Sunday night, Juliette and I stayed up way past our bedtimes to watch the series finale of Lost. As I think anyone would have predicted, reactions to that show have been sharply divided, with some people holding it aloft as the new canonically perfect final episode and others complaining that it retroactively ruined everything about the previous six years of their lives. (I'm exaggerating, of course, but probably less than you might think.) For my own part, I thought it had its flaws, and it did seem to reveal how much less of the show was pre-planned than I thought at the beginning, but it was so emotionally satisfying that I don't really care about the rest. Indeed, I found myself getting choked up far more often than I would have predicted.

What's interesting to me is how, in our post-show discussion, Juliette and I almost immediately started comparing it to other show closers. I, for example, couldn't help but recall how frustrated and disappointed the ending of Battlestar Galactica left me, while Juliette mentioned how the feeling of sadness she had reminded her of how we felt after the last episode of Six Feet Under.

Now, a lot of shows have left their marks on my psyche, but when I stop and think about it, it's kind of surprising to me how few of their endings made any lasting impressions. Friends, for example, was one of the biggest pop culture phenomena in the past twenty years. I've seen every episode more than once, and references and quotations still surface pretty regularly among my friends. Yet I almost never think about the last episode. Even Star Trek: The Next Generation, possibly the most influential show of my young life, doesn't stand out much for its ending.

Contrast that with a show like Six Feet Under, whose finale I still can't get out of my head, five years later. The entire run of the show was filled with moments that were shocking or moving, or otherwise memorable, but when I think of that show, the first thing that always comes to mind is that ending sequence.

I have a feeling that Lost is going to be somewhere in between for me. The last episode will almost certainly stay with me, especially the last few seconds, but there are other parts of the show that stand out just as much. Time will tell.

So, what are some of your most memorable series finales? What are the closing episodes that moved you or frustrated you the most? For the sake of the discussion, we'll define "finale" to mean episodes that were planned and written to be the end, rather than the ones that merely happened to come right before the show was cancelled. We'll also leave out the endings to miniseries; Band of Brothers, for example, would be out.

I look forward to hearing from you.

No Shoes, No Shirt

We've reached a somewhat inconvenient stage in the development of Jason's fine motor coordination. His skill at using spoons and forks to eat is progressing steadily, to the point where he enjoys using them and even refuses to eat sometimes if we don't provide him with utensils. He's still not all the way there, though. Sometimes he has trouble spearing or scooping up a piece of food, his usual solution for which is to take the food off of his plate and put it on the table. That gives him a better angle, but also means the mess is spread in a wider area.

Jason also still has problems keeping food on the utensil while he brings it to his mouth. He does a pretty good job for being 22 months old--I'd say he gets there about 60 to 70% of the time--but that still means a fair amount of food ends up on his chest and lap. And it's been many moons since he's let us put a bib on him, consequently we usually have to completely strip him down after meals.

The upside, though, is that since we usually finish dinner less than half an hour before he gets in the tub, he just runs around in his diaper while he plays and we clean up, and, man, if that isn't cute, I don't know what is.

Personal Days

By Ed Park

The title of Ed Park’s debut novel, Personal Days, is one of those perfect, HR-generated paradoxes. On the one hand, personal days offer the opportunity for freedom, for escape from the humdrum routine of desk-job life. On the other hand, that freedom is contained within a neat, organized little box, usually requiring a form to be filled out and approved to be taken, and in most offices I’ve heard of, you get precious few of them. And, of course, when you do end up using them, it’s more often than not for errands anyway. It’s the kind of title that so perfectly encapsulates the mentality of certain types of jobs, anyone who’s spent even a moderate amount of time working in an office will, seeing it, either smirk or grimace.

Personal Days is the story of a group of co-workers at a faceless sort of “everycompany”--we’re never told the company’s name, or even its business--that is in the midst of a brutal round of layoffs. By the time the book begins, the company is already a shell of its former self, reduced to a handful of sarcastic, distracted, or fatalistic employees and their inept manager. We’re introduced to the characters and the banality of their situation through a series of vignettes, discussions about the differences between the two nearby Starbucks, for example, or a description of the lunchroom dynamics. Eventually, the company is purchased by a group of “Californians,” and the firings resume. The employees become by turns frantic or simply resigned to their fates, being laid off one by one with no apparent logic behind any of it--the Californians and the local management are left quite opaque, with only overheard snippets of conference calls and hastily scribbled notes retrieved from trash cans providing any clues to what’s going on. The real story, revealed in the last of three sections, is even more absurd than anyone guesses.

