De File
Does Collecting Make You Feel Dirty?
Skylar received this bouquet from Kim's mom and dad after her kindergarten after-school dance class gave its performance. They are even more important to her now than before, since her grandfather's passing, but are also almost impossible to keep clean, since the petals are impossibly brittle now. Somehow, though, I really like the Ms. Havisham effect, which I tried to document with this shot while the roses were being moved from one location to another in our house.
I'm not a very superstitious person. Aside from insisting that the Cal basketball at the free-throw line is bound to miss, I don't do much to placate the gods. But sometimes I find myself brought up short by an experience that forces me to rethink my agnostic worldview. Yesterday offered an especially powerful example.

I was sitting with a colleague, discussing the difficulty of the past few months. Although my primary focus was my daughter's struggles to deal with the difficulty of being fifteen, I was also reflecting on the ways in which those struggles were brought to a head by the death of Kim's dad. I was about to talk about how I was trying to deal with my own feelings for him, writing about him here over the past week, when my phone rang.

When I looked down to see who was calling and whether I could send that person to voicemail -- I hate interrupting in-person conversations to talk on the phone -- I was surprised to see that my usual screen for incoming calls was absent. Indeed, there was no indication whatsoever that a call was coming in at all. Yet, the phone was definitely ringing.

Thinking that my phone might have locked up, which has been happening more frequently since the latest Android update, I tried everything I could to get control of the phone back so that I could hang up. But nothing worked. Strangely, though, instead of the call going to voicemail, the phone seemed to answer itself, as if it were possessed of a mind of its own.

And then I heard Carl's voice, clear as a bell, informing me of the time and channel for a game we were supposed to watch together. Even more oddly, though this call had to be a recording from before last April, when he first went into the hospital, the time and channel -- ESPN at 6pm -- matched up with the college football BCS National Championship game later that day, one he and I watched together every year during our years in Tucson except for 2007, when he was in the ICU with MRSA pneumonia.

I had been thinking all morning that I would be sad not watching the game with him and wondering whether it would be excessive to write about that feeling right after having written about the 49ers-Packers game the previous day. I couldn't help but think that he was calling, not only to say that he would be watching with me in spirit, but that I needed to acknowledge that our relationship had changed into something that can't be explained by science alone.

It was deeply unnerving, but also miraculous. Later, when I tried to tell Kim about it, she told me that it was more than she could handle. I understand that response. It was very hard for me to maintain my composure in front of my colleague during the experience. But I am very glad it happened.

I recognize, mind you, that from a Mythbusters-type perspective, this uncanny moment can be explained as a by-product of all the ways in which our lives are recorded these days without our ever having to undertake the task in a conscious manner. My phone had clearly been set up, at least for a while, to direct voicemail, which normally expires after a short time, to some sort of archive, though it no longer does so. Carl's call from the beyond was a semi-random glitch, just like when I pull my phone out of my pocket and find it open to an app I haven't selected, even though its touchscreen was supposedly locked.

And yet, despite the plausibility of this explanation, how can I not feel that some higher power, even if it was generated in my own mind, was at work in this experience. It left me feeling shaken, but not in the sense that something bad does. I liken it to what being picked up by a giant might like (or what it's like for our cats to be picked up by us!).

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Sometimes you just have to drop everything you're doing, throw your camera and tripod in the car, and rush out to the one spot you know will have the best view, even if it means getting your feet cold and wet because you forgot to swap your Vans for proper boots

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Back in August, when my father-in-law Carl was getting ready to be discharged from his rehab facility, he talked over and over about his goal of making it back home to his easy chair and large-screen television in time for the start of the NFL season.

And that's exactly what he managed to do. My brother-in-law Kim -- no, that is not a misprint -- came down from the Bay Area to help with the transition and Carl was sitting happily in his chair to watch Peyton Manning's remarkable Thursday night performance for the Broncos against the Ravens.

When I brought Skylar over to talk with him about her first month of high school -- it was crucial for her to have "normal" time with him -- the following night, he was still in good spirits and talked about the game with me. By Sunday, though, Kim had returned to California and Carl had experienced a series of mishaps which, along with my mother-in-law's near-constant haranguing of him for both doing too much and doing too little, left him too exhausted to watch the first Sunday of the NFL season in his chair.

Because I knew how important it was for him to watch his 49ers at home, I went over in the afternoon, dragged a chair into his bedroom, and watched their game against the Packers while he rested in bed. It was disturbing to see how much his body and spirit had flagged in just a few days time.

