The Princess and the Pea

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. — Tolstoy

Nick and I just had a conversation about those incidents that scarred us in our youth. The crazy thing is that to adults — even to us as adults — these things seem trivial. Yet they’re the kind of things that shape our lives.

Fear of success

When Nick was in third grade, the church camp (Drift Creek) began to offer a week for kids his age. Nick wanted to go more than anything. At Bible school that summer, kids could earn a sort of scholarship to Drift Creek for accumulating points by memorizing Bible verses, etc.

Nick worked like crazy. He needed 1500 points to earn the scholarship, but he wanted to be sure. He earned more than 3000 points, far more than any other kid in Bible school. He was excited — he’d get to go to Drift Creek Camp!

But on the last day of Bible school, he found out that no scholarships were being offered to third graders. He’d done all that work for nothing. He was devastated.

As a result, Nick says, to this day he finds that he’s afraid to put all his effort into something. Somewhere in the back of his mind is the expectation that there won’t be any reward for the effort.

Dazed and confused

When I was about ten or twelve, our family made a visit to one of Mom’s aunts or uncles or cousins in Beaverton. We didn’t see Mom’s family very often, and both my parents were on edge. I think Dad always felt inadequate around them, as if he were being judged.

The house seemed like a mansion to me. I grew up in a run-down trailer house, and this place was enormous, filled with all sorts of expensive furniture. Jeff, Tony, and I ran around with the other kids while the adults sat in the living room, talking about adult stuff.

Because I was beginning to feel older, at some point I decided to join the adult conversation. In my memory, I went into the living room and sat down on the couch. I’m sure, however, that as most kids do, I plopped down on the couch. In any case, when I sat down, I dislodged an enormous painting that had been resting on the back of the sofa, causing it to fall to the floor.

Dad was livid. He took me outside and spanked me, probably one of the last times he ever did so. He was irate because I had embarrassed him in front of these people around whom he felt uncomfortable anyhow. I was dazed and confused. I couldn’t figure out what I had done wrong. In my mind, I had just tried to sit down on the couch. I had tried to do something good: join an adult conversation.

“I think about that incident several times a month,” I told Nick. He was shocked. “I’m serious,” I said. “All my life, I’ve thought about that incident several times a month. It is a deep part of who I am.”

Lie down on the couch

As an adult, it’s a challenge to cope with all of this baggage from my youth. Looking back, it seems so inconsequential. I know that Mom, too, fights some of this. She has often shared stories about the things that happened to her as a girl, the things that messed her up. When I hear the stories, I tend to dismiss them as trivial, just as you’re probably dismissing my story above as trivial. But they’re not trivial. These little things do lasting damage.

But how can a parent or teacher actually know which trivial things are going to do the lasting damage? Is it possible for a person to grow up without any sort of psychological scarring?

“People are strange,” I’m fond of saying. “They’re no such thing as normal. Every person is strange. But we’re each strange in different ways.” It’s not just my family that’s messed up — Kris’ family is messed up, too. So is every family. So is every person.

As of this moment, I am technically debt-free except for my mortgage. I haven’t actually paid the final debt, but I have the money in the bank to do so. This is an enormous step for me. Defeating my debt is akin to defeating the demons from my youth. It’s a sign that the adult J.D. is asserting himself, is denying that the things that happened to the young J.D. will actually control his life.

I’m not out of the woods yet, of course. I may have my financial life under control, but I’m still a fat middle-aged man who eats like shit and who never exercises. I have some very real social anxieties. For some time, I’ve considered seeing a psychologist to discuss some of my poor behavior patterns. Maybe it’s time to actually do so.

Re-Reading The Golden Compass

During our Thanksgiving road trip to bend, we listened to the audio version of The Golden Compass. Kris and I have both read the book several times, but since the film is coming out soon, we decided to refresh our memories.

Tiffany enjoyed the book so much that she insisted on borrowing my iPod so she could finish it on Saturday. (Tiff, Kris has finished the second book now, if you’re interested.)

When we got home, I decided to search for information on the film, which opens on December 7th. What I found made me worried. I was initially excited for the film, but recent trailers have me wary. I’m afraid the girl who plays Lyra may not be a good actress, and I’m afraid that the film may be over-produced. This clip does nothing to allay my fears:

Can you say “wholly invented” and “made from whole cloth”? This scene has no relation to the book. I am baffled. The following episode is a little better, combining two scenes from the book:

I’ve continued to listen to the book during my commute. I always forget how slow it starts. It’s leisurely, and doesn’t seem to be heading anywhere. But by the half-way point, you come to realize that everything that has been mentioned before is important, that story elements have been accumulating like a snowball. It’s quite effective story-telling, actually.

