Diary & Confession

May 14, 2010

Pausing During a Sunny Lunch

During yesterday's lunch half-hour, I ruminated on the cultural lessons of my trade of carpentry.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:52 AM

June 18, 2006

A Life Begins

A few weeks ago, after the season finale of Lost (during which viewers were allowed the not-insignificant discovery that the world still exists beyond the island on which the characters are stranded), I had one of those imagined visions that mark the soul's speaking through the intellect.

While I walked the dog, I pictured a man emerging from a wooded area nearby, and although he was normal in appearance, I somehow knew him to be otherworldly. He told me that my time in this life was up — that I should let loose the leash and follow him to the next life. I objected that I was not ready to go, and pausing as if to listen to the wind, he replied that I could live out a full lifetime, but with the understanding that I would never find fame of any sort and would never do more, financially, than just get by. The time being offered me was for the experience of watching my children grow up and helping my wife to raise them.

It then occurred to me to imagine a different set of conditions. In this reformulation, the spirit replied that I could live out a full lifetime, but that I must leave my family immediately. I would find success. I would find renown. But one way or another, my time with my family must be over.

We are not often — perhaps ever — offered decisions so starkly, but my ease in choosing between the three options suggests to me that there is a treasure of perspective in phrasing life's choices thus. In the first vision, I would have had no difficulty making the decision to continue the stroll with my dog and follow the threads of my life in full understanding that its boundaries were tightly drawn around my role as a father and husband. In the second vision, I would have had equally brief hesitation before deciding to move along to the next life rather than to abandon my family for fame in this one. That, it seems to me, ought to inform my approach to the days' obstacles and opportunities.

Over the past few months, I've raced to transform this ad hoc seasonal enclosed porch ...



... into this nursery ...



... before the birth of my third child. Despite my spending some of the coldest weekends of the winter framing the exterior walls, he won the race. But the room is finished now, and life has the feeling of a beginning. All of the pieces are in place — the children born, the house bought, the suitable day job found — for the life that we've wanted to build, and all that's left is the building.

The children will need guidance as they grow. The house needs plenty of work — from renovations to additions. The carpentry day job requires learning and investment. Through it all, I've much that I want to learn about this world in which we find ourselves living. Volumes remain unwritten. My fingers still itch for the piano.

I've a newfound confidence, though, that there is due time. Perhaps it would not be reckless to hope that the desperation of youth has passed now that I've decided what ought to be most important to me. And it required only to imagine that I have a choice.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:55 PM | Comments (2)

February 10, 2006

Gasping Back to Humanity

I'm almost back to being human. For six months or so, I've gotten myself as close to being a machine as possible — sleep, eat, work. But tomorrow, I should wrap up a major weekend-only carpentry project, and at least my weekend work will be on my own house, which I'm rushing to prepare for a third child. Still work; somehow different.

So the surge is almost over, I hope. After too long treading idle water, I've fought sudden and persistent waves and am still afloat. Better able, if anything, to keep my head above the surface.

I've thought of you often — of speaking — thinking of things to say, but the acrid water of the endless workweek has kept me from calling out. You've heard the gasps, no doubt. For a long while they've been breaths scraped from the air for survival; perhaps soon they'll become recognizable as words. As communication.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:46 PM | Comments (5)

October 10, 2005

Almost Over the Highest Mountain?

I can't believe how little I've managed to post lately. Circumstances are such that my time should open up some beginning this week, but I can't make any guarantees. I guess I'm just at one of those times in life during which the best we can do is to trudge along, addressing what obstacles we can and accepting that a great many are going to make us stumble.

I apologize (and am disappointed) that the stumbling has mainly been on the writing, of late, but I don't see any way to make it otherwise.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:02 AM

July 25, 2005

A Midsummer Night Note

It's an indication of how busy I am that I haven't gotten around to posting even a general update in quite a while. (It doesn't help that working in the heat sometimes knocks me out well before the hour that I designate as bedtime.)

I think it's reasonable to predict that I'll be done with my spring/summer house renovations within a week to a week and a half. Just a few more wall-lengths to paint and a patio-roof frame to rehabilitate. Once that's all completed, I intend to relax just a little bit before working my way back into the habits of blogging. My goal is to be fully back in action — rebuilding readership and participating in the public conversation — by September.

Thanks to all who've continued to stop by. I do appreciate it, and I hope the posts that I've managed to write now and then have been worth your continued attention.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:44 PM | Comments (1)

June 23, 2005

Me in a Nutshell

Well, it doesn't explain my understanding of my purpose in the universe, but my bio (in brief) is up on TheFactIs.org. One thing it may help to explain is my lack of posts lately.

Of course, I left "homeowner" off my list of roles, and that's what has put my schedule over the edge for the past month-plus. I'm hoping to be done with this year's assignments (from my live-in foreman) within the next couple of weeks. I'm expecting to be done by mid-July.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:57 PM

May 30, 2005

Moving from Pickets to Posts

I've been posting less than I ever have during the history of this blog — less, even, than when I had the stresses and extra work of a teacher back in the autumn — and the reason isn't, any longer, that I haven't found anything of interest to write about.

The unexciting, nuance-lacking reason for my silence is that I'm trying to get all of this year's house projects in before the summer gets up to speed. Somehow, I don't suspect that I'd want to be leveling the front yard with dirt on 80-degree days. Moreover, there are concepts of which I've heard tell — "relaxing" and "enjoying your home" — that I'd like to investigate, and looming labor would seem likely to impede upon my exploration.

So, the front yard fence is built. That leaves a portion of the backyard fence to build, a house to paint, and a patio to make usable. I'm hopeful that I'll be done before the Fourth of July.

In the meantime, I think I'm managing to wrap a schedule around my days. With the arrival of summer repeats on television, June should be a more active month on Dust in the Light than was May.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:10 AM | Comments (1)

May 22, 2005

A Note on the Previous Post

Perhaps writerly excess came at the expense of clarity in the previous post, so to put it plainly: I love carpentry, and I'd be perfectly content to have it become my career — at the very least until I've learned enough to be reasonably proficient at it. My worry — which isn't as deep as its echo may have seemed in that bit of writing posted just before I rushed to get ready for work — is that I'll have to content myself with its being some sort of substitution for the writing.

Proper perspective, I've found, can transform what appear to be hardships into opportunities, even into a source of glory. The question that I find myself asking, of late, is whether there's a danger of making perspective a passive form of misdirected action.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:18 AM

May 20, 2005

A Writer Looks at Thirty

I turned thirty on Wednesday, and I don't know what to write.

Throughout my teens, my literary outlet was the pop/rock song. By the time my adolescence had faded in my early twenties, I'd written over a hundred of them, and while dreams of a musician's stardom lingered for several years, the songs faded as well. (Although not so quickly that I wasn't able to translate them into rough recordings and sheet music.)

My early-to-mid twenties brought poetry and fiction. Some short stories. A novel. And these I took so far as to self publish. This outlet has not faded. Indeed, the follow-up to A Whispering Through the Branches — a novel in verse — calls to me persistently, despite my persistently shushing it to patient silence.

As thirty has approached, the sentences that I've strung together have been in the service of nonfiction commentary. Here, as readers of Dust in the Light are surely aware, I've gotten so far as to have others pay to publish what I've written. Nonetheless, I didn't manage to make that pay sufficient to cover life's necessities, and for the time being, those necessities have bottomed out the scale on the side of work.

Carpentry shares some inherent qualities with writing. There's a certain degree of creativity mixed with a larger degree of problem solving (the mixture depending on the specifics of the task, or genre, at hand). Each craft justifies the verb "construction." Some of the urges that lead me to write are partially fulfilled in my day job. Yet, carpentry is not writing, and even if some prestidigitation with perspective and metaphor could help me to see it as such, I do not want it to be the defining literary outlet of my thirties.

So I suppose I misspoke. I do know what to write. What I do not know is from where I'll draw the time. The old hands on the construction site assure me that a thirty-year-old has plenty of time. Perhaps they're right, and perhaps I should take oblong comfort in my impatience and sense of immediacy to write; it has something of the feel of youth.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:42 AM | Comments (4)

April 27, 2005

To Revel in the Transition

It probably isn't but so much of an exaggeration to say that just about everybody in the world with at least a cursory familiarity with Western society would recognize the main motif of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, first movement. But the first movement isn't the best part of the symphony. The transition from the third to the fourth is.

The significance of this disconnect — that the most famous riff in the history of Western music misses (arguably) one of the most compelling musical moments in history by a shy two movements — sends the author's inner metaphorist scurrying among the synapses chasing loose thoughts. Not the least, it must be noted that the symphony, being of the cyclic variety, is a dramatic unity. In music history class, the professor suggested that the theme is the struggle between the major and minor keys — which applies neatly to any light/dark or good/evil plot. The abrupt knock on the door at the very beginning (ba ba ba bum) announces that a struggle exists, and we humans are infatuated with its existence. Moreover, the buildup, transition, and climax require the annunciation.

Bringing me to the minutia of my day — which I have off while hovering between two companies. I could have leapt from one job to the next, I'm sure, but I've been standing under a teetering pile of unaccomplished tasks and wanted to plane it down. Somewhere between dealing with an abrasive mechanic reinspecting my car (who may have been bitter that the $600+ for required repairs went elsewhere) and calling to confirm the reissuance of one of my credit cards because the number may have been "compromised," I recognized the exact bar of Beethoven's score through which my life is currently passing.

After four months in the minor key of semi-employment (punctuated by major key accomplishments with the writing) and two months of overwork with underpay (and literary connections fading), the first hints of a melody in major are audible above the grumble. My new schedule should open enough space in which to maneuver in my juggling, and my new salary should push me just past the necessity of deciding which bill(s) not to pay in a given month. The second week of May will bring my first biweekly column for TheFactIs.org, and the third week of May will bring me to thirty years of age — a bona fide adult, beginning my decade of establishment... I can hope.

Beethoven's Fifth is in C-minor, the home chord of which is a minor third (C to Eb) beneath a major third (Eb to G). The famous four notes that have become a cultural representation of the knock of doom — or at least of fate — are actually the major side of the chord (G, G, G, Eb). These past few weeks, especially, I haven't felt like myself — out of key. But the past isn't the concern, and it is worth pausing, on days such as today, to revel in the transition, realizing what family and faith ought to have kept always beyond doubt: that major and minor are a unity, tempering glee with beauty and morosity with hope.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:35 PM | Comments (2)

April 15, 2005

Progress... Somehow

Well, the next week or two should see my fiscal life become less difficult (incrementally), along with my schedule's becoming better distributed. Both should allow, in their own way, an increase in my time (and patience) for blogging.

In the meantime, I have to say that it's been much more pleasant — even if more time consuming — to come home to more comments from y'all than spam. I've also been surprised that the rate at which advertisers have bought ad space on this blog has increased.

To bring all the themes of this brief post together, I'd appreciate it if you'd invest a moment of your time in clicking the ads and, if feasible and appropriate, to consider further investments on the other side of the links.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:39 PM

April 5, 2005

Heading into Wednesday

I do have posts I'd very much like to write, but I'm just absolutely exhausted and stressed out. Hopefully tomorrow, after I get out from under an editing.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:31 PM | Comments (1)

March 29, 2005

Still in the Game

Well, this sort of thing is bound to happen to a writer when he enters one of those periods during which writing must recede in the day. In January, I had reached number 27 on John Hawkins's list of favorite blogs. In the latest iteration, I've fallen to number 36. Given the circumstances of the two intervening months, I'm thrilled to have made the cut at all; I've slipped much farther when it comes to others whose attention I'd caught, it seems.