Park divides his story into three sections, each structured differently from the rest. The first section is a collection of fragments separated by bold-faced headers, while the second reads like a software EULA, complete with paragraph and subsection numbers. The third takes the form of an email from one of the peripheral characters of the first two sections to another who has recently been fired. I was immediately reminded of Douglas Coupland’s novel Microserfs, both from the idiosyncratic formatting and the presentation of office culture. Personal Days cuts harder, though, I think. Much of Coupland’s story is about his characters’ attempt to start their own company, while Park’s characters are never given that kind of agency. Everything about corporate life in Personal Days is dehumanizing, disjointed, and ultimately purposeless.

There’s a lot of humor in this book, and Park is spot-on and merciless as he skewers every aspect of cubicle life. I had a hard time laughing, though. The outlook is just too dark, and there’s never really any hope or redemption given. Even the glimpses we’re given of life after being laid off seem hopelessly mundane. And though we are given an outpouring of emotion and humanness in the stream-of-consciousness email that comprises the final section, it ultimately only serves to make the ending that much more poignant, as we come to realize that the email never reaches its destination.

As a satire and as a portrait of everyday life for so many of us, I have to say that Personal Days is pretty successful. It does feel gimmicky at times, but Park tells the story skillfully enough that I was able to see through the writing tricks well enough to draw me into what I found to be a compelling work narrative. I’m interested to see what he does next.

Started: 5/4/2010 | Finished: 5/11/2010

Purchase from Amazon

Picnic Tables and Parks

I didn't get much chance to take pictures this week, so the set is pretty small:

Using a table for things like sitting and eating is boring.

Visiting the park with some friends.

Taking a moment to contemplate the glory of the park.

Pile of Shame

Yesterday I finished and sent off my latest piece for Life As A Human, an examination of the game Heavy Rain and why it appeals to me. (It hasn't gone up yet as of the time of this writing.) This is now the second article I've written for them about video games, and so far I'm the only one there to write on that topic. It makes some sense, probably, since I think I'm the only guy of my generation (or younger) writing for that site, but it's still a little odd for me because I haven't been much of a gamer for quite a while now.

The last game I played while it was still current and a big deal was probably Mass Effect, back in '07. Which I loved, don't get me wrong, but even at that point I was pretty far behind most of the rest of the gamer world. Consider this (non-exhaustive) list of hugely popular or influential games over the last five or ten years that I did't play (it's lengthy, so feel free to skim or skip): both Deus Ex games, Grand Theft Auto 3 & 4, all of the Metal Gear Solids, all of the Elder Scrolls games after Daggerfall, both Gears of War games, all of the God of War games, all of the Halos after the first, Shadow of the Colossus, both Bioshocks, Braid, Fallout 3, Flower, Heavy Rain, Uncharted 2, all of the Final Fantasies after 7, Super Mario Galaxy, Katamari Damacy, Little Big Planet, all of the Battlefield games, both Modern Warfares, Dragon Age, all of the Splinter Cells, Mirror's Edge, Left 4 Dead, Spore, Civ 4, Geometry Wars, Dead Space, both Assassin's Creed games, and basically all of the post-SNES Zeldas.

I'm obviously aware of the gaming industry, at least to the point where I know what I'm missing, and yet I spend less and less time actually playing games. The "pile of shame" I listed up there--slightly misleading since I don't actually own them--gets a little bigger every year, and it's to the point where I don't think I'd ever actually be able to catch up.

Moreover, I'm finding that I care less and less about the fact that I'm missing out. As with most of the things that have fallen by the wayside in the past couple of years--games, TV, movies, etc.--the pull has slackened a lot. In some cases, like with TV, it actually feels like kind of a chore to keep up, and I actively look forward to the ends of series that I've been following for a while.

The strange thing is that even though the allure of games seems to be falling off for me, my interest them isn't. I spend rather a lot of time each week reading gaming sites, listening to gaming podcasts, and thinking about games and the game industry. It seems that I've become more interested in games as a phenomenon than as art or entertainment that I actually intend to experience. Which seems a little perverse, if you ask me.

My relationship with art and media is always changing as I age, which is, I suppose, inevitable. But it leaves me curious to know where it will go from here. Will I ever get back into gaming? Is it something that I'll eventually abandon entirely? What is it that's holding my attention about gaming now? I don't know, but it's interesting to think about, anyway.

What do you think?

The Terrible... Ones?

One of the funny and wonderful--and sometimes maddening--things about small children is that they are completely incapable of hiding their feelings. Whatever they feel at any particular moment is completely apparent on their little faces. Now, as a parent, I'd love it if Jason's face always looked like this:

Even this would be fine:

Unfortunately, more and more often lately, Juliette and I have been seeing this:

And, worse for us, that face is frequently followed by a full-on, heels-kicking-on-the-floor tantrum.

