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Thoughts on relationships

Lance, Oscar, Tigers, and Character

Before our wedding, my wife and I took a class through the American Jewish University called “Making Marriage Work.”  While I can’t say this course provided us with any shocking revelations or insights into our relationship, it did provide a nice context to discuss the big picture stuff of married life before we tied the knot (usually in the car driving to and from the class).  Invariably, each class would simply confirm for us that we were indeed on the same page about most issues.  Good news.

If there was one thing that stuck with me from those sessions, it was something the instructor said on the first day: “The things you love most about your spouse are the very things that will drive you crazy.”  Good one, huh?  Ain’t it the truth?  In my case, I love that my wife is a smart, tenacious, Type-A, go getter.  But these same qualities also drive me crazy because they means she is sometimes stubborn and relentless at times when I wish she wouldn’t be.  Now think about the people closest to you.  Do the things you love about them also drive you crazy?  I’ll bet they do.

I’ve been thinking about this idea today and how it relates to our notion of character.  What set me off on this line of thinking was reading the news about Olympic star Oscar Pistorius who is currently being charged with murdering his girlfriend.  Now, I don’t know too much about this guy beyond the NBC mini-documentaries of the Olympics, but if I had to speculate, I’d guess that the fire inside him that drove him to athletic success is not completely unrelated to the hot headedness that drove him to murder his girlfriend.  It was all in the same soup.

A far clearer example (and in the same vein) is Lance Armstrong.  What did we love about him?  His amazing competitive drive.  This drive is what empowered him to win seven consecutive Tour De France titles.  It was his spirit, his grit, his unrelenting determination.  But these are the same exact qualities that led to his downfall.  That same competitive drive we once applauded was what drove him to cheat and lie.  Two sides of the same coin.

My wife’s family has a saying that reflects this phenomenon: “When you have a tiger, you have tiger problems.”  You can restate this adage with any noun as the object.  When you have  huge breasts, you have huge breast problems.  When you have a beautiful white rug, you have beautiful white rug problems.  In my wife’s case, when you are married to a writer, you have writer problems.

Well this writer thinks this notion of duality is a real useful way to think about writing good characters.  Think about how many superb characters of stage and screen  have a driving force that is both a strength and a weakness.  In Tootsie, Michael Dorsey’s weakness is that he is a stubborn perfectionist who doesn’t suffer fools–even when his career depends on it.  It is this same quality, however, that makes him brilliant as Dorothy Michaels.  Now think about the mind of Hamlet.  Think about the thoughtfulness and empathy that empowers him to be a phenomenal tactician; they also cripple him with indecision.

Our strengths can be our weaknesses…and our weaknesses, our strengths.

Initial Reaction to Presidential Debate #3

Best debate yet.  Bob Schieffer rocks me. Incidentally, if you ever happen to be driving across the country and are looking for a good book on tape, I highly recommend Schieffer’s memoir, This Just In : What I Couldn’t Tell You on TV.  Schieffer has been in the trenches, reporting on many of the biggest stories of the last forty years, and he has lots of juicy stories to tell.

Barack got a slow start again tonight, but finished strong.  He was evasive during the question about Joe Plumber’s taxes, and McCain scored big points there.  In debate #3, John McCain finally managed to sustain a consistent message for the duration of the evening.  It certainly wasn’t original, but McCain’s classic “this liberal will spend all your money” attack was hammered home repeatedly throughout the 90 minutes with some success.  McCain may have gained a little ground tonight, though I doubt he gained much.

Obama started to come alive again once the question of negative campaigning was raised. Here he found his footing, and from this point on, the debate was all his. McCain seemed petulant, angry, cranky, and downright curmudgeonly, while Obama was Mr. Cool: eloquent, reasonable, and thoughtful.  Every attack of McCain’s after that first 30 minutes was effectively defused by Obama, while many of Obama’s attacks were rebutted with less skill.  Obama continued to be effective at addressing his answers to the middle class, looking deep into the camera’s eye, and oozing presidentiality.

I continue to be amazed by McCain’s obvious contempt for Obama.  He so clearly hates him with every fiber of his being.  At this point, I find myself watching and just wondering when John McCain’s head is going to spontaneously explode.  The Arizona senator has one of the world’s worst poker faces.  My wife has a better poker face, and trust me, you would love to play poker with my wife.  (On a side note, I’ve just realized that, as a married man, I can now tell “my wife” jokes.  Oh, I know someone in the next room who is going to be thrilled to find this out!)