I was pretty certain that he wouldn't be at home for very long, particularly the way his wife was behaving, so the time I spent with him felt very melancholy. Still, he did get to see the 49ers win more time in his home, to listen to the broadcast crew talk about how this would be the last season for Candlestick Park, and to reminisce about the wonderful playoff game -- for San Francisco fans, anyway -- between the same teams back in January. I felt a need to document the experience:

Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers on September 8th, 2013 in Carl Gruenwald's bedroom

That's the kangaroo watch and change holder on the right that Kim -- not her brother -- was so keen to have as a memento of her dad after he passed away in October. He had owned it as long as she could remember, so it reminds her of him like nothing else. It makes me sad to see it sitting there on his dresser now, but I'm also glad that it's part of the picture.

Today has been especially hard, emotionally, because this is the 49ers first playoff game and they are once again playing Green Bay. I've been watching the game in our house, on the flat-screen television I got at a steep discount in November because I realized, finally, that I wouldn't be able to go over and watch with Carl on his much-larger unit, not because it's gone -- it still sits in the middle of the living room -- but because it would feel wrong to be there watching without him.

But I am watching it wearing the wireless headphones he used to aid his hearing of the game -- and also stop his wife from complaining about the noise of his football games -- and am otherwise doing my best to conjure his memory to accompany me. It's not hard. I watched so many games with him over the thirteen years we lived next door to him in Tucson that I can hear his voice in my head complaining about the things he always complained about and telling the "war" stories of his youth that he would invariably trot out during breaks in the action:

The San Francisco 49ers playing at the Green Bay Packers at frigid Lambeau field in the playofs on January 5th 2014

It's a tense game so far, the sort he always enjoyed watching most. Some fans just want their favorite team to win. But Carl liked good football more than a good result. And he also enjoyed watching Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, whom he and I had followed during his time as a Cal Bear, one of the few players about whom he almost never had anything negative to say. Right now the score is tied at 20 late in the fourth quarter and I can feel his presence stronger than ever.

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I have always looked forward to Christmas and New Year's, no matter how stressful the holiday season can turn out in practice. But this anticipation has been powerfully enhanced in the past decade, because this is also the time when the former students I most like to see are likely to be in Tucson.

Even before Facebook came on the scene, I would stay in touch with them over e-mail or, in a few cases, Live Journal. A few of them would let me know they were coming each year and we would arrange to meet for coffee or drinks. And since I started actively participating on Facebook, the number of these former students I am in fairly regular contact with has increased significantly.

Quite a few of them have moved back to Arizona. Some are teaching middle school or high school now. Curiously, though, the ones I meet in person are usually the ones who live far away. Maybe it's the fact that the possibility of meeting any time makes it less of a priority to make arrangements. Or maybe it's just that seeing someone every other year or so and, what is more, someone who lives in a different place, makes such encounters more rewarding.

At any rate, I greatly look forward to these meetings, both because I am genuinely interested in how my former students are doing -- they matter to me as people -- and because I don't get much opportunity to spend time in stimulating conversations these days. The students I meet up with may not be the best I've ever taught when measured "objectively" in terms of GPA etc., but they are usually the ones that have the most interesting things to say.

Take today, for example. For a variety of reasons, I had only been able to meet up with elizabeg since the winter break began and for a shorter time than usual. But the fact that time was running out for several opportunities made me be more proactive in carving out time for the former students still in town. This afternoon I met with someone who in my class back in 2002, a former rock musician who is now in the first year of an English Ph.D. program, planning to be with a medievalist. And tonight I saw Marina, a woman who came to the United States from Russia with her parents as a teenager and, after entering and finishing college several years early, embarked on both graduate study and a quest to get to know her Georgian heritage -- meaning the sort from the Caucasus -- which has led her to since in a Georgian folk choir.

Both of these former students are wonderful people whose success brings me great joy. But the latter also has great stories to tell about a place that few Americans know anything about. Hearing her talk about everything from hiking to handling sexual harassment in the former Soviet Republic was riveting. And it was great to see how much more comfortable in her own skin she has become over the past five years. I left the pub where we met up with my spirits boosted greatly.

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Since Kim's dad passed away, she has been sorting through very complicated feelings. On the one hand, her childhood was not a happy one; on the other, many of her happy memories from childhood concern the times when he favored her with special attention, like her Fourth-of-July birthday trips to Santa Cruz or the times when he took her to Candlestick to see the Giants. And then there's the fact that he managed to reform, though he almost certainly wouldn't have described the transformation in those terms. But when he stopped drinking alcohol and retired from the ironworking job which, although he was proud of it, left him in pain at the end of every workday, he rid himself of the two main reasons why he would turn into a fearsome parental figure.

Kim and I have often remarked that her dad was the perfect grandfather to Skylar, the only person whom, as she tearily confessed after his passing, she doesn't have single negative memory of. But I was thinking this evening that the same could also be said of my relation to him. He was as good a father-in-law as anyone could every hope to have, affectionate and supportive in every way. I tried to give a sense of how important he was to me in the piece I wrote for Souciant in the week after his death. But what I didn't fully capture then was the extent to which he provided -- and I do think it was deliberate, at least to a degree -- a refuge for me.

