Flannery Correspondence

May 16, 2010

Dear internet diary

Filed under: Ideas — BrianOFlan @ 05:17

I’m glad I have you to talk to.

It’s like talking to myself only I’m actually talking to the zillions of internet users who are trying to filter out some signal from the noise.

There’s so much noise.  People updating their Facebook/Myspace/Gmail/Twitter statuses (statii?) with inane banter.  Who cares what you’re doing right now?  Stop telling the world you about your day.  Doesn’t anyone have something remarkable to say?  Something purposeful and powerful?  We have communication lines spanning continents.  We can cultivate an audience from billions*.  When in the history of the world has anyone been able to draw on such a crowd?  Has it ever been easier to change the world, lead a movement and live with the widespread significance by serving millions of fellow humans?

Why would anyone settle for a public internet status like, “I fell off my bike today”?  (Expect a comment, “Dude, I bet your butt hurts.”  Respond with, “No way, man.  YOUR butt hurts.”  Receive the customary, “LOL” or “ROFL” or “OMGLOLROFLMAO!!!”)

We are perfecting ways to neglect profound opportunity with shallowest distraction.

Oh, sweet, dear internet diary, web log of mine, only you understand me.  You hear everything I tell you without arguing.  But how do I know it isn’t just so much more internet noise?  More bits for the great static hiss, the tidal wave of senseless information-gluttony washing across our overwhelmed minds.

  • What if people are the most important thing on the planet?
  • What if family is worth the risk?
  • What if facebook friends don’t count unless you interact with them like actual friends?
  • What if everyone is just a gypsy and everything is either a castle or a ruin?
  • What if all the jobs we are supposed to get are less scarce than ever (therefore less valuable)?
  • What if the most value is hidden in those dreams we used to believe in but everyone always said, “that’s nice but what about a career”?
  • What if retirement is a myth?  What if the goal isn’t idleness or ill-defined “not-working”?
  • What if rest and entertainment didn’t require distraction?
  • What if work and play blurred, if hard tasks were satisfying and fun things were productive?
  • What if we re-connected “living” to “a living”?
  • What about how you live?  Where you live?  (Why is your living such a separate compartment of your life?  Life, living, don’t waste either.)
  • What if money wasn’t the point — if it were rather more like plant food?  Nobody spends their time trying to grab as much plant food as possible.  We just want good plants to grow.
  • What if the best ideas could be captured rather than stifled or lost?  When’s the last time you said, “what a great idea … but I don’t have a pen and the light’s already out”?  What’s more important, four seconds of sleep or a thought explosion that changes the world?
  • Is altruism possible?
  • If you know something is true and important, why keep it in?
  • Can you help people without coming off like a crooked salesman?
  • Can you help anyone without actually being a salesman and selling good things to them?
  • What if you could say exactly what you mean, no more and no less?
  • Is Reason compatible with Will?
  • What if love were sincere for a change?

Aren’t those the things we could be figuring out?  Aren’t they worth global conversation?  I bet there are more things, other important things.  It is not a comprehensive list.

Dear diary, my blog, public internet billions, if only you could respond.  I wish you would brainstorm worthwhile questions with me or else help me work out each one until the new questions emerge.

Oh well.

* Internet population exceeds 1,802,330,457 as of 2009-12-31 according to http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats.htm.  That’s 26.6% of the world population.

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May 13, 2010

How to Ruin Macaroni and Cheese

Filed under: Surviving Parenthood — BrianOFlan @ 04:31

It is the easiest meal on the planet. Boil water. Toss in some dry noodle tubes. Wait 8 minutes, drain, don’t rinse, then back in the pot with false cheese powder and false butter. Oh, wait: Add 1/4 cup of milk and stir.

You sure? 1/4 cup? Not 3/4 cup or, maybe, 3 cups. And what if you’re whipping up two boxes at once? Twice 1/4 is not quite the same as twice 3/4 cup (or twice 3 cups).

All I know is, I made Macaroni Cheese Soup.