But this sort of thing is bound to happen. I've come to see this current period of my life as one of investment — with the focus on who I'll be when able to resume the amount of writing that I've achieved in recent years. In the meantime the days are filled with discoveries: for example, that demolishing a brick stairway with a sledgehammer is a great deal of fun... for the first four hours. Then it's just exhausting. By the time I sat down for dinner tonight, I'd exchanged the "-ing" for an "-ed."

Early in the day, before the novelty of smashing a complete stranger's front steps had worn off, I had occasion to be reminded of the way in which folks tend to treat each other differently based on circumstantial perceptions. One of the college kids who lives in the house next to that on which I'm working — a grad student, if I eavesdropped effectively — failed to return my "good morning" while he and his girlfriend (or whatever) walked to their car. She was a rung or two up the ladder of appearances from him, and the peculiar look with which he replied to my greeting didn't disguise the disparity any. (I suspect the look wouldn't have improved if he had known the sorts of things I do — or, more precisely, say — in my spare time.) For my part, I rebutted with a smile, and by heaving the largest chunk of concrete and brick that I had near at hand onto the pile that was slowly growing a few feet away.

A little later, a young preppy man from Indiana thwomp-thwomp-thwomped up the street with a flat tire. His first thought was to ask where the nearest garage might be found, but I think he saw something in my expression that persuaded him that I was correct to suggest that he put on his spare, first. About a half-hour later, he approached my boss and me with much the same demeanor as a rookie approaches a coach. He had not a doubt that we could unlock the mystery of his jack. (I wondered whether he was aware that the owner's manual that he surely had in his glove compartment could likely have done the same thing.)

As much as I periodically find it awkward to mesh with my coworkers, I've always been comfortable in the role for which such occupations as carpentry mark a man. Perhaps it's partly the freedom of being so dramatically misappraised by others. Perhaps it's a little bit more that I enjoy the confirmation that we're all just people behind our differently tinted windows. Palpably feeling that reality helps one understand, I think, how it is we can all be so unequal by any worldly standards, whether of material or capability, but still equally human. Still loved equally by our Creator.

Unfortunately, the slopes are steep when we attempt to pick a path between roles (particularly when bills continue to stand as obstacles). So much so that I can't help but wonder whether it is the effort — and the accomplishment — of staying in the game that has made my shoulders so sore.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:39 PM | Comments (6)

March 11, 2005

What Day Is It?

Well, today's work will be at the computer, so I will be posting periodically. During the week, I've shifted my sleeping habits so that I have several hours to spend editing and writing before I have to be at my elsewhere job. This week, however, I had to devote those hours to a piece for which I had a sunrise deadline this morning (and which I'll note when it's available), so I've been particularly busy.

I may begin writing and saving posts to release at intervals during the week — just so that the new content is more evenly distributed. That seems to be a bit against the blogging ethos, but I've been finding that I can't fit the more-involved posts into one writing session, anyway, so perhaps I can argue a precedent for a "not quite finished" loophole.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:14 AM

February 23, 2005

Working Through the Stumbles

Although I'm managing to develop a schedule that will accommodate the carpentry and the editing and the blogging and the reading and everything else, I'm still not steady on my feet yet. We've been putting in long hours on the house that I'm helping to build, and last week, I had a number of extracurricular events to attend.

But I am enjoying the work. Something about physical labor, working with wood, making something, all while a glance from a fabulous water view, is spiritually salutary. Add in my elation at simply having sufficient employment to support my family, and even while I fight my eyelids in order to edit, I realize how much I have for which to be thankful.

The only thing that could make my day more fulfilling would be more time (and energy) so that I could maintain a healthy bulk of posts on the blogs and continue to make progress with the professional writing. Eventually, the seventy-hour weeks will dip to sixty, and my body will no longer need the exorbitant recovery time. In the meantime... onward.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:21 PM | Comments (2)

February 14, 2005

'Twas a Monday

I apologize for the lack of posts, this evening. For various reasons, I didn't get home until later than I'd expected, and I made it to my computer only to find tons of comment/ping spam. That wasn't a problem, per se, but it appears that there were so many that my email program stopped saving messages, only subject lines. So, I then had to poke around looking for a means of salvaging the messages and, when that proved impossible, to email a few folks requesting that they resend their messages.

If you emailed me and didn't receive such a note, please resend your email. And as a general note, if you ever come across spam among the comments, please let me know.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:30 PM | Comments (3)

January 29, 2005

A Hopeful Spin

Late last night, I found myself lamenting that my current financial circumstances have dulled the shine of my recent successes on the writing front. There's a hint of disappointment in the feeling of mere hope where there might otherwise have been elation. (Of course, let's not forget that there might otherwise have been despair, as well.)

Then it occurred to me: January's bills would not all have been paid had it not been for my writing! I've no reason to expect another month in the foreseeable future with the same magnitude of success in this area, but still... just the thought that such a thing is possible raises mere hope securely to the level of tempered optimism.

I've been at the writing thing for years, but I've no illusion that I'd be making any progress were it not for you who read Dust in the Light. For that I'm more grateful than I've words to express.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:42 PM

January 11, 2005

A Week and a Half into the New Year

One drawback of increasing visibility, for a writer, is the feeling that professional and personal considerations make venting and emotive self-expression unwise. In other words, success can whelm the very aspects of the craft that motivate some people to write in the first place. And limited success does nothing to mitigate the need that those aspects arose to alleviate. Well, I think I've behaved myself, in this respect, these past few months.

But spending the opening week of the year that I'll turn 30 — with a new house and a young family — semi-employed and staring down another month with no idea where sufficient income might lie has left me needing at least this one slip-up of a post. I've been carrying a vicious, ponderous creature around on my back day in and day out, his sandpaper chin abrading the back of my neck, and for one brief moment, I have to drop the prudent fiction that he's having no effect.

Carrying this sort of iniquitous burden for too long, you find that your breathing begins to come hard and muscles to ache, and there's a voice at the ear blending the worst aspects of a whine and a snarl, weaving falsehoods with half-truths to convince you that you're an inadequate loser who actually can't do things you thought you'd mastered years ago. Somewhere between that third batch of résumés that yields no interest and that online job search that ends with doubts about your competence to wash dishes, the bastard begins to become persuasive.

Oh sure, you can try to turn your mind to all of the people who know people who might have a lead. You can speak out loud of the nights-and-weekends pursuits that are just beginning to bear fruit. But the fleet-lipped fatso turns it all around: even if that success doesn't dissipate just like your full employment did, it won't amount to enough quickly enough to make a difference. You only have enough hope, he says, to feel it when it's dashed.

You can remind yourself that you're of passable intelligence and able-bodied. He'll scoff at the first, and for the second, he'll point out your hard breathing and aching muscles. You can plea the power of prayer, of faith, but that, too, takes on the opposite of its intended significance: "Well then, since you've a source of strength, God needn't help you. In fact, your deteriorating circumstances could merely be a way of drawing you toward Him." Of course, the voice concludes with the possibility that a soul's approaching God is like a curve's infinitely approaching an absolute line — ever closer, feeling ever more heat, with no culmination. Ever.

The ascetic life has its place, and freely entered, it has its admirability. But a man who is responsible for others can't help but find it discouraging how rapidly we are able to define "sufficient" down; how thrilled I'd be, now, to return to barely scraping by with a sixty-hour workweek.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:07 PM | Comments (1)

December 23, 2004

Recognizing a Name

The author listed in the corner of the latest print edition cover of National Review (writing about Andrew Sullivan) has a familiar name:

Skimming the online version, I see the author apparently writes for this blog and Anchor Rising. Interesting development.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:35 PM | Comments (2)

December 21, 2004

Delenda Est 2004

Items to post are still a-pilin' up in my bookmarks, but I haven't been able to get to them. I didn't plod off the truck until dinnertime last night, and it had been a rough day, in part because of the snow and in part because everybody seems to have ordered their large Christmas presents for delivery this week. The workday went quickly, though, and at least I've managed to cover our bills for the month.

I'm not sure what I'll do come January, but the ten remaining days of 2004 feel like a painfully long time for the end of a sweet dream turned nightmare. Better to lay down the marker into a bad beginning and strive to end a new year well.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:35 AM

December 17, 2004

Fri-day! Fri-day!

I don't think I've been this happy to see a Friday roll around in years. When you work from home doing tasks that don't require much interaction with others in the working world, Friday hardly matters. Delivering packages during the workday is a different matter, from which I've learned three things, thus far:

  1. Don't underestimate what package delivery entails. This probably goes for any number of jobs: it's harder than it looks.
  2. Barnes & Noble boxes are the most curiosity-inducing. Part of it is that there's a limited range of possibilities, unlike Amazon boxes, which could contain just about anything. Most of it, of course, is that books require a large investment of time, so they probably tell us a fair bit about those who read them.
  3. My town would be a great basis for a fictional setting for a series of books... someday.
Posted by Justin Katz at 7:59 AM

December 14, 2004

Santa Calls at Dinnertime

Well, I didn't get back from delivering packages until around six o'clock, tonight. I'm exhausted, but the brain tumbles on, so I'll try to get some posts up.

As much as I'd prefer to get home with plenty of time to unwind before dinner closes out the day part of the day, I have to admit that it's more fun delivering packages at hours when people are actually home. At one point, when our truck pulled to the side of the road, children appeared in windows on both sides of us, watching to see which way the day-job Santa would go.

I made it home in time to be distracted from my own dinner by the sound of screaming outside. Rising to look out the window, I half expected to see a grade-schooler brawl in the street. Happily, the voices were actually those of carolers! (If you can believe it.) Our older daughter, who is not quite three, knew the song ("Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer") but didn't quite understand the kids' reason for the clatter out on the lawn. She also didn't understand why the roving choir didn't stay to take requests.

I've never seen a reason to lament the cultural lapse of caroling. But through my daughter's eyes, I'm beginning to comprehend how all the little traditions that have faded in recent decades — particularly in relatively urban areas, such as where I grew up — can accumulate into a sense of community. Neighbors reaching out from one to another, in large ways and small, making little boys and girls feel worth the effort of a song.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:05 PM

December 13, 2004

Busy, Busy, Busy

I got home about an hour ago from my two-week part-time (to full-time) gig delivering packages. I'm still unwinding, though, and I've got a lot on my plate tonight, including my usual part-time editing work at the computer.

I will be blogging, so return visits will probably not be fruitless, but I thought it only fair to put up a note.

Posted by Justin Katz at 4:36 PM

December 1, 2004

One of Those Days... Again

Once again, I apologize to all of you who pay me the compliment of stopping by that there was nothing new for you to read. I had the children, today, the littler of whom seems to have a tad of a cold and probably has teeth coming in. Just as I began to catch a stride, in the afternoon, I discovered that the padding under the rug in the playroom was saturated, and I had to undo one of the accomplishments of my summertime renovation of the new house and tear the whole thing up.

