Saturday, January 28, 2006

Thoughts for the Night-time

Night serves a grand purpose. I'm often surprised at how profaned that purpose is in our American lives. Did you know that the moon glows enough to illuminate the trees and stones, but not the working fields? That's what the day light is for. Sunset and beyond reserve a special purpose for us: repose.
We in kind reflect in the night times. The day has ended, released its grip. Certain tasks cannot help but carry over into the next day, but the moon shines blankly as if to say, "There's nothing to be done about them now." The inspiration of thought comes naturally at night.
That's probably why so many of us are divided into morning-people or night-people. How ironic that the morning people can, in the contemporary man's view, achieve so much and still be so unfulfilled at the end of the day. Carrying work through the night, things like 24-hr groceries and coffee shops, is the morning people's folly. What a crime of humanity. It disgusts me on some levels, to think of people driving forward so much duty without a glance backward at the slower-paced ideas like reflection, progress, and understanding. Well, at least there's the night-people.
Rewarded as little (materially) as they are, the night people represent some of the most truly happy people I've seen. "Sluggard" is often the term for someone who wakes up at 1:00 p.m. I wonder what that person did with their night. What are some of the things people can do in the night? Aside from everything that we have to amuse ourselves, the night people have a propensity for conversation. If the sun shines in the day to produce grass, the stars at night merely twinkle and glitter to fill in the millions of light-years between themselves. We night-people twinkle to each other (what I'm doing now can only be described like that as I meander across my topic) about life, the universe, and everything.
I wondered today about how people pursue everything. Between fame and money, all of us have found something we've oriented our life towards. Not all of those directions lead to understanding, and often the one we choose is not the one we finish with. Finishing... that's a funny one. Does anyone ever finish what they start? Sure, the dishes are done--but they are done for now. Tomorrow brings a whole new set of numbers to plug in, another pile of leaves to rake. The days do fill themselves up, and the morning people take to it joyfully. But those are the ones disturbed by the sunset. Endings are cruel things to people who like to begin. But the night people take it in stride. They understand (because they've taken the time and thought of it) that with the close of each day, the potential for the next morning means life. To stop is to die. Just like this small essay--if I put a period now, the life of this piece ends. If you stop reading, it goes away. The night people accept this and sleep in, preparing for another long ending. As I turn in for night, I think I can hear the stars twinkling amongst themselves, and I wonder what they say.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Maybe I'm just weird

(This is Youssef’s wife, Lynné, infiltrating his blog!)
Perhaps my sense of humor is unusual and no one will think this funny… but I’ll tell you anyway.
You see, Youssef and I were at the library picking out books and movies and he found a video called “John Cleese on How to Irritate People”. (We watched it, by-the-way, and it is hilarious.) So, where do you suppose the library would file a video like that? It was in the “How to” section!?! Yes, right along side the “How to juggle” and “Learning Tie Chi” videos! Maybe I’m just weird, but I thought that fact was just about as funny as the video itself.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