In fact, there’s an extended section about two-thirds through the book (starting with “the lost boy”) that is one of my favorite passages in any book. (I’m speaking of Tony and his fish, of course.) I only wish the rest of this trilogy held up to that last half of The Golden Compass. There are moments of brilliance throughout — including the dirigible chase near the end of The Subtle Knife — but I think that things eventually go flat.

Apparently there’s an uproar about the movie in certain parts of the Catholic church. They don’t appreciate that the series ultimately takes a dim view of religion. I never understand why religious people get hacked off at this stuff, especially in the U.S. What about freedom of speech? And why feel so threatened? Christians make up a vast majority of this country’s population. Why is it okay to have thousands and thousands of books that depict atheists in a poor light, but a single series that questions organized religion (and Catholicism in particular) is taboo? Give me a break.

BBEdit 8.7 Features Automatic Session Restore!

My MacBook Pro crashed today. For the fifth time since I bought it a year ago, it gave me the equivalent of the Windows blue screen of death. For the second time, Nick happened to be in the room to witness my violent throes of agony.

After I rebooted, he was impressed that Safari, my web browser, restored all the open tabs from my previous session. “It’s a new feature,” I told him. “Firefox does it too, I think.”

But what amazed me was that just now, eight hours later, I reopened BBEdit, my text editor. I knew that the latest version had a session restore feature. What I didn’t know, however, was that it restored all documents, including unsaved items. You should have seen my jaw drop. This is a feature I’ve been wanting for months. (Years!) And here it is. All my precious unsaved documents (and there are nine of them — out of 53 open files) have been saved!

I am pleased beyond measure.

p.s. You cannot believe how happy I am to have my old foldedspace template back. It makes me misty.

Becoming Professional

“You know how you feel overwhelmed some days?” Kris asked last night.

“What do you mean?” I said, because the question was a sort of non-sequitur.

“You know,” she said. “You often complain that you’re getting too much e-mail and that there’s too much you have to do for the blog. You tell me that you’re overwhlemed.”

“Oh. That. Yeah, I know what you mean.”

“Well,” she said, “today I feel overwhelmed. I’m overwhelmed for you. I can’t believe how much stuff you got today. How can you possibly reply to it all?”

“I can’t,” I said. “In fact, I’m afraid that I didn’t even notice today. I’ve been ignoring e-mail all day. I’m near e-mail bankruptcy again, anyhow. My inbox has grown from 30 messages to 300, and I don’t have time to answer them.”

“Yeah,” Kris said. “It’s overwhelming.”

It is overwhelming, but mostly I love it. I love it so much, in fact, that I’m going to make it my full-time job. As I recently shared at Get Rich Slowly, beginning in January, I’m going to reduce my hours at Custom Box Service. I’ll be cutting back one day at the start of every quarter so that by the start of 2009, I’ll be writing from home full-time.

I’m actually making more from blogging now than I am from the box factory, so there’s no worries about where I’m going to get the money to do this. I do have an enormous tax liability that I need to prepare for, and then I need to save a significant “rainy day fund”, but aside from those two things, I’m ready to make this move.

At first, I’ll be focused on the blogging, but I hope to shift to other sources of income, too. For example, I believe I’m finally ready to write a book. I’ve been getting one or two e-mails every month from publishers interested in discussing a deal with me. That’s flattering, no doubt, but I’ve talked with enough writers to know that there’s very little money in going that route. I have three goals in writing about personal finance. They are, in order of importance:

  • To help other people take control of their financial lives.
  • To earn money for myself.
  • To achieve some sort of fame.

That last goal isn’t very important to me, and it seems to be the only advantage a big-name publishing house offers. Yes, if my book were to be successful, I could make a lot of money. But the odds are stacked against me, even if the book is good. (I read a lot of personal finance books. Some of the best books are those that nobody has ever heard of.) As a result, I’m likely to do some sort of self-publishing.

Anyhow, I’d also like to pursue other sources of income from writing: magazine articles, short fiction, etc. Get Rich Slowly is keen, but I’d like to diversify.

