The misadventures of a first time father

Riding the nostalgia train to Duckburg

DuckTales_NES_Cover.pngI’m not really a video game guy.

Sure, I played some Nintendo when I was in elementary school, but it was always at a friend’s house. I didn’t own one myself until I was a pre-teen and had earned enough delivering the weekly Pennysaver once a week for the tidy sum of $8 a week to buy one myself. And at that point most people had moved on to Super Nintendo.

But I’ll say that one of the games that was a childhood favorite for me at many a friend’s and was the first that I went out to buy when I had my own NES system was Disney’s DuckTales.

And I am all about the nostalgia of my youth, especially when it comes to DuckTales. Any quotes and notations you find hereon in come from the book Mediated Nostalgia by Ryan Lizardi. Check it out if you want to take a look at what drives you or folks like me to cherish things from our past like Disney ducks so much.

The graphics in retrospect were not the best. You knew who the characters were, but compared to their animated counterparts, seen daily on the Disney afternoon cartoon block, it was the limits of 8 bit gaming graphics in 1989. The storyline didn’t explain much other than that Scrooge had to travel the world, collect treasure, and win. That was it, really. Why these places, why these enemies? The purpose? It was a bit thin, but it was okay. Because the gameplay, its music, and its sheer relationship to a favorite hit cartoon series was fantastic enough to get one hooked that it became one of the most fun games on the system and a part of many collective memories of both cartoons and gaming in the late 80s/early 90s.

For years I remember the mere mention of classic Nintendo with folks often led to one of the conversations – Mario and DuckTales.

My original DuckTales game went, along with any other NES games I had, when I sold my NES system shortly after I got married and we moved into our house. There just wasn’t room for a lot of things, and many of the things that had been sitting in boxes for a lengthy period of time hit the bricks via ebay. NES was one of them. That lack of access certainly added to my desire to play again.

So it’s no wonder that when I got a smartphone with enough memory to do so last year, the only game I ever spent money on was a revisit of that now classic game under the title DuckTales Remastered.

“The economic concern derives from a desire on the part of a film remake producer to construct a maximum audience base consisting of those who are already familiar with the original text and those that are not.” (Lizardi 2015, 118)

ducktales-remastered-comparison

Released in 2013, just a bit shy of 25 years since the original game’s release, this is a nostalgic fan’s dream. Because it’s evident from the get-go that, while anyone could play it, this is truly aimed at fans who grew up with the original and now as adults have the chance to revisit not just the game, but a fully improved-upon visual game that taps into your longing for the characters, situations, shows associated with it by adding even more characters, layers, and story to it.

“Considering the specific time period from which many remakes derive their source material, constructing those whose childhoods occurred in the 1970s and 1980s as perpetual nostalgics means economically targeting consumers who are currently somewhere between twenty and forty years old.” (Lizardi 2015, 124)

The gameplay, levels, music, and worlds are virtually the same as it was in 1989 with the exception of enhanced, better looking 3 dimensional backgrounds and two-dimensional characters that are almost identical to their onscreen counterparts in the original animated series.

ducktales-remastered-npc-character-roster-wubba-duck1

Character comparison from 1989 to 2013 courtesy of theirategamer.com

If that weren’t enough to make me feel nine years old again, the game developers gathered together all of the surviving cast members of the animated series to provide the voices of their characters in the game, which is quite the feat in itself. Alan Young, who voiced Scrooge McDuck was around 93 at the time he provided vocals for the game and he still wasn’t the senior cast member on deck. That goes to June Foray, voicing villainous sorceress Magica DeSpell just as she did in the cartoon series, and doing so at the age of 95. For characters whose voice actor had since passed on, the developers of the game were keen enough to hire very good vocal impersonators who were able to emulate the original voices from the cartoon series.

The voice cast was utilized not just to provide vocals as characters moved through gameplay, grunting if they got hurt or exclaiming as they located treasure. One of the greatest additions to the Remastered version of the game were full animated sequences featuring the characters to provide backstory, segue, and make sense of what otherwise made none for the show’s continuity back in the day of the original game. (How can Scrooge breathe in space? What the heck is GizmoDuck doing on the moon in the first place?)

