Month: June 2013

Piercing the Bubble

My wife just pierced my bubble.

With just 2 words I’ve been forced to face the cold, hard truth of what lies outside all the bubbles we create to shelter us.

The bubble in question is a world full of strange symbols and programming code.

I am currently teaching myself back-end web development, specifically PHP & MySQL, and building a private social network to practise and hone the new skills I am learning. The more I get into programming and working with code and databases, the more I love it. I loved building IT solutions for business problems during my career as a finance analyst. I much preferred building the tools that would automate analysis to actually presenting what that analysis meant to high powered corporate directors. I’m a geek at heart. The great thing about all things geek is you can lose yourself in another world, cut off from everything going on around you, as you focus on trying to solve the problem at hand. The book I’m currently working through is great at explaining complex concepts, but does have one too many errors, but that actually helps force me to understand what I am learning and doing. Time flies as I lock myself away from the real world in my office cum study, immersed in code, concepts alien to people outside of programming and constant browser refreshes to check my progress.

It’s often hard to stay focussed and not get distracted at home, where I’m learning my exciting new skills, but today was turning out to be a very productive day. Until the bubble burst.

Lots of distracting thoughts constantly float about in my head, from suppressed emotional distresses we all bury deep to just keep going, to more mundane, yet just as important musings about how I would fix the increasing multitude of broken household objects falling apart around me. Add to that my perpetual analysis of what all the cultural matter I consume means, and you can understand that trying to keep a lid on distracting thoughts and focus like a laser on coding isn’t always easy.

I’ve been told that the very act of burying (and trying to bury) all these unprocessed thoughts and feelings actually makes it harder to remain focussed later on, probably because they will all still vie for attention until they are heard, like all the hyperactive children at my daughter’s 5th birthday party who were desperate to show me how great each of their magic fairy wands was (it was an art party, hosted by a professional artist/ party entertainer).

Old habits die hard though, and I come from an ethnic/ cultural background where you lock away what you think and feel to present an image society expects of you. Less talk, more action. Yet action is hard when you’re brain is fried from too many thoughts that need to be freed. The bubble of my study, full of programming books and technology to help keep my focus, sometimes needs to have all the air and thoughts inside it let out. That is why I started this blog, probably my 5th blog, maybe 6th? I have a lot going on in my life and in my head. I feel the need to let it out. I thought a blog would help out. Writing is a great outlet (i didn’t use the word creativity as I’m not as creative as I’d love to be!)

Yet I digress. The point was that for all that was going on in my head previously, i had been focussing on my work, until my wife told me the news.

I was angry at her for neglecting a lot of housework I had ended up doing, when i should have been working, and I went downstairs to make my tea in a grump. Its not her fault, she’s overworked, and the greatest wife anyone could have, especially me.

I asked her how she was and she said OK, and she seem OK, bar the fact she was distracted making dinner for guests who were visiting her and my daughter for a play date. My wife was grating lots of cheese on the four cheese pizza I ordered for the play date. She seemed a bit lost. I stirred the watery rice milk into my tea, making sure every molecule breaks down as i do (i stir for a long time, it helps me process thoughts).

I tried to break the tension, and stop being such a child with my grump, so I asked her how her day was. She said OK, except, then she paused. She looked at me and told me she had seen our next door neighbour, a friendly, gentle giant British-Italian man who runs his own business and whose website I am building.

“Rachel’s.”

That’s all she said.

In that microsecond I knew exactly what she meant. yet I started thinking about the programming code I had been writing, so that I could distract my thoughts, and stop them growing into feelings. feelings I don’t want to experience. Intellectually I know that feelings must be allowed to do their work. To be set free and not suppressed. It may hurt, but taking the pain now, pain that will wash away, is better than storing it up and creating a monster of distorted pain within us. Yet old habits die hard, as I mentioned above. Even now, it’s easier to waffle on rather than type the simple fact. Rachel is dead.

Rachel was a neighbour who was friends with our next door neighbours. Her husband was British-Italian like my neighbour and they were friends. Rachel had 2 young children and we would bump into them all in the local park, which is a beacon of face to face community spirit in this age of cyber-relationships. She was always friendly and my wife, herself the queen of friendliness, would chat to Rachel often. Rachel’s life hadn’t been easy for the past few years.

