Breakfast Agonistes

A True Account of Events in the Rovira Household on the morning of Saturday, February 6th, 2016.

9:07 a.m.: Princess Grace (9) awakens and seeks out food.

9:10 a.m.: Princess Grace settles upon a desired breakfast item — Honey Nut Cheerios — in record time and pulls it out of the kitchen cabinet.

9:11 a.m.: Princess Grace discards the empty Honey Nut Cheerio box in disdain and retrieves the quite full box of Crispy Oats and places it on the breakfast table. She asks herself a question probably not for the first time, and certainly not for the last: why would someone put an empty box of cereal back in the kitchen cabinet? She then answers it to herself: “Penn didn’t want anyone to know that he ate the rest of it.”

9:12 a.m.: Princess Grace retrieves a bowl and samples the Crispy Oats, of which it is boasted upon its very box that it is “Heart Healthy,” and decides that it is in fact Pathetic. I fear a bias against healthy foods has begun, if it was not already well under way.

9:13 a.m. through 9:17 a.m.: Princess Grace attempts to drip honey out of a nearly empty honey bottle onto her Pathetic Oats. Father observes. Mother remains in bed reading, oblivious to her daughter’s life and death breakfast struggle.

9:18 a.m. through 9:20 a.m.: Princess Grace turns the honey bottle upside down on the breakfast table, keeping the cap carefully shut, and watches TV.

9:21 a.m. through 9:29 a.m.: Princess Grace returns to her honey bottle and, unscrewing the cap, discovers a nice little puddle of honey that has collected in its bottom. She then attempts to spoon it into the cereal. The cereal sticks to the spoon. Using her fingers, she then tries to coax the honeyed cereal back into the bowl.

She proceeds to lick her fingers, and then says, “I give up.”

9:30 a.m.: Father valiantly intercedes: “You should give up. It won’t work that way because the honey is too sticky. You’d need to melt it into a liquid to distribute it around the cereal, and then there probably isn’t enough to make it taste like much. Why don’t you dip the tip of your spoon in honey each time before taking a bite? Then you’ll have a bit of honey on your spoon every time.”

9:31 a.m.: Princess Grace is Not Buying It, but Has an Idea.

9:32 a.m.: Princess Grace gets a Carton of Milk from the Fridge and Pours its Contents onto the Cereal. There is a pathetic, insufficient little splash of milk.

9:33 a.m.: Princess Grace proceeds to retrieve the second carton of milk from the fridge. She pours its entire contents — five drops — onto her cereal. She may have coaxed a sixth drop out of the carton.

9:34 a.m.: Princess Grace has Done Something with the honey and the milk and the cereal that Father didn’t observe and is now happily eating. Father has now decided to Blog About It, titling his work, “The Great Breakfast Insurrection of 2016.”

9:35 a.m.: Princess Grace says to Father: “It worked! It tastes like Honey Nut Cheerios.”

9:36 a.m.: Father changes the title of his imagined work to “Breakfast Agonistes.”

9:37 a.m.: Princess Grace finishes her cereal and then proceeds to watch T.V. with her Siblings.

10:48 a.m.: Princess Grace walks by the kitchen and announces, “I am going back to bed.”

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It’s Off…

Star_Wars_Logo.svgToday I let my kids watch Star Wars, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. My son Penn (8) has lately become a Star Wars freak, largely and most lately due to Angry Birds Star Wars. If you don’t know what that is, don’t ask. He was talking about it so much I thought I’d just let him watch a movie. Not long afterwards, my six year old daughter Grace and Penn started arguing about the Force.

Yes, they are well on their way to Geekdom.

But in the course of the argument my daughter Grace comes up to me, looks me in the eye — demanding a real answer — and asks me if Star Wars is real. I say of course. She, of course, is Highly Doubtful, so asks Mom, who denies the whole thing, thus making Grace determined to extort the truth out of me. So she asks again, this time with raised eyebrows and a cocked head, as if to say, “You better get it right this time.” I let her down (i.e., stick to my guns), so she asked me to check on my computer.

I faithfully did, typing “IS STAR WARS REAL?” into my computer, finding wonderful sites about building lightsabers and about a planet with two suns — surely proof positive — but best of all I found a wonderful site titled “Star Wars — Fact NOT Fiction,” in which the author asserts that Star Wars is in fact true, and that the Force itself inspired Lucas to write the films.

Quite naturally, I think I’ve saved the day: “See?”

“I don’t believe your computer.”

At this moment by six year old is trying to type “IS STAR WARS REAL?” into Google on my desktop computer.

My son, bless him, is fully on my side.