Most of you are already aware that I’ve been meaning to move away from the box factory. I just thought I’d make it official.

Thanksgiving in Bend

My Thanksgiving was a little strange.

This was the first year that most of the family made a road trip to get together. My brother Tony moved his family to Bend in the middle of 2006, and it was their turn to host things. Early Thursday morning, Kris and I picked up Tiffany and then Mom, and we drove through Silverton, Stayton, Sisters, and on to an early turkey dinner.

Snow-Covered Trees

I felt fine starting the trip, but I did a dumb thing: I drank 16 oz. of orange juice for breakfast. Orange juice is basically sugar water, or at least that’s how my body responds to it. Within half an hour, I was a very groggy J.D. In fact, I was a very groggy J.D. for the rest of they day.

Tony and Kamie live in the same housing development as Kamie’s parents (“River Rim”, though there’s no river in sight). But David and Merre are in the midst of a nine-month swing across the U.S., selling horse cookies. Because their house is huge, the Roth family took it over to celebrate Thanksgiving.

The food was good, and the conversation too. But I was groggy. I felt totally out of step with the rest of the group. To make matters worse, I had a glass of wine, and then a little Scotch. Two drinks in three hours isn’t enough to get anyone intoxicated, but the additional sugar made me woozier yet. I went upstairs and drowsed off for a while. Then I went to bed early.

Despite feeling so lousy, I had a fun time.

This was the first I’ve ever really had a chance to know my neice Emily since she’s had a personality. I like her. I think she’s rather witty for a girl of nearly two. (A girl who does not speak.) I thought it was hilarious that she ate constantly the entire time we were there. She never stopped.

I also found myself enamored with T.J., the cockatoo who lives in the house. He and I became fast friends.

On our drive home, we made the traditional Sno-Cap stop in Sisters for burgers and fries. During both days of the road trip, we listened to the audio version of The Golden Compass, about which more later.

So, it was a strange holiday for me — I was in a mental fog, I was in a strange house, and things just seemed out of sync. But it was fun.

City Market

Kris and I made an expedition to northwest Portland today, searching for menu items for an upcoming dinner party. Amy Jo had told us that City Market at 21st & Johnson was a great place to pick up top-quality meats and cheeses. She wasn’t kidding.

City Market is a playground for foodies. It’s a small place, but it holds an amazing variety of good food. Unlike New Seasons and other similar high-end grocery stores, City Market doesn’t do any catering to the lowest common denominator. There are no breakfast cereals here. The junk food is all quality junk food.

City Market features a fine seafood section, a butcher department, and a huge variety of cheeses and deli meats. There’s a long aisle of wines, a case of gourmet beers and soft drinks, and a corner filled with produce. As I said, it’s a small space, but it’s packed with good stuff.

Kris selected some cheeses while I sampled smoked salmon and asked about clams.

“Wow,” I said as we walked back to the car. “That place was great. That’s exactly my kind of grocery store. I could shop there all the time.”

“Yeah,” Kris muttered. “Except for the price.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“This is a half a bag of groceries,” she said, holding up the bag she was carrying. “It cost us $75.”

“Oh,” I said. “Good point.”

I guess City Market isn’t a good place for everyday shopping. But I sure intend to return there to pick up stuff for future dinner parties!

The Six Million Dollar Blog

Gentlemen, we can rebuild it. We have the technology. We have the capability to build the world’s first bionic blog. Foldedspace will be that blog. Better than it was before. Better, stronger, faster.

Wow. Amazing what a burst of productivity can do. Almost everything is in place with the template. Thanks to everyone who offered tips. I appreciate it. All of the old functionality has returned except for archives and search. Actually, I think WordPress is automagically taking care of some of that. So, the template is finished.

That leaves content. I imported the most recent MT content last night just for fun. But when John and I have actually recovered all of the old data, I’ll probably wipe WordPress and start from scratch. I’ll still end up with a bunch of duplicate entries, but I have the patience to sit down and sort things out. I’m excited to do so, actually! Bring it on!


I’ve got an itch that needs scratching, and a little time to scratch it.

I’m going to make an attempt to move the traditional foldedspace theme for Movable Type over to WordPress. This could be a pain-filled process. And things around here may look broken for a while.