She had been diagnosed with cancer, more specifically leukaemia, a few years ago. She had lots of painful treatment, and pulled through. Then she separated from her husband after a lot of issues came to the fore,and the separation was pretty acrimonious. She is originally from Australia and her family live there, so it must have been hard to suffer all she did without family support around the corner.

I found all of the above every sad. Yet that was not the end of it. Rachel’s husband, now separated form her, had been on a major weight-loss regime. I can;’t verify the exact details, but he had lost a tremendous amount of weight very quickly. He was on a date with someone else when he collapsed and died from a heart attack, suddenly. For his 2 young kids, aorudn my daughter’s age, to lose their dad, and so suddenly, out of nowhere, having suffered their mother’s cancer and their parents separation, that must have been traumatic. That was over a year ago.

Rachel had made it past the cancer first time round, but it came back. She underwent more treatment, and although the prognosis was apparently not great, we all hoped she would pull through. I saw her a few times in the local supermarket and park and she gave me the big friendly smile I found empowering. Even with everything she had been through she still carried on with life and pushed through with a smile.

My wife and I talked a lot about how sad it all was and what would happen to her kids if she died. We just assumed she’s make it. How much bad luck can those kids be dished out? I’m not a superstitious man nor do I believe in any supernatural forces controlling destiny or lives. yet I am human and I bend logic when i need to, to help me cope with a world full of cold, hard, painful truths. So when my wife mentioned her name, just 2 words, “It’s Rachel” my heart sank. I was about to burst out crying.

I didn’t know Rachel particularly well, yet I remember her spirit and that smile. And my thoughts immediately focus on her 2 children, both pre-teens. How does one process such a thing? We live very sheltered  lives here in the UK and modern western nations (at least a lot of us do, many people aren’t so lucky even in the communities around us). I’ve seen my fair share of trauma, but I block it all out and I’m lucky enough to be surrounded by enough false reality and middle-class wealth to create a bubble in which missing an episode of Community is the worst thing to happen to me in a day.

Now the bubble is burst. If I think about it, the sudden death of Rachel, who was doing better with her treatment until 2 days ago when she suddenly went downhill very quickly., is too much to process. I just want to let it all out. Yet I can’t. I’ve got good at holding back the tears and suppressing the emotions, I’m a real expert at it. When my beloved father-in-law (one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet in your life) died a few years back, i noted how little I cried at his funeral. I felt immense grief. I know I did. yet I’ve programmed myself, the first application I built, to push down those feelings of grief, and stand aloof, like some emotionless android. Yet I’m not an android. I’m a very sensitive individual, who can’t believe what his wife just told him. It makes everything else going on around me seem so irrelevant.

I had been shocked and saddened by the sudden death of my favourite actor, James Gandolfini, someone who touched my life in that strange way an actor you’ve never met does. I think about Nelson Mandela and all the good that he stands for, and how inspirational he is, and how he will leave a gigantic hole when he dies, as news reports abound about his worsening ill health. Death is all around us, an everyday fact and occurrence, but it actually rarely pops up and confronts me. Especially in such distressing circumstances.

My daughter plays with her friend in the room next door as if nothing traumatic has happened. She has no idea. Her bubble is still floating. God knows how Rachel’s children are coping. I can’t even bear thinking about it.

Man Of Steel Review

Man_of_Steel_PosterI finally got to watch Man of Steel, the new Superman reboot by Zack Snyder, last night. It is not a great film, especially given all the hype, but I did find it a fun film and it was actually better than I expected. This is probably because I expected it to be rubbish after reading lots of negative reviews, and it was hyped up so much it was going to have to be something really special to meet that hype.

On the plus side it obviously had great visual and special effects, and looks brilliant. Krypton looked great, I loved the old world silver grey metal and rock look, and there’s no cheap, hammy bluescreen effects like in the original Superman movies of the 1970s. More importantly, for me at least, it had good ideas, and some good acting too. Henry Cavill was good as Superman, playing the role very differently to Christopher Reeve which was good. Russell Crowe is surprisingly good as Jor-El. Michael Shannon hands down gave the best performance as General Zod, the ruthless single-minded villain. He made the film better than average, giving it some meat. As with most superhero movies it’s the villains who make the difference in the quality of the final cut, and he made the film for me.