On another note, I’ve been working on an essay for a forthcoming anthology on Kierkegaard and the Arts and have finally sent out of the first draft. The essay is a complicated machine: it has a lot of parts so can break easily. I’m genuinely looking forward to comments from the editor and the readers.

I paid a bit more conscious attention to the writing process this time around. When I write anything of any length I find that I often pick an album, artist, etc., and listen to nothing but that until I’ve finished writing. About fifteen years ago I listened to Abbey Road over and over again while writing a short story, and found out I wanted to write the characters on the album into the story. I had a lot of fun writing Polythene Pam, let me tell you, who, you guessed it, at one point came in through the bathroom window.

This time, I listened to Bob Dylan. Almost the entire discography. I have all of his studio albums except 1973’s Dylan, which was released by Columbia to fulfill contractual obligations with no involvement on Dylan’s part at all. It’s mostly outtakes, cover tunes. I still want it. But it was never rereleased on CD, so it’s hard to get.

So I listened to all of the studio albums from 1962’s Bob Dylan to this year’s Tempest, started them over again and then remembered The Bootleg Series, so listened to the nine volumes of those I had, then listened to the live albums, then Biograph, then started over again. Then I picked up the 30th anniversary concert album, and now I want the Amnesty International album that just came out.

Weirdly, I think Biograph is my favorite Dylan album, but after that, it gets harder. Probably Shot of Love, not just for the songs, but for what it’s meant to me. It was there when I needed it. I remember hating Dylan and the Dead when it came out (what a waste), but now I like it. I just wish it were longer. I’d never noticed the complex interplay of bass lines with acoustic guitar on Blood on the Tracks. Never could stand the countrified albums, but I’ve reconciled myself to them now and like his voice on them. He’d been in a bad motorcycle accident before the recording of Nashville Skyline and wasn’t able to smoke for six months or so and his voice came back. It’s a bit operatic — a bit like Roy Orbison’s — just not as strong.

It’s been interesting. It is indeed tempting to divide Dylan’s music up into “periods,” but I recall hearing him speak dismissively of critics who divided his work into periods. I think I can see why — he had elements of gospel and blues in those early folk albums, and once he picked something up he seemed to carry it with him. Anything can be brought back and nothing completely disappears. I can also see why people would divide his work up like that, though. There’s the first four folk albums, then folk-rock albums, one of them heavy on blues, then the country/folk albums leading up to Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, and then the 70s folk rock albums, which were more rock than his forays into that back in the 60s. That’s followed by the gospel albums — an influence that extends at least all the way through Down in the Groove, maybe even into the 90s with Under the Red Sky, and then the return to folk. His music since Time Out of Mind seemed to change again. But that’s very artificial — none of these “periods” are that cut and dry. Everything he’s ever done stays around and waits to be reinvented again.

Then I found myself thinking about his desire to plug in after those first four folk albums, and I think I see why. Really — it’s just all about the music. Record companies kept him early on just because he was a great songwriter, you know. His first album sold so badly they almost dropped him, but they kept recording him to keep rights to his songs. Turns out they did see that much clearly, but no one could have seen just how much he would come to mean to American music. I think he plugged in because he wanted his music to expand. The purists — the “voice of our generation” people — hated it. They just wanted him to be a voice. But he’s always been about the music too, and his music had to open up and breathe.

Anyway, I think I see what music does for my writing process. I think forward as I write, and my ideas wind up mapped across the music too, so that when the songs or album comes back around so do my ideas. The organization of the writing becomes embedded in the organization of the music, so that I have to keep listening in the same order. If I tried to associate specific ideas with specific songs, of course I’d be missing the point. It’s more like data storage. The medium doesn’t matter, just that the data is kept in order.

I’m not done with Dylan yet. I’ve finished the first draft of the essay, but I think I’m going to give his albums another go-round.

Birthday…

Today was my youngest son’s birthday. That means my wife had to make him a cake. Now, you need to understand that she can’t just make him a cake. She has to browse the internet for photographs of intensely detailed, creative, and artistic cakes that very talented people spent many hours making. That wouldn’t be so bad, but my wife isn’t particularly talented as a sculptor, painter, or even weird cake maker, and even if she was, she doesn’t have hours to devote to any one thing on any given day. So what she does is get ideas and approximate.  This year was a Star Wars year:Image

My revisionist reading interprets this work as following an Empire Strikes Back snow theme. Yoda and friends and enemies are on floating blocks of ice, shocked momentarily as they initially find themselves adrift among birthday candles. But, I fear, that is not the intent of this work. The blue background is sky. The white flecks are stars, several of them clearly about to go into supernova. We’ll call the candles comets. Now of course the extent to which this art realizes its intend is immaterial. One the one hand, it pleased its audience, while on the other, it served its purpose.