He gets this face pretty much any time we tell him he can't have something or can't do something. "No, sweetie, that's not your toy, that's the dog's toy." Or, "Jason, you can't go outside and play with your water table right now, it's too cold." Or, "Mommy's in the bathroom right now, can you play with Daddy instead?"

Unfortunately for Juliette and me, Jason has fully inherited both of our stubborn streaks. Once he sets his mind on something, it can be very difficult to pull him onto a different track. He'll even throw his whole body weight into pushing one of us away if we try to thwart him. Sometimes he even hits us.

We're dealing with it the best way we can. Juliette and I have discussed and decided on our guidelines for what is and isn't acceptable behavior, and give him instruction on that every day. We require that he say "Please" and "Thank you." We praise and reward good behavior, and we've introduced "time-out" for when he breaks the rules, or doesn't listen, or gets too out of hand. We try to be consistent.

It's been kind of a mixed bag in terms of results, so far. On the one hand, he has gotten better about listening when we tell him to do something--the threat of a "time-out" is a pretty good motivator, especially because he knows we'll follow through on it. On the other hand, he still has breakdowns pretty frequently, and sometimes it feels like they're only becoming more common. The problem is that he's such an inquisitive and active kid. He always wants to be doing something or touching something, getting into new places and seeing new things. And when he wants something, that desire is both strong and untempered by the maturity required to delay gratification.

It's been a tough time, and both Juliette and I have been feeling our patience wearing thin. Sometimes we wonder what's wrong with him or with the way we've been raising him, since it seems like he acts out more than any of the other kids we know. We just have to tell ourselves that we're doing the best we can, that we don't know what any of those other kids are like when we're not around, and that this is just a phase that he'll grow out of.

It's not like he's completely awful, either. On the contrary, Jason is often sweet and smart and funny and fun to be around. I particularly love how generous he is with his things when his friend Amalea comes to visit--he's constantly showing her books and giving her toys, and generally trying to make sure she's having a good time. He also spontaneously gives hugs to me and Juliette, or to his friends.

It's things like that that keep me going when Jason falls apart and screams "No Daddy!" over and over. I just close my eyes, take a breath, and remember the feeling of his little hand patting me on the shoulder when he gives me a hug.


Sharpe's Eagle

By Bernard Cornwell

Sharpe’s Eagle was the first of the Sharpe novels to be written, and it’s the second in the chronology of the “main” series (at least, as defined by Penguin Books). Picking up some months after the events of Sharpe’s Rifles, this episode finds the title character and his company attached to the South Essex Battalion for the relatively routine assignment of destroying a Spanish bridge in order to keep it from being used by the French. Unfortunately, both his new battalion and the Spanish unit that accompanies them are led by incompetents, officers who bought their commissions rather than being promoted on merit. (This is, as Cornwell makes clear, the rule rather than the exception in the Royal Army of the Napoleonic era.) Sharpe finds himself caught in an unnecessary battle, and though he and his men acquit themselves well, the South Essex as a whole is mismanaged and defeated, and suffer the ultimate dishonor of losing their regimental colors. Sharpe is forced to fight his way clear of the debacle, and in order to save both his career and his unit’s honor, vows to make up for the loss of the South Essex’s flag by doing something that’s never been done before: capturing a French standard, the eagle of the title. Along the way, he must outwit not only his enemies but the schemes and betrayals of the South Essex’s commander and his foppish nephew, as well.

What was most interesting to me about Sharpe’s Eagle was how consistent the tone and characters were with what I saw in Sharpe’s Rifles. Mind you, although the books are adjacent in the chronology of the series, seven years and six other novels actually came between the writing of the two. I might have thought that a gap like that would be problematic, but this episode flows directly from the previous as though they were chapters in a single book. That’s more of a testament to Rifles than Eagle, of course, but it certainly shows the truth of the claim that where you start this series isn’t terribly important.

Everything I liked about Rifles is present in Eagle--the vivid battles, the camaraderie between the men, the friendship between Sharpe and Harper, and the wonderfully flawed character of Sharpe, himself--so in that respect it was a successful story for me. If it didn’t add much more, that’s alright because I don’t really need--or want--anything else.

I tell you: it’s going to take some effort on my part to space out this series and read other stuff in between episodes.