On the negative side the problem with man of steel was the problem with most modern Hollywood films, especially superhero ones. It was overkill on the action front. Everyone is trying to compete with Michael Bay. There were far too many explosions and buildings blown up, far too much destruction, and far too many fights, which go on for too long, and eventually just get boring. A few short, sharp, intense emotionally charged fights or explosions would have been better. The action covers up what is a film with lot of good ideas and potential. The problem is that these ideas, about identity, inner conflict, power, the class system and how society should be structured, the impact of technology on nature, environmentalism, genetic engineering to name but a few, are fascinating, but none of them are developed enough. Like and the characterisation and plot, they don’t have any space to breathe or develop in a meaningful way as they get interrupted by unnecessarily loud, long and ridiculous action sequences. The style cuts in just when things get interesting. Maybe I am getting old and this is what the smartphone, Facebook, YouTube generation want. For me, the idea of Superman as a conflicted loner, a drifter, an outsider who doesn’t fit in anywhere or doesn’t seem to belong to anything bigger than himself, at least yet, (something that resonates with me personally) struggling to come to terms with his power is a fascinating story, that is engaging enough, and the best bits are when this is explored. I would have liked more film time on his childhood and dysfunctional relationships growing up.

So whilst I do love action and the action starts off great, it gets too much, which is the problem with the film for me. His final fight with General Zod sums up the way the film ended up. It if far too long, but the way they end it was great, and it has a dense emotional undertone. Trying to get under the skin of moral dilemmas when it comes to the subjects of power, especially the power of life over death, is what kept me engaged. I didn’t want to see lots of skyscrapers exploding into dust, as that’s exactly what every other Hollywood movie gives us too much of. The final battle scenes are just like the final battle scenes in Avengers Assemble. I didn’t need to see all that again.

The relationship between Superman and Lois Lane is also not fully explored or developed well enough. It’s fragmented and lacks the subtlety, playfulness and humour of the original Superman films. The lack of humour, subtlety and depth in this film and most modern Hollywood films really disappoints me.

In the and I did enjoy watching the film, and it’s worth watching on the big screen, but it didn’t live up to the hype, and it leaves you feeling that it could have been so much more, had they not wasted so much time blowing things up, which has finally got too predictable to have any lasting impact. The ideas within the film, though covered in a layer of dust from all this overblown action, are what made it worth watching, and I have been left thinking about them 1 day on. Not bad for some nonsense about an alien flying around in a red cape.

EXTRA THOUGHTS (added later):

A few more thoughts on Man Of Steel.

I did enjoy it, yet felt there was more to offer. It was too fast ion places, taking us form A to B in a rush, something modern movies do a lot of now. Going too fast often means we don’t have the time to take ti all in, which si the problem with the Lois/ Superman relationship here. If they had cut down some action sequences, which dragged on, then they could have added more depth and nuances to furthering the characters and their relationships with themselves and each other, or certain plot ideas. The problem with the fight scenes and trying to build tension from action is that we know Superman won’t die, we know Lois won;t die, so why do we care about long action sequences in which they get thrown around? The tension, for me at least, would come from wondering whether or not they would make it “out of there alive”. the scene in the spaceship where Lois meets Superman is quite tense, but she obviously gets saved. So the tension needs to come from somewhere else. that’s what makes TV Shows like the Sopranos or Game of Thrones so good. You really don’t know if someone will be killed or lose a limb!

Also, I did think Kevin Costner was great as Jonathan Kent, adding depth and emotion where it was needed. The only problem is that the way he dies is ridiculous, as was mentioned on other reviews, and confirmed on viewing!

It is worth watching though, as it made me think about a few things, looks great visually and is fun at the end of the day.

Parenting Weblinks

When a close friend of mine was being congratulated on father’s day for his first father’s day and he posted pictures of his first father’s day meal (which looked delectable), I started to get extremely confused as I was sure his wife was due to give birth to their baby in August. It started my wife and I discussing whether or not he was already a father and the conversation became far more complex and philosophical than my over taxed brain was capable off.

Anyway that was 2 weeks ago. Today I finally got round to checking my ancient Hotmail email account (the 3rd email account I got after my first – Altavista, remember them anyone?, and my second – Yahoo, remember when they were a search engine?), and low and behold my friend had sent an email 3 days before Father’s day (which is 16th June here in the UK) letting us know his wife had had the baby! It was great news to hear on a day when I struggled to get out of bed due to a body that is so stiff (I played squash again last night, for 4th week in a row, after an absence of about 5 years) that I could be re-christened the Man of Steel (in the inflexible steel rod sense).