Image

Our chilldren are sugar-highed and spoiled for at least the next two days.

I feel that I need to recall my son’s birth on his birthday — don’t worry, though, no gory details. We were living in northeastern Pennsylvania, just off I-80 by the New Jersey state line. I was reading for my last exam in graduate school, English Romanticism.  The exam date was about a month away. My wife was working with midwives in New Jersey. So please picture the scene: very early January, northeastern PA (in the Poconos), my wife’s first baby, and we have to drive at least an hour to the hospital to deliver.

And her water breaks and she doesn’t tell me. She decides to relax in the bathtub.

By the time we get to the hospital she is almost ten centimeters. The delivery was a bit scary at times — Penn’s heartbeat would drop whenever she pushed near the end — but she wound up fine and Penn too. The midwives were happy with me too. But this is my fifth child. I’ve been through it before and am a bit older.

I’ll have to describe my learning curve in later accounts.

The Children of the House


Last night, my wife took our children to the YMCA while I spent some time writing.  Yes, that includes writing for this blog, which means that I was writing about raising our children while my wife was actually raising them.  However, some of that time I spent assembling and setting up bookcases in our library, and around the time she was about to leave 1) I was not yet done and 2) my sinuses were in Full Revolt against the dust raised by my books. I did not feel like working out.  After three hours at the Y she came home and made the quickest dinner she could, which meant chicken all around (a slab of breast for   me — no complaints here — and chicken nuggets for the kids), freshly unfrozen peas and carrots, slices of oranges, and potato chips.

I helped with drinks.  I think I deserve a medal.


As we began to eat, I became conscious of the order in which I was eating my food. Can you guess? First the chips. Then the oranges. Then — no, not the chicken, because it had Solidified after about two days in the refrigerator — then the peas and carrots, and then I sliced up the chicken breast and made a sandwich out of it. My wife, a sort-of vegetarian, had to my envy a grilled cheese sandwich. But as I was noticing my eating habits I looked around the table to observe my children’s eating habits. First the chips. Then the oranges. Then the chicken nuggets. Then the vegetables.

After noticing that my wife had eaten a little bit of everything in various orders, I realized that only one adult was seated at the table that night. . .

Iced Tea and Capitalism

Earlier this evening, during dinner, I began a sentence to my wife with the words, “One time, when Josh and Steven were about eight or nine…” Before I could finish, she said, “You mean the iced tea thing?”  I’m taking her response as a sign that I need to get this story off my chest before I find myself doomed to repeat it ad infinitum, so I will blog about it here, establishing a Definitive Text of The Great Iced Tea Story.

Before I begin the story, however, I want to leave you with a single, undeniably useful kernel of information on the off chance that you find the story a waste of time. I feel that there are certain undeniable facts in life, and that once found, they must be immediately disseminated for the benefit of humanity.  These facts tend to take two forms: facts that accompany a positive good, such as a pleasure or benefit of some kind, and facts that help us avoid something uncomfortable or bad, such as those facts found in cautionary tales.

Being who I am, I will present the latter most of the time.

Today’s useful fact: it is an Unpleasant Thing to eat tortilla chips with a very dry mouth.  Consider yourself warned.

Now to the iced tea story. Once day, when my sons Josh and Steven were around nine or ten years old, around the time our family was living in a house on Wavecrest Dr. in Orlando and playing Back to the Future on our Nintendo, we all converged at once upon the refrigerator for a glass of iced tea.  I was slightly ahead of them, having removed the pitcher and started to pour when they arrived.  They both told me that they wanted iced tea too, of course, but as I poured out the pitcher we all realized there was only enough tea to only partially fill up an eight ounce glass.

Now, we had two options.  We could split this already pitiful glass of iced tea three ways, giving us all a gulp of tea, or we could somehow determine who would be the winner of the single glass of iced tea.  I chose the latter option, being a latter option sort of guy, and suggested a contest: “Okay, we’ll all pick a number between 1 and 10, and whoever gets the closest gets the glass of iced tea.  I got the number.  Go ahead and tell me your guesses.”

At first they liked the idea and started nodding, but they nodded with a certain, oh, disturbance about them.  Like they were bothered by something but couldn’t quite put their finger on it.  Now this disturbance, in the course of three or four seconds, increased to a preoccupation, like a puzzle to be solved, and then gelled to a realization, a dawning light of truth upon their situation, not just in terms of the last cup of tea, but in terms of life.  Almost simultaneously, they said, “Hey, you know what the number is!”

I laughed.  They laughed.  Then I drank the glass of tea.

In a single fell swoop my sons learned an invaluable life lesson about capitalism and scarcity and what happens to those who are neither holding the tea nor making the rules.

Not sure, but I think I made another pot of tea…