That managed and a temporary fix contrived (although left undone until tomorrow), I simultaneously received concerning news about a member of my extended family and indication that a long-delayed breakthrough (that hasn't dimmed in the excitement that it generates in me even over the many months) is at last in its final stages of preparation. The first news required some time for prayer, and the second required a couple of hours of additional work.

And still, I've so much about which I'd like to write! Well, a shower is now at the top of my prioritized list. Hopefully, I'll be able to get in a word or two, here, before I can no longer advisably hold off sleep.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:08 AM

November 13, 2004

Occupational Limbo

A few weeks ago, when I found myself thrust unexpectedly back in my late-summer state of semi-employed panic, it came to my attention that I was on a number of people's prayer lists for a quick escape from my difficulties. I confess that my pre-conversion sarcasm swept back: "Then there must be a whole lot of people praying against me!"

At this moment, I'm in a sort of limbo, between first and second interviews in one case and with other possibilities of varying promise pending. It mightn't be a bad time, in other words, for anybody who's willing to whisper an unspoken word on my behalf to do so.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:59 PM | Comments (3)

November 4, 2004

A Day Whisked Away

Truly sorry to have been pretty much absent today. I spent the entire day designing the main index of the new group blog — Anchor Rising — and it somehow became lunch, then dark, then dinner, then now. This is why I'd so much like to find a "day job" doing graphic design work; an eight-hour day would be as nothing! (Of course, when I unveil the new site, you'll be a better judge than I whether my time was well spent.)

Now on to my Internet rounds and, hopefully, some posts to lighten my bookmarks.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:03 PM

October 29, 2004

Without an Excuse

I do not know why, but for some reason, I'm suddenly optimistic about things. Full of trust and faith. Even though the mortgage payment due on the first of December — i.e., the poised hatchet — arrived in the mail today, it doesn't worry me. Something good is coming.

(Famous last words?)

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:16 PM

October 21, 2004

Trying, I'm Trying

I've got much to blog about, both links and musings, but I just can't get myself to it. First, I restarted the morning job search; then I started doing the editing from which I was distracted last night. In between it all, I've clicked the mouse around the Internet expecting... something. Not sure what. The upswing of a blessing in disguise, I guess.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:13 PM

October 20, 2004

The Day I've Had

Sorry for the lack of posts, today. Just as I was preparing to get under way with my evening work, the phone rang, and a huge wall fell on me. A brick one, interwoven from my faith to my household economics. Regarding the economics, things might be tight for a while. Regarding the faith, well, I'm glad I've managed to develop it as much as I have in the few years since my conversion.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:27 PM | Comments (2)

October 18, 2004

Let's Put It This Way

If my blog's traffic statistics matched a hypothetical line-graph of my stress-level trend, I'd be a very happy blogger, indeed. Posts to come... once I've managed to pull my shoulders down below my ears and can rotate my head from side to side again.

Posted by Justin Katz at 4:57 PM | Comments (2)

September 29, 2004

A Turnaround (and Around and Around)

This morning was one of those mornings.

I'd stayed up a bit later than I'd wanted, last night, because on top of grading quizzes, I had revisions to make to a tightly written piece for a local periodical. Come morning, for some reason, both of my children decided that 5:30 a.m. was too late to be in bed. Then, crawling through my morning routine, I discovered that a basement leak that I'd thought fixed was actually coming through a different spot, and with the torrential downpour, some preventative measures — towels, to the non–home owner — were required to prevent the water from dripping down the wall and slithering around the corner, through the bathroom, and into the cedar closet during the day. And the school day confirmed that the large contingent of unruly children in my class is going to force me to be the sort of teacher I'd prefer not to be.

But then the day progressed. Today the middle school teachers worked out new schedules that will allow me to trade my three grades of math for three grades of English. Not only will that be more fun and more in line with my areas of expertise, but it will require less rigid (and time-consuming) planning. After school, I was pleased to discover that the pumpkin beers are back on the shelf, and my expectations were not disappointed that they would instantly evoke pleasant memories of last autumn and winter.

When I'd finally made it to my computer to check my email, one from reader Mike S. directed my attention the newly released digital version of National Review. Turning to page 19 (p. 21 of the PDF file), skimming down to the bottom, I saw that Dust in the Light made the "up-'n'-comers" box in NR's "Blog Guide 2004."

If I didn't know better, I'd think that somebody among the magazine's editorial staff was just looking for a way to prod me toward more-devoted posting, even in the midst of my thrown-in-the-pool struggle to get 28 seventh graders under control and learning. Well, intended or not, the message has been received.

Compared with the now-homeless people along the southern coast, my basement leaks are as nothing. Compared with so many people everywhere clawing their way out of ruts, my various occupations are astoundingly light, fun, and edifying. A house cannot run on an empty budget, but a life can run on hope, at least for a good, long while.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:21 PM

September 26, 2004

The Week to Come

I've taken the week off from editing in the hopes that a merely ordinary workweek will offer sufficient time for me to get ahead of my lesson plans. If I manage to prepare all of my materials (such as overhead projector transparencies) through Christmas break, my schedule will be much more manageable. I'll also have a broader view that will assist in planning those lessons and projects that don't lend themselves to advance preparation.

What this will mean for the blog, I hope, is that I'll manage to post more regularly this week, establishing a pattern that might actually carry through the months ahead. Minimizing my week-by-week planning will, at least, mitigate the directions in which my mind must run during those hours that I'm neither in school nor editing market research. In general, while following the rhythm of a rational schedule, one has more room to ponder greater things.

In the meantime, I had wanted to publish some entries tonight, but I'm also trying to get ahead of what has thus far been a mild head cold. To bed, then.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:56 PM

September 23, 2004

And Then the Wall

It figures. I finally have a night during which I have a little bit of opportunity to get ahead, and shortly after I reached the comfort of my house — like reaching home base in a cross-town, full-contact game of tag, the game was over. My low-battery light has been blinking for days, and now somebody's got to drag me to the bedroom and plug me in for some recharging.

I'd have been able to handle the fact that the forty or so hours that I expected to spend on the teaching gig turned into more like sixty, with all of the getting up to speed and such. It changes the picture considerably, however, that the class that I'd counted as one of the two most manageable in the school, when I was the computer teacher there, has transformed into one of the most problematic. And it drains the last of my strength that, in the past week, I've had a toilet to fix, a freelance piece to write, the year's first parent assembly to attend, couches to move from house to house, and a dog deciding that he simply isn't going to let me slip off to bed at midnight without having walked him.

Did I mention the couches? Well, there's now one in my basement/office. The thing calls to me while I do my editing, I tell ya. Like some modern parody of Edgar Allen Poe, it beckons:

From my desk I fall to crawling, whilst the cushions keep on calling,
Like my life's love's luring sprawling, as I creep along the floor.
Despite the somnolent alarm that, through my haze, whispers of harm,
My couch's softly drooping arms promise napping, nothing more.
Though I've space for power napping and have time for nothing more,
I'll hear alarms nevermore.

On the bright side, I haven't seen much news that demands that I blog it. Also on the bright side, I've got a feeling that I'll experience an explosion of creativity and prolificacy when comes a day that I'm no longer constrained in my expression by the necessary comprehension of twelve/thirteen year olds. For tonight, I really have to get to bed early.

But then there are those math quizzes to grade... (forever more)

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:45 PM

September 17, 2004

A Rough, Rough Week

I apologize to anybody who's been checking in regularly. This week was extremely tough in the classroom. With the onset of actual work (and tests and quizzes), beyond preparing for classes and discovering all of the procedural stuff that I have to keep in mind, I had an eruption of difficulty with students who didn't realize that "you should write this down" means "you should write this down" — and other study-related revelations on their part.

Moreover, I've got a deadline for a local-interest piece coming up, and writing it honestly has required some family organization — something that isn't easy to do in general, let alone on deadline. I doubt the piece'll be online, but I'll let you know more details when it's appropriate to do so.

On the home front, the plunger in the toilet tank is leaking, the bathroom sink is dripping, and now the freezer's water dispenser is apparently possessed. Outside, I'm having a running disagreement with a near-tarantula-sized spider (I want to smush him, and he wants to live), and in the basement I've got a leak that just won't caulk.

In short, I'm overwhelmed. Please stick with me; I'll eventually post something other than complaints!

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:52 PM | Comments (1)

September 11, 2004

The Authoritarian Pal

Anybody who's pursued an activity meant for an audience of more than one will know that nobody can please everybody. Writers, in particular, understand that sometimes gaining readers requires sacrificing others. It's just the nature of multifarious humanity.

Well, based on just my first, short week, I don't think I've come across an activity for which the necessity to balance such gains and losses is as stark as with teaching middle school. A tack that draws some kids in and quiets them with interest makes others feel free to wander the room or talk loudly. A sharp rebuke that gains the respect of some will frighten others.

Earlier in the week, I caught myself agreeing with a line that I've heard several times from teachers: If we only had to teach the good ones, it would be the most enjoyable job in the world. But I think it may be closer to the truth to say that enjoyment is made most difficult by dramatic differences between students, not by their actual ability levels.

It's tempting to teach largely to those who can be easily taught. We could zip through the rote work and get right to the intricacies of writing and reading as well as the more-challenging levels of math. But the truth of the matter is that I know the bad kids. By that, I mean that I've either stood in their shoes or been very close friends with others who have. So, I feel in a position of both obligation and ability to help them.

How does one keep the smarter kids interested while keeping the sensitive kids comforted while commanding respect from the undisciplined kids? The answer might come more easily for students with a maturity level well past 12 years old. At that age, they're just beginning to learn what the last half of their childhood education demands of them. Wish as teachers might, all of such students' conflicting needs must be met within the overriding reality that their understanding and experience of life is prohibitively narrow.

Perhaps teaching (done well) is equally about self-growth in the teacher; my sense is that the students' various needs point directly to a type of person who can answer them all. The Lord knows that I've got a long, long way to go, and thank God He does.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:24 AM | Comments (1)

September 9, 2004

Skinned Knees and See-Ya-Laters

I lack adjectives to describe an email that arrived in my inbox today, from reader Mark Miller.

Those that come to mind — "cordial," "gracious," and (most objectionable) "nice" — would do, but in the context of correspondence between people who've long and deeply disagreed, such words have picked up a subtext of if-you-don't-have-anything-good-to-say. So clearly, "cordial," "gracious," and "nice" would be misleading if used to describe Mark's cordial, gracious, and nice note. Truth be told, it went a long way toward allaying my fears that the mutually respectful, if sometimes pointed, interaction that I'd hoped to foster with him might be untenable.

The crux is that (good) career changes leave Mark expecting his time and ability to comment on blogs to be dramatically curtailed. If that proves to be the case, then the comment sections will surely suffer for his absence. And if it proves to be the case, I thank Mark for the value that he has undoubtedly added to this blog for the past ten months or so.

But... as much as he cites minimal time during the day and deficient technology at home, I can't help but make one of those suggestive faces that fiction writers have such a hard time describing efficiently (eyebrows up, mouth thin, dimples deep, head tilted) and note that the big issue that started us arguing — same-sex marriage — has been in a bit of a lull lately. Time will tell where the smart money ought to have been, but mine is on a new computer and broadband over acceptance of bloglessness.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:43 PM | Comments (2)

August 30, 2004

And Back to Blogging

Apparently, I accepted my new job about twenty-four hours too soon, because I wound up having to go to a professional development assembly this morning. The first speaker was a Jewish child psychologist who told a story about his childhood in Israel and the Yom Kippur (in 1973, I think) when members of the military were being pulled out of synagogue to go fight for the nation's survival. Although it involves an intriguing overlap of stereotypes, I couldn't even begin to guess the unstated reactions of the New England Catholic school teachers in attendance (besides, "Boy, it's hot in here!").