Anyway it encouraged me to go back and work on the parenting links I had been due to put up on my work-in-progress website, Razaweb.com, which is an archive of all the links I have found useful over the years, by the subjects that I am interested in or have affected me and been part of my life.

I have been a parent for 5 years and I love it, although no amount of blogs or books can ever truly describe what the experience entails. You just have to live it to understand it, and everyone understands it in their own way. It is hard at times, lots of times, but the rewards are worth it, at least for me and my wife. Our daughter has always been well behaved and well mannered (thanks to good mothering I stress) and generally calm, but she has started to get a little bit spoilt, crying towards the tantrum level just when she doesn’t get the ice-cream or treat she wants or see’s another kid have. This is not great, as if she expects to be given treats whenever she opens her mouth then she’ll be sorely disappointed and shocked when she grows up and realises life doesn’t always give you what you shout for.

As my wife constantly reminds me (she is a child psychologist) children need boundaries. It makes them feel safe and helps them process the realities of life when they grow up. It is something I agree with, as I am trying to develop this myself, having suffered the consequences of being materially spoilt too much as a child myself.

Anyway, my flow of thoughts on parting were interrupted by the Delivery man who brought over the needed Blue Polo Shirts I ordered when the sun was finally beating through the perpetually grey UK sky last week.

So until the next blog post.

Good Luck all you new parents out there!

New dad and baby

DaddyBloggers in the Spotlight: A Father’s Day Roundup

More Parenting Links to come when the Parenting section on Razaweb.com is finished!

The WordPress.com Blog

Writing about family life and parenthood is not simply the province of mothers: dads are carving out their own blogular niche. Single dads, stay-at-home dads, working dads, two-dad families — you can find every perspective on WordPress.com. As the US celebrates Father’s Day, here are some dad blogs we love:

DorkDaddy.com

What’s the point of having kids if you can’t raise them into die-hard Star Wars fans? DorkDaddy — dentist by day, geek by night, dad 24/7 — uses his blog to chronicle life with this three geeks-in-training.

DorkDaddy.com

You respond to his combination of candid takes on parenting with analysis of key issues (would Superman would be a better father than Batman?), and so do we. From whipping up Butterbeer for a sick dorkling to LEGO extravaganzas to building homemade hovercrafts, he takes us through the richness of parenthood with grace, humor, and, yes, a substantial measure of unabashed…

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RIP James Gandolfini

I woke up today to the shocking news that one of my favourite actors of all time, James Gandolfini, has passed away at the age of 51.

James Gandolfini will be remembered best for his role as Tony Soprano, in the hit US TV drama The Soprano’s, which is my favourite TV Show of all time.

I had just finish watching the entire series of The Soprano’s for the 2nd time, after my wife had been persuaded by her fellow psychologist colleagues at work to watch it. It was even better second time round and is a show that I engaged with on many different levels, and which left a significant impact on my life. Violence, mental health issues, psychology, cross-cultural issues, Tony’s obsession with food and love of History all resonated with me. yet the show was brought alive by James Gandolfini’s magical performance as Tony Soprano. He gave the character such depth that you never doubt that he is a fictional character. He also gave the character tremendous breadth. He could be a violent monster one minute, then transform to the funny sad clown in the blink of an eye.

My wife also finished reading the Book “The Psychology of the Sopranos”, lent to her by her boss at work, only last night, and we were talking about it over dinner. It is a strange and sad coincidence.

There will be many more glowing tributes to the great actor, who I also loved in the film In The Loop, so instead of trying to compete with them I will post up links to a variety of articles and obituaries here on this post.

I don’t often think of death, which surprises me as I’m always thinking about too many things at once. I was thinking of it only a few weeks ago when my wife’s 24 year old cousin went missing whilst scuba diving in the Red Sea. He was lost for 24 hours, but luckily survived and was found by a rescue helicopter after his partner was rescued first, and not being spotted by the rescue helicopter that  winched up his diving partner, he found the energy to swim to a nearby Island, from which the rescue team finally found him. We all had to face the thought that this young life, so full of promise, may have been taken away, and the relief when we found out he was rescued was all encompassing.

This is my first post of this blog and it is sad that I begin the blog this way, but my admiration for the actor James Gandolfini and the way in which he was a part of my life, in that strange way that fictional characters become entwined with our own real lives, motivated me to finally sign up for this blog and start writing.