He was fully aware that Kim, like her mother, can be a challenging person to live with, if for no other reason than the force of her personality. Simply put, her presence has a way of bending the space around her until she is at the center of things. That's an impressive and in many ways admirable quality, but one that can make the other people in that space feel overwhelmed. While I am by no means a timid person and can similarly dominate a room -- as my sister will readily attest -- I have always found Kim's particular brand of intensity hard to handle, in part because it is grounded in a passionate response to the world that my parents seemed almost entirely to lack.

The challenges that living all these years in close proximity to Kim have posed for me is a subject for another day, as well as one that I will surely be discussing in therapy. But I mention them because her dad was so good at creating an atmosphere that made them melt away for a while. When he would call me to tell me when the next game we were watching would be broadcast; when he would cheerily say, "That better be Charlie, or I'm calling the police", as I opened their front door; when he directed me to the fresh bag of crunchy Cheetos he had made sure to purchase beforehand; and, most of all, when we would talk during the game itself, I felt more at ease than at any other time in my dealings with family.

That's why today was so hard for me. I spent much of it feeling rotten in a way that I couldn't pin down. After I fell asleep in the late afternoon with a splitting headache and a sense of not feeling motivated to do anything, I tossed and turned, practically willing myself not to get up. But then, at 6-something, my internal alarm clock went off and I remembered: not only was it the start of the Pac-12 basketball season, usually one of my favorite times of the year, but Cal was playing at Stanford in the roundball version of the Big Game. Suddenly, my malaise made perfect sense.

Earlier in the afternoon, my father had expressed surprise that I wouldn't be coming over to watch basketball with him, as I often do now. In retrospect, I can see that he had justifiably assumed that the Cal-Stanford game was my highest priority. But I almost forgot about it entirely. And then, when I did remember that it was on, I knew that I could only watch it by myself, because the start of the Pac-12 basketball season had been a special thing for me and Kim's dad ever since we first moved here together in the fall of 2000 and the Cal-Stanford game, whenever it fell in the conference schedule, was an even bigger deal. I had watched at least one of their match-ups with Kim's dad every year since we came to Tucson. To watch with someone else, even my own father, in this, the first season since he passed away, just felt wrong.

The longer I watched, sitting in our front room by myself, wearing his headphones, the better I felt. It helped, of course, that Cal wasn't getting blown out as had so often happened in their games on the Farm. But the sense of well-being that came over me went deeper than that. I'm not a very spiritual or metaphysical person. Yet I definitely felt that he was in the room with me watching. I could even hear his voice in my head making the sort of comments he invariably made, about how the Bears are bizarrely injury prone or the way they struggle to achieve any offensive flow. I was sad, certainly, but happy to be sad, if that makes sense, because it meant that I was mourning him properly.

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I'm not even going to bother with my usual prefatory remarks. I haven't been able to write much of substance lately, at least in part due to the difficulties I alluded to in my last post. I have managed to crank content for Souciant several times per month, but most of it has been of the off-the-cuff, short-form kind, particularly the pieces I write for our Randomizer and Sticking Points features.

I did write a few pieces in the fall -- I'm including August, since Skylar was in school and I was teaching then -- under my own byline and was happy with them, by and large. Strangely, my most productive month in this regard was October, which would probably seem to have been the most stressful to an outside observer, since Kim's father died on the 2nd. That said, I've always been the sort of person, as my therapy is reminding me of, to box up stress and unpack it later, over time, which may explain why November and December were less productive. Not that those months were devoid of stress, mind you!

Anyway, here's the rundown on what I published as "Charlie Bertsch":
• a long review essay on my former student and friend Justin St. Germain's superb memoir Son of a Gun, which I highly recommend to all of you;

• an autobiographical review of a Deerhunter concert I attended in Phoenix, the last event I was able to attend before my father was confined "temporarily" to a wheelchair, which strikes me as odd now both because it seems so long ago that I could do that sort of thing without weeks of advance planning and because I have written so little about music lately (and indeed have listened to so little music of late);

• the tribute I wrote for my father-in-law during the week after his passing, featuring photos of the work space in his dimly lit garage that I worked very hard to get right (one of which I posted here on LJ without comment);

• a piece about the government shutdown in Washington D.C. in which I further elaborated on the "late Weimar" analogy I've been developing for a while;

• a short photo essay on Watts Towers, documenting the few hours of meaningful alone time I was able to secure for myself during the insane -- for me -- trip we took to Disneyland for Skylar's birthday, in which I ended up driving the 500 miles between Tucson and Los Angeles four times in a few days;

• a review of the Alexander Payne film Nebraska, which I was lucky enough to see before its national release, thanks to Kim's offering me a ticket;

