientific, rational debate. Or at least it should be.

There is a time and a place for emotion. Emotion works best because we can feel it. It taps into the oldest, most primal parts of our brain. Intellectual arguments based on reason are solid and difficult to “feel” unless you’re a hardcore fan of reason and logic.

Or Spock.

team spock+mccoy by ~J0j2 on deviantART

However, once you’ve laid out the logical groundwork, you’re more than free to engage in emotional arguments. Tell a personal story. Mention the hypothetical consequences of our liberal actions to your heart’s content. You might sway some people if you actually have a grounding in reality. That’s what scientific minds look for. A grounding in reality.

At least in my case, if someone has an argument to make, I’d like for that person to at least make the effort to bring rational thought to the table. I may change my mind. If you can show facts and present a clear understanding of the concepts, show how my interpretation of the available data is flawed, or if you can put forth a new hypothesis or proposal that works better than my point of view, I’ll go with it.

The problem with the right is that it’s allowed its most vocal, most hateful, most irrational members to become its representatives.

Limbaugh. Bachmann. Beck. Palin.

If these are the examples, the leaders the Republicans look to, the party will die. People will start associating conservatism with these vacuous fungi with suits and, in the end, conservatism will die on its own.

Much of the anger I’ve heard over the last several months stems, I firmly believe, from some conservatives’ inability to align their world-view with reality. We have a black president. We elected Democrats to a majority in both houses. We passed health care reform. These things aren’t supposed to happen, so they come up with wild ideas, conspiracies, and soon the lie becomes the accepted reality. You can’t disprove a conspiracy, so it becomes the perfect explanation. Their world-view isn’t wrong! It’s reality that’s become corrupted!

It’s a mass delusion for many. If you are a conservative and you don’t fall into this group, if you’ve gone through your beliefs and know why you believe what you believe, and you can make an argument for them, I applaud you. I would be more than happy to discuss these things with you. New data makes for new understanding.

I would also encourage you to explain your points of view and your justification to fellow conservatives who are not as enlightened. In the end, conservatism, which is not inherently a bad thing, will die out in the political arena because radical elements in this country will have tainted it.

We still have people who believe the Earth is flat. They’re on the outermost fringe of society, a joke. They simply became irrelevant, like Zeus, Hera, and the rest of the gang, and so conservatism may be gearing up for an apocalypse when, by its own hand, it will die in a whimper.

Socialist Vocabulary

The red-coats are coming!

February 3, 2010

There are three things you’re not supposed to talk about if you want pleasant conversation: sex, politics, and religion. Let’s talk about politics since we’ve already discussed sex in another article. Religion will make an appearance later, I promise. I’m slowly trying to work this site into a wretched hive of scum and villainy.

People need to get emotional in order to act. As much as I love science, I didn’t get involved with astronomy until I made the leap that we are all made from the dust and remains of dead stars. I don’t get excited about money and numbers until I remember the things I can do once I pay off my debt. Grabbing a beer doesn’t hold as much allure unless I can share the experience with a friend.

Now, with an economy in ruins, two wars, and social schisms everywhere, members of our government want to make it easy for us to get health care.

And we’re telling them, in so many words, no.

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I’ve heard the word “socialism” thrown around so much you’d think it was a football. Or cooties. Fox News, members of the Right, and anyone else opposed to this plan keeps coming back to this idea that health care reform, at least this version of it, is a stepping stone to a socialist takeover, quiet revolution. Never mind the debacle with Palin’s so-called death panels or the fact that our health care, if we can afford it, is already regulated by companies. It’s socialism, they say! Government wants to control our lives! They already bailed out banks, own the auto-industry, and next thing you know they’ll put fluoride in the water!

I swear to God, Allah, and the Flying Spaghetti Monster that the Right has screwed the word “socialism” over like it was a five-dollar whore.

Vocabulary time, boys and girls. “Socialism,” according to, means:

1. a theory or system of social organization that advocates the vesting of the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution, of capital, land, etc., in the community as a whole.

2. procedure or practice in accordance with this theory.

3. (in Marxist theory) the stage following capitalism in the transition of a society to communism, characterized by the imperfect implementation of collectivist principles.

The Cultural Definition, lower than the regular definitions on the page, says all Marxists are socialists, but not all socialists are Marxists. Let’s think about this for a moment. The first definition seems to be the most open-ended. The second simply refers back to the original word and the third refers to Marxist theory.

However, I like this definition better: “Where capitalism stresses competition and profit, socialism calls for cooperation and social service.” It’s from Yahoo Education, and I think it sums the core difference between socialism and capitalism. It doesn’t have any of the connotations and political stigma of either and it sums up the main difference without applying the practices to any particular political ideology. After all, socialism is an economic system. If we really think about it, our country already has socialist aspects.

Don’t believe me? Ever seen one of these?

Government-controlled. Think you can run a business without reporting to the government and abiding by certain government regulations on everything from proper pay to environmental impact? All of that is government-controlled. Ever seen community gardens, public parks, or social security? All of it is government-controlled, maintained, and run.

These are facts. I’m not twisting anything. It’s not a matter of opinion whether we have socialism in this country. It’s there because we as a people said a long time ago that government had the responsibility to protect its citizens, that we needed laws to safeguard against certain kinds of behavior. I’m not arguing whether or not socialism’s a good thing. I’m just showing that the underlying concept is already present in our society.

conservative protesters
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The part of the definition that gets a lot of people is the third one I mentioned, that socialism is a step towards Marxism. Well, having a drink is the first step towards becoming an alcoholic. Getting a girlfriend is the first step towards getting that girl pregnant. Buying a car is the first step towards dying in a mangled wreck. Maybe this slippery slope argument isn’t strong enough, so let me put it another way.

Do we need healthcare? Yes. WebMD reported that over 45,000 deaths each year could be prevented by having access to affordable health care. You’re 40% more likely to die if you have no health care.

How many people would die if the government didn’t mandate seat belts in cars?

Is socialism bad? That’s not what this article is about. It’s about learning the truth. Unlike what some would have you believe, it’s not a matter or Right and Left, good and evil, or progressive versus conservative. At the most basic level, socialism is the belief that communities matter, perhaps more than the individual. We’ve had such a backlash against this word because, at first glance, such a concept goes against the American ideals of the rugged individual, the country that doesn’t need anyone’s help and can do just fine by itself.

It’s the country that’s in debt to China. It’s the country that employs illegal labor in its fields. It’s the country that has an educational system designed to make children pass school, not challenge them to do it themselves and learn from their mistakes. It’s the country where we demand social security and Medicare.

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If you’re going to use the word “socialism” when discussing health care reform, know what it means. Know history. Know what’s at stake. Understand the problem, the vocabulary, and understand the concept of fear tactics. Understand that you’re already living a country where the government does regulate our lives.

Maybe when everyone learns the meaning of “socialism,” we’ll work on learning the phrase “high educational standards.”