“These re-imaginings prove time and time again that they are not only aimed at establishing a new audience base for rebooted properties, but are speaking primarily to the already established nostalgic base.” (Lizardi 2015, 130)

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With a new DuckTales cartoon series headed to Disney this summer with an updated look, story, and voice cast, I’m sure there’s bound to be another, brand new game of some sort coming. And if it has as much care as has been put into this, it’ll be great.

But, for me, I just want that feeling of being nine years old again at a sleepover at a friend’s house hopping Scrooge through the Amazon, across the Moon, and finding treasure wherever it lay, reliving the adventure not just of a game, but of childhood. Isn’t that what nostalgia’s all about?

It is, and the game developers counted on it.

Mission accomplished.

The trap of the digital escape

This past week, my wife and I sat in the doctor’s office, staring at a black and white image on the screen. The grainy images of an arm, a foot, and eventually a profile of a head filled us with smiles inside and out as we finally put a somewhat-face to the growing little person that will be joining the ranks of our growing family. It was an odd moment. One might think it might feel routine at this point. This’ll be our third child, after all. We’ve been through this all before.

But, this time, staring at that screen, we felt…connected. To the baby, to each other, to the moment right then and there.

It’s something that, perhaps, we didn’t allow ourselves with our first two children. It’s not meant with any disrespect or disregard for either our son or daughter. It’s just that we now realize how much of their pre-arrivals were spent worrying so much about the future, planning what was to come, what had to be done, how would we handle things, that we failed to be in the moment, living in the present as we should have been and would have liked to be.

Sitting in the waiting room between sonogram and the appointment with the doctor, we were both on our phones, taking pictures of the sonogram and sending it to family members.

smart-phoneIn the course of any given day, I check my smart phone device constantly, scrolling through Twitter and thinking if I have anything funny to say, checking email to see if anyone’s gotten back to me about the house we’re selling or one of the myriad of book queries I’ve put out there, checking in with the virtual beings whose lives I lord over in Sims Freeplay, or checking my Google Keep app for the numerous to-do lists it allows me to make, organize, add to, and check off as I complete things in the never-ending, always growing list of tasks for work, home, creative pursuits, etc. It’s constantly ongoing, and I keep it that way. I constantly think of things that need to get done and add it to the list. Or I check to see what i can cross off. Some are more pressing than others. Others aren’t necessary at all. But I check obsessively regardless. It’s as fruitless as trying to keep up with email.

“Looked at in terms of flowing and static information, the email inbox is one, big, unfinishable loop,” says Douglas Rushkoff, author of Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now. “It is not a book or document that can be successfully completed. It is a flow. Sure, we can mark or move emails that are important, create priorities and sorting routines. But the initial choice to have email at all is to open a loop.”

I put off taking risks, following pursuits or making changes in life because I’m constantly waiting until something else is done. (I.e. In a year I should have my master’s done, so I’ll wait to search out other jobs until that’s done; I have 24 more payments left on both my student loans, which is two years, so if I can just hold off until that’s paid off in that time, THEN I’ll give dream/risk/pursuit xyz a try.) Always looking ahead, planning, sometimes to the point of excuses, rather than living in the present.

I think of not too long ago, the guilt I felt when my son asked me to play and I was too busy looking at something unimportant on my phone that I told him I couldn’t at the moment, only to find a few minutes later that he had moved on, leaving the lyrics of “Cats in the Cradle” running through my head and a desire to try and not allow myself to follow down that path due to such easy distractions.

As we talked later that morning, holding pictures of our soon to be third child, my wife and I both acknowledged how rare it is to feel like that, to truly feel present like we did in that room.

We’re not alone.

Even as I wrote this blog post, I found my hand casually moving over to the mouse and bringing up tabs of Facebook, Twitter, and before I knew it, sucked down the rabbit hole of online interaction. Though I wasn’t interacting. I was just scrolling. Scrolling through like a mindless motor function without any true purpose. Was there anything pressing I needed? Was there information I had to have that very moment that I took myself away from the focus of writing – something that I struggle to re-focus on and get back to once I’ve been pulled away. No. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, I had nothing to say. I’ve just in many ways become conditioned to get distracted. It’s something I admit I desperately want to stop doing.