• a review essay on the first two Hunger Games films that I am especially proud of, which concludes with the following lines: "When every possible refuge is potentially under surveillance, the only secrets worth keeping are those that can survive the light of day. Exposure can kill as easily as a knife, but you are more likely to survive if you acknowledge that you are always already exposed.";

• a short piece prompted by photos of an IKEA in Germany in which I muse, in a roundabout way, on what that nation's role in the European Community is doing to its cultural legacy;

• and, finally, the rather strange autobiographical piece Souciant published yesterday, in which I riff off a photograph of graffiti in Stuttgart to reconsider the concept of Heimat and my own feelings about it
That last piece is more peripatetic than I generally like my writing to be, but my interest in tackling the topic from several different angles made it hard to tighten up its structure. Plus, it's not like Montaigne stayed zealousy focused on his central thesis.

Anyway, that gives a decent sense of what I've been up to while not posting here. I do post regularly to Facebook, since it is so easy to do from my phone, but that doesn't count as real writing in my book. I would like to find a way to do more work that isn't cobbled together for Souciant on a tight deadline, but the priority there has to be the composition of truly long-form pieces, such as academic essays or even a book. Assuming I make headway on that sort of thing, though, I will probably share bits and pieces here to build my presence back up.

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I am sitting here in the classroom I've been teaching my new media course in this semester, proctoring the final exam. Unlike the three-hour finals I had at the UC Berkeley as an undergrad, the ones here at the University of Arizona are only two hours long. But the time spent taking a three-hour exam feels way longer than the time spent monitoring students taking a two-hour one.

In the past, I've found the waiting extraordinarily tedious. The way things have been going since this semester started in August, however, I'm finding the sudden absence of pressure to do anything other than sit here downright exhilarating. Honestly, I can't even remember the last time I had two hours to sit by myself and reflect. And until today, I wasn't even sure that I wanted that much opportunity for introspection.

This is the class I came to teach immediately after leaving Kim sobbing at her father's deathbed, after I had been up late sitting with him during the night. This is the class I came to teach immediately after driving through the night from Anaheim -- as referenced by my last entry -- less than a day after driving out there from Tucson, only to have to turn right around and return to Anaheim in a few hours. This is the class I came to teach time and time again after Skylar had spent the night in terror triggered by grief and anxiety that her medication was actually making worse, not better.

But it's also a class I'll look back on fondly because of these trials. Spending an hour each Monday, Wednesday and Friday talking to smart, interested students about topics I care about provided a welcome refuge from the madness seeping into the rest of my life. Sometimes, I found ways to confront what was troubling me, however indirectly, by framing our class discussion a particular way.

Having now taught this course four times, I have discovered what works best for me, while also coming to terms with the fact that the content can never be set in stone. Simply put, the world is changing too fast. Back in the fall of 2010, my students were keen to think critically about the overwhelming importance of Facebook in their lives. Three years later, many of them only retain their profiles there as a kind of forwarding address, either because they have soured on social medial altogether or, more commonly, have migrated to other platforms like Snapchat and Instagram.

We talked a lot this semster about the phenomenon of accelerated obsolescence in the technology sector, especially its consumer end. The funny thing for me, teaching through such hard times, is that my perception of time started to warp to match this insight. What we covered in September now seems like ancient history. I don't know whether I've grown in a positive way in the interim, but I don't feel like the same person I was at the start of the semester.

The tricks I used to employ in reasoning Skylar out of her irrational frames of mind no longer work the way they once did. The faux cheerfulness I used to pull over my regular persona when I went to take care of my mom has become so threadbare that I'm having to seek out other resources to retain my composure as her condition slowly worsens and my father is able to do less and less to help. And the little self-deceptions I used to deploy in order to sustain my spirit and orient it towards a better future have fallen into disrepair as well.

Everything seems a lot more intense to me, but must be met with more calm than ever, because the people I spend the most time with are simply not able to cut me the slack they once did. That's part of the reason why I'm glad I started seeing a therapist, at the insistence of numerous people, with whom I can sort out the parts necessary to construct a more functional version of myself. I'm also just glad to have those fifty minutes each week to talk, even if I despair of ever getting to the root of my problems.

I've never been very good at making plans and seeing them through. Lately, though, the need to do so has become so pressing that I am trying to figure out how to improve my performance. Yet I'm also finding myself more willing to acknowledge my limits. In the past, for example, I would have surely declared that I intend to keep this journal much more regularly, as I did for many years, as a way of charting my progress and demonstrating my commitment to long-term projects. But the truth is that, as much as I would love to do that, it simply isn't a priority.