Update: Not bad! Not bad! Yes, I know that many things are broken. But that’s okay. This is a tremendous first attempt, don’t you think? And it only took an hour. Now let’s see if I can perform the necessary repairs in less than three hours…

Update #2: Okay, folks. Everything seems to be working, and in only three hours total! If you notice anything that doesn’t work, please let me know. I know that the flotch is gone, as is the calendar. I’ll try to bring those back. I also know that there’s no good way to access the archives. John Bodoni has graciously offered to help me recover the old foldedspace archives, all the way back to 2001. When we’ve accomplished that, I’ll bring the entire archive system back online. But for now, you may rejoice:

The old foldedspace Movable Type template has made a smooth transition to WordPress!

Requiem for a Friend

Five years ago I returned from the dark side, leaving the PC fold to re-enter the Macintosh flock. My first Mac upon return was a 700mhz iBook g3. It was a fine computer, though a little slow. (I bought at the low-end of the spectrum — not the best idea under normal circumstances, and even a little less advisable with Macs.)

My little iBook was a good and faithful servant. It did develop a problem with its screen just outside the warranty, but I could work around that. For years, this site was maintained on the iBook.

With time, however, I got other Macs. My iBook took a backseat. I dragged it out under those rare circumstances in which I needed a backup laptop. But mostly it gathered dust.

Talking with Tiffany recently, she mentioned that her old PC laptop was on its last legs. “I’m thinking about getting a Mac,” she told me.

“I have a Mac!” I told her. “You can have it.” I was glad to have a new home for my little friend, the iBook.

On Friday night, I went over to Tiff’s and installed a spare wireless router I’d been saving. We got the iBook set up and ready to go. Things were good.

Today, though, Tiffany went to download the latest software updates and the computer froze. Macs don’t freeze. (Well, they do, but rarely, and not like this.) She turned the computer off and attempted to restart it with the power button. No luck. She called me and in a small voice said, “I broke your computer.”

Having worked with computers for over a decade, I found it unlikely that she’d broken anything. “Bring it over,” I said, and so she did.

I spent half an hour taking the thing apart, testing various pieces. No luck. My little iBook is well and truly dead. Poor little iBook. It was a good friend. Now, however, it’s destined for the computer graveyard…

Queen of the Night

Kris and I have owned cats for fifteen years now. (Or maybe I should say that cats have owned us.) For fifteen years, we’ve struggled to get a good night’s sleep.

Tintin wasn’t so bad. He wasn’t much of a bed sleeper. But when he did sleep on the bed, he was a nuisance. He had “pokey paws”. When he stood on you, it was as if he were channeling all of his mass into four very sharp points.

When Toto came along, she was an immediate nuisance. We slept on a futon at the time, and that little black kitten would crawl on us at night, cuddling up under our chins to suckle on the fringe of one of our blankets. When I couldn’t take her sucking, purring, and kneading anymore, I’d hurl her to the foot of the bed. But she’d march right back up to suck on the fringe some more.

As she grew older, the fringe sucking stopped. But she developed other bad habits. She began to paw paw paw Kris’ hair in the middle of the night. While this sounds cute, it has always kept Kris awake. And Kris, in her infinite wisdom, sees fit to then wake me to tell me that she can’t sleep. Ugh.

Toto has always loved the bed, but this has become even more pronounced since we moved to the new house. She sleeps there all day. She sleeps there all night. It’s her throne. She’s the Queen of the Night.

Lately, our three boys have become bed monsters, too.

Simon isn’t so bad. He sleeps at Kris’ feet and is relatively still. He’s just a dead weight.

Nemo, however, is a nuisance. He has some of the same pokey paws that Tintin used to have, but more of a problem is that he picks some inconvenient spot at about waist level and plants himself there. He’s immovable. Immovable, that is, until Toto realizes he’s there and begins hissing and growling at him. Then he skitters away with a squeak.

Max, on the other hand, sleeps at my feet. Or with my feet. Or something. Basically, he waits for me to move my toes, and then he chomps. It’s not too painful — just annoying.

The real problem, though, is that when all four cats are on the bed at once, there isn’t any room for the humans. This makes the humans cranky!

In fact, Kris has been so cranky about the cats lately that she’s banned them from the bedroom. Oh, Toto can still have the bed during the day (Queen of the Light!), but when bedtime comes, she’s moved to the futon in the TV room. She wasn’t happy at first (nor were her brothers), but she’s learned to accept this, I think. I’m glad. Now, for the first time in fifteen years, we’re starting to get sound nights of sleep.