The Setting Down of Histories, and One

After some thought, I've decided to give my quick spiel about committing a history to writing before doing one myself.
History, as I'm seeing it, is the passing of stories from one generation to the next. That definition encapsulates the entire "interpretive" arguments histories invoke. Of course, each historian is biased in his view... he is as biased as the evening story-teller gathering facts before his story is told. History is important. So important is it that many of the subjects we learn in school are simply narrowed courses of history. Philosophy, for one. Has anyone who has taken their INTRO to PHILO course in university felt as disappointed as I did when I found the syllabus contained more fact than rhetoric? That the course is designed to give you a history of philosophy should give you a clue that you're not actually taking Philosophy. It's history... just focused on the history of philosophy. I got the same information out of three weeks of Jostein Gaarder's Sophie's World. Or how about an art appreciation course? I certainly felt gypped out of my credits when I realized my class in Religion was a history of the histories each major religion contains. I was hoping for discussions concerning the nature of religion, and its impact on individuals. Instead, I got a de-definition of religion (that "it is whatever one makes it out to be" can only be the stripping away of a definition) and a view of its impact on history. History, it seems, ought to be the first thing we teach in schools. We'd bypass so many of this annoying tangents in classes where any given student doesn't recall WHY something is.
Thus, I find it important to read histories whenever I can. They fill in a gap. They tell us, if not why a thing is, what events precluded its existence. I'm certain that if we had a sharper appreciation of history, smaller questions would cease to entertain us as much. Seinfeld episodes would be less funny if we actually knew the events surrounding the decision to compose chocolate into hand-sized bars. Some people believe "Critical Thinking" is an ability, like doing somersaults, that brains can apply toward any problem. Not so. Instead, Critical thinking is an activity requiring fuel, like starting a fire. Before it can illuminate, it needs appropriate materials. Those appropriate materials are historical background. (Natually, wood does not spontaneously burst into flame. I am not implying that with a better knowledge of history, everyone would get an "A" in Critical Thinking. I am suggesting that we all need the background before we can apply our thought.) That is why a politician knows better than a scientist what to do in Washington D.C. The scientist, though brilliant, is not aware of the same nuances that the politician is. That is because the scientist was not present or does not know about the back history. That is why social workers, fresh from college, have a significant disadvantage in dealing with the gang-riven streets: the peacemakers in the neighborhood know the WHYs behind the WHOs. By knowing a little bit about the background, by remembering history, we know more about our present stage. That is why I'm setting down how my wife and I sealed our engagement. When it is written, I can look back on it with the same detail as my brain has now, for detail, the rough edges that give each story footholds for the reader, erode with time until one is left with the impregnable and unilluminating fact that 'it happened. Period.'
I could have chosen to write how Lynné and I met. Perhaps I will one day. Instead, though, I must commit to one story at a time.
It happened on December 17th, 2003, that I gave Lynné the ring. I had donated plasma since January of that year (actually just earlier, I think) and, with a little added from my tutoring job, put the proceeds into a Paypal account. Twice a week for fifty-two weeks, I donated plasma and finally chose a ring (which she literally had to purchase for me since no diamondier would send his work to a totally different region. You see, I was studying at the University of North Texas (40 miles from Dallas), and she was living about 50 miles from Spokane. (How we met IS a good story.) So with money from selling blood, she chose and found a ring. I had it engraved secretly, and all of this in the autumn leading up to my visit in December where I had two weeks to present the ring officially to her.
She worked in Spokane as a seamstress during this time, commuting to and from Spokane each day. Since I had journeyed up to Spokane by plane, there was only one car for us both. I rode into town with her each day. When she started work, though, I was not allowed to spend too much time with her--she had a job to do. I did as well. I set about preparations. How does one prepare for such an event? I was essentially staging a scene where I would ask her to be my wife and all the rest. It was overcast and rainy. So my skywriter idea was out. She had asked me not to do it in a restaurant. So hiding it in her food wouldn't work. And on and on, my thoughts went for nearly a week.