If I find the time to express my thoughts and feelings here from time to time, I know it will help me. And if I can engage with some of you on a regular basis again, as I once did, that will help as well. The most important thing, though, is to take advantage of the state I find myself in after this brutal four months in order to set down the burdens that have been holding me back and reorient myself towards a future I actually want to live in.

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I had just spent seven-plus hours in the car coming back from Los Angeles to teach my Friday classes two weeks ago, after spending ELEVEN-plus hours in it the previous day driving from Tucson TO Los Angeles, thanks to the terrible rush hour traffic I hit on my way to LAX to get Kim and Skylar

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As Skylar gets older, the time she has to spend with her parents -- the time she wants to spend with her parents -- is steadily shrinking. That's inevitable and also a development which, inevitably, is hard on her parents. It makes those times when she is willing and even eager to interact with us very important. The difficulty is figuring out when they present themselves.

Sometimes we can still plan outings or activities that will lead to family time, either when solo parenting or, less commonly, together. But plans made in advance often have a way of going awry when Skylar decides that she would rather do her own thing. I'm sure that when we go to Disneyland next week -- the first family vacation that I will be joining her and her mother on in quite a while -- there will be plenty of family time that she eagerly enjoys. And I am also sure that our schedule will have to make room for the hours she will assuredly want to spend staring at her laptop with her headphones on.

Personally, although I can objectively anticipate our plans derailing, I continue to take it hard. I've never handled spontaneous changes well unless I have planned for spontaneity in advance. That sounds a little ridiculous, I realize, but it captures who I am about as well as any statement can. Truly, I'm the sort of person who can enjoy spontaneous sex only if it has occurred to me that it might occur and I have planned to suspend my normal defenses long enough to relax into enjoying it.

Historically, my go-to strategies for dealing with this aspect of my character have either to been to under-plan -- if I haven't decided I'm definitely going to be doing something, I won't be upset when it doesn't happen -- or find ways of avoiding interaction with other people long enough to pull off what I plan. That's why I have done my best writing over the years when I'm away at conferences and also why I kept going to conferences after their professional utility was no longer a given.

At any rate, , as I try to work on personality traits that have limited me or made me less than happy, I am making a concerted effort to find a "third way" besides under-planning and attempting to carve out alone time when I can exert total control over my schedule. I haven't made much progress so far professionally -- even minor impositions by others continue to be a major hindrance to my productivity -- but am, at least, making headway on the parenting front.

In the wake of all the emotional duress of the past six months -- with my father-in-law in and out of the hospital and rehab facilities, my mother-in-law acting out her anxieties in the worst manner possible, and my own parents becoming considerably less able to cope on their own -- I have made it a point to be alert for those moments when Skylar isn't feeling claustrophobic, parent-wise, when she is open to doing something together.

I'll give you an example from Friday night. That's the time, typically, when her mother is out and also the time, typically, when Skylar demands large blocks of solitude to compensate for the demands placed on her by school and home life earlier in the week. It's when I often find myself puttering in the garage or running errands to godforsaken places like the twenty-four-hour Wal-Mart because I have been told to leave for an hour or two.

Anyway, this past Friday, after picking up Skylar from her friend's house, I headed over to my parents' place doing my nightly caregiving shift, which went later than usual because my dad wanted to watch the end of a baseball playoff game that had gone extra innings. When I arrived back home, though, Skylar still wanted alone time. She was in a good mood, but amped on sugar from baking cookies with her friend and eager to bounce off more of her excess energy on her trampoline (an activity for which her mother and I are no longer allowed to be present).

Knowing that she would probably need some protein to offset the sugar and relatively certain that she would suspend her usual no-food-after-eight rule, I headed to the store to purchase the remaining ingredients I would need to make us hamburgers. I also needed cat litter, since the brand our felines prefer had been sold out when I'd looked on Wednesday. When I returned, however, Skylar still wasn't ready to have me puttering about in the kitchen.

I decided it would be a great time to clean the cat boxes and take care of some other front-yard chores I'd been neglecting since my father-in-law's condition worsened. Finally, after taking care of that task, I was able to come in the house and cook and, somewhat miraculously, get Skylar to eat the hamburger that I knew would help to level her wildly oscillating mood. She rarely eats them -- at this point, the grand total she has consumed in her lifetime is around a dozen -- but the red meat does wonders.

I can hear my vegetarian and vegan friends readying their objections, but long experience with my own low blood sugar and her mother's quest to stay grounded, as well as my observations of Skylar after she does eat a some beef -- which she otherwise only gets from bolognese sauce, in small doses -- makes me pretty certain that, while red meat may be a "short-cut" to temporary well-being and one which involves potential collateral damage down the road, serving it represents the most practical course of action at times like this.