“Catching up with Twitter is like staying up all night to catch up on live streaming stock quotes from yesterday,” Rushkoff says. “The value was in the now – which at this point is really just a then.”

I have come to feel that I often spend so much time worrying about and trying to plan for the future and various ways in which it may occur, that I’m rarely ever actually living in the present anymore. The moments pass with no appreciation as I’m constantly looking for how to take care of what comes next, or what will or could come next.

It’s not surprising that it’s a constant source of exhaustion and anxiety, and causes me to spend way too much time on my devices that I could be spending living in the moment with my friends and family. It’s why the founders of social platforms like Facebook and Twitter, or various apps that eat up all our time, are as successful as they are. It may not be a sinister intention, but it takes aim at our internal longing to escape but feel a part of something bigger, a community, or simply to be more relevant, and exploits it for gain.

Meanwhile, so many of us are ever living outside of our lives and constantly chasing digital nostalgia (remember, nostalgia doesn’t always refer to the past. It’s a combination of Latin words meaning “longing for home.” And home can mean comfort.)

“Another definition of unhealthy escapism—escapism gone too far—is the effects it has on the essential fabric of living,” psychologist Andrew Evans writes in This Virtual Life, as noted by the February 2015 article in The Atlantic titled The Good and The Bad of Escaping to Virtual Reality. “The individual in the context of family, friends, and social commitments.”

Evans connects his definition, the article states, to Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, ranking love and a sense of belonging just after basic physiological and safety needs.

bird feederThen I think of the calm, the peace, the feeling of being in the now, in the present that I felt looking at the baby’s form on that monitor. It may sound silly, but it was almost akin to the feeling of being present I experience when I’m sitting alone looking at nature, whether it’s a walk through a nature trail and admiring the plants and trees, or sitting quietly in our backyard, sans digital devices, getting lost in the greenery, trees, squirrels, rabbits, birds, and wildlife going about their day.

In Richard Louv’s The Nature Principle, the author suggests using natural systems to enhance the physical, psychological and spiritual life of humans.

“Whereas technology immersion results in walls that become screens, and machines that enter our bodies, more nature in our lives offers us homes and workplaces and natural communities that produce human energy…[and] products and environments that make life more comfortable for people.”

Clinical Psychologist, Consultant, and Author Catherine Steiner-Adair, in her book The Big Disconnect, notes that our reliance on technology can often be an attempt to fill voids that we’re not getting from the physical world around us.

“Simply put, we are more sociable when we are connected to nature, and without nature we manifest antisocial behavior more regularly and rely on technological substitutes more.”

In a March 2011 TEDx Talk, Sherry Turkle, the Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, discusses the ways in which technology connects us, yet disconnects from the people and physically around us.

“Children talk about that moment of coming out of school, looking for eye contact and instead of that moment with a parent, that parent is looking at the smart phone,” Turkle says.

A generation has grown up with technology as the competition for their parents time and attention and now that generation is older and has their own turn to live in the culture of distraction.

Turkle had been present when computers were first being implemented into home use and recalls when designers/programmers were having trouble finding ideas to keep the computer busy (calendars, contact list, etc, were some early ideas for home use). As she says, it didn’t matter in the end, because now they are what keeps us busy.

“What I didn’t see coming…and what we have now is that mobile connectivity, that world of devices, always on and always on us, would mean that we would be able to basically bail out of the physically real at any time,” she says. “To go to the other spaces we have available to us and that we would want to.”

She refers to this departure from multi-tasking as multi-lifing, and that escapism, that distraction, that other life that technology offers us is seductive, hitting us in some of the most vulnerable parts of our humanity. It is, she surmises, what has led so much of our culture to become one that would rather text or send an email than pick up the phone and talk. The technology has allowed us to dial down our own human contact.

As these bits of our humanity are chipped away, it will become even more crucial to find a way, amid a world where this technology is not going away, to revisit, revive, and instill our own humanity into future generations, for fear that they could lose it completely.

“If we don’t teach our children how to be alone, they will always be lonely.”