The morning of December 17th, I felt more prepared. She and I had goneonce the previous year to this superb restaurant that was more like a marina--and I badgered her that morning to dine with me there. There was a lake, albeit frozen, and everything was more private. I even had some extra cash for the event. She hesitated. This restaurant was another 45 minutes driving--in the other direction. It was in a town called Sandpoint, beyond Spokane and Newport. But this was my less-than-subtle way of doing things, so she assented. So we drove into Spokane, and after dropping her off, I went to my errands.
Around 5 o'clock, I arrived to pick her up. She got into the car a little huffy. Her composure was regaining, but I wasn't sure from what. I found out that she and her boss had had a falling out again. She was hungry, tired, not really in a romantic mood. I am not one for tipping my cards too early, so I refrained from giving her the surprise waiting in the backseat. Instead, I talked to her, gently warming her up. And she turns to me at a red light, and says, "Youssef, I really don't want to drive all the way out to Sandpoint. I'm just--not in the mood right now."
"All right." That was her subtle refusal not to play the game I'd set up today. She wasn't feeling that romantic anyway. "Well, let's get something to eat anyway." I still was determined to do something with my preparations. So I drove to Division St.
Division is the main road of Spokane. If you've never been to Spokane, think of a brain full of wrinkles and lines. Division St. is the main crease down the center of the brain, and every other street is minor compared to it. Furthermore, it is lined with restaurants. Division is the testing ground of restaurant franchises, so it has the most--factual knowledge here--the absolute most restaurants on it than any road in North America. So, combined with the myriad of restaurants to choose from and my relative unfamiliarity with the area, you have to forgive me for asking her where she wanted to eat. Normally, the chivalrous thing would be to take up the decision and find some place good. To me, each place was equally good and bad. I never saw so many restaurant signs as I did on that rainy December 17th.
"Oh, can we go to the Onion?"
The Onion? Had I heard her right? There were five restaurants I'd just passed that had more romantic names. The original restaurant I wanted was called "Swan's Landing," but now I would settle for any place more romantic sounding than "The Onion." I felt that to walk in would be a jinx on my breath--and any talking I hoped to do there.
"Sure," I said.
The rain had turned to slush by the time we parked, and I got us as near to the door as I could. We walked in, and waited. I took in the entire ambience.
The Onion reminded me of so many "Chili's" restaurants I'd been to. Casual, rambunctious, and with a thin veil of smoke hovering below the ceiling that smells of burgers, steak, and fajitas. When we were seated, Lynné and I spent a few quiet minutes deciding what to order. I was bursting already, but my stomach was empty.
Right after the waitress took our order, Lynné asked, "Is everything all right?"
It was like having the tab pulled on a shaken Pepsi can. I burst into a silly tirade about how nervous I feel when I don't know that I have anything to be nervous over, how out of my element I felt at trying to orchestrate something of the magnitude I wanted for her in a town I barely knew, and on and on. I remember these words. "I want to meet what you are hoping for, what you're expecting. Here's what I wish I could do: We could have a romantic dinner, and then walk up the hill behind your house. The trees part, the rocks move, and a voice in the air echoes the feeling in my heart: Take this ring; be my wife." I paused. "I don't know if it'll be that good."
Lynné was laughing at me at this point. "It doesn't have to be like that."
"But I want it to be something you remember," I said. And I decided not to do it that night, in my head. So, I said, "Would you excuse me? ... bathroom."
The surprise in my car was a pair of roses. I didn't know how well they held up after being in the car half of the day anyway. Of course, if I wasn't going to present the ring today, that would be $10 or so wasted. As well as the roses. So, why not give them to her? In our long-distance talk, she and I had been sending flower messages to each other. We both had a definition sheet of what the flowers meant in Shakespeare's times. And I intended to give her a flower message tonight, even if she wasn't going to get the ring.
When I returned, she was completely surprised. Here, my mouth took over. I sat down.
"I bought these roses for you. The red rose represents all of the substance within a marriage: love, passion, and courage. The white rose represents the hows, the manners of a marriage: transparency, honesty, purity. The two roses together represent unity of love, and that they are tied by a ribbon represents an engagement." This reminded me of the book reports I delivered in third grade: hasty recitation of fact, opinion, and insight delivered in choppy sentences. "The two roses depict a hopeful picture until you look at them closer.