I then spent a few hours thanking God that the teacher for whom I'm filling in is so organized. Pretty much all I have to do planning-wise is to match her schedule notes with various books, worksheets, and so on. (And read the materials and, oh yeah, teach the children.)

Once the "school day" ended, I still had a full day's worth of editing to do. That's going to be my schedule for Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays for most of the school year, with writing (including blogging) slipped in where possible.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:57 PM

Back to Life

Except among those who are wealthy enough to make of life a whim, pianos are a sign of stability and long intentions. Young singles or young couples who are likely to move every year or so as circumstances require are well advised to avoid having to lug the things around — searching for specially licensed movers and such. Among older families, whom time has worn, the piano sits in a corner of the living room, furniture rather than an instrument, and often the scratches of children long grown and disrepair begin to show.

Well, after a decade of separation, my piano has found its way into my home again. Considering the likelihood that, having purchased our house, we'll stay here a while, my parents thought it worth the expense to forward. Three movers hauled it in, strained exertion after a five-hour drive, and now the gap in the living room has been filled. There's something about a home — or any building — without a piano. Maybe it's a lack of ballast.

Our two-and-a-half year old has already begun the habit of practicing (I suppose it could be called) for about a half-hour each day, although she gathers the minutes from between play and meals and television shows. Her rendition of "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" isn't quite harmonious, but in her case, it's the voice that endears. For melody, I taught her how to hit one note at a time; she doesn't seem concerned about which one or what order. But music has entered her life as a thing of stability, of a long view, even if only in the background.

Also this weekend, I took a last-minute opening at the school attached to my church, holding the seat of the seventh grade teacher. Young as she is, she'll be spending the better part of the next year battling illness. Keeping that as a reminder will surely aide in perseverance while battling any children's reluctance to learn. Hopefully, I won't find my prayers for her recovery tainted by self-interest, as facilitating escape.

Nonetheless, even with circumstances' dark tint, it's a hopeful thought that, for the first time, I'll be able to support my family. Call it sexist, if you must, but there's something about a man who can't do so (or couldn't, if required) that isn't unlike a house without a piano. Many fine and admirable homes lack pianos. But I'm glad that mine is no longer one.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:56 AM | Comments (3)

August 20, 2004

Fester, Fester, Fester

I was just, finally, wrapping up a post that had taken me much longer to work my brain through than I'd expected or intended, but that I was glad to be posting so there would be something substantive at the top of the blog, when my wife's vacuuming blew the wrong circuit in this insanely wired house, and the computer blinked out.

My baseline level of stress is such that I could probably have avoided the whole thing by sticking the computer's plug in my mouth instead of in the outlet, and I'm sure my wife could have done much the same with the vacuum. Now, there would be a technology that would virtually eliminate Americans' dependence on foreign oil.

I've got some things that have to get done. Then I'll try to find the willpower to reconstruct that post... as I work and look for more work and address other demands on my time.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:54 PM

August 19, 2004

Gee Whiz

Sorry about the postlessness. I'm writing something about something for somebody, and the entire day just slipped on by (with stops here and there for baby feedings and noise investigations).

Maybe I shouldn't write professionally! It's almost like a teenager getting a job playing videogames.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:38 PM

August 17, 2004

Ah, Life!

Lane Core is to be congratulated for breaking into the big time. It's a bit of a change from his tabs on Kerry, but be sure to check out "School buses lined up for demolition derby," if only for a glimpse into the unique culture of Pennsylvania. The summer after my senior year of New Jersey high school, I was, well, not impressed that my girlfriend at the time was in the color guard for her school band in Eastern Penn, color guard not exactly being the vocation of cool girls at my school. But dutiful as I was, I went to see her in a band competition, and I was floored. Girls with flaming batons and such. High school must be a completely different experience in that state.

Speaking of breakthroughs and local culture, and considering that Lane's call for prayers apparently worked, this seems like a good post with which to update you about my travails. After having resolved, over the weekend, to take on a trade, I was sifting through some printouts of want-ads from local electrical companies when I was startled by the unusual sound of my business phone ringing. It was the editor of a local four-color-glossy magazine, at which I had applied for an entry-levelish position, suggesting that it might be more mutually beneficial for me to become a regular house writer.

I'm currently perusing some sample issues and noting ideas for potential pieces, as well as possible areas of focus, that I'll forward to the editor later today. It's too early even to assess my chances, but isn't it just like opportunity to stretch a deadline? Even if this one passes, it's increasingly clear that I'm nearing a tipping point. If only I had a few more months of resources to burn!

As it is, I'm like a bus driver trying to keep the thing running just long enough to withstand a few more hits on the household-expenses derby field.

(Hey, as a writer, it's my job to tie the various aspects of a piece together... I think.)

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:28 PM | Comments (1)

August 6, 2004

Gratitude and Prospects

With the process of putting CDs up for auction finished, I spent much of this afternoon (it's still Thursday to me) catching up with the responses to my plea for help. Of course, I expected Glenn Reynolds's greatly appreciated link, as well as an unsolicited one from Bill Quick for which I am similarly appreciative, to generate quite a bit of traffic, but I'm happy to admit that I'd tempered my expectations a bit too much.

No, I've had no job offers, yet. The closest that I've come involved one reader who actually called his company's publishing office about openings and, although there were none, managed at least to acquire the name and contact information of a recruiter. (Surely the lack of offers is only on account of the procedures through which even insta-hires must go.) Nonetheless, with all of the leads and solid advice that I received (not to mention donations amounting to more than a day's pay), the two days of correspondence have certainly energized me and given me several directions and methods to pursue.

Clayton Cramer, for one, sent a possibility that's sufficiently intriguing to pass along:

Announcement Number: FO-2004-0028
Vacancy Description: Intelligence Analyst, GS-0132-13 / 14 (EX)
Open Period: 07/12/2004 - 08/09/2004
Series/Grade: GS-0132-13/14
Salary: $62,905.00 TO $96,637.00
Promotion Potential: GS-14
Hiring Agency: DOJ/FBI
Duty Locations: MANY vacancies Continental United States Throughout the US

With the deadline looming, I'm still debating whether to apply, but it seems to me that the leap from a certain type of blogging to intelligence analysis isn't all that far. Indeed, the geopolitically concerned branches of the blogosphere might be a profitable area from which intelligence agencies could farm talent.

Of course, there's all variations of talent to be found among bloggers. If, for example, anybody's looking for an electrical engineer, Donald Crankshaw is available... as am I, for jobs related to publishing.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:28 AM | Comments (2)

August 4, 2004

Desperate Times, Desperate Blogging

PROEM:
To change the page layout to one that might be easier to read, click "Turn Light On" at the top of the left-hand column.


The newborn, as much attention as she requires, has become part of each day's normality; the new house is slowly shaping up, not the least in that one can now walk in straight lines across the basement and the garage; and the two-and-a-half year old has rebounded from all of these huge changes with, if anything, more cheerfulness and, far from regression, advancement in development. So, that leaves just one hole (which has introduced me to a biological marker of stress, recurring nausea): our very low income.

During the week that my wife and I actually signed the papers to buy our house, I was apparently overly optimistic about my immediate prospects for interviews and employment. A more-accurate view wouldn't have affected our real estate decisions; circumstances had opened a brief window in which it made sense to buy, and our previous rent was not so much lower than our current mortgage as to make the purchase significantly more daring than simply staying put. Still, it's August, and I have to admit that the next page of the calendar could flip with crushing weight.

It is therefore with a sharper sense of immediacy than has characterized my previous appeals that I ask for help now. I'm much better endowed with abilities than I am with resources or connections, and my need to convert the former into either of the latter is rapidly approaching desperation.

I'd be more than happy if that conversion were to come by way of donations to this blog (click the PayPal button in the left-hand column). Better still would be donations disguised as purchases of my Just Thinking book, A Whispering Through the Branches (my novel), or both. As helpful and rewarding as any such income would be, however, what I'm looking for above all is work.

As my résumé (PDF) shows, most of my more-advanced experience is in the general area of publishing. Obviously, I write. Professionally, I edit. And through freelance and self-initiated projects, I've built up a portfolio related to graphic design, typesetting, and other activities on the production end of the process. All of my various abilities and interests coalesced in two editions (so far) of The Redwood Review, for which I did all of the work — from concept through fundraising and production to distribution.

Before I returned to college in the late '90s, I established selling fish off a truck as my most promising career option without further credentials. I'd prefer to find a job that helps me to justify the lost years and accumulated debt of higher education, but I'm perfectly willing to consider those expenses as investments in personal growth and take a path toward other careers. If it's back to scales and shells, so be it; hard work is no stranger, and late nights pursuing extracurricular interests are as familiar as the gurgle of my coffee machine. Still, I'd like to put the knowledge gained through all those late-nights already spent to productive use — earning me more time to spend with, and supporting, my family.

So please, if you're able to offer me any assistance — from guidance to contributions to employment — please don't hesitate to do so. I can be reached by email, at jkatz@timshelarts.com, by phone, at (401) 835-7156, or by mail, at P.O. Box 751, Portsmouth, RI, 02871.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:48 PM | Comments (5)

August 3, 2004

Ugh.

I had one of those days during which just about every project I started I made worse (not always directly my fault). Some of them, I managed to finish anyway; some are back on track; one wouldn't be practical to recover. (Twenty-five year old garage door openers can cost almost as much to fix as to replace.)

Above all, I'm exhausted from sleeping too little. So, I'm off to walk the dog, take a shower, and hit the sack. I can postpone the email pile until tomorrow, I guess.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:27 PM | Comments (5)

July 23, 2004

Ugh

Well, it had to happen eventually. I just got home from emptying and cleaning and freeing of garbage the old house. And I've got just enough energy to collapse. I guess the three weeks of labor have caught up with me at last. At least everything is here, now, and can be dispersed and organized as time and energy allow.

Thanks, again, for comin' 'round.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:37 PM

The Backless Closet

I just took a picture to show you the giant pile of stuff that very nearly fills my basement. The idea was to give you a visible explanation for my light posting. Unfortunately, I don't know where, in that pile of stuff, my USB cable is.

One or two more carloads, and everything will be out of the old house — an achievement that I intend to accomplish this morning. I'll be back later; thanks for you patience.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:14 AM

July 19, 2004

Up and Running Staggering

Well, we're in the house. We've slept in it — and hard, because we're all so exhausted. All of the big, U-Haul-requiring things are here. The two-and-a-half year old is excited about the move (through which she's made out perk-wise), and the dog might only be pestering us because of the humidity. The Internet guy came this morning, the cable guy is coming this afternoon, and the phone guy will come tomorrow.

We're off for lunch andto Home Depot (again). Today will be a blend of working, more moving, setting up, and, yes, blogging. Stay tuned.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:45 PM

July 18, 2004

A Funny Thing About a House

I'd always wanted a hammock. The sense that I'd formed of them, as a boy, was an odd blend of Sunday lounging and Nineteenth Century adventures at sea. The two had particular appeal to me, for reasons that I won't go into right now. Related, perhaps part of the desire was the feeling that a hammock was something that went in one's own backyard, and I grew up in apartments.