No problem. Leave it on the stove a little to evaporate. (But the kids are screaming.)
No problem. What thickens soup? Cheese? Crackers? Flour? Sugar? Baking powder? Baking soda? I put in a little of everything. Every powder that was nearby. Baby powder, a little Gold Bond, salt, crushed Tums, Comet.

In the end, I put in a lot of powdered coffee creamer. A lot. Thickened right up.

They sure ate a lot of hot dogs. They actually liked the Sweet Creamer Macaroni Cheese Soup but it was a little rich — more like dessert than a main course. One or two bites and they were done, sugar rush.

Now I’ve got a Tupperware container full of two boxes worth of Macaroni in sugar-saturated coffee creamer form. I guess I get to take it to work for lunch. Maybe I’ll give it to the toothless guy asking for spare change on the corner. What’s he got to lose?

Where’s Christa? Out for the night? A play? Why do I have to suffer just because she’s enduring legitimate theater? Oh well. Last night she made dinner Cajun style — blackened. She brought it to me with an apology. I lovingly reassured her: At least she didn’t burn the beer.

May 1, 2010

Newlyweds

Filed under: Ever Wonder — BrianOFlan @ 22:50

Notes, 2009-07-19:  So Christa says to me, “It’s fun to be around newlyweds and remember what it was like to actually be passionate.”

Men Are From Mars: This Means War

Filed under: POPS! — BrianOFlan @ 17:45

April 16th, 2010

by Brian Flannery

“I just try to remember that everyone is fighting a great battle.” That’s how a family friend handles tough customers. She works retail; she should know. Good for encouragement and patience, I guess. But mostly I just like the idea of battle!

We’re tip-toeing through this gray foggy world. Everyone wants to pick light or dark, white or black, right or wrong. Real life is way too complex for that constant precision. Even though you know you can’t be perfect, you want to try to be a good guy. A good husband, father, neighbor.

Your only hope, then, is to boil it down to a story that’s clear — one or two fairy tales with real heroes and real bad guys. Then you can know who’s side you’re on. There’s not much intrigue in being you — timid, balding, middle aged, middle-of-the-road, mid-level manager earning average wages for a mediocre job somewhere uninspiring. What if instead you were Robin Hood or William Tell or Ivanhoe or Lancelot?

I don’t mean fantasy. Not a daydream over the copy machine. I mean a subtle fable that you refer to when you make decisions that matter.

  • White lie about a coworker? What would Honest Abe Lincoln say? He would probably wrestle you.
  • Sell out? What would George Bailey say? He’d say It’s a Wonderful Life if you stay broke but friendly.
  • Cook the books? Batman will drive a black Ferrari through your morning commute.
  • Passively resign yourself to middle class suburbia? What would Sarah Conner think of that? No fate but what we make.
  • Compromise your wedding vows? Merlin will claim your firstborn.
  • Minor export-control violation (sell weapons or defense blueprints outside the USA)? Iron Man will feed you to the starving residents of Gulmira.
  • Exploit your low-level workers? Think about Robin Hood or Clark Griswold.

[Editor’s note: I just noticed that those bullet points look like cute little flowers on the website mopsinfo.blogspot.com. Just when I thought “bullet” points were unquestionably cool.]

There are plenty of analogies and live-in allegories to choose from. Ladies like the soft, emotional ones where you have to outwit a nasty step-mother. As men we like rougher stuff — like war. Most of us are not in a real war. Nobody is shooting at us. We rarely stay up for days with only adrenaline and cigarettes. We hardly ever see things blow up. So much for men being from Mars, god of war.

On some important level, we are all fighting the great battles that constitute a living war. The enemy is the wimp inside us, or the bully; the codependent alcoholic or the pious Pharisee.

The enemy has infiltrated your intelligence network and scrambled the signal. The enemy is telling you to turn the TV up and throw back another cold one instead of changing the oil. Play another round of Nintendo golf instead of taking the kids to a sunny park. Level up in Warcraft then saddle up for the Doctor Who marathon. Read the paper instead of having to look at your wife and children over breakfast.

The enemy is the rat race of consumer debt and impulse spending. The enemy is whispering in your ear that you’ve done enough, you deserve a treat, you can skip those calls you should make. Ignore the chance to make a friend or have a beer with the new guy.