Predictably, Skylar mellowed significantly after eating 2/3 of the large hamburger I had prepared her. And then, all of a sudden, she was in that space I've come to recognize, when she is not only willing to do something with her parents but actually wants to. So we drove to my favorite out-of-the-way spot, the one I've been riding my bike to for years, parked and walked the short distance up the hill to the place where we sometimes go to watch Fourth of July fireworks.

Although located amid various high-end subdivisions and gated communities, this location retains its rustic feel and has stellar views of Pusch Ridge and the rest of the Catalinas' western face, as well as the Tortolita and Tucson mountains. And after midnight, on one of the first days that actually felt like fall in Tucson, with no moon and clear skies, it felt spectacular, an enormous blessing in a metropolitan area with upwards of a million people.

Skylar and I looked at the stars for a while. Then she wanted to sing. The darkness and absence of human activity nearby -- most of Oro Valley goes to bed before 10pm, as befits a heavily Republican, senior citizen-dominated enclave -- dissolved the acute self-consciousness that often afflicts here. She lifted her voice and sang proudly. And then she asked me to join her, so the two of us made a duet of "Part of Your World" from The Little Mermaid. It was a special moment, full of love and joy. I was so glad that I had recognized the potential for it to materialize and had gotten her off the sofa and out of the house to make it possible.

Last night, more modestly, I sat with Skylar at her request to do some of the online quizzes that she and her friends endlessly take, the sort where you supposedly find out which Harry Potter character is most like you. The operations used to generate an answer are often lame beyond measure, when not actually random. But the process of considering the questions can lead to real insight. We were having fun. And then her mom returned from the movies and joined us, which made for even greater fun. Yes, Skylar probably should have been getting ready for bed. When these opportunities arise, though, it would be a shame to waste them.

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There was a time when Kim and I could take photos of Skylar on a regular basis. Even when she was very young, she was often camera-shy, but if we waited long enough, we could usually get the shots we wanted.

As I probably do not need to say, that has changed over the past few years. Weeks, sometimes months, will go by before she'll permit a single shot that shows even a sliver of her person. And then, at junctures that are impossible to predict, she will not only relent to appearing in a photo or two, but will actively encourage an extended shoot.

Kim has documented some of those times quite ably over the past few years. In her case, she has been able to use her "real" camera. With me, by contrast, these rare windows of opportunity have come only when I have my phone available to me. It's a Samsung Galaxy S III, which does pretty well for a camera phone, but the images are obviously of a lower quality than what I could achieve with my Lumix. When I'm using the lower-resolution front-facing camera option, the one that enables video chatting, the quality drops still lower.

What matters, though, is not the resolution, but the experience of a special moment captured for enjoyment later on. After Skylar had the inspiration to mess around with the camera phone before bed last night -- in part, no doubt, because she wanted to stay up longer -- the two of us had a grand time looking at each round of silly "photo booth" shots.

By the time we were done, we had shot well over a hundred -- most of them, admittedly, blurry to the point of badness -- and had also managed to inadvertently craft a story arc in which Luthien saw us having fun and was curious enough to want to join us, though perhaps not to be held long enough for a good group portrait!

The selections here proceed in order, with the earliest at the top right and the latest at the bottom left:

Shooting silly selfies with Skylar, Shots 1-4

Shooting silly selfies with Skylar, Shots 5-8

Shooting silly selfies with Skylar AND Luthien, Shots 9-12

The culmination of our silly selfie shoot, Luthien looking lovably perplexed

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I want to follow the advice that those of you who commented on my entry of yesterday seemed to agree upon, namely that I should lower my standards and content myself with one-paragraph entries, if that's all I have time for. But today even that proved almost impossible. Trying to help two sets of parents, mine and my quasi-inlaws, is never easy. Today, though, it was completely overwhelming. I'm too tired to go into the depressing details right now. Suffice to say, I've been engaged in near-constant caregiving for the past fourteen hours. And I'm so tired. I even took short naps in parking lots on three occasions.

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For quite some time now, I've been contemplating different things I might write here, both to restore some of my diminished self-esteem -- having a regular presence here was very important to me, for eight years -- and to update those of you who still remember me and are curious how I've been faring. But that portion of the day when I used to compose my LJ entries, the hour or two before midnight, has been so thoroughly colonized by the tasks left over from the rest of the day that I just can't justify spending the time writing more than a paragraph. And only posting a single paragraph here seems silly at this point.

Anyway, I suppose I've said all that before. The difference of late is that I have had more reason to return to LJ. First, some major things have been happening on the family front, both with Kim's parents and mine. Few of them are good, but they still deserve acknowledgement. Second, Skylar started high school last month, which I am still struggling to comprehend, and is managing its stresses and strains quite well so far. Third, and most pressingly, I ended up being assigned to teach a course -- this was very last minute -- on the "examined life", for which I quickly put together a syllabus that would make the sort of writing that most of you have been doing here for however many years exemplary.