Like many addictions, it becomes a vicious cycle. We escape to online, we become distracted from the physical world around us, and as we cut out the real world, we more and more seek out the illusion of friendship and community without the companionship in the digital world of technology. It feeds our loneliness which just keeps us perpetually alone. But we continue to seek it out, and the media texts that it provides, out of this sense of longing for comfort, and media companies will continue to exploit with the latest social platforms, digital shows, films, apps, or games as long as we keep needing a digital place to seek out and fulfill that need of nostalgia, of longing.

 

When is a door not a door?

That title totally sounds like something out of an episode of the 1966 Batman TV Series, doesn’t it?

IMG_4722“…but the Riddler’s clue, Robin. When is a door not a door?”

“When it’s ajar! He’s going to strike at the jarred fruit exhibit at the Gotham Pavilion!”

“I don’t think so, Robin. That’s too obvious. No, his devious mind works like an onion. You must peel back the onions to get to the core of his twisted scheme.”

“Ajar. Ajar…wait, Batman! Isn’t millionaire explorer Thaddeus A. Jar showing off his priceless collection of souvenirs at the Gotham Millionaire’s Club this afternoon?”

“Precisely, Robin! Good work, chum! Let’s race there fast!”

And yet, it’s all I could really come up with.

When is a door much more than a door?

When it gets me so darn excited, that’s when.

IMG_4664We’ve been making a lot of trips recently to what will soon be our son’s new elementary school for a series of Kindergarten nights designed to get the kids used to the environment, to the lessons (lots of tactile activities, games tied into words, letters, etc), and getting to know their soon to be teachers and classmates.

It’s been enjoyable on many levels. We’ve loved to watch him start up conversations with the other kids and take to the games/activities so well. He loves a new adventure, that’s for sure. There’s an excitement to the idea of a new start, of the next chapter, and that’s certainly what it is as we wind down the last few weeks of pre-school, a concept I can’t quite fathom yet, and will likely have to ponder in another post upon graduation.

But you’re going to laugh when I tell you that one of the things that got me the most excited during one of these kindergarten prep nights was…just a door. Sure, the nostalgia of a small school, the same hallways, decorations and smells of the ones I remember as a kid sent me swirling into a delirium of reminiscence. But it was when the little guy asked to use the bathroom and I showed him where it was that I had my mind blown.

IMG_3963There, in the bathroom, were of course the sinks, the standard toilets, etc. But then, as if rays of sunlight poured out of it, was a stall with a urinal. Yes. A urinal within a stall, with a door that closed. And if you’ve ever been in a public bathroom with your son, standing at a urinal with his pants around his ankles and his bum sticking out for the world to see, you’ll understand why I thought this was such a cool concept.

Look, they’re still little and they’re still figuring things out, and that includes things we take for granted as adults, like knowing how much/little to show in a public bathroom.

So, yeah. I got so excited about a bathroom stall door, I had to write about it.

I should get out more often. Who knows what I’d find.

Of birthdays, books, and babies…

Bday 2017It’s been a big week in our household.

It was my wife’s birthday, which required a little detour from our plans to go out to dinner as a family due to authorities searching for an armed suspect in the wooded areas outlying our neighborhood.

So, we ate at home, Meg insisting upon cooking a delicious dinner of breaded chicken, broccoli and mac and cheese, despite my offer and attempts to cook dinner myself. (Though admittedly, she’s a much better cook than I could ever hope to be). I gave the kids baths while she got dinner underway and we kept abreast of the events unfolding outside (a shelter in place was activated for the neighborhood and surrounding area, advising us all to stay indoors) via a scanner app on my phone.

Dessert was provided in the form of a yellow birthday cake with chocolate frosting (Meg’s favorite) courtesy of her sister who baked it and dropped it off the night prior. And I had taken the kids birthday shopping over the weekend, so presents were already on hand. A few candles later and we had our own little birthday party amid the chaos going on nearby, and an impending storm to boot!

In the end, it probably worked out for the best, as our little lady of one year was a cranky-pants and our little guy of four years was in that over tired-loopy-careless-so I don’t pay attention to anything around me at all mode, so a restaurant night with the two of them may not have panned out so well.

nesmethThe kids were excited to unveil their gifts, which they picked out themselves – a scarf, an adult coloring book (“To calm you,” the little guy told her) and a book on Thomas Jefferson (“Because I know you like history, and books, and Thomas Jefferson’s your favorite president,” he explained) and a copy of Mike Nesmith’s new autobiography and the accompanying CD from me.