Maybe the enemy is not the boys who want to date your daughter. Maybe the enemy is not your son’s drugs or peer pressure. The enemy is not your wife’s handsome new coworker. The enemy is not pornography but who’s looking.

The enemy is ruthless. We will never survive unless we are ruthless. Hack off every little inoculated arm. Waterboard some answers out of your own internal POW.

So throw a grenade. Grab a machine gun or flame thrower. Radio for some air support. Drive a tank over the trenches and pump them full of mustard gas. Stick a pipe bomb in their chassis and send an exploding arrow into their exhaust. Carpet bomb the perimeter and take no prisoners.

We are under attack. If you are reading this, you are the Resistance.

Men Are from Mars: Forget about It

Filed under: POPS! — BrianOFlan @ 17:42

March 4, 2010

by Brian Flannery

One frustrating problem with kids is when they forget.
“What did I just say?” “Where did you put it?” “What did you do with Daddy’s phone?” “Who hit the baby?”
(Respond all together as one “I dunno” chorus.)

Other frustrating problems with kids:
Potty training, diaper escaping, potty accidents, bet wetting.
Biting, hitting, fighting, rivalry, bullying, jealousy, favoritism.
Lying, embellishment, manipulation.
Busy, clumsy, break everything, nothing is safe or truly baby-proof.
Not sleeping through the night, bad dreams.
Licking light bulbs (“That’s not candy!”).
Hair pins in the electrical outlets.
Spoiled nagging whininess.
Stranger/separation anxiety, childcare crying, over-friendliness with strangers.
TV/no TV, sugar/no sugar, cow’s milk/goat/human/soy/rice.
Growing too fast for their clothes, too slow for their age.
Failure to thrive or childhood obesity or stomach flu or other medical concerns.
When your wife rents that horrible movie, My Sister’s Keeper.
(I cried at the trailer. Don’t tell the other POPS!.)

I have no problem recalling this list of annoyances. I have a good memory. I don’t forget things like a two-year-old.

Sometimes I do forget. For instance, I forgot one important problem with kids: That kids are not supposed to be a problem.

I don’t just mean in the “seen and not heard” sense. (That would be nice.) I mean we can get too busy providing for them and disciplining them and educating them and changing them, sanitizing them, reorganizing, recombobulating, chauffeuring and emergency-room-waiting that we forget to be with them. Smile at them. Play. Hug. Love.

When I was home all the time, they were the obstacle. I wasn’t getting any work done and I certainly wasn’t making any money with these kids crawling all over me. Now that I am away nine hours every day, they are the missing part of the day. I see them before they go to bed, maybe.

I will leave it up to you to hum “Cat’s in the Cradle” to yourself.

Remember! For it is the doom of men that they forget.

-Brian the old softy

Next week:
The important difference between swearing around your children and swearing at your children. Plus, that unsung nuance of parental profanity, swearing with your children.

.

Men Are from Mars: Handy

Filed under: POPS! — BrianOFlan @ 17:41

February 19, 2010

by Brian Flannery

Every so often for the amusement of my neighbors, I put the garage door up. There among my clutter I attempt something handy. I am about as handy as a club-footed midget amputee wearing an eye-patch. My projects usually result in wasted supplies, a few ruined tools and a lot of bandages. When I was a kid, Mom told me you got tetanus from scraping rusty metal. Now that I am older, I am less superstitious. Like a scientist, I’m waiting to see if I escape lock-jaw.

I started a project while Christa was at MOPS. The kind of project that should of taken an hour and a half, tops. Two hours later, Christa came home and asked me for help with the kids. No problem; I’m almost done. Another two hours passed and our neighbor across the street walked down to get the mail.

“What are you making?” She caught me at a bad time, kind of an anger management moment. I was swearing at inanimate objects and trying to keep down a little bleeding with a rag and duct tape.
I told her I was building a castle. Aren’t we all?
“No, really. What are you making?”
It’s hard to describe. “A kind of saw-horse.”
“Oh. We have saw-horses. We bought them at the store.”
“Well, I need a special kind of saw-horse.
“I guess. Ours look like saw-horses.”
Mine looked like a medieval torture device. Imagine a Roman cross combined with a bird house and a weaving loom the size of a car. “Go away,” I said with my mind. She went away and I felt bad for being telepathically rude.

