Friday, March 28, 2008

Railroad Tracks

Tonight was such a gorgeous night that we went down by the lake and walked along the railroad tracks. I took some video and threw this together; it's best viewed full screen (although I'm still struggling with the quality issues during the upload).

Railroad Tracks from Narrow Ridge on Vimeo.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

A man's man

A list came out today with 50 movies that every man should see before he dies. These are manly movies, chest-beating, blood-drenched, ass-whooping, sweat-filled movies where the man knows what he wants, and he takes it.

I like many of the films on the list. But it's got me revisiting some thoughts that have been bugging me since Ian was born. Thoughts about what it means to be a man with Down syndrome. I know, I know. "Jeez, Tom, he's just a little baby and you're already trying to figure out how to turn your six-month-old into a sword-wielding philosopher." (I'm not really teaching him philosophical terms, in case you were worried. I am, however, teaching him how to say "Hey, baby, you got some fries with that shake? No, seriously, where's the fries?")

The hero's/anti-hero's in these films are individualistic, cunning, resourceful, strong, brutal, wise, funny, witty, self-reliant, charming and, most importantly, looked up to by millions of other men. Again, I know, I know, who's to say Ian won't grow up to be the next Bond, Ian Bond. Not that I in any way hope my son will have to compensate for his inadequacies by bedding women in every city around the globe. (My parents are counselors, if you can't tell.)

You get what I'm saying though, don't you? Innocence and vulnerability are not character traits that make for good hero's. But of course we all know there's not a "pinch of poop" of truth in that last sentence. Like Robert Bly says, “By the time a man is 35 he knows that the images of the right man, the tough man, the true man which he received in high school do not work in life.”

So if we know that the kinds of hero's portrayed in these films do not provide good maps on how to live our lives, why are they so stinkin' popular? Maybe, partly, it's a resistance to that whole "Blessed are the meek" thing. He might as well have said "Blessed are the pasty-white, paper-thin nerds who keep getting the books knocked out of their hands."

MAN #2: You hear that? Blessed are the Greek.
GREGORY: The Greek?
MAN #2: Mmm. Well, apparently, he's going to inherit the earth.
GREGORY: Did anyone catch his name?
MRS. BIG NOSE: You're not going to thump anybody.
MR. BIG NOSE: I'll thump him if he calls me 'Big Nose' again.
MR. CHEEKY: Oh, shut up, Big Nose.
MR. BIG NOSE: Ah! All right. I warned you. I really will slug you so hard--
MRS. BIG NOSE: Oh, it's the meek! Blessed are the meek! Oh, that's nice, isn't it? I'm glad they're getting something, 'cause they have a hell of a time.
The Life of Brian

I don't want Ian to have "a hell of a time." Of course, I have "a hell of a time" because I try - and fail - to live as one of the meek, which, by the way, is in no way synonymous with weakness, rather, in it's original language, is rooted in the concept of taming a horse. The "meek" horse is not broken and has not lost it's strength, but it's will is no longer primarily its own. Of course, this metaphor only works if the horse has a good trainer, a Robert Redford to whisper sweet nothings into it's ear. "Psst, horse, vote Democrat."

I guess what I'm saying is that it sucks that Ian - the man - will always be compared, judged, measured by the Rambo's, Eastwood's and Clooney's of the world. Sucks that I'm judged by these standards.

I know, I know. Chill. But I'm just a dad, worried about all the guys streaming out of the next showing of Fight Club.

An update on my grandmother

A little over a week ago, my aunt got a phone call from my grandmother's doctor telling her to come immediately, that my grandmother was dying. My mom flew out and spent a week with her, and it seems, for now, that she is "stable." I suppose this is how it will be for the next days, weeks, and even, perhaps, months.

Just thought I'd share.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Fire Island

*Via my cousin

It's begun

Ian met with the OT on Monday, and she thinks that Ian is about a month behind on his vocabulary skills. But he's doing awesome - right on track - in all his other developmental skills. And he's an ace at skeet shooting.