The evening wound down with the storm on its way out of the area, not as strong as once predicted and everyone settling in for the night after an evening of excitement, both good and uneasy (they still hadn’t located the suspect, who disappeared into some swampland and authorities having to pull out as the strongest part of the storm rolled in).

And believe it or not, that wasn’t even the biggest dose of excitement for our week. We had one other bit of energy running through the household as we told the kids, and then friends, that this Fall we’ll be welcoming yet a third little one to our home, outnumbering parents but making for an equal cat to kid ratio.

So how about that?

I know. Sometimes I question our sanity too. 🙂

The adventure continues!

Baby announcement 3

Small victories

woman burned out multitaskingIt’s no big secret that I’m a list maker.

Usually, prior to calling it a day and heading to bed, I pull out my planner and start jotting down what I would like to accomplish the following day. It ranges from work assignments that I need to wade through to personal projects or writings (“blog post” shows up rather often. Guess how many times it doesn’t get crossed off the list?) to house maintenance and errands (“pick up coat from tailor” or “buy gutter downspout” were just some this week).

Needless to say, it’s gotten harder to work my way through the daily lists as the years progress, especially when there’s the daily responsibilities of parenthood involved. I’m often told that I put too much on the list each day, and I agree that it’s probably accurate.

Unfortunately it doesn’t make me feel any better when I stare at an incomplete list that’s not completely crossed off at the end of the night.

But I’m trying to take on a new perspective. It’s not easy by any means, and my instincts immediately become reluctant to do so, feeling like I’m not being productive enough.

However, I’m doing my best to cut back and cut some slack.

There comes a point where we have to stop beating ourselves up over what doesn’t get done on a laundry list of daily to-dos and take a moment to accept and celebrate what we did manage to accomplish.

Amid work, transporting kids here, there and everywhere, meals, bathtimes, storytimes, bedtimes, and all the questions in between, the weight of these little people’s world rests upon our shoulders as parents. That in itself can become monumental tasks on anyone’s endurance and energy. So we can not realistically expect ourselves to be as productive now, shouldering all that has to get done in a day just to survive, as we did against our lives at 27, 24, or the years when it was just us, be it just us as couple or just as individuals.

If we as parents can accomplish even one additional thing on top of the requirements of each day, then I think we need to teach ourselves to accept that as a win. Some days there will be more, some days there will be less, but speaking from experience we have to stop beating ourselves up when there just sometimes isn’t enough time in the day. Allow yourself a chance to breathe, to say “I did something” even if it’s just one thing. You’ve earned the small victory. Don’t let stress take it away from you.We have to give ourselves the small victories.

Because that’s honestly what they are amid everything else – victories.

Relax enjoy

Allow yourself a chance to breathe, to say “I did something” even if it’s just one thing. You’ve earned the small victory. Don’t let stress take it away from you.

While the city sleeps…

window-night-rainIt was just one of those nights. No matter what hour the clock ticked away to, it all played out like a CD that wouldn’t stop skipping – the crying from our daughter’s room going on and on as the night stretched to early morning.

Fortunately for us, our son slept soundly through it all. For Meg and I, however, it was a constant struggle of trying anything and everything to soothe her – milk, cuddles, food, singing, touch, rocking, a little medicine thinking it was teething – all to no avail. No matter what we did, she would do nothing but scream. Not just a crying scream, but an angry scream like we’ve rarely heard.

We reached shortly after 2 in the morning when I felt completely out of options, and completely out of our minds. At this rate, I felt, no one in the house was going to sleep. Neither Meg nor I had yet to hit the pillow, and who knew how long our son’s sound sleep through it would last? So, in an act of desperation, I bundled up our 16 month old little lady in her coat and hood, put her in her car seat, and she and I went for an early morning drive.

car nightAnywhere and everywhere along the open road was the map of our journey, through the streets of downtown, to the country routes of neighboring villages and towns.

Once we got moving, the savage beast was soothed, enjoying the sights and sounds outside her window, from the street lamps that passed us by to the lights of the theater marquee or the new clock tower downtown. In time, she was asleep, but attempts to park caused her to rustle and start to wake again, so I kept driving, her eyes once again closing, falling back into the arms of Morpheus, our routes sometimes repeating over and over again, to keep her that way.