Today in class, alongside our ongoing discussion of Henry David Thoreau's Walden -- which, truth be told, has been more of a lecture by me than the sort of spirited back-and-forth I prefer -- I felt obligated to mention 9/11, like most other Americans. In preparation, I went back over some of the posts I've made here to commemorate that date and, as usually happens when I go into calendar mode, ended up reading through a bunch of other entries, an exercise that did not make me sad, as it had previously since I stopped posting regularly, but inspired me, rather, to revive my passion for "life writing", whether here, somewhere else or both.

No matter how inspired I get, though, there remains the problem of time management. Given how little of it I have free these days, the only way I can hope to do more than dream is to become a lot more disciplined with my "down" time. Right now I have mostly been using it to read, which is inevitably rewarding, but also very time-consuming for a post-dyslexic like myself. I would hate to give up the pleasure of immersing myself in fiction, yet know that making headway on my other projects pretty much demands it.

I just realized that I've made it four paragraphs into this entry without actually talking about 9/11, which must be a record for me. Even though I revisited what I'd written for the anniversary this morning and felt twinges of sadness, it's clear that, while I will never forget that terrible day, it has finally made the passage from the present to the past. I am now able to place it in a historical context where it's not simply a pure epistemic break, but a significant point on a continuum that can be traced back several decades and is still with us today.

I also have resisted the urge to post one of the photos I have used to make the anniversary more visceral in the past, like that shot of Skylar in the baby backpack on Kim, with the twin towers looming grayly in the distance or one of the ones we took when Mark Bingham visited us at our old house in Vallejo. These photos are still extremely important to me, but I am content to keep them to myself. I hope that constitutes the right sort of progress.

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Current Location: 85704

I was puttering about in the front yard yesterday afternoon when I noticed our newish neighbors from across the street looking rather agitated. The mother, who is quite pregnant, seemed especially flustered. She was keeping her pre-school-age son close, while her husband paced about.

Although they have been renting for months, the only exchange we'd had thus far was a friendly wave. I'm not the sort of person to introduce myself to newcomers -- chalk it up to a combination of shyness and anti-social tendencies -- unless I have a solid reason for doing so. And they have usually been quite busy getting their small children in and out of the car. But yesterday was different.

The husband made eye contact with me, then called across the street to me, surprisingly: "There's a snake by our front door. I called the fire department to have it removed." Remembering how much anxiety my first encounter with a gopher snake had caused me -- they have similar markings, from a distance, to the Western Diamondback rattlesnake -- I offered to take a look.

When I reached their front door, I was amused to find that this snake wasn't just near it, but had actually draped itself across the top of the door frame. "That's a king snake," I told him, before emphasizing that he shouldn't have it removed very far from its present location, since it's a great snake to have around in Southern Arizona, both because it kills lots of pack rats and, more importantly, because it drives off the rattlesnakes that are otherwise drawn to those pack rats.

The husband agreed. While we waited for the snake remover to show up, I talked with him and his wife about snakes and other desert fauna. "I thought it might be a king snake," he told me, "but we've only lived in the area for two years." Had I just moved to Tucson, I might have been confused by this statement. But I now know that king snakes, though common throughout North America, can look quite different depending on your location.

Ours here are sleek and black, almost cobra-like, with think yellow-green rings:

Sid, our impressive backyard king snake

That's Sid, who has grown from the wiry, fierce young thing that slithered under our screen door and into our laundry room into a creature that would be hard pressed to fit through that space again. Upwards of four feet now, he thrives in our backyard. We don't see much of him -- king snakes usually hunt after the sun has gone down -- but do find the periodic snake skin shed amid the bougainvillea.

I told the neighbors about Sid to impress upon them that he's nice to have around. In retrospect, I should have left out the part about his trip to the laundry room, because that freaked the wife out. Still, when the snake remover arrived, her husband did insist that it be released into the catchment basin next to our house, rather than having it transported to a more remote location. I'm not sure she was entirely in agreement with this decision, but she swallowed her objections.

After the snake had been relocated, I continued to talk with them about the other wildlife encounters I've had since moving to our subdivision in October, 2000: javelinas, various hawks and owls, plenty of scorpions and black widows, and, best of all the bobcat kittens that materialized on our patio one morning two years ago:

The bobcat kittens that briefly lived in our backyard back in 2011

This also alarmed the wife a bit, though I could tell she thought it was neat, nodding in agreement when I said that you don't want to come between a mother and her offspring.

This set me up for the coup de grace, which I'd been building towards with my tales of desert creatures. "I don't think you need to worry too much about rattlesnakes, though. I've been here for almost thirteen years and have never seen one in the neighborhood. They seem to avoid concrete. But you do see them crossing the road sometimes. Or dead on the road, more likely, since they often get killed this time of year. I just saw one the other day. Luckily, I convinced it to turn around instead of risking death."