"The white rose is a little yellowed, and the red rose has wrinkles in the petals. They represent a difficult path. I cannot offer you perfect roses in the same way I cannot offer a perfect marriage. These roses have undergone a hard life, much like diamonds.
"Diamonds, like the one for your wedding ring, are formed deep in the earth, hidden from everything else. They are dead life--plants and animals that traveled deep into the earth. And the whole earth shifts to put pressure and heat on that raw material. It's a difficult process taking many years. That's the picture of marriage I can offer you.
"I could have offered something less than diamonds. Sapphires, ruby, or emeralds--they are all the same stone, formed in the same caverns, and undergo an easier transformation. But they break easy, too. I could have offered you one of the deep green stones, a mineral that forms very deep underground into an intricate pattern so beautiful that geologists brave deep caves to find them. And they can never leave the deep caves with that stone. That stone depends on the pressure; it will rust and fall apart if its removed from the depths. That I cannot offer you either.
"I love you. Would--" and here I was cut short by the arrival of our food.
And that's when I realized that here was the mood, here was the moment--but in a restaurant. A restaurant called The Onion. "Can we have our check now?"
"Yeah, sure."
"Can we box this up? I want to leave as soon as possible."
The next five minutes were a blur for me. I grabbed, pack, swiped, ran. Lynné was so calm, I think she floated to the car. The car drive, she says, lasted only a little while. I think it lasted for weeks--and that's a long time for your "perfect moment" to linger. We zipped to her parents' house, and I said, "Let's go up the hill, even if it snows on us." It was snowing already.
She asked, "Should we go in and tell them we're home?"
I grabbed my last prop, two pages of paper, from the car and said, "Nope, they'll figure it out."
We walked in mostly silence up the hill. The snow was over a foot deep. I could tell because my city shoes were not high and my socks were wet and cold. The forest that covered our trail was dark. Things moved in the shadows that we thankfully didn't see. Halfway up, I wondered if the top of the hill was the best place to deliver my words: my breathing had become wheezing. (It was the altitude--I'm normally in good shape, especially for just a walk.) Even so, we continued, and we didn't even notice the change in the world around us until we reached the top.
The clouds with the snow had drifted off a bit, mingling with farther hills and mountains. The trees spread out, sparse-looking in the daylight and evenly spread at night. The night had decidedly fallen, and the light of the moon dimmed away. It was a new moon that night, I think. The stars glowed brightly. What we couldn't see of our way didn't matter, Lynné was more familiar with the path, and at this point, she found and stood on her favorite rock.
"I brought this," I said, pulling out my papers. "They're lists. I stayed up last night thinking about what I like and do not like about you. They're honest lists. I realized today, though, that they don't matter at all. Each item on this list could change the next day, either in my mind or in you. None of them matters in making a decision this big. Only the Lord, He who brought us together in the first place, can bring two people together like this, and only He can deliver love to two mortals like us." I was feeling in my pocket for the ring. Where was it?
"What matters in this decision is, do I believe He brought us together?" There it was! My numb fingers couldn't feel it! "Yes!" I said, "I do believe He did." And I pulled my hand out of my pocket. The ring felt slick, like it would fall. I sank on one knee, thinking I'd be able to find it if it fell. And the cold snow wet my pant leg, nearly freezing it to me. How would I read the engraving in this light? I clasped my palm into her hand, pressing the ring to her. "I had the ring engraved. It says, 'Know how I love you. 1 Corinthians 13: 7 - 8.' That verse is 'Love bears all things, believes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. But if there is prophecies, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will pass away; if there are tongues, they will stop.' And that is how I love you. Will you be my wife?"
She grabbed me, hugged me, and we nearly fell back in the snow. As we stood there, warming, the night sky seemed unique in some way. Orion stood, steadying his aim on our left. Just opposite him was a cluster of stars, bunched very close together. As we watched, they began to fall--one streak after another. We saw seven that night, I think. She slipped the ring on, handing me the butterfly ring I had bought for her once. Then, Lynné looked at me and said, "Did I say yes? Yes. I said that, right?"
I nodded and told her that, yes, she did say it.