Started: 4/26/2010 | Finished: 5/1/2010

Purchase from Amazon

Mira Mesa Street Art

It's become a bit of a joke to Juliette how oblivious I can be to my surroundings, but since I started taking pictures seriously again, I've been noticing a lot more of the world around me. Last week I was driving home from work when a flash of color caught my eye. I looked over and saw this:

Someone had a sense of humor, it seemed. I came back the next evening to take that picture, and along the way I noticed several more electrical boxes that had been painted. Figuring that there had to be a story there, I did a little digging. It turns out that a group of high school students has been taking part in a neighborhood beautification project, and electrical boxes all over Mira Mesa have been getting spruced up. Saturday morning I grabbed my camera, put Cooper on his leash, and set out to perform a little photographic study.  Here are some highlights:

Oddly, the best picture I got all day wasn't of the boxes at all, but of a crosswalk:

It's funny how much your perspective of a place changes when you're on foot instead of whizzing by in a car. I must have driven by the Mira Mesa Community Park, for example, hundreds of times, but until this weekend I'd never actually walked through it. I'd never noticed the senior center or really looked at the baseball fields or grassy areas before. Makes me wonder what else I've been missing.

My Happy Place

Before this week, I hadn't been to the gym in almost two months. Between trips and work and family illnesses I had been too busy, too sick, or too far away to go. Finally, though, I managed to get healthy and rested, and finished a big project at the office, and picked up my exercise routine where I left off. In a lot of ways it has felt like I'm starting all over again; the routines and people feel unfamiliar, and, of course, I've lost a lot of stamina during my hiatus. But it's good to be back, if for no other reason than for being reintroduced to a phenomenon that had managed to slip my mind over the course of my absence.

It all came back to me Wednesday morning, when I reintroduced myself to spin class. By about the twenty-minute mark (in an hour-long class) I was really starting to labor. My thighs were burning, sweat was pouring down my face and stinging my eyes, and my breath was coming in ragged gasps. I found myself repeating that familiar mantra in my mind: "Just two more songs. Two more songs and I'll have been here a respectable amount of time. Two more songs and I can quit for the day."

I was almost ready to quit when something strange happened, something that I had forgotten in the past two months. Completely unprompted by anything going on around me, images of Jason suddenly popped into my mind. In my mind I could see the way he holds up his arms when he wants you to pick him up out of bed, hear the gleeful sound of his shrieks when you tickle him. And with those images, this incredible feeling of peace came over me, and I found the corner of my mouth turning up in a smile.

I don't know if this is what people mean when they talk about "runner's high" or if it's just a weird trick of my consciousness, but this imagery and the Zen-like calm that comes with it is something happens to me a lot during that spin class, but rarely seems to happen elsewhere, if ever. Just when I'm feeling like I'm about to hit the wall, I'll think of the weight of Jason's head on my shoulder when he's tired, and the softness of his hair on my cheek, and I'll be recharged. It's a fleeting thing, too, something that I can never quite seem to summon on my own, or hold onto once it's there. It's usually not long before the instructor decides to kick it up to the next level, and then there's no room left in my head for anything other than the exertion.

But, man, it's worth it. If this is what marathonners experience when they run their races, I can really see the appeal.

Jason's Bear

One night last week, I came home from work to find Jason already at the table, eating his dinner. That's not particularly unusual, especially when things get busy at the office, but what caught my eye was the teddy bear that was sitting on the table looking at him. He's had that bear for most of his life, having received it from Juliette's mom not too long after he was born. Up until fairly recently, though, he didn't show much interest in it; it just sat on a little Jason-sized chair in his room. So I wasn't expecting to see it anywhere else.

"Are you eating with your bear?" I asked him.

"Yeah," he said with a smile and a big nod. He then proceeded to hold up a handful of food to the bear's mouth and make chewing noises.

"Oh," I said. "Is the bear eating?"

"Yeah!" he replied. "Yeah, yeah! Bear! Hungry." The bear continued chewing his food. (The bear still hasn't quite mastered the whole swallowing thing, though--most of the food ended up on the table between his legs.) I smiled and set my bag down. I was just turning to say something to Juliette when I heard Jason tell his bear "I love you!" (Or, rather, "I yuh you!") Juliette and I just about died from cute overload.

For the past few weeks, Jason's interest in the bear has been growing. Every night when I run his bath, Jason runs straight to the bear's chair when I tell him it's time to take his clothes off. He grabs the bear and hugs it ("Hug. Bear.") and pouts a little when I tell him he can't take the bear into the bath with him. He throws it sometimes, or tries to take off it's red-and-white maple leaf sweater.

Of course, being the age he is, Jason's attention does wander. He hasn't played with the bear much over the past week, instead constantly asking for his tunnel and his soccer ball. Still, I have a feeling that the bear is going to be a consistent favorite.

After dinner that night, Jason wanted to watch The Little Mermaid. Moreover, he wanted both me and the bear to watch with him. He was very particular about where each of us sat: Jason against the left armrest, I on the middle cushion, and the bear between us. The three of us had a pretty good, cozy time.

1 2 next last