I could tell that the wife had serious doubts about the wisdom of my rescue mission. But I could also tell that her son and husband wanted to know more. And I suspect part of her did as well. Luckily, I'd managed to take a photograph, with the help of my car's headlights and the weak flash on my phone:

The four-foot Western Diamonback rattlensake I managed to divert from crossing the road the other night

Since I had to zoom in to get this shot, the pixel loss was even worse than it would normally be for a night shot. Still, I think the photo does a good job of conveying the thrill of my run-in with this four-foot beauty.

After my neighbors went back inside, I laughed to myself. You see, I realized that I'd become one of those people who made such a big impression on me when I first moved to Tucson, the sort that regale their audiences with seemingly tall tales about life in the desert. Even growing up in a rural part of Pennsylvania, the most exotic animals I ever saw were flying squirrels and the flash of a red fox slipping into the woods. If you had told me then, overly cautious as I was, that I'd one day see a rattlesnake without running away as fast as I could, I wouldn't have believe you. But my years here have changed me.

I remember the first time we spotted a scorpion in the house here. I was shaking so hard that I didn't come close to corralling it. Over time, though, I saw enough of them that the procedure for handling them has become second nature. Get a glass jar. Put it over the scorpion. Slide a piece of cardboard underneath the jar. Then carefully turn the jar over, making sure to keep the cardboard flush against the lip of the jar. And then take the scorpion outside, because there's no point in killing any creature unnecessarily.

Now, I recognize that there's a danger in becoming too complacent. Just because you are accustomed to seeing scorpions or black widows or, especially, rattlesnakes doesn't mean that you can let your guard down around them (or any of the other wildlife we have in abundance here). But I like to think that I've managed to strike a balance between fear and inattention. I've grown accustomed to this place, yes, yet without taking its wonders for granted.

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Current Location: 85704

A strange thing has happened to me recently. Several of the projects I set aside years ago because of my self-pitying, disorganization or general ADHD-ness have suddenly, unexpectedly reactivated in my mind without me making a concerted effort to start them up again. Whatever mental and material blocks were impeding me are no longer as imposing. I can still sense them, like furniture in a dark room, but have found a way, perhaps because of prolonged accustoming to the lack of light, to navigate around without banging my shin all the time.

Whether this change will persist long enough for me to make meaningful headway in trying to complete one of these projects -- the problem, as always, is that I can't seem to concentrate on one to the exclusion of the others -- is unclear. But I am at least not giving this graciously donated horse a dental inspection. For once, I'm trying to enjoy the moments when I am excited to read, take notes or write in detail as they come, without worrying about their place in the grand scheme of things.

Perhaps it was sufficient just to take a long enough break from this work, bound up as it was with so much stress and strain, for me to be able to remember that it does make me happy to do it. I've had similar thoughts every time I set out to revive this blog, mind you, and have found out the hard way on each occasion that the negativity that I associate with being here on Live Journal is not so easily vanquished. Still, I am hopeful.

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Current Location: 85704

My life has been far too insane to sit down and actually write something more than a few lines since I last posted here. A lot of stressful things have happened. I'm exhausted, much of the time. But the newest addition to our household, who arrived at the beginning of June, has provided wonderful compensatory pleasures. All hail Luthien Tinuviel, also known as Stinkbat

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Current Location: 85704

Where Post-Marx and Post-Freud Meet

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Current Location: 85704

Skylar and I went for a glorious midnight ride tonight to our new favorite spot, on the first bridge along the CDO Wash trail near La Cañada. I am so brightly attired because I am obsessive with our being as visible as possible.

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Current Location: 85704

Charlie Bertsch
User: cbertsch
Name: Charlie Bertsch
Back July 2014
You're looking at content from my Live Journal, which I have been keeping since 2003. I consider it a personal blog, though it lacks stream-of-consciousness revelations that typify that genre.

That said, if you manage to discern the confessional mode within entries that are superficially tight-lipped, I will reward you handsomely. Or at least pretend to do so.

In addition to reflections, however mediated, on my daily activities, De File features periodic excavations of material from my "files," a revelation sure to disturb anyone who has seen my garage. It's an experiment in integrating past and present, perhaps with a little redemption along the way.

Politics is always on my mind, but rarely explicit here. I’m working on a theory about what personal writing like this does to literary identification and why some people resist its pull so powerfully. But my goal is to make that theory dissolve in my practice, a density in liquid.

You'll note that I have links to blogs not on LiveJournal directly above, as well as assorted websites of note. The blogs I read regularly on LiveJournal itself fall under "FRIENDS" at the top, for those of you unfamiliar with LJ’s workings.

You can write me. I'm "cbertsch" before the circle-a and "comcast.net" after it.