And that is how I presented my wife her ring. I like how unplanned the important parts were.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Hopeward, Homeward

Today was my first day back to work since the birth of LilyAnne Miranda Sleiman. I had two weeks off, and I cherished them almost as dearly as my new daughter.
Often I drive home from Starbucks in the dark. The night-time streetlights give everything a dingy orange glow. Usually, whenever I leave my coffee shop, I leave in the middle of jokes and laughs--or else busy-ness. Since August of 04, when I began working there, I have not spent more than three days in a row at home. Everything I did in the home was either on the way to work, on the way from work, or between shifts. Life felt disjointed, honestly. I did not know why I was coming home--or where I was headed--just that I needed to be there. I cannot say it was an obligation. But if there is a softer word near to "obligation," I would use it. In short, I felt a connection as strong to my job as I did to my home.
That exalts my job more than it really should. Starbucks is by no means a permenant position. Everyday, my ears prick up at the idea of a different position--either in a law office doing clerical work or pursuing a bank teller job. Further, Starbucks represents the transient role that all jobs have to my life. I am a writer--published even, if you want to know--but I do not have any writing venue that pays or provides insurance like a "real" job. I may not have such a venue anytime soon. That does not mean I consider this barista-ing a career path to pursue. I was someone who, throughout my "formative years," believed a job was not a goal. I moved toward achievements, sure, and I was the boy without ambition. But finding the high-paying job was not among the list of achievements I sought. I looked for the high-satisfaction jobs. Starbucks was that for a time, a time when I lived on the community college campus and wrote for hours in my own workplace. After that, tutoring provided an excellent transition. I met other students, helped friends, and (how I wish everyone could experience this!) walked to work. Satisfaction, again, was high. Then I moved here and, I admit, I chose Starbucks out of fear. A fear of failure, I think. My father (and my mother, though in a different way) impressed on me the great importance of well flowing finances. That was the decision I made in a crunch: Rather than stick to my high-satisfaction principles, I buckled under a bit of pressure and chose the path of least resistence, the path of money.
Then I see my wife's pocket-book. Bless her heart, she doesn't see what a mine of gold she sits on. You must understand, she is an industrious worker with an artist's eye and a lawyer's professionalism. At the same time, she fears a great amount of success (I don't understand it that well.) She has sold scarves and shirts for $78... in the winter, she plays her harp for a hotel and earns in two weeks what I earn in a month. She derives great satisfaction from her work (less so from performing, because of the stress and her back-pain) and earns good money. If she exposed the talents she really enjoys a little more, she would certainly be the breadwinner in the family. And there, in my own home, is an example of someone taking the higher road--and being justly rewarded for it.
This post began with my reflection that I felt a confused sense of connection with my job at Starbucks. That connection, over the course of two weeks and the introduction of a daughter, has lessened, and my connection to my home has increased. When I drove home tonight, I felt as if I could exhale when I entered. I hung my cloak in the closet and sensed an acceptance, that I was home. I felt no equal pull to Starbucks, as if I could enjoy spending free-time there. I felt liberated to be at home. And here comes my point.
I want to be home more. I will willingly sacrifice gobs and gobs of money--"sacrifice" implies a hardship; no, the word is "trade"--trade gobs and gobs of money for time. Isn't that the trade we all want to make on our death-beds? "More time" is what Ebenezer Scrooge begged the Ghost of Christmas Future for, time for Tiny Tim and time for himself. One thing I'm sure the dying never say is "Well, at least I had a real job." (Even as I type, I hold my daughter in my hands and take long five minute breaks to hold her and speak to her. That's priorities.) This is hardly a new concept. Rather, our contemporaries are thinking of ways to use this idea either for financial gain or societal good. I refer to books like "What Color Is Your Parachute?", "Better Off" by Eric Brende, and others that have begun filling our shelves in the past thirty years. The conventions are changing, and we, the growing generation, should embrace what we believe rather than what we fear--or what our parents feared. I want to spend more time in the home, and that will probably mean that I study sewing more industriously. It might also mean that I focus my attention at the E.W.U. Master's program, though I'm not sure yet how that step fits in to all of this. (The vague notion of home-schooling comes to mind.)
The two weeks I was given to be at home with my daughter have in turn given me more than I can imagine: that missing center to my life. Those centers alter our course, dictating our direction. When you learn what those centers of life are, fight to be near them. Otherwise, what value can anything else have?

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

What changes make You so insightful?