Another hour and a half passed. A car stopped in front of our house. “Hey, get a job!”
Holy crud, is it that bad? I have no idea who this person is. “Hello, I’m Brian.”
“Yeah. I’m your neighbor. We met you when we moved in. Hadn’t seen you around in a while.”
Yeah. Well, I’m working, so…. We talked more. I learned about his training and family. He didn’t pry about my birdhouse torture loom.

He drove on. I returned to my opus which was almost stable. I call it stable if it stands up without leaning against the wall, a countertop, two stools and some cardboard boxes. That’s how I frame my complicated inventions. A few more screws and a cross beam later, I stand back and gaze at my masterpiece. A finished thing is a thing, a thing. At last.

Then I tried to move it. It was heavy. I might have used two or three times too much wood. It wasn’t pretty. The neighbors might consider it an eyesore. It was destined for the backyard. I had put the neighbors through enough. Trouble was, all those cross beams made it very clumsy to get near its center of gravity. So I had to crawl inside it. Surrounded by my infrastructure, I notice that all of the screws I used are about two inches too long. They stick through the beams from every angle. Even so, I lift this crown of thorns and scooch it a few shuffles at a time, pausing for air and to relieve the drilling pain. One false move would look like an elaborate suicide.

When I get to the gate to my backyard, I notice this oversized Trojan saw-horse is too wide to pass. I pause in despair. I could not imagine how many more hours it would require to disassemble it and re-assemble it on the side of my house. I looked up at the heavens and saw that they were grinning without sympathy. If I were Paul Bunyan, I would just lift the whole device over the fence. If I had twenty stout men we could do it. But I’m just little old clumsy me.

I rolled that saw-horse through the gate. Tumbled it head over heels. And when I rolled it where it belonged, I stopped rolling. It survived the jostling. Something about using way too much material with way too many fasteners made for one sturdy hurdy gurdy. To consummate my accomplishment, I sawed a branch in half using my custom saw-horse. It wobbled a little and it is one foot too tall. Then I went inside. My wife gave me two Advil and hassled me very little for blowing the day. I went to bed. Before passing out in pain, I thought to myself: Next time I’m going to invite the neighbors over. I might even ask them for help. Or borrow their saw-horse.

——-

Christa’s comments: Pick your battles (this works with kids, too). Some of the best lessons are taught by keeping our mouth’s shut. If nothing else, it makes for a good laugh.

——-

Brian’s comments: My mother-in-law walked in on me twice while I was constructing my masterpiece in the garage. She asked a few questions then decided to drop it. When Christa showed her this article, she laughed loudly. “It sounds like he’s exaggerating but he’s not — I saw it!” she said. So there you have it (in case you doubt…).

Men Are from Mars: Who Buys Blue Light Bulbs?

Filed under: POPS! — BrianOFlan @ 17:39

February 5, 2010

by Brian Flannery

Someone invited our girls to a mermaid birthday party. Christa was out of town with the baby boy so I had to pack up the estrogen wagon and make it to the lagoon on time.

We arrived late. I had to carry the two one-year-olds and motivate the big girls to walk faster. The trip from the minivan to the door was exhausting. My motivators were sore; and the big girls were tired of getting a boot to the behind.

Then we stepped inside.

Blue light led us forward. Blue rippling streamers spanned the ceiling. Blue plastic tablecloths adorned the walls — painted all over with undersea scenery. Bubbles poured into the room over a blue curtain. The finger foods were fish crackers and cheese sticks with little eel-like eyes (cloves). Mini cucumber cracker sandwiches and dyed green cream cheese. A smiling crab (carved red pepper) cradled the dip. The turquoise cake was topped with white foam and rimmed at the base with gravel (chocolate raisins).

The Little Mermaid soundtrack plays in the background. The hosting mother is unrecognizable as a purple-haired mermaid and compliments her guests’ own costumes (we had only one to split four ways). The hosting father is dressed as a pirate and the kids soon discover a treasure chest (brown painted Styrofoam cooler) in the corner, full of sand (lima beans) and precious jewels (with convenient barrettes).