My parents finally brought me a hammock for my birthday, last year, and I set it up almost immediately. Fifteen minutes of mosquito bites, and I decided to return to it when I didn't have company. Shortly after our visitors had left, I moved the hammock to another side of the yard, and that time, I made it through a half-hour of bloodletting before I rolled the thing up and put it in the shed until... well, until tomorrow, when I'll move it to my new yard, where I expect to find swaying over grass — grass that I'll own — much more relaxing.

But it's a funny thing about a house.

The one in which I sit right now is the first that my wife and I have inhabited for more than a year and a half, and the mosquito infestation is only one aspect that I'll be happy to leave behind. In the backyard, we've a double-shed, the older portion of which has long been lost to local cats, ever since I boarded up the opening between the two to stop the crapping on items that we actually use. Indeed, the entire backyard has proven unusable owing to a combination of failed septic and poor drainage. None of which has freed me from the dozens of hours of raking each year.

The difficulties of the house itself would take more time to describe than I care to devote. Some quick examples, perhaps.

Despite months of professional tinkering, the heating system still smells of exhaust when it's on, and in any case, it forces air from the disgusting crawl space beneath the house. The electric system is frighteningly old. When I mounted a flag at the front of the house a couple of years ago, I discovered that the screws could practically be pushed in like thumb tacks, raising questions about the house's wood. Our landlord, when he lived here, covered the window that had been in the shower, so the bathroom is a box, and after the motor went on the ceiling vent, the room would fill quickly with steam, which sets off the poorly placed fire alarm in the hallway. We'd leave the door open, but the bathroom offers a direct line of sight to — and through — the large picture window in the living room. (Of course, before the motor went, it had been a problem because our landlord had wired it to the light switch, and it was much too loud for a tiny house with sleeping children.) The stairs to my attic office are so narrow and so steep that anything moderately large that cannot be dismantled also cannot be brought up, and even those items that can pass through the space are difficult to maneuver through the awkward turns. Moreover, the stairs creak terribly and are on the other side of a thin wall from by daughter's room, so I've had to learn where and how feet must go to minimize the noise. In the summer, when the door at the bottom swells in its frame, the care is often to no avail.

Still, up those stairs is the office in which I designed and published my Just Thinking book and two literary reviews. Where I've written columns and built up this blog. Periodically looking out of the window over the backyard, I've traced the seasons idly as I've formed my thoughts. Before our first child was born, my office had been downstairs, in the room that is now mommy and daddy's bedroom, where my wife interrupted my workout to tell me that the World Trade Center was on fire, and I spent the day stepping from office to living room to gather information from Fox News in order to convey it to family and coworkers who could not access any media.

And it had been in the living room in which inadvertently brushing my wife's stomach made me wonder whether she was pregnant, and in which we later confirmed that she was. That's when I moved my office upstairs, and it was in the new bedroom that my wife interrupted my sleep to tell me that her water had broken and mere days would bring an occupant for the room that we had prepared, in which I had been sitting during the evenings reading the first Harry Potter book to see what all the fuss was about.

We've fed children, eaten dinner, watched movies, had gatherings, changed diapers, loved, and lived in this house for almost exactly three years. Three Christmases. Three Halloweens. Eight birthdays. We know where the uneven floor in the hallway and kitchen will make the loudest sounds. We can navigate the entire house in the dark.

Over the past few days, as I've paused in my renovations of the new house, I've thought what a pleasure it will be to live there, and it will. It's a good house for a young family, and there's no way that family — our family — could remain in the one that we're leaving. Nonetheless, now, taking a breather the night before moving, I can't help but think that I'll miss chasing the dog around the yard 'till I'm cursing mad because he won't stop barking because he can see my wife across the street on her parents' deck. I'm finding it difficult to recall that walks — the thousands of walks — along the water were often too cold, too pest-ridden, or too windy to pay much attention to the lapping of the waves.

It's tough to leave an island, even when moving no farther than up the hill on the other side of the river. It's tough to leave a house, even when the move is the best possible option under the circumstances' totality. And it takes time to make a new house feel like home, although I'm sure the hammock will help.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:50 AM | Comments (1)

July 15, 2004

Ripping Weeds from New Hope

I'm trying to come up with a title for the house, but my mood is such that I've been hovering around House of New Hope, or other similarly corny possibilities. Consequently, I've concluded that I should hold off on purchases of signage until my mood changes some.

When the floor guy showed up unexpectedly for work today, I decided to spend the remaining two hours before lunch attacking the overgrowth around the house, including various weeds that have sprung up from the very midst of our hedges. One thorny sprout weaves itself through various branches, and as I discovered when I'd untangled the thick stem, its strategy for laying roots is similarly pernicious.

Even with my risking the use of such force that success might fling me backwards, the roots would not budge. However, looking closely, I found that the plant actually ran along the ground, an orangish red color, laying superficial roots throughout the soil beneath the hedges, and with the sacrifice of some dirt, the beast was easily removed.

Whatever it might actually be, hereafter, on the property of New Hope, the plant's qualities determine its name. What else could thorny vine-like sprouts, green enough to blend with most foliage, that entangle themselves with the insides of healthy bushes and whose reddish underpinning runs wildly throughout the earthen foundation, laying superficial roots wherever they can find soft soil — what else could it be but Creeping Socialism?

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:19 PM

July 14, 2004

Ditto... Ditto... Ditto

Just a few more days (well, five) of the homeowner's equivalent of Hell Week. Gotta go let the floor guy in, paint the front door and the garage, trim hedges so doorways are actually accessible, and so on, and so on.

I should be back to quasinormal next week, but I've also got a lot I'd like to say, in the meantime, if I can manage the time. At any rate, thanks for continuing to stop by and for keeping the page somehow active with your comments.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:40 AM

July 10, 2004

And into the Weekend

As you may have noticed by the steadiness of the earth beneath your feet, the Big Thing did not happen this week. I'm waiting for further information by which to gauge my anticipation, and I'll pass it along when I hear.

In the meantime, there's still painting to be done, as I chug along, exhausted, and after an abbreviated version of the weekend routine, I'll be heading back to the house. We'd like to (maybe have to) move in toward the end of this coming week, and there's so much to be done.

Bear with me.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:06 AM

July 8, 2004

Wednesday Thursday Morning Check-In: Housing and Employment

So... yesterday morning, I managed to get the ancient TV antenna off the roof, where loose bolts were allowing it to dig a hole in the shingles. Of course, in an example of the past's expediency being an act of scorn for the future, somebody had found it necessary to use an oddly shaped bolt, and worse yet, out of the four possible placements, he chose the only one that was difficult to access. I filled out the morning taking a series of "before" pictures and measuring screenless windows.

Afternoon. It took me several hours to find everything that I needed at Home Depot, where I filled up one of those large dollies with equipment and materials, including a brand new front door to replace one that had, at some point, been covered with green-marble-looking contact paper. In the paint department, as I'd suspected, even though I had sketched a floor plan, measured to the inch, I hadn't finished the calculations necessary to quantify my needs. And in the frustrating way of retail, I found a relatively inexpensive knob and bolt-lock set in a sort of rusted gold color that appealed to me, yet discovered that there was no matching product without the bolt-lock for the back door. And the young man in the window department told me that I had to figure out — somehow — what brand of windows I had measured before he could order my screens.

To the house. Unload the car. And a quick look at the existing door frame. Oops. I'd bought a door that opens to the left, and the architecture necessitates one that opens to the right. After dinner, it was back to Home Depot... where not a single door of the same design was rightly hinged. Ever have that dream...

Then, as if to ensure that a move-in deadline wouldn't be the biggest stressor in my life, I discovered a voicemail from a potential employer. Before going on vacation, she had called me about an entry-level graphic design position, and subject to the obligatory pushing and pulling to see whether I could drive up the wage, or any other aspect of the employment agreement, I had intended to take the job. Understanding that it would require me to work sixty-hour weeks for the foreseeable future, I had intended to take the job.

Well, over the two weeks, recollection of my initial hesitation about the pay apparently led her to conclude that she'd be better off hiring an entry-level person for an entry-level position.

The son of an associate of my brother-in-law's applied for the job, fresh out of college. Perhaps he'll get it and manage to save up some money while living with mom and dad to put him on better footing when he's ready to move out and/or get married. Me, I've got two kids, a dog, and a mortgage, and man, do I feel like I'm blowing things on the career front — and have been since high school.

Well, I know how to paint, at least. Hopefully my progress with the house today will be such that I can find time to blog something other than the minutia of my daily life.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:22 AM | Comments (1)

July 7, 2004

See, the Thing Is

Perhaps the most recurrent theme in my nightmares is the inability to get anything done. I'll have to be somewhere, and with all of the misplaced items, distractions, and other hang-ups, it takes about a novella's worth of dream plot to do so much as get my underwear on.

Well, with a newborn, a two-and-a-half year old, and a house to refurbish, I'm living the dream in more ways than one. (Although, let it be noted, I have managed to fully dress myself.) For more reasons than one, thank God for my wife!

Last night, on top of everything, we also had the family version of a teenager's birthday party to attend, so I didn't manage to do my Internet rounds. This morning, owing to a relatively sleepless night, my wife slept in more than usual, so now that she's up, I have to get rolling with fixer-uppin'. But I'm trying. Stick around.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:42 AM

June 26, 2004

The Days of the Dad

Apologies for the lack of posts. As you can imagine, things are a bit hectic just now — probably more so than I've indicated. Over the past couple of days, I've barely had time to think; in the days and weeks coming up, I'll have plenty of time to think, but not as much to sit at a computer to write.

This Weekend
We'll be bringing home the baby this morning and will hopefully not discover that we aren't as prepared as we'd thought. At the same time, I've got the usual weekend chores to do. (Although, with the backyard dug up for a new septic system in some places and heavy machinery to do the digging in other places, at least the mowing is minimized.)

On top of that, I didn't get to work as much as I wanted, yesterday, so I'll have some catching up to do before Monday. And something came back to me for final edits (you'll see), which I promised to make before the weekend came to a close.

Lastly, at some point this evening, I hope to take the dog for a nice long walk. Maybe then, he can stop looking at me so dolefully.

This Week
It looks like we'll be closing on the house this Wednesday, which was, after all, the day named in the contract. I've taken a couple of weeks off work in the hopes that it'll leave sufficient time to prepare the house for our arrival — getting done the necessary tasks, such as painting and laying carpet in the playroom, and accomplishing other projects that would be more difficult in a house that's occupied. In other words, I'll be engaging the sorts of activity that leave much mental capacity for thought, but keep the hands away from the keyboard. (Which need only mean that the ideas will spill out all the more rapidly when I finally sit down.)

And Beyond
Hopefully, we'll be settled in time for me to start a new job. (The "hopefully" applies both to the settling and to the job.) While the additional work is looking likely to be part time — bringing my overall schedule to full time — through the summer, autumn will bring sixty-hour work weeks.