On the whole, another fun night for us political junkies.  To put this in CNN speak: a red-meat night, all about Main Street, but no game-changers.  Ah, CNN, how I tire of thee …  And yet I continue to watch.

More soon, my friends

So then I got married …

Bill & Carin\'s Wedding - sunflowers

You may have noticed it has been a while since I’ve written. Funny thing, really. I went and got myself married. Trust me, I have no shortage of opinions about everything that’s been going on in the country lately. I’ve just been too busy to write.

As for the wedding, it was perfect: truly, the best day of our lives. And let me tell you, we were not shooting for “best day of our lives.” We just wanted to make it a good day. We wanted to make sure we didn’t to get so caught up in last-minute crises or minutiae that we didn’t enjoy ourselves. We also didn’t want to spend so much time worrying about pleasing everyone else that we didn’t get to enjoy the amazing food or spend time on the dance floor. Mission accomplished.

I felt like a very lucky man on my wedding day: lucky to be marrying the girl I was, lucky to have such amazing friends, lucky to come from (and be marrying into) such a loving family. I felt very rich. The people in my life make me a wealthy man (even when my book sales do not).

But I’ll spare you any more gushing. Here is photographic evidence:

Awesome Wedding Picture


To see more pics by our amazing photographers, you can check out this slideshow.

10 Days to go …

I’ve been a bad blogger this month.  I’m getting married in 10 days, and blogging has not been foremost in my mind.  More soon.

My blog, my girlfriend, and George W. Bush

Some time before I proposed to my girlfriend, I found myself in the following conversation with my aunt:

“It’s not that I have a fear of commitment,” I said. “I want to commit. I’m just afraid of making the wrong commitment.”

She looked at me and laughed. “Bill, you do realize that’s exactly what fear of commitment is.” I couldn’t argue with such wisdom.

Commitment has always been a tricky subject for me. I’m reminded of this today, as I take the leap with a new commitment: a blog. Can I really commit to being a blogger? The lifestyle? The attitude? The wardrobe? And what about the hours? I’m always complaining to my friends that I never have enough time to write. Do I really want to cut into that precious time for the sake of a blog?

If there’s one thing I learned from our current president, it is the importance of setting expectations low. George W. did this in 2000, most notably with respect to debating, where he was reputed to be at a terrible disadvantage against the more experienced Al Gore. The pre-debate spin set the bar so low for W. that all he had to do was show up and deliver a semi-competent performance to be declared winner. And that’s exactly what happened.

I’ve applied this Bushian lesson of low-expectation-setting (both consciously and unconsciously) to many aspects of my life, including my relationships. From early on in my relationship with C, I adopted the decidedly unromantic strategy of telling her exactly what was on my mind. This included all the doubts and anxieties and assorted crap that most girlfriends would rather not hear. Did she lose sleep over this? Yes, and for that I’m sorry. But the strategy worked. Because she knew me to be a commitment-wary boyfriend, she expected very little of me, and I made sure to more than meet those expectations. Then, when I finally proposed, it was a wonderful surprise (well, almost, but that’s another story…).

So what does this have to do with my blog? I’d love to use this inaugural post to promise you daily dispatches brimming with insight and wit, regularly scheduled updates on my adventures as a writer, and constant commentary on politics, entertainment, and the peculiarities of life. But I can’t do that. While I hope to entertain, inform, and amuse through my blogging, I think it is important for me to set some realistic (some may call them “low”) expectations up front. If you are about to enter into a blogger/reader relationship with me, you need to know what to expect:

I won’t buy you flowers.
I won’t call the next day.
I will occasionally be crude.
I will use sentence fragments. Frequently.
I will sometimes write just to hear the sound of my own voice.
I will sometimes not write at all.
I will sometimes tease you with entries almost every day, and then, out of the blue, you won’t hear from me for almost a month.
There’s a chance I might show up drunk.
I will probably make fun of your relatives.
Sometimes, you may hate me.
Sometimes, it will seem that all I really care about is the sex.

But if all that is okay with you, if your eyes are open, if you’re fully aware of the choice you are making, and don’t mind entering into this kind of blogger/reader relationship, then I say let’s get this thing started.

Let the fun begin…