Monday night was all about shots. RSV, and two more with weird names. (They should just call them names like "Strawberry" or "Chocolate" shots. Make it easier to remember which one's he's had. "Ian had his Cherry Garcia shot last month and is getting a Mint Chocolate Chip one this month." See? Easy.) On top of shots was the drawing - or the jabs, pricks, gouges, pokes, prods, shoves, attempts at - drawing blood. No dice. No twice, no thrice, not even four times. Poor Ian cushion. Screamed himself to sleep. We have to take him back soon for more Bloodletting 101; maybe his veins will have expanded over the last three days?

The news that Ian is starting to slip behind "normal" "average" kids kind of sunk in a bit. Made everything a little more real. Annie had a bad day yesterday, and went over to her parent's place for moral support.

Maybe I need to lay off trying to teach Ian philosophical terms. Maybe he's just confused about when he should use material equivalence instead of material implication. Heck, we all struggle with that one. Fine. Back to boring ole A, B, and or C.


I bailed out of work early yesterday; all the deadlines and constant stress was causing me to lose sleep. I was up for four hours in the middle of Monday night, lying on the couch, trying to switch off my thoughts. I shouldn't have gotten into the Frontline documentary on PBS called Bush's War, which is excellent. Highly recommend it, and you can watch it online.

So I just threw on my jacket and headed to the nearest movie theater. That's my chief escape. That, and philosophy books. Ahh, a cold winter's day, a hot latte and a good book on the ontological hermeneutics expressed in the existential-phenomenological works of Ricoeur. Bliss.

I quickly perused my choice of films and decided on The Band's Visit. Man, am I glad I did. Fantastic film! A+. Five stars. An Israeli film, it's about loneliness and connecting with others, even if just for a brief moment. It's one of those films that makes you ache and brings you joy, all at the same time. Films like these are why I'm in the field I'm in. How's that for a rave review?!

I haven't been going to enough movies lately. If I don't do the little things that bring me joy, I always seem to burn out. Now I just need to find a new philosophy book to read.

Speaking of which, I bought The Philosophy of Jesus by Boston College professor of philosophy, Peter Kreeft. Kreeft isn't for everyone; while mostly funny and witty, he can be a little dogmatic and combative at times. But I've always learned from his books and look forward to this one. I'm also reading Deep River by the Catholic Japanese writer Shusaku Endo. His book Silence (which Martin Scorsese is hoping to convert into a film) is one of my all-time favorites, and I can't wait to finish this one.

This week is much more relaxed, so I hope to do more writing. Hope to, anyway.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Glimpse of the future

I was playing around in Photoshop and wondered how I might look in my seventies.

My wife's one lucky woman, yes sir. Sorry, ladies, I'm off the market.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Polar Plunge

A few weeks ago I went to the Polar Plunge to benefit the Special Olympics and got some footage of a lot the people in our Down syndrome group. (I snuck a shot of Ian and Silvi in there, too.)

Polar Plunge 2008 from Narrow Ridge on Vimeo.

Friday, March 21, 2008


Someone was finally able to sneak a camera into heaven and send an image of it back to earth. To get the full effect of the picture, you have to click on it to see it full size.

Thursday, March 20, 2008


Yesterday was an eighteen-hour day of editing. Today looks to be the same. Five hours of sleep; add it all up and you get - twenty-three hours. I took the leftover hour in the evening to play.

We all walked down to the park where I had a blast pretending to ride the slide into outer space with Silvi. She's smack dab in the middle of her "Look at me, look at me" stage, wanting the world to see her splash through ice-laden puddles or swing - by herself - on the big people's swings.

I would be lost without that little girl, continually pulling me out of the "grown-up" world of deadlines and meetings and important things. "Daddy, you're it!" "Daddy, come play in my room."

For all the work I did this week, the memory that stays with me most is not found on a computer screen, but on a playground, with my little, blond-haired girl dodging stars atop a wooden jungle gym.