Which is all to say that I'll be pretty busy for the foreseeable future. Counterbalancing, I hope, will be the fact that the various contingencies of my family's life will be settled to an extent that we haven't yet experienced. Once the foreseeable future is, well, foreseeable, I intend to sit down and list, prioritize, schedule, and plan to keep everything moving along toward my long-term goals. Blogging, it perhaps isn't necessary to tell other bloggers and readers of blogs, will certainly be a part of the daily itinerary.

In closing, I'd like to note that there's still time for somebody to provide me with a sufficiently large stipend to preclude the necessity of non-writing labor. (Hey, you never know who's out there.) Whatever the case, I thank you all for reading — a gift that lays a foundation of motivation for all that I do.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:09 AM | Comments (2)

June 24, 2004

Where I've Been Today

8 pounds, 11 ounces, 20 inches

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:46 PM | Comments (18)

June 23, 2004

When the Sun Doesn't Rise on Time

Although temperatures have risen, the clouds and rain and dreariness have persisted in claiming much of each week — at least in perception. The morning into day and day into night offer but blurs, shades of darkness. Still, shades of light remind that it isn't every day, and not forever.

I'm tired today. When time becomes a fog of expectations, one walks a bit farther at the tail end of the waking hours, hoping to sleep under clearer skies. Something resolved; something finished. It's a silly hope, in defiance of all experience. It would be better to sleep, following a schedule, and take tasks up in the morning, refreshed. Why is it such a difficult lesson to learn?

Perhaps because, on those too-rare mornings when the sun shines through and blue spreads across the sky, one glimpses what restful days will be like. In those evenings when the sparse clouds streak above, shades of orangish pink, like sherbet, the taste of memories not yet had heralds the future. Crisp, cool by contrast, although temperatures have risen.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:11 AM

June 18, 2004

Proselytizers

The two groups that come a-knockin' fairly regularly at my door: Jehovah's Witnesses and the Sierra Club. The latter has an odd method of conversion: "The best way to stop the current administration from destroying the world is with a check."

By way of confession, I admit that I couldn't help but smile inwardly as I allowed the two young college men to stand on my front steps and run through their entire pitch, punctuated with slaps at the mosquitoes that infest our little corner of the island. When I was in college, students majoring in fields related to the environment assisted some organization or other to rehabilitate the marshes that line much of my neighborhood's waterfront.

Where's the scythe-handed Bush administration when you need it?

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:14 PM

June 17, 2004

Unexpected Time

I hadn't realized how quickly and thoroughly expectations can be set. In those few hours last night that I thought the morning air would be inhaled by all four members of my household, my sense of the subsequent days aligned with the rest of my life.

Strolling around the maternity ward with my wife, between exams to see if dilation was progressing, an unanticipated level of stress swept over me. Up-to-now was done; from-now-on had come. I slipped into the wave and let it pass. (For her part, my wife is blessed with a natural and easy acceptance of events that I lack.)

Today, in a way, feels like a day that shouldn't have been. We stagger-stepped between past and future, and it's difficult to slip into the present so as make it productive. I've so much to do, but everything feels like waiting.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:12 PM | Comments (3)

June 16, 2004

Things of More Importance

Just so's you know, it's looking like tonight might end in the maternity ward for the Katzes. Posting, that is to say, might be light.

Oops... even as I type.

Talk to you later.

ADDENDUM:
Well, we jumped the gun. At least we got a dress rehearsal.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:57 PM

June 10, 2004

Back from the Lurking

Well, the RIGOP convention reminded me why I generally avoid such gatherings. It isn't much fun being the unknown lurker. Legislators, candidates, business leaders, movers, shakers, reporters... nobody gave any indication of realizing that they were in the presence of Rhode Island's (probably) biggest conservative blogger!

That's alright, though; the lack of recognition was mutual. I saw some vaguely familiar faces, put some other faces to names, shot some footage of protesters ("No contracts, no peace!"), and so on. If any of my video turns out to be usable, I may try to work some of it into a multimedia blog post, which is something of which I hope to do more in the future.

Mostly, the evening felt like a first time — the one that has to be gotten out of the way so subsequent efforts can be more productive. I was slow with the camera and shy about using it; I didn't know anybody and didn't know what to say when I met them. (Hey, this is why I'm a writer.)

So, whatever posting I do won't be very informative and may seem like a rough draft. But not to worry about the record of this event — the real media folks were on the scene:

I didn't even have a notepad.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:20 PM

Political Steps

I'm off to run a few errands and then attend my first-ever political event, an RIGOP conference. I'm not sure what to expect, but especially given the fact that I'll soon be a Rhode Island homeowner, the reality of my financial situation, and the reminder of Ronald Reagan, it's something I feel compelled to do.

I'll be back later tonight, perhaps with pictures, perhaps with tales.

Posted by Justin Katz at 4:01 PM

The Price of Time and the Cost of Thinking

I'll tell ya: Ronald Reagan's passing has rushed a gust of the enthusiasm he brought to the country while he was in office through my thinking just when I needed it. All of the recounting of his confidence, rooted in faith that everything had purpose, sure does resonate with a guy on the edge of panic about his livelihood.

I'm going back and forth about whether to trek across the state to attend the GOP convention. (Those to my south and west should feel free to laugh at the idea of "trekking" across Rhode Island.) Something's telling me to go. I'll try; there's so much to get done, and I find myself grasping at my hours as at fool's gold.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:09 AM

June 7, 2004

That Ol' Classified Nausea

It's been a while since perusing classifed ads stirred that low, vague sick feeling in my stomach. Something about the blend of possibilities and impossibilities, the visions of what a day might entail and what just wouldn't fit within the hours or the energy, is like a graphic description of one's life being churned.

I'd go to the job fair that the Providence Journal is hosting this week, but its title is clearly exclusionary doublespeak — Diversity Career Fair. A fair, to turn a phrase, not apparently meant for the fair, as the picture on a promotional brochure confirms. What would the HR folks from the 31 participating companies say were I to approach their booths? The last fair was for healtcare workers, the next (in September) for medical/bio-tech, and the following (in October) for "workforce." Medical industry. Labor. Or minority.

The DNC, by the way, is hiring activists to "work to defeat Bush." Call Sarah or Kirk.

A couple of weeks ago, one of the local papers had an ad for a job doing exactly the sort of work I'd like to do with exactly the sort of company with which I'd like to do it — and within a mile of the house to which I'll soon be moving. My wife called from work to tell me about it, and I immediately contacted the company. The receptionist gave me an email address to which to send my résumé, and I did so as soon as I'd crafted a temperately acquisitive introductory note.

The very next day, I emerged from the shower to find that the woman to whom I'd directed my note and résumé had left me voicemail requesting a return call. The receptionist took a message. I haven't heard back. Maybe she's on vacation. Maybe she contributed to this blog's recent visitor totals.

What gets me about the columns upon columns of available jobs is that, at this point, I'm willing to do just about anything. Still, pulling against that willingness is the recollection of too many times in the past that I've made the rushed decision to take a job and found that it adequately answered none of my needs or desires.

But what are needs and desires? Last night, I saw the second half of a documentary about the battle of Iwo Jima. It certainly made a triviality out of the difference between a job as assistant manager at a record store and one as an editor or graphic designer at a multimedia firm.

I think there might be a fishing-boat dock not far beyond the company that hasn't called me back. I have experience.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:02 PM

June 2, 2004

Getting Over the Hump

It is Wednesday, after all, and therefore my first day back to actual work since the long weekend. I've currently got 17 items to which I intend to link and on which I intend to comment, and I'm only halfway through my daily online reading routine... but there's high-tech market research that needs editing.

This earning money thing is a real pain. Life would be so much easier if the government would just dole out money according to need, and each person could work according to his or her particular abilities. That way, I could sit around and blog all day — which is surely where society most needs my talents applied. (If only the darn capitalists realized it.)

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:31 PM

Confirming the Memory

Memories of events that really happened and memories of dreams that we had long ago can blur together. For those who've spent much time writing fiction, the pitfall of lunacy is far too easy to imagine: what was life and what was plot? Well, one memory that I've always questioned, based on the facts therein, has been confirmed.

In my early double-digits, I went to piano camp in Vermont, and one memory from that time is of everybody walking around with their blankets wrapped around themselves. Sitting on the stairs, sitting on the screened-in porch, like cloth cocoons with heads sticking out. Since it would have been summer, however, the memory carried a touch of implausibility when it resurfaced in my twenties.

Well, it's almost summer in Rhode Island, now, and it's pretty darn cold. Guess I should trust my rememberer.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:05 AM

May 26, 2004

Mired in the Day

Sorry about the lack of posts, yesterday. I'm a bit off — like the weather, which is giving us October in May.

Apart from my lone entry and some comment and email writing, I spent quite a while writing an entry that I decided it prudent not to post. (Suffice to say that I find comparisons between the Family Research Council and Nazis specious, to say the least, but am not optimistic that arguing as much will persuade those for whom it is not obvious.)

Then, ironically, I ultimately found myself unable to post a comment to this post by Gabriel Rosenberg because of "questionable content." (I've included the comment in an addendum, here; note that I didn't try to embed the image in my comment and even attempted to include the link merely as text.)

In the evening, we finally managed, after several days of attempts, to watch part of Two Towers in preparation for viewing Return of the King. Our daughter had been refusing to fall asleep until well after the time at which any substantial part of the film could be taken in. Tonight, if she'll allow it, we'll watch the Battle of Helms Deep.

Before night falls, lack of sleep and a surfeit of frustration notwithstanding, today is a new day. Well, on with it.

ADDENDUM:
My comment to Prof. Rosenberg:

A couple of really quick (and perhaps sloppy) answers.

The chart. Looking at the labels, one sees that the columns' height is "percentage of total births." It is this that has increased by two percentage points each year. The rounding of the table (I think it's the rounding) distorts the differences, but here's a quick idea of what it should look like (modified only from '94 on):

(click the image for the full-sized version)

The change from 1994 to 1995 was particularly affected by rounding; the difference was actually only 1.26, but 0.78 was added in the rounding. It might help to read Kurtz's piece, today, on NRO, and (I believe) he'll be publishing a more statistical piece thereon in the near future.

I should also point out that in the CBS numbers an out-of-wedlock birth is one where the mother was unmarried 307 days before the birth.
— Yes, but you should also point out that the corresponding lag is true for children born just after divorces and deaths.

it seems at times that Kurtz is arguing not that same-sex marriage will lead to an increase of out-of-wedlock birth, but rather the campaign for it will.
— Well, yes, he's been arguing that for a while, as have I. The concept of marriage that must become true in order for gay marriage to come into being is what hurts marriage, before and after the fact.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:12 AM | Comments (5)

May 24, 2004

Bright Lights, Dirty Pavement

I've been meaning to mention Jeremiah Lewis's journal-type entry about a visit to New York City, in particular, his description of Times Square:

Times Square was simply overwhelming--New Years on TV just doesn't cut the live experience. Imagine a river gushing through the streets, like what is depicted in The Day After Tomorrow. This is Times Square, only the river is made up of moving organic bodies--human beings, each one earnestly resting his or her eyes on the feet and back in front of them, each slightly overwhelmed in their own way.

A person is never content in Times Square. The endorphic rush of images and sound is comparable to, say, being caught in the maelstrom of a well-orchestrated asteroid bombardment. It simply demands attention. But where's the payoff? Maybe it's just in getting out without having succumbed to abject worship of the gigantic video billboards. Honestly, I felt that was my great triumph in leaving Times Square behind and heading to the polar opposite of Central Park.