While the older girls take turns excavating treasure among the beans, the younger girls go fishing by casting lines over the bubble curtain and pulling out candy and animal crackers. The climax of the festivities is a jellyfish piñata that refuses its candy until one lucky child plucks the right tentacle. As the party wraps up, the soundtrack evolves into repeating ocean sounds, waves crashing. The parents watch their little mermaids get dizzy chasing bubbles, sugar crashing.

The youngest girls are swimming in the treasure chest beans and using them to fill up other people’s shoes. (They will be vacuuming for weeks.) The older girls find their way around the fishing curtain and are helping themselves to the animal crackers by the handfuls. Someone is running back and forth catching bubbles in her mouth like snowflakes. Lima bean stowaways await discovery during the next diaper change.

——-

We survived the ordeal. My brother called me that evening asking about my day. This is my single, childless, heavily tattooed, military motorcycle brother. Halfway through my extended description (that you’ve just read) it struck me that he didn’t care how elaborate this mermaid party was. He agreed. And then I thought of you, MOPS. You’re brainwashing me.

Letters from Planet Mom

Filed under: MOPS, POPS! — BrianOFlan @ 17:38

February 5, 2010

Dear MOPS, Thank you so much for taking the time to read the newsletter — and a special thanks to those who have written down your comments and concerns via email or the blog. After receiving a few concerns about our last “Men Are From Mars” Article, I wanted to take a moment to apologize and explain.

Let me begin by saying sorry if the “Men Are From Mars” Article has offended you. In the midst of our crazy week, Brian and I accidentally printed a draft of the article instead of the final. While the overall content was the same, we intended to delete some of the less tasteful words that had been printed. (The correct, final draft can be found at MOPSinfo.blogspot.com).

As moms, sometimes our jobs can throw us some PG13 (or even R) material that we must somehow convert into PG or G for our kids. As parents of four girls, Brian and I recently hurdled one of these such subjects. We brought home baby brother and it was inevitable that the girls noticed he was different. So, Brian and I began our discussion. What terms would we choose?

My thought was to use the technical terms “penis” and “vagina”. Brian disagreed: “vagina” is usually not the correct technical term. He’d prefer to simply call them private parts. We still haven’t came to a conclusion but we’re working on it. In the end, what we decide is not nearly as important as choosing something. If we do not direct our children, someone or something will direct them for us. I pray that I never shy away from a subject simply because it’s hard or adult content – but that in everything we do as moms we try our best and trust God to do the rest.

When I took the MOPS position of publicity I was immediately excited about Brian writing an article. Why? For several reasons.

First of all, parenting is not a one person job. Even if you are a single mom, your children need a male-perspective or role model. Our jobs as moms are priceless, but let us not underestimate the role of a father (or father-figure). Boys receive from their masculinity and self-confidence from their interactions with dad, and girls their self-esteem and self-worth (“Wild at Heart” and “Captivating” by John Eldredge, “Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters” by Meg Meeker, and articles such as those found at focusonthefamily.com all talk about the importance of dad).

Let’s face it, men and women parent differently. “Men Are From Mars” is our attempt at shedding some light on the male perspective. Whether if offers a conversation starter for you and your husband, brings up a subject that you have not yet thought about or simply offers a laugh in the midst of a stressful mommy day, our hope is to enhance your role as a mom, your relationship with your spouse and ultimately your walk with God.

Never hesitate to let us know your thoughts! Send comments (and complaints) to Christa, Brian or post them here on-line.

Sincerely, Christa (and Brian) Flannery

Men Are from Mars: Private Parts

Filed under: POPS! — BrianOFlan @ 17:37

January 22, 2010

by Brian Flannery

The question is going to come up. “Mommy, Daddy, why does brother have a different bottom than sister and I?” By “bottom” she means, y’know, down there.

I certainly never thought about it before but it seems that boys and girls are different. And they notice. Oh, they notice. Even an only child or a family of all boys (or all girls, how horrible) will find out. Something will give it away.

