Thursday, June 12, 2008

Good Morning, Son

As a writer there are things -- essays, passages, songs -- you read or hear and know you could have (or sometimes feel should have) written. Ben Folds' "Still Fighting It" is one of those things for me. I'm not a huge Ben Folds fan. I liked the single "Brick" that he put out with his old band, Ben Folds Five, but beyond that I'm not someone who claims extensive knowledge of his oeuvre. I do know that "Still Fighting It" is on Folds' first solo album, Rockin' the Suburbs, released September 11, 2001 -- about a month after my son was born. I didn't find the song until a couple of years later, during that time when my son's personality was really starting to emerge. And the lyrics captured right where my head was at the time -- realizing he was "so much like me (I'm sorry)" and how it was "weird to be back here" in Northeast Ohio, where I grew up, as a husband and father. The lump-in-your-throat honesty -- raw and brutal as "Brick", but so heartbreakingly beautiful here -- captures so much about being a dad, and the feelings that confusion evokes.

Revisiting the song today, and coupling that with having just read David's new book (and its underlying theme also about a man stretching and evolving into the role of spouse and provider), and I am suddenly in a most reflective, most appreciative state of mind as Father's Day approaches.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Strung Out in Heaven's High

We've watched the first two episodes of Discovery HD's miniseries When We Left Earth: The NASA Missions, and I'm nearly speechless. I have always loved the stories of America's early space program. I remember the first time I saw The Right Stuff -- based on Tom Wolfe's book about the Project Mercury program -- on HBO with my parents back in the '80s and being transfixed by the story and fascinated by the fact that the real people the actors were portraying were still around.

When I saw the trailer for this new series, where the Discovery Channel was able to open up the NASA vaults and re-master the footage for presentation, I was blown away. Gary Sinise does a fine job of narrating, framing the visually stunning footage in its natural flow and suspense. And as our six year old son observed: "This is like Star Wars... only [in Star Wars] they don't wear spacesuits or helmets, just their regular clothes and a communicator."

My only complaint is that the episodes go by much too quickly. Episode 1, "Ordinary Supermen", covers the Mercury missions in just under an hour. Likewise, episode 2, "Friends and Rivals", presents the Gemini program in the same running time. But that could be considered nitpicking, because I am grateful to see any of this footage at all.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

With Akron-ness

My friend David's new book, All the Way Home: Building a Family in a Falling-Down House, is living up to expectations. I picked up my copy at his reading and talk at the Akron Main Library auditorium this past Wednesday and have barely put it down since.

I have known David for about three years now. When my first review for PopMatters was published, I emailed it to him because I knew he had co-written the great book We Are Devo! with Jade Dellinger. He responded graciously and has always been generous with guidance and a kind word ever since.

Before our flight to the suburbs, we lived around the corner from David and Gina. Our house was nothing compared to what they have undertaken, both in the size of the house or in the scope of any sort of needed refurbishment (NYT slide show), but reading the new book now makes me wonder if I should have been asking David for home improvement advice as much as I have asked him for writing guidance! (I think David would modestly say I have been better off without his advice in the home repair arena.)

What's cool for me is that I have actually been inside the house that is really a main character in the new book on a couple of occasions when dropping off or picking up stuff that David and I were exchanging. I've only ever seen the foyer and center hall inside and the garage around back (to turn my car around because, as described in the book, backing out of that drive can be suicide). If I had known the story behind the house beforehand I would have paid more attention to what surrounded me, but it left an impression nonetheless.

We found out at the Library event that All the Way Home has been selected for Oprah's Summer Reading List, which is huge for the book. Combine that with the great profile in the New York Times a couple months ago and the fact that David is the kind of writer who connects with the reader almost immediately, and the book is bound for success and David for even greater heights. From the well-placed music references to the laid-bare emotional confusion of what it means to earn the title of husband/father/provider, there is an inherent urban, metrosexual, hip-ness to David's writing that is off-set perfectly by his ability to appreciate the wonder of the town he has grown up in.

After David's talk at the library, I stood in line with my old neighbors from Highland Square who had also come out to support David, along with my parents who had driven up to hear him speak. I introduced my parents to David, and we all had him autograph our copies of the book. He signed mine, "With Akron-ness," and it couldn't be more appropriate.