Perhaps it's because living just outside of New York made it "the city" rather than "The City," or because I was introduced to it so young, or because of the pre-Giuliani era in which that was, but it never held the magic that is evident when others write of visiting. People, a lot of them; buildings, big ones; filth and the smell. New York was always just a place, but bigger.

Marching blocks upon blocks to drop in on people to whom to hand demo tapes (that they, in turn, would drop in the garbage), I passed decked-out ladies who were just women in fancy clothes. The rough young New Yawkahs were just kids with screwed up ideas about what it meant to be young.

As the biggest thing within ten miles from home, New York was a night out. Sometimes the home of girlfriends, whose mothers shook with anger when they discovered that their daughters had gone all the way to New Jersey. For them, that was like another country. For us, being in New York was like being lost in the wrong neighborhood, not because of something unique about the city, but because people are animals, and the city had a lot of them.

Perhaps it's strange, then, that Times Square turns out to be the critical point in the universe toward the end of A Whispering Through the Branches:

With this resolution, Nathaniel plunged through the bodies that flooded the sidewalk around him and marched across the street, unthreatened by the racing traffic that seemed, miraculously, to sway its own course for his sake. In the space of a breath, and not a bit disheveled, Nathaniel hopped onto the concrete island in the midst of the pandemonium. Even the light around him seemed to have changed, even the smells. This was not the same world that had watched the sun disappear to the West. This world had hope. Nathaniel looked up triumphantly.

It isn't surprising that I would use the city as a literary device. We always used the city, we kids from the suburbs. It made us tough when we met people from far away. It put us in a different world from home. It gave us a place to go for the forbidden — alcohol (most often). All of which made it ours, in its way for us. Our experience was always drawing from it, never giving to it. In a different way than for those who only visit as well as those who never leave, it was ours.

But it wasn't ours, obviously, and deep down in that arrogant, fearful disdain was the admission that New York, just another place, defined us. Made us its. That City that others strain to describe — that must be "imagined" as grand metaphors? You don't know it like I know it, and I hardly know it at all.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:07 AM | Comments (3)

May 21, 2004

Enough with the Cold and Rain! Maybe.

I'm beginning to think that summer will come interspersed with days that represent a year-long autumn. Or perhaps it would be more true to characterize the weather as a delayed spring, with early-April weather coming in late May. At some point in June, we'll probably be walloped with full-on August.

Weather can be a muddle of advantages and annoyances. Too cold, but at least not too hot. Not warm, but at least not freezing. After so much practice, this year, it isn't hard to get around to a sunny view, even when it's raining.

Now, to apply that attitude to other matters...

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:02 AM

May 20, 2004

The Blogger's Good Fight

It's been one of those weeks, with each night adding just a bit to the sleep deficit. Got some disappointing news about employment hopes yesterday. Oh well. Maybe something better will come along.

In the meantime, I intend to catch up with the blogging (and with other things on which I'm falling behind) today... or pass out trying. If I say anything goofy — well, more goofy — you'll know why.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:55 AM

May 19, 2004

Is It Only Wednesday or Wednesday already?

I'm having a very odd week. So much is happening that it's becoming difficult to root myself in time. I'll keep y'all posted as news solidifies.

Speaking of posting, I still have a backlog of links to share and things on which to comment, but I've been frequently sidetracked. Perhaps today, I'll catch up (with both the blogging and my sleep... hopefully).

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:07 AM

May 14, 2004

It's Cold Again, Naturally

A couple of good — well, hopeful — things happened yesterday, having to do with housing and employment. One gets used to living on Internet time, so having to wait weeks to hear news pertaining to real life can be like a child's having to wait for Christmas from Thanksgiving. One day at a time, I guess.

This particular day, it's cold and looks like rain. I recall a brief discussion in one of my more-creative junior high school classes about how the weather often seems directed at us as individuals. I hope today's weather is only meant to cool the anxieties that come with potential changes in life.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:07 AM

May 11, 2004

For Whom the Mercury Rises

Spring seems to have arrived at last and looks likely to give way with unreasonable speed to summer. From cold to heat; stasis to turmoil.

I've got about a month to find more work or some other income. A permanent clamp of stress is affixed to the back of my neck, and it appears to be attached to some hard knobs digging into the small of my back.

I can still smile, though. I realized, yesterday, that it's been exactly ten years since I reclined at the rock bottom of life for twelve months or so, followed by nine years of climbing. A man's bound to slip now and then on his way out.

Nonetheless, unless I find new or more well-paying work, I'll be filling my income gap with whatever work I find, no matter the pay and no matter the hours. That will require all of the career seeds that I've been planting — most having to do with writing of one form or another — to lie without tending for a while. Plans for a conservative group blog for Rhode Island, to offer some alternative information and a respite from isolation will have to be put aside.

Any leads to work, or to grants or stipends, would be welcome. Also welcome, though it seems a relatively minor matter for which to ask them, would be prayers.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:08 AM | Comments (3)

May 7, 2004

Talk About the Weather

Well, this morning didn't bring quite as much of a chill. But it looks very likely to rain... again. I think I'll hold off on the a.m. metaphors. (Hey, it's Friday!)

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:57 AM

May 6, 2004

A Chill in the Air

The smells and the quality of the light, in early morning, betoken the full onset of spring. A mist drifts across the golf course along which I walk toward home. Nonetheless, there's a chill in the air, streaked across the sensations like the fingers of a winter that won't let go.

Similarly, certain aspects of my career hint at warmer days than I've yet to experience. The increase in people Googling my name, specifically, evokes mixed emotions. Some number, surely, are related to jobs for which I've applied. Nobody's called for interviews yet.

Perhaps I should put a disclaimer at the top of this page: "The views expressed by this blogger do not mean that he is hateful or evil, nor do they indicate that he is an angry or otherwise disagreeable coworker."

Strange that the greatest challenge to a convert to Catholicism and conservatism — having left behind truly hateful ideologies and a misanthropic outlook — should find the greatest challenge to be proving his goodwill. If I am rejected by friends and potential clients or employers because I don't hold appropriate policy views, I'm inclined to plead unfair prepossession.

Although, it certainly falls to me to find ways to convey my softened attitude along with the harder ideas.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:11 AM | Comments (2)

May 5, 2004

To Rest the Brain

I had to put in a bit of extra effort to meet a day-job deadline today, so I wasn't able to get to the four posts that I've got lined up to write. Normally, I'd try to get one of them up, at least, before heading off to bed, but the dog still needs a walk, and I'm going to attempt to capture that elusive six hours of sleep tonight.

Tomorrow: Thursday. A day of freelance and catching up. Worrying, too — but that's every day. As is prayer and hope.

Goodnight. God guide you through your slumbers 'till the stage is set for morning.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:06 PM

April 28, 2004

More Rain

At a certain point, one moves into the frame of mind that long stretches of enspiriting weather are inconceivable. That life is mostly clouds and rain, with brief interludes of blue skies merely for contrast and temporary respite.

That's not the case, of course. Summer comes. Somehow.

ADDENDUM:
For a while, some distant hue has been lingering in the direction from which the weather comes. It's been difficult to tell whether it's blue or the darker gray of inclement weather. More and more, though, it's looking like a break in the clouds, rather than a deepening of them.

ADDENDUM II:
It was blue. The sun is shining — as it always is beyond the clouds.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:00 AM

April 21, 2004

At Last

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:25 PM

April 16, 2004

The Simplicity of Labor

So, ever since college, people have told me that, if I want to find a reasonably well-paying job, I simply have to get a headhunter. Yesterday, I took some time to look into it and discovered that it isn't an easy thing to look into. Google "rhode island headhunter," for example, and you'll get well over 5,000 hits, most of which appear to be run of the mill job-search engines.

I did manage to come across a few articles on finding headhunters, although they were all too specific to particular industries or careers to be applicable. What did seem valid, however, is the impression that I've come across yet another instance in which one must make a full-time job of finding somebody who might — might — be able to assist in some occupation. Everything that I've ever wanted to do has had some variation of the Quest for an Agent.

Well, if there's one area of life for which I feel particularly harmed by inadequate education, it's this one. Worse yet, it's not an area in which relatively introspective autodidacts can easily leverage their abilities. We end up frustrated, pessimistic, and still clueless.

I don't have the most commentative readership, but if anybody has any insights into finding a headhunter, a literary agent, a job, a contract, a mentor, a patron, a benefactor, or a pot of gold, I'd very much welcome a gesture in the right direction.

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:32 PM | Comments (2)

April 14, 2004

Markers of Progress in the Evening

Apologies for the lack of posts today. My wife's work schedule was quirky, leaving me with extra time as domestic dad because it doesn't make sense to bring the kid to "Mema's house" for less than an hour. Then, there were in-law taxes to do and personal bills, for which I'd had to wait for a paycheck's arrival, to pay. And I had my usual dayjob work to do, of course. Luckily, there wasn't much out there requiring my immediate blogging attention.

So, evening has closed the day, at last. The rain dissipated into a fog that has captured the fleeting warmth within its folds. Streetlights transform each corner into a stage. Smells drift low along the pavement — detergents bringing forth memories of the homes of childhood friends, trees redolent of teenage meanders. Scenes from across the years sift between the shadows.

Over the past few years, I've noticed a newcomer to my emotional repertoire: inexplicable optimism. Ultimately, it derives from faith, I know, but the absence of more-explicit justifications makes it an irrational kind of hope. (I'm convinced that the unseen foundation of faith is what allows many atheists and apathetic quasibelievers to step away, and that the reliance on irrationality leaves them unable to spot the gaping hole they leave in their children's formation by wrongly assuming hope to be an independent, inherent quality.)

I've no reason to expect any opportunity to advance in the near future, visible when the fog lifts. Quite the opposite. But there are other types of expectation, and besides, there's plenty to experience just lingering at this particular corner.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:11 PM

Markers of Progress

One can begin to see, this time of year, how the alternation of pouring rain and quick bursts of sunlight tease the buds from dirt and wood. Some flowers have sprouted; low bushes are flashing green; even the trees boast new bunches from which leaves will sprout.

Nonetheless, it's difficult not to feel the target of some malicious force when rain that had abated for hours falls with fresh vigor the moment one steps out to walk the dog in the evening... and then abates again the moment the walk is over and the towel applied to fur. And perhaps there is ill intent behind the rain, when it goes beyond refreshment and into flooding. A puddle can drown a flower, and standing water will bring the bane of summer: mosquitoes.

Perhaps there's something to the altercation. If sun and rain goad nature to awake, what do good and evil, pulling in turn, awake in us?

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:07 AM

April 13, 2004

Back into Life's Stressmachine

At this point in my progression into faith, perhaps the greatest difficulty that I have is in balancing the comfort of my Christianity with the stress born of my ambition. That ambition has already been whittled down to a moderate state, and while I'm increasingly able to find solace through the personal modesty of expectations that follows from belief in a larger reality, it remains true that this world imparts responsibilities.

Lent and Easter, this year, have brought some spiritual reinvigoration, but now the feeling is of returning to an unusually busy office after a vacation. The baby deadline looms, with no more basis for hope that I'll find additional income than I've had for months and years. I must be doing something wrong.