Et tu, Dalai Lama?

I wonder if the Dalai Lama was ever taken to task or has since recanted his views (I stumbled across it while reading about all the protests in China):
Of course, abortion, from a Buddhist viewpoint, is an act of killing and is negative, generally speaking. But it depends on the circumstances. If the unborn child will be retarded or if the birth will create serious problems for the parent, these are cases where there can be an exception. I think abortion should be approved or disapproved according to each circumstance.

Dalai Lama, New York Times, 28/11/1993

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Parent's night out

We had Silvi spend the night with my parents on Saturday so that we could go to the Down syndrome parent's night out. No kids allowed. We did, however, end up taking Ian since he isn't big on bottles yet, but he ended up sleeping through the entire event.

Two of the parents hosted it in their home, a gorgeous three-story house located on a hill overlooking the downtown skyline. They had a well-stocked bar of enough wine and beer to give me a headache the following morning. I think there were about twenty of us, and it was good to meet the parents in a less formal setting than the classroom. And without the kids demanding all the attention, we were finally able to have prolonged conversations, although many of them were on the topic of our children. A couple of the dads play soccer, so it was good to be able to talk sports for a bit.

OK. I admit it. I enjoyed myself. And I may even make a habit of it. Guess it is possible to teach an old dog some new tricks after all.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


While I'm waiting for my timeline to render, I thought I'd mention that I got a phone call earlier today that a team of doctors from the Mayo Clinic saw my work and are hoping to hire me (freelance - for my own company) to go with them to Africa for a week in September. They teach on the latest techniques and want to document the training. I'm not sure, but it may be a little more exciting than shooting a dental training video.

Dental shoot

I spent all day yesterday shooting a training video in a dentist's office. The office was an hour and a half away in a small town, the kind where everyone knows everyone. It was snowing pretty hard, making the drive treacherous.

It was a three camera shoot, with one small camera suspended directly over the various patent's mouths, another camera shooting a different angle through a mirror clamped onto a stand, and the third camera shooting a wide, establishing shot. The dentist talked like one of his high speed drills, and I think he has been sniffing too much of the nitrous oxide. We went to lunch with him, where he often whistled loudly when he wanted the waitress. He spent the entire lunch hour drawing diagrams of crowns and teeth on his napkin.

We hired an additional freelance cameraman who we'd used before; he has narcolepsy. He forgot to take his pill once during a different shoot and kept dozing off in the middle of takes. He took his pill yesterday.

This morning we woke to snow-covered trees. I drive around a lake on my way to work each morning, and was wishing I had a camera.

This week is horrendously busy for me. I better get back to it.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Update: Get them out there

I shot an email to the director - Sophie Hyde - of the Australian documentary and showed her my rant and she's sending me a copy of her film. Look for a review here in the coming weeks. Thanks, Sophie! (I don't care what people say about you Aussies, you're OK in my book :) )

Thursday, March 13, 2008


If you love to discover new music, you're going to really enjoy It kind of works on the "If you liked this artist, then you'll like..." premise. It'll eat up any free time you ever had, but it's so worth it.

Please, get them out there

OK. So you spend a year or two writing, shooting and editing your short film and then it's shown a few times only to spend the rest of it's life on a shelf somewhere over in... Australia. I keep finding films that I want to see that are unavailable. (Maybe the Australian distribution company sells Region 1 - the US - copies of their DVDs, but I doubt it.)

Like, I really want to see OK, Let's Talk about Me. It's a story told from Eddie's perspective (he's an seventeen-year-old with Down syndrome) about his desire for more independence. It even comes with a nifty little PDF study guide. But, according to the distributor's website, they are bound by contract to not sell the film anywhere except Australia or New Zealand.

My rant for this fine Thursday afternoon.

Creating beauty

[An update: My grandmother is sleeping a lot and eats just a bit of applesauce; my mom flies out on Monday to be with her. Hope I didn't cause confusion by using the word "remember" there at the end.]