In my first entry, I alluded to some life changes that prompted this 'blog. I ought to share them.
In 12 months, I went from a college senior to a married homeowner/landlord with a child on the way.
In May, 2004, I was harassing a professor of Sociology at the University of North Texas. His class was an elective for me, pass or fail, and I had opted to skip on the mid-term or the final. There was no sense in me working too hard--I already had a bout of shingles from my first semester in college--but there was equally no sense in me accidentally failing his course. I was an English Composition and Lit. major--social groups and cult-studies were a bit out of my area of interest, and I was busy in other things. In fact, I taught Freshman English courses, composition and grammar mostly. They were seminars--not for college credit--but I got paid for it. I even tutored on the side, as well as offered an occasional 'proofreading' eye. I lived in the college dorms--Bruce Hall, if you're curious. I only drove on weekends because everything was within walking distance. I cut my own hair even. May 2004 happened to be my last month in that independent life.
By May, 2005, I was harassing the Spokane Housing Authority, trying to find the loophole to get my bad tenants out from under the home I had just purchased. The tenants, a welfare case, came with the property. Lynné, my wife, was doing a lot of home touching-up, in spite of the life growing inside of her: She painted the unit we lived in, decorated the 'community hall,' and was knitting a wedding shawl for a mutual, though distant, friend. I was living in Spokane now. The journey up is a story itself, and too long to go into here. I was a landlord to these bad tenants, and the delicate finances I had set up were being continually undercut by their antics. New dryer, new locks, new light-bulbs, replace the doors, replace the light-fixtures, fix leaks in bathroom floor. It was a mess at the time, but we got them out eventually. All this while, since August 2004, I was working at Starbucks... the lowest rung of barista there is.
I didn't give myself the luxury of reflection at the time; there was so much to reflect over. Rather, I continued pushing forward with life.
Here is a list of the major changes I went through...
  • Location: I went from Dallas, Texas--big city, very hot--to Spokane, Washington--small city, very rainy
  • Job: Without a university to offer tutoring skills to, I went to the only job I thought I could get: Starbucks. Funny how fear works. The better options were the riskier to me, and the lowest job I felt qualified for was the surest--and provided the least, giving me ample time to fear other things.
  • Marital Status: I did have a fiance-ship, but long-distance fiancés can do very little to interrupt life. I did cling to a cellphone the entire time...
  • Fiancial Status: When I was living in Dallas, I lived month-to-month (or semester-to-semester, depending on how you looked at it)... each month's auto-insurance bill worsened my worry-wort. By May of '05, I was living semi-month-to-month. That is, I paid this month's bills with half of last-month's check. I was building a savings--and occasionally dipping into it to solve the house problems.
  • Social Standing: This one's kind of weird, so follow me on this. As a college student, living in borrowed dorms, eating borrowed food, I carried little clout with the world. I was another potential gear in the cogs of grander machinery... Now, I am the machinist. I bought a home this past April and it is a Triplex. I'm a landlord over two tenants now (soon to be three)... and, along with the trivial fact that I could legally vote over 100 years ago with the other male landowners, I carry just a little bit more weight in the community. Since the tenants pay the mortgage and I can forfeit a 10% of the earnings to a land management company... I'm not as tied down as it may seem.

All in one year... that, dear friends, is a lot of adjustment.

The hardest entry to make

I ought to ask Capt. Picard how this is done. Did you ever wonder how the Captain of the Enterprise began his logbook? Surely it was something momentuous. "Our journey, however many seasons it is, begins here." Is this sort of name-dropping "entry" as momentuous as that? One only hopes so.
I've begun this blog in order to self-publish my thoughts. I have had many changes in lifestyle--some bordering on the miraculous--and I have also been given the noggin capable of some very valuable insights. Therefore, it is incumbant on me to write these insights down. As my discipline does not lend itself to writing notes to myself, I have made the selfish decision to post them out in front of you. Selfish because anyone who believes their private thoughts are worth sharing with as wide an audience as these 'blogs get is an ego-maniac. Yet, in lieu of that opinion, I'm posting here because enough people have caught my arm and asked, "Have you thought about this?" "What's your opinion on the subject?" It's unlucky for them that I don't have the same command of my speaking abilities as I have of my writing abilities.
Thus, the hardest entry begins. Subjected to nothing, its mere intent is to shatter upon the burgeoning ship that is to be my 'blog.
(Is that momentuous enough for ya?)