Fueled from the start by a large McDonald’s coffee (the only place open at 2:30 in the morning in our area, I found, the lights upon every donut shop and cafe with a drive thru darkened), we saw our region as it slept off the worries of the previous day and, as the hours ticked by, prepared for a brand new day. The empty streets that were all ours at the start, by journey’s end hours later were beginning to fill with traffic as people hurried to their morning shifts of work.

Shortly after 6, we returned to the driveway, the sun’s appearance in the sky marking the end of our quest, and the start of our morning routine (albeit a much more caffeine-fueled one) for another day.

Street Twilight

Altruism

children-learning-1359728_960_720This past Valentine’s Day, our son and daughter each got cards in the mail from their grandparents. Inside our son’s card was a ten dollar bill. He immediately became very excited, with a wide smile and look of excitement on his face. I imagined that images of a new action figure or some type of toy was dancing through his head.

He pulled the money from the card, his smile still ear to ear, looked at Meg and I and said “I know exactly what I want to do with it!”

Here it comes. We braced ourselves for whatever store he’s earmarked this for already.

“I want to donate it to someone who doesn’t have a lot of money so that they can use it.”

Flabbergasted. The only way to explain our reaction as we stood there taking in the response that we completely did not expect.

Don’t mistake my surprise for anything but, as despite my shock, Meg and I were so incredibly proud to realize this is where our little guy’s heart lies. Trips down the toy aisle, looking through store ads, or the ubiquitous little mini catalogs that seem to come with many of his Imaginext action figures could often make us think that’s all he thinks about, point to each one he wants (and it’s usually the equivalent of, oh, all of them).

ten dolalrsBut here, faced with the reality of cash in his hand, he wanted to give it away, to help someone less fortunate than he and it meant the absolute world to see.

Altruism is defined as the belief in or practice of disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others.

During a 2008 talk at Stanford University, Michael Tomasello, co-director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany discussed about his research on “processes of social cognition, social learning and communication, and language in human children and great apes” and very notably, the idea of altruism and its natural occurrence in children.

According to Tomasello, children have an almost instinctual desire to help, inform and share, doing so without expectation or the desire for a reward.

“There is very little evidence in any of these cases that children’s altruism is created by parents or any other form of socialization,” Tomasello said during the discussion as chronicled by the Stanford Report.

As the children grow older, though, their spirit of cooperation becomes shaped by how they judge their surroundings and perceive what others think of them. As they become more aware of what’s around them, Tomasello says they also become more worried about what it means to be a member of a group.

“They arrive at the process with a predisposition for helpfulness and cooperation,” he said. “But then they learn to be selective about whom to help, inform and share with, and they also learn to manage the impression they are making on others – their public reputation and self – as a way of influencing the actions of those others toward themselves.”

In contrast, Tomasello’s studies showed that apes were in it mostly for themselves. Undergoing similar experiments as the children were, the apes had the ability to work together and share but instead chose not to do so. He says that while a child’s sense of guilt or shame might guide a decision to share candy with another child who helped them get it, the apes had no qualms about working with another to get a piece of food and then keeping it to themselves.

donations-1041971_960_720According to Tomasello, human beings have a sense of “we,” a shared purpose, a bond that he says explains even simple social norms such as what makes it rude to walk away from an activity with another person without any type of advance warning.

“This sense that we are doing something together – which creates mutual expectations, and even rights and obligations – is arguably uniquely human even in this simple case,” Tomasello said.

Uniquely human. Yet it’s amazing how many of us, so uniquely human in our altruism at that early age, have it fade away as the years go on, focused more on how any given situation, person, or the world, can benefit us, rather than those around us. I think that we’re all guilty of it.

So what do we do? How do we help a child maintain that sense of heart and generosity? How do you foster it now so that they can keep it as they continue to age? And is there a way to turn back the dial on ourselves and shed the selfishness that for some come with age?

I have no idea. I wish I knew the answers.

What I do know, though, is how proud Meg and I are of the boy he is today and have no doubt he’ll continue making us proud for many years to come.


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