My Aunt Bonnie's comment in my previous post about her mom - my grandmother - always trying to make things beautiful stayed with me as I went to sleep last night. My grandmother has - or had, since they recently moved from the home where they spent most of their lives - a beautiful garden in their back yard, that I remember being full of apple trees and grape vines and roses upon roses. And an old sundial that I would often stare at, trying to figure out just how it knew what time of day it was.

Creating beauty is hard to me; I often feel like the world is in a constant war against beauty. I think this is because in order to create beauty, we have to become vulnerable, and the world - for the most part - cannot tolerate vulnerability. I'm reminded of the parents of the girl with Down syndrome who are having her undergo plastic surgery to make her more "beautiful," or less vulnerable.

I try to create beauty with these little talents that I have. I love art that both shatters and heals. Films like Lost in Translation, Magnolia and A Little Princess do this well. Bad art, which I would argue is what Crispin Glover makes, only serves to shatter; while he hopes that tearing away some of the false selves that we live with is enough, he only leaves us broken, alone and despondent. Good art heals us; I think The Office is an excellent example of this; laughter is an awesome elixir. It sure "heals" me.

And then there's great art, the kind that makes you weep and laugh in the same breath. The final embrace in Lost in Translation is, to me, great art. More recently, any single frame from the film The Diving Bell and the Diving Bell inspires wonder, hope and longing simultaneously.

One of my favorite paintings is New York Movie by Eward Hopper. (Click on the link - go on, live a little. :) ) The vibrant colors and the joy of going to the movies fill me with life, but the loneliness of the woman reminds me of my own aloneness. Sorrow and hope, the shattered and the healed, all in one frame.

I hope you create some beauty today. And remember my grandmother if you do.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

My grandmother

When I was a kid, I used to climb the hill behind my grandparent's house and sit and look out over the valley below. I especially liked the mornings when the fog would linger long enough for me to finish the breakfast my grandmother made for me, served on what I then thought was the finest of china. Not like the plastic bowls we kids used at home.

This is a picture taken from one of those hills in St. Albans, West Virginia, although I'm not sure which one. It doesn't matter, because in my mind they'll always be greener and foggier and more magical than any camera could ever capture.

My grandmother is dying. She may have hours, or days. Her memories are locked away by Alzheimer's, her body worn by her eighty-seven years. My grandfather is by her side today. Her daughters hope to be with her soon. My mom will be there.

If you think of it today, or in the days to come, pray for my family. Appreciate it.

Spring rush

Yesterday was warm enough to take Silvi down for a walk by the lake. She has little green boots with frog eyes on them, appropriate seeing how she jumped in every puddle along the way.

Spring gives me an adrenaline rush. I don't ease my way out of winter like a bear yawning its way out of hibernation. No, I pounce on Spring, like a drowning man clutching for a small rope tossed from the beyond. Then I get busy, making up for all the gloomy lost days of cold.

I honestly don't know how I make it through these Minnesota winters. I grew up mostly in warm climates, but I don't think it's the cold that beats me down. It's the lack of light.

It was a gorgeous sunset on Lake Calhoun last night. Lots of people out, many dogs for Silvi to pet. Perfection.

I can totally understand how people worshiped Apollo, god of light.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Comments part deux

As usual, Kim's got a good point:
I'm going to go against the flow of opinion here and say what's the point of a one-way conversation?

There are few sites I continue to comment on if I never get a comment back

If my comment is just a smiley face or comment that your kid is cute, then I don't need an answer. But if I spend ages trying to craft a witty comment to try and make you smile, some kind of acknowledgment is nice.
Commenting on comments is back on. So I'm wishy-washy. So what. You still love Charlie Brown. Maybe I'll put my hit counter back on, too. Maybe I'll start advertising, or writing for a political party, or selling this space to the highest bidder.

Maybe, just maybe, I'll finally get to kick that stupid football.