Frequent reading of the Psalms doesn't seem to be helping, in this regard, what with all that talk about being inflicted, oppressed, and miserable. That's all well and good for a psalmist able to wander the alleys at night, but when one is charged with shaping the world in which children will form their impressions and personalities, it loses most of its ascetic appeal.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:17 AM | Comments (2)

April 8, 2004

Breathing Clearly

Back when I used to smoke, it wasn't uncommon for my colds to last weeks. It seemed as if the smoke helped to clear my nose a little (maybe), but the congestion and especially the coughing continued for days on end. I remember being surprised, shortly after I quit, when I felt a cold abating after only a day — gone within three.

Sometimes, I miss cigarettes, mostly as an image and neurosis thing, but the taste of food and the times when I can just about breathe clearly after only a couple of days of illness more than compensate as motivation not to start it up again. And besides, as I recall, it takes such effort to start.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:57 AM | Comments (3)

April 7, 2004

Silence in the Box

Back in my pre-blogging days, and back when I actually went into the office to do my day-job editing, I would sit in my cube, with gray-cloth walls that had hash marks on them, as if some previous occupant had thus counted the days, and stare at the computer screen, knowing that there was an entire connected world beyond it, but not knowing how to connect with anyone. Like a man marooned and looking out across the ocean for bottles.

Since last Friday, my Web stats had been frozen for some reason, and days like yesterday that brought no comments or email felt quiet and still. Not that that's necessarily bad; I'm ill, after all, and perhaps not as sharp as preferable. But everything's fixed. Your footprints are still in the sand. Thanks for coming ashore.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:59 AM | Comments (1)

April 6, 2004

The Talent of Avoiding Cracks

In a post that probably proves me peculiar and self-absorbed for finding it depressing, Barbara Nicolosi evinces the perspective of the teacher:

It's such a hard reality to have to engage - and all of us who work in the arts have to evolve a strategy to deal with it. Most of the people who come to us for guidance and help, just do not have the talent to make our efforts on their behalf worthwhile. The trick is, to still give help - but to give the kind of help that will actually be of use to the person really who only wants you to hand their screenplay off to Steven Spielberg.

What makes it all worthwhile is that every so often, when you are probably over-tired and really don't have the time or energy to 'sell everything you have and buy the field,' you come face to face with the Divine Economy in the arts. And it is such a rush.

Some are called to discover and others are called to be discovered. And still others are called, it seems, to long for discovery. Thus does Salieri transform into a character who has haunted me across the nearly two decades since I first saw the movie Amadeusdemanding of God:

Why implant the desire to serve and then withhold the talent to do it? Why bestow Your divine genius on Mozart, who is neither good nor chaste? ... Because you choose for your instrument a boastful, lustful, smutty, infantile boy; and give me for reward only the ability to recognize the incarnation; because you are unjust, unfair, unkind; I will block you.

Counting me as the reader, all three of these callings come together in Nicolosi's post to create an all-too-familiar, guilt-evoking jealousy and pining for the hand never offered:

Took me only half a page to see it. One of my students has talent.

My students were throwing me greetings and questions while they settled in. All I wanted to do was duck under my desk and read. "LEAVE me alone! Can't you see I have a good writer here!?!" ...

I immediately started a kind of Machiavellian planning as to how I could get this young person under the collective wing of people I know who could help her. It will be a joy for us all.

And the desperate choir echoes through the years for all of we who are represented by those anxious students asking questions of a teacher glowing from the light of someone else:

Confutatis maledictis
Flammis acribus addictis
Voca me cum benedictis.

Oro supplex et acclinis,
Cor contritum quasi cinis,
Gere curam mei finis.

[When the damned are confounded
and condemned to sharp flames,
call me with the blessed.

I pray, kneeling in supplication,
my heart contrite as ashes,
take thou mine end into thy care.]

The possibility remains always open that I've never been as talented as I'd thought (to some extent led to believe), but if wings have ever reached out to pull me under, I've failed to see them and so slipped away. Be my other abilities what they may, the defining one has been falling through cracks. Perhaps it's a matter of personality; sometimes the sense is strong that others believe their efforts better expended elsewhere — although whether because of a perceived lack or advantage on my part isn't always clear.

It often seems that my work just isn't to the taste of potential discoverers across whose paths I stagger. And my reaction to the above anecdote snaps out from a detail about the young writer that Nicolosi withholds almost to the very end. Here it is again:

I immediately started a kind of Machiavellian planning as to how I could get this young person under the collective wing of people I know who could help her.

Her. Tracing back across my formative years:

  • High school. Creative writing, English, and gifted/talented classes? Female teachers.
  • Carnegie Mellon University. Playwriting, rhetorical writing, and music composition classes? Women.
  • University of Rhode Island. Creative and nonfiction writing classes? You guessed it.

There needn't be deliberate discrimination in this. Perhaps there's something in the shared experience of people of the same gender that facilitates that first-impression wow that Nicolosi describes. I'd be lying, though, if I didn't confess my suspicion that teachers and other influential people — men and women, both — who deal with teenagers and young adults across a broad swath of interests and intentions often make the perhaps subconscious judgment that young white men don't require assistance from any given person. The presumption is that somebody, at some point, will offer a wing, as if by default. But what if every potential guide or mentor concludes the same?

Thus we find ourselves — we who are disliked or passed over or of mismatched styles or just not talented — slithering among the cracks while others take their first wobbling steps and then, God willing, take wing.

Lacrimosa dies illa
Qua resurget ex favilla
Judicandus homo reus.

Huic ergo parce, Deus,
Pie Jesu Domine:
Dona eis requiem. Amen.

[Lamentable is that day
on which the guilty man shall arise
from the ashes to be judged.

Spare then this one, O God,
merciful Lord Jesus:
give them peace. Amen.]

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:21 PM

Almost Made It

As is frequent, this time of year, in this region, all of our gains in rainy warmth were lost when the sky cleared. After I walked the dog in the downpour and then slept poorly Sunday night, the rapid chill was more than my immune system could take.

Well, the sun and blue skies are worth a few days of nose-blowing. Hopefully before those few days are done, I'll no longer have to unwrap a scarf to do it. Weather watchers predict that nature will institute some sustainable policies for maintaining heat.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:05 AM

April 2, 2004

Still Raining

The problem with days' worth of rain is that the dampness starts to get into everything. The dog, for example.

Yesterday, he was restless to go outside, and shortly after I decided the weather dry enough to oblige, it began to pour. Maybe if he weren't nearly a hundred pounds of northern-furred dog, we could blowdry him or something.

But... one can see spring in the subtle red buds that make the trees look more twiggy and on the willows with their yellow beginning. Between the colors and the rain, spring comes in like autumn goes out.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:56 AM | Comments (2)

April 1, 2004

Spring Arrives from the South

Well, another cold, rainy day here in New England. That's one thing about bloggers from the South posting pictures of spring's arrival. We've still got a while up here, and the photos only make these last few weeks (months?) before the seasonal transition all the more frustrating.

Is there some kind of federal aid program for that?

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:03 AM

March 19, 2004

Diary Entry, 3/19/04: Still Snowing!

Woke up to more snow falling. It looked like it had just started, making me wonder if it's somehow my doing. (One would think that having a country CD in the alarm clock would have the opposite effect on the weather.)

Oh well. The snow's nice, I guess; it's certainly better than rain while walking the dog. And the winter did, after all, get to a late start, this time around the seasons. Perhaps it's only the forshadowing of spring that we got the last few weeks that makes the snow seem like regression.

Sorta like a writing career.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:14 AM

March 15, 2004

A New Morning

It's strange how much different time becomes on the other side of college. For a child, the distance from Thanksgiving to Christmas is almost too much to bear. For a teenager, a whole year is a forever for which to wait for something. After college, a year can slip by almost unnoticed. Perhaps, to some degree, it has to do with the breadth of the goals that we set.

I bring this up because I decided, over the weekend, to regiment my days a bit more strictly. I've been slipping into an amorphous schedule that has been too conducive to procrastination. It wasn't until I smelled the air of 6:00 a.m., with dog on leash, that I realized just how long I've been gradually losing control. It was nice to see the sun so low, again, representing, it seemed, the new day that dawns in about three months:

I've got three months to get as far as possible toward fully supporting my family and procuring a house that is more than a way station. And even if my minimal goals cannot be met in that time, I've got to stop living in preparation for proximate success that never seems to come, even as years slip by.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:07 AM | Comments (1)

March 8, 2004

On and Off

Miserable night of two-year-old ear-infection protests, when I had stayed up too late trying to chip away at the stressors. Miserable morning with the mild-snowstorm crawl of traffic, no parking spaces, no quarters for the meter at the pediatrician's, one long scream during the entire visit, then home and a half-hour battle with medicine and eardrops.

Besides that, I haven't felt "on" for the past few days of blogging. Apologies to anybody whom I've trampled in rebutting or whom I've inadequately defended.

I will be probably be posting today, perhaps after a few (dozen) ounces of coffee. Early to bed, though.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:30 PM

February 23, 2004

Just a Question

Am I a wacko extremist type? I do try to be reasonable, but arguments do tend to carry me away.

It isn't just an ego thing, I don't think, that leads me to be disappointed that I didn't merit mention in Ponnuru's article, considering that he makes a point of establishing a broad view of the debate, via links. If there's something to the omission, I wonder what, specifically, could be more prudently done, on my part, in the future. The Lord knows that, between the Providence Journal and Jonah Goldberg, I didn't make any friends last week.

Perhaps it's just an indication that, while I'm making progress, my hopes are getting ahead of reasonable expectations. Perhaps, however, it might be helpful for me at least to act as if I've reached a point at which it would be advantageous for the leash on my lips, so to speak, to be tightened. I've never had a mentor nor instruction on these sorts of considerations, so it's all a bit like fumbling in the dark.

Okay, end insecure catharsis.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:00 PM | Comments (4)

January 21, 2004

First Panic in the Year of the Breakdown

Well, I made it a full three weeks before my first career-related panic attack of the year. I'm not exaggerating when I say that, careerwise, I'm completely lost — staggering around the alleys of the economy like a vocational vagabond, spread too thinly, with too many interests and no reason to pursue any one with particular vigor, because there's little variation in lack of apparent opportunity, yet clinging to each like a worn bit of cloth in the dead of winter. More and more regularly, I've found myself lurking by the entrance of St. Jude's Home for the Uselessly Talented.

I'm going back to the drawing board with the Flash site. I just wasn't translating the vision with which I began into a final design, and it may be the case that I have to do some self-training before I'm able to do so. Perhaps a whole new concept is in order. We'll see. Meanwhile, my attempts to restart the piano playing are slipping (I've always found it more difficult to motivate myself to practice without a real piano, for some reason), and a delayed Web design means a delay in a return to writing my next book.

Well, such is life, particularly when full-time employment doing anything remotely similar to one's interests and/or well paying becomes like fruit to Tantalus, when one's family still lives in a shack, and when one has another child on the way. It is best, of course, to concentrate on that which is going well, but somebody must be aware of the looming dangers, and being that somebody in my house, I'm allowed to vent, no?

I began the year with three weeks of irrational optimism. With effort on my part, it will return, but there's a very real possibility that this could be the Year of the Second Breakdown. (Then again, the Year of the First Breakdown brought the first steps toward conversion.)

Stay tuned.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:34 PM