That’s when it’s time to stop bathing with your kids. In fact, don’t go to bathroom around them. In fact, try to get one of those androgynous outfits like that delightful Marilyn Manson comes up with. Bathe each child separately, secretly at different times of the day or at random. Otherwise, you’re going to have to talk about it.

What do you say? What do you call it? Boys, “weewee,” “peanut,” “noodle,” “ding dong”. Girls, “fanny,” “winkie,” “front bottom.” For both, “monkey,” “groin,” “peepee” or “P.P.” (for “private parts”). I have not made any of these up. I’m sticking with “boy parts” and “girl parts.”

It’s my personal pet peeve when well-intentioned parents miscall the private parts in an attempt to be proper or scientific. The problem is, the more scientific you get, the more important it is to be precise. Girl parts are particularly prone to mis-classification. Rhymes with “China?” Not according to a doctor. (Truth by consensus, Wikipedia, agrees with the anatomy textbooks on this one, complete with photographs — WARNING!)

Don’t be fooled by the know-it-alls of popular proper-sounding vernacular. Isn’t it better to use “silly” unscientific terms than to flagrantly misuse a clearly defined one. Would you tell your physician that your sinuses hurt when you actually only have a black eye?

Next week: “Where do babies come from? Ask your mother. She told you to ask me? Look, if I knew, do you think I would have so many?”

Fellow POPS! will meet tomorrow, Saturday, January 23rd, 11AM at Old
Chicago, Iliff and Buckley. Half hour of unhealthy food and manly, kid-free
conversation.

Men Are from Mars: Isolation

Filed under: POPS! — BrianOFlan @ 17:36

January 8, 2010

by Brian Flannery

Engineers are weird. Once I walked among them. I am ever grateful to one who warned me, in engineer language, that having a child “was a step function.”

He meant that life’s complexity and difficulty did not slowly, gently increase by 1 or 2. It did not multiply by 2 or 3. No straight line ramp up. It just jumped from 4 or 5 (depending on your marriage) to 107 without transition. The next child takes you up a sheer cliff to 1000+. The third and further children affect the scale less and less. (Their names blur, your hair grays and the years go quickly.)

My cousin, more human, said that everything he thought he and his wife had learned about communication was completely useless as soon as a child appeared. If you wait a few years between wedding chapel and delivery room, you may notice the change more. My wife and I jumped from confusing married communication into confused parent conversation so quickly it all formed one high-volume static screech.

It is easy to feel trapped, alone in a crowded house. When you and your wife disagree on something intense like discipline or your work schedule, then you’re alone. After a terrible morning of screaming, kids and poop, you barely make it out alive. Then you come home and she says, “I’ve been thinking I’m ready to have another baby.” So you unilaterally make a vasectomy appointment.

Sitting there in the sterile waiting room, surrounded by men who are exactly the same as you, still you are alone. That’s how men are. We like long drives and quiet, empty rooms and speechless, faithful dogs or a day spent with no one but the TV. We pull our hats down and squint at the bitter breeze that scrapes across our rugged bristles.

When the moment of betrayal hits; when you look at your spouse — you thought you were in this together — and realize that you are, in fact, completely alone; when your life boat’s one man crew shudders at the stormy waves and contemplates the big, empty flatness beyond; when the night is dark and the late stillness plays tricks on your mind and you are at last afraid to be alone, remember: You are never alone.

This is not a Barlow Girls song. This is war. People in Hell are alone. You are not alone. When you’re in the trenches with tunnel vision, don’t forget you have one key soldier beside you. You are nearer than you think to having your spouse as an ally. Give up the two front war: “Me vs. the Kids” and “Me vs. the Mrs.” Instead, join forces! Teach those kids a lesson.

There are POPS! fighting beside you in the same battle, for the same cause. What if spiritual armies fight on your side? What if a resurrected Christ roots for you and a Spirit is rebuilding you from the inside out? You can stand and fight in good company or you can flee.

For camaraderie in action, join your band of brothers. Fellow POPS! will meet Saturday, January 23rd, 11AM at Old Chicago, Iliff and Buckley. Half hour of unhealthy food and manly, kid-free conversation.

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