Monday, March 10, 2008

Doin' great

Ian met with his PT, OT and a teacher today. They were all very impressed with his progress, especially his ability to stay focused for long periods at a time. I know he doesn't get that from me.

Great muscle tone, rolls over with more ease than a snitch on the take and just look at that porcelain skin. (OK, that last bit was me bragging.)

Happy boy. Now if he would just take to eating those mushy pears once in awhile...

Comments and head count

Although I've enjoyed much of the back-and-forth discussions in my comment section, I'm going to forgo commenting on comments, at least for the time being. While I also like going back to read follow-up comments to thoughts I post on other people's blogs, to be perfectly honest, I just run out of time at the end of the day when it comes to my own blog. Then I feel guilty. And I think that I can't write a new post until I've dealt with previous posts.

I guess I'm just trying to strip away some of the things that keep me from enjoying writing. Please continue to drop your thoughts; I enjoy them and they help and stretch me. Or they make me laugh, which is always a good thing.

I also got rid of my hit counter. All it did was track traffic, and at first I got a little freaked by the amount of people that were dropping by, most without leaving comments. Don't misread me; I dig having an audience, but knowing that people were "looking at me" made me more than a little uncomfortable. Then I started turning into a numbers whore and getting depressed when those hit numbers weren't rolling quickly by. So I just whacked it off.

Ahhhhhh. Lurk all you want. I'll never know you were here.

Avenue Montaigne

The French film Avenue Montaigne has stayed with me since I watched it on Saturday. I'm always looking for films that deal with the subjects of desire, transition, new beginnings and hope. The fact that it was shot in Paris is an added bonus. In a world that often seems dominated by masks and life on the surface, it's small films like these - flawed as they may be - that reassure me that there are others who also aspire to live deeply.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Church, two books and some video projects

This morning we had breakfast at Patrick's Bakery, a cafe that is located inside of a greenhouse and serves terrific French pastries. I tried to take some pictures of Silvi against some of the colorful flowers, but she has become camera shy lately. I think I did manage to capture one or two shots without her in flight away from the lens.

During the kid's nap time, I bought two books - Notes on the Making of Apocalypse Now by Eleanor Coppola and The Beginning and the End by Russian philosopher Nicolas Berdyaev - at Magers and Quinn, a must-browse bookstore if you're ever in the Uptown area of Minneapolis.

Yesterday we went to the Saturday evening service at church, then had supper with my parents at the Perkins down the road, which stayed with me into the wee hours of the morning. It's only been a month, but going to church feels right for the first time in, well, ever. Guess I've made my peace - for the most part.

This week at work I'm editing an hour-long training video for a large medical company and am working on another project on the side using my own gear. It'll help to pay off some of the debt I incurred when I bought all the video equipment for my company.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Taco Bell

When Annie and I got married, we moved into an apartment right next door to a Taco Bell. Our first year's meals comprised of tacos, bean burritos and Nacho Belgrandes, sometimes for both lunch and supper. Needless to say, our wallets got thinner, our mid-sections thicker and - after moving away a year later - we both lost our taste for food from South of the Border for quite some time.

That's kind of what happened with this blog.

For a while it was great being able to discuss issues dealing with Down syndrome. I did it often, sometimes twice a day. But, like after eating too many bean burritos, I started to feel like I was "clogged up." I needed some "greens" in my diet, and no, the lettuce on a taco does not count.

Stepping away from daily blogging - and reading blogs - kind of felt like going on a healthy diet. It helped me realize that I really don't see Ian's Down syndrome much any more. Of course, his hilarious little laughs help.

I've also been getting more work done, both on videos and at home. And, after a 5-year hiatus, I've started going to church again. I even went to a fund-raising event to benefit Special Olympics, which I'll post about later.

I'm often a person of extremes - either all in or all out. I'm hoping the pendulum is starting to slow down and find some rest in the middle.

Sunday, March 02, 2008


It's 8:30pm on Sunday night; why am I at work waiting for a DVD to burn? First one to get the right answer wins a free pineapple.